July can be a tricky month as far as formulating a pitching strategy is concerned in fantasy baseball.
It's the month in which the All-Star Game is played, that traditionally on the second or third Tuesday of the month, baking in a three-to-four-day All-Star break that affords teams an opportunity to shuffle their rotations. That break, too, allows teams to demote certain pitchers to minor league affiliates, that rest period accounting for a chunk of the minimum 10-day requirement for a minor league stay and therefore easing the blow.
You'll often see a pitcher start the Wednesday or Thursday game immediately preceding the break, get demoted to the minors, then be summoned on the earliest date that his team needs a fifth starter after the break, typically the Monday or Tuesday afterward -- using the Thursday and Monday dates referenced, that'd provide the pitcher exactly a 10-day minor league stay.
In short, don't panic if your productive pitcher receives an unexpected demotion within the next week-to-10-days -- à la Chris Paddack's two weeks ago -- as it's entirely possible his team is only leveraging the roster rules around the upcoming All-Star break.
It's the aces, though, who reap the greatest reward in the month of July. Due to the aforementioned "reset" created by the All-Star break, teams have the luxury of maximizing their aces' assignments during this unusual month, potentially starting them in the final game before it on Sunday, then again in the first game after it on Friday (or Saturday and Thursday in the case of the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers, the only teams to play on the first day back this year, Thursday, July 11).
Last season, Trevor Bauer, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks (he worked that Saturday-Thursday pattern) all worked on four days' rest spanning the All-Star break, despite the fact that none of them was technically "on turn" in their respective rotations at the time. All three pitchers wound up amongst the 15 who tied for the month's lead with six starts.
Now here's the catch: Until managers announce their second-half rotations, which typically happens anywhere between the 3-4 days before the break and the very first day of the second half, we won't know the order of any team's rotation, making advanced planning especially difficult for July. That's why aces reap the rewards: We know they'll still be in their respective rotations, and they're the most likely to make the most starts during the month.
But that doesn't mean we can't speculate on good month-long streaming candidates, just as we did four weeks ago. If you're planning ahead, the best way to do this is to lean upon the July schedules, then merely hope that rotation orders fall into place.
The Forecaster can help: I've used it to analyze all possible pitching matchups during the 31 days in July -- though there are games played on only 28 of those -- in order to identify the best "streaming starter" candidates who could provide you something more during the month. The following individual pitchers and/or team rotations stand out as the strongest month-long investments for July. I've included only those pitchers who are currently available in at least 50% of ESPN leagues.
Homer Bailey, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller and the Kansas City Royals' pitching staff: Wait [e] what? The Royals? Really? Difficult as it might be to believe it -- especially in the case of Bailey, whose ERA since the beginning of 2015 is a ghastly 5.83 -- the Royals have the month's most favorable pitching schedule, not to mention a staff in which not a single pitcher is rostered in greater than 17.3% of ESPN leagues (and that's closer Ian Kennedy's rate). If you want long-term, locked-in streamers, here they are, as the Royals will play a league-high 26 games (tied with five other teams), a league-high 17 home games at one of the best parks in baseball at suppressing power, and will face teams that rank in the bottom 10 in the game in runs per game for 21 of those 26 contests. As for their individuals' talent, consider this: In the past three weeks (June 5-25), the Royals have a league-leading 11 quality starts (tied with five other teams) and 3.94 ERA (eighth-best) as a staff.
Steven Matz and Jason Vargas, New York Mets: Considering where we all were with Vargas just two short months ago -- he had a 7.20 ERA, had allowed .313/.405/.563 slash rates in his four starts and one relief appearances through April 26, and was generating headlines in the local media that the team should place a call to free agent Dallas Keuchel -- it's remarkable to think that today, he's a strongly recommended choice for the month ahead. It's the right play: Since his May 25 return from a hamstring strain, he's 3-for-6 in quality starts with a 2.27 ERA. Matz, despite his extremely inconsistent past month, stands good odds of a rebound July. The Mets begin the month with a light week, five home games including the two-game Subway Series (July 2-3), but even that comes against a New York Yankees team that will be fresh off its flight back from London. Outside of a pair of road games against the Minnesota Twins (July 16-17), the Mets' second-half-of-July schedule is ridiculously light: Four games against the San Francisco Giants played in pitchers' heaven Oracle Park, three apiece against the Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres and two against the Chicago White Sox. Every one of those five teams has averaged more than a quarter-run per game beneath the league average for the season (4.78). Even better: The Giants, Marlins and Pirates are the three worst teams in baseball in terms of wOBA against left-handed pitchers.
Adam Plutko, Cleveland Indians: Mike Clevinger would be the pick here if available in more than the 9% of ESPN leagues that he is, but the Indians' July schedule is so favorable, Plutko gets the nod as a sort of "heads up" that whomever the team tosses into the mix for spot starts will be a strong streaming choice. The team begins its traditional second half with three games against the Twins and concludes July with a pair against the Houston Astros, but there isn't a truly frightening matchup on the schedule for the entire remainder of the month. Plutko is 3-for-6 in quality starts with a 4.26 ERA and sparking 8.3 K-to-walk ratio since being summoned as a Corey Kluber fill-in, but it's also worth pointing out that Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Jefry Rodriguez have performed well as fellow fill-ins for the team's injury-tattered rotation. Keep those Indians fill-ins on hand for the long haul so long as there's word they're not up for a mere one-day assignment.
Conversely, here are the pitchers who look least likely to help on the streaming front in the month of July. There's no roster percentage requirement here, but these are pitchers generally regarded in the "matchups" class.
Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners: Neither has pitched particularly well since the beginning of May -- though Gonzales is riding a back-to-back quality starts streak -- as Gonzales' ERA is 5.75 in his 10 starts and Kikuchi's is 5.47 in 10 during that time span. That the Mariners have the majors' 24th-ranked relief ERA (5.33) during that time doesn't help matters for the starters in the win column. Then we get to the schedule: Only the aforementioned Mets (22 games, which underscores how favorable their July schedule in the games they do play) play fewer games in July than the Mariners, and only the Texas Rangers (20.0%) and Astros (21.5%) face weaker schedules in the strikeout department (21.7%). If you haven't cashed in your Mariners pitching chips, you need to do so right now.
Lance Lynn, Rangers: He can be a very productive fantasy starter at times, but due to his traditionally non-elite command, ground ball and hard-contact rates, Lynn is susceptible to painful slumps as well. July seems like a time where those odds are elevated for him, as the Rangers face the aforementioned worst monthly schedule for strikeouts, not to mention they join the Colorado Rockies as the only teams to not face a single opponent that the Forecaster grades a top-10 pitching matchup. The Rangers play 12 of their 25 games at home at hitting-friendly Globe Life Park and play three-game road series against the Twins and Astros, providing Lynn few favorable windows. He has eight quality starts, a 3.34 ERA and 30.3 percent strikeout rate during his past nine turns, having faced a lot of extremely favorable matchups in that time, so this is probably the best sell-high point he has had in his career in years.
Cincinnati Reds starters: Amongst the available-in-more-than-50% crew, Anthony DeSclafani, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Tanner Roark have been plenty useful to this point of the year, but things get a bit tougher for the quartet in July. The team won't play a single one of its 25 games at a pitching-friendly venue, with 16 of them at Great American Ball Park and another three apiece at Colorado's Coors Field and Milwaukee's Miller Park.
Other pitchers to sell/avoid: Miami Marlins starters Sandy Alcantara (10% rostered in ESPN leagues) and Jordan Yamamoto (51%); Zach Eflin (57%); Oakland Athletics starters Brett Anderson (12%), Chris Bassitt (20%) and Mike Fiers (36%).