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Starting pitching is one of the key components of your fantasy team. Drafting the right pitchers consistently is a skill that helps separate league winners from the rest of the pack, but that's not the same as drafting the same pitchers to win all of the time. It's a volatile position with lots of turnover—it wasn't so long ago that Scott Kazmir was considered an ace in the making or a great source of strikeouts, and now he is neither of those things, and he's not even a Ray anymore. Everyone just knew that Cliff Lee couldn't repeat his 2008 campaign in 2009—unless you were paying attention to the things you needed to pay attention to. Many people thought Daisuke Matsuzaka was a shoo-in as an ace due to his win total and his ERA in 2008, Knowing when to pass or bid on these types of pitchers helps you make the informed decisions you need in order to build the perfect fantasy pitching staff.

As for the previous rankings in the series, check out first basemen, second basemen, third basemenshortstops, catchers, left fielders, right fielders, center fielders, and the combined outfielder rankings. Now, here are the changes to this year's ranking system:

  • Players are no longer ranked by number (the 1-20 system). Instead, I am implementing a tiered system using stars (five stars is the best, one is the lesser of your options). These stars are equal across positions to make comparisons between them easier—for example, there are three five-star first basemen, but there may be more or fewer than that at other positions—if it comes to it, the first player at a position may be a four-star option. You can derive positional scarcity from the number of four- and five-star players available and make decisions from there. Players are loosely ordered within tiers, with my first preference to my last.

  • Last year, I covered 60 starting pitchers total, which was still a lot relative to what I did at other positions but nowhere near enough. This time around, like with the other positions, I'm covering exponentially more. Just from the American League, I'm covering 71 pitchers. I looked at the depth charts and took the starting five for every team, then added some of the spot starters (who, in some cases, are currently injured or rehabbing pitchers, or are potential mid-season promotion candidates) to the list. Generally, those added with fewer innings are going to be ranked in lower tiers because they can't produce as much for you, but I wanted to at least have them here so they were in mind on draft day for you. If anyone you are curious about is missing, chances are good they were projected for a meager number of innings on the season, but if you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer them in the comments.

I've included your standard fantasy categories—IP, ERA, WHIP, SO, and wins—but I've also tossed a few other numbers in: HR/9 and K/BB ratio. K/BB should give you a quick reference for comparing pitchers easily, and HR/9 should help you determine the appropriate level of nervousness or relief when it comes to someone with iffier stat lines towards the middle and back end of this list.

I still ranked pitchers in a loosely ordered list, as I did with the other positions, but I'll let you in on the trade secret of the day: when all else failed, I went with strikeouts (mostly talking about three-stars and below on that one). That's just my personal preference, so if you, within your own draft, have a need besides strikeouts, please rearrange said players in such a way that benefits your team.

Five-Star Starters

Pitcher   		 IP	 ERA	WHIP	HR/9	 SO	K/BB	Wins
Justin Verlander	205	3.49	1.20	 1.0	213	 3.4	 14
Zack Greinke		205	3.16	1.17	 0.8	210	 4.0	 15
Jon Lester		199	3.36	1.21	 0.9	198	 3.2	 15
CC Sabathia		204	3.72	1.22	 1.1	184	 3.2	 15	
Felix Hernandez		206	3.34	1.22	 0.9	185	 2.8	 14
Josh Beckett		198	3.48	1.18	 1.0	182	 3.5	 15
Javier Vazquez		198	3.66	1.19	 1.2	190	 3.7	 14
Cliff Lee		196	3.50	1.19	 1.0	144	 3.3	 13

Whoa, hold on now. I'm not just going to put Verlander above Greinke without giving you some sort of explanation. Please save the bludgeoning and the icy stares for after you hear me out. Greinke had a fantastic 2009 season, but he was also lucky that the Royals defense didn't cause him more problems. That defense is not going to be markedly better, and I think that Greinke's ERA will sit around the area projected above, or maybe closer to where Verlander sits. The wins are also not a guarantee given the problems with his club, despite how good he is. Of course I would want Greinke on my club, but if you give me the choice, I would take Verlander first. Detroit was ninth in Defensive Efficiency last season, and the Royals were last. Even if Detroit falls back a bit and the Royals improve, there is still going to be a huge gap. I think the two pitchers are basically equal in talent, so I'm picking the starter from the better team with the better defense.

Lester is not as good as either of the first two, but he's pretty close, and he's on the best team of the trio with what should be an excellent defensive unit behind him. There's nothing wrong with ending up with him rather than the two above, especially since this is fantasy and wins count. Sabathia may end up with the highest ERA of the group because of his home park's tendency to let homers fly, but he's got everything else the pitchers above him have, along with the cushion of pitching for a competing club.

Hernandez is excellent and has a great Mariners defense behind him. Beckett is on the Red Sox and is one of the AL's premier starters, but I have a bit less faith in him going forward than Lester. Vazquez will have to deal with leaving a league and park that helped him avoid the homer issue, but otherwise the expectations are that he will be great once again. Lee doesn't have the strikeouts of these other starters, but he'll put up the same numbers otherwise. He's a bit miscast as a high-four and a low-five, but there's still a large gap in between him and the next guy on the list, so here he is.

Four-Star Starters

Pitcher			 IP	 ERA	WHIP	HR/9	 SO	K/BB	Wins
Matt Garza		186	3.78	1.29	 1.0	164	 2.4	 13
James Shields		203	3.73	1.22	 1.1	160	 3.3	 14
Jake Peavy		174	3.76	1.26	 1.2	175	 2.9	 11
Max Scherzer		186	3.56	1.24	 1.0	193	 2.9	 13
Brett Anderson		167	3.93	1.26	 1.1	138	 2.8	 10
Clay Buchholz		156	3.98	1.32	 1.0	130	 2.2	 10
Rich Harden		168	3.77	1.29	 1.1	190	 2.7	 11
John Lackey		190	3.66	1.23	 1.0	151	 3.1	 14
A.J. Burnett		187	4.35	1.40	 1.3	177	 2.2	 12
Scott Baker		187	3.99	1.26	 1.1	153	 3.2	 12
Jered Weaver		188	4.18	1.32	 1.2	156	 2.7	 11

Garza and Shields are similar production-wise, but I like Garza a bit better for the strikeouts he'll provide. Peavy is no longer an elite option thanks to leaving Petco Park for US Cellular Field, but as long as his ankle is healthy—and Will Carroll says it is—then he should still be one of the better pitchers on the board. I worry about the homers and his velocity loss over the past few seasons, but it's not at a high-risk level yet. If Scherzer can pitch upwards of 200 innings, he should be a beast; I worry a little about reaching 200 innings, but not so much that I've punished him in the rankings. Anderson's second half in 2009 is the real deal—expect a full season of that. His PECOTA forecast isn't nearly optimistic enough.

I'm a big believer in Buchholz—he changed his approach sometime around late July or early August, attacking hitters more consistently and not nibbling so much, like his teammate Matsuzaka so often did (with poor results for both pitchers). Now that Buchholz is a bit more confident in the way he puts away hitters, expect a big year out of him—yes, as good as Lackey, who is ranked just a smidge beneath him due to switching parks. Harden is a personal preference here, so if you knock him down a tier, I understand—the strikeouts and ERA he may post for you, even over 140 innings, could be a huge boost if drafted at the right time or for the right price.

Burnett will get you strikeouts, but whether his WHIP or ERA is also valuable is another story. Being with the Yankees means he should pick up winsm though, and given how good he is when he's on, it may be worth it to grab him. He's a lot like Lackey, despite the differing forecasts. Baker may not whiff as many hitters as some of the guys above him, but he's going to pick up wins, keep guys off base, and strike out enough hitters to help while posting a useful ERA. Weaver is down a little lower than you may expect due to the Angels losing some offense, as well as my not being entirely sure I believe his 2009 season.

Three-Star Starters

Pitcher       		 IP	 ERA	WHIP	HR/9	 SO	K/BB	Wins
John Danks		188	4.06	1.33	 1.1	153	 2.3	 11
Gavin Floyd		184	4.05	1.30	 1.1	155	 2.5	 11
Justin Masterson	158	4.04	1.39	 0.8	137	 2.0	 10
Francisco Liriano	151	4.60	1.42	 1.1	132	 2.2	  9
David Price		154	4.04	1.34	 1.1	127	 2.1	 10
Wade Davis		161	4.15	1.36	 1.1	130	 1.9	 10
Colby Lewis		161	3.80	1.20	 1.1	150	 3.9	 11
Daisuke Matsuzaka	142	4.29	1.44	 1.1	128	 1.9	  9
Joba Chamberlain	138	4.44	1.41	 1.3	127	 2.2	  9
Scott Kazmir		172	4.43	1.38	 1.2	148	 2.3	 10
Jeff Niemann		147	4.09	1.34	 1.0	110	 2.2	  9
Mark Buehrle		189	4.44	1.35	 1.2	108	 2.2	 10
Andy Pettitte		180	4.86	1.46	 1.3	132	 1.8	 10
Ervin Santana		165	4.48	1.37	 1.3	138	 2.7	  9
Gil Meche		163	4.48	1.45	 0.9	126	 1.9	  9
Brandon Morrow		123	4.56	1.49	 1.1	107	 1.7	  6
Dallas Braden		162	4.14	1.33	 1.0	100	 1.9	  9
Ryan Rowland-Smith	153	3.48	1.28	 0.5	84	 2.4	  6
Rick Porcello		149	4.75	1.45	 1.1	80	 1.6	  8
Brian Matusz		146	4.45	1.41	 1.2	120	 2.2	  9
Justin Duchscherer	120	3.63	1.27	 1.0	75	 1.9	  8

Danks is a red light and Floyd is a yellow, though Will Carroll says Danks is just barely red, so I don't mind tossing them together. Neither is a star—Floyd has pitched worse than this ranking in the past—but when you see the rest of the third tier this will make more sense. Masterson is going to get plenty of outs, but not enough of them may be via strikeout for your fantasy liking, and it's not like he's putting up a Roy Halladay-esque ERA to go with it. Plenty of uses, though.

I'm guessing Liriano will be better than last year because he's further removed from Tommy John surgery, but if some of that velocity doesn’t come back, I'm going to regret this ranking. Price pitched better as the year went on. He won't be an ace in 2010, but he'll take another step towards becoming the pitcher we think he can be. Davis is almost guaranteed a rotation spot at this junction, and though he's not as celebrated as Price, he's more than capable of helping out your roster.

Lewis is a bit of a wild card here, as he has come back from Japan where he put up some stellar stats. PECOTA has done a lot of Japanese translations in the past, and Lewis' projection looks pretty optimistic, so he's worth a shot at draft time. Who knows, maybe he'll outperform the ranking and you'll have yourself a bonus stud, or maybe he'll pitch to this perceived value and you'll get what you expected. Dice-K is not the ace many thought he was following 2008, not that anyone should have expected him to be based on that. Thanks to being shamed into keeping in shape and accepting criticism following a dismal 2009, things are looking up for 2010—especially with that new Sox D. Chamberlain would rank higher if he was guaranteed close to 200 innings.

Kazmir is not what he once was—don't be fooled into thinking his Angels ERA is what you should expect. Niemann may have a hard time keeping up last year's production if he keeps throwing fastballs 120 percent of the time, but he shouldn't be bad, and that's why he's here. I'm sure Buehrle will throw 60 scoreless innings and a perfect game or two because I have him in the three-star tier, so I'm not going to say anything he can use against me later.

Pettitte's biggest asset at this stage is pitching for the Yankees. He's not going to win you any leagues with his ERA or whiffs. Santana has plenty of upside if he comes back healthy and effective, but there's still no guarantee 2008 was a true indication of his talent either, so 2010 is kind of a show-me year from a fantasy perspective. I worry about Meche's health thanks to this red light—otherwise, I would have him higher.

I like Morrow a bit better than that forecast, though the defense in Toronto scares me. Braden isn't that special, but a solid D and a pitcher's park makes him worth a look. Rowland-Smith is a decent arm—his ERA, thanks to his park and defense, will make you happy. I have high hopes for Porcello in the future, but I'm not sold on that future being 2010 just yet. Matusz was impressive in his debut last year, and though I don't expect a stellar campaign this year, he's worth a three-star rating for sure. Duchscherer would rank a bit loftier were he not an injury risk, but chances are good he hurt himself even while I was typing this, so let's move on.

Two-Star Starters

Pitcher       		 IP	 ERA	WHIP	HR/9	 SO	K/BB	Wins
Ian Snell		172	4.45	1.46	 1.0	124	 1.5	  9
Kyle Davies		162	4.84	1.53	 1.0	114	 1.6	  8
Kevin Slowey		133	4.26	1.29	 1.2	107	 3.8	  8
Scott Feldman		163	4.62	1.43	 1.2	101	 1.6	  9
Armando Galarraga	144	4.70	1.47	 1.2	101	 1.6	  8
Vin Mazzaro		150	4.41	1.41	 1.1	 99	 1.7	  8
Nick Blackburn		184	4.66	1.37	 1.1	 94	 2.2	 10
Trevor Cahill		157	4.46	1.43	 1.1	 93	 1.4	  8
Carl Pavano		128	4.88	1.39	 1.3	 91	 3.0	  7
Joel Pineiro		177	4.71	1.33	 1.2	 87	 2.6	  9
Freddy Garcia            73     4.71    1.39     1.4     50      2.1      4
Andy Sonnanstine	110	4.63	1.36	 1.1	 69	 2.2	  6
Ben Sheets		 99	4.47	1.38	 1.2	 60	 1.8	  5

PECOTA likes Snell for a rebound. Citing the same park and defense I've mentioned a few timesm I'll bite as far as a late pick goes. Davies has the same problems that Meche and Greinke have as far as the supporting cast, but without the benefit of being Meche or Greinke. Slowey, Galarraga, and Feldman won't hurt you, but none are going to do much for any of your stats, either. These are guys you use to bulk up your innings or wins, and that's about it. Mazzaro isn't listed in Oakland's rotation, but he's got a ton of innings as a spot guy—mostly thanks to Duchscherer being around. Blackburn might pick up more innings than anyone else in this tier, but that doesn’t mean he's any better than the rest.

Cahill, like many of the A's young starters, could pitch his way out of this tier, but he hasn't done so yet. Carl Pavano suffers from a chronic case of being Carl Pavano. Pineiro won't like the AL as much as the NL—remember that on draft day. Garcia could pitch more than that, but like Blackburn, is that any reason to get excited? Sonnanstine may not have a job all year, but he's a decent enough for padding your innings if he does. Sheets could rocket up the tiers if he's healthy all year, but I'll worry about that when he's on the mound.

One-Star Starters

Pitcher      		 IP	 ERA	WHIP	HR/9	 SO	K/BB	Wins
Marc Rzepczynski	131	4.71	1.49	 1.1	119	 1.9	  6
Luke Hochevar		171	4.81	1.45	 1.0	118	 2.0	  8
Ricky Romero		150	5.04	1.56	 1.2	118	 1.7	  7
Chris Tillman		134	4.60	1.42	 1.3	110	 2.2	  8
Kevin Millwood		173	4.66	1.44	 1.2	109	 1.8	 10
Jeremy Guthrie		177	4.53	1.37	 1.3	107	 2.0	 10
Brian Bannister		166	4.71	1.42	 0.9	104	 1.9	 10
Derek Holland		131	4.75	1.43	 1.2	104	 2.1	  7
Joe Saunders		170	4.83	1.45	 1.3	 99	 1.7	  9
Fausto Carmona		152	4.80	1.51	 0.9	 97	 1.5	  8
Scott Richmond		121	4.96	1.46	 1.3	 97	 2.1	  6
Tommy Hunter		150	4.87	1.43	 1.3	 94	 1.9	  8
Brett Cecil		125	5.03	1.51	 1.2	 93	 1.8	  7
David Huff		146	4.77	1.47	 1.0	 92	 1.8	  8
Brandon McCarthy	113	4.59	1.41	 1.2	 81	 1.8	  7
Brad Bergesen		149	4.52	1.37	 1.2	 77	 1.8	  9
Aaron Laffey		136	5.13	1.59	 0.9	 72	 1.2	  7
Jeremy Sowers		115	4.82	1.49	 0.9	 55	 1.3	  6

These pitchers have enough problems of their own creation, like a lack of strikeouts, trouble keeping the ball in the park, issues with walks —but they also have to deal with poor defenses, or teams that aren’t going to help them win many games. If you're in an AL-only league, you may have to take a look at some of these guys, but generally you're not going to want much to do with any of them on draft day. If someone like Rzepczynski pitches himself into another tier, or Guthrie has one of his better years, you can deal with that via free agency or waivers rather than wasting a draft pick or auction dollars on them.

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So where would a healthy Shaun Marcum fit in this?
I'm very low on Toronto pitching right now, because their defense is awful and most of them are pitch-to-contact kind of guys. Marcum just missed being included because he was at 97 innings, but I would think even in a full campaign that the combination of pitching in front of that D and as his recovery year from Tommy John surgery that I'm not too optimistic.

He's less reliant on defense than others, but he's no Roy Halladay either. The 4.55 ERA PECOTA is projecting feels both right on target and a little high to me...I'm a bit conflicted.
I'm curious -- just how awful do you think the Jays' infield defense is and why? The OF defense I can understand, but, if memory serves only Marcum can really considered a fly-ball pitcher.
Alex Gonzalez is not the fielder he used to be. Supposedly Overbay could lose his job to Wallace, which would probably result in a defensive downgrade, but he's average at best these days too. Edwin Encarnacion has been terrible at third four years running now. Hill rates as fairly average defensively.

The Jays ranked #25 in Defensive Efficiency last year, and that was with Marco Scutaro and Scott Rolen for part of the year. I'm not optimistic about 2010, either.
I don't have a problem with the Verlander-Greinke ranking, but I'm kind of confused by your reasoning. Greinke's defense is likely to improve or stay the same, but he should get worse, while Verlander's defense got a year older, but Verlander should improve because of last year's top 10 D? I buy regression working especially hard on Greinke, but the defense as being the main factor.... I'm not so sure.
I didn't say Verlander would improve. I said Greinke would fall back because he wasn't going to have the same luck with that awful defense behind him two years in a row, and that even if Detroit's defense were to slip a bit and KC's to improve a little, the gap between the two is so huge that it won't matter.

They are pretty much equal, but one pitches for a better team with a better defense, and so I prefer him.
You are confusing last year with this year. Greinke somehow avoided being dinged by KC's D last year, but the expectation is that he won't be this year. I think what Marc is saying is that he considers the two of them equal in talent level and that as a tie-breaker he considers Detriots Defense better than KC's. Even if KC's D does improve from last year and Det's D declines, Det's is still better.
did lincencum just die or get traded to japan?
hahaha, al only... lol!
What about Bedard? Where would he fit in?
Where's Tommy Hanson?
my bad... :)
Scott Richmond is on the 60-day DL with a shoulder impingement that sounds moderately serious. I'd take him off the one-star list...
A good list, but clearly you didn't have the displeasure of owning Andy Sonnanstine in 2009. He's also the sixth Rays starter on the list, which brings me to my question: What do you think the chances are that that honor will go to Jeremy Hellickson instead, and what would you expect of him?
I did own Sonnanstine. Sadly. Thanks for the 'Nam like flashback.

We're projecting Hellickson for just 38 innings--it seems like;y Sonny has the inside track on that slot now, probably just to keep Hellickson fresh in the minors and with loads of service time left to burn.
Curious where Wakefield would rank...
As a Wakefield fan of 15 years (read: basically my entire baseball watching existence) it's sad for me to say pretty low. I have little faith in his back over the course of a full season, and things tend to get ugly before he stops pitching, too. I'm not sure he's a legitimate option for the Red Sox rotation for more than a short period of time, if at all.
As a Red Sox fan I'm surprised that you haven't noticed his trend of pitching well until he gets dinged up, after which he's a total disaster. I wouldn't mind dropping $1 on Wakefield if he starts in the 5th spot in the rotation and plugging him in while the weather is still cold.
"I have little faith in his back over the course of a full season, and things tend to get ugly before he stops pitching, too."

Was meant to convey pretty much what you said. I don't think he'll last the year, and he tends to be awful once things go south health wise.
Where would Phil Hughes rank if he won the 5th starter spot over Joba Chamberlain?
I guess he would just replace Joba on this list
Why are you low on Porcello for this season? Age/innings bump last year?
I'd say that a three-star status is fine for Porcello in 2010. He doesn't (or hasn't shown to date) the ability to strike out enough major league hitters to warrant anything higher than three-star. Maybe his K/9 numbers go up as he matures into his prime. But for now, he may be a better real life pitcher than a fantasy pitcher.
What he said. Someone asked me recently if I prefer Brett Anderson or Rick Porcello--I like both pitchers equally in the long-term, but Anderson has turned a corner already, and Porcello is still working his way around that bend. I'm willing to take a three-star risk on him with the hopes he figures things out in 2010, but 2011 is more likely in my mind.
Marc, any thoughts on Brian Matusz?
I like him, and I think we'll see some improvement this year, but I don't see him busting out in 2010 yet. That's why he's a three-star guy. He's another one, like Porcello, I like more for 2011. The kind of guy I would pick up in a keeper auction on the cheap now so I could reap the benefits later.
Will you be doing a combined AL/NL pitcher rankings as well?
If I have time. I still have to do relievers and an overall at some point, and there are some other things I would like covered besides just rankings as we approach the start of the regular season.

For quick reference, the AL list is generally stronger than the NL.
so, is it safe to assume a 5-Star AL pitcher is a 5-Star Mixed League pitcher? Vice versa for the NL . . .
Yes. That's the point.
He's projected for 58 innings as a starter, though with another 50 as a reliever he should have been considered. Good catch.

4.42 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 6 wins and 107 strikeouts in 108 innings. Useful for strikeouts but not much else--I would say he's a high one-star for now, unless Oakland sorts out their rotation a bit more. We'll have to cover their pitchers in more detail as the season approaches.
Can't wait to see the NL Pitchers and a combined list.
I'm not sure that I need to see a combined list of the pitchers below 3rd tier. But a "gun to the head" "loosely ordered" list of the 5 through 3 star pitchers would be invaluable on draft day...
Some random thoughts:
- Knowing that Mike Maddox is a rosin bag whisperer of sorts, and that the Texas defense will be even better this year, I would not be afraid to get value on Harden, Colby Lewis, or even Brandon McCarthy in an AL only league.
- Danks and Kazmir were tough luck losers alot in the 2nd half last year, I can attest to that
- Considering how they were baptized by fire last year without so much as a staff mentor, Brett Anderson (stud) and Trevor Cahill both may exceed expectations...Cahill does not strike out alot of guys yet but I think his K rate will improve
- Zack Greinke may prove to be a good sell high guy around the all star break as he is expected by his manager to toss complete games
I'm a little confused by the forecast on Colby Lewis. The projection above says 3.8/1.20 and 3.9 K/BB, a fantastic line, yet his major league numbers suggest quite the opposite. A K/BB rate well below 2.0 and a homerun rate through the ceiling. I see that his minor league numbers with the Rivercats in 2007 were pretty good, but that translated into a 23/14 K/BB ratio in 37 innings at the major league level that season.

Has something changed drastically in his two seasons off?
Yeah, he went to Japan and put up ridiculous numbers to the point where it looks like he learned how to pitch at a high level. Enough so that projections for him are pretty optimistic--the big test will be this year, obviously. His forecast suggests a better pitcher than the rank I have given him, but I feel more comfortable putting him in the three-star ranking for now.
Ahhh ok. Good to know. Thanks for putting in all this work :-)
I'm a little late to the party, but SIERA might be useful to include in future lists to show which pitchers are projected to improve or regress.