March 13, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: NL Starting Pitchers
As a reminder, five-star players are generally going to be your star-level producers that will be selected within the first couple of rounds, usually worth upward of $30. Four-star players are the next step down, worth more than $20. Three stars are worth more than $10, two stars will be in the single digits, and one star will be roster-filler and late-round fliers. Of course, this is just a general guideline. While the rankings will generally follow PECOTA, I will deviate when I feel strongly that a player will over or underperform his PECOTA projection.
I’ve also decided to give my choice for a value pick in each tier—a guy who I think will be worth more than your leaguemates do, or a guy who I believe stands a good chance of beating his PECOTA projection.
For reference, the dollar values were created by our PFM using a league format of 12 teams, 5x5 scoring, and 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (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. We’ll be providing values for both mixed leagues and AL-only/NL-only leagues. While this is the industry standard format, your own league structure may differ, in which case you can customize the PFM to your own needs.
As far as pitchers go, you obviously can’t go wrong with any of these guys. Perennial Cy Young contenders all, and they’ve all been relatively healthy.
Five-Star Value Pick: You’re not going to find any bargains here, but I do believe Clayton Kershaw is the best bet of the four to outperform his PECOTA. PECOTA is more pessimistic on him than the rest as a result of its heavy weighting of past seasons, projecting a 3.4 BB/9 that basically puts him back where he was in 2010. Kershaw threw a different curve in 2011, though, shifting attention from a harder-to-spot big, looping curve to a tighter curve that likely resulted in some of his control gains (3.6 BB/9 to 2.1 BB/9). I’d bet on him maintaining more of those gains than he lost.
Strasburg is a trendy pick this year, and it’s easy to see why given his ridiculous stuff. Still, the Nats will limit him to 160 innings, and that’s going to push him down the list in favor of guys who may pitch 200.
Four-Star Value Pick: PECOTA’s not drinking than Greinke Kool-Aid, but I am. I expected big things from him moving from the American League to the National League last year, and aside from a few weeks that can be chalked up to bad luck, he was phenomenal. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up as a top-five pitcher in baseball this year.
Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright are Four-Star pitchers talent-wise, but both spent most of 2011 on the shelf, so the elevated injury risk pushes them down the list.
I’ve been asked about Brandon Beachy countless times, so here’s my opinion: I really like him. I really liked him well before the 2011 season and defended Atlanta’s choice to make him the number-five starter over Mike Minor out of spring training last year. That said, he’s not a 10 K/9 guy. The stuff isn’t there for it. He was a high-strikeout guy in the minors, though, and what he lacks in overpowering stuff he makes up for in depth and pitchability. Something in 7-8 K/9 territory sounds about right.
Marcum would be a couple spots higher if he weren’t dealing with shoulder soreness. Like Greinke, I really liked him coming over from the AL last year. Between the shoulder soreness he had last year, his (potentially injury-induced) struggles down the stretch, and shoulder issues again, I take pause. Still, he’s a very good pitcher and could be well worth the price if your leaguemates are skeptical about guys who throw 86 mph.
I discussed my dislike for Hanson a couple of weeks ago. I’ll direct you there.
Three-Star Value Pick: I grabbed Ted Lilly for $10 in LABR NL last weekend, which was a very good price. There’s nothing flashy about Lilly, his stuff is nothing to rave about, and there’s no upside, but he’ll get the job done. His fly-ball nature makes his fielding independent ERAs look worse than his actual ERAs, but he has a .270 BABIP in nearly 2,000 career innings, so those ERAs are going to be more accurate than his FIP or xFIP will be. He has also posted an ERA under 4.00 in four of the past five years.
One unlucky season seems to have Dempster in everybody’s doghouse (he’s been a 21st-round pick in Mock Draft Central drafts), but bet on the comeback. He’s a very good pitcher (I also managed to grab him in LABR NL last weekend for just $9) whose peripherals were completely in line with where they’ve been over the previous three seasons. His down 2011 is nearly 100 percent attributable to bad luck. Show no hesitation in buying him.
Edinson Volquez’s ranking may seem aggressive. PECOTA really likes him, though, and I really like the potential of him pitching in PETCO. Yes, the walks will still be a problem, but it’s the best park in the majors for strikeouts (something he’s really good at), and even if he is walking guys, far fewer will be scoring since the home runs will be fewer and further between now that he’s moving from Great American Ball Park.
Two-Star Value Pick: Erik Bedard is about as risky as pitchers come, but he’s at least healthy to start this season, and he’s entering a favorable park and league. Whether he gives you 50 innings, 100 innings, or 200 innings, they’re going to be very high-quality innings, so he’s worth the gamble.
I’m not entirely sure why PECOTA seems to hate Jon Niese and Homer Bailey, but I like them both as 4.00 ERA guys. They won’t blow your socks off, but they’ve got good enough stuff to be at least serviceable.
Chris Volstad is interesting in NL-only leagues or as a flyer in deep mixed leagues. Kevin Goldstein ranked him as Florida’s fifth-best talent under 25, saying, “Volstad is a fantastic sleeper selection for 2012 as he learns how to be a ground-ball pitcher. His ERA was up in 2011, but his walks were down, his strikeouts were up, and there is still a ceiling there.”
A.J. Burnett, before his injury, was extremely intriguing in NL-only leagues. Between the move out of the AL and the park change from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park (about as extreme a shift as you’ll get), he was in for a huge value spike. If you weren’t willing to chalk up his gopher-itis to bad luck last year (17 percent HR/FB), the park would have helped alleviate most of your worries. An eye injury is a bit worrisome for a pitcher, but I like Burnett’s upside enough that I was willing to gamble $3 on him in LABR NL and was still excited to get him at such a price. If he comes back in May, that’s pure profit.
Juan Nicasio pitched very well last year before succumbing to a very scary injury, but he’s reportedly looking great in camp and makes for a worthwhile deep sleeper.
One-Star Value Pick: I really like R.A. Dickey in NL-only leagues. He’s another guy that’s kind of boring without much upside, but he’s rock solid. The best knuckleballer in baseball right now (okay, I realize that’s not saying much), he controls the ball enough and wracks up enough strikeouts to be a pretty good bet for a 3.50-3.75 ERA. His .277 BABIP over the past two years is indicative of the fact that peripherals don’t tell the whole story for a knuckleballer like Dickey.
With over 1,600 player comments in Baseball Prospectus 2012, you might find it difficult to read through them all before draft day arrives. To help you out, I’ll point you toward some of the most insightful comments for this position. These are the guys that I’d highly recommend flipping to in your copy of the book and reading before you sit down at the draft table.
Be sure to read the BP2012 comments for these NL starters: Homer Bailey, Erik Bedard, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, Josh Collmenter, Yovani Gallardo, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Shaun Marcum, Bud Norris, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Vogelsong.