The All-Star break is also the slowest week on the sports calendar. Given that it is the week during which we celebrate the best individual performances of the first half of the season, it only makes sense to name our fantasy All-Star pitching staff.
A typical fantasy baseball pitching staff has seven starters and three closers. Of course, different leagues and formats make other types of staffs ideal. Your average team in a 12-team, head-to-head league that competes in all five categories, however, looks this way, so that’s what our All-Star staff will look like, too. And now, your (snub-free) fantasy All-Star staff is as follows:
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners -- Hernandez leads the league with 154 strikeouts. His 11 wins trail only the four co-leaders who have 12 (two of whom are also on this All-Star staff). He has the second-lowest ERA in the majors at 2.12, and second-lowest WHIP at 0.90. He has been the best starting pitcher in the league this season and is rightfully the ace of this staff.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals -- Wainwright leads the majors with 12 wins and a 1.83 ERA. While he has just 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, the fact that he has been healthy all year and thrown 138 innings means he still has a strong 115 strikeouts on the season. His 0.91 WHIP trails only Hernandez and this next starter.
Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds -- Cueto got off to a ridiculous start this season, going at least seven innings in each of his first nine starts. He has 10 wins, 141 strikeouts, a 2.13 ERA and a league-best 0.89 WHIP.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers -- Despite missing about six weeks at the start of the season, Kershaw ranks as the No. 4 starting pitcher in fantasy leagues. He has 11 wins, 126 strikeouts, a 1.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 96 1/3 innings. He hasn’t thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, but he’s in a great position to win his third career Cy Young.
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees -- Before hitting the DL last week, Tanaka put up one of the best first halves in the league. He finished his first three and a half months in the majors with 12 wins, 135 strikeouts, a 2.51 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox -- Like Kershaw, Sale lost about six weeks to injury. Like Kershaw, he has been completely dominant when healthy. He has eight wins, 102 strikeouts, a 2.08 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 95 innings.
Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels -- Richards is the one guy who would seem like a surprise to someone who has been trapped under a rock since March. The Angels’ righty has 11 wins, 127 strikeouts, a 2.55 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 123.1 innings. His great rates allowed him to narrowly edge David Price for the final spot in the rotation.
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox -- Uehara has been arguably better this year than he was last year. He has just 18 saves, largely due to the Red Sox’ struggles, but also has a 1.65 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. He has also picked up five wins in relief, tops among closers.
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves -- Another first half, another lights-out performance from the best closer in baseball. Kimbrel leads the league with 29 saves, and has a 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings.
Huston Street, San Diego Padres -- Street leads all closers with a 1.09 ERA and has managed to rack up 24 saves on a bad San Diego team. He has also posted a 0.76 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Pitchers of the week
Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners -- Last week: 15 2/3 IP, 2 W, 18 K, 1.15 ERA, 0.57 WHIP
Iwakuma was masterful in wins over the Twins and A’s last week. He shut out Minnesota across seven innings, allowing just four hits while striking out 10. He then held the mighty A’s to two runs in 8 2/3 innings, fanning eight batters. The Mariners have shot into playoff contention on the strength of their starting rotation, and Iwakuma has proven himself a capable No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets -- 14 IP, 2 W, 19 K, 0.64 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
If deGrom ends up being the Mets’ No. 4 starter a few seasons from now, this is going to be an incredibly lethal rotation. The rookie finished off a great first half with wins against the Braves and Marlins last week. He tossed seven scoreless innings against Atlanta, striking out 11 and walking none. The Marlins fared slightly better, getting one run across the plate in seven innings, and only striking out eight times.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds -- 5 IP, 4 SV, 13 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP
It takes a lot for a closer to be one of the top three pitchers in a given week, but 13 strikeouts in five innings will usually do the trick. That Chapman also picked up four saves, didn’t allow a run, and surrendered just three baserunners essentially cinched his case. The dominant closer has 60 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings this year.
Pitchers of the weak
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves – 10 1/3 IP, 1 W, 8 K, 7.84 ERA, 2.13 WHIP
Teheran got roughed up in both his outings last week. He first allowed five runs on 11 hits in just 3 1/3 innings in a loss to the Mets. He was the beneficiary of a huge offensive performance against the Cubs over the weekend, but he gave up four runs on seven hits in seven innings. He managed the win in that one, salvaging his week for his owners just a bit.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants – 13 1/3 IP, 1 W, 8 K, 6.75 ERA, 1.73 WHIP
Bumgarner struggled in two starts last week, though he was able to get through seven innings in the first and 6 1/3 in the other. He gave up a combined 10 runs and 20 hits to the A’s and Diamondbacks. However, he helped to offset the four runs he allowed Arizona with a grand slam of his own, his second of the year. He became the first pitcher with two grand slams in a season since the Braves’ Tony Cloninger hit two in the same game against the Giants in July 1966.
Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants – 5 1/3 IP, 4 K, 10.13 ERA, 2.25 WHIP
Hudson allowed six runs on nine hits and three walks against the A’s in his only start last week. He had a great first half, though, finishing 7-6 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 78 strikeouts against 19 walks, making him a worthy late addition to the NL All-Star Team.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres -- Ross just completed a great five-start run to end the first half that has catapulted him to the No. 22 overall ranking among starting pitchers in fantasy leagues. He allowed seven runs on 26 hits in 36 innings in the stretch, striking out 36 batters while walking just three. Of course, since he’s on the Padres, he compiled a 1-4 record in those four starts. His only win came in a complete game shutout of the Reds. No matter the win-loss record, though. Ross is truly in the midst of a breakout season, posting a 2.85 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 1.18 WHIP and 126 strikeouts in 129 2/3 innings in the first half of the season.
Sell: Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers -- Look, realistically, you’re only going to be able to trade Nathan to an owner desperate for saves. However, as long as that doesn’t describe you, now is the time to start looking for that owner. Nathan had a terrible first half, and the Tigers are almost certainly in the market for bullpen help. If that is the case, they’re probably looking for someone who can supplant Nathan from the closer’s role. His days as the ninth-inning man in Detroit could be numbered.
Hold: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees – The Yankees, and Tanaka’s fantasy owners, were dealt a serious blow when the team announced that the rookie had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. While he may be able to avoid Tommy John surgery, the season-ending procedure remains a possibility. You have to hold onto him for now, and should still do so in keeper leagues if he ends up going under the knife.
Baseball Throwdown recommendations
One quick disclaimer here. Some teams have yet to announce how they’ll set their rotations at the start of the second half. As such, some better matchups could become available once we know for sure who is starting every day. Be sure to think about your choices carefully once all the rotations are set.
Friday: Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres (vs. Mets) – Kennedy has been great this year, putting up a 3.47 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 133 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings. He has a great matchup with the punchless Mets in Petco Park in the first game of the second half.
Saturday: Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres (vs. Mets) – As we just discussed, Ross has been one of the best pitchers in the majors over the last month. Just like Kennedy should be able to take advantage the Mets at Petco, so, too, should his teammate Ross.
Sunday: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (@ Cardinals) – Yeah, Kershaw’s projected score is going to be high. Who cares? He’s the best pitcher in the majors, capable of dominating any team and blowing any projection out of the water.