Picking up where we left off yesterday, it's time for the National League starting pitcher rankings.

As for the previous rankings in the series, check out first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, 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 National League, I'm covering 83 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 also 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 here for your consideration: 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
Tim Lincecum    214  2.86  1.12   0.8  248  3.65   16
Roy Halladay    211  3.19  1.12   0.9  179  4.26   16
Johan Santana   188  3.82  1.27   1.2  163  3.02   12
Josh Johnson    174  3.54  1.24   1.0  161  3.04   12
Dan Haren       209  3.01  1.09   0.9  203  4.72   16
Adam Wainwright 204  3.17  1.19   0.8  171  2.95   15

Lincecum was my top pick for starters last year, and that worked out pretty well, so let's do that again. Halladay gets some extra credit due to the league switch—you know, because he wasn't already an elite, consistent and downright awesome option. Santana's elbow scares me, but it seems things are moving along smoothly as he works back from last year's troubles (knocks on wood). Johnson is one of the best pitchers in the game as long as he's healthy—that may be a question mark given his past, but we'll see if he's moved on from that and turned into a consistent, dominant fantasy starter. Haren is more useful in roto than in head-to-head because of his second-half struggled, but his line still averages out to one of the best in the game. Wainwright is a pitcher I kept bouncing between the four- and five-star tiers in my head, but since his ceiling is five-star, let's keep him there,

 Four-Star Starters

Pitcher           IP  ERA  WHIP HR/9   SO  K/BB  Wins
Chris Carpenter  159 3.08  1.16  0.7  111  2.71   12
Yovani Gallardo  178 3.82  1.34  1.1  197  2.46   11
Tommy Hanson     182 3.24  1.24  0.9  191  2.73   13
Ubaldo Jimenez   198 3.61  1.29  0.8  175  2.19   14
Ricky Nolasco    179 3.65  1.18  1.0  174  3.87   12
Clayton Kershaw  171 3.65  1.33  0.9  172  2.15   11
Chad Billingsley 195 3.75  1.30  0.9  184  2.52   12
Cole Hamels      200 3.57  1.19  1.0  171  3.49   14
Matt Cain        200 3.65  1.29  1.0  169  2.45   12
Wandy Rodriguez  188 3.71  1.27  1.0  165  2.70   12
Ryan Dempster    175 3.88  1.31  1.0  150  2.38   11
Roy Oswalt       186 3.79  1.24  1.0  142  3.02   11
Jair Jurrjens    183 3.68  1.30  0.8  134  2.06   12

Carpenter is an easy five-star if you can promise 190-200 innings. Gallardo should get plenty of offensive support in Milwaukee, but he's also good enough that he won't need all of it to win. Hanson was very impressive in his debut last season, but PECOTA sees even better things on the horizon for the up-and-coming ace. Jimenez is one of the most talented pitchers around, but Coors Field scares me just enough to keep him with the fours.

I'm a big Nolasco believer, but it seems that many others with a saber slant feel the same way, so if you're in a league with that kind of owner, prepare for a fight on draft day. Kershaw wasn't quite as good as advertised in 2009, but that doesn't mean he isn't still one of the best picks you can make. Billingsley's second-half slide last year is a bit worrisome, but, given it's just part of one season, and we've seen what he can do when everything is clicking, he still fits into the four-star tier. He better anyways, since he's one of the anchors on my NL-only league staff.

Matt Swartz has covered Hamels in great detail, so if you've seen any of that then you know why he's ranking here. Cain isn't quite Lincecum, but he's a pretty great starter in his own right. The park helps, but the offense behind him mitigates some of that from a fantasy perspective. I like Rodriguez quite a bit, but I would like him more if he had a better club behind him. His forecast looks pretty accurate to me, though I bet he picks up quite a few more punch outs than that. He's whiffed 8.6 and 8.5 hitters per nine the past two seasons.

Dempster isn't an ace, but he's a great pick to help support the numbers your ace puts up. Oswalt is the same way, though he's been a bit all over the place the past two seasons. I'm not sure how much I would want to be stuck with him based on last year (at least when discussing his value relative to the other pitchers in this tier). Jurrjens may never see that ERA he posted last year again, but he's more than capable of putting hitters away with a few strikeouts and some help from his defense. I would like more Ks, but it's hard to argue with the ERA, and he'll put up some innings as long as his arm doesn't fall off.

Three-Star Starters

Player             IP  ERA  WHIP HR/9   SO  K/BB Wins
Jonathan Sanchez  175 3.93  1.35  0.9  178  2.28  10
Brandon Webb      124 4.38  1.41  0.9   86  1.72   7
Carlos Zambrano   179 4.01  1.37  0.9  150  1.92  11
Jorge De La Rosa  179 4.00  1.36  1.0  177  2.21  11
Aaron Harang      184 4.16  1.30  1.2  158  3.04  10
Randy Wolf        174 4.28  1.35  1.2  138  2.51  10
Ted Lilly         155 3.51  1.19  1.0  135  3.29  10
Edwin Jackson     182 4.13  1.37  1.0  140  2.06  11
J.A. Happ         174 3.80  1.31  1.1  136  2.16  12
Homer Bailey      169 4.54  1.43  1.2  131  1.79   9
Mat Latos         140 3.85  1.34  0.9  119  2.20   8
Joe Blanton       185 4.04  1.31  1.1  137  2.32  12
John Maine        145 4.30  1.41  1.1  114  1.78   8
Madison Bumgarner 145 4.18  1.37  1.1   98  2.00   8
Kevin Correia     165 4.43  1.43  0.9  114  1.90   8
Randy Wells       161 4.24  1.37  1.1  109  2.02   9
Mike Pelfrey      178 4.80  1.45  1.1  105  1.67   9
Brad Penny        165 4.14  1.35  0.9  102  1.89  10

Thanks to a strong second half, Sanchez looks like he may have some fantasy uses outside of just his strikeout totals. He may walk too many hitters to make your WHIP look great, but at least his K/BB is half decent thanks to upwards of 10 K per nine. Webb's ranking is a bit odd—if he's healthy, he should be better than this. PECOTA is not very confident about his forecast, at least his weighted mean one. I can see him pitching himself into a higher tier, so it's all about the risks you're willing to take. I try to pick my battles with pitchers—I'm not risk-averse, just picky.

Zambrano may not be worthy of ace status anymore given the quality of his recent work, but that doesn't mean he's without value. He was better than expected in 2009, and his forecast seems like a good indicator for his 2010 performance. De La Rosa is a great source of Ks—if he can keep his ERA around that projection, then that's just extra goodness. Harang is not the pitcher of old, but he's good for padding the innings on your staff, and he won't hurt your numbers in that role.

Wolf picked a good time to be healthy and pitch for the Dodgers last season, but going to Milwaukee won't be all bad. He should have another solid year or two. Lilly makes me a teensy bit nervous because he had off-eason shoulder surgery and was also a bit lucky last year. I might be ranking him a little low here. I can see him in the four-star tier, though, and a look at his track record will back this up. You can just as easily see him where he is. Jackson gets to leave the American League for greener pastures, though we'll see how he holds up in the offensive haven in 'Zona. He might be a better real-life option than a fantasy one. Everyone is beating up on Happ for what he isn't instead of focusing on what he is, a guy who should put up an ERA in very low 4's while throwing a bunch of innings. He's still young—his numbers could improve a bit and it wouldn't be a shock. Bailey is a post-hype sleeper. He's a great late pick or cheap auction buy, because people are very unsure about his future. His talent makes him worth the risk though.

Latos, if given the innings, will probably be San Diego's best starting pitcher this year. That has more to do with Latos than the state of the Padres starters, too. Blanton is always good for soaking up innings, but if he can keep some of that extra strikeout rate from 2009, then he's got a bit more value than you're used to seeing out of him. PECOTA seems to think he'll retain some of those benefits. I would like to see what kind of help Citi Field could be for Maine, but he needs to stay on the mound for that to happen. If he can throw more than 145 innings then I like him better than this ranking, but given the Mets luck with injuries lately I'm surprised the return of the bubonic plague hasn't been announced at their spring training facility.

People are worried about Bumgarner's spring velocity, so acquiring him before the mob settles back down is probably in your best interest. Correia and Wells won't pitch as effectively as they did in 2009, but that doesn't mean they are without any value. They may not help a lot, but they probably won't hurt you, either. Correia, at least, has Petco Park for half of his starts as well. Pelfrey really needs to learn to use a second pitch, but he's shown himself capable of some solid work in the past. His projection is a bit too pessimistic for me. Penny would have looked better in 2009 with the Red Sox if they employed some actual defenders, so expect a rebound from him thanks to a full year in the NL and someone else besides the 2009 Sox trying to catch his balls in play.

Two-Star Starters

Pitcher            IP  ERA  WHIP HR/9   SO  K/BB Wins
Johnny Cueto      177 4.02  1.30  1.1  147  2.41  10
Tim Hudson        124 4.33  1.40  0.9   77  1.93   7
Barry Zito        181 4.37  1.42  1.0  135  1.80   9
Doug Davis        164 4.59  1.51  1.1  130  1.63   9
Bud Norris        146 4.28  1.45  1.1  128  1.83   8
Bronson Arroyo    190 4.26  1.34  1.2  122  1.97  10
Billy Buckner     149 4.30  1.40  1.0  120  1.94   9
Vicente Padilla   170 4.42  1.42  1.1  120  1.94   9
Manny Parra       146 5.06  1.53  1.1  119  1.75   7
Jason Hammel      157 4.28  1.34  1.0  117  2.49   9
Clayton Richard   158 4.30  1.42  0.9  116  1.84   8
Kris Medlen        86 3.71  1.32  1.2  115  2.50   7
Tom Gorzelanny    142 4.26  1.38  1.0  114  1.93   8
Brett Myers       138 4.08  1.33  1.1  114  2.48   8
Paul Maholm       176 4.40  1.38  1.0  109  1.88   9
Jason Marquis     191 4.11  1.35  0.9  107  1.60  10
Kyle Lohse        165 3.87  1.29  0.8  107  2.10  10
Kenshin Kawakami  149 4.11  1.36  1.0  105  1.94   9
Aaron Cook        176 4.34  1.37  1.0   85  1.63  10
Chris Young       111 4.67  1.53  1.1   81  1.45   5
Ross Ohlendorf    135 4.38  1.38  1.1   91  1.98   7
John Lannan       181 4.29  1.39  1.0   89  1.44  10
Jon Garland       182 4.51  1.43  0.9  100  1.67   9
Derek Lowe        175 4.71  1.45  0.9  102  1.73   9
Jonathon Niese    133 4.51  1.41  1.1  104  2.04   7
Dave Bush         140 4.84  1.42  1.3  104  2.21   7
Andrew Miller     114 4.76  1.52  1.0   93  1.52   6

Things sure took a turn for the ugly right about here. Cueto's forecast is far too optimistic, which is why you see him here. I'll take him for his 30th percentile rather than this. Hudson is a concern due to health, but could pitch himself into the three-star tier. It's not Zito's fault the Giants paid him far more money than he's worth—if you recognize him for what he is, he may be able to help you. Davis is a lot like Zito, in the sense that if used in the right way he can help more than hurt. Use him for his best matchups or parks, and bench him otherwise.

As for the rest of this list—ugh. There are a lot of "if's" appended to the summary for each of these players. If Lowe still has something in the tank, if you believe Lannan can get hitters out without being shellacked, if Young can stay on the mound, if Petco Park can keep Richard interesting and valuable—you get the point. You won't have to dig this deep unless your league is NL-only or has massive rosters, but as you can see from the most part I've ordered them by strikeouts, because that's what I shoot for when the pickings get slim.

One-Star Starters

Player             IP  ERA  WHIP HR/9   SO  K/BB Wins
Zach Duke         183 4.51  1.36  1.0   85  1.81   9
Charlie Morton    155 4.32  1.41  0.9  104  1.68   8
Stephen Strasburg  79 3.39  1.30  1.1  101  3.06   5
Aroldis Chapman    73 4.28  1.49  1.2   95  1.90   4
Chris Volstad     145 4.55  1.43  1.1  100  1.79   8
James McDonald    105 4.00  1.38  1.5   95  2.02   6
Garrett Mock       92 4.13  1.36  1.0   75  2.03   5
Aaron Poreda       89 4.51  1.57  1.5   75  1.34   4
Felipe Paulino    102 4.80  1.51  1.2   85  1.81   5
Anibal Sanchez    124 4.32  1.46  1.0   99  1.65   7
Rich Hill         114 4.51  1.52  0.9   98  1.40   6
Ian Kennedy       116 4.17  1.41  1.0   97  1.87   7
Oliver Perez      101 4.95  1.59  1.3   96  1.52   5
Hiroki Kuroda     155 4.31  1.29  1.1   95  2.44   8
Rick VandenHurk    99 4.16  1.38  1.1   83  1.98   6
Edinson Volquez    64 3.55  1.30  1.0   66  2.20   4
Mitch Atkins       59 5.18  1.51  2.1   70  1.75   4
Brian Moehler     139 5.20  1.49  1.1   69  1.38   6

The same principle that applies in the two-star tier applies here, though there are some intriguing names to discuss. Strasburg would necessitate a higher pick were he a lock to spend much of the year in the majors, but it seems he'll begin the season in the minors—the Nationals would like him to be around when they think they can compete (hint: not in 2010). Volstad had a rough 2009, but has pitched well in the past—2010 could harbor a rebound for that particular Fish. McDonald and Poreda have impressive strikeout rates, but a lot of their innings come from the bullpen. They may qualify as starters, too, so keep an eye out.  Chapman is in the same boat as Strasburg—if you can get him cheap, do it, but don't overpay for someone who may barely pitch this year. Perez should be better than last year, but I can't argue with PECOTA's forecast with him, either. That's not very useful for fantasy, even if he is striking people out all of the time.

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Thanks, Marc, for continuing to crank out these lists! In a league that uses Quality Starts instead of Wins, are there any pitchers who might get knocked up one tier? Or to the top of their tier? Any pitchers in pitchers parks with good defenses behind them who don't expect the offensive support to turn their quality starts into wins might qualify - Cain, Rowland-Smith, others?
These PECOTAs make me tremble about how the Mets will do this season.
Anyone else get the feeling the "tier" system doesn't work as well with starting pitchers? It seems more like a fairly smooth curve than a series of steps. Not that it matters, of course. The beauty of Marc's new ranking system is that both can be presented in the same way.
I think the tiers work very well for pitchers. Yes, the guys at the top/bottom of each tier are arguably just a step away from their adjacent tier, but it seems to me that, to the extent anyone (or anyalgorithm) can predict a pitching performance, these tiers show real divisions between likely pitching performance. This seems true, even if "risk" is a bigger part of these tier rankings, rather than purely skill.
Cole Hamels v. Ubaldo Jimenz Who gives the most value in 5x5 categories (with IP replacing saves) over the next 4 years? Assume the ballpark stays the same.
oops -- Ubaldo Jimenez, obviously.
No love for Justin Verlander? Seems like he should be just on the edge of 5-stars.
He's an AL-pitcher. This is an NL ranking.
and i'm an idiot
Nah. Take it easy on yourself. Easy thing to overlook.
Why the pessimism for Cueto? Not really a Reds fan, just curious.
"I'll take him for his 30th percentile rather than this." Do we even have a 30th percentile yet?
No, but I bet his 30th percentile looks like my expectations when it hits. If it doesn't, I'll be sure to update via the blog to correct for this.
Is there a combined A.L./N.L. Starters list? Thanks.
Small query here. PECOTA seems to prefer Chris Volstad to Andrew Miller, maybe because he's shown better control. Yet you have Miller in a tier above Volstad. Is it Miller's upside that warrants the upgrade?
Marc, What pitcher would you say is most likely to be left off the list this year and a 5 star pitcher for 2011 (a la Adam Wainwright last year)?
I can't tell if you're asking a serious question or just being mean, but I'll answer anyways. I covered more starting pitchers than there are starting pitcher slots in both leagues. Please remember that last year I had concerns about Wainwright due to his forecast and health problems, and he didn't make the top 60--this year I have covered much more than twice that number (just this NL list has more pitchers than that one!) so unless we get a pitcher who wasn't supposed to come up from the minors who does, and then proceeds to make Tommy Hanson's rookie campaign look like the work of an amateur, we should be all set in avoiding this issue. That or Kyle Farnsworth, but let's be serious.
Thanks for answering this question ... I'm pretty sure it was serious, I'd guess he didn't account for the change in the # of pitchers you ranked ... Another way to answer the question is to turn it into an apples-to-apples comparison ... which of your out-of-the-top-30 NL starters this year is most likely to be 5-star next year? For me to answer that question, I'll look at age and years in the big leagues ... and perhaps even SIERA? ... perhaps add these attributes to next year's presented data ... Gotta think that one of Cueto / Strasburg / Chapman will be that guy ... but the question which roto/fantasy players want to know is "which one"? My team can only afford to take one such shot ... eh, in reality, if my goal is "win this year", I probably can't even afford to do that (since I have a solid base of keepers to build off of ... if my team were weak going in, I think I'd take more risk for this year, especially if it came with better hope for a return in 2011) ...
I thought it would be awkward if I put just one American League pitcher in the list of National League pitchers. I hope you agree. :-)
"Kershaw wasn't quite as good as advertised in 2009, but that doesn't mean he isn't still one of the best picks you can make." Uh... He outperformed his 90th percentile PECOTA projections in almost every category. That sounds like he was better than advertised...
I'm saying his numbers look better than he was. Meaning his numbers are better than he should be. But despite that he's still great.
Where, oh where are the combined starter rankings?