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March 28, 2013
Fantasy Tier Rankings
National League Starting Pitchers
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.
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.
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.
Another thick tier for the senior circuit, though this one is predictably laced with questions. Some of those questions include:
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.
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.
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.