Here is the bottom of my list of the top 75 fantasy starting pitchers. (Note: Rankings are based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring).
41. Derek Lowe, Red Sox: After having a Cy Young-caliber season in 2002, Lowe was barely above average last year (although he still won 17 games thanks to Boston’s offense). At least part of the problem was that the infield defense decline with Todd Walker at second base, which really hurt Lowe since he induced nearly four times as many ground balls as fly balls last year.
The addition of Pokey Reese should not only turn more of those grounders into outs, it should also allow Lowe to relax and not walk as many batters. Expect at least 16-18 wins, a 3.60-3.85 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 105-120 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.
42. Tim Wakefield, Red Sox: Wakefield’s decline from 2002 to last year wasn’t as big as Lowe’s, but it was still very noticeable. Wakefield scares a lot of people because knuckleballers are generally inconsistent, but he’s been above average more often than not and he’s coming off the best three-year stretch of his career.
It’s not at all uncommon for knuckleballers to blossom late in their careers, so you shouldn’t be at all worried that Wakefield is 37 years old. He can still give you 13-15 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 145-155 strikeouts in 175-190 innings.
43. Sidney Ponson, Orioles: Ponson’s ERA was almost exactly the same with the Giants as it was with the Orioles last season. The problem is that while his walk rate improved slightly, his strikeout and home run rates both declined significantly upon moving to San Francisco.
Ponson’s had a nice career progression since 2001, but he’s probably not going to get much better than he was last year and he may very well decline. He should provide 15-17 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 115-130 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.
44. Kip Wells, Pirates: We’ll probably never understand why the White Sox traded Wells along with Sean Lowe and Josh Fogg for Todd Ritchie, but the Pirates must be thrilled. While Lowe is gone and Fogg hasn’t been much to talk about, Wells has been excellent, posting a 3.43 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in his age 25 and 26 seasons.
Now that he has two full seasons under his belt, he could continue to get better and there’s no real reason to expect him to get worse. Expect 10-12 wins, a 3.25-3.50 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 135-150 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.
45. C.C. Sabathia, Indians: It’s easy to forget that Sabathia’s just 23 years old since he’s already pitched nearly 600 innings in the majors and has a 4.12 career ERA. The large lefty took a big step forward last year, and it would be nice to see him duplicate or improve upon that performance.
Sabathia doesn’t strike out nearly as many hitters as he did as a rookie, but he improved his walk rate considerably last year. If he can stick around three walks per nine innings, you can expect 13-15 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 140-150 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.
46. Brad Penny, Marlins: Penny’s two seasons in which he made at least 30 starts (2001 and 2003) have been good and average, respectively. His other two season, in which he made fewer than 25 starts, were both bad. The key for Penny is his control. He’s walked between 50 and 60 hitters in each of his four seasons, but he’s thrown anywhere from 119.2 to 205 innings, so his BB/9IP rate has varied wildly.
Penny walked 4.51 hitters per nine innings as a rookie, then improved to 2.37 BB/9IP in 2001, regressed to 3.48 BB/9IP in 2002 and got back to2.57 BB/9IP last year. If he can keep his BB/9IP under 3.00, he should be a decent pitcher. Expect 12-14 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 120-140 strikeouts in 170-190 innings.
47. Rich Harden, A’s: Harden’s minor-league numbers over the last three years have been amazing — a 2.98 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 10.81 K/9IP in 329 innings at four different levels. However, he did walk more than four hitters per nine innings and that got even worse once he reached the majors, as he walked 40 batters in 74.2 innings.
He’ll need to improve his control dramatically before he becomes more than a decent starter, and I don’t think he can make that dramatic improvement all in one season at the age of 23. He should give you 10-12 wins, a 4.15-4.30 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 145-170 strikeouts in 150-175 innings.
48. Adam Eaton, Padres: In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Eaton took great strides toward becoming the pitcher he showed he had the potential to be as a 22-year-old rookie in 2000.
He’s still just 26 years old, and the further he gets away from his surgery, the more he should be able to improve. This year, you can expect 13-15 wins, a 3.80-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 150-165 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.
He pitches in a fairly tough ballpark for pitchers and he doesn’t have a great offense to help him out, but Sheets should still be able to give you 11-13 wins, a 4.00-4.15 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 145-160 strikeouts in 200-220 innings.
50. Kelvim Escobar, Angels: Escobar’s career has been all over the place, both in terms of the role he’s been asked to fill and the performance he’s provided. He’s saved 38 games as closer and won 14 games as a starter. He had an ERA of 3.50 in 2001 and an ERA more than two runs higher (5.69) two years earlier.
Now, he’s definitely a starter, but even though he’ll turn 28 in April, there’s no guarantee he’ll become more consistent. My best guess for his performance is 13-15 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 135-150 strikeouts in 170-190 innings.
51. Mark Redman, A’s: Redman’s performance last year wasn’t actually out of line with the rest of his career. He’s been an average or slightly better pitcher in each of the last four seasons, it’s just that Florida’s ballpark helped him put up easily the best ERA of his career last year. With a helpful ballpark and a good defense in Oakland, Redman finds himself in a similar situation.
Some people think Redman will lose his job in the rotation to one of Oakland’s good young pitchers, but even if the A’s do call up one of those pitchers, it could just as easily be to replace an injured member of the Big Three or an ineffective Harden. Redman should give you 12-14 wins, a 3.80-4.00 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 110-120 strikeouts in 175-190 innings.
52. Brett Myers, Phillies: Like Byung-Hyun Kim and Harden, Myers is a fifth starter who is very talented and very young. Unlike them, Myers already has a full season as a starting pitcher in the majors under his belt. After pitching 72 innings as a rookie in which his ERA hid scary peripheral stats, Myers slightly improved his walk rate and significantly improved his strikeout and home run rates last year.
He still has a lot of work to do before he becomes a good pitcher, but he could make the leap to being average this season. Expect 14-16 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 130-150 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.
53. Mark Buehrle, White Sox: Buehrle has declined each season since his great 2001 season, but his big problem last year was a 7.16 ERA in May. Take that month out of the equation and he would have a 3.73 ERA and 1.25 WHIP instead of a 4.14 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.
Buehrle will never strike out many hitters, but he can still be a useful fantasy starter. He should be able to provide 14-16 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 110-120 strikeouts in 210-225 innings.
54. Livan Hernandez, Expos: It doesn’t seem possible that Hernandez just turned 29 years old since he’s thrown more than 1,500 innings in the majors if you count his post-season experience. His performance has fluctuated wildly throughout his career, but he’s always been able to eat up innings.
He won’t be nearly as good as he was last year, but it’s not a bad thing to have somebody who can give you decent numbers for that many innings. Expect 12-14 wins, a 4.10-4.30 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 140-150 strikeouts in 210-225 innings.
55. Al Leiter, Mets: Leiter looked like he was about done last year before Chris “Mad Dog” Russo called him out. Leiter got into better shape and then posted a 2.15 ERA in 83.2 innings after the All-Star break to finish (just barely) with an ERA below 4.00 for the fourth straight season.
Leiter is 38 years old, however, and he’s declined each season since going 16-8 with a 3.23 ERA in 2000. The sub-4.00 ERA streak may very well end this year, as you should expect 13-15 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 130-150 strikeouts in 170-190 innings.
56. David Wells, Padres: It’s easy to make fun of Wells, but his last really bad year was 1996 and he’s pitched at least 200 innings in six of the seven seasons since then.
He’ll turn 41 years old in May and he has a cranky back, but he’s been old and injured for a long time now. He should be able to provide 15-17 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 105-115 strikeouts in 190-200 innings.
57. Jerome Williams, Giants: After making 10 starts in the minors and bad start in the majors in April, Williams was called up for good in June. From then to the end of the season, he had a 3.05 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 127 innings. Even in San Francisco’s pitcher’s park, that excellent, especially when you consider that he was only 21 years old.
He’ll probably regress somewhat, but Williams will still be helped by the park he pitches home games in. Expect 10-12 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 110-125 strikeouts in 160-180 innings.
58. Ted Lilly, Blue Jays: For as much as people talk about how good he could be, Lilly hasn’t done a whole lot. He’s pitched just 399 innings in the majors the last three years, and his best season was when he pitched just 100 innings in 2002. Nobody questions his talent, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll ever capitalize on that talent.
He’s still just 28 years old and it looked like he was putting things together last year when he had five straight starts in which he allowed one or zero runs before he got bombed in his final start of the season. However, he’s now pitching in a new park, with a new catcher and a new pitching coach, and his park, catcher and pitching coach all seemed to help him last year.
He should give you 14-16 wins, a 4.10-4.30 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 140-155 strikeouts in 170-185 innings.
59. Eric Milton, Phillies: Milton pitched just 17 innings last year, and before that he had gotten slightly worse each season since 1999. He’s left-handed, talented and still just 28 years old, but he’s never come close to reaching the level people have expected of him.
Maybe a change of scenery will help (it certainly won’t hurt to avoid designated hitters), but he’ll probably never become anything more than an above average starter. Expect 10-12 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.20-1.25 WHIP and 110-125 strikeouts in 145-160 innings.
60. Miguel Batista, Blue Jays: Batistia’s an interesting case. He’s posted a 3.76 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over the last three seasons, but has spent at least some time in the bullpen each year. This year, he’ll have to adjust to staying in the rotation the entire season and facing designated hitters.
If Batista can be close to as good as he was last year, Toronto’s offense will help him win his share of games. He should provide 12-14 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 115-125 strikeouts in 170-185 innings.
61. Jeff Weaver, Dodgers: Playing for the Yankees certainly didn’t work for Weaver, who has a reputation as being a headcase. In a year and a half in New York, Weaver had a 5.35 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 5.69 K/9IP.
Now, he’ll be pitching in the National League, in his home state and with a decent defense behind him. He’ll definitely bounce back, and you can expect 10-12 wins, a 4.00-4.15 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 120-130 strikeouts in 175-190 innings.
62. Carl Pavano, Marlins: Josh Beckett was the driving force behind Florida’s World Series run last season, but Pavano actually had the best ERA of any Florida pitcher in the playoffs. After postin a 4.30 ERA during the regular season, Pavano allowed just three earned runs in 19.3 post-season innings for a 1.40 ERA. He’s always had talent (as you can tell by the fact that he was the centerpiece of a trade for Pedro Martinez), but he’s had trouble staying healthy.
Last year, Pavano was healthy enough to make 32 starts and pitch 201 innings, the first time in his major-league career he’s pitched more than 140 innings. He’s still just 28 years old, and if he can stay healthy again, he could start to get his career on track. He should provide 11-13 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 120-135 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.
63. Tim Redding, Astros: Considering who the other four members of Houston’s starting rotation (all of whom are among my top 30 fantasy starters) are, Redding is going to get overlooked a lot. However, his 3.68 ERA was the 25th best in the majors last year and the main reason he won just 10 games was that Houston’s offense decided not to score when he pitched.
Redding’s run support was 90th in the majors last year, ahead of only two Detroit pitchers (Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Cornejo). While it’s unlikely that Redding will be quite as good as last year, it’s also unlikely that the offense will be even close to as bad for him. Expect 12-14 wins, a 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 120-130 strikeouts in 165-180 innings.
64. Darrell May, Royals: May doesn’t seem like an impressive pitcher at all, but in his first full season since returning from Japan, he posted a 3.77 ERA in 210 innings. He allowed too many home runs and didn’t record enough strikeouts, but some of that will be aided by the fact that the Royals pushed their fences back this season.
May should decline, but at this point, anybody who can give you innings and has a shot at an ERA below 4.00 isn’t bad. May can provide 11-13 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 110-120 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.
65. Brian Lawrence, Padres: Lawrence’s strikeout rate was never anything to rave about, but last year it dropped into ugly territory (4.96 K/9IP). While his control remained very good, Lawrence also had trouble keeping the ball in the park last year (1.15 HR/9IP). The decrease in strikeouts and increase in home runs are pretty good explanations for why his ERA went up by half a run.
He will need to get back his 2001-2002 levels in at least one of those stats to get back to being a decent pitcher. He doesn’t throw hard at all, so it remains to be seen whether or not the league’s simply gotten used to him. Expect 12-14 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 115-125 strikeouts in 190-210 innings.
66. Jarrod Washburn, Angels: After two and a half very nice seasons in which he posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 5.84 K/9IP, Washburn slumped to a 4.43 ERA last season. Part of the reason is that his strikeout rate declined slightly (to 5.12 K/9IP) while his home run rate shot through the roof (from 0.83 HR/9IP in 2002 to 1.48 HR/9IP last year).
Washburn’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, but he can’t afford to be giving up 34 homers in 207.1 innings. Another problem with his propensity to allow fly balls is that the Angels are currently planning on setting the lineup in such a way that it hurts the offense and the outfield defense.
Washburn shouldn’t have as much trouble getting run support this season, but probably won’t return to his 2000-2002 level. Expect 12-14 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 110-120 strikeouts in 185-200 innings.
67. Steve Trachsel, Mets: After having an excellent season in 1996 at age 25, Trachsel was a below average pitcher for the next five years before he turned things around to post a 3.59 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over the last two seasons. He would be a nice pitcher if he could be counted on to keep going at that level, but he can’t be.
He’s 33 years old now and he declined slightly last year from the year before. He’ll probably decline a little again and give you 13-15 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 100-110 strikeouts in 175-190 innings.
68. Gil Meche, Mariners: After losing nearly two full seasons to injury, Meche was writing an impressive comeback story last year. He celebrated Independence Day with a 10-3 record, 3.14 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Then everything fell apart, and he went 5-10 with a 6.40 ERA and 1.53 WHIP the rest of the way.
Those are ugly numbers, but it was probably just a little unrealistic to expect him to pitch 186.1 innings after he had pitched just 170.2 innings the previous three seasons combined. He should be a little more used to pitching a full season this year, and you can expect 13-15 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 115-130 strikeouts in 170-185 innings.
69. Mike Hampton, Braves: Not surpringly, getting out of Colorado did wonders for Hampton. He went from posting a 5.75 ERA, 1.68 WHIp and 4.62 K/9IP in his two seasons at Coors Field to posting a 3.84 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 5.21 K/9IP last year.
He’s not going to return to his 1998-2000 levels, but he showed that he can still be a useful pitcher outside the thin air. He should be able to provide 12-14 wins, a 4.00-4.25 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 100-115 strikeouts in 175-190 innings.
70. Brad Radke, Twins: Radke’s run as the “ace” of the Twins is over, thanks in small part to his recent decline and large part to the arrival of a new ace. Radke had one very good season (1999) and four good seasons, but he’s been very unimpressive tha last two seasons, posting a 4.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 4.95 K/9IP.
The only real positives about the last two years are that last season was better than the one before it and his walk rate has gone from good to incredible. Radke should give you 13-15 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 105-120 strikeouts in 195-210 innings.
71. Kyle Lohse, Twins: Lohse had been solid, but certainly not spectacular, the past two seasons with a 4.39 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 5.99 K/9IP. He’s only 25 years old, and he may have a really nice season sometime in the near future.
While Lohse’s strikeout rate declined slightly (from 6.18 K/9IP to 5.82) and his home run rate improved slightly (1.30 HR/9IP to 1.25) from 2002 to last year, his walk rate improved dramatically (from 3.49 BB/9IP to 2.01). That’s a very good sign for his continued development. Expect 12-14 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.30-1.35 WHIP and 115-130 strikeouts in 180-200 innings.
72. Ryan Franklin, Mariners: Franklin had an excellent season last year, but he was helped a lot by Seattle’s defense. Franklin allowed a .245 batting average on balls in play, which is extremely low. With Mike Cameron and Jeff Cirillo leaving Seattle’s defensive equation and Raul Ibanez and Scott Spiezio entering the equation, Franklin’s batting average allowed on balls in play is likely to go up.
The fact that he doesn’t strike anybody out means he has limited value if his ERA isn’t as low as it was last year. He should give you 10-11 wins, a 3.90-4.10 ERA, 1.25-1.30 WHIP and 85-90 strikeouts in 175-200 innings.
73. Tom Glavine, Mets: Glavine’s performance was below average for the first time in 12 years last season. At least part of it had to due with the fact that he turns 38 on Thursday.
However, while Glavine is declining because he’s getting old, I do think he’ll bounce back a little bit this year (especially since the Mets improved their defense). Expect 11-13 wins, a 4.10-4.30 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 80-90 strikeouts in 185-180 innings.
74. Horacio Ramirez, Braves: After an up-and-down minor-league career, Ramirez won a spot in Atlanta’s rotation at age 23 last year and posted a nice 4.00 ERA in 182.1 innings. He needs to strike out more hitters and walk fewer if he wants to have any shot at matching that season, but he’s still a worthwhile fantasy player.
He should provide 10-11 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.40-1.45 WHIP and 90-100 strikeouts in 160-180 innings.
75. Jon Lieber, Yankees: The bad news is that he missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery and he’ll likely be out until at least May this season. The good news is that it’s his groin that’s bothering him right now, and not his arm.
If Lieber can come back and pitch regularly for the Yankees, he could be a very worthwhile piece of property. To be conservative, you should expect 10-11 wins, a 4.25-4.50 ERA, 1.35-1.40 WHIP and 70-85 strikeouts in 125-150 innings, but he could end up being much better than that.