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The folly of MLB free agency
1:32 | MLB
The folly of MLB free agency
Thursday June 2nd, 2016

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Every week, we’ll give you pitchers to add for spot starts who can help you chase down a category or two in head-to-head leagues. All of the pitchers we offer will fall under one of three headings. If a pitcher is a stream candidate in “shallow” leagues, it means he has an ownership rate between 35% and 50%. “Medium” translates to pitchers with ownership rates between 21% and 34%, while those under the “deep” heading are owned in 20% of leagues or less. 

An endorsement for a pitcher in a shallow or medium league would also apply to the leagues beneath it, but those of you in deep leagues shouldn’t hold out hope that a pitcher with an ownership rate of 40% will be available. 

Shallow

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Kevin Gausman, Orioles (Sunday vs. Yankees)

It’s hard to believe Gausman’s ownership rate still allows him to be a recommendation here, and it’s likely he’ll be here every week until shallow-league owners catch on to how good he has been. Gausman’s pedigree and success this season should have him on more rosters, and make him an attractive guy to keep around, even if you think you’re only picking him up for a spot start. The Yankees are just 25th in wOBA on the season, and are also 25th or worse in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. It’s a sneakily bad offense, not that much better than the ones we always target for streaming purposes in San Diego and Atlanta. Gausman should be able to stick on rosters after this weekend, but there’s no doubt about what he can do in an outing against the Yankees. He tossed eight shutout innings against them earlier this year. 

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Nathan Karns, Mariners (Saturday @ Rangers) 

Karns seems to make this column every single week, and with good reason. After striking out six batters in 6 2/3 innings in his last start, he’s just shy of a whiff per inning on the season (57 in 57 2/3). You need to be a bit more careful with Karns as a spot starter this weekend. The Rangers don’t strike out much as a team, posting an 18.9% strikeout rate that is the fifth lowest in the majors. Whereas Karns is typically a slam dunk for an owner in a 12- or 14-team league chasing strikeouts, he’s more like a 15-foot jumper on Saturday. If you do need the help, he’s going to be one of your best options, but he faces a tougher test than usual. 

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Matt Wisler, Braves (Sunday @ Dodgers)

Wisler was good yet again his last time out, this time in a tough assignment with the Giants. He allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings, striking out two. He fanned seven batters in all of his three starts before impressing against the Giants, though it should be noted that missing bats isn’t his strong suit. The Dodgers are right in the middle of the pack in strikeout rate, but the best news here is that Wisler doesn’t need to rack up whiffs to provide value in a spot start, as he has proved time and time again this season.

Deep

Dan Straily, Reds (Saturday vs. Nationals)

Straily is quietly putting together a strong season in his first year with the Reds, amassing a 3.43 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. We haven’t seen anything like this from Straily since he was a rookie with the A’s in 2013, a season in which he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting behind Wil Myers, Jose Iglesias and Chris Archer. Straily has dealt with various injuries since then, but he’s healthy and on track to have an even better season than he did as a rookie. The Nationals will provide a tough test, but Straily has already faced the Pirates twice, Rockies twice (once at Coors), Cubs and Giants this season. He’s not making his way simply by dominating bad offenses. Deep-league owners should feel good about him as a spot starter.

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Junior Guerra, Brewers (Saturday @ Phillies)

Guerra has thrown the ball well since his best start of the season two weeks ago, when he struck out 11 Cubs in seven shutout innings. He hasn’t been able to completely find that magic again, but he has fanned 12 batters while allowing three runs in 11 1/3 innings in starts against the Braves and Cardinals. The Phillies provide a top-three matchup for a stream pitcher. They’re 28th in wOBA, OBP and slugging percentage, 24th in batting average, and 11th in strikeout rate. Owners in shallower leagues can feel free to reach down and pluck Guerra from these depths, thanks to the great matchup.

Jon Gray, Rockies (Sunday @ Padres)

Gray is one of the hardest pitchers to trust, but his highs always put him on the fantasy radar. Three starts ago the Cardinals shelled Gray, tagging him for nine runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. He followed that out by limiting the Red Sox, arguably the best offense in baseball, to two runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings, striking out six while earning his second win of the season. Earlier this week against the Reds, he held things together while pitching at Coors Field, surrendering three runs on five hits in six innings, striking out four while walking three. Gray has two double-digit strikeout games, and also three starts where he allowed at least five runs in five or fewer innings. The inconsistency makes it hard to believe in him as a spot starter, but if there was ever a time to bet on him, this is it. The last time Gray faced the hapless Padres in San Diego, he fanned 11 while giving up two runs in six innings. As is the case with Guerra, owners in shallower leagues shouldn’t be afraid to use Gray this weekend, too.

Nick Tropeano, Angles (Saturday @ Pirates)

Tropeano is essentially Karns for owners in deeper leagues. He has 54 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings this season, providing the sort of upside you don’t typically see from a pitcher who’s owned in fewer than one-fifth of leagues. At the same time, he’s too hittable in the zone, and he has a brutal matchup with the Pirates on Saturday. You do not want to go after Tropeano if your rate categories are still up for grabs. The gains you might make in the strikeout department simply wouldn’t be worth what you give away in ERA and WHIP. If those are decided, however, Tropeano could be of interest.

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