Fantasy baseball owners, need a pitching boost this weekend? SI.com’s expert picks out the best pitchers for spot starts.
Every week in the Weekend Stream, we’ll give you pitches 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.
James Shields, White Sox (Sunday vs. Braves)
If you’ve been ridiculing the White Sox for acquiring Shields a month ago (I’m guilty as charged), you probably have missed his last three turns through the rotation. Shields has returned to respectability, allowing six runs in his last 17 2/3 innings, while striking out 11 and walking seven. Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but they do suggest he could be a decent spot starter in the right circumstances—like this weekend against the Braves. Atlanta is still last in the league in wOBA, slugging percentage and batting average, and 28th in OBP. Anything short of a quality start for Shields would be a major disappointment.
Junior Guerra, Brewers (Sunday vs. Cardinals)
If Guerra is still available, owners should pick him up and keep him around. This is the third column this week here on SI.com in which we’ve featured Guerra, and with good reason. The 31-year-old rookie has a 2.93 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.02 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings this year. He has gone at least seven innings in all of his last three starts, surrendering a total of two runs on nine hits with 22 strikeouts. Guerra’s long-term prospects are excellent, and he’s worth a spin this weekend, even with a tough matchup against the Cardinals.
Mike Leake, Cardinals (Sunday @ Brewers)
On the other side of that game is the perennially underappreciated Leake, who has shut down the Pirates, Nationals, Rangers, Royals and Diamondbacks over the last six weeks. Leake’s not going to help you out much in the strikeout department, but he can do everything else you need from a pitcher in Sunday’s outing against the Brewers. He doesn’t have quite the rest-of-season juice Guerra does, but he can certainly be a pitcher who sticks on a roster in a shallow league beyond this weekend.
Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers (Saturday vs. Padres)
McCarthy returned from Tommy John surgery to make his season debut last Sunday. All things considered, it was as good, or even better, as he and the Dodgers could have hoped. McCarthy shut out the Rockies for five innings, allowing two hits while striking out eight and walking one. He needed just 72 pitches to get through five innings, and likely would have remained in the game if it wasn’t his first start in about 14 months. McCarthy’s velocity was just shy of where it sat before his injury, and he threw all his pitches, most importantly his curveball, which he broke out one-third of the time. McCarthy should see his ownership rise too high for inclusion in this space before long, but for now we can call him the best streaming option of the weekend in his start against the Padres.
Adam Conley, Marlins (Saturday vs. Reds)
One of our most frequent weekend streamers is back, taking on the Reds at home in his final start of the first half. We’re all plenty familiar with Conley at this stage of the season, so there’s no reason to run down his charms here. He’s coming off a strong start against the Braves, in which he didn’t allow a run over six innings, striking out two while dealing with just five baserunners. Conley also brings a platoon advantage over Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, two of Cincinnati’s three most imposing hitters, into the game.
Matt Moore, Rays (Saturday @ Red Sox)
This would certainly be a risky stream, but it does have its merits. The Red Sox are a brutal matchup for any pitcher, especially one who has had more than his fair share of struggles this season, and has surrendered 17 homers in 103 innings, as Moore has. At the same time, his strikeout upside is undeniable, and he shut down the Red Sox in the last week of June, tossing seven shutout innings en route to his fourth win of the season. Moore would be a bit of a risk if you’re nursing a narrow lead in the rate categories, but he’s a worthwhile spot starter in any other conditions. After a disastrous May, Moore has a 3.57 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 45 1/3 innings over his last seven starts.
A.J. Griffin, Rangers (Sunday vs. Twins)
Griffin has made two starts since returning from the DL, where he spent almost two months getting over a shoulder injury. He has thrown 9 1/3 innings in those starts, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out 14 and walking three. He needed 91 pitches to get through 4 1/3 innings in his first start, then threw 88 in five innings in a no-decision against the Yankees last week. It’s unlikely Jeff Bannister will let him go much deeper than that against the Twins this weekend, but there’s still a lot of value tied up in his outing, especially considering he showed the chops of being a backend starter in all fantasy formats earlier this season. For what it’s worth, the Twins are 23rd in the league in wOBA and seventh in strikeout rate.
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks (Sunday @ Giants)
Bradley has had starts this season where he looks like a future ace, and others where he looks like he’ll never be more than a mid-rotation guy. What he has done in every trip to the mound, however, is miss bats. Bradley has 60 strikeouts in 58 innings, and has fanned at least a batter per inning in five of his last eight starts. The Giants have the second lowest strikeout rate in the majors, making this a less-than-ideal matchup for a pitcher whose best fantasy quality is his ability to rack up gaudy strikeout numbers, but it’s not easy to find bankable spot starters in deep leagues. Bradley is one of the few available this weekend.
Sean Manaea, A’s (Sunday @ Astros)
Manaea put together one of the most impressive outings of his rookie season the last time he toed the rubber. He pitched 5 2/3 shutout frames against the Giants, allowing six hits while striking out four and walking one. His assignment with the Astros this weekend won’t be much easier, especially with that team finally playing like the World Series contender everyone expected them to be at the start of the season. Whereas the Giants are a tough lineup partially because they make so much contact, the Astros succeed in spite of their swing-and-miss ways. They are fourth in the majors in strikeout rate, making Manaea a desirable spot starter for a fantasy owner trying to chase down the strikeout category this weekend.
Steven Brault, Pirates (Sunday vs. Cubs)
Welcome to the majors, kid, think you can slow down the Cubs for us this weekend? Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage may not have had that exact conversation with Brault when he arrived in Pittsburgh, but that’s exactly what they will ask him to do in his major league debut. The 24-year-old will start the final game of the first half Sunday, taking on a Cubs team that has gone 8-1 against the Pirates and outscored them by 37 runs in their nine meetings heading into this series. Brault impressed at Triple A Indianapolis, amassing a 2.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 35 innings. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Jameson Taillon or Tyler Glasnow, but the Pirates have earned the trust of the fantasy community when it comes to developing pitchers. You shouldn’t look to Brault if you’re leading your rate categories this weekend, but if you’re trailing or if they’re decided, he’s one of the view widely available options for owners in deep leagues who’s worth a spot start.