Best pitchers to pick up, avoid leading up to All-Star break

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With starting pitching seasonal workloads continuing to dwindle during the past half-decade, streaming starters is becoming an increasingly viable fantasy baseball strategy. Mixing and matching at the position is now all the rage.

Unfortunately, as more managers gain awareness of the strategy's benefits, securing said streaming candidates becomes increasingly difficult. How often have you checked your league's starting pitching free agent list on a given day, only to discover that an opponent added the day's top options first, or worse, scooped up those pitchers a day in advance of their scheduled turns?

Sometimes, a good streaming starter is more than just a pitcher you add one day, only to cut and replace the next. Some of these pitchers can have value over an extended period -- maybe a pair of starts, or three, or perhaps even the majority of the upcoming month.

To extend the Forecaster's help in this area, I've collected and analyzed the next 35 days' projected pitching matchups, in an effort to find "streaming starter" candidates who might be more than that, pitchers who could help you more often than not during that time frame. That span was carefully selected: It's the five-week period that begins with the games on Monday, June 3, and extends through the final day of scheduled action before the All-Star break, Sunday, July 7.

If you already have any of the following pitchers rostered, keep them around for the long haul (if at all possible), or consider adding them now, knowing that they should provide streaming utility for more than just their next scheduled starts. Only pitchers who are available in more than 40% of ESPN leagues are profiled.

Top pickup candidates

Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and other members of the Milwaukee Brewers' staff: Consider this more of a team-oriented selection, because any member of the Brewers' rotation could be considered a locked-in fantasy option between now and the All-Star break, considering the team's scheduled opponents during the aforementioned time span have averaged the third-fewest runs per game collectively (4.31), with 20 of their 31 games during that time scheduled against the 10 most favorable matchups in the game using the Forecaster formulas. The only drawback with the Brewers' schedule is that their home ballpark, Miller Park, is one of the game's most homer-friendly venues, and the team does play 12 of those 31 games there, though at least the venue is fairly neutral from a run-scoring perspective. Brandon Woodruff (79.2% rostered) and Zach Davies (65.6%) are the only Brewers starters rostered in a majority of ESPN leagues, but even they can apparently be found in some leagues, and you should look to this team as a frequent, across-the-board streaming source. Nelson, who had a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in his most recent healthy season in 2017, will join the Brewers' rotation beginning on Wednesday against the light-hitting Miami Marlins, making him an immediate add across the board. Anderson, a two-start Week 10 pitcher, and even Freddy Peralta or, when healthy, Jhoulys Chacin or Gio Gonzalez, should also step up facing these upcoming matchups.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves: A quick look at his 51.4% rostered percentage in ESPN leagues suggests that few have paid attention to his contributions of late, which include six starts in a row affording one earned run or fewer, as well as his career highs of both his 8.71 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio and 22.7% strikeout rate (percentage of batters faced, my preferred reference point). Teheran's Atlanta Braves face opponents that combined have averaged 4.26 runs per game, second least in the majors, and only seven times in 31 games between now and the All-Star break do they battle a lineup the Forecaster calls one of the 10 toughest in the game -- and Teheran is on schedule to draw at most one of them (the Pittsburgh Pirates, likely on June 13). Lock Teheran into your pitching staffs now, and since the Braves do have multiple young arms who could be facing seasonal innings caps, be on the watch for Touki Toussaint (96 percent available in ESPN leagues) to move into the rotation for potential spot starts or an extended look.

Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks and Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay Rays: While not official rotation members, Chirinos, Beeks and Yarbrough are considered "followers" behind the Rays' frequent openers, working the bulk of games on the days that neither Blake Snell nor Charlie Morton (and eventually Tyler Glasnow) does. The Rays have one of the more controversial schedules during the next 35 days: They play seven of 31 games against the New York Yankees and three apiece against the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, with all four of those teams ranked among the majors' six highest-scoring teams (using runs per game). Still, the Forecaster grades this team's pitching schedule during that time one of the league's 10 most favorable, and the collective runs per game mark of the Rays' opponents agrees, as their 4.55 mark ranks seventh best. In fact, no team has a more favorable schedule in the strikeout department: The Rays' opponents have combined to whiff in 24.3 percent of their trips to the plate (almost once every five trips to the plate). A schedule with this wide deviation of matchups quality should make it easy to decide when to stream their pitchers, and Rays "followers" bring the advantage of giving you multiple frames and a good chance at an official scorer's win, all without costing a thing against your team starts cap.

Other pitchers to consider: Jeff Samardzija (89% available in ESPN leagues); Miami Marlins starters Trevor Richards (87%), Pablo Lopez (96%) and Sandy Alcantara (95%); Griffin Canning (80%); and Philadelphia Phillies starters Jerad Eickhoff (85%) and Nick Pivetta (57%).

Pitchers to avoid

Conversely, here are the pitchers who look least likely to help on the streaming front during the next five weeks. There's no roster percentage requirement here, but these are pitchers generally regarded in the "matchups" class.

Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox: The Pale Hose have a significant disadvantage during the next five weeks, in that they play a league-low 28 games during that time span, or more than three fewer than the average team will. The disadvantages don't stop there: They also won't play a single one of those games at one of the 10 most pitching-friendly venues in baseball, and only four times will they draw a matchup against a team the Forecaster calls one of the 10 most favorable: Their four-game series against the Detroit Tigers from July 2-4. Lopez's season has been so inconsistent, he's difficult to trust as a streaming choice even when he faces a favorable matchup, and with so few in his immediate future, he's someone you can cut if you need the roster room. As for teammate Lucas Giolito, who has won each of his past six starts, his adjustments made this season give him a fighting chance at maintaining good value even during this rough stretch of the schedule. That said, let the matchups keep your expectations for him in check, as it'll be tough for him to turn in top-20 fantasy starting pitching value during that time span.

Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics: The A's pitching staff ranks tied for 11th in ERA (4.18) and 10th in WHIP (1.29) this season despite no brand names, but those ratios seem sure to rise between now and the All-Star break. Athletics opponents combined during that time have averaged 4.85 runs per game this season, ninth most, and the Forecaster grades reveal that 17 of their next 33 games will come against the game's 10 worst matchups for a pitcher. Montas' workload is going to come into question at some point this season, and coupling a poor schedule with the likelihood he's going to either have some outings shortened, pushed back or skipped altogether, he's one of the wiser sell-high candidates over the next few days. He'll probably fetch you the most in return from any current member of the Athletics' rotation, though you should also try to move Chris Bassitt, Brett Anderson and/or Daniel Mengden if you can.

Joey Lucchesi, Matt Strahm and Eric Lauer, San Diego Padres: Strahm fits a similar description to Montas, as a pitcher certain to face some sort of innings limit, and while fellow rotation mate Chris Paddack will as well, the rookie phenom simply has too good of stuff to trade away at any sort of discount. Yes, Padres pitchers have Petco Park and its pitching-friendly dimensions helping them, but the venue is no longer a pitchers' heaven -- it's merely an above-average pitchers' park. Padres' upcoming opponents have averaged 4.91 runs per game, seventh most, and have whiffed only 21.3% of the time, second-least often, and in only seven of their next 32 games do they face a top-10 matchup per the Forecaster. There are too many treacherous matchups ahead for this team: A four-game series at Colorado's Coors Field June 13-16, three games against the Milwaukee Brewers June 17-19 and four more on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers July 4-7. If you can cash in your Padres chips now, it'd be wise considering their schedule.

Other pitchers to sell/avoid: Jon Gray (66% rostered), Steven Matz (39%), Anibal Sanchez (6%), Kansas City Royals starters Brad Keller (13%) and Danny Duffy (8%).

Here is the full chart evaluating all 30 teams' schedules during the upcoming 35 days' action from Monday, June 3, through Sunday, July 7, in order of fewest runs per game by upcoming opponents. The "R/G," "HR/G" and "K%" numbers combine all opponents' performance in those categories, while the "10 BEST" and "10 WORST" counts are the number of games against offenses that the Forecaster grades the 10 best and 10 worst matchups for a pitcher.