Justin Verlander

Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitchers 2014: Tiers, Not Fears


Can Verl Sweatshirt get back on track?
Photo Credit: Roger DeWitt

 

Because there are so many goddamn starting pitchers out there that warrant being on your radar, we wanted to kick off the 2014 fantasy baseball edition of “Tiers, Not Fears” with the biggest, baddest SP ranks on the ‘net. It goes without saying that starting pitching is the deepest position in fantasy. Fantasy owners don’t have to spend the big bucks or early draft picks for the more expensive (and, often, overrated) arms. Granted, some guys are worth the money, but just realize that starting pitching is volatile as hell. Between the risk of injury (human beings are not designed to repeatedly hurl objects in such violent fashion) and the inconsistency that plagues even some of the best SPs out there, it’s possible that most of the pitchers you draft will not even be on your team by year’s end. So while pitching is half the game in fantasy, know that spending too much on it will increase your team’s odds of bed-shtting.

 

Now let’s get down to platinum tax, because brass does not do me justice. 

 

More after the jump:

 

The “Top of the World” Titans

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Yu Darvish

3. Max Scherzer

4. Felix Hernandez

5. Chris Sale

6. Madison Bumgarner

7. Adam Wainwright

This is one of the most top-heavy pitching classes in recent memory, and as a result, the top tier is stuffed with more options than usual… While Kershaw deserves the number one ranking, he’s really not in a league of his own in fantasy. His accomplishments are admittedly amazing. He’s the only guy on this list to post an ERA under 2.00 and has been at the top of the fantasy pitching ranks the last couple of years. There really isn’t much to criticize (unless you want to nitpick the slight dip in velocity and the fact that his K/9 in 2013 fell below 9.00 for the first time since his rookie season). Yet as great as he’s been, you can’t convince me that he’s significantly more elite than any of his tier-mates… Darvish is a strikeout machine (11.89 K/9 last year) who is so hard to hit that he was able to turn in a 1.07 WHIP despite a 3.43 BB/9. If he learns to reel in the walks, he could easily finish as the top fantasy SP in 2014… Detroit’s Max Scherzer is a whiff fiend as well (10.08 K/9 in 2013), and his Cy Young winning season saw him put it all together. The only thing that kept Scherzer from placing first or second on this list is his injury-history (last year was the only time he’s ever pitched over 200 innings)… Despite losing ticks on his fastball in recent years, Felix Hernandez had his best season yet if you look at the peripheral data. His 9.51 K/9, 10.7 Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%), and 2.03 BB/9 were all career-best marks. The changeup has turned into his best pitch, and it should keep him firmly in elite territory. Hernandez is admittedly a “safer” pick than Scherzer, but the K upside puts Mad Max just ahead of King Felix… With a 9.49 K/9, 10.8 SwStr%, and 1.93 BB/9 last year, Chris Sale continued his utter dominance of big-league hitters. He doesn’t have a long track record and he’s pitched a lot of innings the last two years after throwing just 71 frames in 2011, but I have no fear putting the Sale Hose on my roster… This is what is scary about Madison Bumgarner: he might get even better. And this is someone who threw up an 11.1 SwStr%, 2.77 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP in 2013… He may not have the strikeout upside of the dude’s ranked above him, but Adam Wainwright is still an elite fantasy SP. He’s a good bet to finish top four or five in ERA and WHIP, and his 8.00-plus K/9 production is good enough to put him comfortably in this tier.

The Foible-Featuring Felons

8. Cliff Lee

9. Anibal Sanchez

10. Stephen Strasburg

11. Jose Fernandez

12. Justin Verlander

13. Gerrit Cole

14. Danny Salazar

All of these SPs have the goods to throw up a top 10 season, but each has a wart that’s protruding enough to make them a potential Lyle Over-pay… Cliff Lee had almost identical 5×5 numbers to Bumgarner, but he’s rocking more warning signs than a carton of cigarettes. He’s 35, has seen increases in his Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio (HR/FB) and Line Drive Percentage (LD%), has thrown an awful lot of innings over the last six years (average of 222 per season). Plus, if he gets traded, a move to the AL will hurt his value. He still belongs in this tier because even with his foibles, Lee is a fantasy beast… A lot of fantasy owners are going all Trent Raznor, saying “I want to fuck you like an Anibal.” Sanchez’s changeup turned into his best pitch last year, and it led to a career-high 12.4 SwStr% and 9.99 K/9. He looks like the real deal, but injuries have nipped him in the past (zero 200-inning seasons)…  Stephen Strasburg absolutely has it in him to be the number one ranked SP in fantasy. Unfortunately, injuries keep getting in the way of that. Even though he tossed 183 frames, he admitted after the season that he pitched through elbow pain throughout the year. It’s pretty astonishing that a guy hurling with a dinged wing can piece together a 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 9.39 K/9. However, between the elbow issues last year, his violent mechanics, and the fact that he’s already had Tommy John surgery, it’s pretty safe to say that the Nationals star is an absolute injury risk… The term “sophomore slump” is so… sophomoric. I prefer to say that a guy like Jose Fernandez won’t have as good a season as his rookie year. Not because he will suck or anything, but because that was one hell of a MLB debut. Still, Fern’ Gully should have no problem putting up SP1 numbers, even with an expected K/9 regression… What should we expect from Justin Verlander? Well, there certainly are a few warning signs that his run as a top shelf fantasy SP is over. He’s coming off core muscle surgery in January that may delay his season debut, his average fastball velocity has decreased each of the last four years, and his 3.09 BB/9 last year was his highest mark since 2008. Oh, he also looked a hell of a lot more hittable in 2013, giving up more fly balls, registering a 22.7 LD%, and coughing up an un-ace-like 1.31 WHIP. Perhaps the heavy workload is getting to him (seven straight years with at least 200 innings and an average of 234 IP per season over the last five campaigns). It’s certainly possible. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time an elite pitcher suddenly experienced a sharp decline. Of course, Verlander is not that easy of a study. He earns kudos for putting up a 3.46 ERA, 8.95 K/9, and 10.5 SwStr% in a “down” year. Most importantly, he made a mechanical adjustment towards the end of the regular season that saw him post typical Verlander numbers in September (39.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.9 K/9). He certainly looked like his old self in the playoffs, so perhaps the tweak in his mechanics will lead to him being a relative value buy in fantasy. It’s hard to say, but I do think Verlander can be better than he was last year and will perform as a SP1 when it’s all said and done. As good as his peak years? Probably not. Declines in velocity aren’t a death knell, but they usually don’t come with more dominance as the years progress. That said, I do think the BB/9 will fall back to well below 3.00 and that alone should help sneak his WHIP closer to the 1.25 range… Gerrit Cole seems ready to do serious work in 2014. His rookie year went about as well as it could. He showed great velocity (average fastball of 96.1 mph), commanded the strike zone, and netted a lot of grounders. The only real blemish is the fact that he “only” had a 7.67 K/9 in 2013. Fortunately, his last nine games saw his K/9 rise to 9.19, and I expect him to finish the season above the 8.00 mark… Some may say I'm ranking Salazar waaaaaay to high, but I think his spot is earned on insane upside alone. Anytime a pitcher puts up double-digit K/9 numbers, they will get noticed. A 10.00 is pre-cum worthy. The 11.52 mark Danny Salazar rocked in 2013? Simply orgasmic for strikeout fiends. Granted, it was over 52 innings, so feel free to sound the “sample size” alarm. The fact that he’s prone to the long-ball may hurt his ERA (think high 3.00s), but I think his WHIP should be fine (2.6 BB/9 last year). The Indians have already said he will have no innings limit this year, and "Sally K" has the arsenal to be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He’ll probably come at a cheap-to-fair price in all leagues, so don’t be afraid to reach as high as you need to. 

The “Second Aces” Squadron

15. Kris Melden

16. David Price

17. Mat Latos

18. Zack Greinke

All of the dudes in this tier rocked a K/9 under 8.00, which, in my book, keeps them out of the truly elite conversation. However, they still got name recognition and the ability to be reliable fantasy options… I really think Kris Medlen could prove to be a nice value pick. Dude rocked an 11.0 SwStr% last year, yet only ended up with a 7.19 K/9. We know he can limit the walks and pimp some smooth ratios (3.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), so if he adds a K/9 that sits above 8.00 (or, dare I say it, 9.00!) then he’ll leap a tier or two… Obviously, I think Price is a bit overrated. His SwStr% and K/9 have gone down consistently, with both checking in at underwhelming rates (7.9 and 7.28, respectively). Sure he’ll probably have a low ERA and WHIP, but the fact that he works in the AL East will likely prevent him from having a god-like ERA, and thus prevent him from being worth the coin he’ll cost in most leagues… I’m not Latos-intolerant. He does a lot of things right. For his career, he owns a 10.5 SwStr%, 17.9 LD%, and 8.6 HR/FB. That means he gets strikeouts, gives up weak contact, and generally limits the long ball. I know. Where do I sign up, right? The only slight, little problem that’s not really a problem is the fact that he had bone chips removed from his elbow in October and surgery to repair a torn meniscus in mid-February… and he’s kind of always been banged up throughout his career, but not enough for you to exactly call him “injury-prone.” He will most likely be a dependable player, but the only thing keeping him off the above tier is the injury risk… I want to believe that Greinke’s second year in the National League will be a lot better, and last year wasn’t too shabby (2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.5 K/9). Ah but look beyond those pretty surface stats, and you see an uglier side to Greinke. The side that posted one of his worst F-Strike% marks of his career (58.2 percent) and date rapes women. Fine, he doesn’t date rape women. He has been losing ticks on his fastball over the last four years, however. He’s a talented pitcher, but if he can’t get his K/9 to 8.00 or higher, then he really isn’t a true SP1.

 

The “Intriguing, Yet Potentially Deadly” Druids

19. Michael Wacha

20. A.J. Burnett 

21. Cole Hamels

22. Francisco Liriano

23. Tyson Ross

24. Julio Teheran

25. Homer Bailey

Welcome to Man-Crush Manor. There will be at least a couple of owners in your league willing to overspend or at least shell out face value on these hurlers, and that might come back to bite them in the ass… Another top-flight talent, Wacha is also likely to see an innings limit after throwing under 150 pro innings last year. While his numbers in the bigs weren’t as spectacular as Salazar’s, he has just as much upside. A K/9 above 9.00 with tidy ratios are very possible for this upside-filled SP… Although he’s 37 years old, A.J. Burnett has really pitched the best ball of his life over the past two years. If he can keep up his recent level of play, he looks like a good bet for a K/9 in the 8.75-9.50 range with fantasy-friendly ratios to boot. Of course, his age and the fact that he's moving from the friendly surroundings of PNC Park to the hitter's haven of Citizens Bank Park are Yokozuna-sized warts… The fastball and cutter didn’t look as sharp last year and a bum shoulder raises serious concerns for a pitcher who has dealt with arm injuries throughout his career. Yet you can't drop Cole Hamels too far down the ranks. The changeup is still an elite offering, and his 12.0 SwStr% and 2.05 BB/9 from last year show that he still has the goods to put up great numbers. He's come into the season with shoulder/arm issues before, and has put up strong campaigns, so there's hope that he can do it again in 2014… The Cisco Kid rides again. Francisco Liriano was incredible last season, sporting a 9.11 K/9 and 13.2 SwStr%. He looked like a dominant ace, but we can’t forget the rest of his career. Injuries and overall sucking have plagued him over the years (even 2013 saw him pitch only 161 innings). I’d like to think that pitching in the National League under the guidance of pitching coach Ray Searage has marked a turning point in his career, but I’ve grown Liriano of trusting him after getting burned so many times… With a mid-90s fastball and filthy slider, Tyson Ross quietly garnered swings-and-misses at an elite rate last year (11.1 SwStr%). Sure the control could be spotty (54.2 F-Strike% and 3.17 BB/9 in 2013), but the spacious confines of Petco Park coupled with his dominant strikeout potential should help compensate. It remains to be seen if Ross can string together a full season of work as an SP after spending his career battling injuries and switching from a bullpen role to starting. Me? I think the investment is worth it at his current market price… A top prospect in Atlanta’s system for years, Teheran finally broke out in 2013 (185.2 IP, 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.24 K/9, 10.5 SwStr%, and 2.18 BB/9). The long ball could end up being a problem for the fly ball pitcher, but his pedigree and ability to get ahead of the count should help him build on his breakout campaign… A hot name this year, Homer Bailey won’t come cheap. Displaying the best control of the strike zone of his career, Bailey went on to put up great numbers in 2013 (209 IP, 3.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.57 K/9, and 2.33 BB/9). He picked a damn good time to put it all together, as he is entering a walk year. Fantasy owners run the risk of last year’s velocity spike plummeting back down to his career-levels, but if he keeps the zip on his heater and continues to limit the walks, he should be in line for another strong season (you’ll just have to pay for it up front on draft/auction day).

The Popular (Yet Potentially Pricey) Posse

26. Mike Minor

27. Alex Cobb

28. Gio Gonzalez

29. James Shields

30. Masahiro Tanaka

31. Jordan Zimmermann

32. Shelby Miller

33. Hisashi Iwakuma

34. Sonny Gray

A lot of popular dudes sit in this tier. Whether they broke out last year, have been reliable arms of late, or are buzzy names entering 2014, the one common link for these SPs is that they will have no shortage of suitors. In fact, the demand for some of these players may be so high that the price may get out of hand… Mike Minor doesn’t possess remarkable talent, but despite being a magnet for fly balls and line drives, dude squeezes every ounce of value out of his skill-set. By commanding the strike zone (64.5 F-Strike% and 2.02 BB/9 last year) and garnering enough strikeouts (7.96 K/9 in 2013), Minor is able to put up quality fantasy numbers on a consistent basis. He certainly isn’t the flashiest pitcher on the draft board, but you know what you are getting with this reliable option… Despite flirting with too many long balls and showing so-so swing-and-miss ability (9.2 SwStr% last year), Alex Cobb has turned into a solid fantasy commodity. His high GB rate has allowed his propensity for giving up the homer to be mitigated to some degree. Even though his 8.41 K/9 last year seems somewhat lucky when compared to his modest SwStr%, he’s still effective enough to put up a K/9 in the 7.50-8.00 range in 2014… Though he displayed one of his worst batted-ball profiles in 2013 (43.9 GB% and 22.7 LD%) and still shows some issues with walks (3.5 BB/9 last year), Gio Gonzalez can still be plenty productive in fantasy. The owner of a career 8.80 K/9, Neo-Gio should once again finish with a mid-3.00s ERA and WHIP in the 1.20-1.26 range… You know exactly what you are getting with James Shields. Quality ERA/WHIP, K/9 around 8.00, and consistent start-to-start production. Nice bonus: he’s also entering a walk year… It’s always tough projecting stats for pitchers coming over from Japan, but considering that Masahiro Tanaka has good zip on his fastball and throws a deadly splitter, I think we can expect him to flirt with a 8.00 K/9. His WHIP should be solid (career 1.9 BB/9 in Japan), but his ERA is at the mercy of Yankee Stadium and the AL East. The upside is certainly there, but you may have to pony up to secure his services… In my opinion, Jordan Zimmermann is one of the most overvalued arms in fantasy. The ERA and WHIP will be very tidy, but the groundball machine lacks the strikeout upside necessary to warrant the price tag (measly 6.79 K/9 in 2013)… Shelby Miller possesses a mid-90s fastball and registered an impressive 8.78 K/9 and 2.96 BB/9 in his rookie season last year. There is no doubt that he is brimming with upside, but he’s far from a lock. He tends to rely a bit too much on his heater (threw it over 70-percent of the time last year), flashed an underwhelming 9.0 SwStr% in his rookie campaign, and wore down as the 2013 season chugged along. He’s a hell of a talent, but don’t feel the need to go all out to land Miller… Other than being too generous with the long ball and topping off in the high-80s with his fastball, there is seriously nothing that you can find wrong with Iwakuma’s 2013 season. Whether you are talking about his surface stats (2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 1.72 BB/9, and 7.58 K/9) or the peripheral data (63.5 F-Strike%, 17.6 LD%, and 48.7 GB%), dude was simply a beast last year. It would be a lot to expect him to repeat such sterling numbers with such middling stuff, especially if his ailing hand becomes a serious issue (he might miss the first month of the season). That said, he obviously knows how to pitch, so he should be treated as a low-end SP2/quality SP3… Brilliant in his rookie year, Sonny Gray displayed good velocity, racked up the strikeouts, induced grounders, and limited the long ball. As great as he was, it’s hard to expect a repeat performance. His strikeout numbers in the minors were pretty average (career 7.3 K/9), and a big dip in whiffs could make him a vast overpay for fantasy owners going all in on the A’s righty.
 

The Riddle-Wrapped Ruffians

35. Doug Fister

36. Corey Kluber

37. Matt Cain

38. Hyun-Jin Ryu

39. Jon Lester

40. Justin Masterson

The pitchers in this tier have a ceiling that will eclipse their draft day value, but you are assuming some risk with each and every one of these options… Moving to the National League may be just the tonic to send Doug Fister into SP2 territory. Though he throws in the high-80s and has a mediocre career 6.28 K/9, Fister has been a very useful fantasy SP over the last three seasons. Now in the NL, his stats should see a boost. It’s not crazy to think 2014 will be his best season yet… If it weren’t for his tendency to be quite hittable (particularly his fastball), Corey Kluber would sit higher on this list. His 25.9 LD% and 12.4 HR/FB last year helped push his ERA up to 3.92. Ah, but the positives. A mid-90s heater (hittable, but velocity never hurts), plenty of strikeout potential (8.31 K/9 and 10.4 SwStr% last year), and the ability to limit walks (2.02 BB/9 in 2013). Add in the fact that he has a choice four-pitch repertoire, and it’s easy to see why Kluber has all the makings of a big-time sleeper… It was only a matter of time before Matt Cain got rocked. A fly ball pitcher who time and time again defied the peripheral numbers, 2013 saw his ERA shoot to 4.00. Considering his HR/FB, LD%, and SwStr% were already trending negatively, it’s hard to imagine Cain returning to his SP1 ways. If you can net him at a reasonable price (as a low-end SP3 preferably), great. Otherwise, I’m not willing to reach… With a 8.1 SwStr% last year, it’s possible that Hyun-Jin Ryu’s K/9 could fall below 7.00. It’s really the only wart on an otherwise smooth rookie MLB season (3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.22 K/9, 2.3 BB/9)… The Red Sox pitcher is a moLester of the WHIPs of fantasy teams (career 1.30 mark) and his presence in the AL East and Fenway Park will always put his ERA at risk of eclipsing the 4.00 plateau. He’s a hard-throwing lefty who should post a 7.00-plus K/9 and is entering a walk year, but he’s also likely to cost more than he should on draft/auction day… Coming off a season in which he posted a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 9.09 K/9, Masterson could end up being an overpriced option on draft/auction day. While he always has superb batted ball profiles (career 17.8 LD% and 58.0 GB%), his game shows plenty of weaknesses. His velocity has lost a tick each of the last two years, he walks more batters than you’d like (3.54 BB/9 in 2013), and his 9.2 SwStr% from last year portends a significant K/9 drop in 2014. Masterson is still a top 40 pitcher in my book, but one that is hard to pin down.

 

The “SP2 Hopeful” Hooligans

41. Tim Lincecum

42. Andrew Cashner

43. Marco Estrada

44. Jeff Samardzija

45. Chris Archer

46. Kevin Gausman

Some very interesting names sit in this tier. These dudes should all be rather affordable, and they all have the potential to produce a nice return on the investment… Lincecum can still rack up the Ks (11.1 SwStr% and 8.79 K/9 last year), but you really can’t expect him to return to the form that made him the best pitcher in baseball a few years back. His velocity is not what it used to be and he walks too many batters to keep his WHIP below 1.30. Lincecum is the type of pitcher you should pounce on if he becomes overlooked, but he obviously has his flaws… 2013 was a pretty successful season for Cashner, but most fantasy owners weren’t paying attention. That’s likely because his strikeout numbers tanked last year (6.58 K/9 and 8.3 SwStr%). Despite the low whiff rates, he made strides across the board in 2013, showing improved control (60.1 F-Strike% and 2.42 BB/9) and displaying a wicked batted ball profile (18.8 LD% and 52.5 GB%). The good news is that Cashner is still throwing gas (averaged 94.5 mph last year on heater) and threw up double-digit K/9 numbers in his last three years in the minors, so there is plenty of strikeout upside here. Straight Cashner Homie is a sweet gamble …  Terribly inconsistent at the start of last year, Estrada went on a roll after coming off the DL in August (58.2 IP, 2.15 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 8.59 K/9, and 1.69 BB/9). He owns a sick changeup and could certainly break out in 2014, but the “sample size” cynics will point to his limited big league success as reason for skepticism. Overall, I think he’s a good value pick who can pay nice dividends… Only one year removed from a breakout season, Jeff Samardzija has seen his draft day value take a hit after allowing more walks and looking more hittable in 2013. Yes his WHIP may skip north of 1.30 and his SwStr% dipped a tad last year, but there’s still plenty to like about the hard-throwing righty. No need to overspend, but if you need help with Ks and he’s sitting there at an affordable rate, you could do a hell of a lot worse… People have loved going nuts on Tampa Bay Rays pitchers in the last couple of years, so I’m somewhat worried that Chris Archer’s asking price will be too high come draft/auction day. However, if he remains a cost-effective fantasy target, he’s a solid player to go after. For starters, there is ample untapped strikeout potential (throws in mid-90s and owned a 9.00 K/9 in his minor league career). Archer also displayed solid control (2.66 BB/9) and a quality batted ball profile (19.1 LD% and 46.8 GB%) last year. His issues with the long ball in the AL East could bang up his ERA a bit, but he certainly has the talent to be this year’s Alex Cobb… Kevin Gausman looked crazy hittable in the majors last year, registering an ugly 25.2 LD% and 1.34 WHIP. Still, his stuff is pretty incredible. He throws in the mid-90s, owns a ridiculous splitter, and actually does a good job at limiting the walks. Sure he was somewhat underwhelming in his taste of the big leagues last year and he might be limited to around 180 frames this season, but the upside is undeniable (and his current market price is a borderline steal).

 

The “Fingers Crossed” Dressers

47. Hiroki Kuroda

48. Matt Garza

49. Johnny Cueto

50. CC Sabathia

51. Josh Johnson

52. Jered Weaver

53. Matt Moore

There are plenty of familiar names in this list. Hell, some of these guys have even helped you in fantasy leagues of yesteryear. There is certainly some potential for a quality fantasy season from each of these hurlers, but there’s also a chance they will disappoint… Kuroda’s overall numbers last year were very good, but it’s hard to expect him to repeat that production. He wore down as last season went along, which may be an indication that his effectiveness is on the downswing. On top of that, he’s 39 years old and is pitching in the AL East (and Yankee Stadium). He’s still got an impeccable walk rate and splitter to lean on, but drafting Kuroda assumes the risk of him potentially falling apart this year… When Matt Garza is on, he can put up SP2-caliber numbers. When he’s off, his blow-ups on the mound can make Al-Qaeda blush. He’s also pretty injury-prone (hasn’t pitched 200 innings since 2010). I love that he’s back in the National League, but fantasy owners are taking a chance nonetheless… Cueto was en route to one of his best seasons last year, but had his campaign cut short (only 60.2 IP). He has yet to toss 200 frames in a season, so while he should be very productive when he toes the rubber, he might sit more than start… It’s clear that CC Sabathia’s stuff is not as good as it once was, and the AL East and Yankee Stadium should keep him firmly out of the SP2 conversation. That said, he’s been an adaptable pitcher throughout his career. I’m not expecting him to return to his ace ways, but he still has enough velo (for a lefty), pitch variety, and guile to pitch himself back into fantasy owners’ good graces… Another injury-prone pitcher, Josh Johnson lasted just 81.1 innings last year. Yet because he can still miss bats (9.18 K/9 last year) and has found sweet new digs at Petco Park, there’s still hope that he can be a valuable fantasy commodity… I always thought Weaver was overrated even during his hey day. Now that he’s a sub-7.00 K/9 pitcher with a diminishing fastball, he’s not someone you need to go crazy over. Be-Weavers will point to his tidy ratios as a reason to rank him way higher than where I currently slot him, but I’m not throwing a lot of support behind a soft-tosser in decline… Declining velocity and a horrific walk rate (4.55 BB/9 last year) have derailed what looked like a promising career for Matt Moore. I really wanted to rank him lower, but I can’t ignore his potential upside (after all, this dude was being called “the lefthanded Stephen Strasburg” just a couple of years ago). Curse my love of strikeouts.

 

The “Things Break Right” Rebels

54. Patrick Corbin

55. Lance Lynn

56. Scott Kazmir

57. Dan Straily

58. Jameson Taillon

59. Drew Smyly

At this stage of the rankings, you start running into more and more risks. In this tier, you certainly have some upside. Of course, upside and actual fantasy performance are two completely different things… Patrick Corbin’s 10.7 SwStr% and 70.2 F-Strike% from last season paint the portrait of a swing-and-miss inducer who is well adept at getting ahead of the count, but something doesn’t quite sit right. Watching the D-backs SP, it’s obvious that he doesn’t have great stuff. My worry is that hitters will make adjustments and become more aggressive at the plate against Corbin, forcing an ERA and WHIP spike (a trend we saw develop during the second half of last year)… You have to love the strikeout potential Lance Lynn has shown (8.84 K/9), but I tend to shy away from pitchers with WHIPs that sit above 1.30. It’s also possible that he’ll be forced to the bullpen at some point since the Cardinals are loaded with starting pitchers… Unexpectedly, Scott Kazmir came back into fantasy baseball relevance last year with a season that saw him put up a 10.1 SwStr%, 9.23 K/9, and 2.68 BB/9. Now in Oakland, his ERA should dip below 4.00. Yet it’s hard to get overly excited about a pitcher who threw up a 1.32 WHIP last year and who spent the previous few years toiling in obscurity… With an 11.1 SwStr% last year and flashes of big-time strikeout ability in the minors, Dan Straily has oodles of whiff upside. Unfortunately, he managed just an OK 7.33 K/9 in 2013 despite the elite SwStr% and was maddeningly inconsistent. Plenty of potential for sure, but could easily underwhelm again… Jameson Taillon is a hard-throwing, top-flight pitching prospect who should pitch in the majors in 2014. Of course, he might not even begin the year in the bigs and will likely be limited to 180 innings or so (which means fantasy owners who draft him may only get 130-150 innings of stats)… Sure Drew Smyly’s pristine stats last year came strictly out of the bullpen, but he’s shown plenty of upside as a starter as well (career 9.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in minors). While the team has said the plan is for Smyly to be a starter this year, Detroit could easily change their mind as their bullpen is absolute crap and their rotation is deep enough to put Smyly back in a relief role and not miss a beat. 

 

The “Very Veteran” Veterans

60. Brandon Morrow

61. Ian Kennedy

62. John Lackey

63. C.J. Wilson

64. Clay Buchholz

65. Ubaldo Jimenez

Everyone who has been playing fantasy baseball for the past couple of years is familiar with all the veterans in this tier. Like major league teams bring in non-All Star vets for the purpose of filling out their roster and hoping to maybe capture lightning in a bottle, fantasy owners too are adding the players in this tier for the same purposes… A nerve issue in his forearm limited Morrow to just 10 starts in 2013, but even before he was shelved, his play was rather mediocre (his strikeout rate started declining in 2012). He was still throwing in the mid-90s last year and learned to reel in the walks over the last two years, so the hope is that even if he can’t post a 9.00 K/9, at least he can deliver overall quality numbers… If Ian Kennedy wasn’t pitching in Petco Park, he’d probably sit a lot lower on these ranks. Dude is a hittable, fly-ball hurler with ERAs north of 4.00 over the last two years. Yet because he can sport a K/9 over 8.00 (as he’s done over the last three years) and has shown an ability to limit the free passes, there’s still a chance that he can provide some fantasy value in San Diego… There really were no flaws in John Lackey’s numbers last year, but I have a hard time buying a repeat. Not only is it difficult to put up those kind of numbers two years in a row pitching in Fenway Park and in the AL East, but Lackey is a 35-year-old, long-ball prone hurler who I can easily see slipping back into mediocrity. Had his 2013 season not been so brilliant, he would sit way lower on this list… With a K/9 over 7.5 in every season, C.J. Wilson, has been a very consistent performer since turning into a starting pitcher. Alas, if the 33-year-old’s issues with walks are not his undoing (3.6 BB/9), then perhaps his rising LD% will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, maybe he turns in one more solid season… Injuries are the chief reason Clay Buchholz sits in this tier. He’s never tossed 190 innings in a season (only 108.1 last year). He can certainly be an effective pitcher when healthy, but despite his 7.98 K/9 last year, I still think he’s a pitcher with middling strikeout upside (career 6.85 K/9 and 9.2 SwStr%)… Ubaldo saved his fantasy career with an astounding second half performance last year (84 IP, 1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, and 2.89 BB/9). A mid-season mechanical adjustment is credited as the reason for his late surge, but color me suspicious. Dude was entering a walk year, and this simply could be a case of him “turning it up” for a new contract. Of course, just in case the mechanical adjustment is a tangible reason for a new version of Ubaldo Jimenez, I snuck him into this tier (it’s bet-hedging at its finest).

 

The “Never Say Never” Nincompoops

66. Ivan Nova

67. R.A. Dickey

68. Dan Haren

69. Tony Cingrani

70. Zack Wheeler

71. Taijuan Walker

A case can be made for each of these players surpassing their draft day value, and at this stage of the draft/auction, they all make sense. There certainly is some intrigue with each name in this tier, but there are also plenty of concerns abound… Nova has been crazy inconsistent at the big league level, so despite a promising 2013, I’m not sold on him breaking out while pitching in the AL East and at Yankee Stadium. Don’t get it twisted, there is plenty to like such as his improving strikeout rate, ground ball prowess, and propensity for limiting the long ball. Still, he seems to go through an identity crisis when on the mound, trying to figure out if he is a ground ball pitcher or a guy who can rack up the Ks. Definitely some potential here, but I’m not reaching… It was more than just the move to the AL East from the National League that doomed Dickey in 2013. His velocity lost a couple of ticks and the strikeouts went down considerably. Dickey is certainly a unique pitcher as an aging knuckleballer who puts more zip on the speciality pitch than we’re used to seeing. There is a slim chance at a bounce back and draft day profit, but it’s also possible his decline will continue in 2014… A very good second half performance shows that Dan Haren may have something left in the tank, and the fact that he’s now pitching in spacious Dodger Stadium doesn’t hurt. What does hurt him are the injuries (literally) and the fact that he’s giving up more fly balls (figuratively)… Some are concerned about Cingrani’s fastball-heavy approach (he threw it over 80-percent of the time last year), but I think his funky delivery and strikeout ability (10.32 K/9 and 9.9 SwStr% in 2013) more than allay those worries. The real concerns should center around his spotty control, fly-ball tendencies at Great American Ballpark, and the fact that he might be limited to only 180 innings or so… Top prospect Zack Wheeler throws in the mid-90s, has an ideal home ballpark, and owned a career 9.7 K/9 in the minors. That doesn’t make him a lock to break out in 2014. He showed poor command and saw his strikeout numbers slow down when he was brought up to the majors last year, so the 23-year-old may be a year away from really making a big fantasy impact… If it wasn't for a shoulder issue bothering him this spring, Taijuan Walker would rank a lot higher. The top prospect throws hard and can rack up the strikeouts, but he's also just 21 and needs to sharpen up his secondary offerings. He might be in the minors until well into the summer, but has the ability to make a big impact when he arrives.

The “Fill ‘Em Out” Finaglers

72. Ricky Nolasco

73. Jake Peavy

74. Ervin Santana

75. Yovani Gallardo

76. Bartolo Colon

77. Edinson Volquez

78. Jarrod Parker

79. Jose Quintana

80. Phil Hughes

81. Garrett Richards

82. Brandon Beachy

83. A.J. Griffin

We are starting to get to the point of the rankings where you are simply adding depth to your starting rotation. At this point, fantasy owners are either taking players with a lot of upside and very low ceilings, or middling upside and startable-enough ceilings. Chances are that half of these guys will be worth starting, while the other half might not even be worth owning… If you are looking for someone who will rock a K/9 over 7.00 and keep the walks in check, then arms like Ricky Nolasco, Jake Peavy, Phil Hughes, and (maybe) A.J. Griffin are worth looking at. The ERAs for all of these pitchers could get above 4.00 and they all have a tendency to be hittable (so there’s a chance you’ll also wind up with a WHIP above 1.30). Still, the skill-set is solid enough for these guys to make them worth rostering… In the market for a ratio stabilizer? Then Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, and Jose Quintana are reasonable targets. Colon seems the most reliable of the trio, but Quintana and Santana bring added strikeouts to your pitching staff… Yovani Gallardo and Jarrod Parker are dealing with declining velocity and strikeout rates, but if they are able to bounce back, they could be decent draft-day payoffs… There is definitely some upside that comes with the likes of Edinson Volquez, Garrett Richards, and Brandon Beachy. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage turned the careers around of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, so there’s hope that he can work some magic on the hard-throwing Volquez. Richards also fires heat, but was crazy hittable last year, so much so that he registered a 1.34 WHIP despite posting a solid 2.79 BB/9. He gets a lot of grounders though, so it’s possible that Richards can be a solid ratio-based fantasy SP. Beachy will be two years post-Tommy John surgery in June, but he had arthroscopic surgery on the same arm in September, so you have to be concerned about how he will bounce back. If he can stay healthy, a K/9 above 7.00 with smooth ratios is entirely plausible.

 

The “Why Not?” Warriors

84. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

85. Jenrry Mejia

86. Yusmeiro Petit

87. Marcus Stroman

88. Brett Anderson

89. James Paxton

90. Danny Duffy

Some very interesting deep sleepers occupy this tier. Any one of these hurlers can break through and deliver quality fantasy production… Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Marcus Stroman, and James Paxton are three rookies that are all a bit of a mystery. The Cuban Gonzalez has zero pro innings under his belt and the scouting reports were a mixed bag of praise and doubts about his ceiling. That said, he throws a bunch of different pitches and is shrouded in intrigue. Stroman can throw in the mid-90s, is cocky as fuck, and threw up a 10.40 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 in his first pro season last year. That’s all great, but he’s not a sure-fire sleeper thanks to his inexperience (22 years old and no AAA innings), small stature, and the fact that some think he might be better suited for the bullpen. James Paxton actually fired 24 frames in the bigs last year, and he showed front-of-the-rotation ability and poise in his cup o’ joe. He comes equipped with a mid-90s fastball (for a lefty!) and a knack for generating ground balls, but he has a history of command issues that may keep him from being fantasy relevant in 2014… Mejia, Petit, Anderson, and Duffy all look like players who will either be terrific draft-day bargains or unownable assets. Mejia, Petit and Duffy put up ridiculous numbers in limited starts last year, showing the potential to be valuable fantasy contributors. Anderson worked out of the bullpen last year, but is moving to the National League and still has the skill-set to be a quality fantasy option. Of course, it ain’t all roses for this bunch. Petit might have to settle for a relief role thanks to a currently-filled Giants rotation, while Duffy, Anderson and Mejia present injury concerns entering the season.

 

The “Name Value” Vandals

91. Chris Tillman

92. Jeremy Hellickson

93. Rick Porcello

94. Tanner Roark

95. Martin Perez

96. Edwin Jackson

97. Yordano Ventura

98. Michael Pineda

99. Alexi Ogando

100. Charlie Morton

101. Brandon McCarthy

102. Tim Hudson

103. Jon Niese

104. Kyle Lohse

105. Wei-Yin Chen

106. Felix Doubront

There are varying levels of upside and safety sitting in this tier. There’s also an equal amount of combustibility and irrelevance. Yet because these guys all have some name value, they bring a comfort-level and warm, safe feeling that some of the lesser-known players ranked below just can’t offer… Tillman, Hellickson, Porcello, Perez, and Pineda are former top prospects who have disappointed in the majors mostly, yet it wouldn’t be a wild surprise to see any of them have a successful 2014… Roark and Ventura are fresh-faced hurlers working off some strong 2013 buzz (Roark for his commanding performance late in the year, and Ventura for his high-90s fastball). Definite upside here… Pitchers who have had previous MLB success like Jackson, Ogando, McCarthy, Hudson, Lohse, Chen, and Doubront present a different type of name value. You’ve seen them get the job done before, so they are a relatively “safe” risky pick (albeit one that comes with a lower ceiling than some of the other players in this tier)… Morton and Niese had usable fantasy numbers in 2013, and it’s possible that they can turn in a similar (or slightly better) effort this season. Just keep the expectations in check because they have lower ceilings than Verne Troyer’s home.

 

The “Back-of-the-Rotation” Bandits

107. Brett Oberholtzer

108. Jhoulys Chacin

109. Wandy Rodriguez

110. Travis Wood

111. Taylor Jordan

112. Kyle Gibson

113. Nathan Eovaldi

114. Dillon Gee

115. Henderson Alvarez

116. Vidal Nuno

While the dudes in this tier don’t have the name (or fantasy) value of the players just above them, they have the opportunity and sneaky ability to be dirt-cheap sources of production. They are back-of-the-rotation options for both major league and fantasy teams. Yet because the upside is lower than Ke$ha’s self-esteem, I don’t see the need to mention any of these guys in further detail.

 

The “Sinkhole Sleeper” Syndicate

117. Will Smith

118. Kyle Zimmer

119. Burch Smith

120. Alex Colome

121. Noah Syndergaard

122. Jonathan Gray

123. Robert Stephenson

124. Mark Appel

This is going beyond deep sleepers and literally into the sinkhole of the fantasy ranks to find the long-shots with legitimate odds of surprising the baseball world in 2014. You have your prospects who might not be up until mid-season but possess insane talent (Zimmer, Syndergaard, Gray, Stephenson, Appel) and talented arms who will have a shot at making an impact as early as April (both Smiths and Colome). Even if you don’t draft any of these names, keep them all on your radar for the duration of the season.

 

The “You’ve Tried All the Rest, Now Try… the Rest” Rabble Rousers

125. Alex Wood

126. Hector Santiago

127. Wade Miley

128. Carlos Martinez

129. Felipe Paulino

130. Jason Hammel

131. Bronson Arroyo

132. Ryan Vogelsong

133. Suk-Min Yoon 

134. Jarred Cosart

135. Brad Peacock

136. Tyler Thornburg

137. Erasmo Ramirez

138. Tommy Milone

139. Jorge de la Rosa

140. Gavin Floyd

141. Derek Holland

142. Miguel Gonzalez

143. Trevor Bauer

144. Scott Feldman

145. Mike Leake

146. Todd Redmond 

147. Carlos Torres

148. Archie Bradley

149. Nate Karns

150. Andre Rienzo

151. Jose Alvarez

152. Jimmy Nelson

153. Matt Barnes

 

*Last updated on 2/28/14.

Starbonell

About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.

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