Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
February 25, 2011
AL Starting Pitcher Rankings
These are the American League starting pitcher fantasy rankings for 2011. Check out our previous first base, second base, third base, shortstop, catcher, left fielder, center fielder, right fielder, and closer installments. NL starting pitcher will be published Monday.
Like last year, the fantasy rankings are broken into tiers. Generally speaking, five-star players should be worthwhile in five categories and have an auction dollar value of $30 or more in your standard, mixed leagues. Four-star players should be worth at least $20 and useful in four categories, three-stars $10 and up, two-stars are more of your single-digit buys that you hope fill a hole or return some bargain value, and one-star players are, most likely, roster filler in the deepest leagues that you hope can be worth the buck you throw down on them.
This year we are listing stats like we have in the past (innings pitched, wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and saves projections from PECOTA) but are also including dollar value estimates produced by the Player Forecast Manager. In order to make these columns fit into the tables, I had to shorten them: "2L-$" is for mixed leagues, and "1L-$" is for AL- or NL-only leagues, depending on the player. The dollar values may not match up perfectly with the tiers, but those are just cases of PECOTA and I disagreeing on a player.
For reference, the dollar values were created with the PFM using standard 5x5 roto scoring, 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) Util (1) P (9)—and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify (though I snuck a few brand-new players likely to qualify in). If your league uses different settings, be sure to plug them into the PFM to see what kind of differences in dollar value we are talking about—I set these to be as close to standard roster construction as possible.
Hernandez was well over the $30 mark last year, and PECOTA thinks he can do it again. He may not get the wins, but if his ERA is that shiny and he stays healthy, he won't need to. Hernandez is one of just two five-star pitchers in either league. Since starters contribute to four categories maximum against the five categories that hitters can contribute to, it's more difficult for them to crack the $30 mark. That makes for deep middle tiers, though.
Sabathia is not the greatest pitcher in the four-star tier, but he can throw a whole lot of innings and has a ton of offensive support behind him. Dan Haren now gets a full season away from the Diamondbacks' defense and a park he was never a good fit for. Jered Weaver was one of the top starters in the AL last year, and if he can maintain his punch-out rates will beat that $20 projection. Justin Verlander is kind of a beast, so I'm more interested in his upper-level projections than the one listed here. Same goes for Jon Lester, who may be the top lefty in the American League.
I'm a total Max Scherzer fanboy, but you already knew that. I think he can make the leap to four-star status, but first he'll need to show he can keep that ERA down. David Price is pretty overrated, but he's also eventually going to be a pretty special pitcher. Just don't pay for him in 2011 like he's already the guy he will become. Fresh off the three-star ranking he received last year on his return to the States, Colby Lewis sits here once again. I'm a big Lewis fan as well. Brett Anderson has four-star talent, but coming off some injuries in 2010, he needs to show me he can last the year before I'll grant him that much in the rankings. Francisco Liriano is also capable of much more than this weighted-mean forecast—as will likely be seen in his upper-level forecasts—but the Twins' apparent worries about his health have me nervous. If you're not as nervous, bump him up.
Clay Buchholz gets a lot of flak because his BABIP was low in 2010 and his ERA was much better than it should have been, but don't get distracted by that. Regressing is not the same thing as totally falling apart, and Buchholz, a very talented pitcher with fantastic stuff—his slider, which isn't even his best pitch, increased in velocity once again in 2010, this time up to 90 mph—is going to be very productive. PECOTA thinks so, I think so, and hopefully 2011 will convince you all. Brian Matusz is poised for a breakout, so don't miss out on that. He has tough competition in the AL East, but he did last year too, and handled himself pretty well then.
The two-star tier in the American League is full of pitchers who could be so much more. I'm not as excited about Phil Hughes as PECOTA, especially with his park. But if PECOTA is right, then I'm underrating him by a tier. If Jeremy Hellickson throws more innings than is listed, and doesn't deal with the same first-year AL East struggles that Wade Davis did, then he's more deserving of three-star status. Jake Peavy, if his shoulder stays attached to the rest of his body this year, could be excellent. I'm not betting on it with my auction money, though. James Shields lives in the strike zone a bit too much for an AL East pitcher, but when he gets away with that act he's quite the hurler. If Josh Beckett's back is feeling fine, he's going to be excellent. That "if" is roughly the size of his ego and/or gut based on how often his back bothered him in 2010, so the Texan gets to stare at all the two-star scenery.
Rob McQuown says I'm underrating Trevor Cahill, which I grant is certainly possible. I don't think he'll be worth much more than $10-12 total, but that would be enough to push him to the three-star level. Where is the Ervin Santana from 2008? I want that guy back. You know what you're getting from John Danks—he's a good inexpensive pick to shore up your pitching stats. Scott Baker would worry me less if he weren't suffering discomfort in his surgically repaired elbow when he throws his changeup in bullpen sessions. I dig C.J. Wilson, but his walk rate keeps him from being any more than a two-star pitcher.
Brandon Morrow is going to give you excellent strikeout numbers, but until he nears the 200 inning threshold and shows he can keep his walk rate down, I'm not about to rate him in front of what is a very deep starting pitcher pool. He has loads of upside, though, and I think he can be great—much better than the pessimistic forecast above. Gio Gonzalez's control will hold him back from being a must-own starter, but he'll get you strikeouts and benefits from the pitcher-friendly Coliseum in Oakland. Ricky Romero isn't an ace by any means, but between his groundball tendencies and above-average whiff rates, he should be much better than above. I'm sure I would be pleased with his 70th percentile forecast.
Jeff Niemann has been solid in his career, but he doesn't have great fantasy numbers, and I worry about his health a little. Joel Pineiro lacks excitement to the point where I still haven't bothered to figure out how to spell his name right off the top of my head. This "i before e" stuff in school messed with my future as a baseball writer. John Lackey was much better in the second half of the season thanks to improved command of his secondary stuff and a better K/BB ratio, but he also beat up on the Mariners, Athletics and Indians in that timeframe. Of course you would already know about that if you bought Baseball Prospectus 2011.
Jason Vargas isn't great at suppressing runs, but his home park is. Abuse that. Gavin Floyd and I have had our differences in the past, but we've worked things out, and I've accepted him as a useful piece late in drafts. Edwin Jackson will either be infuriatingly inconsistent as usual, or become pitching coach Don Cooper's Pietà. Pay for the former, hope for the latter. If Brandon Webb is healthy, he's going to be pretty good. The Rangers' infield defense—now with less Michael Young!—is nothing short of fantastic. Of course, the last time Brandon Webb was healthy was two Diamondbacks GMs and a Rangers owner ago, so draft accordingly. Dallas Braden shouldn't be ranked higher unless he were to face the Rays all the time (yes, I'm trolling R.J. Anderson within an article). I wish Kevin Slowey threw harder so we could all debate whether his last name is ironic or not.
Oh boy. Things drop off pretty fast. Pavano might reach 200 innings, but unless the Twins are giving him lots of run support (a plausible scenario), that's not necessarily a good thing. Jeremy Guthrie could be moved this summer to a contender (the O's talked about it last summer), but anywhere out of the AL East would do him worlds of good. Justin Masterson needs a defense that can actually, like, play defense behind him. That and for opposing managers to forget that left-handed batters take his lunch money. I like Wade Davis' potential, but if the AL East has its way with him again in 2011, then his production for you will not be pretty.
A.J. Burnett is less infuriating in fantasy baseball because you don't have to watch him pitch, and he didn’t cost $16.5 million. That being said, he's still a one-star guy: there is no shortage of arms, and if wins is the lone category he's helping out in, he's not worth the money. Brandon McCarthy is somewhat intriguing given his park. Other than that, I'm nonplussed. I spent a few days this offseason over at Red Sox Beacon talking about how Boston should either convert Dice-K into a reliever, or move him to open up a rotation spot for a free agent or prospect. I think that should explain his placement here.
Scott Kazmir is basically the opposite of Mark Buehrle. He's not dependable, he's an injury risk, he runs up pitch counts, and he doesn't work fast. Somehow they end up with roughly the same fantasy value, and I can't really dispute that. Still, I'm putting a stop to that by keeping Kazmir farther down in the rankings. Brett Cecil might be my least favorite of the four Toronto starters listed here—Kyle Drabek is ranked farther down solely because I'm not confident he'll start out pitching very well given his youth and inexperience at the level. By the end of the year Drabek could outclass Cecil. Holland intrigues me, but any pitcher in Texas has to deal with that park—that could cut into his value.
Justin Duchscherer would rank higher if your league ended after 28 innings, like his seasons do. The way some people have written about Fausto Carmona's trade value, you would think they had him on their fantasy team and just wanted to squeeze some more wins out of him courtesy of a contender. I'm not sure if I'm pleased or upset that Chip Caray doesn't announce Douglas Fister's starts. Michael Pineda got more of a full rundown here. When Rick Porcello decides to throw his four-seamer more often, he can leave timeout. C'mon, Rick, I ranked you next to Phil Coke. Isn't that reason enough to try something new?
We have officially hit the Bruce Chen portion of the show, which means it's time for me to throw up my hands and say I hope you finished drafting your pitchers before this point. This isn't even the bottom of the barrel anymore: the wood rotted and Royals pitchers started falling out.