Time has come to deal first half's top fantasy starting pitchers
Justin Verlander may not decline but can get greatest return in fantasy trade
R.A. Dickey has set a first-half pace that is all but impossible to maintain
A.J. Burnett has returned to dominant form, winning eight consecutive starts
It might be said too much, but we will say it again and perhaps show you where to do it: Sell starting pitching for hitting in rotisserie leagues whenever possible.
Pitching can be found in the weirdest places. All we need to do is point to R.A. Dickey, and then tell you to sell, sell, sell.
Hitters tend to be considered more streaky by the masses in fantasy, but pitchers can run just as hot and cold, and many times, their streaks are conveniently broken up on longer stretches. After all, they start just one or two games a week.
With the All-Star break approaching, it's time to break down the first-half fantasy All-Star pitching staffs and advise where to buy (rarely), sell (mostly) or hold (because the offers just won't be intriguing enough).
Justin Verlander, Tigers (8-4, 2.52, 133 strikeouts, 0.969 WHIP in 117 2/3 innings) -- In a season where most of the top-10 has turned over, Verlander has been the one constant force. It is this reason you should deal him. This isn't to suggest injury or decline is coming to the strongest arm in baseball in this second half, but Verlander's can demand the greatest return of an elite five-category bat. SELL
Chris Sale, White Sox (9-2)-2.27-94-0.965 in 95 1/3 innings -- This 23-year old is arguably the breakthrough pitcher of the year, because he has a greater future than Dickey. But, before you consider buying, consider that sore elbow from earlier this year and the fact first-time starters just don't jump from 71 innings to the 205-plus Sale is on pace for. They shouldn't jump that fast. Also, remember how good Michael Pineda was a year ago before he slowed in the second half, perhaps leading to his shoulder surgery. Sale is great, and relief-eligible in many head-to-head leagues, but he is more valuable to you as trade bait now. SELL
Jake Peavy, White Sox (6-4)-2.84-90-0.994 in 104 2/3 innings -- If Sale is the breakout over the Mets' Dickey, Peavy is the comeback pitcher of the year over the Mets' Johan Santana. Peavy has never been a model of health, but his first-half is actually him just proving to be himself again. We would say buy, if not for the injury risk. It is that same reason you probably won't get a good enough offer to deal him. HOLD
C.J. Wilson, Angels (9-4)-2.36-81-1.148 in 99 1/3 innings -- As good as Wilson has been, he was arguably better last season in a contract year. This is one of the rare cases we might actually suggest a pitcher can get better in the second half. Rookie of the Year Mike Trout has the Angels surging and Albert Pujols still has a monster summer tear coming. The Angels are going to win games and Wilson is going to benefit. HOLD
David Price, Rays (10-4)-2.95-90-1.249 in 97 2/3 innings -- The nod goes to Price over CC Sabathia (15-day DL, groin) and Jered Weaver, who dealt with a back injury earlier this month and has dealt with a significant decline in strikeouts this season. Price, who turns 27 in August, has almost won as many games this first half as he did all of last year. Still, he can improve in every category in his second half over the first. This is one guy to sell a bat for. BUY
R.A. Dickey, Mets (11-1)-2.31-106-0.914 in 105 innings -- You already know which way to go with this one. There are enough fantasy owners in love with the phenomenon that is Dickey to consider him the most obvious sell-high candidate right now. He has set a pace even Verlander wouldn't sustain. There is no way Dickey can. SELL
Matt Cain, Giants (9-2)-2.27-107-0.897 in 107 innings -- This 27-year-old breakout has thrown arguably the most dominant perfect game in history and still might not be done improving. He has a solid pitcher's park to work half his games in and his weak Giants offense will force him to pitch tough every inning, every pitch in the second half. He is at least a hold, but if you can still buy, do it. This is a legit coming of age here. HOLD
Madison Bumgarner, Giants (10-4)-2.85-92-1.057 in 110 2/3 innings -- Bumgarner has emerged a legit fantasy ace in his third season as a starter. Unlike many 22-year-old starters, he has built up gradually and perfectly to this. The fact he just hasn't been this good over the course of a full season -- he is young -- is the only reason(s) he isn't a true "buy." HOLD
Cole Hamels, Phillies (10-3)-3.03-1.077-106 in 104 innings -- You might have missed an opportunity to buy on Hamels, who has recently kicked a mini-funk. Hamels is in a contract year and his full-season numbers to date are not all that surprising when you consider the whole body of career work. Chase Utley is back and Ryan Howard (Achilles') isn't far behind, so Hamels can really get hot again. His contract year makes it a bit more certain he is going to see this breakthrough season through to the end, too. BUY
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (9-2)-2.60-118-1.044 in 90 innings -- Fantasy's strikeout leader beats out Zack Greinke, Gio Gonzalez and Johnny Cueto for the fifth spot on the NL fantasy All-Star staff. He is potentially as good as anyone; yet, the Nationals had said they will limit him to 160 innings before shutting him down for the season. They have softened just a bit on that stance, but you will be sure to find someone that just doesn't believe the Nats will shut him down as the most dominant pitcher in baseball during a pennant race. As much as it will hurt, you just have to shop him right now. SELL
Thursday marked the arrival of two potential future aces. If you are not a fan of soft-tossing, control-and-command guys, you should at least be intrigued by the debut of power righty Andrew Cashner's first start for the Padres and the promise of the Diamondbacks' Trevor Bauer.
Maybe we should hold off evaluating that Cubs-Padres deal that sent Anthony Rizzo to the North Siders. Cashner took a no-hitter into the seventh and struck out nine, walking just one. He draws a two-start week that should make him a potential start in all fantasy leagues immediately.
Pick him up. He can be a huge gem, particularly if you missed out on Bauer.
Bauer's debut wasn't great, but it should be noted he was held to a pitch count because he was working on just three day's rest. Bauer draws Cashner and the Padres in his next start Tuesday. That should be no contest.
Stay confident in Bauer, working his first major league start on regular rest.
Speaking of all of the two-start pitchers in a full week before the All-Star break ...
1. A.J. Burnett, Pirates -- Clearly, Burnett is back to being his dominant self in the NL. He has won eight consecutive starts and faces the offensively weak Astros and Giants. He should be active in all leagues.
2. Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals -- He doesn't get the pub his Washington rotation mates get, but he has posted five consecutive quality starts and faces the Giants and sinking Rockies. He shouldn't be inactive in one-third of CBSSports.com's leagues.
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants -- You certainly regret sitting him last time and you cannot make that same mistake again.
4. Roy Oswalt, Rangers -- He wasn't great in his past start but he is 2-for-2 and will be a candidate to win every time out with that offense backing him.
5. Doug Fister, Tigers -- He is coming off his worst start of the season, perhaps of his career, but Fister should be counted on to rebound nicely against the Twins and Royals. Keep him active.
1. Freddy Garcia, Yankees -- While he is a nice sleeper now that he is back in the Yankees' rotation for the next couple of months, you cannot trust him on the road at Tampa Bay and Boston before he is really stretched out as a starter.
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox -- There was some promise shown last time out against the Blue Jays, and he draws the A's in his first start, but Dice-K remains too risky to use. With every team playing seven games, there are ample two-start pitchers to choose from that are more intriguing, and Dice-K is a risk to get hammered in the second start against the Yankees.
3. Carlos Zambrano, Marlins -- While we still think he can turn his season back around, this isn't a good week to trust him. Sure, he didn't allow an earned run last time out, but he was down 5-0 in the first on unearned runs and has been brutally bad in the three starts prior.
4. Jeff Samardzija, Cubs -- He has cooled off considerably and suffered through the worst start of his career last time out. Two road starts against potentially contending teams should keep you from using Samardzija right now.
5. Christian Friedrich, Rockies -- His fast start is long forgotten. He has lost four consecutive starts and just hasn't been competitive.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).