2011 Fantasy Baseball: Who Are the Next Elite Starting Pitchers?

Chris McGuirkContributor IDecember 30, 2010

Does Sanchez have another no-hitter under his belt for 2011?
Does Sanchez have another no-hitter under his belt for 2011?Elsa/Getty Images

The 2010 season was truly the year of the pitcher.  With five no-hitters this past year, including three perfect games, well two perfect games (sorry Armando Galarraga), teams have begun to place a heavy emphasis on pitching for 2011. Big names such as Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee have moved to different teams and there are rumors that other pitchers such as Matt Garza can be moved as well.

While players such as Greinke, Lee and Halladay are considered to be some of the elite fantasy players, there are many other pitchers that are projected to be drafted within the mid-to-late rounds that can give you the production of a No. 1 fantasy starter. 

The following list contains several pitchers that can break out onto the scene after showing glimpses of promise during this past 2010 season.

Path to the Elite

Name: Jonathan Sanchez 

Stats: 13 W, 9 L, 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .204 BAA, 9.55 K/9, 4.47 BB/9 

Analysis: Statistically speaking, Jonathan is one of the elite pitchers in the game.  Last season, he led all starting pitchers with a BAA of .204 and H/9 of 6.62 and ranked within the top 10 in strikeouts and K/9.  That’s better than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum or any other pitcher that is projected to be drafted within the first few rounds.  So where’s the love? 

There is one blaring statistic that is holding him back—walks.  If Sanchez wants to be considered an "elite pitcher," he has to learn how to consistently throw strikes.  Entering his fourth year as a major league starter, Jonathan Sanchez might finally put it all together.  Considering his substantial upside, taking a mid-to-late round flier on this pitcher wouldn’t be the worst decision you have ever made.

Name: Clayton Kershaw

Stats: 13 W, 10 L, 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .214 BAA, 9.35 K/9, 3.57 BB/9

Analysis: Kershaw had unrealistic expectations placed upon him when he was drafted with the sixth pick in the 2006 amateur draft.  He was immediately compared to Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, while his knee-buckling curveball quickly became the talk of the organization.  After an average first full year in the majors, he developed into a front-of-the-rotation starter in his second term. 

Among all sophomore pitchers, he ranked top five in ERA, BAA, K/9 and H/9 and really showed signs of maturity in his second year.  Known primarily as a fastball and curveball pitcher after being drafted straight out of high school, he began to integrate a slider into his arsenal. 

Kershaw has morphed into a pitcher with three-plus pitches and is on the verge of breaking out.  His 13-10 record may seem pedestrian, but the Dodgers in general seemed to have slumped last year.  If the Dodgers offense can perform like they are used to, Kershaw may see a spike in the win column and in his fantasy production.

Name: Max Scherzer

Stats: 12 W, 11 L, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .244 BAA, 8.48 K/9, 3.23 BB/9

Analysis: Scherzer seemed to have a rough time transitioning into the American League in 2010.  During the first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, he posted a 4.61 ERA while allowing an opponent batting average of .268.  However, during the second half of the season, Scherzer sure seemed to turn it around quickly, posting a 2.47 ERA and .222 BAA the rest of the way.  Max has always had the ability to strike people out. The real question has always been if he would be able to learn how to control his immense talent. 

The second half of the season should have proved any critics wrong.  The Detroit Tigers have gotten better this offseason with the acquisition of Victor Martinez and their offense appears poised to improve upon last season’s numbers—this only means more run support for Scherzer.  Scherzer is currently drafted in the eighth and ninth round and seems ready to put together his first successful campaign.

Name: Mat Latos

Stats: 14 W, 10 L, 2.92 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .217 BAA, 9.23 K/9, 2.44 BB/9

Analysis: In his second season in the big leagues, Mat Latos emerged as San Diego’s ace and was a main contributor to the improbable playoff push by the Padres last season.  It can be easily understood that when Mat Latos struggled (6.21 September ERA), the Padres struggled along with him. 

At times during the 2010 season, Mat Latos was one of the most dominant starters in the league.  For three months out of the season, he posted an ERA under 1.90 while holding opposing batters to under .189. 

However, during the other months, Latos revealed his ugly side when he posted an ERA above 6.00 and allowed opposing batters to hit over .300 against him.  It appears that his first full season as a starter finally took its toll in the latter months.  Nonetheless, averaged out over the course of the season, Mat Latos put up very respectable numbers that would classify him with the elite. 

Come 2011, look for Mat Latos to be ready to shoulder the load and prove that 2010 was not a fluke.  The wins may be hard to come by next season, but you can count on a high strikeout total and a WHIP among the league’s best.

Name: David Price

Stats: 19 W, 6 L, 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .221 BAA, 8.13 K/9, 3.41 BB/9

Analysis: It is hard to believe that David Price is only in his third year as a starter after watching him match former Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia pitch-for-pitch in the final games of the regular season.   He certainly backed up why he was the No. 1 draft pick in the 2007 amateur draft. 

In 2010, Price ranked within the top 10 in ERA, WHIP, BAA, K/9, and H/9 and showed no signs of slowing down at the end of the season (3.09 second half ERA).  His draft stock may dip a little because of the loss of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, but Price will be an excellent source of strikeouts and ERA/WHIP over the course of the season. 

David Price is currently drafted around the fourth round which would be a steal considering his high strikeout rate and low ERA/WHIP, making him an excellent acquisition if you miss out on the initial starting pitching run in the early stages of the draft.

Name: Tommy Hanson

Stats: 10 W, 11 L, 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .239 BAA, 7.70 K/9, 2.49 BB/9

Analysis: In 2009, Tommy Hanson emerged as one of the top young arms in the league.  After a mid-season call up, he went 11-4 while posting a 2.89 ERA to finish the season.  Expectations for Hanson were high for the start of the 2010 season, but during the first half, he put up less than stellar numbers with a 4.13 ERA and a .271 BAA. 

The All-Star break must have had an effect on him because he ended up finishing the year with a 2.51 ERA and a .205 BAA.  Despite improving his numbers at the end of the season, he was only able to win two games in the second half.  

You can expect an increase in the win department next season as he continues his hot streak of pitching.  All signs point to Tommy Hanson sustaining his momentum into the 2011 season as one of the big draft steals (he is projected to be drafted within the sixth and seventh rounds).