Fantasy baseball Pitching Report: Alex Wood returns to the big leagues

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Earlier this season, despite a strong start to the year, Alex Wood was relegated to the bullpen after Gavin Floyd returned from the disabled list. The move seemed bizarre. In seven starts covering 45 innings, Wood had a 3.00 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.18 WHIP and 44 strikeouts against nine walks. The 23-year-old looked set to be another pitching gem mined by the Atlanta farm system when he was shunned to the bullpen.

On the other hand, the move did make some long-term sense. Wood threw 139 2/3 innings between Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett and the majors last season, and he’d easily surpass that total with a full season in the Braves’ rotation. While it might be a bit of a short-term downgrade to keep both Floyd and Aaron Harang in the rotation instead of Wood, the team could be better off having him at full strength in August and September rather than June and July. You only need to look to last season to find a rookie pitcher who excelled in the rotation in the first half of the season, only to flame out in the second half and playoffs. I’m looking at you, Shelby Miller.

FANTASY BASEBALL WEEK 13: Weekly planner | Hitting report

The plan to get Wood back into the rotation began to take shape on June 10 when the Braves sent him to Triple-A to stretch him out so he could start. Initially, the thought was that he’d spend a few weeks in the minors before returning into the Braves’ rotation. There was speculation that the Braves would make a trade to improve elsewhere by freeing up a spot, but it was clear that Wood’s return to the rotation was imminent. It arrived sooner than anyone expected.

Floyd left his start against the Nationals last week after fracturing his surgically repaired right elbow. The 31-year-old had been pitching quite well for Atlanta, posting a 2.65 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 1.25 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings, but he is likely done for the season. Wood has been called back up to the majors, and will make his first start since May on Wednesday against the Astros. He made two starts in his brief return to Gwinnett, putting up a 1.04 ERA and fanning eight in 8 2/3 innings. The Braves may be cautious with him at first to assure his arm is ready to handle a starter’s workload, but he should remain in the rotation for the rest of the season. Many fantasy owners were hasty with him over the last few months, and he remains available in far too many leagues. He should be universally owned, and could be an incredible acquisition for the second half of the season in all leagues where he was dropped.

Pitchers of the Week

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers– Last week: 9 IP, 1 W, 15 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP

Kershaw had one of the best games in MLB history last week, notching his first career no-hitter while fanning 15 Rockies. It very well could have been a perfect game, as the only baserunner came via a Hanley Ramirez error to lead off the seventh inning. He’s the best pitcher in the game.

Roenis Elias, Seattle Mariners– 13 2/3 IP, 2 W, 11 K, 1.32 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Elias was great in wins over the Padres and Royals last week. He allowed just one run in both starts, surrendering eight hits and two walks combined. Elias could be a very nice piece at the end of the Seattle rotation. The 25-year-old is 7-5 with a 3.74 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings this season.

Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals– 5 IP, 4 SV, 6 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.40 WHIP

Soriano closed the door on four wins for the Nationals last week, the last two coming against division-rival Atlanta. He allowed just one batter to reach base all week, fanning six and walking none. Soriano has been one of the most consistent closers all season, surrendering four earned runs in 31 innings and converting 17 of his 19 save opportunities.

Pitchers of the Weak

Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves– 5 IP, 4 K, 14.40 ERA, 3.20 WHIP

Harang was terrible in his lone start last week, allowing eight earned runs on 13 hits and three walks in a loss to the Phillies. The outing increased his ERA by .63 points (3.20 to 3.83), but he still has a very healthy 3.02 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) this season.

Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants– 4 2/3 IP, 0 K, 13.50 ERA, 2.79 WHIP

The White Sox were one of the first teams to really get to Hudson this year, touching him up for seven runs on 12 hits and a walk last week. It was the first time in 2014 that he failed to go at least five innings, and also the second start in which he has allowed more than three runs. He’s a strong bet to get back on track against the Padres on Tuesday.

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros– 13 IP, 8 K, 5.54 ERA, 1.77 WHIP

Keuchel wasn’t a total trainwreck last week, but it was still a disappointing two-start run for the 26-year-old. He allowed a total of eight earned runs, 15 hits and eight walks in losses to the Nationals and Rays. His next start is scheduled for Saturday against the Tigers.

Buy, sell or hold

Buy: Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Martinez has been in the St. Louis rotation for the last two turns, allowing a total of three runs, five hits and five walks in nine innings. He has also fanned 10 batters, so it has been a couple of useful fantasy outings from the 22-year-old. He always projected as a starter, but the crowded St. Louis rotation forced him to the bullpen at the start of the season. With starters Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia headed to the DL, Martinez will be in the rotation for at least the next three weeks, and potentially much longer. Both Wacha and Garcia are dealing with shoulder issues, and both could miss more than the minimum 15 days. Garcia missed most of last season with a torn labrum, meaning his shoulder problems may be chronic. Wacha suffered a stress fracture in his right shoulder, an injury that is unlikely to need just two weeks of rest. Martinez makes a very appealing play in fantasy leagues for at least the next month.

Sell: Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

This isn’t about Samardzija being fortunate or anything like that. He has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the league this year, and will almost certainly rightly be an NL All-Star. However, he’s also one of the most likely players to be traded by the July 31 deadline, and two of the most interested teams appear to be the Blue Jays and Orioles. While Samardzija is good enough to handle the AL East, any pitcher would rather regularly go up against NL lineups. Now might be a good time to get ahead of the Cubs and deal Samardzija before they do. His value could decrease if he ends up with an AL team.

Hold: Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres

Cashner was scratched from his scheduled start Monday due to shoulder soreness, and placed on the 15-day DL shortly thereafter. Cashner already had a DL stint earlier this year because of elbow issues, and injury woes have been a recurring part of his professional career. His owners shouldn’t panic yet, but since the Padres are already sellers, they have zero incentive to get him back on the mound until he is absolutely ready. Prepare yourself to be without Cashner for a while.

Rookie pitcher spotlight

Matt Shoemaker, SP, Los Angeles Angels

Before this season, Shoemaker appeared headed for a career in the minor leagues. The 27-year-old had made exactly one appearance at the major league level, a September start in 2013. He broke camp with the big league club this year, but started in the bullpen. He has bounced back and forth between the pen and the rotation for most of the year, but if his last two starts are any indication, he could be a starter for the foreseeable future.

Shoemaker shut down the Rangers on Sunday night, holding them to one run on eight hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. In his previous start, he struck out 10 while allowing two runs on five hits in eight innings, beating the Indians. Shoemaker has been quite good as a starter this year, posting a 3.00 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 42 innings. With numbers like that, the Angels’ brain trust can’t really justify sending him back to the bullpen.

Shoemaker’s 90-91 mph fastball is anything but overpowering. Rather, he has had a ton of success with his split-change. According to Fangraphs, he has saved 4.96 runs with the pitch, per 100 offerings. If he had thrown enough innings to date to qualify, it would rank as the second best changeup in the majors. With what looks like a safe spot in the Angels’ rotation, Shoemaker can continue to be an asset for fantasy owners. He should be considered in deeper mixed leagues.

By the numbers

3.1 – Dallas Keuchel’s GB/FB(ground ball/fly ball ratio), the highest in the majors.

121 – Strikeouts for Stephen Strasburg this year. He looks set to break the 200-mark and win the NL strikeout crown for the first time in his career.

0.58 – Sean Doolittle’s WHIP this season. He has become an elite closer.

841 – According to Baseball Savant (a great research site you should check out), number of pitches of at least 95 mph that Garrett Richards has thrown this season. Yordano Ventura is second with 714.

27.7 – Edwin Jackson’s line-drive rate. No starting pitcher has been north of 26 percent at the end of the season since Livan Hernandez in 2005.