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March 26, 2013

Fantasy Tier Rankings

American League Starting Pitchers

by Paul Sporer

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Today we continue 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 American League tiers are below; you can find the National League tomorrow.

Five Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

AL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Justin Verlander

DET

30

$34.45

$27.15

233.6

17

235

3.04

1.15

David Price

TBA

27

$29.72

$21.96

221.1

16

211

3.12

1.18

Felix Hernandez

SEA

27

$32.09

$25.30

226.3

13

215

2.85

1.15

You could make a case for Verlander to be by himself, but Price and Hernandez have proven themselves to be remarkably consistent as well. Thus, while Verlander has reached a higher ceiling, all three offer a level of stability rarely found at this insanely volatile position.

Five-Star Value Pick: If Hernandez were on a team that supported him a bit more at the plate, his win totals would likely surpass 15 each year, and he would be treated like Verlander and Price. Instead, he has to get value by logging tons of innings with amazing ratios and striking out the world. He has posted four straight seasons with at least 232 innings, and his ERA has been over 3.06 once during that span (2011, when he threw 233 2/3 innings of 3.47 ERA ball.)

Four Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

AL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Yu Darvish

TEX

26

$26.02

$19.16

189

13

212

3.07

1.16

R.A. Dickey

TOR

38

$11.75

$1.49

224

13

158

4.30

1.34

CC Sabathia

NYA

32

$29.45

$21.93

224

15

209

3.21

1.16

Jered Weaver

ANA

30

$29.06

$22.32

207.7

15

187

3.04

1.13

Max Scherzer

DET

28

$15.31

$6.92

174

12

184

3.84

1.27

Matt Moore

TBA

24

$14.27

$5.74

168

11

189

3.68

1.32

Chris Sale

CHA

24

$23.62

$16.89

182.7

11

204

3.13

1.16

I almost broke up this group, as I see some separation between the top three and bottom four, but then I’d have had six tiers. Though they are all in the same tier, you have a mix of profiles here—from proven veterans like Sabathia and Weaver, who have been excellent year after year, to late-career breakout wonders like Dickey, who turned the corner once he became a knuckleballer, and then had his transcendent season a year ago, but still faces some skeptics.

Then, you have the up-and-coming mid-20s potential stars in Darvish and Scherzer, who both showed flashes throughout 2012 of how high their ceilings are. And, we’re not done yet, because we also have two young stars, one of which is still more potential than performance (Moore) and the other of which showed the excellence (Sale), but has a dark cloud overhead regarding his mechanics and potential for injury. Even the White Sox were worried last year, as they briefly shifted Sale back to the pen to protect him before realizing he was far more valuable to them as an ace.

Four-Star Value Pick: I think the concern over age and move to the American League surrounding Dickey is a bit overstated. First off, the age piece is close to irrelevant for a knuckleballer. Meanwhile, if he pitches at or near his 2012 level, then the ‘27 Yankees wouldn’t stand a shot against him. If he was still with the Mets, I think he’d be more appropriately valued, but his move to the American League East has created a buying opportunity—especially since some still think it’s the AL Beast.

Three Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

AL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

James Shields

KCA

31

$16.93

$7.24

224

13

185

4.12

1.26

Josh Johnson

TOR

29

$15.69

$7.53

174

12

156

3.60

1.26

Doug Fister

DET

29

$9.34

$1.02

176.4

12

115

4.28

1.30

Jake Peavy

CHA

32

$17.67

$8.84

207.7

11

189

3.82

1.25

Anibal Sanchez

DET

29

$9.30

$0.54

180

12

147

4.26

1.36

Brandon Morrow

TOR

28

$13.54

$4.48

174

11

184

3.88

1.31

Jon Lester

BOS

29

$17.18

$8.57

189

12

179

3.63

1.27

Brett Anderson

OAK

25

$15.45

$7.06

186

12

145

3.74

1.25

Shields has been a favorite of mine for years, and were he still with Tampa Bay, he would easily be in the four-star camp. Unfortunately, the move to Kansas City comes with some risk factors. Moving out of Tropicana Field (3.34 career ERA) is a definitely a concern, but Kauffman Stadium helps pitchers, too; I’m more worried about his departure from that Tampa Bay defense. Shields’ increasing ground-ball rate (from 41 percent in 2010 to 52 percent last year) was handled adeptly by the Rays (.723 defensive efficiency, tied for first in the majors), but the Royals, who ranked 28th with a .689 mark, might not be so friendly.

This is the tier that can win you your league. Whether it’s a return to greatness (Lester), a sustained return to greatness (Peavy), staying healthy (Johnson, Anderson, Morrow, and even Fister if you’re looking solely at his 2012), or results catching up to the skills (Sanchez), if these guys realize their ceilings, they will add another staff ace to teams that might already have landed their top arms from the two tiers above.

Three-Star Value Pick: I’m going to cheat and go with two: Lester and Fister. I’m giving Lester a pass for 2012, because it was just a nightmare scenario in Boston, and it’s not like his velocity plummeted or he got hurt. He threw more innings than in 2011 and actually shaved his walk rate from 9.4 percent to 7.8 percent.

Fister, meanwhile, was sidelined by a nagging left-side injury twice, limiting him to just 161 2/3 innings. Had he stayed healthy, folks might have noticed that he essentially kept all of his strikeout gains from the second half of 2011 and posted a career-best 51 percent ground-ball rate, which surprisingly did not doom him in front of the Tigers’ shaky infield defense.

Two Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

AL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

C.J. Wilson

ANA

32

$18.04

$9.85

180

13

166

3.47

1.25

Jeremy Hellickson

TBA

26

$17.50

$10.01

174

12

146

3.49

1.20

Hiroki Kuroda

NYA

38

$13.18

$4.09

195.3

13

139

4.09

1.28

Jarrod Parker

OAK

24

$8.48

($0.35)

182.7

11

144

4.17

1.39

Alex Cobb

TBA

25

$7.20

($0.56)

156

10

123

4.18

1.36

Jason Hammel

BAL

30

$6.17

($1.90)

168

9

128

4.41

1.36

Hisashi Iwakuma

SEA

32

$13.09

$5.44

168

9

128

3.57

1.25

Alexi Ogando

TEX

29

$19.60

$12.87

164.9

12

152

3.21

1.16

Matt Harrison

TEX

27

$8.30

($1.37)

207.7

13

136

4.44

1.38

Ryan Dempster

BOS

36

$9.91

$0.92

186

11

168

4.25

1.36

Phil Hughes

NYA

27

$13.13

$4.65

174

12

156

3.97

1.28

A.J. Griffin

OAK

25

$12.71

$5.44

156

10

121

3.67

1.22

Gavin Floyd

CHA

30

$8.79

$0.93

168

9

137

4.19

1.31

Wei-Yin Chen

BAL

27

$9.03

$0.93

174

9

144

4.19

1.32

The top three in this tier are definitely on the cusp of moving up, but Wilson’s walks elevate his WHIP, Hellickson’s lack of strikeouts cuts into his value, and Kuroda is 38 years old and has somehow posted his two best major-league ERAs in the last two years despite also posting his two worst HR/9 rates.

Cobb has become a fantasy darling thanks to his brilliant spring training numbers, which include a 2.81 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 28 strikeouts, and just five walks in 25 2/3 innings. Jason and I repeatedly professed our love for Cobb on the podcast well before this spring, so these gaudy Grapefruit League stats are only hurting our chances to steal him in our leagues.

Harrison is a mini-Hellickson in that his lack of strikeouts simply caps his fantasy value at a certain level; his ratios are so strong that you can’t ignore him nonetheless.

Two-Star Value Pick: Hammel was limited to just 118 innings last year, which is a damn shame because he was in the midst of a breakout season. Despite Baltimore’s dream run to a playoff berth, I think Hammel’s emergence didn’t hit the radar as hard as it should have considering the incredible gains he made against stiff competition. A healthy Hammel will easily earn his draft-day cost, and if he picks up where he left off in 2012, then he could become an integral part of your rotation regardless of league format.

One Star

PLAYER

TEAM

AGE

AL

Mixed

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Derek Holland

TEX

26

$10.20

$1.48

176.4

12

151

4.30

1.32

Joe Blanton

ANA

32

$7.49

($0.77)

176.4

11

130

4.52

1.33

Chris Tillman

BAL

25

$3.62

($5.50)

168

9

135

4.68

1.43

Clay Buchholz

BOS

28

$9.88

$1.00

182.7

12

141

4.17

1.35

Tommy Milone

OAK

26

$10.29

$1.91

174

11

127

4.09

1.30

Tommy Hanson

ANA

26

$15.75

$8.63

156

11

150

3.50

1.20

Jason Vargas

ANA

30

$11.26

$2.67

182.7

12

119

4.10

1.28

Jeff Niemann

TBA

30

$6.77

$0.51

122.2

8

94

3.86

1.28

Rick Porcello

DET

24

$2.09

($6.39)

142.5

9

81

4.67

1.41

Wade Davis

KCA

27

$3.39

($4.77)

148.2

8

110

4.49

1.41

Ricky Romero

TOR

28

$3.32

($5.82)

159.6

10

124

4.65

1.45

Home-run Holland would be a sweet nickname for the Rangers lefty if he were a hitter; it’s about the worst nickname possible for a pitcher. The promising youngster has only posted one HR/9 rate south of 1.0 in his four-year career: a 0.9 effort in 2010, over just 57 1/3 innings. He has the chance to be special if he can rein in the homers, as he showed in a second-half run back in 2011, when he posted back-to-back shutouts to start a 97-inning stretch of 2.77 ERA and 1.16 WHIP work, along with a 10-1 record. He showed glimpses of that dominance for three starts here and five starts there, only to blow it with a run of multi-homer outings that erased all of the good work.

Tillman needs to show more of what we saw in 2012 to move up a tier or two, but he is a very intriguing option after what appears to be a big step forward, which came with the improvement of his secondary stuff. Meanwhile, the Angels find three-fifths of their rotation within this tier, which can’t be heartening to Halos fans. That said, I do like Blanton a good bit. He has shown promising underlying stats, but like Holland, home runs have sunk him. Hopefully, moving to a friendlier park yields results more commensurate with Blanton’s skills.

There is a mixed bag of upside at the back end of this tier, too. Can Niemann get a role and stay healthy all year? Is Porcello’s standout spring training (21-to-0 K:BB) an indication of things to come? Will Davis’ bullpen success transfer back into the rotation? How likely is Romero to recapture the magic he lost entirely last summer?

One-Star Value Pick: I already spoke about him, but it’s Blanton for me. I’m drawn to the component skills and his escape from homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

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

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