Fantasy Rankings: Starting Pitcher (Part One)

There are so many starting pitchers to discuss in fantasy baseball that I have to break the list down into two parts. I’ll give you the first 40 of my top 75 list today and the rest Wednesday. (Note: Rankings are based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring).

1. Mark Prior, Cubs: Prior’s inflamed Achillies’ tendon doesn’t bother me at all. He managed to pitch 211.1 innings despite making just 30 starts last year, so it probably won’t affect his value too much if he misses a start at the beginning of the season. What is important to his value is his major-league rankings from last season: sixth in wins, fourth in ERA, seventh in WHIP and second in strikeouts.

He’s only 23 years and there’s nothing in his history to suggest he can’t keep pitching like that. I’m expecting 20 wins, a 2.50-2.75 ERA, 1.08-1.10 WHIP and 240-260 strikeouts in 210-215 innings. If he does that, he could lead the National League in all four categories.

2. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: Deciding just how high to rank Martinez among the starting pitchers isn’t as hard as it has been in the past. This year, every prominent starting pitcher has question marks, but only one has had an ERA below 2.40 in each of the last five seasons.

Martinez has not made more than 30 starts since 1998, so it’s probably not smart to expect him to do so this year. However, he can still pitch 185-200 innings and give you 16-18 wins, a 2.25-2.50 ERA, 1.00-1.05 WHIP and 200-220 strikeouts. The only real concern is that there’s a chance he could miss a lot of time (like in 2001) instead of just a few starts.

3. Curt Schilling, Red Sox: Schilling went 8-9 last year because he had a bad offense, which is not the case this year. He pitched just 168 innings because he had his appendix removed, which obviously will not happen this year, and suffered a fluky broken hand. He’s still a pitcher who posted a 3.07 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.57 K/9IP over the last three years.

Moving from the NL to the AL might hurt those numbers some, but contrary to popular belief, Bank One Ballpark is a tougher place to pitch than Fenway Park. Expect 18-20 wins, a 3.25 ERA, 1.05-1.10 WHIP and 240-260 strikeouts in 225-240 innings.

4. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks: Now 40 years old, Johnson was injured and ineffective last season, posting a 4.26 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in just 114 innings. However, he’s also just one year removed from collecting his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young award. He could be washed up, but you don’t get anywhere in life by avoiding risks completely. A pitcher who had a 2.48 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 11.51 K/9IP from 1999-2002 is a good person to take a risk on.

Even if he can pitch well this year, the lack of any cartilege in his knee should prevent him from returning to his 240-plus innings a year days. You can probably safely expect 16-18 wins, a 3.20-3.30 ERA, 1.15-1.20 WHIP and 215-230 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.

5. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: If you like to avoid risk as much as possible, then you should probably slide Halladay up ahead of Johnson. Halladay didn’t throw 266 innings last year because he was overworked, he threw 266 innings because he was efficient enough to require just 13.6 pitches per inning, which was second to Greg Maddux among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. In 2002, Halladay needed 14.6 pitches per inning, eighth in the majors, to throw 239.1 innings.

Since going all the way back to Class A to get his career straightened out, Halladay has provided a 3.11 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in the major leagues over the last three seasons. He should be good for at least 20 wins, a 3.15-3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 185-200 strikeouts in 245-260 innings.

6. Jason Schmidt, Giants: Schmidt was the best starting pitcher in baseball last year as he led the majors in WHIP, ranked second in ERA and fourth in strikeouts and also won 17 games. The reason he’s only ranked sixth here is that last season was far and away the best of his career and he had surgery on his elbow in the off-season and has been struggling this spring.

I’m more concerned with his injury history than his Spring Training struggles, because I think he’ll be fine once the regular season gets going. However, he’s not really quite as good as he was last year. Expect 16-18 wins, a 3.00-3.20 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 190-210 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

7. Mike Mussina, Yankees: There’s something to be said for having a consistent pitcher you can rely on. Mussina’s pitched at least 200 innings in each of the last nine seasons and has struck out at least 170 hitters in each of the last eight. He’s won at least 15 games in eight of the last 10 seasons, posted an ERA between 3.00 and 3.50 in seven of the last 10 seasons and a WHIP between 1.05 and 1.20 in seven of the last 10 seasons.

This year, I expect him to continue those trends in each category. He should provide 17-19 wins (he might even get 20 for the first time this year), a 3.25-3.40 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 175-190 strikeouts in 200-215 innings.

8. Javier Vazquez, Yankees: Vazquez has varied between being a good and great pitcher the last four seasons, but he’s only won 50 games over that span because Montreal’s offense hasn’t really helped him out. That should no longer be a problem with the vaunted Yankees offense behind him, but the Yankees defense won’t help his transition from the NL to the AL.

One thing that will probably annoy you if you draft Vazquez is that every season he tends to get fatigued at some point and have a really bad stretch of games. However, if you just leave him in your lineup all season, he’ll give you 17-19 wins, a 3.40-3.60 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 190-210 strikeouts in 215-230 innings.

9. Kerry Wood, Cubs: As good as Wood has been in his career, he’s never won more than 14 games in a season. Part of that’s been due to Chicago’s offense, but part’s also due to his lack of control. All the walks he issues add up and force him to leave early in more games than you’d like. Last year, he pitched six innings or fewer in 13 of his 32 starts (40.1-percent). In 2002, he pitched six innings or fewer in 17 of his 33 starts (51.5-percent).

Even if you’re a great pitcher with a good offense, it’s harder to win games if you ask your bullpen to get nine or more outs for you. Wood should give you a 3.25-3.40 ERA, 1.15-1.20 WHIP and 240-260 strikeouts in 205-220 innings, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect more than 15 wins.

10. Tim Hudson, A’s: Hudson’s strikeout rate has been rather low the past two years, but he’s still had excellent results thanks at least in part to Network Associates Coliseum and the Oakland defense. The stadium isn’t changing and the defense should be pretty good again, so Hudson should contend for the AL Cy Young award again

Expect 16-18 wins, a 3.00-3.15 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 145-160 strikeouts in 220-235 innings from the best of the Big Three.

11. Roy Oswalt, Astros: It’s all about health for Oswalt. In his three-year career in the majors, he’s averaged 17.9 wins per 35 starts while posting a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 8.25 K/9IP. The problem is that he’s averaged just 167.1 innings per season and has only had one year with more than 145 innings pitched (233 innings in 2002).

He appears to be healthy at the moment, but who knows when the diminutive righty will strain his groin again or hurt something else? Hope for a full season, but temper your expectations and pay for 14-16 wins, a 3.00-3.15 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 155-170 strikeouts in 170-185 innings.

12. Johan Santana, Twins: If you’re a regular reader of my colleague, Aaron Gleeman, then you know he feels very strongly about Santana. I’m nearly as high on the 25-year-old lefty who’s posted a 3.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 10.33 K/9IP over the last two years. He’s been even better when you just look at his performance as a starter the last two years: a 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 9.63 K/9IP in 32 starts.

This year, Santana will finally be getting a full season in the rotation. You don’t want to get too carried away with your expectations, especially since he had off-season surgery for bone chips in his elbow, but he should provide 15-17 wins, a 3.15-3.30 ERA, 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 185-200 strikeouts in 180-190 innings. It also helps that he pitches in the AL Central, where none of the four teams really has a great offense.

13. Kevin Brown, Yankees: Everybody knows about Brown’s injury history. Before pitching 211 innings last year, he managed just 179.1 innings the previous two seasons combined. Now Brown’s 39 years old, and if any good pitcher is less likely than Martinez to start more than 30 games, it’s him.

When Brown can start, however, he’ll definitely be good. Except for when injuries limited him to 63.2 innings in 2002, Brown hasn’t had an ERA above 3.00 since 1995. Moving out of Dodger Stadium and into the AL East will hurt his numbers some, but he should still give you 15-17 wins, a 3.10-3.25 ERA, 1.15-1.20 WHIP and 130-145 strikeouts in 165-180 innings.

14. Mark Mulder, A’s: After a bad rookie season, Mulder has been consistently good the last three years. He’s had a 3.36 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 6.35 K/9IP and 2.11 BB/9IP and his numbers in each season haven’t varied much from those averages. The question now is whether or not he’ll be the same pitcher after fracturing his hip last year.

I think he’ll bounce back just fine, and once again provide 16-18 wins, a 3.25-3.40 ERA, 1.14-1.18 WHIP and 130-140 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

15. Josh Beckett, Marlins: From July 21 through the end of October, Beckett was absolutely magnificent. He had a 2.40 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 140 strikeouts in 131 innings. The problem is that injuries limited him to just 53.2 innings before July 21, just as injuries limited him to just 107.2 innings in 2002. He’s still just 23 years old and I wouldn’t bet against him winning a Cy Young award in the next five years, but he needs to show that he can pitch 190-200 innings first.

This could be the year he stays healthy, wins 18-20 games and pitches 200 innings, but there’s no real reason to think it is. I’d expect 12-14 wins, a 3.10-3.25 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 175-195 strikeouts in 165-180 innings.

16. Barry Zito, A’s: Zito’s ERA, WHIP and walk rate have all been pretty consistent the last three years, but his strikeout rate has not. He’s gone from 8.61 K/9 IP in 2001 to 7.14 K/9 in 2002 to 5.67 K/9 last year. His fellow members of the Big Three can get away with strikeout rates in the general vicinity of Zito’s 2003 rate, but Zito walks a lot more batters than they do.

If his strikeout rate continues to get worse, or even just stays that bad, he may have trouble continuing to put up the results that people expect of him. He should give you 14-16 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 125-150 strikeouts in 200-220 innings, but keep in mind that there’s a chance that his declining strikeout rate will continue and become a real problem.

17. Matt Morris, Cardinals: Morris has slid from being one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2001 to now being just the lead question mark in a questionable St. Louis rotation. Injury and mechanics problems plagued him last year, causing him to go 11-8 with a 3.76 ERA in 172.1 innings.

If those problems are solved this season, and he seems to be healthy at the moment, then there’s no reason he can’t go back to being a true staff ace. Just to be conservative, you should expect 15-17 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.15-1.20 WHIP and 130-150 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

18. Bartolo Colon, Angels: The best thing about Colon is that you can count on him to pitch a lot of innings. He was excellent in 2002, but he was only a little above average last year and in 2001 and he doesn’t strike out nearly as many hitters as he used to.

He’ll be 31 years old this season, so he’s not a very good candidate to improve a lot. He should give you 15-17 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 145-160 strikeouts in 215-230 innings.

19. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks: Webb was a solid pitcher most of the time in the minor leagues, but there wasn’t really anything to suggest that he’d be as good in the majors as he was last year. While his ERA and WHIP will likely take a bit of a hit this year, he should win more than just 10 games as a sophomore for two reasons.

First, Arizona’s offense is better this year. Second, he’ll be in the majors the whole season instead of making his first three starts in the minors. Expect 12-14 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 165-185 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

20. Randy Wolf, Phillies: After an excellent season in 2002 (despite just 11 wins), Wolf was having another nice year before back-to-back brutal starts in August tarnished his final results. He gave up seven runs in 4.1 innings to Milwaukee on August 20 and then allowed nine runs in 1.2 innings to Montreal on August 25. Without those two starts, his final ERA would have been 3.62 instead of 4.23.

From the 2002 All-Star break until the 2003 All-Star break, Wolf went 17-7 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 231 innings. Even if he can’t reproduce that kind of performance in one seasno, it shows how much potential he has. He should provide 16-18 wins, a 3.60-3.80 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 160-185 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.

21. Roger Clemens, Astros: It may have pissed the Yankees off, but Clemens deciding not to stay retired is good for fantasy owners because he can still get it done. He may be 41 years old, but Clemens still ranked fifth in the AL in strikeouts last year and it’s easier to rack up the K’s in the NL.

I don’t know if he’ll be able to get near 200 innings again, but he should be able to keep his ERA below 4.00 for the fourth time in five years. I’d expect 13-15 wins, a 3.60-3.80 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 155-170 strikeouts in 160-180 innings.

22. Andy Pettitte, Astros: If you miss out on getting Clemens, you could still nab the person who’s responsible for Clemens still being around. Pettitte doesn’t have as much potential as Clemens, but he’s probably a safer pick since he is 10 years younger.

Pettitte probably won’t win 21 games again without the Yankees offense, but his other numbers should benefit from not having to face designated hitters any more. He should provide 16-18 wins, a 3.70-3.90 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 170-185 strikeouts in 195-210 innings.

23. Jose Contreras, Yankees: It took him awhile to get settled in the majors, but he was excellent once he got there. After recovering from a strained right shoulder, Contreras had a 1.51 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 8.83 K/9IP in September last season. He’s also been pretty impressive so far this spring.

We may never know how old Contreras really is, but as long as he stays healthy and gets the job done, nobody will really care. The first part’s a bigger concern, so I’d be conservative and expect 14-16 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 140-170 strikeouts in 150-175 innings.

24. Esteban Loaiza, White Sox: Even if you think Loaiza figured something out that allowed him to have his magical 2003 season, you’ve got to realize that he was lucky enough to start six of Chicago’s 19 games against Detroit. In those six starts, he went 4-2 with a 1.21 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in 44.2 innings (7.44 IP/start). The rest of the year, he went 17-7 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 181.1 innings (6.48 IP/start).

I don’t even think he’s that good, and last year’s 2.90 ERA should go up at least a run. I’d expect 15-17 wins, a 3.90-4.05 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 155-170 strikeouts in 195-210 innings. Even if he somehow manages to face the Tigers six times again this year, Detroit’s offense will be at least a little bit better.

25. Kevin Millwood, Phillies: Millwood had a great season in 1999 and a good season in 2002 and the rest of his career he’s been almost exactly an average pitcher. At this point, if you’re still betting on the good or great rather than the average, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

That’s not to say Millwood has no value, however. He’s an average pitcher who throws a lot of innings who does still have the potential to be a good pitcher. He should provide 15-17 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 160-170 strikeouts in 205-220 innings.

26. Jamie Moyer, Mariners: Moyer was 40 years old last season, and his age still wasn’t double his win total. When Moyer turned 33 on Nov. 18, 1995, his career ERA was 4.51. Since then, he’s had an ERA below 4.00 every year but one (2000).

He doesn’t strike many people out, but he still gets them out and in large enough quantities to reach 200 innings pitched in five of the last six seasons. Expect 15-17 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 115-125 strikeouts in 195-210 innings.

27. Joel Pineiro, Mariners: After an unbelievable 75.1 innings in 2001, Pineiro has merely been good the last two seasons, posting a 3.52 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 6.36 K/9IP in 406 innings. He’s still just 25 years old, and it would be nice to see him take his game to the next level now.

However, there’s no real reason to expect him to do so, so don’t overpay for him hoping that 2001 was a taste of what he can do. He should give you 14-16 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.25-1.28 WHIP and 140-150 strikeouts in 200-215 innings.

28. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers: Nomo was left for dead with the Mets in 1998, but he bounced around from Milwaukee to Detroit to Boston and had three average seasons before returning to Los Angeles to recapture some of the success he had his first two seasons in the majors.

He walks way too many people and if his strikeout rate declines much, he’ll be in big trouble, but he should still be useful at 35 years old. Expect 13-15 wins, a 3.60-3.80 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 160-170 strikeouts in 190-200 innings.

29. Wade Miller, Astros: Miller had a very good season in 2001, then followed it with a very good season that was shortened by injuries, then followed that with an average season that was shortened by injuries. That’s not a good progression, but he’s talented enough to turn it around.

Miller appears to be healthy at the moment. If he can stay that way, he can give you 15-17 wins, a 3..60-3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 160-170 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

30. Greg Maddux, Cubs: Maddux’s string of 16 consecutive seasons with at least 15 wins could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t make 35 or 36 starts this season. He’ll be 38 years old soon, and he no longer pitches deep enough into most games to make it easy for the bullpen to preserve his leads.

So far, Maddux’s health has allowed him to make enough starts in recent years to have a 15-year streak of pitching at least 199 innings going, but that streak could also end this year. Expect 14-16 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 105-115 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

31. Woody Williams, Cardinals: Williams has had a 3.23 ERA and 1.20 WHIP since moving to St. Louis in 2001, but he’s yet to really have a good season. He was excellent in 2002, but injuries limited him to 103.1 innings. He was healthy enough to pitch 220.2 innings last year, but he was only able to put up a 3.87 ERA.

This year, he might improve the ERA slightly, but he probably won’t pitch as many innings. Expect 17-19 wins, a 3.65-3.90 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 125-140 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

32. Vicente Padilla, Phillies: Philadelphia has five solid starting pitchers in its rotation, and Padilla was the best of the lot last year. The only reason he’s not ranked as highly as Wolf and Millwood is that he doesn’t strike out as many hitters as they do.

Padilla has a 3.45 ERA and 1.23 WHIP since becoming a full-time member of Philadelphia’s rotation in 2002 and he’s been very sharp this spring. He should provide 15-17 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 120-135 strikeouts in 195-210 innings.

33. Matt Clement, Cubs: Even with a disappointing 4.11 ERA last season, Clement was a useful fantasy pitcher because of his strikeouts. A pitcher with an average ERA who can give you 200 innings has even more value if he can also top 170 strikeouts.

If Clement can find some middle ground between his good 2002 season and his average 2003 season, he’ll have even more value. Expect 12-14 wins, a 3.80-4.00 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 165-180 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

34. Odalis Perez, Dodgers: After an excellent 2002 season, Perez was pretty bad last year considering where he pitches. As long as he doesn’t get traded, which is certainly a possibility, just getting back to being average will allow him to put up some decent numbers.

Perez should be able to give you 13-15 wins, a 3.70-3.90 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 135-150 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

35. Dontrelle Willis, Marlins: Willis took the majors by storm last season, posting a 2.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 8.60 K/9 IP in his first 105.1 innings to run his record to 11-2. Then he seemed to hit a wall as he allowed 17 runs on 16 hits and 10 walks with just 10 strikeouts in 18 innings over his next four starts.

He pitched 197 innings between the minors and majors last year, which was a 25-percent increase from his workload the previous season (157.2 innings). The 22-year-old lefty should be more accustomed to pitching a full season this year, and you can expect 12-14 wins, a 3.50-3.75 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 145-160 strikeouts in 170-185 innings.

36. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs: The final member of the strikeout machine that is Chicago’s pitching staff, Zambrano walks too many and his 3.11 ERA was helped by the fact that he allowed just nine home runs in 214 innings. He’s unlikely to duplicate that feat this season, especially when you consider that he allowed nine homers in just 108.1 innings in 2002.

Zambrano will definitely regress some this season, but if he’s only the fifth-best fantasy starting pitcher the Cubs have, then that says more about Chicago’s rotation than it does about Zambrano. He should give you 12-14 wins, a 3.50-3.65 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 155-170 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.

37. Russ Ortiz, Braves: Ortiz tied for the major-league lead with 21 wins last season, but his performance wasn’t significantly better than his 14-win 2002 season. The credit for many of those 21 wnis can go directly to the amazing Atlanta offense.

Atlanta’s offense will still be good this year, but not quite as good as last season. Even if Ortiz reproduces his 2003 performance exactly, he probably won’t win 20 games this year. Expect 16-18 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 135-150 strikeouts in 200-220 innings.

38. Jake Peavy, Padres: San Diego revamped its offense to move into its new park this year, but the Padres will need at least one of their starting pitchers to step up and have a breakout season. Peavy has the most potential of anybody on their staff as he dominated during his minor-league career and then showed solid improvement in his second season in the majors last year.

The 22-year-old was bothered by a strained oblique last year and earlier this spring, but that doesn’t appear to be a huge concern at this point. Peavy should provide at least 14-16 wins, a 3.80-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.33 WHIP and 155-170 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.

39. Freddy Garcia, Mariners: Garcia looked like he was on the verge of becoming one of the elite pitchers in baseball after his 2001 season, but he’s followed that up with two slightly below average years. He clearly has the potential to be better and he could turn everything around this year, but that’s a big risk to take.

If you take Garcia, don’t take him so early that you’ll be devastated if he only give you 13-15 wins, a 4.15-4.30 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 145-160 strikeouts in 195-210 innings. Anything better than that from him should just be considered a bonus.

40. Byung-Hyun Kim, Red Sox: Kim is one of the toughest players in fantasy baseball to rank this season. He’s only 25 years old and has a 3.24 career ERA, but most of that was compiled in the bullpen. Boston wants him to start this season, and while he did have a 3.38 ERA as a starter last year, he made just 12 starts and averaged just six innings per start.

Further complicating matters is that he’s had some emotional/maturity problems since joining the Red Sox and is currently being bothered by muscle weakness in his shoulder that may cause him to miss the start of the season. Kim could lose his spot in the rotation and have limited value as a middle reliever or he could be far and away the best fifth starter in baseball. To be conservative, you should expect 12-14 wins, a 3.40-3.60 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 120-130 strikeouts in 145-160 innings.

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