March 14, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: AL 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.
No surprises here, and not really any values, either. If you want an ace in an AL-only league, you’re going to need to pay full sticker.
Five-Star Value Pick: If I have to pick one, it’s Haren, who is second on my list but sixth according to Mock Draft Central drafters. He’ll still be expensive, though.
I’m sure there was some curiosity about where Darvish would fall. He’s risky given all of the contextual changes he’ll have to deal with coming over from Japan and his supposedly average command, but his stuff is amazing, and I’ve made no secret my love for his stuff in the past.
Four-Star Value Pick: After a shaky 2011, Ubaldo Jimenez is being drafted at the end of the 12th round, but he should outperform that slot by a few rounds. There was concern about his move to the AL, his poor ERA, and his lessened velocity last season, but his fastball is reportedly back to the mid-90s already, and his ERA was entirely attributable to bad luck. Great bargain.
We’re looking at a huge Three-Star tier. This is place where a lot of my buying will be done in AL-only leagues, especially if some of these guys are overlooked early on as your leaguemates make it rain with their fake money. This was the case in CBS AL, where I grabbed Scherzer, Lewis, Danks, and Floyd for reasonable prices.
Bad luck in 2011 aside, Scherzer will be especially interesting this year; he’s adding a two-seam fastball to his arsenal. An extra pitch to keep hitters off-balance could help with strikeouts (a goal he’s admitted to having), and the two-seamer itself is a terrific pitch for some extra ground balls. Scherzer will have to contend with Detroit’s porous infield defense, but I like his potential to take a step forward this year.
This tier has all three of the primary bullpen-to-rotation shifters, so needless to say, I’m pretty bullish on them. They’ve all posted fantastic peripherals in relief—easily good enough to withstand the Rule of 17—and they all seem to have sufficiently deep arsenals to make the conversion. Innings will likely be limited, but those innings should be of a pretty high quality.
Three-Star Value Pick: People will worry about Brandon Morrow’s ERA being higher than his FIP in his two years as a full-time starter, but his peripherals have been fantastic, and two years is not nearly long enough to start worrying about that ERA/FIP discrepancy being permanent.
Kuroda may seem low to you, just a Two-Star pitcher, but the move to the American League and Yankee Stadium is not going to be a forgiving one.
I love Tomlin’s command. He’s not an exciting guy and there’s no upside to him, but these are the kinds of players I tend to target when filling out the back end of my rotation in deeper leagues. They’re solid and will come at a bargain because of how boring they are.
Two-Star Value Pick: I like Jason Vargas as a similarly boring guy, except he might actually have some upside. From BP2012:
You don't hope for, or expect, any surprises from a guy like Vargas. But in September, Felix Hernandez suggested he tweak his motion, and wouldn't you know Vargas had the best month of his career. Before the change—a little extra torso twist on his leg kick—Vargas' fastball averaged 87.1 mph; after, it was 88.2. The effects cascaded. He began to throw his changeup half as often. Consequently, when he did throw the changeup, his whiff rate went way up, and his overall strike rate also improved. Yes, sample size issues. We want to be responsible here. But the numbers are just too pretty not to publish: 23 strikeouts, five walks, and a 2.03 ERA in 27 innings. Surprise!
Sleepers abound in this group, and it’s really a toss-up who I call the One-Star Value Pick.
I love Duffy’s stuff. If he can harness his control a bit, he has high Three-Star upside this season.
I’ve discussed Henderson Alvarez before.
Why so low for Jonathan Sanchez, you say? The environment change is not a good one for this perennial fantasy sleeper.
One-Star Value Pick: I’ll take Noesi, I suppose, though a case could be made for a half-dozen others, if not more. Noesi is not a big upside guy in terms of stuff, but moving to Safeco Field (which boosts strikeouts and suppresses homers), and pitching in front of the Mariners’ defense should help quite a bit. I like Hisashi Iwakuma for similar reasons.
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 AL starters: Henderson Alvarez, Zach Britton, Neftali Feliz, Doug Fister, Matt Harrison, Luke Hochevar, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, Dustin McGowan, Justin Masterson, Chris Sale, and Jason Vargas.