Top 100 fantasy starting pitchers for 2011

Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position:
Catcher || First Base || Second Base || Shortstop || Third Base || Corner and Middle Infield || Outfield

To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.

Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here. The “O” in front of ERA, WHIP and K/9 stands for Oliver-projected*.
*Oliver’s 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective pitching statistics for my pitcher rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for pitchers, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here

Rank   Name                 Team             oERA   oWHIP   oK/9 
1      Roy Halladay         Phillies         3.32   1.13    7.2
2      Tim Lincecum         Giants           3.27   1.21    10.0
3      Felix Hernandez      Mariners         3.35   1.23    7.7
4      Adam Wainwright*     Cardinals        3.27   1.17    8.0
5      Josh Johnson         Marlins          3.40   1.22    7.9
6      Cliff Lee            Phillies         3.34   1.15    6.9
7      C.C. Sabathia        Yankees          3.59   1.24    7.4
8      Jon Lester           Red Sox          3.74   1.25    8.6
9      Dan Haren            Angels           3.68   1.19    8.3
10     Zack Greinke         Brewers          3.49   1.21    8.3
11     Justin Verlander     Tigers           3.67   1.28    8.8
12     Chris Carpenter      Cardinals        3.49   1.20    6.5
13     Francisco Liriano    Twins            4.18   1.37    8.4
14     Cole Hamels          Phillies         3.78   1.23    8.1
15     Max Scherzer         Tigers           3.77   1.27    9.0
16     Clayton Kershaw      Dodgers          3.33   1.26    9.2
17     Mat Latos            Padres           3.37   1.18    8.4
18     Jered Weaver         Angels           3.77   1.25    8.3
19     Tommy Hanson         Braves           3.41   1.19    8.3
20     Ubaldo Jimenez       Rockies          3.35   1.25    8.5
21     Yovani Gallardo      Brewers          3.93   1.36    9.1
22     Roy Oswalt           Phillies         3.56   1.20    7.2
23     Ricky Nolasco        Marlins          4.09   1.26    7.9
24     Jeremy Hellickson    Rays             3.72   1.22    8.5
25     Shaun Marcum         Brewers          3.82   1.24    7.0
26     Chad Billingsley     Dodgers          3.94   1.35    7.9
27     David Price          Rays             3.86   1.32    7.6
28     Hiroki Kuroda        Dodgers          3.64   1.24    6.2
29     Colby Lewis          Rangers          3.33   1.16    8.4
30     Brett Anderson       Athletics        3.87   1.27    7.1
31     Madison Bumgarner    Giants           3.51   1.21    6.9          
32     Ted Lilly            Dodgers          3.67   1.18    7.4          
33     Jhoulys Chacin       Rockies          3.60   1.27    8.0          
34     Wandy Rodriguez      Astros           4.00   1.33    7.6          
35     Josh Beckett         Red Sox          4.26   1.31    7.9          
36     Phil Hughes          Yankees          3.87   1.29    7.7          
37     Daniel Hudson        Diamondbacks     3.94   1.26    8.4          
38     Matt Cain            Giants           3.78   1.27    7.4          
39     Ian Kennedy          Diamondbacks     3.92   1.29    7.7          
40     Ryan Dempster        Cubs             4.02   1.34    7.7          
41     Gavin Floyd          White Sox        4.07   1.33    6.8
42     Jaime Garcia         Cardinals        3.86   1.34    7.3
43     Brandon Webb*        Rangers          3.86   1.31    6.8
44     Ricky Romero         Blue Jays        4.59   1.49    6.7
45     Tim Hudson           Braves           3.92   1.32    5.4
46     Jordan Zimmerman     Nationals        4.20   1.32    7.7
47     Gio Gonzalez         Athletics        4.40   1.46    8.4
48     Travis Wood          Reds             3.69   1.27    7.3
49     John Danks           White Sox        3.79   1.29    6.8
50     Matt Garza           Cubs             4.15   1.33    6.9
51     Clay Buchholz        Red Sox          3.78   1.32    6.8
52     Scott Baker          Twins            4.37   1.32    7.2
53     Brian Matusz         Orioles          3.89   1.29    7.9
54     Marc Rzepczynski     Blue Jays        4.40   1.44    7.8
55     Trevor Cahill        Athletics        4.00   1.31    5.9
56     C.J. Wilson          Rangers          3.91   1.36    7.5
57     James Shields        Rays             4.62   1.37    7.1
58     Kyle Drabek          Blue Jays        4.10   1.37    6.8
59     Jason Hammel         Rockies          4.21   1.34    6.8
60     Wade Davis           Rays             4.36   1.41    6.7
61     Dallas Braden        Athletics        4.18   1.34    5.7
62     Jonathan Sanchez     Giants           4.19   1.39    9.3
63     Jorge de la Rosa     Rockies          4.07   1.35    8.8
64     Brandon Morrow       Blue Jays        4.26   1.41    8.7
65     Javier Vazquez*      Marlins          4.16   1.31    7.7
66     Carlos Zambrano*     Cubs             4.06   1.41    7.2
67     Jake Peavy*          White Sox        3.86   1.29    8.0
68     Derek Holland        Rangers          4.12   1.33    7.3
69     Brett Myers*         Astros           4.24   1.35    7.0
70     Johan Santana*       Mets             3.82   1.27    7.0
71     Rich Harden*         Athletics        4.36   1.40    9.2
72     Kevin Slowey*        Twins            4.47   1.30    6.8
73     Johnny Cueto         Reds             4.33   1.35    6.9
74     Justin Masterson     Indians          4.43   1.44    7.0
75     Edinson Volquez      Reds             4.15   1.40    8.5
76     Ervin Santana        Angels           4.50   1.37    7.1
77     Bud Norris           Astros           4.57   1.47    8.3
78     Randy Wells          Cubs             4.12   1.36    6.2
79     Tom Gorzelanny       Cubs             4.34   1.45    7.5
80     Jair Jurrjens        Braves           4.12   1.37    6.5
81     Aaron Harang         Padres           4.81   1.44    6.9
82     Bronson Arroyo       Reds             3.97   1.28    5.4
83     Edwin Jackson        White Sox        4.45   1.42    6.9
84     Chris Young*         FA               4.82   1.50    6.7
85     Homer Bailey         Reds             4.43   1.45    7.4
86     Joel Pineiro         Angels           4.10   1.29    4.9
87     Daisuke Matsuzaka    Red Sox          4.46   1.44    7.5
88     Rick Porcello        Tigers           4.19   1.34    5.1
89     Anibal Sanchez       Marlins          4.10   1.40    6.8
90     Derek Lowe           Braves           4.25   1.39    5.6
91     Carl Pavano          Twins            4.52   1.34    5.2
92     Mike Leake           Reds             3.52   1.21    7.5
93     Mike Pelfrey         Mets             4.62   1.46    5.1
94     R.A. Dickey          Mets             4.26   1.38    5.1
95     John Lackey          Red Sox          4.37   1.36    6.5
96     Hisanori Takahashi   Angels           4.12   1.34    7.3
97     Clayton Richard      Padres           4.37   1.43    6.3
98     Jeff Niemann         Rays             4.30   1.37    6.5
99     Joe Blanton          Phillies         4.72   1.42    6.3
100    Chris Tillman        Orioles          4.28   1.39    7.1

*Assuming health, which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them (which in the case of Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Javier Vazquez, Johan Santana, and Carlos Zambrano, is a guessing game at best), and being tendered a contract.

This list is massive to say the least. I recommend digesting it in parts, and thus, beyond the intro, I have broken my analysis down by tiers of 10. A hundred starting pitchers seems like a lot of names to rank, and to be frank the bottom 30-40 ranked pitchers are mostly dart throws. Nonetheless, I tried my best to accurately index my perceived values and so many names are included here to help distill the “top talents” for those participating in AL/NL-only leagues that require digging into a deeper pool.

Absent from this list are several names which could provide useful fantasy value in 2011—in particular Stephen Strasburg, Justin Duchscherer, Mike Minor (uncertain role and P.T., though clearly talented), and Kris Medlen. The Duke’s health is a perpetual question mark, and hence his value is impossible to gauge, but he is solid when healthy. The other two will be returning from Tommy John surgery mid-to-late season and could provide 30-40 valuable innings. That might not seem like much from a starting pitcher, but employing either’s services would be the equivalent of rostering an elite reliever for most of the season. Chris Sale might also prove valuable as a Sean Marshall-like swingman for the South Siders. I have no clue how the White Sox plan to use Sale, however, or whether he’ll be on the major league roster to open the season. Because of this, he is unranked, but should be kept on your radar as draft day approaches.

Likewise, unranked pitchers Erik Bedard (4.45 oERA, 1.42 oWHIP, 7.70 oK/9), Chien-Ming Wang (4.52 oERA, 1.45 oWHIP, 5.20 oK/9), Andy Pettitte (4.29 ERA, 1.39 oWHIP, 6.40 oK/9) and Andrew Cashner (4.15 oERA, 1.41 oWHIP, 7.60 oK/9) could prove valuable depending on how their respective teams use them, whether they remain healthy, and whether they play big league ball in 2011. These are names to keep an eye on. I have intentionally omitted Cardinal Jake Westbrook (4.42 oERA, 1.39 oWHIP, 5.60 oK/9) because he offers little-to-no upside in fantasy or real life—he’s a fourth or fifth starter and innings eater, no more —and because he made me look like an idiot for predicting he would sign with the Rockies.

Aroldis Chapman is also unranked because the Reds plan to keep him in the bullpen next season. Look for him on the relief pitcher rankings.

Of the pitchers ranked above, some of my favorite names likely to turn a 2011 fantasy profit—that is to say, they outproduce their cost/average draft position—include Max Scherzer, Mat Latos, Tommy Hanson, Ricky Nolasco, Colby Lewis, Jeremy Hellickson, Jhoulys Chacin, Josh Beckett, Shaun Marcum, Daniel Hudson, Gavin Floyd, Ian Kennedy, Gio Gonzelz, Traviz Wood, Brian Matusz, and Marc Rzepcynski. I even expect stud pitchers Tim Lincecum and Dan Haren to be relatively underrated heading into the draft.

Below I have broken down pitchers by tiers, focusing on pitcher picks likely to turn a fantasy profit or, in the case of early-round, top-tiered picks, guys likely to give you the best dollar value for your investment.

Tier 1: Starters ranked No. 1-10

While the top 10 names here are all universally accepted “safe pick” fantasy studs, not all will provide you with a good value for the upcoming fantasy season. Between luck and random events, even the best and most talented pitchers rarely end up being the most valuable. and thus you want to hedge risk and downside against upside and cost. Roy Halladay is going in round one, like it or not. Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and likely Josh Johnson will be off the board before pick 30. While these guys are bona fide studs, they are going to cost upwards of $35 or your first/second round pick. Even though the talent gap between these names and lower names in this tier like Jon Lester or Zack Greinke, who I recently profiled here, might be noticeable, the cost gap is significantly lower, increasing the potential return rate.

To win a fantasy league, you need to produce not the best stats, but the most balanced and above-average team. Accordingly, you do not need to sink high funds or your first overall pick, a potential five-category hitter, into a four-category pitcher like Halladay. At least, you shouldn’t do so unless you plan to gamble the rest of your starting staff with $1 fliers. Hence, “settling” is the best way to acquire a pitcher from this tier. Aim for Lester, Greinke or Haren in the fifth round, rather than Felix in the early second.

Among names on this list, I particularly like Greinke and Lincecum to provide the highest value per dollars invested. Lincecum is coming off his worst major league season, has seen his velocity decline over the past several seasons, and had a horrible regression in control last year. He also burned a lot of fantasy owners with a god-awful August line (7.82 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 27-to-13 K/BB ratio over 25.1 IP) that he more than made up for in September (1.94 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 52-to-8 K/BB over 41.2 IP). It was Lincecum’s worst season since his rookie year: He pitched “only” 212.1 innings of 3.43 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 9.79 K/9, 3.22 BB/9 baseball.

Still, beneath that nonetheless solid surface, Lincecum posted elite peripherals: a 3.21 xFIP (No. 5 among 92 qualified pitchers, on par with Wainwright and Johnson), a 3.15 FIP (No. 15) and a 3.46 tERA (No. 21). If that’s a down year, then sign me up. Lincecum will not come cheaply—he is inevitably off the board by the first few picks of round three—but this is probably the cheapest Lincecum will ever go for in a fantasy baseball draft while he is in his prime. It’s a better deal than paying a higher cost for Felix or Halladay when he’s at least as good as them with plenty of strikeout upside to spare.

Likewise, Greinke and Haren should come at tremendous values. Each are being drafted in the 50th overall range in mock drafts I have participated in, which is not “profitable,” but cheap enough to break-even, which is what you look for in your early round draft picks who anchor the team. Surprisingly, Greinke and Haren are being drafted after other solid, but less talented pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, David Price and Yovani Gallardo. That seems criminal in my mind.

Even more criminal is Mock Draft Central’s (MDC) current average draft position rankings. Wainwright is indexed at No. 55, behind all the above names. Even with the elbow concerns, that’s too low, and if that is the case on draft day for whatever reason, you pounce a full round earlier (fourth) and laugh at your opponents.

Tier 2: Starters ranked No. 11-20

Names No. 11 through 20 on this list have high ceilings but are less proven and offer more risk than their No. 1 through 10 counterparts. Each of these names could easily be top 10 by season end, but they could also be lower. From Carpenter’s lack of strikeouts and health problems and Francisco Liriano‘s up-and-down past and injury history to Clayton Kershaw‘s walk rate/flyball rate to Mat Latos’ limited sample, each of these has some perceivable flaw that is easily outweighed by upside. (Carpenter’s been a top flight ERA/WHIP/Wins starter when healthy. Liriano, if healthy and back to form, might be one of baseball’s five best starting pitchers, Kershaw’s strikeouts are elite, and Latos does everything right and plays in the perfect park (Petco) in front of a projected average-or-better defensive posture.)

I doubt that any “brand names” in this tier, including Carpenter, Justin Verlander and Jiminez, will be on the board by pick number 60. Likewise, last year’s most underrated pitching asset, Cole Hamels, is likely to go pretty high in 2011. Weaver might be a break-even pick, as his “brand name” and perpetual peripheral over-performance downside is likely to be outweighed by legitimate improvements in his pitching approach, detailed here.

Of the remaining names on this list, I particularly like Liriano, Scherzer, Latos and Hanson, in that order, as the most valuable picks of the tier. But hey, call me a sucker for strikeout upside.

Before his Tommy John surgery in 2007, Liriano was just ridiculous: 121 innings of 2.16 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 2.35 xFIP, 201-to-32 K/BB. On his road to recovery, 2008 was a sign of hope, but 2009 (5.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 1.88 K/BB, 4.87 FIP, 4.55 xFIP, 4.86 tERA) made many abandon hope. His ADP entering the season was ridiculously low for a potential bounce-back candidate, with Yahoo ranking him past No. 900, and he paid off for those who gambled on him, tossing 191.2 innings of 3.62 ERA, 14 win, 201-to-58 K/BB baseball with a solid 1.26 WHIP. Those numbers are strong, but a .340 BABIP on the season indicates room for improvement, while a look below the surface shows Liriano returning to his pre-Tommy John surgery form last year.

In 2010, Liriano posted a 2.66 FIP (No. 3 among 92 qualified starters last season), a 3.06 xFIP (No. 2, behind Halladay’s 2.92 mark), and a 2.93 tERA (tied with King Felix and Wainwright as one of only seven qualified pitchers who posted a tERA below 3.00). Perhaps I want to outbid myself in my fantasy leagues, as most of my league mates read my articles, but Liriano is going to be my ace target for 2011.

If not Liriano, why not Scherzer? Despite a rough start to the season, he was almost uncountably filthy after a brief minor league stint in May. The former first-round pick posted an insane 2.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and a 96-to-35 K/BB ratio in the second half (102 innings). Oliver likes Scherzer’s K/9 to sit right at 9.0 next season, which is entirely feasible given his 23 percent strikeout rate last season. Scherzer is another strong fantasy ace target and his ADP is somehow 205 right now on Mock Draft Central. Crazy, right?

Hanson and Latos are also good gambles with substantial upside and relatively low downside. We all know what Hanson’s minor league numbers look like and he showed a good ability to whiff hitters in 2009 (8.18 K/9) that somewhat eluded him in 2010 (7.68 K/9). Still, Hanson showed improved control last season (2.49 BB/9, from a 3.24 mark in 2009) and Oliver expects a rebound in the whiffs (expected 8.3 K/9 mark) next season. Hanson should provide a solid season akin to what he did in 2010, albeit with more strikeouts, and given his improved control, that is worth gambling on.

Latos also offers substantial upside. His fastball averages about 94 mph and he commands it well (2.44 BB/9 last season). He also induces a lot of swings-and-misses (9.21 K/9 last season, 11 percent swinging strike rate) while inducing a decent number of ground balls (44.7 percent mark in 2010). Petco is the place to pitch, and for this talented pitcher, it makes his upside that much better.

Tier 3: Starters ranked No. 21-30

Of this tier of pitchers, Ricky Nolasco is my clear “underrated guy.” I’ve been called a fool repeatedly over the past two seasons for continuously putting heavy stock into Nolasco’s numbers, but he is a pitching talent of the highest order, primed for a breakout.

Nolasco has underperformed based on his talent over the past two seasons. In 2009, Nolasco posted a 5.06 ERA, but a 3.35 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, and a 3.83 tERA. His strikeout rate (24.8 percent) was superior and although he was seemingly prone to the long ball despite a neutral GB/FB ratio, he limited hitters from becoming baserunners to the extent within his control (2.14 BB/9). What killed Nolasco in 2009 was poor luck, plain and simple. His left on base rate was 61 percent (the major league average was around 72 percent) and his BABIP-against was an inflated .336.

Last season was no kinder to Nolasco. His BABIP-against remained high at .328, and while his LOB percentage normalized, his homer per fly ball rate spiked at 12.4 percent. Nolasco continued to limit free passes in 2010, walking only 1.88 guys per nine ) and throwing a first pitch strike to essentially two out of every three batters. His swinging strike rate increased from 10.3 percent in 2009 to 10.5 in 2010, but his strikeout rate (22.1 percent) and K/9 (8.39) dipped slightly. I expect a rebound in strikeouts, still strong in 2010, in 2011.

Despite these strong peripherals in 2010, Nolasco’s surface stats unimpressed and his season was cut short by injury. Despite a 3.55 xFIP, 3.86 FIP, and 4.06 tERA (inflated by the HR/FB percentage), Nolasco’s ERA was well below league average at 4.51. Nolasco has been progressing well enough back from his injury that the penny-pinching Marlins offered him a three-year contract ($26.5 million). That is a positive sign that he will be ready to go full throttle by spring training.

Many have given up on Nolasco by now, burned by two under-performing seasons. His ERAs have been ugly, but his BABIP-inflated WHIPs have still been strong, at 1.25 in 2009 and 1.28 in 2010. While Nolasco might be a Javier Vazquez in his prime, perpetually underperforming, we all know how amazing Vazquez’s numbers looked when his surface stats did match his peripherals in 2007 and 2009. Nolasco deserves a chance, is likely to end the season as a top 20 pitcher, and should be bid upon accordingly.

The remainder of the names in this tier seem almost as risky as Nolasco, but offer more downside. Gallardo has elite strikeouts and solid groundball tendencies, but his control is poor and his WHIP is far from elite. As I tweeted on THT Fantasy a couple of weeks ago, the average ERA of a starter with a BB/9 greater than 4.00 over the past three seasons is 4.51. Of the 32 starters (minimum 150 innings) with BB/9s greater than 4.00 over this time frame, only Edinson Volquez, Rich Harden, Clayton Kershaw, C.J. Wilson, Carlos Zambrano and Gallardo have posted ERAs below 4.00.

Most of these pitchers’ ERAs are in the upper 3′s and the downside is more than apparent. This is not to say that pitchers like Gallardo are not valuable, but they offer appreciable risk to go with their upside. Gallardo is being drafted within the first five rounds according to MDC. That is way too high for the amount of risk he offers, irrespective of upside. While you can’t win a draft in the first few rounds, you certainly can lose it by stomaching too much risk.

Other names in this tier include Roy Oswalt (solid ratios, questionable strikeouts, and the concern that Citizens Bank Ballpark is the most home run inflating in baseball), Shaun Marcum (I love him, but he does not throw even 90 mph, is a flyball pitcher, and is only one year removed from serious injury), Chad Billingsley (his K/BB ratio keeps him from being unquestionably elite), David Price (Billingsley, only with fewer ground balls and pitching in the AL East), Hiroki Kuroda (strong ratios and solid strikeouts, but a perpetual injury risk playing in front of a poor defense), Colby Lewis (he carried my fantasy staff in 2010, but I have questions about his groundball rate and home ballpark effects), Brett Anderson (a young Roy Oswalt-type with strikeout upside pitching in spacious Oakland, but plagued by injuries over his first two major league seasons), and Jeremy Hellickson (a top 20-capable pitching talent who is likely going to see his innings limited (170 max?), even in light of the Matt Garza trade to Chicago, to help build arm strength and mitigate health risks, especially given the Rays’ pitching depth. Re-enter Andy Sonnanstine?).

Tier 4: Starters ranked No. 31-40

Matt Cain ranked 38? Yeah, that’s right. I hate Matt Cain. I wish I could justify slotting him even lower, but I can’t. Cain has poor control, gives up too many fly balls, and has seen his strikeout talents and induced-whiffs decline each of the past several seasons. His mid-4′s xFIPs seem like a ticking time bomb, waiting to screw someone over. Do not even try to cite Cain’s 2.46 BB/9 last season. Walk rates can be lucky and Cain’s F-Strike% (both for 2010 and his career), one of the largest components of future walk rates, does not support the “improved control” theory.

This tier is riddled with guys who are getting drafted ridiculously late in mocks according to MDC’s ADP data. Each has some higher risk than the previous tier, but offers at least one elite skill and much more upside than downside. For example, Jhoulys Chacin has control problems and pitches at Coors Field, but he induces an incredible number of ground balls and struck out 23.7 percent of batters he faced last season. He is one of my favorite 2011 pitchers.

Madison Bumgarner is also in this list. He’s been very up-and-down in both the majors and minors, but finished 2010 strong. His minor league numbers indicate strikeout upside, but let’s see where the velocity registers in 2011 before we crown him with top-25 potential.

Josh Beckett offers injury risk, “can’t pitch at home” (according to most analysis), and gives up a ton of fly balls. Still, Beckett has good control, strikes out a lot of batters, even in the AL East, and still throws 94-plus mph consistently. You know you want him, despite the tendency to underperform his peripherals.

I detailed Ted Lilly last month, so to avoid redundant rhetoric, just note his final expected line: 196 innings of 3.94 ERA, 174 strikeouts, 1.15 WHIP baseball.

Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy are two other names I really like for 2011. As dueling No. 2 starter types for the Diamondbacks, they are not Scherzer and Haren good, but solid arms nonetheless. Both probably give up way too many fly balls for Chase Field, particularly Kennedy, but strong strikeout rates and respectable control, particularly on the part of Kennedy, will keep their numbers strong.

Tier 5: Starters ranked No. 41-50

Once you reach pitcher No. 40 (Ryan Dempster), the upside of the available pitchers starts being limited to mostly three of the four starter categories. WHIP becomes particularly scarce here, though some of the injury-prone players in this tier (particularly Brandon Webb) could offer WHIP upside if you can stomach the injury risks. Likewise, Tim Hudson offers WHIP upside, but his lack of strikeouts is a real turn-off. I do not particularly believe in his WHIP either, but I have perpetually been wrong about it.

Most of the names in this tier are groundball pitchers with strikeout upside (Hudson excepted), capable of logging a high 3′s ERA. Floyd offers a high seven or low eight K/9 and some win opportunity with the reinvigorated White Sox lineup, while Jaime Garcia is a former top prospect who is finally staying healthy and is capable of above average strikeout totals. Ricky Romero and Gio Gonzalez had breakout years in 2010, but their control rates remain a mystery for the future. If they can continue to limit the walks, both pitchers should outperform their ranking on this list in 2011. Likewise, Travis Wood flashed a lot of potential in 2010, but his innings were of a small sample size and more major league data is needed before I can comfortably rank him higher.

Jordan Zimmerman is the wild card of this tier. On one hand, 2011 will be one more year removed from Tommy John surgery and he came back from surgery well in 2010, striking out 20 percent of the batters he faced, while walking only 10 (2.70 K/BB ratio). His velocity is also around where it was in 2009. Zimmerman could easily strike out 140-plus batters if given 150 or more innings next season, while posing a respectable WHIP and mid-to-high 3 ERA. Keep him on your radar on draft day, as his ADP is beyond 200 at this point.

Tier 6: Starters ranked No. 51-60

Tier 6 is where risk starts to settle in with upside. Pitchers like Clay Buchholz and Trevor Cahill have minor league numbers that show clear strikeout upside and offer strong groundball rates at the major league level, but the potential has not materialized beyond BABIP-induced luck. Both Cahill and Buchholz posted sub-3 ERAs in 2010 and will likely be overvalued in 2011. If neither steps forward in the strikeout department, owners will be disappointed. These two pitchers represent negative fantasy assets in my mind, their value (due to groundball rates) being much higher in real life than fantasy.

Wade Davis is a lot like Cahill in terms of strikeout upside with BABIP-induced luck last season, but he offers a lower groundball rate and plays in the AL East rather than spacious Oakland.

I like Marc Rzepczynski, aka The Repo Man, a lot in terms of what he can do (high strikeouts, decent WHIP, sub-4 ERA), but the Blue Jays have shown little faith in his abilities. Whether he has fantasy value next season will hinge largely upon whether he breaks camp as the Blue Jays’ No. 4 starter behind Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Ricky Romero. He is the second most talented Jays pitcher in my view.

C.J. Wilson is another groundball machine with poor control, but I question his strikeout abilities. His transition from reliever to starter came with a huge whiff rate tumble (from 10.2 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent in 2010). His K/9 remained above average despite being below average in whiff-inducement last season. Additionally, only Jonathan Sanchez (96) walked more batters than Wilson’s 93 free passes. Considering the arm stress of going from 73.2 innings in 2009 to 204 innings in 2010 at age 30, a lot of question marks surround Wilson’s 2011 potential.

My favorite two names in this tier are Matusz and James Shields. I repeatedly mentioned last year that Matusz was giving up way too many flyballs for an AL East pitcher whose home ballpark inflates the homers-per-fly ball rate by 19 percent and for not striking out enough hitters, despite strong control. Matusz, however, finished the season strong and improved his whiffs toward season end. As one of the minors’ top prospects prior to 2010, Matusz could take that leap forward next season, despite underwhelming first-half numbers. I always regret not taking Tim Lincecum in 2008 because of his 2007 performance (I ignored his minor league track), and while Matusz is no Lincecum, he could finish top 30-40 among starting pitchers next season and cost you a mere flier in shallower leagues.

Like Ricky Nolasco, Shields could provide owners with a lot of value after underperforming his statistics in 2010. A WHIP machine in 2007 and 2008, Shields took a slight step back in 2009 with slightly regressed (but still elite) control (2.13 BB/9) and some poor BABIP-against luck (.317 mark). Last season saw Shields greatly improve his whiff talent, with a career-best 8.28 K/9. Shields’ xWHIP for last season is barely under 1.20, which shows that he has a lot of room for luck-correction in 2011. Still, Shield has seen his whiff rate fall each of the past two seasons and he posted a career best K/9 despite a career low swinging strike rate. He is not without risk.

Garza also ranks in this tier with his move to the NL (previously ranked in the low 60s on the Rays), but that does not mean that I like him. This is just a recognizance that he continuously outperforms his peripherals. He, like new teammate Zambrano, has not posted an ERA of 4.00 over the past three seasons. However, Garza is not a special pitcher, by any metric. Garza does not strike batters out (K/9 of 6.6 or lower in two of the past three seasons). He has a 4.17 career tERA, 4.45 career xFIP, 4.26 career FIP, and his career ERA is essentially 4.00 on the dot (3.97). He has average control at best (career 3.17 BB/9) that has improved of late, I suppose, being below league average in two of the past three seasons (but 3.50 in 2009). Garza throws hard (career 93.3 mph fastball), but he has also become an increasingly flyball-oriented pitcher.

If Garza continues to outperform his peripherals, he might make a decent fourth or fifth starting pitcher for someone’s fantasy roster, but he’s not a top target. Thanks to his high infield-fly induction rate, Garza’s defense independent expected WHIP for the Cubs (using 2008-2010 data) is somewhere between 1.30 and 1.36. Garza is a lock to be drafted well above what he is going to be worth. His brand-name cost, as it did for the Cubs in real life, will easily outweigh his production.

Tier 7: Starters ranked No. 61-70

If you draft a pitcher from tier 7, you’d better have a WHIP anchor. These are pitchers without control, but with strikeout upside. Jonathan Sanchez, Brandon Morrow, and Jorge de La Rosa all have 200-strikeout potential, but will likely post WHIPs north of 1.35. Zambrano has never posted an ERA of 4.00 or higher, but his xFIP has been consistently in the mid-4′s range each of the last four seasons. While Zambrano has rekindled his strikeouts over the past two seasons, his improved control of recent memory has gone out the window. That would be all fine if Zambrano were inducing groundballs over half of the time like he was in 2003 and 2004, but he is not.

There are also a handful of injury-prone names in this list. Outside Zambrano, who has not logged 190 innings since 2007, Brett Myers, Harden, Johan Santana and Javier Vazquez all present appreciable innings risks. Santana is set to start the season on the disabled list, has not been an elite peripheral pitcher (or struck out a good number of batters) since 2007, and has had season-ending surgery each of the past two years. Likewise, Rich Harden (moved down two spots, and hence a tier, in my rankings update) is Rich Harden, has always had control issues, and while the flyball-prone pitcher is back in spacious Oakland where he started his career, he had issues striking guys out last year when healthy. Oliver expects a K/9 rebound, but who knows how many innings Harden can last next season.

Vazquez is a particular pitcher of concern. He’s getting old and while he’s been a healthy workhorse before 2010, pitching 2,163 innings over the past 10 years may have taken its toll on Vazquez’s arm. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs gave a detailed explanation of why Vazquez’s past form is probably not returning.

There’s also Brett Myers, whose velocity has eroded in recent years. He could be better than his rank, but again, this is Brett Myers we’re talking about. I do not trust him as a source of innings, strikeouts, WHIP or ERA, but hey, I said the same thing last year. Take that cop-out analysis for what it’s worth.

Tier 8: Starters ranked No. 71-80

Tier 8 is when pitchers largely thin out into two-category “hole fillers” and spot starters, rather than reliable staff mainstays. There is a lot of risk in this tier, and these players’ peripherals should be closely monitored if you roster them.

Some may question my low rankings of Reds Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Cueto is ranked this low because his ever-declining and below-average F-Strike percentage does not inspire confidence in a sustained walk rate of quality (2.71 BB/9 in 2010) going forward. Additionally, while Cueto’s above-average swing-and-miss rate (career 9 percent) inspires hope for improved strikeouts in the future, his K/9 is nonetheless lackluster (below 7.0 in each of the past two seasons), while his neutral flyball tendencies are hardly inspiring at the Great American Ballpark (1.19 HR/FB index).

Volquez, on the other hand, seems to offer more downside risk than upside hope. While his post-Tommy John surgery velocity is strong (93.6 mph fastball in 2010 is on par with his career rate), he lacks control (career 4.68 BB/9) and was not particularly sharp last season (5.03 BB/9). While Volquez is an elite source of strikeouts (career 8.69 K/9) and a good source of ground balls (career 46 percent rate), his lack of command over his electric 3.5 pitch mix (he rarely throws that slider these days) could give owners a heart attack. Volquez is not recommended for head-to-head leagues, where consistency is the key to winning, but even Rotisserie owners might want to spot start him for strikeouts and wins rather than toss him out regularly every five days.

Other questionable names on this list are Drabek and Ervin Santana. The former is one of baseball’s premier pitching prospects, but his major league equivalent numbers in the upper minors do not inspire a higher ranking yet and he will have to take a few steps forward in his game before proving he belongs in the upper tier of starting pitcher rankings. Santana, on the other hand, shows signs of being less than what he used to be. While he had a nice fantasy season last year, returning from performance limiting injuries in 2009 (17 wins, 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 2010), his peripherals looked more like his pre-2008 numbers and in light of his career averages, 2008 may have been the fluke, not the step forward. Santana is a wild card in my view, worth a flier, but my expectations for him are tempered. Oliver seems to concur.

Of the other names in this tier, Bud Norris is likely a good spot start or stream option for periodic strikeouts, while Justin Masterson shows top-of-the-rotation potential mixed in with an absolute inability to deal with lefty batters. Kevin Slowey was once a high-potential guy, but nowadays is just a WHIP stabilizer due to an overwhelming diet of fly balls and ever-eroding groundball rate that cannot be offset by either his elite career walk rate of 1.50 BB/9 or strong control (4.57 career K/BB). Oh, and I do not believe in Jair Jurrjens one bit. His peripherals indicate a likely line that is hardly fantasy-useful.

Tier 9: Starters ranked No. 81-90

The names on this list not only contribute in only one or two fantasy categories, but they start hurting you in others. Joel Pineiro might contribute some ERA/WHIP upside, but will kill your strikeout rate, which can be crippling in innings-capped leagues. Daisuke Matsuzaka Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson are likely good for a few strikeouts and wins, but they will destroy your ERA/WHIP in the process. Chris Young is outside Petco, where the super majority of his fantasy-useful numbers came from. Unless Young signs with the Mets, you might want to avoid him except when he plays in those spacious ballparks. Derek Lowe and Carl Pavano might provide average ERAs and some wins, but they will, like Pineiro, kill your strikeout rate.

Two names on this list stand out as potential bounce-back candidates and are the ideal targets if you must reach for this tier: former Red Aaron Harang and current Red Homer Bailey. Harang is now pitching in spacious Petco, which is ideal for his flyball-heavy style. No longer capable of being abused by Dusty Baker, Harang could bounce back to his high-seven strikeout form and end up a top 50 or better starter. His arm might also be useless, given the abuse Baker infamously dealt to it in 2008. Harang is not ranked higher, despite his upside, because 2009 and 2010 showed us the downside that modern Harang is capable of. Still, his 2006-2007 potential gives us a glimmer of hope.

Baily is another interesting name, as a former top prospect. Bailey has seen both his strikeout talent and walk rate erode as he rose through the upper minors and while his strikeout (8.26 K/9) and walk numbers (3.30 BB/9) were strong in 2010, (3.91 xFIP), Oliver does not believe the 24-year old will sustain them in 2011. Given Bailey’s pre-2010 struggles with higher level batters between the majors and Triple-A and the limited sample (109 innings) that 2010 gave us, I am proceeding cautiously with him. Bailey could end the season much higher than his ranking, but I would not place too much money in his risky stock.

Tier 10: Starters ranked No. 91-100

Here, we find the dregs—guys who might be useful if the fates smile kindly upon them. I do not like any of the names in this tier, but some have a relatively recent record of success that could re-emerge next season. I find the likelihood remote.

John Lackey was once a very useful starter, but his peripherals have been eroding for a few seasons now and 2010 saw him collapse. At age 33, there is little upside left in Lackey’s stock. Likewise, Joe Blanton has always been a Carl Pavano-type pitcher who had a great 2008, but has not shown himself capable of repetition. His below-average strikeout rate is hardly offset by a solid walk rate, while neutral flyball tendencies tend not to play well in baseball’s most home-run exaggerating ballpark. I suppose Felipe Paulino‘s strikeout potential might be useful for a few turns, but do you really want to take that gamble?

Oliver seems to like Mike Leake, but he skipped the minors and did not flash much whiff tendency in the majors last season (5.92 K/9). His groundball rate (50.2 percent) and walk rate (3.19 BB/9) were strong and average, which is nice for a guy who is barely 23, but he is going to have to show that he is capable of something more than the the 4.23 ERA, 4.31 xFIP, and 1.50 WHIP he posted in 138.1 major league innings last season before I rank him higher. xWHIP 2.0 believes that Leake’s performance was worth a 1.29 WHIP last season, while Quick xWHIP thinks it more akin to 1.40. Leake posted a .319 BABIP-against last season, and since he skipped the minors, there is much uncertainty surrounding his “true talent” line. Keep Leake in mind as the season progresses, but he should not be on your roster following your league’s draft.

I hope this behemoth of a post was useful. If you have questions, comments or criticisms, about the above analysis or regarding any players in particular, please post them in the comments below and I will respond the best I can. Tune in next week, for the final set of preseason rankings—relief pitchers.

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Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @aladou,

    Two ways, probably:
    1) HR/FB is not the same as HR index. I use HR/FB to evaluate pitchers, HR to evaluate hitters.
    2) Where did you get your PF data?

    I looked at the updated 4-year data set (07-10) from what I believe is game day: 1.26 HR factor for RHB, .87 PF for LHB.

  2. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Ranking Matt Cain at #38 is about as blatantly biased as you can possibly get.  How many years in a row does he have to outperform your favorite calculated stat to convince you it’s not him, it’s the stat that has flaws?  I guess if you keep on perseverating on one prediction long enough he’s bound to eventually have a down year so you can crow about how “I told you so!”  Just unbelieveable!

  3. Will said...

    I keep trying to convince myself that Halladay is overrated, most recently thinking that he will get even more love than reasonable because the reason the phillies are even better now (Lee) has no real effect on Halladay (obviously) but that might slip through the unconscious of some drafters. That said, I don’t know, the lineup’s age isn’t good, but neither is the prospect of them loosing so many at bats, while Werth’s departure may herald an even better replacement in Brown. Finally, Halladay himself may be one more year into his thirties, but apparently that just means he has had more time to master yet one more pitch. Wow.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @aladou,

    Again, HR factors are different from HR/FB indicies. Now that I’ve been awake for more than an hour, I realize I should have just said that to begin with.

  5. Will said...

    In a couple more agreements, I relish spending pennies for J. Chacin and T. Wood and only a bit more to take Sherzer again. Maybe Zimm(nn), as well… combine those with a “composite ace” of three setup guys (say Adams, Kuo and Gregerson), you can still reach for an ace and keep the overall cost down when you take advantage of such good dirt-cheap talent.

    I would put Johnson below guys like Lester, though, because even though I rode him last year, an Uggla-less Marlins team is going to provide him with even fewer wins. And I’m not sure why the immense guy between Scherzer and a guy like de la Rossa. And finally, in deeper leagues guys like Piniero with his now depandable GB% while pitching on a strong infield-D team makes him worth more in terms of the pretty sure stability he should provide.

    Good stuff, though.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @DrBGiantsfan,

    1) My ranking of a Giants pitcher is not “biased.” My biases apply to the Cubs/A’s and perhaps, as a result, their respective divisions.
    2) Matt Cain saw his SwStr% fall off a cliff last year and he took a large step back in first pitch strike rate (from 61.2% to 59.3%, 58.8% MLB-avg). Yet, somehow, he posted his career best walk rate and rebounded some in K/9 and K%. Does. Not. Compute. We’ll see how Cain ends his 2011 season. Note that Carlos Zambrano has also outperformed his career peripherals every year, yet he is also ranked very low (despite no seasons with a 4.00 or higher ERA). Still not going to tell everyone Zambrano is a sub-4 ERA stud. Take that for bias!

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Will

    I agree with you that the Phillies offense is not very inspiring in my estimation, but I expect big things from Dominic Brown in 2011, enough to offset the loss of Werth. Still, Rollins is not very good, Howard has been declining in skill for 2.5 seasons (especially look at his LHP/RHP splits, O-Swing%), and Ibanez is…well…terrible.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Will,

    Thanks. In auction, I’m paying for Greinke/Johnson as my ace, Scherzer, Hellboy, Liriano (maybe, depends on cost), Latos (depending on cost), Nolasco, Kuroda, Chacin, Beckett, Hudson and Zimmerman. I’m a little shaky on Wood.

    Also, Re: Johnson, the Uggla-less Marlins are also that much defensively better…ERA offset.

  9. Lou Struble said...

    Seems odd that you’d go with Rzepczynski over Morrow. They have similar walk rates and Morrow has top-tier stuff.  He seemed to turn the corner around mid-season.  #55 almost seems like the ceiling for Rzepczynski, whereas Morrow could easily find himself in the top-20 if he picks up where he left off.

  10. Will said...

    A last thing on Philly’s offense: the rest of the division didn’t seem to really get better this offseason, either, for what it’s worth (oh, boy oh boy, imagine my joy as a Nat’s fan when they got Laroche!

  11. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Lou,

    Let me quote something Brad Johnson said a month ago, because it perfectly encapsulates what I have often already said:

    “I can tell you what Jeff G would say about Morrow, fewer first pitch strikes + fewer walks = something fishy.”

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Lou,

    And I’m a big proponent of The Repo Man. While I do not perse think he has better stuff than morrow, i think he has better command. And thats the difference maker. I agree morrow’s upside is higher, but the likelihood that he reaches said upside is lower

  13. Lou Struble said...

    It’s pretty clear why Morrow is throwing fewer first pitch strikes… 2009 he threw a 1st pitch fastball 75% of the time.  In 2010 he threw a 1st pitch fastball only 54% of the time.  I really have no clue why he changed his strategy but I’ve read a few articles about his growing confidence.  It seems like he might be starting to trust his stuff and he’s realized that falling behind 1-0 isn’t the end of the world.

  14. Scott Clarkson said...

    Brett Cecil says hello. He put up a 4.03 FIP last year in the AL East at 23-24 years old. He has great minor league peripherals and throws 4 pitches. He’s a better fantasy bet than at least 10 guys on this list.

  15. Tito said...

    @ Jeffrey,

    It seems negligible to overlook Brett Cecil, while including four other projected starters for the Jays. Albeit, wins are not predictive of future success, but for a young player in the AL East to win 15 games against the powerhouses over there, he’s got to be doing something right. Interesting fact: Cecil’s minor league numbers are actually “better” than David Price’s. I don’t advocate drafting him anywhere near Price, but the point is that he may surprise a few folks still.

  16. Jeffrey Gross said...

    You could make an argument for Cecil in the 85-100 range, but my omission of him was intentional.

    Cecil does not strike batters out (9.2% SwStr% last season, but no whiff talent in the upper minors), has average-at-best control (below average 57% F-Strike% last season, 55.9% career), and is not a particularly special groundball pitcher (1.15 GB/FB ratio).

    Sure, he might have some ERA upside potential (though i do not think a high 3/low 4 ERA is upside), but he profiles as a below average WHIP pitcher too.

    i peg Cecil for a 4.10 ERA, a 7 K/9 and a 1.35 WHIP, at best. The guys I have ranked 85-100 either have a specialized talent or offer better upside (even if they have a bigger downside)

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Other factors keeping me from ranking him higher include the Jays poor defense and being too lazy to update the list to swap out say Joe Blanton for Cecil

  18. Lou Struble said...

    By no means am I saying that it’s ideal to fall behind 1-0.  But if you look at big strike out pitchers like Lincecum and Ubaldo they both have low 1st pitch strike rates and they are able to battle back. And is Morrow lowering his 1st pitch strike rate from 55.3 to 53.3 really even a significant drop? I really don’t know what would be considered significant but wouldn’t that really only translate to 10-15 additional batters over the course of the season?

  19. Scott Clarkson said...

    Fair enough Jeffrey, thanks for the informative response. Just curious: are you basing your expected numbers for Cecil off of Oliver projections? I’ve only seen the Bill James and Fangraphs projections. You make a very valid point about his inability to generate swinging strikes.

  20. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Lincecum and Ubaldo are also not control pitchers. Ubaldo has poor control and lincecum has average control

  21. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Scott,

    That was just my unscientific gut feeling.

    Bill James: 4.12 ERA, 7.12 K9, 1.39 WHIP (177 IP)
    Oliver: 4.20 ERA, 6.5 K9, 1.37 WHIP (200 IP)

  22. James said...

    “Matt Cain saw his SwStr% fall off a cliff last year and he took a large step back in first pitch strike rate (from 61.2% to 59.3%, 58.8% MLB-avg).”

    His SwStr% was at 8.4, which isn’t that far off from his career mark of 8.7, and which is a number he’s posted with success before. And his one-season drop of 1.9% in first-pitch strikes over 896 batters isn’t within standard deviation? Because he still beat his career mark of 58.2 and the MLB average. It’s almost like you want to find evidence to support xFIP.

    If you wanted to remain intellectually honest, you could have noticed the drop in BB/9 and the rise in swings generated outside the strike zone, which would indicate better command both in and out of the strike zone.

    Or you could take xFIP out for a nice dinner, give it a few glasses of wine, and ask it back to your apartment. And then, well, you know. If all goes well, don’t forget to send me a “Save the Date!” for the wedding.

  23. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @James,

    The league average SwStr% is 8.6, and the league average K rate is 7 per nine. Those numbers essentially accord with his 2010 strikeout production, which was underwhelming

    Regarding his FStrike%, my only point is that he is not superior in control. His 2.5 BB/9 mark seemed to be a fluke and i expect something closer to the 3.37 career mark of his, probably around 3.1

  24. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @James,

    The point here is Cain is no ace. He’s a solid pitcher, but not top 20 or even top 30. In real life, there are about 35-40 MLB pitchers (non-prospects) I would rather have than him

  25. Don said...

    In a 6X5 (plus OPS) keeper league (no restrictions, can keep indefinitely) would you rather have Lincecum or Howard?

  26. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Jeffrey,

    Your comp of Carlos Zambrano with Cain is laughable.  Zambrano has had significant physical and mental health problems over the last two years. If he had a high liklihood of good health going forward, he would, in fact, be a sub 4.00 ERA stud. As it is, he has never hand an ERA>4.00 and will probably be sub-4.00 in 2011.

    Cain’s BB/9 has shown a downward progression over the last 3 years, his HR rates and LOB rates have remained essentially stable.  He has shown a relatively unique ability to induce weak flyball contact throughout his career.  He is entering the prime years of his career with an excellent track record of good health.  He will have a much better offense behind him than at any time in his career.

    Cain should be slotted in the 20-25 range.

    I think you said it yourself, “I hate Matt Cain and wish I could have ranked him lower.”  THAT kind of bias has no place in a serious baseball discussion! You are doing a disservice to readers who may depend on your rankings in their fantasy drafts.

  27. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @DrBGiantsfan

    Cain absolutely should not be slotted in the 20-25 spot, let alone before #35. He is not in any respect better than Ubaalo, Gallardo, Oswalt, Nolasco (more Ks, better prospective WHIP, one day his ERA will come down), Hellboy (better than price, just less innings this year), or Marcum (Ted Lilly-type with a higher upside and youth)

    Cain’s BB/9 has shown a downward progression over the last 3 years, but his F-Strike% took a hit last year, being essentially league average. Cain’s peripherals peg him as a pitcher with average, not superior, control. His BB/9 will return to the 3+ area unless that Fstrike% improves.

    The only thing Cain has done consistently in his career is outperform the regressed HR/FB% rate. The research on HR/FB% is still very young, but all signs point to a regression toward 11.5% (plus park factors). I cannot explain why his HR/FB for his career is 7%, be it a skill or luck, but I do not trust it His LOB% has also been quite above the MLB average the past few years, despite consistency. I chalk this up to the Giants defense, which is solid.

    Cain does get slightly more than average popups induced (10.1% in 2008-2009, 16% last season), but outside of last year and 2006, it is nothing special.

    Now when I say I wish I could have ranked him lower, I mean that I think Matt Cain very likely could be outside the top 40 in 2011. Still, given his track record, I could not honestly slot him outside the top 40.

    Let me make it clear: Matt Cain is a player I am not drafting next year. The same goes for Chris Carpenter, Yovani Gallardo, David Price, Jaime Garcia, Ricky Romero, Tim Hudson, Clay Buchholz, and Matt Garza.

  28. Dan said...

    If I was the boss of Hardball times , I would fire you after seeing this list. This is to put it mildly, a terrible list after the top 20. Nolasco,Wood,Zimmerman, Webb,Rzep,Beckett,Drabek as well as a few others , way too high.  Too low include; Danks,Cain,E. Jackson, Cahill, Morrow and others. Cecil should easily make the list. Randy Wolf should be on the list. Mark Buerhle should be top 100.
      I will have to send this list to some of my league mates and hope they follow it.

    Dan

  29. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Why should Randy Wolf or Mark Buehrle be on these lists? Both are 4.00+ ERA baseline pitchers with 0 strikeout talent. They will murder your K rate, which kills you in a innings limit league. They also have mediocre WHIP talents too. They may be on team’s with solid offenses, but if we are going to rank pitchers by their “maybe they win games” index, well, then you might as well not be reading this article to begin with

  30. Joel said...

    Felipe Paulino is on the Rockies now (traded for Barmes), does that affect his top 100 ranking?

    It could arguably be better (better offense, defense) or worse (home park factors even in the Humidor Era)

  31. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Jeffrey,

    You simply admit that XFIP does not adequately measure a certain type of pitcher, namely, power pitchers who are able to work up in the strike zone. 

    Since you are unable to explain Cain’s HR/FB%, let me do it for you.  Matt Cain consistently works up in the strike zone with a power fastball that has a bit of a “hop” to it.  This induces an extraordinary number of foul offs which have tended to run up his pitch counts in the past.  It also induces higher than average number of pop-ups, both to the IF and shallow OF.  Those pop-ups and high, shallow flies are easy outs, do not allow runners to advance and have no chance of carrying over the fence for HR’s.

    Your stubborn, slavish dependence on a flawed stat prevents you from correctly evaluating pitchers like Matt Cain, Carlos Zambrano and a handful of others.

  32. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I do not think the move to coors much affects his value. He was a stream option for strikeouts to begin with. This just means your stream him a little less. Plus, now he gets to play a handful more games at petco, dodgers stadium, and AT&T park

  33. Will Hatheway said...

    I think I’m waving the white flag with Nolasco. I’ve waited for the regression for a couple years now, but while I can’t give a great explanation, I have a hunch as to why he might just be getting hit hard instead of unluckily: from what I’ve seen, his fastball has really flattened out, and I think he’s seen it too, since he uses it less and less; without one consistent weapon, batters may be able to focus on his offspeed stuff without worrying about an unmoving heater that they can hit with authority. Just a guess…

    I have to say I don’t get the horror that Zimmermann cracks the top 50. I have watched him for a couple years now, and he has elite potential in his stuff, so it’d be quite plausible if he broke into the top 25 … though he still has to prove it, so I think the ranking is solid. Lambasting lesser known younger guys just because their current line doesn’t look all that great can’t be done in a vacuum. If you saw a couple of his games when he came back in which he just dominated the opposing lineups, you’d agree.

  34. Jeffrey Gross said...

    If I had to break the top 50 or so names down into tiers by talent, they would look like this;

    1-5, 6-11, 12-19, 20-25, 26-31, 32-39, 40-44, 45-52

  35. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I also cant say outone outside the top 76 names (Ervin Santana being the cutoff) is more than a stream option

  36. Will said...

    Just to be clear, I’m pretty sure I’m reaching for a reason to dismiss Nolasco!

    Oh, I was going to suggest earlier doing tiers, as I’m sure that’s what most do when preparing for the draft so that if one target gets too expensive you know who else would suffice as an equivalent… so I think your addition helps.

    Another question: where can I find studies on first pitch %? I always look at plate discipline data but never systematically, so I don’t really know what matters in what ways… any info would be appreciated. (On a side note, I do wish that FG would have an option to look at that section in terms of % above/below average, since the baseline for many of those stats changes a whole lot year to year).

    Finally, I meant to ask: I’m interested as to why you have more confidence in Chacin than Wood. As I said, I’m planning on targeting both, but I’m just kind of lumping them into a type of tier without scrutinizing which one is a better pick, mainly because I know next to nothing about them.

  37. Will said...

    (sorry to fill up the board, but I put today aside to compile my own wish list and projections so the wheels just happen to be spinning on this topic today)

    So I’ve read up through 50, and I can see more why you prefer Chacin over Wood. Thanks for pointing out the GB%, especially. And let me add more to your point: Wood’s GB% is very low, and plays in the Reds’ park. Finally, most of Colorado’s poor defense is in the outfield, so combined with Chacin’s groundball proficiency the poor effect from the fielders is mitigated.

    I would like to share the counter argument with you, though, and see if their distance is really as much as your tiers suggest (at the head of the 6th vs. the 8th … though I’m hardly saying that you’re depicting a huge gap): Your main issue with Woods was sample size, but there is barely a difference between the two in that regard. Next, Woods’ FBs are mitigated somewhat by a very strong outfield defense. Then there is the issue of control: I too love Ks, and there Chacin clearly wins, but I can’t ignore that from AAA to the majors, Woods’ really put some distance in K/BB, suggesting a good deal better ERA and WHIP.
      In the end, I guess I prefer Chacin with his GB% and Ks, but because of Woods’ probable ratios could almost flip a coin. Thoughts?

  38. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @PG,

    Maybe. I do not see the step forward in Ks, which is why I have his ranked where he is, but if you expect it, I can understand his higher rank

  39. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I think that if Travis Wood does what he is capable of doing for a full year, he’ll move up a tier into the 40-50 range. Maybe it’s a bias, but I value strikeout guys most because even if their ratios are bad, theyll provide you with the Ks, whereas a GB pitcher on a bad day gives you nothing. Honestly, I realize Wood is more flyball oriented in a OF defense park, but that does not mitigate the higher expected HR total.

    I will always take the guy with K/ERA upside over the guy with WHIP/ERA upside. That’s why I am not the biggest Tim Hudson fan.

    It should probably be noted that I am like the Chicago Cubs circa 2000-2009. I routinely finish my fantasy leagues top in both K totals and K/9.

  40. PG said...

    Well done. The only thing that jumps out at me is John Danks, who seems underrated. Even if he just repeats his season, it’s worth more than where he is. I also think it’s easy to forget how young he is, and I have him pegged as a serious candidate to make a giant step forward. John Danks in 2011 is my pick to be the Jered Weaver of 2010.

  41. Calvin said...

    Jeffrey,

    To me Jason Hammel at #59 is a pleasant shock, as I had him spot-starting in my keeper league roster the last 2 years. Any detailed analysis as to why he is ahead of guys like Morrow, which you have discussed quite a bit?

  42. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Andrew,

    The draft was moved back to this sunday due to technical difficulties. Following the draft, we will be doing a four-part article where everyone explains who they picked by round and why. Send me an email and I can set you up as a non-participating observer if you are interested in seeing who we draft live.

  43. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Calvin,

    I like Morrow and have drafted him for three years running, but he has literally no control. His improved control in the second half last year seemed smoke and mirrors oriented, as his F-Strike% dropped as his BB/9 was coming down. Somethings fishy on his end.

  44. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @All,

    When I say in my BB/9-to-Fstrike% article that a 1% change has an x% change effect, I do not mean from 60% Fstrike% to 59% f-strike%. I am referring to the elasticity!

  45. Joel said...

    I’m surprised Bronson Arroyo isn’t on the list. He’s an innings monster (200+ last 6 seasons and 215+ last 2 seasons, how many SP can claim either stat?), has managed to win 15 or more games that last 3 seasons and had a fantastic WHIP last season (1.15).

    Not saying that all rankings should copy one another but as a point of comparison, Arroyo is ranked 67th on Tristan Cockroft’s 2011 list.

    I just looked it up and in my points league he ranked 32nd (coincidentally) in both 2009 and 2010 (mostly due to the innings factor and low whip). I’m not saying he should be anywhere nearly that highly ranked, but somewhere between 61st and 80th seems appropriate.

  46. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Joel,

    You make a good point. Not that I think Arroyo repeats any of those numbers, but even with no strikeouts, he is valuable enough to warrant a placing around Joel Pinero. My gut said beware and I have a man-crush on strikeouts (which Arroyo utterly lacks), but Oliver forecasts 210 IP of 12 W, 4.05 ERA, 1.29 WHIP baseball (5.5 K/9). Bill James is just as optimistic, though he expects a 3.92 ERA.

    Accordingly, I will update him as my #86 or so starter. I guess Felipe Paulino bit becomes moot now. I still like him for the periodic K stream, however, I guess….

    Keep in mind, by the way, that the bottom 25 or so pitchers on this list are largely a dart throw. These are volatile pitchers with lots of downside, often outweighing upside, and just because one guy is ranked 89 and the other 78 does not mean thats what their value will per se be, just which player I would prefer over the other.

  47. Voidoid said...

    <Just looking at K/BB/GB, Matt Cain is James <Shields without the superior control

    @Jeffrey

    ..and doesn’t pitch in the AL East

  48. Calvin said...

    @Jeffrey,

    Enough Morrow here, I guess I did not make myself clear…

    My interest is actually on Jason Hammel, and I would like to see a few lines on him. With the price of $1 in my deep keeper league he seems keepable even if he is down in the #70-80 range, but #59 is quite a surprise. Anything to say about him?

  49. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I think he’s an underrated ptcher capable of 7-8 K/9 numbers with a high 3 ERA and serviceable WHIP. I liked him back when he was on the rays and his GB% is solid enough to let him thrive in coors. I am concerned about the drop in SwSr% last season, however.

  50. Paul said...

    DrB,

    the point I was making is that this is basically Jeff’s SP cheat sheet.

    He is high on the FIP (Nolasco) types, low on the ‘poor peripherals’ types

    He at least puts his money where his mouth is, with agressive ranking (and gets plenty of comments/traffic to his posts), he might as well not rank Cain as #38 means he will never get him, but that is too controversial.

    The ‘bargain’ issue is that Jeff is telling you (rightly or wrongly) that Cain’s type of pitcher will at some point have fantasy value in line with his peripherals…but you will have to pay Cain ace price – i.e. you pay ~#20 price whether he performs like a #20 or #38.

    the Nolascos ‘should’ be undervalued relative to their ‘talent as measured by FIP’ – thus you should pay #40-50(?) price for a guy who may perform like a #20 (or a #120)

    For me what is see in this list is that i don’t really love many of the #25-40 guys at all

  51. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Voidoid and Jeffrey,

    You guys just go ahead and draft James Shields and I’ll hang onto Matt Cain as my one of my keepers.  We’ll see who comes out ahead.

  52. Anthony said...

    Judging by these rankings, i’m going to guess you don’t do too well in your fantasy baseball leagues each year. Some of these rankings are downright terrible, i’d rather roll with Yahoo’s! so-called expert rankings over these. Awful.

  53. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Anthony,

    Of the money leagues I have recently participated in, I have placed 1st, 1st, 4th, and 1st.

    In fact, I have never placed below 4th in a league I actually paid attention in, and I play 12+ team leagues.

    But you are entitled to your opinion.

  54. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Matt Cain Lovers:

    Here are Matt Cain’s expected numbers using both a 11.5% HR/OFFB% factor and his two-year 9.1% HR/OFFB factor, assuming you believe that his lower number represents his true talent:

    11.5%:
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ILi2YcJWxcM/TTSTDuvyMUI/AAAAAAAAAik/0ToiPa3L6xM/s1600/Screen+shot+2011-01-17+at+1.06.40+PM.png

    9.1%:
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_ILi2YcJWxcM/TTSTDHSicFI/AAAAAAAAAic/rX1-3XnKN0Y/s1600/Screen+shot+2011-01-17+at+1.01.36+PM.png

    Note that even with a 9.1% HR/FB factor, tERA, which measures actual ball in play events still expects a poor outcome for Matt Cain: 4.46. In fact, it’s only xFIP of the two formulas that tends to like Matt Cain if his true HR/FB% is 9%.

    Now, if Cain’s HR/FB% were actually 7%, then the expected tERA would be 4.16.

    Again, nothing of this is dispositive and its possible I put the wrong values in the calculator. Just more insight into my thought process

  55. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Ignore that last comment, the runs values were off.
    The correct values are

    11.5% HR/FB:
    4.57 tERA, 4.14 xFIP

    9.1% HR/FB:
    4.30 tERA, 3.86 xFIP

    7.0% HR/FB:
    4.00 tERA, 3.55 xFIP

  56. Paul said...

    Jeffrey,

    thanks for the list, know these things take a bit of time to compile smile

    It’s great that you are active in engaging & defending your list, but for your sanity, just understand that it is a forgone conculsion for people to disagree (hopefully in a kind way) – a top 100 SP list is never going to be accurate – in fact you could do it ‘after the season’ and there would still be disagreements!

    The main arguments i see are the 2 camps on the different sides of ‘FIP’.  One camp belives in the ‘Cain-like pitchers’ ability to exert some control over how the ball is hit (I guess Felix is also partly in this camp), the other is in the Nolasco-like camp that belives with fundamentally sound peripherals will come the fantasy era reward (though I’m still waiting for Matt Bush to help me).

    The thing is that the guys who have outperformed their peripherals won’t come cheap anyway (because the headline era is good) – unless you play with 11 SABR guys, whereas the guys like Nolasco/Beckett etc.. should be cheap (unless they get unduly overhyped as rebound candidates)

    But the upshot that investing in high K, low BB SP with room to grow or coming cheap off a bad season is a good take home message.

    I don’t think anyone in a serious league gets Scherzer cheap this year – you will have to pay top 20 prices to get him – and i haven’t seen a list so far where i think Grienke is too high (if you get what i mean)

  57. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Paul,

    I get what you are saying about Cain, et al not being cheap, but this was not a list of top “bargains.”  This was a list of how pitchers should be ranked assuming they are all the same price.  If it was based on “bargains”, then I doubt very much Roy Halladay would be #1 because he is going to be insanely expensive.

  58. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Paul,

    The corollary to my previous post is that although Ricky Nolasco may be a guy you want to try to target as a “bargain” pickup, there is no way Ricky Nolasco should be ranked as the #23 fantasy starting pitcher while Matt Cain is at #38. That is just crazy!

  59. Ross said...

    How long do pitchers have to exceed or underperform their expected stats before we realize that they are most likely outliers? Cain has outperformed his xFIP for four straight seasons. Ricky Nolasco has underperformed for 3 of the past 4. When can we determine that Cain is good at inducing weak flyballs (he does have a very high infield flyball rate) or that Nolasco is bad at missing the sweet spot?

    Why would you think it better to trust something that hasn’t been applicable to a particular player? That just seems like bad data analysis to me.

  60. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Look,

    Maybe some pitchers can and will routinely outperform their peripherals. That may be a skill. But identifying who might have this maybe skill is completely unscientific at this point. I error on the side of caution, duly noting downside. I am loading an MP3 of my argument, which i will post in the comments

  61. Ross said...

    I’d say that Matt Cain is as good as any as outperforming his peripherals.

    I’m not here to bash your logic, you do a very good job and do much more in depth research than I do for fantasy baseball. I just disagree with you on Cain vs Nolasco.

    Most of the peripherals we stat geeks use are fairly new and identification of outliers should be one of our primary goals at this early stage of the statistical analysis. Identifying just why they are outliers will only help us refine the peripherals we use, and make it easier to determine why outliers can’t be pigeonholed within our analyses.

    Thanks for the reply.

  62. Jeffrey Gross said...

    That’s a fair comment, Ross.

    I really wish I knew how to upload this 15 MB MP3 i made about my argument.

  63. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Joel,

    In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “absolutely not.”

    Too many walks (9.8% of batters faced, career 3.71 BB/9), too few whiffs (below average 7.7% SwStr%) and too poor a team to be relevant unless lady luck decides to swing his way. I’d rather have a 1-2 category streamer. When your expected baseline ERA is above 4.25 and your expected WHIP is close to 1.40….

    Again, I quote lincoln.

  64. Chris G said...

    Re: Josh Johnson – I’m surprised no one has mentioned injury concerns with him.  He missed the final month of the season with a shoulder or back (or both) injury.  Do you have any concern regarding his injury?

  65. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Chris,

    I like Mike Minor, I really do, but as I mention in my latest article (top 35 guys under 25), I have no clue as to how the Braves plan to use him in 2011. If he’s a starter, by all means, he’s going to be a top 50+ talent. But recall how the Braves used Medlen last yr? that’s how I perceive the Minor situation (and the Beechy situation). They only started medlen because they had to with Jurjjens injured and Kawakami struggling.

    So, yes, Chris, I like minor a lot for the future and long term. For 2011, however, his value remains questionable. He might not even accrue more innings than strasburg will. Who knows!

  66. Chris Purvis said...

    I hadn’t considered the uncertainty surrounding his role, and it’s definitely a factor. 

    That said, the likes of Tillman, Takahashi, Richard, etc. are basically replaceable by guys on the waiver wire, whereas Minor has a chance to be real contributor in fantasy next year. 

    I’d prefer his upside over most of the guys towards the end of your rankings, mainly because those guys’ production would be so easy to replace, so I lose very little by not drafting them, whereas not drafting Minor might really cost me.  Particularly if he’s available at the end of the draft.

    I feel the same about a guy like Michael Pineda.

  67. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Chris,

    I understand your argument and agree, once they are given established starter roles. The bottom 25 names on this top 100 list, though, are mostly 1 or 2 dimensional pitchers worth streaming for specific value only (e.g., Felipe Paulino’s K/9 before he got booted from the top 100 for Arroyo). Tillman I feel like is a good wildcard for 2011 and has an established role. That’s the only reason he’s ranked above. Minor may get <80 IP in the majors this season, mind you.

  68. Chris Purvis said...

    I can’t pretend to know what the Braves are thinking re. Minor, but I maintain that even with the limited information we have now, I would still rank Minor ahead of that bottom tier, because if he ends up not having a role, I can just cut him and replace him with a guy who’s about equal to that bottom tier.

    If he does have a role as a SP, though, I have a top 50 pitcher (in my opinion). 

    I have nothing to lose by drafting Minor, because I see that bottom tier as being roughly equivalent (although I would concede that with Tillman’s former top prospect status he does make a nice wild-card, as would a guy like Homer Bailey) to what will be available in free agency.

    My own cost-benefit analysis leads me to take Minor over most of those guys, even knowing that he may only get 80 IP.  If that ends up being the case, I cut him early on and find a free agent pitcher.  I think there’s too much risk in NOT drafting him, rather than the other way around, but I do see where you’re coming from.

  69. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Chris,

    Again, I completely agree with your analysis. Perhaps I should have made it more clear that this was a ranking of full time starters. Otherwise I’d also, as noted in the analysis, have to include a guy like Strasburg (40 IP?)

  70. Chris Purvis said...

    And I also put Minor in a fundamentally different category than Strasburg (which you would probably agree with) because we have a very good idea that Strasburg’s upper IP limit is around 50-100 (although 100 IP seems wildly optimistic), whereas Minor could hit 150 IP and I don’t think you or I would be that surprised.

  71. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Just updated the analysis to reflect why minor is not ranked. I personally do not think you have to draft minor on draft day, however, to get his value unless he breaks camp in the rotation. This, keep in mind, is a draft day list. If Minor is not a strter, he’ll likley be WW fodder for later

  72. Chris Purvis said...

    I would 100% agree with that, although if you don’t have him as the Braves 5th, then from what I can see on their depth chart it would have to be Brandon Beachey (who is also very interesting).  One of those guys will break camp as the 5th starter, that we can be relatively sure of.

  73. Chris Purvis said...

    I also think that if you rank Webb presuming his health (which at best is a probability assessment based on the reports we’ve gotten) then you have to rank Minor with a similar probability assessment in mind, albeit with playing time instead of health.

    The question I think our debate boils down to is, given a choice, right now, knowing what we know, would you draft R.A. Dickey or Mike Minor?

    The way I see it that’s a no-brainer, but if you believe Minor stands only a very slight chance of breaking camp, then I see why he’s not in your rankings.

    And I appreciate your quick replies.

  74. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Chris,

    I’d seriously hope no one from the bottom 30-40 pitchers is drafted in most leagues. In a 12 team, 1500 IP league, no more than 70 SP should be drafted…

    But yes, I do agree with you, I would rather draft Minor probably. I just can’t rank part-time or maybe starters or I’d be here all day wink (also, i believe in Webb’s health)

    I’m not a Braves fan (just admirer), but if Beechy or Minor truly is the 5th starter, I’d rank either of them #42 probably. I like them on par with Garcia (with upside)

  75. Chris Purvis said...

    Jeff,

    Very surprised not to see Mike Minor on this list.  He is at the top of my radar for 2011 pitching sleepers.  The K’s are there, he seems to have decent to above average control, and although he is somewhat of a flyball pitcher, the K rate and the K/BB are very, very appealing, particularly given the price. 

    I assume this is an oversight on your part, because I can’t justify ranking Chris Tillman ahead of him in any universe.

    Chris Purvis

  76. Mike said...

    Hi Jeffrey, I’m becoming a huge fan of the analysis but can we put the whole “4 category pitcher” vs. “5 category hitter” thing to rest? Also known as: Let me know the next time Miguel Cabrera steals a base. The default innings cap in a Yahoo roto league is 1250 innings. Sure you can play more, but the bottom line = in any innings capped league a starting pitcher can control up to 16% of your pitching points (4/5 cats * 1/5 innings). There is no hitter that even comes close to that, not even Pujols, and not even in a 9 batter league (11%). So while I agree that lucking out and getting the same performance out of say, Greinke, would yield a massive profit, and there is some argument to be made about opportunity costs on elite hitters—you really can’t go wrong drafting Halladay in the first round, statistically, unless you don’t protect the investment. You’ll say “injuries” maybe but please—Albert’s elbow could snap at any moment.

  77. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Mike,

    I think you raise a good point in some sense, that a single pitcher has the same type of impact, maybe greater, but, unless, I am misreading your comment, the point missed is that more pitchers tend to provide equivalent production than do hitters.

    I only use the phrases 3/4/5 category guys to point out the dwindling balance of player.

  78. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also, here is my classification for a guy “earning” a category:

    Hitters
    SB: steals 10+ bases
    HR: hits 17-20+ home runs
    AVG: .290+ (.280+ is decent, while .270-.279 = doesnt hurt you)

    Pitchers:
    K: 7.7+ K/9
    WHIP: 1.25 or lower (1.26-1.32 = helpful still)
    W: 12+
    SV: 30+
    ERA: <3.65

  79. Jared Norris said...

    Jeffrey this article was great. I agree with the majority of your rankings and we both share the affection for high strikeout guys (hence the similarity in rankings).

    With that said I play in a competitive points league on CBS. We give two points per strikeout so guys with high ERA’s and WHIPS but are strikeout machines are still valuable.

    Given this setup could you provide a couple of names on your list that you would bump up in rank for points based leagues? I’m trying to lock down my SP rankings and would love to see how your list would shift based on that format.

  80. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I like Norris as a strikeout streamer, but he’s not a starter in mixed. Niese is a wild card. He is a nice NL only gamble, but there are enough pitchers in mixed that he’s at best a wait and see option in my view

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