This is the final installment of my four-part Fantasy Baseball Preview. In my previous post, I rated over 120 major league hitters by position, with accompanying commentary. In this post, I will sort starting pitchers into four primary categories: The Studs, The Near Studs, The Average Javiers, and The Cannon Fodder. Pitchers in bold print are sleepers that I believe should be aggressively targeted. Pitchers listed in italics are potential bust candidates. At the end of this post, I will briefly discuss Relief Pitchers / Closers.
I define Studs as pitchers who have already proven themselves to be true #1 staff aces that are Cy Young worthy contenders, pitchers you should consider drafting very early. None of them are likely to be busts, unless the injury bug catches up to them. Obviously, there aren’t that many of them. Here they are:
1) Tim Lincecum – Can he win a 3rd consecutive Cy Young? Regardless, he is young and dominant. His win total will actually go up this year.
2) Roy Halladay – Future Hall-of-Famer could (will) absolutely dominate N.L. this season.
3) Zach Greinke – All that potential finally came together. Not a fluke.
4) Felix Hernandez – See Above, Greinke.
5) C.C. Sabathia – New York City pressure? What pressure? The only sure thing in the Yanks rotation.
6) Justin Verlander – As long as he keeps those walks under control, he’s fine.
7) Dan Haren – I know, I know, he collapses in the 2nd half year after year. But if finishing a season with a WHIP of 1.00 represents a collapse, I’ll take it. And 223 K’s to 38 walks is simply amazing.
8) Adam Wainwright – Even better in the second half last season, and still just 28-years old. No reason to doubt he’s for real. Only question is, will last year’s huge jump in innings pitched catch up to him?
9) Chris Carpenter – When healthy, virtually no one is better. But health will always remain an issue, especially for a 34-year old with a long injury history.
10) Johan Santana – Still has to be considered an ace until he proves otherwise.
11) Cliff Lee – Ranking him #11 doesn’t mean he won’t win a Cy Young in Seattle this season. In fact, he’s my choice to do just that. Great park for him. I’m estimating he’ll win 20 games in his contract season.
The Near Studs are pitchers who I think have a good chance to pitch well enough to garner at least some, perhaps a lot, of attention when voting for the Cy Young Award rolls around after this season ends. These are, quite simply, the pitchers who will make or break your chances to win a Fantasy League Championship this season. All have exhibited some degree of excellence to this point, and all are young enough and (apparently) healthy enough to take a jump into the Stud category going into next season.
1) Josh Johnson – Has gone 22-6 since returning from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, averaging around 8 K’s per 9 innings. Hasn’t turned 27 yet. Could be in-line for a very big year.
2) Jon Lester – A young, left-handed strikeout pitcher who hasn’t peaked yet. Go get him, or you’ll kick yourself every time he tosses a dominant start.
3) Josh Beckett – The reason why I like Boston to win the A.L. East this season is their pitching depth which, despite the Vazquez signing in New York, is still better than the Yankees rotation. Beckett has shown flashes of brilliance, has been used relatively conservatively over the years (he’s now almost 30), and is in his contract year. Good year to grab him.
4) Jake Peavy – Pitched extremely well in a limited stint in Chicago at the end of last year, but he has an injury history, will now be pitching in a good hitter’s park, and will now have to cope with a DH every outing. But even with those qualifiers, he will be a high quality pitcher.
5) Matt Cain – May become the best pitcher who never wins more than fifteen games, at least as long as he pitches in San Francisco. Excellent young talent, but probably destined to always be a really good #2 pitcher.
6) Cole Hamels – 2009 was a lost season for Hamels. He simply threw too many hittable pitches for a guy with his stuff. If his head is on straight this season, he will provide a nice counterpoint to his new staff-mate, Roy Halladay. Still just 26-years old,too talented to be just an average pitcher.
7) Tommy Hanson – Posted a 2.89 ERA in his first go-round in the N.L. Strikes out nearly a batter per inning. Composed, but not over-c0nfident. Enjoy watching him grow into a true ace in the next couple of seasons.
8) Clayton Kershaw – Still very young (22) but has dominant stuff. Very nice pitcher’s park, too. Only downside, throws too many pitches to ever get to 7th or 8th inning. If he learns to be more efficient, look out.
9) Ricky Nolasco – People will look at his 5.06 ERA from a year ago, and walk away. That’s good news for the rest of us. Cut about a run and a half from that ERA this season (which he will) and you have a 27-year old pitcher who K’s a batter an inning, has a good WHIP, and is about to bust out.
10) Yovani Gallardo – This 24-year old was used carefully by the Brewers last season, but still K’d 204 batters in just 185 innings. Walks a few too many, but the league hit just .219 against him. Could become a Stud as early as this season.
11) Matt Garza – Similar to Ricky Nolasco in that people will look at his won-lost record from a year ago and think he is a back-0f-the-rotation starter. He’s much better than that. League hit only .233 against him in ’09. Could finish in top ten in Cy Young voting this season.
12) Ubaldo Jimenez – Although he calls Coors Field home, his fastball is so dominant, it really doesn’t matter where he pitches. At age 26 posted a 1.23 WHIP, a .229 batting average against, and 198 K’s. He’s a good one.
The Average Javiers are quite a mixed bag, and, of course, there are a lot of them. Being an Average Javier doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a pitcher of relatively low value. In fact, a few pitchers in this category, like Javier Vazquez himself (for whom this category is named) will provide a reasonable amount of value per draft position.
In general, these are pitchers you will need to draft to round out your rotation who are either improving or are declining, but who either aren’t a complete waste of roster space, or haven’t yet proven themselves to be rated consistently higher than this category allows. A few may improve over the course of the season to be rated as Near Studs, or perhaps even as Studs, going into next season. But they still have a lot to prove.
1) Javier Vazquez – So let’s start with Javier himself. I wrote an entire blog post about Javier entitled “A Tale of Two Pitchers.” Javier enjoyed his finest season last year, at age 33, pitching for the Braves. In another season, with a bit less competition, he might have won himself a Cy Young award. So why rate him as an Average Himself? Because although he has always had excellent control and a nice strikeout rate, his win totals and even, in several years, his ERA, seldom quite seem to match his peripheral numbers. In other words, outside of a couple of seasons, he has never been much more, when all is said and done, than an average pitcher. This has been especially true when he has pitched in the A.L., as he will again this season. So draft him as a #3, and you will probably be content with his final numbers.
2) Aroldis Chapman – The Reds signed this Cuban defector to a six-year deal in January. His birth-date is either 2/28/88, or 9/11/87, depending on which web-site you choose to believe. But for all we know, he was born on 5/29/81, so he is either very young, or already over-the-hill. He allegedly hit 102 MPH on the Radar Gun. And he can perform open-heart surgery with nothing but a spoon. Or something. Anyway, know one has any idea what the Reds are going to get for their money, least of all, the Reds. But it should be fun watching. He may be an Ace, a Near Ace, Just Another Javier, or Cannon Fodder. So I will allow him to settle into category #3, for now.
3) Scott Baker – Here’s a guy we know much more about. Baker is 28-years old, made 33 starts last year, and tossed 200 innings for the Twins. His ERA was 4.37, which may not seem all that impressive until you remember that it was well over 7.00 at the end of May. Which means, of course, he pitched excellent baseball over most of the final four months of last season. Oh, yeah, and his WHIP was a very nice 1.19. And now he will pitch his home games in what will probably be a park friendlier to pitchers. There’s a lot to like here, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on calling him a Near Ace just yet.
4) Roy Oswalt – It saddens me to rate Oswalt in this category, because I think he had a chance to be a Hall-of-Famer. But a declining strikeout rate, pitching for a bad team, and last year’s poor performance lead me to believe that, at age 32, his best days are behind him.
5) A.J. Burnett – Guess which three pitchers have the most second-half strikeouts over the past four years: Sabathia, Javier Vazquez, and A.J. Burnett, all now pitching for the Yanks. This was a very astute move by Brian Cashman to stack his rotation with guys who can get K’s during crunch time. It also reflects his understanding that his Yanks team is usually below average defensively, something strike0ut pitchers don’t have to worry about.
But enough of Brian Cashman. How about A.J. Burnett? Well, Burnett, like Vazquez, will once again put up some nice strike0ut numbers, but unlike Vazquez, he will walk too many batters (97 last season) have a higher WHIP, and quite possibly get injured, to boot. Burnett has occasional flashes of brilliance, but there is generally less than meets the eye here. At age 33, he is good, but not great, and we have already seen his best.
6) John Lackey – If healthy (he has started each of the past two seasons on the D.L.), Lackey is a very solid #3 starter. Now 31-years old, he has a significant amount of wear-and-tear on his right arm, but pitching for the Red Sox should continue to allow him to be a successful pitcher. Expect 14-15 wins, about 190-200 innings pitched, and an ERA around 3.75.
7) Ted Lilly – Has been underrated for a few years now. But at age 34, and coming off of shoulder surgery a few months ago, he is far from a sure thing. Still, last season he demonstrated the best control of his career and recorded a very nice WHIP of 1.06. Watch him carefully in Spring Training, and stay on top of the medical reports.
8) Brett Anderson – Unlike Lilly and Lackey, Anderson in very young (22). His second half last season, during his rookie campaign, was very impressive. But he is bound to go through some growing pains, still has a lot to learn, and pitches on a team that will give him little run support. Also, he is not a huge strikeout pitcher. Temper your enthusiasm with caution here.
9) Edwin Jackson – I don’t enjoy writing this because I like this young pitcher, but I think he will be a bust this season. He was over-worked in Detroit, and his second half numbers declined significantly compared to the first-half. Now he will pitch in Arizona, one of the best hitter’s parks in the N.L. Let someone else take the chance.
10) Max Scherzer – The pitcher Detroit received from Arizona in a swap of two young arms. Scherzer, unlike Jackson, could enjoy his best season yet. Even though he now has to face a DH instead of a pitcher, his high strikeout rate and relatively weak competition in the A.L. Central should allow him to enjoy a pretty successful season, if he improves his command of the strike zone.
11) Chad Billingsley – By now, I should have been able to rate Billingsley as a Near Ace, but Manager Torre decided to conduct an experiment in human anatomy by allowing Billingsley to throw more pitches than anyone else in the known universe in the first half of last season. After that, this young man’s arm was toast; you could see him physically laboring with every pitch through the late summer. Maybe he’ll bounce back. If he does, he’ll move up a notch on this rating scale.
12) Wandy Rodriguez – Guess how old he is? Did you say somewhere in the 27-29 range. Nope, he’s already 31-years old. One fantasy baseball magazine claims the best is yet to come. Nope, he’s as good as he’s ever going to get, and, on a bad Astros team, he might not be quite as good this coming season, considering he enjoyed almost all of his success at home last year. A good pitcher, but not a blossoming Near Ace.
13) Ben Sheets – If truly healthy, which is what the A’s are banking on (at least until the All-Star break) he is actually a Near Ace, perhaps even an Ace. But he didn’t throw a single pitch in anger (I love that phrase) last season, and, pitching for the A’s, he has his work cut out for him if he is to enjoy a successful season. Take a late-round flier on him, and it could pay off.
14) Kevin Millwood – If nothing else, extremely durable. Now in Baltimore, he enjoyed a fairly successful season last year with a 3.67 ERA in just under 200 innings while pitching his home games in a great hitter’s park. But Millwood is now 35 and will be pitching in the toughest division in baseball, the A.L. East. His K rate dipped to a career low last year. Next year, he will rate as Cannon Fodder. Steer clear.
15) Francisco Liriano – Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers. But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation. 2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League. Could pay big dividends this season.
16) Scott Kazmir – I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, because he may already be washed up at the age of 26 (!) In a curious way, Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach who allegedly convinced the Mets to trade Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, may have been right about Kazmir. He didn’t think this guy’s arm would hold up for long, and it hasn’t. That’s not to say that the Mets received any value in return, but at least Kazmir hasn’t won a Cy Young.
17) The White Sox Pitching Staff (minus Peavey) – Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd are the Wonder Bread of the American League. They all pitch to contact, they all keep their walk totals under control, they are not big-time strikeout pitchers, and none of them will ever win a Cy Young award. Buehrle is the de facto ace, despite his 105 strikeouts last season, but Danks may have the most upward potential, a relative term, given his staff competition.
20) Jorge De La Rosa – Not a kid at 28-years old, but I want him on my team. He averaged over a strike0ut per inning, and he has pitched very well in the second half each of the past two seasons. If he starts out well this season, he could have a very nice year, and may end up as a Near Ace.
21) Carlos Zambrano – Although he is still just 28-years old, he has logged a huge workload on his right arm over the past several seasons. Durability is now his primary issue. If he can make 32 starts, he is still a quality pitcher, although he still walks too many batters.
22) Brandon Webb – Up until Spring Training of last season, he was the most durable pitcher in baseball. So, naturally, his arm breaks down. Now, only time will tell what he is still capable of doing on the pitcher’s mound.
23) Matt Latos – I like this kid. He can strike batters out, and he will pitch his home games in the best pitcher’s park in baseball. Should produce nice value in about 20 starts this season. Just don’t expect many wins.
24) Joe Blanton – Just signed a nice (for him) contract with the Phillies. A dependable #3 starter with no upside.
25) Randy Wolf – Ended up being the Dodgers ace last season, and now calls Milwaukee home. At age 33, could be a bust for the Brew-Crew this year. Miller Park will not be nearly as forgiving as Chavez Ravine was to his fly-balls. No chance of matching last year’s 1.10 WHIP, or his .227 Batting Average Against.
26) Ervin Santana – Was a Near Ace going into last season, but now is a borderline Average Javier. Unimpressive strikeout rate following elbow surgery does not bode well for his future. Still just 27, however, and pitched pretty well in 2nd half of last season. Watch him in Spring Training.
27) James Shields – A once promising young pitcher, he is now nearly in Cannon Fodder territory due to a declining strikeout rate. Look, you just aren’t going to finesse the A.L. East. Three straight seasons of 215+ innings may have taken its toll.
28) Jair Jurrjens – Where do the Braves find these guys? This 24-year old had an outstanding 2.60 ERA last season in only his second full year. Not much of a strikeout pitcher, Jurrjens will have to continue having some luck with balls-in-play, and will need to continue to limit his walks to be successful. Look for a little regression, but he won’t be a bust.
29) Scott Feldman – Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season. His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke. Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year. And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.
30) Dice-K – Pitched only 59 innings last season, and looked terrible while doing so. But, at age 29, he has enjoyed significant success in his brief Major League career, and pitching for the Sox, if he is fully healthy, he should be at least a league-average pitcher, capable of winning 14-15 games.
31) Rick Porcello – So young (21) should really still be pitching in Triple A, not because he isn’t talented but because the Tigers may do to him what they did to an also very young Jeremy Bonderman. Porcello achieved surprising success last year, but a very low strikeout rate doesn’t bode well for him a second time around the league. If you draft him based on last year’s 14-9 record, you will probably end up disappointed.
32) Andy Pettitte – Is now a league-average pitcher, except in the play-offs, of course. Now 38-years old, this (say it with me) crafty lefty should still win 12-14 games.
33) Bronson Arroyo – Has somehow managed to win 15 games each of the past two years, despite perfectly ordinary stuff. His ERA after the All-Star break last year was 2.24, which is, of course, very strange. His low K totals should be a red flag for prospective owners.
Cannon Fodder: Here they are folks. Draft at your own extreme risk, or better yet, don’t draft them at all.
1) Joel Pineiro – No, it won’t happen again this season. Just forget it.
2) Jon Garland – Innings eater, nothing else.
3) Derek Lowe – Just another aging veteran
4) Mike Pelfrey – Hey Mets fans. No, he doesn’t have potential, unless you mean potential to get shelled.
5) Gil Meche – Had a bit of a decent run back in April.
6) Kevin Correia – Who?
7) Kyle Lohse – Nothing to see; keep moving.
8) Brad Penny – Should be good for about eight wins.
9) Glen Perkins – Gave up 120 hits in just 96 innings.
10) Clayton Richard – Terrible Walks / Strikeouts ratio. Home park may mask how bad he is.
11) Ian Snell – Looked promising a couple of years ago, but has been dreadful past two seasons.
12) Andy Sonnanstine – Batters hit .311 against him.
13) Chien-Ming Wang – Lucky to have won 19 games in ’07. At age 30, he is probably all but finished. All peripheral numbers are poor.
14) Jeff Suppan – Yup, he’s still around. League hit .309 against him in ’09.
15) Brian Moehler – Has a chance to lose 18 games if he gets enough starts.
16) Jeff Niemann – Maybe not quite cannon fodder, but a low strikeout pitcher toiling in the A.L. East just isn’t going to find much long-term success.
17) Brett Myers – Year after year, he is a “dark-horse” or a sleeper. Don’t bite.
18) The Mets Pitching Staff (Other than Santana) – They should collectively be known as the Wrecking Balls because of what they will do to the staff ERA.
19) The Blue Jays Pitching Staff (With the possible exception of Ricky Romero) – But even Romero posted a 1.52 WHIP. See Above: Mets.
20) Ross Ohlendorf – Has slight potential to climb up to Average Javier status, but not much.
21) Carl Pavano – His comeback last year featured 235 hits surrendered in 199 innings (how did he last that many innings?) ERA: 5.10.
22) Justin Masterson – Lots of people like him and hope he does well in Cleveland, but he is much better suited for bull-pen work.
23) Manny Parra – 6.36 ERA last year.
24) Micah Owings – Not a good one.
25) John Lannan – Has the occasional good outing, but 89 strikeouts in over 200 innings pitched is horrible (and he walked 68.)
26) Kenshin Kawakami – Undeserving of a place in the Braves rotation.
27) Johnny Cueto – Has perhaps the greatest ability to move up a notch out of Cannon Fodder due to his youth (24) and his decent talent. But has had two seasons in a row of ERA’s north of 4.00, and some arm problems.
28) Doug Davis – A control, finesse lefty who walked 103 batters, and added 203 hits, in 203 innings. Wow.
29) Fausto Carmona – The Indians may have the worst pitching in the A.L., and that’s saying a lot.
30) Jose Contreras – Approaching 40-years old, finished 6-13 last year.
31) Aaron Cook – Somehow hasn’t been shelled all that often over the past few years. Even managed 16 wins in ’08. But hasn’t reached 100 strikeouts over the past three seasons, and that WHIP is steadily climbing.
32) Zach Duke – The Pirates somehow end up with young pitchers who can’t strike anyone out. Why is that? Anyway, Duke has shown us his best stuff over the past few years, and his best stuff has resulted in 230 safe hits given up each of the past two seasons.
33) Aaron Harang – Used to be underrated. Not any longer.
34) Nick Blackburn – Gave up an astonishing 240 hits in ‘o9.
35) Chad Gaudin – Three straight seasons of ERA’s over 4.40.
I’m sure you will be able to think of other names I missed, but they aren’t going to make much difference one way or the other, are they?
Here’s a final list of pitchers that I didn’t list in any of the above categories because they just haven’t pitched enough for me the really get a handle on what they are capable of this year and on into the future. A few of them may become Studs, or Near Studs, and the rest will be mid or back of the rotation kind of guys. It might be another 3-5 years before we know for sure. I’ll just list their names without comment:
1) Clay Buchholz
2) Chris Tillman
3) Brian Matusz
4) Trevor Cahill
5) Wade Davis
6) David Price
7) Ryan Rowland-Smith
8) Stephen Strasburg
9) Madison Bumgarner
10) Ricky Romero
As for Brandon Webb, we’ll just have to wait and see what he has on display this spring. Obviously, he should be approached with extreme caution.
Finally, a word about Relief Pitchers / Closers. There are only three or four you can count on: Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jon Papelbon, and Jon Broxton. If you pay attention, you can get a good closer in the middle or even the later rounds. I never draft a closer before the 8th round in my A.L. / N.L. mixed head-to-head, ten team points league.
This marks the end of my four-part series on Fantasy Baseball – 2010. If you have any comments about my player rankings, or any of my other posts on this topic, please let me know.
Future Posts: Under the Radar: Part 3.
Then a commentary on Bud Selig’s new statue to himself.
After that, we shall see. Thanks again for reading.