February 28, 2011
NL Starting Pitcher Rankings
These are the National 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, closer, and AL starting pitcher installments.
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.
Halladay is valued for $27 with just 15 wins projected. There's a good chance, given his durability and the number of innings he pitches, that he will end up with more wins (and more value) than that. He’s one of just two five-star starting pitchers (out of 140 that I’ve ranked), which should tell you about all you need to know about the right-hander.
Except for a short stretch of 2010 when Lincecum appeared to be a mere mortal on the mound, he was his typical untouchable self. In a down year, he struck out 9.8 per nine and posted an ERA of 3.43. Cliff Lee is back in the National League, which worked out pretty well last time around (8.4 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 3.39 ERA). Mat Latos whiffed 9.2 per nine last year and posted an ERA of 2.92—it’s not often PECOTA will project a pitcher to have a sub-three ERA for a weighted-mean forecast, but it doesn’t usually get the chance to pair an ace with a park that makes your average hurlers look as great as Petco does. The lone worry with Josh Johnson, as always, is his health. When he's healthy, there are few pitchers I would rather have, both in real life and in fantasy baseball.
I’m a little surprised at Kershaw’s WHIP projection, which is part of the reason he’s in this tier rather than in the three-star one where his dollar value suggests he should be. Oswalt saw his strikeout rate jump back up in 2010, as he posted the second-loftiest K/9 of his career. Add a K/BB rate (3.5) that fits right in with his career rate (3.6), and it’s tough to knock him down as far as PECOTA is suggesting here. My guess would be that his 70th percentile forecast has what I’m looking for. Zack Greinke won’t get any help from the Brewers’ defense—some things never change, Zack—but at least the lineup supporting him will actually, you know, support him. That alone should fix the wins issue that kept his roto value down in the past, never mind the switch to the least-challenging division in all the land.
As Bill Baer detailed the other day, you can pretty much ignore what the ERA estimators say about Matt Cain. Chris Carpenter, when he can stay on the mound, is an excellent pitcher, though his strikeout rates have fallen from their peak level. Cole Hamels might only be the fourth-best starter in Philadelphia, but he’s still one of the better pitchers in the NL. This Tommy Hanson forecast seems just right. He’s not a fantasy ace since he doesn’t strike out a batter per inning, but if he can keep his K/BB over three like he did in 2010, it’s tough to complain. Ted Lilly has long had a problem with homers, but Chavez Ravine is a great park to keep that from being as noticeable. Run support is the worry out there, but as you can see, if he can hit double digits in wins, he should be worth double digits in dollars.
Jimenez has struck out more batters than that each of the last three seasons, but his WHIP has been all over the place in that stretch as well. He’ll be worth far more than $3, but I’m not sure he’s an elite fantasy starter given his park and track record. The Brewers’ terrible defense prevents Yovani Gallardo from posting ERA and WHIP in the ranges he should, which keeps him from being as much of a fantasy asset as he could be in other environments. Kuroda has been in the majors for three years, and hasn’t hit 200 innings yet. He came pretty close last year, though, and I expect a better WHIP and far more strikeouts than this weighted-mean suggests. Tim Hudson was worth quite a bit last year thanks to throwing nearly 230 innings—it might be safe to say he’s feeling good after recovering from Tommy John surgery that ended his 2008 and stole away his 2009.
Shaun Marcum won’t miss the American League East, but he will miss having a non-terrible defense behind him. Another year removed from major arm surgery (and in the NL Central) Marcum should look pretty good regardless. Javier Vazquez is hoping that the shift back to the NL will bring him the same kind of success it did the last time he had to escape the American League. Chad Billingsley is a pretty good pitcher, but there are a lot of pitchers to choose from, and many of them have better offenses supporting them. Ricky Nolasco is an anti-Matt Cain of sorts. I like Wandy Rodriguez more than a two-star pitcher, but I can’t move him higher than that when he has that Astros’ lineup “supporting” him.
Madison Bumgarner was pretty good in his rookie season thanks to excellent control of his pitches and some help from his home park. He always had that control in the minors, and he’s still in San Francisco, so draft accordingly. Brett Myers, like teammate Wandy, loses points for being an Astro. Dan Hudson is a pitcher I like as well, but like is as far as I’ll go until I’ve seen him pitch in the majors some more—his reliance on the D’backs defensive unit doesn’t do him any favors, either. If Jonathan Sanchez could replicate his 2010 campaign in 2011, I would rate him a bit higher, but given his typical WHIP, he’s not a great fantasy option. I’ve talked about James McDonald quite a bit in the last six months or so, most recently here.
Ian Kennedy is more interesting in real life than in fantasy, as I don’t see him crossing the $10 threshold that requires him to move a tier up. I get the sense I’ll like Ryan Dempster’s 70th percentile forecast more, though that shouldn’t be so different from his weighted-mean that it would move him out of this tier. I would still rather have him than new Cub Matt Garza. I have faith in Tim Stauffer turning into a pretty good starter, but he won’t be a good source of strikeouts, which hurts his fantasy value. I do think his rate stats will be better than those above, though, which is why he’s in this tier. I think Homer Bailey has the talent to hit the three-star tier, but he needs to last a full season before I can put him there. He’s a post-hype sleeper (again). I’ve talked about Jonathon Niese and why I like him more than his 2010 stats say I should. Anibal Sanchez and Jaime Garcia both had quality 2010 seasons, but neither of them has an extensive track record of success, which keeps them behind the other fine options in the league.
Derek Lowe has had at least 32 starts a season since 2002, his first full season as a starting pitcher. He’s not going to help your ERA or strikeouts, but if you need nearly 200 innings of solid pitching in an NL-only league, Lowe can help with that. I like Jordan Zimmermann’s potential—he’s a good sleeper for 2011 given the time he missed with injury in 2010. PECOTA and I expect Bronson Arroyo to fall back a bit from his 2010 campaign, though he and his two teammates who follow him on this list are all useful in NL-only. Clayton Richard has Petco at his back, but his ERA will most likely be in the high three or low four range, and while he’ll strike out an above-average number of hitters, it won’t be enough to make him a fantasy asset.
I want R.A. Dickey to be excellent, but it’s tough to bet on a knuckler from year to year. Jake Westbrook is interesting thanks to pitching in Busch Stadium and in the NL Central. Jon Garland isn’t as intriguing in Los Angeles as he was in Petco, a park that was basically built for him. I don’t like Edinson Volquez as much as many others do; excepting the first half of his first full season, he has never done much of anything that merits attention. Randy Wolf rebounded in the second half of 2010 after some rough outings, but the defense behind him still won’t do him much good. Aaron Harang spent the winter working to regain his old mechanics, and the move from the Great American Ball Park to Petco should be one that keeps him productive for at least one more year.
Chris Young has two major question marks: health and production. He can’t answer the second until he proves he has the first under control. Barry Zito is a lot like Lowe in that he should approach 200 innings. Carlos Zambrano is someone I will be staying away from. Mike Pelfrey, despite his fans, is pretty overrated. Jhoulys Chacin is one guy I can see moving out of this tier, but PECOTA does not like him very much. Tom Gorzelanny should get to start all the time in Washington, which helps, but unless he gets his walks under control, he won’t be worth very much outside of NL-only leagues.
Thanks for reading this lengthy series—my hope is that you get the assist you want in your drafts. Remember, the Player Forecast Manager is another quality tool at draft time, and now you can use it in concert with my rankings. Good luck on draft day, and as always, feel free to contact me or any of the fantasy staff with your questions.