Ahead of the Curve: Pitchers, Start Your Engines

Even if you're not a fan of the Ginger Beard, you have to respect his upcoming schedule.

Fake Teams patrons, welcome to the first installment of my weekly series analyzing medium-term schedules for starting pitchers, Ahead of the Curve. The idea behind this column is that we spend so much time scrubbing statistics, from the most basic to the ones that Bill James still has to look up in the FanGraphs glossary, that we can lose sight of one of the more obvious resources we have at our disposal: the schedule. We know that it's not a good idea to judge pitchers based on small sample sizes, but those small sample sizes still count against our fantasy team's ERA and WHIP.

What we need to do is embrace the small sample size and take advantage of the overreactions of others. And by anticipating when pitchers are entering extraordinarily easy or difficult stretches of their schedules, we can get a jump start on those overreactions. Throughout the season, I'll be highlighting the pitchers with the most interesting medium-term schedules -- either for good or for evil. In determining the strength of schedules, I'm looking mostly at four things: opponent offensive strength, opponent strikeout rate, ballpark and win probability.

Now the disclaimers. I am fully aware that these schedules can be unpredictable and change at a moment's notice -- this is why I try to keep the forward looking analysis to 5 starts or fewer. That way, one rain-out probably won't alter the course of the starter's schedule all that much. This is merely an additional tool to use as you see fit in your quest for a league championship. So with that said, let's jump into things with the pitchers who have some of the easiest April schedules out there.

THE POTENTIAL OUTPERFORMERS

Ian Kennedy (SF, @SD, PIT, ATL, @MIA, @WSH)

It's no secret that I'm not a big Ian Kennedy guy -- in fact, I even wrote about it here. But for those of you who drafted him, you're going to get one of the most attractive April schedules around. If he gets through the month looking like an ace, his value may never be higher. If he doesn't look particularly strong, it may be a harbinger of a disappointing season to come.

Chris Sale (@CLE, DET, @SEA, @OAK, CLE)

Outside of one home start against Detroit, Sale should have no problem getting accustomed to the rotation with this April slate. I love to see pitchers who have the @SEA/@OAK combo pack while their teams are on a west coast trip. That's like pulling pocket aces -- no guarantee of success, but you can't set yourself up much better than that.

More after the jump..

Dan Haren/Jered Weaver (KC, @MIN, OAK, BAL, @CLE)

Not that you really need another reason to be high on either Dan Haren or Jered Weaver, but I would not be surprised to see them end April with even gaudier numbers than you might expect.

Brandon Morrow (@CLE, BAL, TB, @BAL, SEA)

There are going to plenty of times where Morrow is faced with a challenging stretch of AL East games. Fortunately for his owners, this is not one of those times. The only deceiving thing about putting Morrow in this column at all is that it's rarely the quality of his opponent which factors into his performance. When he's on, he can dominate any lineup -- but these lineups just happen to be a little easier to extinguish.

Tom Milone (KC, @SEA, CLE, CHW)

When you're a lefty who throws in the mid-80's, a spacious ballpark can be your best friend. During April, Milone is going to have a ton of help in that department, as three of his first four starts will take place in the cavernous Coliseum, with the fourth coming at Safeco. Who knows if he'll be able to win any of these games, but he could outperform expectations everywhere else.

Other soft upcoming schedules

Joe Saunders (@SD, PIT, ATL, @MIA, @WSH)
Tommy Hanson (@HOU, NYM, @ARZ, PIT, PHI)
Randall Delgado (@HOU, NYM, @ARZ, PIT, PHI)
Luis Mendoza (@OAK, CLE, TOR, @CLE)
Aaron Harang (@SD, SD, @HOU, ATL)
Clayton Kershaw (PIT, SD, @HOU, WSH)
Jordan Zimmermann (@CHC, CIN, HOU, @SD, @LAD)

THE POTENTIAL UNDERPERFORMERS

David Price (NYY, @BOS, @TOR, LAA, @TEX)

I think David Price is awesome from a skill standpoint, but he's not yet a name that all owners are going to stand by with as much confidence as he deserves if he struggles. His April schedule is one of the toughest in baseball, with three road games in some of the best parks for offense and two match-ups at home against the Yankees and Angels. So keep your eye on the David Price owner in your league if he gets off to a rough start -- you may be able to buy low on him.

Jeremy Hellickson (NYY, @BOS, @TOR, LAA)

The comments I just wrote about Price apply to Hellickson even more. If he starts the season 1-3 with a 5.50 ERA, his owners will lose confidence in him as they read the stories about how his 2011 campaign was filled with smoke and mirrors. This scenario even seems a little more likely after struggling during the spring to the tune of a 9.00 ERA.

Chris Volstad (MIL, @STL, CIN, STL, @CIN)

A somewhat trendy sleeper in deeper leagues, Volstad finds himself staring at an extremely difficult start to his 2012 campaign. Milwaukee, St Louis and Cincinnati represent three of the best offenses in the National League. If you missed out on him in your NL-only or deep mixed league, he may be available sometime later this month.

Other tough upcoming schedules

Jaime Garcia (@MIL, @CIN, CIN, @CHC, MIL)
Liam Hendriks (@BAL, TEX, @NYY, BOS, @LAA)
Drew Smyly (TB, @KC, TEX, NYY)

Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret.

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