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February 25, 2014

Fantasy Tiered Rankings

Starting Pitchers

by Paul Sporer

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To read the previous articles in this series, follow the links below:

Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at starting pitching.

Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. For starters, I added a sixth for the two guys who are a cut above and going in the first two rounds of most drafts. 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 are 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. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.

Six Star

The leaders of their respective leagues, you could see this pair go in the first round of a deeper (15-plus team) league, but both will certainly gone by the completion of round two. Kershaw is going as high as the fifth pick overall, a move I support.

We haven’t seen anyone reach 290 strikeouts since Randy Johnson did so in 2004. Darvish set a nine-year high in the MLB with his 277 last year and he could make a realistic push for 290 or even 300 in 2014. If Kershaw shows that he's actually human and somehow gets saddled with an ERA in the upper-2.00s or heaven forbid the lower-3.00s, then Darvish could wind up as most valuable arm in the game.

Five Star

The ace pool is deep this year and given the glut of similar offensive talent from the second to fifth rounds, these standout arms become a lot more appealing in those earlier rounds. It’s the same reason that Kershaw has such viability in the early first round. If you’re not putting yourself behind the eight ball on offense by selecting an early pitcher, then you might as well get the elite mound talent.

Even with the core muscle surgery, Verlander is already throwing and appears on track for the start of the season. Scherzer is the defending AL Cy Young winner, but I still favor Verlander ever-so-slightly. Verlander fixed his mid-season issues to close brilliantly in the regular season and playoffs. Throw in track record and he jumps his teammate by a small margin. I certainly wouldn’t argue with one over the other, but my preference leans to JV.

Hernandez and Price are kind of the forgotten studs of the group, insofar as you can be forgotten or overlooked when included in this grouping. The concerns over Hernandez’s dropping velocity seem to ignore the fact that his other pitches just keep getting better while his strikeout rate has held steady or pushed upward yearly since 2007 with K/9 and has essentially done the same in strikeout percentage save a negligible 0.2 percent dip from 2010 to 2011.

Price was unreal after returning from injury last year (2.53 ERA in 131 2/3 IP) and while his velocity also took a sharp downturn in 2013, his fastball was still an excellent pitch last year with ninth-best OPS against at .656. The league average was .759.

Five-Star Value Pick: Justin Verlander
He’s going nearly 20 picks later than Scherzer and a full round after Wainwright currently making him a great buy right now. When he proves healthy enough to make his Grapefruit League outings without incident, his price will likely start to climb back upward, so pounce now while the gettin’ is good.

Four Star

Cole morphed into a stud before our very eyes last year. He had to find his footing a bit upon arrival and underwhelmed with just 11 strikeouts in his first four starts, but he posted a 24.2 percent rate in his final three months of the season, including a filthy 31.2 percent mark in September—dominance that carried over into a pair of playoff starts against the Cardinals. He lacks the track record of the guys behind him, but I’m betting big on the former no. 1 overall pick in his first full season.

Hamels was pushed out of the five-star group with some shoulder trouble, but we have to be careful not to overreact to his or other stories that trickle out during the spring. Even with him slated to miss a couple starts at the outset, Hamels can still put up a top-flight season in 30-32 starts. Hopefully the injury news creates a bigger scare than necessary and makes for a great buying opportunity on one of the game’s best. Latos also has some early injury news pushing down his value a bit, but he isn’t expected to miss any time because of it, so I don’t bump him down at all.

There are a lot of newcomers to the upper reaches of the pitching pool, but Sanchez, Bailey, Zimmermann, Cobb, Fister, Cashner, and Ryu have the talent to be front-end starters for your fantasy rotation. We’ve seen the brilliance in full force from Sanchez, Zimmermann, Cobb (stopped only by injury), and even Ryu in his MLB debut last year, while Bailey, Fister, and Cashner have yet to display their best work. Nonetheless, their futures are all very bright.

Four-Star Value Pick: Hyun-jin Ryu
I was really impressed with Ryu’s debut. Not only did he put up 192 innings of 3.00 ERA work, but he also got better as the season wore on with a 2.57 ERA in his final 11 starts with a 1.06 WHIP and 7.3 K:BB ratio over 70 innings. He keeps the ball down, limits walks, and he’s still just 27 years old—lots to like here.

Three Star

There is a lot to digest here, as this is a thick tier and obviously I can’t touch on everyone in this space. The Atlanta trio moved from the back of the fourth to the top of the third tier as their McCann-to-Gattis (or Doumit, like he’s any better) penalty behind the dish. I don’t want to overrate something like that, but McCann is unquestionably a better catcher than Gattis in all facets and it has to be taken into account on some level.

I was a massive Iwakuma fan last year so I was thrilled to reap the benefits of his excellent season. This slotting isn’t really influenced by the finger injury news (which has subsequently been downgraded, making my point that I discussed re: Hamels), but rather because even though I still think he’s very good, I’d be really surprised by another mid-2.00s ERA effort. The 82 percent LOB rate in his MLB career is a bit outsized. Even a dip back to 76-77 percent would still be elite (league average is 72 percent), but it would definitely bump his ERA.

I’m not ready to end Sabathia’s career after one down season. I understand the factors working against him, but I’m willing to bet on him making the necessary adjustments and getting back to the served us in the fantasy game so well for the 12 years prior to 2013.

Early drafts are wildly pumping up the values of many youngsters over established, high-quality arms. Wacha is the most egregious of these with an ADP in the top 20 among starting pitchers. That’s just insane. We don’t even know how trustworthy his third pitch is at this point. While his curveball was better in the playoffs than the regular season, I need more than eight plate appearances to trust it. With his current valuation, there is zero upside. He has to either be a stud or he fails to live up to his pick.

Salazar and Gray are also being a bit overrated, though not as egregiously as Wacha. I’m a big fan of both, particularly Gray, but I can’t chase these two after 52 and 64 innings, respectively, ahead of far more established arms with equal or higher ceilings. Salazar has a bit of a home run issue which can tarnish an ERA even if it only crops up in a handful of starts, while Gray share Wacha’s third-pitch issue, having thrown his changeup just six percent of the time. And unlike Wacha, he didn’t showcase it more often in the playoffs (4.8% usage in two starts against Detroit).

Three-Star Value Pick: Corey Kluber
This is another guy I’m planting my flag with, though I’m not alone within the industry unfortunately. Kluber showed obscene secondary stuff with a 527 OPS on his slider, curveball, and changeup combined, which put him in the class with Scherzer (524) and Sale (526), not to mention just ahead of Greinke (539).

Two Star

There is still plenty of upside to be mined in this two-star tier. We’ve seen the upside from Buchholz, albeit in limited samples. Ross is rising as a chic sleeper after an excellent summer last year, not to mention a park that can cover some mistakes when they crop up. Hughes is finally out of Yankee Stadium, Perez is a former uber-prospect who enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, and Kazmir tries to carry his rebirth over a full season.

Milwaukee’s entire rotation made it in here and while none of them are unmitigated studs, the entire quintet is solid and the Brewers could be better than many expect. Estrada and Peralta do carry some alluring upside, too.

A lot of these names won’t draw the attention of the room, but a healthy Haren and Hudson can be great assets in the middle of a rotation while Colon and Quintana are on opposite sides of the age spectrum, but both provide significant and underrated value.

Two-Star Value Pick: Rick Porcello
If his skills had remained stagnant from 2012 to 2013, I wouldn’t be as excited about the young phenom (yes, he’s still young despite five full seasons in the majors), but he drastically improved his strikeout rate from 13.7 to 19.3 percent and continued to add to his elite ground-ball rate (career-high 55.3 percent), both of which are masked by a paltry 0.27 improvement in ERA. The skills growth is only part of the story, though, as the Tigers reshuffled virtually their entire infield defense, turning it from a major flaw to a legitimate force, and Porcello stands to be the prime benefactor given that heavy ground-ball lean.

One Star

Youth with something to prove, arms needing to prove health, and ho-hum solid-but-unspectacular arms populate the one-stars, creating an interesting mixed bag. I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that at least one of these guys will have a star turn in 2014. Of course, identifying that exact pitcher is the trick, but also the fun of this game.

One-Star Value Pick: Nathan Eovaldi
I’ve been an Eovaldi fan going back to his Dodger days. We need to see more consistency from the young righty, as well as the refinement of some of his secondary stuff. The slider in strong, but the curve and change are lagging. Still, he has elite velocity and one swing-and-miss breaking ball to build on.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

43 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

yancyeaton

This list is so diesel. Where have you been all off-season, you gorgeous specimen?

Feb 25, 2014 04:30 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Surprised that Brandon Morrow got no mention at all while Josh Johnson was a two star guy. Care to comment?

Feb 25, 2014 05:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Morrow's next 180+ IP season will be his first. Johnson has 3. Plus he's leaving Toronto for SD. I think JJ is a decent bit ahead of Morrow. At this point, with Morrow, he has to show something before I care again. I'm over him.

Feb 25, 2014 05:11 AM
 
bulls2327

Is matt cain in the 3 star based on last years performance alone, or based on where you think he will be all season? I'd say he is more than capable of being a 4 star pitcher. Am I crazy here?

Feb 25, 2014 05:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Only semi-crazy since he's in the 4-star pool! :)

Feb 25, 2014 05:50 AM
 
bulls2327

^ I ment 4 and 5 star, not 3 and 4.

Feb 25, 2014 05:51 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Sure he can be a 5, but I think this was a measured reaction to his 2013. He improved in-season so no need to overreact. Honestly, it's more that others have passed him (mostly with the strikeout ability) as opposed to any failings of his own.

Feb 25, 2014 05:53 AM
 
gpurcell

I think you go six star or go four with pitchers. I don't like the price/value/risk mix of the five-star tier.

Feb 25, 2014 06:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I have no problems with anyone in the 5s because the offense just isn't there to chase down in the rounds that the 5s are going.

Feb 25, 2014 06:36 AM
 
jmoore

Love the work here but I've got a question. I've assumed to this point that the tiers here represent approximately the same value across positions, i.e. a 3-star shortstop and a 3-star third baseman would be expected to provide similar fantasy value. I believe this is the way Marc used to do these. But this 6-star pitching category makes me wonder if that's true. I can't find a yea or nay in the write-ups, but it's possible I've just skimmed over it. So are they meant to provide a basis of comparison across positions?

Feb 25, 2014 06:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I originally had Kershaw/Yu as 5s with the rest, but Bret suggest they be separated as the 5s with the other fives being moved into the 4s. I thought that made the 4s far too thick so as a compromise (on my accord) I created the 6-star group which is essentially just meant to show that they're being priced a cut above.

I personally wouldn't use a cross comparison for hitters & pitchers anyway, but I guess I shouldn't have deviated from what every other position had. If it makes it easier for your analysis, drop Kershaw & Darvish back into the 5s. I was just trying to connote that they're super-5s.

Feb 25, 2014 06:35 AM
 
R.A.Wagman

Did Ervin Santana miss the cut as he is still an FA?

Feb 25, 2014 06:29 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I'd really like to see him land first. If it's Colorado, I want nothing to do with him. He'd still probably crack the 100 in Coors, but it wouldn't be pretty.

Feb 25, 2014 06:31 AM
 
Cronfordox

Is Travis Wood left out accidentally, or on purpose?

Feb 25, 2014 06:56 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

101.

Feb 25, 2014 07:02 AM
 
Cronfordox

"just a bit outside............" hah.

Feb 25, 2014 07:09 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Could've easily passed teammate E-Jax, but I love E-Jax.

Feb 25, 2014 07:12 AM
 
Cronfordox

yes, i seem to remember some podcast levity to that effect :)

Feb 25, 2014 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
organizedfamine

Brad Peacock. Hmm... hadn't thought about him before. Interesting second half numbers after he added the slider though. Thanks for the suggestion. He was the only pitcher listed here not rostered in my league.

Feb 25, 2014 07:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I'm a fan. Jason Collette turned me on to his improvements.

Feb 25, 2014 07:19 AM
 
gobobbygo

How close is Yordano Ventura to this list?

Feb 25, 2014 07:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

He's in the next 10. Not sure he has a spot yet so I had to play it a little safer unfortunately. I mean, I didn't HAVE to, but I chose to.

Feb 25, 2014 07:27 AM
 
tbwhite
(361)

Where would Derek Holland be if he wasn't going to miss 1/2 the season ?

Feb 25, 2014 08:48 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Three-Star

Feb 25, 2014 10:30 AM
 
timjrohr

I'm in a 16-mixed H2H 6x6 (OPS, QS), $260, 9 H/9 P/5 benchies league. I'm looking at my freezes; I can only keep 7. Homer Bailey at $6 and Patrick Corbin at $2 are automatic. I'm looking to keep one more pitcher; my choices are Corey Kluber at $5 or Rick Porcello at $1. Advice?

Feb 25, 2014 09:14 AM
rating: -1
 
kcshankd

Hellickson?

Feb 25, 2014 09:30 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Would be a Two-Star w/out the injury

Feb 25, 2014 10:31 AM
 
Nolegreg

Why no mention of Charlie Morton ? Is it the lack of k's?

Feb 25, 2014 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

He's 104. Low Ks, uninspiring WHIP push him down in a deep pool.

Feb 25, 2014 16:41 PM
 
CJNC1963

I'm kind of surprised that Alex Wood was only a one star. Is it because there is a fear that Atlanta uses him in the bullpen rather than the rotation?

Feb 25, 2014 11:19 AM
rating: 1
 
benmarcello

Of all the 1 star pitchers. Brandon Beachy and Ian Kennedy are most likely to be in the top 50 by year end.

Kennedy's core numbers seem to be steady. But since 2011 his HR/FB% has only gone up. Considering that HR/FB% is one of the least correlated pitching metrics from year to year, it would not be a great surprise to see Kennedy a top 50 by year end.

Feb 25, 2014 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
JHGrimm

Regarding, Kluber, his sleepiness.

PECOTA's pessimistic. It's probably the case that the list of 27-year-old breakout pitchers with a mediocre ERA and a staggeringly beautiful xFIP... doesn't exist, really. So his comparables aren't peculiarly flattering.

I have opinions that are probably not that different from your own regarding Monsieur Kluber; however, what's your personal rationale for disregarding PECOTA in his case?

Feb 25, 2014 13:01 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I definitely love perusing over PECOTA, but it's not my guiding force. It's a tool like anything else, be it an article on someone or watching a handful of a guy's starts. I just think Kluber has really sharp secondary stuff, took a big step forward last year, and has more room to grow. I'm excited about him.

Feb 25, 2014 16:38 PM
 
NightmareRec0n

I'm absolutely floored that Cashner is not your value pick in the 4 level tier. Considering you beat the drum for a breakout in your SP Guide.

Same thing with Samardzija and Iwakuma because they just seem so close to elevating to the next level.

Feb 25, 2014 13:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. :putsfingeronNightmaresmouth: Shhhhhhh... :Nightmarekeepstalking: :shovesNightmaredown: SHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Feb 25, 2014 13:39 PM
 
NightmareRec0n

So, Will the tiers in the email be different? Maybe a fun mix of your combined opinions?

In exchange for my transgression, I highly recommend everyone who reads this post buy the 2014 SP Guide. Paul(@sporer) and Doug(@doug_thorburn) provide wonderful breakdown of all starting pitchers in baseball. A great perspective from an analytic and scouting perspective helps you learn what to look for in the numbers and in the mechanics in a pitcher presented in a delightfully entertaining fashion. Wondering whether that second half breakout was lucky or if the pitcher took a major step forward? Looking for potential breakout candidates? Curious which prospects could succeed in the major and which have major issues to iron out?

Buy it here: http://paulsporer.com/2014/02/13/2014-sp-guide-available-now/

SP Guide not enough to quench your thirst for pitching knowledge: Subscribe to Painttheblack.com for a more pitcher profiles,game breakdowns,rankings, and frequent updates.

Like to listen to some intelligent baseball talk on the way to work,at the gym,or planning your draft strategy, but can't stand the idiots on sports talk? Listen to Paul and Doug talk baseball in the approriately named TINSTAAPP podcast.
Find it here on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tinstaapp/id645849651?mt=2
or at http://tinstaapp.libsyn.com/

Feb 25, 2014 14:46 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

You're hired as my publicist!

Tiers for SPG won't be DRASTICALLY different, but a few changes where I go back against an opinion of my teammates here at BP.

Feb 25, 2014 15:59 PM
 
benmarcello

Have their been any teams that have greatly improved their defense in any one way that would benefit a team's pitching?

Will the addition of Jhonny Peralta lead to a more porous defense?
Will the health of the Blue Jays defense benefit the Blue Jays? or is that a lost cause?

Has the Marlins home park overtaken the top pitching stadium from the Padres?

Feb 25, 2014 20:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Vision

The Cardinals have massively upgraded their defense overall. Wong improves them at 2B, Carpenter at 3B, ability to use Jay/Taveras in RF is an upgrade and Bourjos is a huge upgrade in CF.

While Peralta is a reduction in defense from Kozma, the numbers are quite fond of Peralta, mostly through superior positioning and steady hands rather than elite range.

Feb 27, 2014 17:50 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Any numbers that say Peralta is a good fielding shortstop is why I don't believe most fielding metrics.

No less than 2 teams looked to replace him after watching him play SS.

Watching him make one throw to 1st reveals mechanics that are replicated anywhere else.

he Cardinals have had a lot of success moving people around the infield but they bit off more than they can chew with Jhonny.

Feb 27, 2014 22:12 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

NOT replicated anywhere else.

Feb 27, 2014 22:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Will

I would love to hear some commentary about how Sabathia's weight loss (good for him!) can/will/might impact his season. More stamina? Less fastball? I have no idea, please enlighten me!

Feb 27, 2014 22:12 PM
rating: 0
 
prs130

Thoughts on Joe Kelly? From anyone? He gave my fantasy squad a much-needed boost as a mid-season pickup, and I have a chance to keep him.

Feb 28, 2014 06:46 AM
rating: 0
 
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