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February 28, 2014

TTO Scoresheet Podcast

Starting Pitchers

by Ian Lefkowitz, Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss

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As you’ve undoubtedly heard, good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa. You may not, however, have thought about the implications of great pitching or terrible pitching on good hitting. We’ve got plenty to say on starting pitching in Scoresheet (so much so that this week is only the first half of our coverage of the position), but to summarize at the highest level, our advice is to maximize the great pitching on your team and to minimize the innings devoted to terrible pitching.

Sounds easy, but it can be quite hard in Scoresheet. So read on for our rankings and detailed thoughts on some players. And be sure to check out our podcast, linked at the bottom of this article, for even more advice on strategy and specific players.

We are also really excited to have the man/the legend Bret Sayre on the podcast for a special guest segment. Bret is trying out Scoresheet for the first time this year, and in this week’s segment, we talk through our thoughts on his keeper decisions in his soft keeper league.

Without further ado, here are our starting pitcher rankings in Scoresheet. Please note that for convenience, we are calling pitchers we rank 1-25 as no. 1 starters, those ranked 26 to 50 as no. 2 starters, etc.

No. 1 Slot - Ranks 1 to 25

Rank

AGE

TEAM

Player

1

26

LAN

Clayton Kershaw

2

21

MIA

Jose Fernandez

3

27

TEX

Yu Darvish

4

28

SEA

Felix Hernandez

5

25

WAS

Stephen Strasburg

6

24

SFN

Madison Bumgarner

7

28

TBA

David Price

8

32

SLN

Adam Wainwright

9

30

LAN

Zack Greinke

10

25

CHA

Chris Sale

11

31

DET

Justin Verlander

12

35

PHI

Cliff Lee

13

29

DET

Max Scherzer

14

28

WAS

Jordan Zimmermann

15

22

SLN

Michael Wacha

16

25

NYN

Matt Harvey

17

23

PIT

Gerrit Cole

18

26

TBA

Alex Cobb

19

24

Cle

Danny Salazar

20

28

WAS

Gio Gonzalez

21

26

ATL

Mike Minor

22

26

CIN

Mat Latos

23

30

PHI

Cole Hamels

24

30

DET

Anibal Sanchez

25

29

SFN

Matt Cain

No. 2 Slot - Ranks 26 to 50

Rank

AGE

TEAM

Player

26

28

ATL

Kris Medlen

27

25

TBA

Matt Moore

28

32

KCA

James Shields

29

23

SLN

Shelby Miller

30

24

CIN

Tony Cingrani

31

30

WAS

Doug Fister

32

25

NYA

Masahiro Tanaka

33

33

SEA

Hisashi Iwakuma

34

27

LAN

Hyun-jin Ryu

35

24

OAK

Sonny Gray

36

23

ATL

Julio Teheran

37

28

CIN

Homer Bailey

38

30

PIT

Francisco Liriano

39

31

ANA

Jered Weaver

40

23

ATL

Alex Wood

41

29

CLE

Justin Masterson

42

27

SDN

Andrew Cashner

43

33

ANA

C.J. Wilson

44

28

CIN

Johnny Cueto

45

30

BOS

Jon Lester

46

24

NYN

Zack Wheeler

47

24

ARI

Patrick Corbin

48

27

SLN

Lance Lynn

49

26

OAK

A.J. Griffin

50

29

CHN

Jeff Samardzija

No. 3 Slot - Ranks 51 to 75

Rank

AGE

TEAM

Player

51

27

ATL

Brandon Beachy

52

37

PHI

A.J. Burnett

53

33

NYA

CC Sabathia

54

23

BAL

Kevin Gausman

55

25

OAK

Jarrod Parker

56

29

BOS

Clay Buchholz

57

25

TBA

Chris Archer

58

33

BOS

Jake Peavy

59

24

MIA

Henderson Alvarez

60

21

SEA

Taijuan Walker

61

28

MIL

Yovani Gallardo

62

30

BAL

Ubaldo Jimenez

63

29

SDN

Ian Kennedy

64

25

DET

Drew Smyly

65

30

MIL

Marco Estrada

66

25

DET

Rick Porcello

67

30

SDN

Josh Johnson

68

21

NYN

Noah Syndergaard

69

21

SD

Matthew Wisler

70

22

Pit

Jameson Taillon

71

38

SFN

Tim Hudson

72

39

TOR

R.A. Dickey

73

22

ANA

Tyler Skaggs

74

25

CHA

Jose Quintana

75

23

NYN

Rafael Montero

No. 4 Slot - Ranks 76 to 100

Rank

AGE

TEAM

Player

76

30

MIL

Matt Garza

77

27

CHN

Travis Wood

78

27

NYA

Ivan Nova

79

23

KCA

Yordano Ventura

80

33

LAN

Dan Haren

81

41

NYN

Bartolo Colon

82

31

Ervin Santana

83

26

ARI

Trevor Cahill

84

24

MIA

Nathan Eovaldi

85

21

ARI

Archie Bradley

86

28

CLE

Corey Kluber

87

23

Tor

Marcus Stroman

88

39

NYA

Hiroki Kuroda

89

30

SFN

Tim Lincecum

90

27

ARI

Wade Miley

91

22

ChN

C.J. Edwards

92

26

SLN

Joe Kelly

93

30

TEX

Alexi Ogando

94

26

BAL

Chris Tillman

95

24

Min

Alex Meyer

96

21

BAL

Dylan Bundy

97

31

MIN

Ricky Nolasco

98

28

BAL

Wei-Yin Chen

99

21

Cin

Robert Stephenson

100

26

CIN

Mike Leake

No. 5 and Beyond

Rank

AGE

TEAM

Player

101

23

Mia

Andrew Heaney

102

27

NYN

Jon Niese

103

31

HOU

Scott Feldman

104

27

SDN

Tyson Ross

105

24

NYN

Jenrry Mejia

106

35

MIL

Kyle Lohse

107

25

OAK

Dan Straily

108

22

KC

Kyle Zimmer

109

30

ARI

Brandon McCarthy

110

35

BOS

John Lackey

111

26

ANA

Hector Santiago

112

29

TOR

Brandon Morrow

113

30

CHN

Edwin Jackson

114

28

NYN

Dillon Gee

115

26

PIT

Jeff Locke

116

22

Col

Jonathan Gray

117

26

COL

Jhoulys Chacin

118

28

TEX

Matt Harrison

119

24

SD

Burch Smith

120

26

CLE

Zach McAllister

121

30

OAK

Scott Kazmir

122

22

Hou

Mark Appel

123

20

Pit

Tyler Glasnow

124

24

ChA

Erik Johnson

125

22

Pit

Nicholas Kingham

126

30

PIT

Charlie Morton

127

25

MIL

Wily Peralta

128

26

BOS

Felix Doubront

129

20

Atl

Lucas Sims

130

28

MIN

Phil Hughes

131

24

TBA

Jake Odorizzi

132

30

BAL

Miguel Gonzalez

133

19

Was

Lucas Giolito

134

37

ARZ

Bronson Arroyo

135

35

PIT

Wandy Rodriguez

136

29

LAN

Chad Billingsley

137

25

NYA

Michael Pineda

138

25

OAK

Drew Pomeranz

139

27

TBA

Jeremy Hellickson

140

21

SF

Edwin Escobar

141

25

KCA

Danny Duffy

142

21

SF

Kyle Crick

143

25

SEA

James Paxton

144

17

LAD

Julio Urias

145

26

ANA

Garrett Richards

146

22

PHI

Jesse Biddle

147

23

MIA

Jacob Turner

148

21

SF

Clayton Blackburn

149

23

TEX

Martin Perez

150

31

Jason Hammel

151

23

ChN

Pierce Johnson

152

33

COL

Jorge De La Rosa

153

22

KC

Sean Manaea

154

27

SLN

Jaime Garcia

155

24

Ross Stripling

156

36

SFN

Ryan Vogelsong

157

28

WAS

Ross Detwiler

158

35

TOR

Mark Buehrle

159

32

Paul Maholm

160

24

COL

Tyler Chatwood

161

31

KCA

Jason Vargas

162

30

CHN

Carlos Villanueva

163

27

TEX

Derek Holland

164

23

Bos

Matt Barnes

165

29

PHI

Kyle Kendrick

166

24

Casey Kelly

167

27

OAK

Tommy Milone

168

34

LAN

Josh Beckett

169

20

SD

Max Fried

170

24

MIL

Will Smith

171

35

KCA

Jeremy Guthrie

172

22

Was

A.J. Cole

173

19

Min

Kohl Stewart

174

34

SDN

Eric Stults

175

25

MIL

Tyler Thornburg

176

20

KC

Miguel Almonte

177

19

Bal

Hunter Harvey

178

29

BAL

Bud Norris

179

25

BOS

Brandon Workman

180

21

Bos

Henry Owens

181

22

LAD

Zach Lee

182

24

HOU

Jarred Cosart

183

23

Col

Eddie Butler

184

20

SF

Adalberto Mejia

185

24

SD

Joe Wieland

186

23

Mia

Anthony DeSclafani

187

21

Tor

Aaron Sanchez

188

33

PHI

Roberto Hernandez

189

24

Kyle Hendricks

190

22

Mia

Justin Nicolino

191

26

COL

Brett Anderson

192

29

CHA

John Danks

193

28

CHN

Jake Arrieta

194

23

TOR

Drew Hutchison

195

19

Bos

Trey Ball

196

30

CHA

Felipe Paulino

197

21

LAD

Chris Anderson

198

22

StL

Marco Gonzales

199

23

Sea

Erasmo Ramirez

200

21

Bal

Eduardo Rodriguez

201

24

TB

Matt Andriese

202

31

ATL

Gavin Floyd

203

23

SDN

Robbie Erlin

204

27

Was

Tanner Roark

205

36

KC

Bruce Chen

206

20

Hou

Lance McCullers

207

21

TB

Taylor Guerrieri

208

27

COL

Juan Nicasio

209

27

NYA

David Phelps

210

27

CLE

Carlos Carrasco

211

30

MIN

Mike Pelfrey

212

24

Mia

Brian Flynn

213

33

MIN

Kevin Correia

214

22

Vincent Velasquez

215

19

Tor

Roberto Osuna

216

30

PIT

Edinson Volquez

217

26

HOU

Brad Peacock

218

24

Atl

J.R. Graham

219

25

Was

Taylor Jordan

220

32

Jerome Williams

221

25

Pit

Brandon Cumpton

222

25

Jimmy Nelson

223

22

Ari

Braden Shipley

224

24

Bos

Allen Webster

225

20

Min

Jose Berrios

226

23

PHI

Jonathan Pettibone

227

23

SD

Juan Oramas

228

27

Tommy Hanson

229

25

Hou

Asher Wojciechowski

230

22

Hou

Mike Foltynewicz

231

26

WAS

Nate Karns

232

28

KCA

Wade Davis

233

20

Michael Feliz

234

20

SD

Zach Eflin

235

29

TOR

Todd Redmond

236

20

Atl

Mauricio Cabrera

237

26

BAL

Zach Britton

238

37

Freddy Garcia

239

23

HOU

Nick Tropeano

240

23

StL

Tim Cooney

241

23

Ty Blach

242

19

Alberto Tirado

243

18

Lewis Thorpe

244

30

MIN

Samuel Deduno

245

24

HOU

Brett Oberholtzer

246

26

MIN

Kyle Gibson

247

24

Det

Jose Alvarez

Start out planning your rotation by expecting to need 1,500 innings. It’ll probably be less than that, but by how much you’ll never be sure. Who do you want throwing those 1500 innings? Well, we’d all love to fill our rotation with Clayton Kershaw and his clones all five times for 1,000 innings, and then get the other 500 by writing down Craig Kimbrel 10 times in the bullpen and be done, but there’s no challenge in that kind of league and arguably there’s no sport without the challenge. As you stack up the pitcher projections, the reality is that every fourth one is going to get fragged falling off a four wheel vehicle or playing with their friend’s Yorkie Poo, so you’ll probably want to have plenty of backups. We’d suggest you plan on spending between eight and 12 roster spots on guys that you could put into your rotation at some time during the year to make sure you get enough innings.

So how do you maximize the potential for quality innings without exposing yourself to the dreaded Pitcher AAA appearance on your weekly results? The first step is to make sure you pick up at least a couple of guys that you’re pretty sure are going to deliver top flight performance this year. That gives you a good core to build as your base—ideally we’re looking at three guys from whom you’re expecting 180 innings and less than 3.5 runs per nine innings. Of course, those guys are popular, and if you want to score any runs, you have to draft some bats, and the rest of your pitchers aren’t going to be studs.

As we progress down the draft, start to think of pitchers in three categories. The first category is the boring guys that are as dependable as pitchers get but haven’t been drafted yet because they’re not going to give you many stellar outings. You’re pretty sure they’re going to give you at least 180 innings but you’re also pretty sure they are going to be of fairly average quality. The second category is the exciting guys that are high variance in terms of quality and durability, but have upside potential. Preferably, the variance is something you can plan weekly lineups around, like injuries, and not something you can’t do anything about, like healthy bouts of suckitude. The second category of guys may throw 180 innings but they’re probably projected to throw closer to 100 innings. The real key for the second category of guys is that they have a chance to shut down offenses. The third category of guys is the rest of the guys out there, and we don’t want anything to do with them.

The key is to balance those starting pitcher roster spots between the first two categories. The goal should be to come up with an amalgamation of the boring guys and exciting guys that offers your team a baseline expected performance from the boring guys that can be surpassed at times by the exciting guys. When you add in the chances that some of them get injured, you’ll find that you want to be able to pick up something like four of each of these guys for your team. The good news is that if you end up with fewer injuries than you expected, you can always trade them or stick them in your bullpen as long relief, so you know their innings won’t be wasted value.

Veteran dynasty players and Scoresheet owners may have some questions about the placement of pitching prospects on our list. Would we really take a broken down old arm such as Jake Peavy over Taijuan Walker? Are we insane for considering Nate Eovaldi, a fine third starter, in the same stratosphere as Archie Bradley? You've caught us... we're all relatively dyed-in-the-wool TINSTAAPPers, and to varying degrees, we'll pretty much always take the pitcher with present value over a comparable pitcher who's farther away from the majors with more promise. Unlike with hitting prospects, we tend not to expect pitchers as likely bets to reach their potential, and the downside is a lot of torn labrums and broken hearts. The difference is starker the further you head into minor levels. Are you willing to pay 4-5 draft picks for a guy who may come up for 10 starts, give up a dozen home runs, and strain his forearm? Especially in shallower leagues, Low-A pitchers who throw hard are pretty much a constant renewable resource. Lower-level pitching prospects, especially of the non-elite variety, should be treated as penny stocks, ready to be traded away at the first sign of improvement.

No. 1 Slot
There are many sexy picks you could make for your no. 1 starter, but Adam Wainwright is not one of them. And as fantasy Adam Wainwright says, sometimes Scoresheet picks are like people: the sexy ones just aren’t worth the price. Wainwright may be a few years older than the other guys you’d consider, but keep in mind that a 32 year old pitcher is significantly less likely to regress than a 32-year-old hitter. Wainwright has been extremely durable the past four years, all of which have seen his ERA under 3.00, save for 2012, when the advanced metrics suggest his ERA should have been almost a full run lower than it was.

One of the reasons why we don't value pitching prospects as highly as others is because almost every year brings with it a Danny Salazar, someone who makes massive gains within a season. The injury concerns are real, but so is the likelihood of a healthy Salazar being an almost ace.

Matt Cain, America's foremost John C. Reilly impersonator, has ridden a high fastball, some ballpark effects, and some black magic to success. The wheels came off slightly last year, and while that's ordinarily a chance for a savvy owner to buy low, some of us are concerned that this is who Cain appears to be. He's a solid, durable starter who's always had an aura of an ace, but there are usually pitchers who we tend to prefer on the board when he is drafted.

No. 2 Slot
We often talk about ERA not because we love the stat as a way to measure a pitcher’s value, but because that’s really what Scoresheet is using in its simulation. So, it is a little surprising that the guy who finished eighth in ERA last year among pitchers with at least 100 innings won’t be taken in the top 25 and probably won’t even be taken in the top 50. Hisashi Iwakuma most likely won’t put up quite the same season he did last year. But even if he tacks on an additional 0.6 to his ERA this year, and there’s no reason to think he should be any worse than that, he’s going to get you plenty of value, relative to where you can draft him.

Julio Teheran is a reminder of the volatility of a top pitching prospect, as he's gone from stud to nearly unkeepable. Now, with a rotation spot in hand, his value doesn't appear to have bounced all the way back, making him something of an attractive target in many leagues. He's been on the radar so long that many don't realize he'd still be a fairly young prospect, and he represents a more intriguing target than a veteran projected to return similar or even better value, such as Justin Masterson, or even a young pitcher with slightly less breakout potential, such as Patrick Corbin.

No. 3 Slot
One of the pitchers that falls into the exciting high variance category that we described earlier, and perhaps the 2014 poster child for the kind of variance you want to target, is Josh Johnson. He’s only had three years in which he topped 180 IP, but he’s almost always been able to produce high quality innings. Last year he struggled, both getting on the field and being effective once there, so his stock has dropped from years past. He’s moving to San Diego and the friendly confines of Petco alone are enough to pique our interest, but his history of delivering intermittently awesome performances and racking up days on the DL combine to make him available for the middle of your rotation and exactly the kind of guy that you want to take a chance on.

No. 4 Slot
Is Bartolo Colon a keeper? Wait, why are you laughing? Baseball's least healthy appearing rejuvenation story takes his magical serums to another pitcher-friendly ballpark, this time in the National League. Once you've accepted that pitchers don't follow traditional aging curves, it's perhaps not a huge logical leap to assume that Colon doesn't have an appreciably worse chance of crashing and burning in 2015 than a mid-career pitcher such as Jon Lester. And if you follow that thinking, and you're willing to gamble on age, then you're probably in line for a tremendous bargain.

We discussed Archie Bradley in general earlier, but even among pitching prospects, he's lower on our boards than most others. For somebody run up the flagpole on many draft lists, he certainly has never quite licked the control problems that have plagued him through the minors, and the Bronson Arroyo signing leaves him thoroughly blocked for the first part of 2014. The upside is immense, but for where he'd usually go in a draft, we're far more likely to take the safer bet.

This week, the Outcomes discuss starting pitchers and everything else in a podcast that Pete Holmes would likely call "a little too long." First, the Outcomes introduce the week and get way too invested in the return of baseball. At (00:11:36), they take reader questions and successfully attempt to draft a player live on the air. At (00:27:22), the Outcomes interview @dynastyguru and Real Professional Bret Sayre, and ask him about his debut in Scoresheet and his strategy for his first keeper deadline. Finally, at (00:47:52), they discuss the top 100 starting pitchers, ending with a real cliffhanger.

To follow the TTO Podcast, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or follow @TTOScoresheet for more.

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