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March 28, 2013

Fantasy Tier Rankings

National League Starting Pitchers

by Paul Sporer

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Today we wrap up our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.

Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.

We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from our PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.

You can find the previous Fantasy Tier Rankings posts here:

We have split the starting pitchers into two articles. The National League tiers are below; you can find the American League starting-pitcher tiers by following the link above. 

Five Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

NL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Clayton Kershaw

LAN

25

$27.74

$26.83

201

15

204

2.73

1.09

Stephen Strasburg

WAS

24

$25.96

$25.82

174

12

202

2.60

1.02

Cole Hamels

PHI

29

$26.05

$24.71

217

14

197

3.17

1.08

Cliff Lee

PHI

34

$26.20

$25.80

207.7

13

183

2.96

1.05

If you somehow manage to get a pair or more from this quartet, you are going to wreak havoc on your league in the pitching categories. Let’s step aside from fantasy for a second and enjoy the fact that three of these four studs are on the right side of 30, meaning that we’ll get to enjoy their excellence for several more years.

Strasburg is the wild card this year, as we have yet to see him put up a full season of work, leaving us with uncertain expectations. After his 159 1/3 dominant innings last year, it is hard to believe he will be anything but brilliant. We still need to see it, but everyone taking him this spring is certainly betting more of the same.

Five-Star Value Pick: You’re not getting any of these four at anything that could be called a discount, but Hamels isn’t given the ace-level treatment he deserves. When you talk about combining excellence and consistency in the most volatile market in the game, Hamels is a blue-blood asset. If I am dipping into the pitcher pool early in a straight draft, it’s not for Verlander, Kershaw, Strasburg, or Price; it’s for Hamels, who can be had up to two round later.

Four Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

NL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Adam Wainwright

SLN

31

$18.19

$15.73

186

11

165

3.25

1.13

Matt Cain

SFN

28

$23.50

$21.87

207.7

14

170

3.05

1.11

Mat Latos

CIN

25

$21.20

$18.65

195.3

14

176

3.28

1.12

Madison Bumgarner

SFN

23

$18.17

$15.35

195.3

12

160

3.32

1.15

Jordan Zimmermann

WAS

27

$13.15

$9.39

174

11

142

3.67

1.17

Johnny Cueto

CIN

27

$17.14

$12.91

207.7

14

168

3.74

1.18

Gio Gonzalez

WAS

27

$12.00

$7.17

174

11

166

3.66

1.26

Zack Greinke

LAN

29

$21.86

$20.23

176.4

13

176

2.97

1.08

Pitching runs deep in the National League. Even if I had played things a bit more cautiously and dropped Greinke down to the three-star tier, there would still be seven names in the four-star pool compared to just four in the American League.

Wainwright and Cain could probably comprise a 4.5-star tier of their own. The Cardinals’ ace—with a newly minted extension in hand—was great in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, which you don’t normally see. He had some rough outings that inflated the ERA, but his skills were intact almost immediately. Cain, meanwhile, just misses the five-star honor because of strikeouts. He deserves a much better fate in the wins column, too. If the Giants team would prop him up there a bit better, he could bridge the gap left by the good-but-not-great strikeout rate.

Though they get there differently, both of the Reds arms deliver a ton of value and front a fantasy rotation without setting you back. I think that because he didn’t put up a pair of sub-3.00 ERA seasons after his breakout 2010, some people believe Latos has regressed into mediocrity; that simply isn’t true. He is adding innings and remaining effective. He shifted into a far worse home ballpark, yet his ERA went up by just one point (3.47 to 3.48) and his WHIP actually ticked down two points (1.18 to 1.16).  If he could ever get through April without a hiccup, he might post a Cy Young Award-worthy season. Cueto, meanwhile, has turned into a ground-ball machine, and he refuses to yield free passes. The righty also saw a big rise in strikeout rate last year, bringing it up to a solid 19.1 percent.

Four-Star Value Pick: Zimmermann was overshadowed by his teammates last year, as Strasburg nabbed the headlines with both his performance and impending shutdown while Gonzalez was busy finishing third in the Cy Young voting. It also didn’t help that Zimmermann was criminally under-supported; the Nationals’ struggles to back him resulted in a mediocre 12-9 record, even though his numbers merited a bid for 20 wins. There is still another level to this righty’s game, both in real life and in fantasy.

Three Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

NL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Dan Haren

WAS

32

$17.23

$14.71

174

12

148

3.37

1.10

Jeff Samardzija

CHN

28

$6.55

$0.49

195.3

10

165

4.26

1.36

Yovani Gallardo

MIL

27

$16.25

$11.88

195.3

11

202

3.64

1.21

Ian Kennedy

ARI

28

$17.71

$13.78

201.6

13

181

3.66

1.17

Tim Lincecum

SFN

29

$18.67

$15.85

176.7

11

190

3.04

1.17

Lance Lynn

SLN

26

$9.67

$4.33

174

11

155

3.95

1.28

Kris Medlen

ATL

27

$18.83

$16.64

182.7

11

167

3.15

1.12

Roy Halladay

PHI

36

$22.15

$21.34

182.7

12

159

2.92

1.05

A.J. Burnett

PIT

36

$11.49

$5.70

195.3

12

176

4.07

1.27

Homer Bailey

CIN

27

$9.67

$4.07

182.7

12

150

4.12

1.27

Trevor Cahill

ARI

25

$10.16

$4.94

186

12

137

3.96

1.26

Jon Niese

NYN

26

$8.02

$2.54

180

10

149

4.13

1.29

Josh Beckett

LAN

33

$15.99

$13.63

156

11

144

3.17

1.10

Another thick tier for the senior circuit, though this one is predictably laced with questions. Some of those questions include:

  • Will Haren stay healthy? If so, he will be a four-star quality arm.
  • Is Samardzija for real? I definitely think so, and I’m heartened by the fact that he was a good bit better against stiffer competition, too.
  • Can Lincecum and Halladay resurface from the depths of their 2012 struggles and spring training woes? Their track records are worth betting on given the discounted price, but I understand the desire to hold your nose while doing so.
  • Is Lynn someone you can trust near the front end of your rotation if you are a budget-conscious shopper when it comes to pitching in fantasy baseball? I say yes. He not only brings the rate stats, but has strikeout-heavy stuff, too.
  • What exactly is Medlen? Okay, that question isn’t so hard to answer. He’s a third starter at best—and that’s very good, but it doesn’t mean that you should overpay.

Three-Star Value Pick: Several of my favorites reside in this tier, but Beckett and Cahill stand out as a pair of guys that are going well after most of their tier-three colleagues, yet have the upside to rival all of them this year.

Two Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

NL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Wade Miley

ARI

26

$3.22

($2.68)

174

10

117

4.53

1.36

Brandon McCarthy

ARI

29

$9.48

$6.11

144

9

109

3.59

1.16

Mike Minor

ATL

25

$11.69

$6.92

174

11

160

3.84

1.23

Edwin Jackson

CHN

29

$8.51

$3.10

186

10

148

4.10

1.28

Ryan Vogelsong

SFN

35

$7.45

$2.03

174

10

143

4.05

1.31

Paul Maholm

ATL

31

$5.47

$0.35

174

10

120

4.28

1.31

Marco Estrada

MIL

29

$8.08

$2.87

168

10

145

4.18

1.26

Matt Harvey

NYN

24

$12.11

$7.17

174

11

173

3.71

1.26

Tim Hudson

ATL

37

$11.00

$7.02

176.4

11

114

3.64

1.21

Shaun Marcum

NYN

31

$11.64

$8.82

144

9

121

3.33

1.13

Dillon Gee

NYN

27

$7.82

$2.84

163.8

10

133

4.08

1.26

Kyle Lohse

MIL

34

$4.60

$0.16

163.8

9

111

4.48

1.27

Mike Fiers

MIL

28

$6.31

$2.76

114

7

111

3.72

1.18

Ross Detwiler

WAS

27

$1.12

($6.18)

171

10

109

4.72

1.42

Chad Billingsley

LAN

28

$7.26

$2.92

138

9

122

3.74

1.26

Chris Capuano

LAN

34

$3.52

$0.20

109

6

90

3.97

1.22

Seriously, pitching in the National League is rich! The two-star pool for the American League ran about this deep, but it didn’t come on the heels of a 13-player three-star pool (just eight were deemed three-star worthy in the junior circuit). “Solid” is the word that best describes most of these guys. And with those that don’t have as much of a track record, there is upside tied either to health (McCarthy, Marcum) or an early progression in skills (Minor, Harvey).

Maholm showed an uptick in strikeouts with Atlanta that could be Doug Fister-ian if it turns out to be legitimate. Both Estrada and Fiers also produced impressive strikeout outputs despite working with middling stuff. I wish Detwiler could absorb some of the strikeout ability these guys have shown; if he did, he could be a really strong asset, but his changeup just isn’t an effective strikeout pitch against righties.

Rarely will you be geeked about nabbing Hudson, but he continues to perform and is just one of those veterans you keep betting on because of his résumé. His production might cliff-dive one day, but the associated cost is no longer high enough to warrant worrying about that risk.

Billingsley has a chance to pay off, but his health is a big concern right now, and his market has cooled severly. The Dodgers can afford to play it cautiously, too, since they have Ted Lilly—a one-star entrant—waiting in the wings. There were brief rumors of Capuano being dealt to Colorado, and as much as I like the lefty, if those came to fruition, the move to Coors Field would bump him off this list altogether.

Two-Star Value Pick: Gee was on his way to a really strong 2012 campaign before a blood clot interrupted and eventually ended his season after just 109 2/3 innings. He’s back, ready to go, and poised to pick up where that semi-breakout left off. I really like this Mets staff, especially once Zack Wheeler becomes a part of it in the summer.

One Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

NL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Hyun-jin Ryu

LAN

26

$5.68

$0.95

156

10

108

4.12

1.29

Wandy Rodriguez

PIT

34

$12.31

$7.84

182.7

12

140

3.80

1.21

Jaime Garcia

SLN

26

$9.55

$5.29

156

10

128

3.69

1.23

Nathan Eovaldi

MIA

23

($1.71)

($9.33)

136.8

6

88

4.69

1.48

Ricky Nolasco

MIA

30

$11.96

$8.19

180

9

144

3.74

1.18

Shelby Miller

SLN

22

$6.86

$1.86

144

9

147

4.07

1.29

Julio Teheran

ATL

22

$1.65

($3.90)

136.8

8

104

4.60

1.36

Andrew Cashner

SD

26

$1.49

($1.77)

77.7

4

71

3.68

1.26

Patrick Corbin

ARI

23

($0.07)

($4.97)

88.3

5

69

4.47

1.33

Jeff Karstens

PIT

30

$1.25

($2.15)

91.3

5

57

4.04

1.22

Ted Lilly

LAN

37

($1.01)

($4.22)

36.7

1

22

3.43

1.10

Kyle Kendrick

PHI

28

$1.84

($3.09)

144

8

80

4.57

1.30

Youth is served in the one-star pool. You have a host of high-upside youngsters in Eovaldi, Miller, Teheran, and Cashner, not to mention a more proven asset like Garcia, who could be a boon for his fantasy teams if he can somehow manage to stay healthy and regain his 2010-2011 form. Corbin doesn’t necessarily fit with that crew, as his upside isn’t nearly as high, but he’s a 23-year-old who did some nice things last year and upset Tyler Skaggs for the fifth spot in Arizona’s rotation.

There are also several veterans that you might innocuously roster on the cheap, and their unsexy production will offer nice value at the end of a draft. Rodriguez, Lilly, Nolasco, and Karstens all fit the bill there. Kendrick is a crusty vet by comparison, residing in a pool where seven of the 12 are 26 years old or younger. I’m not sure I believe in his improvements from 2012, but a bet on him is virtually costless.

One-Star Value Pick: Eovaldi is a guy I have been banging the drum for all spring long. I was a fan when he was a Dodger, and his situation is even more favorable now, with regard to the spacious, pitcher-friendly park and the clear chance at innings with the gutted Marlins. He throws hard and his slider is an out pitch. Eovaldi now needs to move from thrower to pitcher in order to realize his full potential.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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