There are many different effective strategies when it comes to drafting starting pitchers.
Some will hoard the top talents in the year after the Year of the Pitcher, while others will rely on weekly spot starts.
Both approaches work, but I have employed a much different scheme in recent seasons:
Ideally, you own just one or two reliable starters. They must maintain a consistently low ERA (preferably no higher than 3.50-3.75) and WHIP (Carl Pavano was a great example last year); strikeouts aren’t important.
In the late rounds, you snatch the top setup men (such as Rafael Soriano) who offer a low ERA and WHIP. Again, strikeouts don’t matter.
Essentially, you’re shooting to dominate ERA and WHIP each week (and holds if your league counts it), while punting wins and strikeouts. Saves can easily be attained on the waiver wire.
This approach allows you to focus on big bats in the early and middle rounds of your draft. If done correctly, you should win at least four of the five standard batting categories each week.
More times than not, you’ll take home a total of six categories, good enough for a win.
If you’re like most, however, you’ll adopt the balanced approach. For those, I present to you the top 30 starting pitchers:
Note: Adam Wainwright originally ranked No. 2 on this list.
1. Roy Halladay (SP – Phi): Five-year averages: 236 IP, 18 wins, 1.42 BB/9, 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP.
Entering age-34 season, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue dominance.
2. Tim Lincecum (SP – SF): Regression in K/9, BB/9, HR/9, batting average against, ERA and WHIP last year after improving all categories in previous two seasons.
Decrease in fastball velocity and fourth-least effective curveball also contributed to his 2010 decline. Throw out unlucky August, however, and his season ERA drops from 3.43 to 2.79.
3. Felix Hernandez (SP – Sea): Lowest ERA (2.27) in majors last year to go along with stellar peripherals: 8.36 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, .210 BAA, 1.06 WHIP.
Low BABIP (.263) and sub-2.50 ERA curse, however, suggest regression in 2011.
And now he’s a No. 2 starter on a team with plenty of run support.
5. Josh Johnson (SP – Fla): Since 2005, only five starters havean ERA lower than Johnson’s mark of 3.10 (min. 600 innings).
Top-five among qualified starters last season in ERA, FIP, xFIP, HR/9, contact rate and swinging strike rate.
6. Jon Lester (SP – Bos): Has the ninth-best ERA (3.29) among starters who’velogged 600 innings since 2008. Of the eight pitchers with a lower ERA during that time, only Lincecum has a better strikeout rate (10.25) than Lester (8.72).
7. Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD): Youngest of 45 pitchers that logged 200-plus innings in 2010. Of that group, only Lincecum, Lester and Weaver posted a strikeout rate better than Kershaw’s (9.34).
His age-21 (2009) and age-22 (2010) seasons show he’s well ahead of where Felix Hernandez was at the same ages.
8. Cole Hamels (SP – Phi): Only eight pitchers since 2007 (min. 800 IP) have lower ERA than his total of 3.44. Ranked second among qualified starters last year in contact rate, swinging strike rate, and 10th in strikeout rate.
Clearly best No. 4 starter in the majors, should lead to career high in wins this season.
9. Ubaldo Jimenez (SP – Col): 2010 was third consecutive season his innings pitched, wins, strikeout rate, ERA, WHIP and batting average against all trended in the right direction.
Disturbing totals after June (4.34 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.43 K/9, 4.19 BB/9 in 120 1/3 innings), however, raise some red flags. Needs to lower his walk rate (3.74 in 2010) to become elite fantasy starter.
10. Justin Verlander (SP – Det): Very different performances in each of the last three seasons: 7.30, 10.09, 8.79 K/9; 3.90, 2.36, 2.85 BB/9; 4.84, 3.45, 3.37 ERA. 2010 marked improvements in HR/9, BAA, ERA and WHIP for third consecutive season.
However, Wandy Rodriguez-like home/road splits are frustrating.
11. Chris Carpenter (SP – STL): Best ERA since 2005 (min. 900 innings) at 2.88. Despite average strikeout totals, his stellar walk rates and improving curveball have helped him maintain an incredibly low ERA and WHIP, but others haven’t seemed to notice.
12. CC Sabathia (SP – NYY): Much like fellow southpaw Johan Santana after his age-27 season, Sabathia experienced negative trends in K/9, BB/9, HR/9, FIP, WHIP, contact rate, first-strike rate and swinging strike rate in each of the last three seasons.
13. Jered Weaver (SP—LAA): Became completely different pitcher in 2010, posting marked improvement in his K/9, BB/9, ERA, WHIP and BAA.
Luck doesn’t appear to be much of a factor: .276 BABIP (career .283), 75.7 percent LOB rate (career .75.5 percent), 7.8 percent HR/FB rate (career 7.9 percent), plus encouraging FIP (3.06) and xFIP (3.51).
14. Zack Greinke (SP – Mil): Wide range of ERAs (3.47, 2.16, 4.17) and K/9 (7.40, 9.50, 8.14) in last three seasons. 2010 LOB rate (65.3 percent), FIP (3.34) and xFIP (3.76) indicate he was better than 4.17 ERA.
His plate discipline stats were very good and his numbers after the trade to Anaheim (94 IP, 2.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.00 K/9, 2.40 BB/9) foreshadow a bounce back season.
16. Francisco Liriano (SP – Min): Returned to near-2006 form last year: 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 2.66 FIP, 53.6 GB percent, with elite plate discipline stats: 34.4 percent o-swing rate, 73.4 percent contact rate, 12.4 percent swinging strike rate.
However, injury concerns still linger.
17. Tommy Hanson (SP – Atl): Despite increase in ERA (2.89 in ‘09, 3.33 in ‘10) and decrease in strikeout rate (8.18 to 7.68); marked improvement in walk rate (3.24 to 2.49) is reason for optimism. At age-24, he’s only going to get better.
Apparent fluke has become trend, coupled with improving walk rate and WHIP. Consider me a believer!
19. Roy Oswalt (SP – Phi): Twelvestarts with Phillies last year: 1.74 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 7.95 K/9 and 2.29 BB/9. 2010 FIP (3.27) and xFIP (3.45), suggest slight regression in 2011, though he clearly isn’t as bad as 2009 (4.12 ERA, 3.13 career) indicated.
20. David Price (SP – TB): Ninth-best fastball in 2010, but secondary pitches lagged behind. FIP (3.42) and xFIP (3.99) stand out in comparison to his 2.72 ERA, while .270 BABIP supports luck argument. Regression is due in 2011.
His 2010 BABIP (.324), LOB rate (69.8 percent), FIP (3.02) and xFIP (3.42) in comparison to his season ERA (3.84) all suggest he actually was, and will continue to be much better than his 2010 totals indicate.
23. Max Scherzer (SP – Det): 2.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.26 K/9, 3.16 BB/9 in 153 2/3 innings following mid-May demotion last season. 2010 BABIP (.297) and LOB rate (74.9 percent) confirm legitimacy of this.
The 26-year-old is a No. 2 starter in 2011.
24. Shaun Marcum (SP – Mil): 29-year-old posted a 3.64 ERA (3.74 FIP) in the A.L. East during his first season following Tommy John surgery.
Five-pitch mix includes baseball’s best changeup(26 runs above average in ‘10). Average strikeout rate limits his value, but low walk rate supports a sub-1.20 WHIP. 2011 should be his best season yet.
25. Brett Anderson (SP – Oak): 23-year-old southpaw should continue developing in his third season. Home park will certainly aid his expected 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Average strikeout rate applies, however, as he pitches to contact to induce ground balls (54.6 percent in ‘10). Pinpoint control (1.76 BB/9 in ‘10) is far advanced for his age.
26. Wandy Rodriguez (SP – Hou): Eleventh-lowest ERA among qualified starters since 2008 (3.36). Stellar peripherals (8.22 K/9, 3.14 BB/9 in ‘10) emphasize value, but notoriously high WHIP (career 1.35) is a concern.
His jaw-dropping home/road splits are still an issue, but if his curveball (1.0 runs below average in ‘10) returns to its previous ‘09 form (23.9 runs above average), he could be in for another quietly productive season.
27. Chad Billingsley (SP – LAD): 26-year-old relies heavily on his secondary offerings (cutter 22.1 percent, curveball 19.1 percent in ‘10) to induce decent amount of ground balls (49.6 percent in ‘10).
Inconsistent ERA is puzzling (3.14, 4.03, 3.57), as is his declining strikeout rate (9.01, 8.21, 8.03). Improvement on walk rate (3.94 to 3.24 in ‘10), however, is most encouraging.
28. Ted Lilly (SP – LAD): Crafty southpaw boasts the second-lowest WHIP (1.13) among qualified starters since 2007.
The 35-year-old remains prone to the home run ball, but his numbers with the Dodgers late last season (3.52 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.05 K/9, 1.76 WHIP in 76 2/3 innings) are especially encouraging. He’s sneaky good and will likely come cheap.
29. Brandon Morrow (SP – Tor): Four-pitch swing-and-miss arsenal is downright nasty. Elite strikeout rate (10.95 in ‘10) was by far the best in the majors, but it came with a discouraging 4.06 walk rate. FIP (3.16) and BABIP (.342) suggest his 4.49 ERA was not nearly as bad as it seems.
He’ll begin the season on the DL due to an inflammation in his right forearm, but given a clean bill of health, the 26-year-old could be due for a breakout season.
30. Ryan Dempster (SP—ChC): Fairly inconsistent over the last three seasons (ERAs of 2.96, 3.65 and 3.85), but his durability (200-plus innings pitched in three straight seasons), above-average strikeout rate (8.69 in ‘10) and dominating slider (15.1 runs above average in ‘10, fifth best) legitimize his value as a top-30 starter.
BONUS: 31. Clay Buchholz (SP—Bos): 26-year-old fought his way back to the majors last year to post an incredibly misleading 2.33 ERA.
His FIP (3.61), xFIP (4.07) and BABIP (.261) suggest a major regression is in store. His below-average strikeout rate (6.22) and walk rate (3.47) don’t offer any value.
Best of the rest: The 30-50 group can easily be mixed and matched.
Jonathan Sanchez offers elite strikeout rates, but his high walk rate (4.47 in ‘10) should drive you away…Josh Beckett should bounce-back from his nightmare of a season (5.78 ERA). His peripherals (8.18 K/9, 3.17 BB/9) are still very good, but he’s no better than a 3.80-4.00 pitcher.
A’s starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez aren’t that good yet. Expect regressions in 2011.
Ricky Romero and his five-pitch arsenal should continue to improve upon his breakout 2010 season.
Madison Bumgarner and Phil Hughes have been red-flagged by the Verducci Effect.
Hiroki Kuroda should continue to fly under the radar with his superb walk rate (2.20), WHIP (1.16) and respectable ERA (3.39).
Tim Hudson benefited from a great deal of luck in 2010: .249 BABIP, 81.2 percent LOB. His FIP (4.09) in comparison to his ERA (2.83) suggests a regression in 2011.
Ricky Nolasco continues to post strong peripherals (8.39 K/9, 1.88 BB/9), but can’t seem to conform his ERA (3.52, 5.06, 4.51) to his FIP (3.77, 3.35, 3.86).
John Danks offers durability (195 innings-plus in three straight seasons), plus a sub-3.75 ERA, but very little in the strikeout department (6.85 K/9 in ‘10).
Javier Vazquez and James Shields should bounce-back, while Jordan Zimmerman, Brian Matusz and Daniel Hudson appear primed for breakout seasons.
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