Identifying The Best Top-Tier Starting Pitcher Values

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Identifying The Best Top-Tier Starting Pitcher Values
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Yesterday, one of my fellow Professors released a comprehensive draft strategy that has guided him to many league championships. Reading through the five, easy-to-follow steps, one word summarizes his entire approach:


It may seem like a rudimentary concept—of course you want to maximize value, what other approach is there?—but it is often unknowingly overlooked.

The key to actually implementing a successful draft strategy, whether or not you agree with the one Chris likes, is preparation. There's always a little panic with each pick, and when you're deciding between Carlos Pena and Raul Ibanez, you don't want to end up drafting Vicente Padilla.

In an effort to identify which players will help you maximize value the most, we're going to look the hardest position to draft: starting pitchers. Recently, we released all of our 2010 Tier Rankings, so if you're new to Baseball Professor that may be a good place to get started.

For now, let's take a loot at how the top 20 starting pitchers (according to ESPN ADP) stack up against each other.

Note: Risk is an arbitrary rating I assigned to each player to quickly gauge how risky they are this season.

Projected End-of-Season Rank
Pitcher ADP ESPN Baseball Prof. Risk
Tim Lincecum 9.3 1 1 Low
Roy Halladay 12.6 2 2 Low
Felix Hernandez 19.7 3 3 Low
C.C. Sabathia 21.8 4 4 Low
Zack Greinke 25.3 5 5 Low
Dan Haren 32.7 6 6 Low
Jon Lester 40.3 7 11 Low
Cliff Lee 41.2 9 12 Low
Justin Verlander 43.8 10 8 Low
Adam Wainwright 44.7 8 7 Low
Johan Santana 52.9 11 9 High
Chris Carpenter 54.3 12 10 Med
Yovani Gallardo 64.7 13 13 Med
Josh Beckett 66.0 16 16 Low
Javier Vazquez 69.8 14 20 Med
Josh Johnson 74.8 15 14 Med
Tommy Hanson 77.3 17 21 Med
Brandon Webb 88.8 18 15 High
Matt Cain 90.9 20 23 Low
Ricky Nolasco 92.5 19 24 Low

ESPN's projected end-of-season ranks have a high degree of correlation with the ADPs since these are also taken from ESPN. Not surprisingly, the key to finding great values is finding low-risk pitchers with a projected end-of-season rank higher than their respective draft position. The first, and most significant, example of this is Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright is the last of the elite, low-risk starters. Last year, he finished the season ranked seventh among all starters, one spot behind Justin Verlander (sixth) and well-ahead of Jon Lester (14th) and Cliff Lee (18th). For some reason, and despite ESPN's love of Wainwright, the fantasy community continues to undervalue the Cardinals' co-ace. Verlander needed a league-leading 269 strikeouts to barely edge Wainwright, while Lester racked up 225 and Cliff Lee put together an all-around impressive 2009 season.

Call me crazy, but of these four guys, I think Wainwright has the best chance at repeating last season's success and he's being drafted after all of them. That's a great value by any definition.

After Wainwright, we see a run on somewhat risky, high-upside starters, but one name stands alone: Josh Beckett. Over the last three seasons, Beckett has seen moderate fluctuation in his ERA (as low as 3.27 and as high as 4.03), but the rest of his numbers have been extremely consistent. During that span he has combined a low BB/9 (1.8, 1.8, 2.3) with a high K/9 (8.7, 8.9, 8.4) and finished with a WHIP of no more than 1.19 each season. Despite the ERA inconsistencies, his xFIP has been extremely stable (3.43, 3.24, 3.35).

Contrast that with Yovani Gallardo, Javier Vazquez, Josh Johnson and even Johan Santana. Each of these players has question marks surrounding their 2010 seasons, whether it's health (Gallardo, Santana), a new team (Vazquez), or concerns over fatigue (Johnson). Given Beckett's ADP and his history of consistency, he seems like one of the safest bets in the mid-rounds. If you're drafting one of these guys as your number two, or especially as your ace, do you want a guy labeled as risky?

Jumping back to the ranks of the elite, Dan Haren is a pretty good value. Yes, he is perennially a victim of the second-half, but should you really care? Only the full season's stats matter in roto leagues, and in head-to-head leagues, just trade him away.

I guarantee that if Haren starts out his 2010 season like he has every other recent season, someone will buy high. Considering that Haren is going in the fourth round and could (should?) give you first-half production on par with the other elite starters, he seems like the best value of the bunch.

Lastly, a note about Brandon Webb:

You'll be hard-pressed to find a bigger Webb fan outside of the southwest U.S. than me, but even I am concerned with his shoulder. According to team officials, Webb will likely start the season on the disabled list. As a result, his Baseball Professor (and probably ESPN, although I don't want to speak on behalf of the sports mega-giant) end-of-season rank is better than it should be. Come our next release of pitching ranks, you'll likely see a decrease. I never thought I'd say this, but for the same pick give me Matt Cain or Ricky Nolasco.

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