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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.