October 24, 2013
Ten Could-Be Fantasy Aces for 2014
Conventional fantasy wisdom has always suggested that pitching is more volatile from year-to-year than hitting. In this case, conventional wisdom is absolutely correct—and the 2013 season bore this out even more than usual. When you look at the top ten fantasy starters in both 2013 and 2012, one thing becomes very apparent: there’s a ton of turnover. In fact, there was only one pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) who made both lists. For further effect, here they are side-by-side:
It’s not like the 2012 list was filled with guys having career years and were not expected to repeat as top fantasy starters. Justin Verlander, David Price, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, and Cole Hamels were all selected either in or just outside the top 10 coming into the season. Will that happen next year with pitchers like Max Scherzer, Cliff Lee, Yu Darvish, Jose Fernandez, or Madison Bumgarner? Odds are it will happen to most of the guys on this list*.
*Unfortunately the list already has its first casualty in Matt Harvey, who will miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
So with the premise of this article set, let’s take a look at a group of pitchers who could replace the ones who came before them. The rules are simple: no top-20 pitchers from the 2013 season and no one who will be a consideration for the top-ten in 2014 drafts (I’m looking at you, David Price and Cole Hamels). And yes, these are ranked in order of likelihood (with their 2013 rank in parentheses):
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (#65)
Cole was the no. 1 pitching prospect in baseball right here in the off-season and it hasn’t taken long for the big right-hander to show why. Between the regular season and the playoffs, the Pirates were able to ramp Cole up to 196 1/3 innings—meaning he should not have any sort of innings limit in 2014. When it comes to pure stuff, there are few pitchers in baseball who can touch Cole and it doesn’t take much imagination to envision him being one of the best pitchers in the game in short order. After the All-Star break, Cole had 75 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings to go along with a 2.85 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
Shelby Miller, RHP, St Louis Cardinals (#22)
The fact that Miller is the forgotten man in St Louis this playoff season may work to the advantage of fantasy owners who try to snag him in drafts next March. The upside was evident during the first three months of the 2013 season—he had a 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings through the end of June. With another full season under his belt, he could take that next step forward and put up some big numbers.
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (#43)
The Moore hype train was a bit out of control heading into 2013, and I was as guilty as anyone of pushing it forward. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop just because it’s another season. Moore has the most upside of any pitcher in the American League East for 2014, but he’s going to need to keep his walk rate down. There’s no reason he can’t do next season what Gio Gonzalez did in 2012.
R.A. Dickey, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (#57)
If Dickey wasn’t a top-10 starter in drafts this past March after winning the Cy Young Award and being the top fantasy starter in baseball last season, there’s no way he’ll be taken with much fervor in 2014 after finishing outside the top 50. That may not be the right approach though. It was certainly a disappointing season for the knuckler, but a velocity surge during the last two months of the season on his go-to pitch brought him more in line with his 2012 numbers (3.35 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 78 innings). He’ll be one of my focal value picks heading into the spring if he’s healthy.
Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (#26)
If you saw this coming, you’re a liar. Liriano looked so good during this season that I’ve stopped assuming that he’s just going to let everyone down in 2014. Of course, it’s still the most likely outcome, but it’s no longer the only realistic one. The key for Liriano is getting more first strikes—his three best seasons in that category have been 2006, 2010 and 2013. That’s not a coincidence.
Andrew Cashner, RHP, San Diego Padres (#40)
If Gerrit Cole has the best stuff of anyone on this list, Cashner is a pretty close second. And he really turned it on in the second half. From the All-Star break on last season, Cashner had a 2.14 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. He’ll need to pick up that strikeout number a bit to crash into the top-ten, but there’s plenty of upside in that department. Injury concerns will always cloud his value, but the ceiling is intense.
Michael Wacha, RHP, St Louis Cardinals (#106)
Yes, the postseason hero makes the list, but in a somewhat begrudging manner. I’m actually not very high on Wacha (comparatively) for next season, viewing him more as a solid no. 3 or 4 fantasy starter who may not be allowed to throw 200 innings. However, there’s a somewhat reasonable chance that he is just this good, plain and simple. The price is likely to be extremely prohibitive for the 2012 draftee though.
Jon Lester, LHP, Boston Red Sox (#50)
This is going to seem awfully reactionary based on how dominant Lester looked in Game One of the World Series, but he’s looked great for six of the last seven months now (June was his only month with an ERA over 4.00—and it was an ugly 7.62). The velocity hasn’t come back to his 2010 levels, which likely means he’s seen his last season of striking out a batter per inning. With that said, Boston should be a very good team again next year and his velocity increased as the 2013 season went along.
Jarrod Parker, RHP, Oakland Athletics (#66)
It was a great four-month stretch in 2013 for Parker, which was mostly hidden by a terrible April and a rough September. If you just strip out that middle section of the season, Parker had a 2.81 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 100 strikeouts in 141 innings. If he can get back to having his slider as a real out pitch, those mediocre punchout total could turn well above average in no time.
Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets (#113)
The comps to Harvey are almost as unnecessary as they are predictable. Yes, Wheeler is a hot shot right-handed pitching prospect for the Mets, but expecting Wheeler to do 2013 Matt Harvey type things in 2014 is unrealistic. Yet, unrealistic doesn’t mean impossible. I’m extremely curious to see how highly Wheeler is pumped this off-season by the fantasy community. Don’t be surprised if most of the value is well priced out of him by February.
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see Bret's other articles.
You can contact Bret by clicking here