Yes, starting pitchers are deep in fantasy. But there are 14 “safe plays” and then lots of questions. I will make it a point in every league to have at least one of these aces.
The fact that Justin Verlander was other-worldly last year overshadowed what Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw did last year. Halladay finished 19-6 witha 2.35 ERA and 1.04 WHIP to go with 220 Ks. Kershaw was even better at 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 248 Ks and he was just 23. You could put these three in any order, but I’m going to rank them Halladay, Kershaw, Verlander, but keep in mind, we are splitting hairs here.
Again splitting hairs with the next tier, I have to go with Cliff Lee at #4, followed very closely by Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez at #5 and 6 respectively. Going against the flow a little bit, I’m going to take Tim Lincecum over Jered Weaver at #7 and Weaver falls to #8.
The next five might cause some bar fights among friends because there are reasons to love any of them at 9 –> 14.
For me, David Price is at #9 followed by Matt Cain at #10. WHAT?! Matt Cain? He doesn’t come off as dominant… But I love safety and predictability. Between 2009 and 2011 (his 24-26 year old seasons) Cain made exactly 33 starts each season. His ERA was 2.89, 3.14, 2.88. His WHIP was 1.181, 1.084 and 1.083. His K/9 was 7.1, 7.1 and 7.3. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, when you get Cain, you get around 2.90 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and a little over 7 K/9. And knowing that just makes life so much less stressful. And at just 27 years old, he has some upside from there. So yes, Cain is in my top-10.
But there’s still four names in that 9-14 group who you might have ahead of Price or Cain and I wouldn’t call you crazy. Dan Haren, CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke and Jon Lester… any of them could win a Cy Young this year and it wouldn’t be shocking. They might all have ERA under three, and solid K/9. In that case, you have to look at win potential, and for that reason alone, I’d take Sabathia, Lester, Haren and then Greinke. The other reason for that ordering is because Greinke scares me. He’s very talented, but his downside seems a bit steeper than the others. His K/9 was the highest among starters and yet he had an ERA over 3.8.
Now, not that things get “ugly” after the top 14, but they certainly get much more risky. James Shields will be on my bust list. The peripherals say 2011’s sub-3 ERA had some luck to it. He should push for 200 strikeouts, but expect more of a 3.30-3.50 ERA and perhaps a few less wins. While I’m not buying Shields, I am buying CJ Wilson. 2.94 ERA and 1.19 WHIP from 2011 seem sustainable. He’s pitching in a better home ballpark for pitchers and he still gets to go to Oakland and Seattle a bunch of times, while Shields has to go to the Bronx and Fenway.
Let me dispel the rumors, Ian Kennedy won’t go near 21 wins or his 2.88 ERA this year and Tommy Hansen won’t make 30 starts. I love Michael Pineda moving to New York. While he loses the ballpark factor, he goes from some of the worst run-support to some of the best.
You know, ESPN and CBS should be indited for what they’re doing to Matt Moore. They’ve turned him from one of the more exciting high-upside picks in 2012 to pure-bust material. From all the glowing descriptions, Moore will go among the top 20 or 25 starters in many leagues, so there’s no upside. His best case scenario is to match that draft value, and I expect him to miss it. I think he’ll be among the top 40 SP, maybe 35 but I don’t see enough innings or enough wins because of his penchant for leaving games early due to pitch count. Let someone else reach while you snicker and call out…
Jordan Zimmerman… yes please. First of all, if you’re looking for a reasonable projection for Stephen Strasburg this year, coming off surgery, look at Zimmerman’s 2011. It’s the same team so they’ll likely handle the workload similarly. You might get a few more Ks, but same sell-high status as it gets later in the season and he’s closer to being shut down. Zimmerman’s first half he put up 18 starts, 115 innings and a 2.66 ERA. Naturally, things got worse in the second half and he was shut down after 26 total starts, but Zimmerman should be full strength this year and has top-20 potential at the position.
All the advanced metrics will tell you Josh Beckett’s sub-3 ERA was an illusion. He’s good, but expect an ERA around 3.50 and hope he gets lucky. The wins should be there, at least to the tune of 15 or so, but 3.50 and 15 wins isn’t a top 30 pitcher anymore.
Ah yes, Yu Darvish… I’m thinking he gets off to a great start and slows as more batters learn him. Whether that lasts until July or October, I don’t know. But I’m expecting 28 starts, 3.57 ERA and 165 Ks. He wouldn’t be in my top-30 SP, but maybe between 35 and 40.
I’ll be buying Adam Wainwright if I can get him after the top 30 starters. I think he’s going to be very good in however many starts he is allowed. I’d expect 25, and around 140-150 innings, ERA in the low threes and maybe 15 wins. He may not return to the top-10 at the position until 2013.
One of my favorite pitchers in the game is also the most maddening. Josh Johnson would be a top-10 (maybe 5) option if he could guarantee 30 starts. But he can’t, and I can’t. I have decided to list him as both a sleeper and a bust this year because this isn’t like some guys who always seem to have nagging issues. This guy is an elite pitcher for two months and then he’s done for four, so there’s no in-between. Invest with caution, but still invest.
I like Geo Gonzalez, I like Brandon Beachy… I love Hiroki Kuroda, a groundball pitcher, in Yankee pinstripes.
Doug Fister and Justin Masterson are both ground ball pitchers often at the mercy of their backing defenses. I have thought both are routinely underrated in fantasy, but if there was one big loser from Detroit signing Prince Fielder it might be Fister because having Fielder and Miguel Cabrera as his first and third basemen could hurt his WHIP significantly. That being said, the run support will aid in wins.
Every year I know better, and every year I reach for Brandon Morrow. He is actually #1 in K/9 among qualifying starters in the last two seasons combined.
Homer Bailey, Clay Buchholz, Mike Minor, Vance Worley… I’ve seem them ranked between 65 and 80 at SP in various rankings and that seems right, but with drastic differences. Bailey was once touted as the next ace in Cincy. Now he’s a matchups play. Minor is still learning his game. He will strike out more guys than most people think, but might also struggle to work deep into games, so temper expectations. Worley will be on my sleepers list this year because the cutter he got from teammate Hamels might propel him into the top 50 at the position. And if Buchholz is 100% healthy, he could have the highest upside of them all, slotting in behind Lester in the Red Sox rotation. His back will be the deciding factor.
Marion, Alabama: There seems to be a lot of relievers moving into rotations this year. Neftali Feliz, Chris Sale, Aroldis Chapman, Daniel Bard… what’s the prognosis?
Well Marion, I have difference answers for each. Feliz concerns me because he’s farther removed from major innings than the others. He has excellent stuff but his numbers weren’t “dominant” even as a closer last year. I’m the kind of guy who will try to get either Sale or Chapman late in my drafts because I love the upside and they should come fairly cheap. Bard looks like the most likely candidate for success as a starter, with a good fastball/changeup combo. We’ve seen Alexi Ogando and CJ Wilson make the change successfully so all four might be worth a look, even in shallower leagues. The fact both Ogando and Wilson did it with the Rangers lends some extra credibility to Feliz because the process has been tried and proven there. Personally, I’d rank them Bard, Sale, Chapman, then Feliz as starters, but remember any one could be back in the bullpen by May if the pitchers falter early.
Gene, Detroit: Win me my league with three starters I can get late and could explode.
Gene, you’re talking boom or bust, high risk and high reward. With that in mind, Brandon Morrow, Aroldis Chapman, Clay Buchholz are the names that come to mind off the top of my head. If you could look into the middle rounds, I’d add Jordan Zimmerman, Adam Wainwright, I guess theoretically Yu Darvish could really be the best pitcher in the world, as he suggests. Color me skeptical on that one.
That’s it for now. Check back soon for relief pitchers and then sleepers and busts.