Everyone would love to have a Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, or Stephen Strasburg on their team. I can honestly say I've never owned any of those three nor Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, or Cliff Lee during their primes. I never owned Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, or Roger Clemens, either. I wish I did, but there were two reasons why I never did and never expected to. First, you will never catch me using a first round pick on a pitcher. Secondly, there is always some sucker in the league that will.
In 99% of seasons I wouldn't use a second round pick or even a third round pick on a pitcher. Maybe it's because I feel confident in my ability to find those diamonds in the rough. I seem to always construct a decent pitching staff in the middle rounds and then via the waiver wire during the year. Heck, Atlanta's Kris Medlen won me a couple of leagues last year and I picked him up in July. So, yes, pardon me if I have Medlen ranked a little higher than others.
Anybody draft NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in the first three, four, five, or six rounds last year? How about ten? Where did Gio Gonzalez or Johnny Cueto go in your drafts? Both were top-15 starting pitchers last year. If you were sharp, you should have had a good feeling about Madison Baumgarner and Chris Sale.
The point is, if you are astute, you can find some pitching gems later in the draft. Quality starting pitchers are easier to find than a player who can hit 20 home runs and swipe 20 bases.
Here are my rankings and projections for this year's starting pitchers:
TOP TIER (otherwise known as the players I will never own)
1. Justin Verlander (20 W, 2.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 230 IP, 234 K)
2. Clayton Kershaw (17 W, 2.54 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 203 IP, 226 K)
3. Stephen Strasburg (18 W, 2.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 199 IP, 241 K)
No offense to the second tier, because they're really good, but these three pitchers are in the stratosphere. They are out of this world good. You could put their names in a hat and pick them out in any order and I'd have no problem with the sequence. The reins are off Strasburg this year, so let's see what he can do with no limitations.
4. David Price (16 W, 2.89 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 206 IP, 220 K)
5. Felix Hernandez (14 W, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 188 IP, 184 K)
6. Cole Hamels (16 W, 3.05 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 204 IP, 207 K)
7. Matt Cain (16 W, 2.96 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220 IP, 182 K)
Small, subtle separations between these tiers. Hamels is a little more inconsistent than the other three. Price is hurt by pitching against the high-powered offenses of the A.L. East. Hernandez is hurt by playing for a bad Seattle team that doesn't score runs for him to secure wins. King Felix may be hurt, period. There have been whispers of Hernandez having an elbow problem. All three pile up strikeouts, though, which is what gives them a leg up on the next tier. Cain is as durable and reliable as they come.
8. Zack Greinke (18 W, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 210 IP, 195 K)
9. Adam Wainwright (18 W, 3.12 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 217 IP, 197 K)
10. Madison Baumgarner (17 W, 3.16 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 211 IP, 189 K)
11. Cliff Lee (15 W, 2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 227 IP, 193 K)
12. Jered Weaver (18 W, 3.04 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 220 IP, 176 K)
13. Yu Darvish (16 W, 3.34 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 207 IP, 245 K)
14. CC Sabathia (17 W, 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 206 IP, 186 K)
15. Kris Medlen (16 W, 3.12 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 184 IP, 156 K)
16. R.A. Dickey (17 W, 3.19 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 217 IP, 180 K)
17. Johnny Cueto (18 W, 2.95 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 192 IP, 171 K)
18. Mat Latos (17 W, 3.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 204 IP, 184 K)
19. Matt Moore (15 W, 3.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 187 IP, 192 K)
20. Chris Sale (14 W, 3.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 176 IP, 172 K)
I'd be happy with any one of these guys as the ace of my staff. Preferably, I'd hope to be able to scoop up two of these guys with back-to-back picks in the fifth or sixth rounds.
I expect big things out of Moore in his second full year. He had a 2.19 ERA in six August starts before hitting a wall in September. Medlen is a mini-Greg Maddux. Cueto may be the most underrated starting pitcher of the last three years. Latos took a while to get settled in Cincy, but had a 2.84 ERA and 1.12 WHIP after the All-Star break. Sale went through a bit of a dead arm phase in the second half. Darvish has the potential to make the biggest jump in this tier. He began harnessing his explosive arsenal of pitches in his final seven starts.
And how did Cliff Lee only have six wins in thirty starts last years with a 3.19 ERA?? You may get him cheap if other owners are distracted by the win total.
21. Max Scherzer (16 W, 3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 195 IP, 219 K)
22. Jordan Zimmerman (14 W, 3.06 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 192 IP, 156 K)
23. Gio Gonzalez (15 W, 3.26 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 200 IP, 203 K)
24. Roy Halladay (14 W, 3.34 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 213 IP, 182 K)
25. Brandon Morrow (12 W, 3.56 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 166 IP, 175 K)
26. Doug Fister (15 W, 3.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 204 IP, 156 K)
27. James Shields (16 W, 3.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 220 IP, 215 K)
28. Yovani Gallardo (16 W, 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 202 IP, 203 K)
29. Jake Peavy (12 W, 3.56 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 182 IP, 162 K)
30. Jeff Samardzija (9 W, 3.66 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 178 IP, 186 K)
31. Josh Johnson (14 W, 3.65 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 170 IP, 156 K)
Couple of pitchers on this last who had monster second halves last year. Max Scherzer was 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 90.1 innings after the break. Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame football standout, had a 2.58 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 73.1 innings following the break. I didn't like what I saw out of Halladay right out of spring training last year and it seems obvious the long time best pitcher in all of baseball is starting to hit the decline. Gallardo needs to cut down on walks before rising another tier. If Fister struck out some more batters, he'd rise a tier. He may have the chance for the most wins out of these pitchers. Morrow is one of the bigger teases in all of fantasy. I don't know if you noticed, but I have three Washington Nationals starting pitchers in my top 25. Want to guess who I may be picking to win the NL pennant?
32. Ian Kennedy (15 W, 3.67 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 212 IP, 188 K)
33. Aroldis Chapman (9 W, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 143 IP, 176 K)
34. Jon Lester (13 W, 3.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 207 IP, 174 K)
35. Hiroki Kuroda (14 W, 3.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 217 IP, 162 K)
36. Dan Haren (12 W, 4.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 182 IP, 140 K)
37. Tim Lincecum (12 W, 4.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 201 IP, 196 K)
38. Brett Anderson (7 W, 3.12 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 110 IP, 86 K)
39. Matt Harvey (10 W, 3.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 154 IP, 159 K)
40. Anibal Sanchez (12 W, 3.99 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 196 IP, 178 K)
How the mighty have fallen! As recent as two years ago you would probably have seen Lincecum, Lester, and Haren in my top ten. Chapman has the potential to be top ten. He also has the potential to land back in the bullpen as the Reds closer. Kennedy, Kuroda, and Sanchez are just winners. I love Brett Anderson's stuff, especially his wicked curve ball, but he can't stay healthy. Harvey is a solid sleeper pick from this group.
41. Ryan Vogelsong (13 W, 3.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 190 IP, 155 K)
42. Jarrod Parker (15 W, 3.62 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 192 IP, 150 K)
43. Jonathon Niese (13 W, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 203 IP, 166 K)
44. Mike Minor (12 W, 3.86 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 194 IP, 170 K)
45. Marco Estrada (9 W, 4.13 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 152 IP, 150 K)
46. Tim Hudson (16 W, 3.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 184 IP, 112 K)
47. Lance Lynn (14 W, 4.04 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 174 IP, 169 K)
48. Josh Beckett (14 W, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 176 IP, 172 K)
49. Jeremy Hellickson (12 W, 3.23 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 182 IP, 126 K)
50. Edwin Jackson (11 W, 4.04 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 196 IP, 177 K)
Vogelsong was an All-Star for the first half (7-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) and then an All-Dud (4.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) for the second half last year. Parker and Minor are two youngsters with high ceilings which you should gamble on at this level. Look for a big bounce-back year from Beckett in his first full year back in the National League since 2005. Hudson, Niese, and Hellickson are consistent winners who won't strike out many batters. Estrada, Lynn, and Jackson are inconsistent but will strike out a lot of batters.
BEST OF THE REST
Alex Cobb, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Homer Bailey, Derek Holland.
Check out my other rankings