The top of the Texas Rangers' 2011 pitching rotation has a glaring absence: no Cliff Lee. And, unfortunately for the Rangers, the best fantasy pitcher on the team just might be reliever Neftali Feliz.
The Rangers came out of nowhere last year to storm to the World Series. 2010 was magical but you have to expect some regression in 2011.
Colby Lewis (ranked 36th in our 2011 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit) proved that a trip to Japan doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a career. After experimenting in Japan, he returned to the states to put up decent fantasy numbers. His 12-13 record left a lot to be desired, but he managed to contribute a lot of innings, post nearly 200 strikeouts and registered a respectable 3.72 ERA.
If Lewis can build on his solid playoff stats (3-0, 1.71 ERA, and nearly a strikeout per inning pitched), we might be witnessing the beginning of something special. That being said, he is 31 years old, and in the post-steroid era, players normally don’t show huge improvements in their 30s.
Despite the potential for solid numbers, he’s probably no better than the 35th starting pitcher, so don’t chase in the draft.
C.J. Wilson (ranked 33rd) made a smooth transition from reliever to starting pitcher last year. With a 15-8 record, 170 strikeouts and a 3.35 ERA, he finished the season as a top 25 pitcher.
Like Colby Lewis, C.J. is a 30-year-old pitcher coming off a career year. The difference? C.J. was finally given the opportunity to show what he could do in a starting role so he is more likely to maintain or even improve upon last year’s stats. You have to expect he’d be able to improve in his second year as a starter.
Two big hurdles: Can he handle the added expectations and what will happen after working a career high number of innings? If he can pass those tests, he’ll be a nice fantasy starter.
Tommy Hunter (ranked 135th) posted an impressive 13-4 record in 22 starts last year, but there are some red flags. He doesn’t strike out many batters and he gives up a lot of home runs. With those drawbacks, it is hard to imagine that he replicates his 13-4 performance. Still, he is only 24, so if anyone in this rotation has a chance to improve, it is him.
Brandon Webb (ranked 87th) is very high risk/high reward. At one point in time Webb was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Just look at his Cy Young finishes from 2006-2008: first, second, second. But, and it is a BIG but, he’s only pitched in one game in the last two years.
Trying to predict what will happen with him is like trying to predict Charlie Sheen’s next rant. If Webb can recover his magical sinker ball, he could be a steal. Of course it is all dependent on him getting back on the field. As of today he was in camp and throwing bullpen sessions, but there is no way to know if one of the best pitchers of the last half decade can regain his elite form.
There is a battle for the fifth spot between Derek Holland (ranked 70th) and Scott Feldman. Currently, Holland holds the edge as Feldman is battling back from a knee injury (Feldman did have an impressive start in his first game of the spring). The rest of the writers at The Fix seem to have written off Feldman (not even ranking him in the top 150). At only 24 years old, Feldman should be able to bounce quickly back from injury and is worthy of watching closely. Keep an eye on the situation in spring training.
As previously mentioned, Feliz (ranked 7th among closers) is definitely the most desired fantasy pitcher on the staff. He’ll get you 40 saves and over nine strikeouts per nine innings. Expect Feliz to finish around the top five in relief pitchers.
Without Lee (ranked 5th), there is nobody on the starting staff that is a must own. Your best bet, wait and see if Wilson and Lewis are available in later rounds as they provide nice potential value. The value on the Rangers is their bats, so don’t waste any high draft picks!
Written by Chris Summers exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com