Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Top 25 NL-Only Starting Pitchers
It does not feel like baseball season outside here in the Midwest, but Opening Day is now under a month away.
If you have not already, it is time to start researching for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. Pitching wins championships in both real and fantasy baseball.
A popular strategy used to be picking up different starting pitchers every week to win both wins and strikeouts. However, this strategy has been taken away by max pickup rules.
Now you need to research starting pitchers to win your league.
This ranking is focused on NL-only leagues. It will look at the top 25 pitchers to target for the 2014 season. The rankings take into consideration both past success and potential.
These rankings are based off the standard fantasy stats used for starting pitchers: wins, ERA, WHIP and Ks.
**All stats from baseball-reference.com and rankings are NL-based unless noted otherwise.
Who Just Missed the Cut?
Andrew Cashner, Padres
Andrew Cashner has the luxury of playing half of his games in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. He had an ERA of 1.95 at home last year and 3.09 overall. He contributes a solid ERA with a low WHIP of 1.13. The downside is his low strikeout total of 128. Playing for the lowly Padres kept his win total at just 10. His lack of wins and strikeouts keeps him just outside the top 25.
A.J. Burnett, Phillies
A.J. Burnett re-emerged as a great pitcher the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. He can pile up the strikeouts, with 209 a year ago. If Burnett stayed with the Pirates, he would have made the top 25.
He pitched great at the pitcher-friendly PNC Park with an ERA of 2.37. The problem is on the road he had an ERA over four at 4.22. Look for his strikeout numbers to remain high but his ERA of 3.30 and WHIP of 1.21 to rise in Philadelphia.
Zack Wheeler, Mets
Wheeler had his first taste of the big leagues a year ago, and he did quite well. Coming into last season, he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball. He should have a successful MLB career, but I am not quite sold on him just yet. Playing for the Mets will keep his win total low. Wheeler was not dominating Triple-A last year either. He had an ERA of 3.93 and WHIP of 1.28.
No. 25: Johnny Cueto, Reds
In 2012, Johnny Cueto was one of the top fantasy pitchers in all of baseball. He finished at 19-9, with an ERA of 2.78 and a WHIP of 1.17. However, he has struggled with injuries in two of the past three seasons. Cueto is going later in drafts than his talent level. His top-10 upside sneaks him onto the list. He could be a great sleeper pick in 2014 if you are betting against an injury.
No. 24: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
Samardzija can be hit or miss a lot of the time, but he will always strike out a ton of batters. Although his numbers took a step back in 2013, he did pitch over 200 innings for the first time in his career. There are safer picks out there, but the Chicago Cubs believe he can be their ace for a reason. He has filthy stuff and could be in for a big 2014.
No. 23: Francisco Liriano, Pirates
Liriano came back to life in 2013. After posting an ERA in the fives since 2011, Liriano posted an ERA of 3.02. He was the ace from earlier in his career once again. Will that continue in 2014? Well, Liriano still gets to pitch half of his game in the pitcher-friendly PNC Park, where he posted a 1.47 ERA. I don't see Liriano as a fantasy stud, but he will be a solid contributor to your pitching staff.
No. 22: Tony Cingrani, Reds
No. 21: Doug Fister, Nationals
Moving over to the NL will help Doug Fister's overall numbers. This usually happens anytime a pitcher moves from the AL to the NL. He will not have the outstanding Detroit Tiger offense backing him up anymore, but the league switch will offset that.
No. 20: Julio Teheran, Braves
Julio Teheran comes in right behind his teammate Kris Medlen. The two were very close statistically a season ago. Medlen ultimately got the edge because he looks like the safer pick. Teheran still boasts a low ERA of 3.20 and a WHIP of 1.17. He should win a good number of games pitching in Atlanta.
No. 19: Kris Medlen, Braves
Medlen comes off a successful 15-win season in 2013. After taking the league by storm in 2012, when he posted a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts, Medlen proved he is a very solid starting pitcher. His strikeout numbers won't blow you away, but a low-risk 15-game winner with ERA in the low threes and a WHIP around 1.2 can't hurt.
No. 18: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
Ryu has the advantage of pitching in the very pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. He also gets run support from one of the best offenses in the league. A 15-plus-win season seems very reasonable playing for the Dodgers. He pitched very well a season ago with an ERA of 3.00 and a WHIP of 1.20.
No. 17: Gerrit Cole, Pirates
Gerrit Cole posted very solid numbers in his rookie campaign. He had an ERA of 3.22 and a WHIP of 1.17. Cole really came into his own in September, where won all four decisions and posted an ERA of 1.69.
He also struck out 39 batters in 32 innings. Look for Cole to carry his September success into 2014.
2013 SEASON TOTALS
No. 16: Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Following up one young arm with another, I am all-in on Michael Wacha in 2014. He may have a small sample size, but he has already performed on the biggest stage. He posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in nine starts. He averaged over a strikeout an inning as well. In the postseason, Wacha posted an ERA of 2.64 with a WHIP of 0.91.
No. 15: Shelby Miller, Cardinals
Following Wacha is his teammate, Shelby Miller. Miller may not have received the playoff nod over Wacha, but he gets it for fantasy. Although Wacha was spectacular, Miller has shown he can produce over an entire season. This makes him the safer pick of the two. He averaged just under a strikeout per inning. Miller had an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.21.
No. 14: Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Jordan Zimmermann piled up 19 wins in 2013. He did that by going deep into games and rarely walking batters. He will not strike out a huge number, but he will keep his WHIP and ERA low, as we have seen the past two years. He is a step below the fantasy elite but a very safe pick.
No. 13: Mike Minor, Braves
Mike Minor had the best season of his career in 2013. He had an ERA of 3.21 with a WHIP of 1.09. He also had plenty of strikeouts with 181.
Minor is still just 26, and he should continue to improve this season.
No. 12: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Gio Gonzalez took a step back in 2013 after winning 21 games in 2012. He only won 11 a season ago. However, he still strikes out batters at an elite level. A terrible 5.34 ERA in April weighed down his season numbers. After the slow start Gonzalez had an ERA under three the rest of the season. Gonzalez could very easily bounce back to his 2012 level this season.
No. 11: Homer Bailey, Reds
Homer Bailey comes into 2014 a much wealthier man. Can he back up his new contract? Based on his past play, the answer is yes.
Bailey has improved his ERA in each of the last five seasons. His K/9 was also the highest of his career at 8.57. His record is more based on bad luck, not the caliber pitcher he is. I expect Bailey to win 15 games, strike out 200 hitters and post a low threes ERA with a WHIP near 1.
No. 10: Matt Cain, Giants
People remember Matt Cain being a huge disappointment last season, which could work to your advantage when people see his overall numbers. By the second half, Cain actually looked like the dominant ace we had been accustomed to. He posted a 2.36 ERA and walked only 18 batters in 72 innings. He makes for a great under-the-radar pick.
No. 9: Mat Latos, Reds
Mat Latos brings in a high number of Ks to go along with a low ERA and WHIP. He is still just 26 and should continue to improve. He was brought in to be an ace for the Reds and was exactly that last year. He will contribute to all four categories and is a safer option than Cain.
No. 8: Cole Hamels, Phillies
Similar to Cain, Cole Hamels had a terrible start to 2013. He posted an ERA of 4.05 in the first half. However, he was back to his normal self after the break, where he posted a 2.97 ERA. Hamels has averaged over 200 Ks the last four years and should be right around there again this season. He will bounce back to elite status in 2014.
No. 7: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
The win total was down for Strasburg in 2013, but the rest of his stats were great. His K/9 is elite at 9.39. As we know he can pile up Ks in a hurry. He finished eighth in the NL in ERA at 3.00 and finished sixth in WHIP at 1.05. Strasburg will easily be a top-10 NL fantasy pitcher in 2014.
No. 6: Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Zack Greinke may not be talked about as much living in the shadow of Clayton Kershaw, but he was one of the top pitchers in baseball in 2013. Greinke really dominated in the second half, posting an ERA of just 1.85. He also gets to pitch in the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Look for Greinke to continue dominating with the Dodgers in 2014.
No. 5: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Madison Bumgarner finished the season seventh in Ks, fifth in ERA and fifth in WHIP. He is a very reliable option and pitches in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. He has been a model of consistency in the MLB, posting an ERA between 2.77 and 3.37 every year. Bumgarner may not have the upside of some previously mentioned pitchers, but if you draft him, you can feel comfortable knowing exactly what to expect.
No. 4: Jose Fernandez, Marlins
Fresh off a phenomenal rookie campaign, Jose Fernandez comes into 2014 with big expectations. As a rookie, he finished third in WHIP and second in ERA. His K/9 was also very high at 9.75. You would think he would start to fade as the season wore on, but his second-half numbers were actually much better.
He had an ERA of 1.32, and hitters only hit .160 off him. Fernandez will be able to carry his second-half success into 2014.
No. 3: Cliff Lee, Phillies
Cliff Lee beat out Fernandez for the third spot because he has shown success throughout his career. He has no chance of an innings limit, and he is also on the better team, which will lead to more wins. Lee finished second in strikeouts, fourth in WHIP and sixth in ERA.
No. 2: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Adam Wainwright just beat out Lee for the second spot. Their stats will be similar, but Wainwright will finish with more wins. The Cardinals are just the better team. They will give Wainwright more opportunities to pick up the W—as we saw in 2013 when he led the NL in wins with 19. Wainwright also finished third in Ks and seventh in WHIP and ERA.
No. 1: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Don't overthink this one. The top option is the obvious pick, Clayton Kershaw. There is really no arguing any other way. He has led the MLB in ERA for three consecutive seasons. Kershaw also led the league in WHIP and strikeouts last year. With better run support this season, 20 wins is not out of the question.