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Fantasy Baseball Starter Rankings

 

In a position that has been maligned by many a fantasy owner for killing his chances at a title starting pitcher has come into its own in recent years. There are a number of elite young aces in the majors right now (Lincecum etc.), and more on the way David Price (Rays) and Tommy Hanson (Braves). Pitcher has become one of the safer positions you can now go after. In fact, I would argue that the top 50 pitchers are an extremely safe bunch to reach their expectations, with a caveat. Some pitchers will get injured; it is just part of the game. Cole Hamels (Phillies) would probably have been ahead of Jake Peavy (Padres) on this list if not for his injury. So, you just have to keep injuries in mind and do the best you can to prepare. The good news is that with so much pitching depth you should be able to pull a decent arm from the pool, especially in mixed leagues. If you draft an injury concern at pitcher another way to insulate yourself is to stash a young arm like Price or Hanson away as insurance should you lose a guy to injury. All of this adds up to pitchers being a very good place to put some depth on your squad. Now, the question becomes how early to go after these great arms you covet. Well, I would be careful. Stock up your offense and then pick and choose your spot to grab a pitcher here or there throughout the draft. I know you want one of the top five, but be smart, let somebody else grab pitchers early while you take the offense they should in the first few rounds. The pitching will be there, you just have to pick your spots. Pitching is the biggest position at which people over-reach due to a name, and do not focus on numbers. The difference between number six on our list and number 35 is not that great, so do not draft Jake Peavy just because he is Jake Peavy. You must be smart, pick your spots, and take the smart pick. Pick with your brain, not your heart, especially with pitchers and you will set up a great staff with the enormous depth at this position.

 

Starter Fantasy Projections:

 

1. Johan Santana (Mets)

2. Tim Lincecum (Giants)

3. CC Sabathia (Yankees)

4. Roy Halladay (Blue Jays)

5. Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks)

6. Jake Peavy (Padres)

7. Dan Haren (Diamondbacks)

8. John Lackey (Angels)

9. Felix Hernandez (Mariners)

10. Cole Hamels (Phillies)

11. Francisco Liriano (Twins)

12. Josh Beckett (Red Sox)

13. Yovani Gallardo (Brewers)

14. Roy Oswalt (Astros)

15. James Shields (Rays)

16. Chad Billingsley (Dodgers)

17. Cliff Lee (Indians)

18. Rich Harden (Cubs)

19. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox)

20. Zack Greinke (Royals)

21. Scott Kazmir (Rays)

22. Jon Lester (Red Sox)

23. Scott Baker (Twins)

24. Joba Chamberlain (Yankees)

25. A. J. Burnett (Yankees)

26. Javier Vazquez (Braves)

27. Ricky Nolasco (Marlins)

28.  Ted Lilly (Cubs)

29.  Kevin Slowey (Twins)

30. Matt Cain (Giants)

31. Erik Bedard (Mariners) (he’s back)

32. Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

33. Matt Garza (Rays)

34. Ervin Santana (Angels)

35. Max Scherzer (Diamondbacks)

36. Josh Johnson (Marlins)

37. Ryan Dempster (Cubs)

38. Justin Verlander (Tigers)

39. Carlos Zambrano (Cubs)

40. Derek Lowe (Braves)

 41. Aaron Harang (Reds)

42. Gil Meche (Royals)

43. Brandon Morrow (Mariners)

44. Randy Johnson (Giants)

45. Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees)

46. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

47. Jesse Litsch (Blue Jays)

48. Wandy Rodriguez (Astros)

49. Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies)

50. Edinson Volquez (Reds)

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The Best:

Johan Santana (Mets) and Tim Lincecum (Giants) have both established themselves as the best pitchers in baseball. This year’s Cy Young race will come down to these two, and you really can’t go wrong with building a staff around either one of these aces. After these two, there is a slight drop-off o the next level of aces, consisting of CC Sabathia (Yankees), Roy Halladay (Blue Jays), Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks), and Jake Peavy (Padres). The pitcher with the most questions is the newly acquired CC Sabathia, and how he will react to the spotlight and the pressure of playing in New York. If drafting Halladay, I suggest taking risks with the rest of your pitching staff, as he will provide a stable base for your WHIP and ERA because he pitches so many innings. Peavy has the possibility of being traded to a contender at some point this year, which should help his win total which will likely suffer if he remains with the Padres. All Brandon Webb does is post a sub 3.50 ERA every year and contend for the Cy Young nearly every year.

 

The Rest:

Pitching is deep this year, with lots of intriguing options that will be available in the later rounds. Some notables are players who had a rough year last year; Erik Bedard (Mariners), Justin Verlander (Tigers), and Jesse Litsch (Blue Jays). Bedard spent most of the season on the DL in 2008, yet his strikeout ability is still there and can provide good value for his draft position, which right now is outside the top 30 pitchers. Verlander was probably overdrafted last year coming off an outstanding 2007 season. This year, however, he is being undervalued, as he is still young at 26 and should be entering the prime of his baseball career. He’s worth the risk in the middle rounds. Litsch is an extreme control pitcher who has posted sub-4.00 ERA’s the last 2 season, yet is largely looked over because of his low strikeout rate. If you surround him with other pitchers with a high K-rate you will maximize your value in selecting Litsch.

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Risers:

Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), Jon Lester (Red Sox), Josh Johnson (Marlins) will see their value rise as the 2009 season progresses.

Gallardo tore his ACL and missed most of the 2008 season, but when healthy is one of the most effective pitchers in baseball. In only 4 games last season he posted a 1.88 ERA, and in 2007 posted a 3.67 ERA in 20 games. He has the potential to be a top 10 pitcher and is only 23 years old.

Lester has been improving every season and took his greatest stride last year, posting a WHIP of 1.27 and an ERA of 3.21. Lester doesn’t have the big name that other Red Sox pitchers have, but he has just as much value for your fantasy squad as the others, and you can probably get him a round or two later.

Josh Johnson (Marlins) will be a sleeper in most drafts because of his team but do not let him slide. Johnson strikes out almost a batter per inning and has the luxury of pitching in pitcher’s ballpark. Johnson needs to continue to reduce his walks to jump to the next level, something he did from 06 to 08, moving from a K/BB rate of 1.96 to 2.85.


Fallers:

Derek Lowe (Braves) provides more name value than actual value that will help your fantasy team. Lowe doesn’t strikeout many batters, and he moved away from a pitcher friendly ballpark in L.A. this offseason to Atlanta. He will help your WHIP still because he is a ground-ball pitcher but beyond this there is not much upside in Lowe.

A.J. Burnett (Yankees) doesn’t particularly do well after signing a contract. Should we expect differently this year? Probably not. While Burnett delivers the strikeouts, one really has to wonder how motivated Burnett will be now that he’s made his money. Save yourself the hassle and let a Yankee fan draft him before you worry about his production for your fantasy team.

Carlos Zambrano (Cubs) struggled after the break last year, despite his no-hitter. He is the pitcher with the most risk in the middle rounds, after posting a miserable 5.80 ERA after the break last year. The question is if 5 seasons of 200+  innings has finally caught up to Big Z. A plummeting strikeout rate the last couple of years leaves us to wonder if this is the last we have seen of Zambrano at an elite level.

 

Others and Sleepers:

Chris Carpenter (Cardinals) is pitching superbly in the spring games. If he can stay healthy all year he could provide value come draft day. He is just a few years removed from being an elite pitcher.

Ben Sheets (Brewers) will be out until the All-Star break. Keep him in mind as a midseason pickup because when healthy Sheets is a top 25 starting pitcher.

David Price (Rays) has a great future, but you should temper your expectations for this year. Price will not start in the rotation, and rumor has it that the Rays will monitor his pitch count and innings closely. Keeper league owners should take him several rounds earlier, but do not expect Price to give you full value this year.

Ervin Santana (Angels) will start the season on the DL, but still has a great deal of value when he pitches, showing last year that he could finally adjust to pitching on the road and improving his K-rate.

 

Detroit Tigers hats

 

By: Joseph Kelley
Brian Chmielewski, Director of Fantasy Content contributed to this article

 

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