Fantasy Baseball: Top 40 Starting Pitchers
Making bold proclamations about the best pitchers in fantasyland might resemble the art of guessing someone's weight or hair color from only one phone conversation. Sure, you'll likely have enough information to sketch a reasonably accurate profile about a person, but in the end, it's still guesswork.
Here's my top-40 listing of starting pitchers heading into Spring Training. Of all the positional countdowns on this blog, starting pitching may have the most volatility during Grapefruit and Cactus play. So, get in the daily habit of reading box scores online and obsessing about strikeout-to-walk ratio.
#40: Cory Luebke, Padres
Skinny: The 27-year-old Luebke has the talent, makeup and experience to be a four-category factor. Don't let him slide past Round 12.
#39: Brandon Beachy, Braves
Skinny: Beachy's professional track record suggests he'll be a frontline pitcher sooner than later. It's not a stretch to assume 190 strikeouts.
#38: Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
Skinny: The next component of Morrow's uplifting progression comes with more wins and a sub-4.00 ERA.
#37: Shaun Marcum, Brewers
Skinny: Marcum has been a remarkably consistent asset the last two years. Pencil him in for 13 wins, 3.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 160 strikeouts.
#36: Yu Darvish, Rangers
Skinny: The first wild card of this countdown. Darvish should pay immediate dividends with strikeouts, WHIP and victories.
#35: Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks
Skinny: This lofty ranking comes on the belief that Hudson will keep the pace of 16 wins and a 3/1 K-BB ratio.
#34: Tommy Hanson, Braves
Skinny: Injury concerns are the only thing holding back Hanson from potential greatness. At this point, he's an underrated four-category factor.
#33: Max Scherzer, Tigers
Skinny: Scherzer may be ready to take a big leap, in the form of 200 Ks/3.70 ERA/1.20 WHIP. But he needs to eliminate the occasional clunker start.
#32: Matt Moore, Rays
Skinny: The day will come when Moore is a redoubtable top-10 pick among pitchers. For 2012, let's hope for 185 strikeouts, 12 wins, 1.15 WHIP and sub-3.50 ERA.
#31: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Skinny: The sky's the limit for the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, assuming he controls his walks. And he will. Take full advantage of his services in Round 9.
#30: Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
Skinny: Jimenez gets a relative free pass from last year's sluggish run with two teams. Expect a return to 190 strikeouts and a sub-3.50 ERA.
#29: Josh Johnson, Marlins
Skinny: Johnson is a top-10 talent in the prime of his career. If he's healthy, expect ballpark numbers of 14 wins, 185 strikeouts, 2.90 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
#28: Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Skinny: Beckett would merit a higher ranking if he was a lock to surpass 15 victories. His status could get a boost with a productive spring.
#27: C.J. Wilson, Angels
Skinny: Wilson is a tough sell for replicating 200 Ks or sub-1.20 WHIP from last year. But there's no doubting his dependability with ERA and wins.
#26: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Skinny: My No. 3-ranked pitcher this time last year (before a season-ending injury). Can Wainwright recapture his all-world form by April or May?
#25: Michael Pineda, Yankees
Skinny: Pineda might have an ERA around 4.00 playing in Yankee Stadium, but he's also a lock for 15-18 wins this season.
#24: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Skinny: The switch to the National League should have a positive effect on Gonzo, who's a safe bet for 15 wins, 3.20 ERA and 200 strikeouts.
#23: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
Skinny: A four-category factor in fantasy, with a knack for finishing strong. Carpenter's a good bet for 12 or more wins in 2012.
#22: Matt Garza, Cubs
Skinny: If Garza gets traded to a championship contender in Spring Training, he'll likely rise 2-3 slots. Wins are the only (nitpicky) deterrent of this fantasy ace.
#21: Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
Skinny: Romero has made across-the-board improvements in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts the last three seasons. In Year 4, he'll make another noteworthy jump.
#20: Mat Latos, Reds
Skinny: I have the Reds winning the NL Central, with the potentially dominant Latos playing a major role in the pennant drive. He'll be a gem with ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
#19: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Skinny: Bumgarner, the first of three Giants in this countdown, is on the fast-track to becoming an elite fantasy pitcher. He's a healthy lock for 195 strikeouts, 15 wins and 3.05 ERA.
#18: James Shields, Rays
Skinny: Fantasy owners should lightly temper their expectations for Shields on the heels of a brilliant 2011 campaign. Instead of 225 Ks or 2.82 ERA, shoot for 200 and 3.35.
#17: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Skinny: Only a team-imposed innings count can stop a fully healthy Strasburg from being a top-10 fantasy ace. His indicators are off the charts.
#16: Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Skinny: Gallardo could be a top-12 pitcher with more WHIP discipline (minds out of the gutter, please). Here's hoping for a ballpark return to 17 wins.
#15: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
Skinny: For those who've been tracking Kennedy's progress since his minor league days with the Yankees, his elite-strata success with the D-backs is no surprise.
#14: Jon Lester, Red Sox
Skinny: There will be no beer or fried chicken jokes here, just an appreciation for Lester's sustained range of 190 strikeouts, 17 wins and 3.30 ERA.
#13: David Price, Rays
Skinny: Price has all the tools to join the elite strata of starting pitchers this season. He'll bring four-category glory to his owners in Rounds 4 or 5.
#12: Dan Haren, Angels
Skinny: Haren is an annual gold mine for the fantasy prospector who revels in the Angel's uncanny knack for 15 wins, 190 strikeouts, 1.05 WHIP and sub-3.50 ERA.
#11: Matt Cain, Giants
Skinny: If Cain can make the jump to 190 strikeouts, he'll be a top-10 pitcher by season's end. More good news: Fantasy owners can land him in Round 5.
#10: Zack Greinke, Brewers
Skinny: Just think of the monster numbers Greinke could have had last year if he didn't get injured in Spring Training. A certifiable four-category stud.
#9: CC Sabathia, Yankees
Skinny: A part of me feels guilty for rating Sabathia as only the ninth-best pitcher. If he keeps the WHIP under 1.14, I'll be the first to apologize.
#8: Cole Hamels, Phillies
Skinny: Even if Hamels should encounter slight regressions in ERA and WHIP this season, he's still entrenched as a top-10 stud. Expect 200-plus strikeouts and 16 wins.
#7: Tim Lincecum, Giants
Skinny: The biggest wild card of the top 10. Lincecum, an annual lock for 220 strikeouts and 3.00 ERA, could stand a little more luck with WHIP and victories in 2012.
#6: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Skinny: Confession time: I had Felix as my No. 2 pitcher on Wednesday but cowered at the thought of him collecting only 12-14 victories with Seattle. A potential four-category monster.
#5: Roy Halladay, Phillies
Skinny: Halladay, the best fantasy and real-world pitcher since 2007, has the potential to finish No. 1 by season's end. He's a reasonable target for 18 wins, 208 strikeouts, 2.80 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
#4: Jered Weaver, Angels
Skinny: In various preseason rankings, Weaver sits somewhere between 3 and 10. I'm siding with the high side of the bubble. He's good for 19 wins, 210 strikeouts and sub-2.40 ERA.
#3: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Skinny: It's ambitious to project Verlander for 24 wins, 250 strikeouts, 2.40 ERA or sub-1.00 WHIP—last year's absurd numbers. We'll happily accept something close to that range for 2012.
#2: Cliff Lee, Phillies
Skinny: Lee (17 wins, 238 strikeouts, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP last year) conjured up wonderful images of Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson in June and August last year. Let's hope that invulnerable trend continues in 2012.
#1: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Skinny: It's scary to envision how much better Kershaw can get in the next 3-4 seasons. At 24, he's already an annual lock for 17 wins, 240 strikeouts and microscopic ERA and WHIP numbers. A bankable selection at No. 1.