Clearing The Bases
It’s that time of year again. Players have reported to their respective spring training sites. Games will begin later this week. The boys of summer have returned. This also means that it’s time to start to prepare for your fantasy drafts. Today we will begin our series of player rankings. Starting Pitchers are on tap. Now I’m not a believer in taking pitchers early in my draft. This is a deep position and I prefer to load up on hitting, so you will almost never see a Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw on my team. Top Starters seem to go about 10-14 deep. I like to get one of this group but not before the 5th or 6th round. Hopefully one on my list will last that long. It’s a deep position, even if I’m unable to grab a top tier starting, there will be plenty of depth later on. Here is how I rank my top 25.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: Was there ever any real doubt? He’s averaging 19.5 wins, an ERA a little above 3, a little over 238 IP, 244 Ks, with a WHIP around 1.1 over the past four seasons. What else could you possibly want. You can throw in a few no-hitters also. Not to mention he plays in front of a great offense and in weak division.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have spent a truck load of money since the middle of last season and Kershaw is sure to reap the benefit of that spending both in his bank account and his numbers this season. There is little doubt that he is the best left-handed pitcher in the National League and possibly all of baseball. Kershaw is a likely top three candidate for the Cy Young Award once again.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: In early drafts, Strasburg’s ADP (average draft position) was nine. Now he has dropped down to 31. Have to think his value will be somewhere in between before all is said and done. Some may believe that they don’t have to worry about Strasburg being shut down again this season, but it’s still unlikely that Washington will allow Stephen to throw more than 200 IP. Now that’s a hefty number, so it may not matter, but if the Nats have clinched a playoff spot, there is always a chance that Strasburg doesn’t pitch in your fantasy playoffs.
4. David Price, Tampa Rays: Only question with Price may be not how good he is, but whether or not he finishes the season in Tampa. We all know the Rays tend to trade their stars before they lose them for nothing, and if the Rays fall out of the race early they may decide to test the market at the trade deadline to see what they could get for him, the closer he gets to free agency (2015), the less his trade value is.
5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: Have to wonder is his ADP will drop a round or two with owners worried about his elbow after hearing the Mariners put specific language in his contract to protect themselves from a possible elbow injury. It’s a valid concern, Felix doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, his fastball velocity is down about two MPH from the high point of his career. The fences being moved in Seattle won’t help either, but the additional offense the team has will.
6. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants: Hard to believe Tim Lincecum is not on this list but his teammate is. Cain used to be the bad luck guy, the guy who would pitch great but always seemed to be the victim of hard luck as the opposing pitcher/s would completely shut down the Giants offense and Cain would lose 2-1, or 3-2. Not anymore. Now Cain is the opening day starter for SF and tough to argue with that, Cain does have an ERA below three the past four seasons.
7. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies: One thing we always know about Lee, he isn’t going to beat himself. He is always around the strike zone, rarely gives up a walk, thus his WHIP is going to be very fantasy friendly. Lee was only 6-9 last season as he may have been the poster boy for why Wins shouldn’t be a category in fantasy baseball. Lee left many a game with a lead only to watch the bullpen blow it. He should rebound this season to have another good year.
8. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers: Greinke signed the huge contract in the off-season ($147 million). Now he has to justify it. He is in almost the perfect spot to do that as the Dodgers are primed for a playoff run, but if he were to struggle, the fans and media may point the blame at him. One thing to remember about Greinke, outside of his magical 2009 season with Kansas City, his ERA has never been below 3.44. He’s good, and could be great, but expectations should be tempered.
9. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies: If the Phillies are going to do any kind of damage this season it will be on the backs on their starting staff. Hamels has always had the talent to be one of the best pitchers in the game, it was just a matter of becoming more consistent. Well he has done so now for three plus seasons. He may pitch in a band box, but once again has benefitted from the tutelage of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, in that he doesn’t offer many free passes, let the hitters earn their way on base.
10. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers: Darvish went 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.280 WHIP, and 221 Ks in his first season with the Texas Rangers. I just have to believe he will do even better this year as he gets more accustomed to pitching in the states and dealing with the heat in Texas. Facing the Astros a bunch of times shouldn’t hurt either.
11. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: The good news that just came out Tuesday night about Gonzalez is that his name is not attached to performance enhancing drugs out of Miami. That should be a relief for some fantasy owners who were worried about his possible suspension sometime during the 2013 season. The problem for Gonzalez has always been control. When he finds the plate with any kind of consistency he is as good as just about anyone.
12. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals: Wainwright had a successful comeback from Tommy John surgery in 2012, logging almost 200 IP, an ERA of 3.94 and a WHIP of 1.248 to go along with 184 Ks. Those numbers should be even better his second season back from the surgery, and they will have to be as the Cardinals are likely to be without Chris Carpenter for the entire season.
13. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels: I know Weaver is considered to be one of the best pitchers in baseball but he is coming off an injury last season and his average fastball velocity was only a tick over 87 MPH. Something about this scares me, he also only had 142 Ks last season. Weaver does have the benefit of playing in ballpark that knocks down fly balls, which is to his benefit as he is a fly ball pitcher. Something about him scares me this season, I’ll let someone else draft him.
14. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays: Dickey had a terrific two year run with the Mets and I’m not saying he will fall off a cliff in Toronto, but pitching in the American League, and the AL East in particular would make anyone’s numbers go in the wrong direction. Wins may not be hard to come by as the Blue Jays have built a strong team around him, but his ERA and WHIP are going to take a hit.
15. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Couple of red flags when I think about Sale. First, with that motion of his, it really does seem to be just a matter of time before he hurts his arm. Second, his workload increased from 71 IP in 2011 to 192 IP last season, you do have to wonder if this catches up to him as well. That being said, if he stays healthy he can be quite a plus for your fantasy team, but because of the concerns I listed above, I’d rather let someone else draft him early, I’d only take him if he slips in the draft.
16. Jordan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals: We love to talk about his teammates, Strasburg and Gonzalez, both of whom are ranked on this list, but Zimmerman is pretty good in his own right and could be primed for a big season. He had the best ERA and K of his career last season and there is no reason not to believe he won’t set a personal high in Wins this season. He is someone I’m absolutely targeting in my drafts.
17. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds: Bit of a shame that the Reds’ 2012 season pretty much ended when Cueto when down to injury in the playoffs versus San Francisco, seems they never could recover, but it also tells you how much Cueto means to the team. 19 wins last season with a 2.78 ERA and 1.171 WHIP tells you all you need to know about what kind of pitcher Cueto has become. What makes this even more impressive is that Cueto does this while pitching in the great American small park.
18. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies: Halladay is a tough player to rank this season. He missed a chunk of last season with a lat strain and saw his fastball velocity dip by almost a mile and a half. Halladay also admitted that he will change his mechanics this season to take some of the strain off of his body. This doesn’t seem to be a good thing to hear. I’m not saying Halladay is going to have an ERA of 4.49 again, but it’s unlikely to be under three also.
19. James Shields, Kansas City Royals: Wasn’t a big fan of the trade that sent Shields to KC, but that has little to do with the type of pitcher he is. Shields pitched well in the AL East which boasts some of the better hitting clubs in the game, now he’s in a division that doesn’t have the same quality of lineups. Shields will also play in front of a better offense than he had in Tampa Bay, allowing him to breathe a little easier and not have to worry about one run being the difference between winning and losing.
20. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: Yet another top pitcher that has some injury concerns. Although the Yankees and CC would never admit it, we all knew that he was pitching in pain last season, and surgery right after confirmed it. The optimist will tell you that CC is now without pain, can throw free and easy, and will return to the pitcher he always has been. The pessimist will tell you that this is the beginning of what will be more and more injuries as his career moves on.
21. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers: We still seem to be waiting for the career year from Gallardo. He has averaged a solid 15 wins a season over the past four seasons. His ERA has been in the mid threes during that span, WHIP around 1.3. Like I said, solid numbers, but he does leave us wanting more. This doesn’t seem to be that year which is why he is out of my top 20.
22. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves: Anyone who listens to me on SiriusXM or on any podcast will always hear me say that I am a conservative drafter. I have a saying “you are what the back of your baseball card says you are”. So I like players with a track record. Medlen is a one year wonder to me. Someone who I would like to see do it again before I use a high draft pick on him. I’m not saying he can’t have another great year, but I would proceed with extreme caution.
23. Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds: I think you could call the first season in Cincinnati a success for Latos. Amazing what playing for a winning team can do for you. There may have been some doubts as to whether Latos could hand going from a pitchers ballpark to a hitters, but he made the adjustment with relative ease, looking like an ace in the making by season’s end.
24. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers: If you take the month of April out of the equation, Scherzer went 15-4 with a 3.14 ERA, and 204 Ks. Hard to tell with any certainly whether or not this will carry over to this season, but if it does, look out, Scherzer could be the next big thing, not to mention a 1-2 punch of he and Verlander can match up with anyone.
25. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays: Could Moore be ready to make the jump that everyone has been waiting for since his call up? Moore has the fastball to miss bats, problem is he didn’t always seem to know where that fastball was going last season. Like so many others, if he learns to control the strike zone he can dominate any lineup.