1. Johan Santana: The easiest decision I made for this entire list. Santana is dominant in every single roto category. Well, almost every one: he really needs to pick up some saves in between starts. You might waver a little because he “only” won 16 games last year, fewer than Chris Capuano. Just hope his win total knocks a few bucks off his price, because he’ll easily top 16 wins in ’06 and should be worth about $38.
2. Roy Halladay: Ahead of Pedro, Peavy and the rest? A resounding yes. Halladay’s 2005 injury was a fluke, and he should contend for another Cy Young in 2006. He pitches tons of innings with tiny ratios and a good K total. I think he’ll post a 2.98 ERA this season and be worth about $30. He’s much less risky than Sheets, Johnson and Pedro.
3. Ben Sheets: Sheets only made 22 starts in 2005, limiting his draft day price. He has the potential to dominate this year, pretty much pacing Halladay’s ratios and adding tons of strikeouts on top. A new career high in wins seems to be a given. He’s not entirely flawless though—vestibular neuritis has bothered him for the past two seasons. The problem causes dizziness, among other symptoms, and the previously torn lat muscle doesn’t help matters. If you’re the type to take on a major health risk for a possible ace, Sheets is your man. He’s a $30 pitcher who could cost you $20.
4. Randy Johnson: The Big Unit is 42 now, and it’s terrifying most forecasters. Of course, they all said to stay away from Roger Clemens last year too. I say go for it; his peripheral stats indicate an ERA much better than 3.79. He could win 18-21 games for the Yanks with 200 Ks. I’ll treat him like a $30 pitcher and cross my fingers that his knees and back hold up.
5. Pedro Martinez: Pedro is another former sure thing with questionable health. The toe…the toe! I know he had to shut it down in September, but he was pretty awesome that month. Who cares if he was throwing 87? He adjusted and continued to dominate. A few innings, if any, in the World Baseball Classic this year shouldn’t have any effect on him. I think he could be slightly better than he was in 2005, though innings could be down a bit. I have him at $28; it’s tough to say how his reputation will mix with his injury on draft day in your league. Seems like he’s still getting plenty of respect, though.
6. Jake Peavy: Should be excellent in every category yet again, and he’ll only be 25. He hasn’t really piled up the innings, which is a good thing. I see a career high in that department, plus a 3.13 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He’ll add 220 Ks and probably set a career high in wins. $24 sounds about right to me.
7. Andy Pettitte: He’s very good, but not 2.39 ERA good. It should still be in the low 3.00s with a WHIP around 1.10-1.15. Throw in 170 Ks and 18 wins and he’s worth about $24. Of course, I can only estimate his win total. His salary balloons to $17.5 mil in 2006 and then he becomes a free agent. I’m not a contract year believer, but he will benefit greatly if he changes home ballparks.
8. Rich Harden: He’s damn near unhittable and one’s of baseball’s best when healthy. Surgery on his left shoulder shouldn’t be an issue. He’ll contend for the ERA crown and strike out nearly a batter per inning, but the 24 year-old has yet to top 200 innings in a season. Should easily cruise past his career high of 11 wins. He’s another $24 guy who could be a mild bargain because of time missed in 2005.
9. Jason Schmidt: Another risky fallen ace. Despite whispers of reduced velocity, Schmidt posted a healthy 8.6 K/9. I wouldn’t bank on a return to form after 2005′s shoulder and groin woes, but I am cautiously projecting a 3.05 ERA. He needs to regain his control first and foremost. The impending free agent could be dealt midseason if someone wants to cough up some young starting pitching. Last year, the White Sox and Orioles were involved in trade talks. I could see him earning $22 at the high end. If you can get him for a price in the low teens, go for it.
10. Felix Hernandez: I’m being kind of conservative by ranking the King 10th. He probably won’t crack 200 innings, but an ERA near 3.00 with a 1.10 WHIP is within the kid’s grasp. I expect 15+ wins and almost 200 Ks. He’s being priced well past $22 in many leagues, but I really can’t see him earning much more than that. You won’t find a bargain here but Felix is the keeper of all keepers and should be awesome in 2006.
11. Brandon Webb: I figured Webb would be kind of sleeperish entering this season, but early returns have him getting all sorts of respect. I wouldn’t be surprised by a 3.25 ERA and 1.15 WHIP given the sweet defensive combo of Orlando Hudson and Craig Counsell in the middle infield. He can strike out 180 and earn about $20. He seems to be priced right around there in most leagues.
12. Mark Prior: Despite mostly freak injuries in his past, Prior has had some worrisome maladies as well. You just have to hope his shoulder and elbow are OK because the Cubs won’t give it to you straight. A 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 240 Ks sounds about right. That should make him an $18-19 pitcher. If he regains that ’03 control and keeps the ball in the yard, he could re-enter the top five.
13. Carlos Zambrano: Prior’s teammate is right behind him, valued at $18 in my projections. 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 200 Ks, and 15-17 wins. He’s still only 24. If Big Z ever gets his walk rate down he’ll climb up these rankings in a hurry.
14. Chris Carpenter: Given his lengthy injury history, Carpenter may not top 200 innings this year. But I’m nitpicking; you can count on him for top-notch ratios and a solid K total. Valued at a shade under $18.
15. John Smoltz: Overcame doom and gloom predictions to shoulder almost 230 innings. He’ll be 39 soon and the health risk can’t be ignored. I’ve still penciled him in for 220 innings of a 3.36 ERA, but I wouldn’t pay the full $17 price for it.
16. John Patterson: In age 27 season, finally lived up to his potential with 200 innings of a 3.13 ERA. The Ks are huge, the ratios are excellent, and the wins will come. Even if his ERA comes up to 3.50 he should be able to win 14-15 games in 2006. You should pray that the nine wins somehow depressed his value in your league. Worth a good $15.
17. Dontrelle Willis: The whole “depleted Marlins will kill Dontrelle’s value” thing is going a little too far. He wasn’t going to win 22 games again anyway. I still like him for 15-16 wins, a 3.30 ERA, and a 1.20 WHIP. Willis has great control and keeps the ball in the yard, though his K rate is not elite. I see him as a $15 pitcher for 2006. As good as he is, if there was ever a time to sell high on him it’s now. Twenty-two wins and a 2.63 ERA have a way of overwhelming owners even if they know in their hearts he can’t repeat. Maybe you can get Beltran or more for him?
18. Barry Zito: Mostly luck will determine whether his ERA is 3.50 or 3.90. For years, Zito’s name value has outstripped his real value. He won’t be worth more than $15 in the best case; I’d take someone like Patterson instead.
19. Cliff Lee: Conventional wisdom says Lee will be overrated because he won 18 games in 2005. But I think he can improve upon the 3.79 ERA while maintaining the excellent WHIP. Lee made huge gains in control and HRs allowed but sacrificed some Ks in the process. I see him as a $14 pitcher for ’06.
20. Roy Oswalt: Roy’s won 40 games over the past two regular seasons. Including the postseason, he’s thrown over 520 innings the last two years. I still think he’ll come up with something like 17 wins and a 3.55 ERA, but that probably makes him a $14 pitcher. Temper your expectations here as he probably can’t do this for a third consecutive season.
21. Doug Davis: As a Brewer who won just 11 games last year, Davis won’t get the respect he deserves in many leagues. An unseemly WHIP is more than balanced by 200+ strikeouts, and a 3.60 ERA with 15 wins is entirely reasonable. He could be worth $13-14 in a mixed league and this might be your last chance to get him for less than that.
22. Mark Buehrle: Has the potential to disappoint if you’re anticipating another 3.12 ERA. Buehrle is a horse and will win 15+ games with relative certainty, but he might have a 3.65 ERA with a subpar K total. He’s probably worth about $12 and I’d stop bidding at $10 in an attempt to get some positive value. Buehrle is reliable but should be overpriced.
23. Brett Myers: Myers broke out in a big way last year; expect more of the same. Solid ratios, 200 Ks. I’d bid the full $12 given that there’s plenty of room for him to improve at 25.
24. Bartolo Colon: Can’t remember the last time a Cy Young winner was the 24th ranked fantasy starter the following year. But here we are. I have Colon at a 3.71 ERA and 1.23 WHIP; there’s no reason to expect him to win 21 games again. He’s not a strikeout pitcher and could easily post a 4.00 ERA.
25. Jon Lieber: Liebs sneaked onto this list and is one of my favorite sleepers. He’s boring as hell but might be worth $11 in a mixed league. He pitches a lot of innings with a 3.80 ERA, 1.20ish WHIP and probably 15 wins. Basically Bartolo Colon with a lot less fanfare. You can easily get some positive value here.