This has been a year for pitchers. The list of the top pitchers who have totally imploded (e.g. Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett) is relatively short, while the list of up-and-coming pitchers who fully arrived seems rather long (Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos, Clay Buchholz, Brandon Morrow, to name a few).
I thought I’d categorize the “top 25” starting pitchers for next year and use the categories to make a few points about keepers.
OK that was fun. Obviously there are more than 25 pitchers here (I just took the top 45 or so pitchers according to CBS Sportsline’s rating plus a few others who fell off the list). But apart from a few of these guys, most of them could appear on many top-25 lists. Many of the pitchers who are fringe candidates for these lists have one or more eye-popping stats: Gio Gonzalez has a 3.121 ERA; Dickey has a 2.907 ERA and a 1.184 WHIP; Tim Hudson has a 2.409 ERA and a 1.101 WHIP.
It’d be pretty easy to convince yourself that someone like Hudson is worth keeping for next year. Of course, whether he is depends on the costs of keeping him. But there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The supply of really-good-but-not-top-notch pitchers is fairly large. Even if you’re in a 12-team league where each team can keep two pitchers, you’d still have plenty of worthwhile candidates to choose from if you didn’t keep any (and, say, kept the draft picks instead).
- Variance in pitching is huge. This is fairly well known—pitching performance, even at the top level, fluctuates a lot from year to year, never mind health concerns.
- There are a bunch of pitchers just off this list who could be on it next September: Chad Billingsley, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Webb, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Edinson Volquez. Some of these guys had skills and lost them. Some of them had injuries. Some just haven’t had a large enough track record yet (though I bet Daniel Hudson is on a few top-25s anyway).
And then there’s Strasburg. He is unkeepable in any league that imposes any kind of opportunity cost on keepers. Even if it is just a roster spot on your DL for next year, he’s still not worth keeping. (Well, you can, but I’d just cut him as soon as you had someone more immediate for your DL spot next season. And since everyone uses their DL spots throughout the season, you will end up cutting him anyway sooner or later.) Maybe I’d keep him in a dynasty league with permanently low keeper costs.
Chances are Strasburg will return in 2012 in fine fettle. But even then, it will likely be a few months into the season before he returns to some kind of peak form. And of course, he may not fully return ever, or at least for a while after he starts pitching again. This kind of uncertainty both on your bench and perhaps on your starting roster eventually has large costs. These are costs that you don’t need to pay when there are so many good pitchers each year who come out of the woodwork.