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2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starter Pitcher Rankings

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1. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies, 100% owned)

2. Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies, 100% owned)

3. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers, 100% owned)

4. Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies, 100% owned)

5. CC Sabathia (New York Yankees, 100% owned)

6. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, 100% owned)

7. Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, 100% owned)

8. Anibal Sanchez (Miami Marlins, 100% owned)

Anibal’s draft position of 41st among pitchers (ESPN.com) was insane.  He was coming off a 3.25 xFIP year in which he struck out over a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine.  The K rate was a big improvement from previous years but was backed up by a big jump in swinging strike rate.  So far this year strikeouts are up, walks are down, and groundballs are up.  All good signs.  A top ten ranking may seem high, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that a sub-3.00 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning, and a respectable WHIP can’t be posted by Anibal this season.

9. David Price (Tampa Bay Rays, 100% owned)

10. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners, 100% owned)

11. Dan Haren (Los Angeles Angels, 100% owned)

12. James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays, 100% owned)

13. Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels, 100% owned)

Weaver’s career K/9 is 7.82.  It spiked in 2010 to 9.35 with an 11.2% swinging strike rate, but both his K/9 and swinging strike rate fell back to his career norms last year where he also got some significant BABIP (.250) and strand rate (82.6%) luck.  This year his K/9 is above 9.00, but his swinging strike rate is currently the lowest of his career (8%).  And the BABIP and strand rate luck have continued through roughly 50 innings this year.  He might be able to keep some level of “luck” give his skill-set (high fly ball percentage), but not this level.  Weaver is a really nice sell high candidate at the moment.

14. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals, 100% owned)

The 5.61 ERA has made some think Wainwright is having trouble returning from Tommy John surgery.  But his other numbers say otherwise.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio is an impressive 4.86 (9.09 K/9, 1.87 BB/9), and he’s been getting a ton of groundballs (55.8%).  But luck has not been on his side.  His BABIP is elevated (.319), his strand rate is lower than average (67.3%), and his HR/FB rate is unsustainably high (28%).  Wainwright has recovered from injury just fine, his roto numbers just don’t show it yet.

15. C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels, 100% owned)

16. Matt Garza (Chicago Cubs, 100% owned)

17. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants, 100% owned)

The significant drop in fastball velocity and the high walk total are definitely concerns, but a lot of Lincy’s bad start has been bad luck.  His BABIP is a bit high (.315), and his strand rate is very, very low (60.6%).  He’s still generating swings and misses at an above average rate (albeit below his career average), so he’s probably still capable of being a top 20 pitcher.

18. Jordan Zimmermann (Washington Nationals, 100% owned)

19. Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants, 100% owned)

20 Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondbacks, 100% owned)

21. Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers, 98.7% owned)

22. Mat Latos (Cincinnati Reds, 89.0% owned)

23. Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers, 100% owned)

24. Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 100% owned)

25. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants, 100% owned)

26. Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves, 100% owned)

27. Shaun Marcum (Milwaukee Brewers, 100% owned)

28. Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves, 74.1% owned)

I’m not sure how many times I can say this, but Minor has also been a victim of bad BABIP (.324) and strand rate luck (55.6%).  He was really good in the 130 innings he spent at AAA, and some of that success has translated to the majors as he sports a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost three.  Whenever the luck turns around, Minor is going to be a beast.

29. Brandon Beachy (Atlanta Braves, 100% owned)

30. Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins, 91.7% owned)

31. Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers, 58.3% owned)

Scherzer has the highest K/9 among qualified starters (backed up by the 5th highest swinging strike rate in the league).  Scherzer also has the second highest BABIP in the league.  The strikeouts he can control.  The BABIP he can’t control.  You can probably get a guy who will be among the league leaders in strikeouts at a significant discount while his ERA is north of 6.00.

32. Jonathon Niese (New York Mets, 34.0% owned)

33. Derek Holland (Texas Rangers, 73.7% owned)

34. Bud Norris (Houston Astros, 47.8% owned)

35. Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox, 100% owned)

Peavy is a really good pitcher.  But he isn’t this good.  His SIERA is a good run-and-a-half higher than his ERA right now, and his HR/FB rate won’t stay as low as 3%.  More importantly, Peavy hasn’t thrown more than 115 innings since 2008.  He’s been good when he has been on the mound, but he just hasn’t been able to stay on the mound.  Maybe this is the year he gets back to 175+ innings, but the odds are higher that he’ll miss some time due to injury again this season.  Sell now while he looks as somewhat invincible.

36. Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox, 100% owned)

37. Wandy Rodriguez (Houston Astros, 100% owned)

38. Jaime Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals, 99.6% owned)

39. Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays, 100% owned)

40. Brandon Morrow (Toronto Blue Jays, 100% owned)

41. Gavin Floyd (Chicago White Sox, 72.3% owned)

42. Jeff Samardzija (Chicago Cubs, 34.9% owned)

When making this list Samardzija’s name came up, and I was curious to look at his Fangraphs page to see if his great start (3.41 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) was legit.  The short answer to that curious query: LEGIT.  If anything, Samardzija has been unlucky.  His BABIP is a little high, his strand rate is a little low, and his xFIP and SIERA are both lower than his ERA.  He’s striking out more than a batter per inning, and his swinging strike rate is a phenomenal 13%.  And the walk rate, which was somewhat of an issue in the minors, is under three batters per nine.  The walk rate may spike back up, but Samardzija should continue to succeed as long as his BB/9 doesn’t completely balloon.

43. Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 100% owned)

44. Ricky Nolasco (Miami Marlins, 77.6% owned)

45. Josh Beckett (Boston Red Sox, 100% owned)

46. R.A. Dickey (New York Mets, 20.5% owned)

47. Jason Hammel (Baltimore Orioles, 85.0% owned)

Coming into this season Hammel had over 700 innings of 4.00-plus ERA and xFIP.  Over that span his strikeout ability was average at times but below average on the whole, and his control was spotty at best.  But through almost 40 innings away from Coors (but in the tough AL East), Hammel has been insanely good.  His xFIP is an impressive 2.76, his K/BB is an excellent 3.45, and he’s inducing a ridiculous amount of groundballs (61%).  Those numbers (especially the GB%) seem to be backed up by a significant increase in the usage of his two-seam fastball (up from 13% last year to 40% this year).  I’m inclined to put more stock in the 700+ inning track record Hammel had before this season, but his hot start (and the reasons for it) can’t be ignored.

48. Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays, 98.2% owned)

49. Edwin Jackson (Washington Nationals, 58.8% owned)

50. Colby Lewis (Texas Rangers, 100% owned)

51. Ryan Dempster (Chicago Cubs, 97.5% owned)

52. Hiroki Kuroda (New York Yankees, 85.0% owned)

53. Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics, 74.5% owned)

54. Chad Billingsley (Los Angeles Dodgers, 95.5% owned)

55. Chris Capuano (Los Angeles Dodgers, 69.7% owned)

56. Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals, 100% owned)

57. Daniel Bard (Boston Red Sox, 54.5% owned)

58. Joe Blanton (Philadelphia Phillies, 5.9% owned)

59. Juan Nicasio (Colorado Rockies, 1.0% owned)

60. Matt Harrison (Texas Rangers, 36.1% owned)

I’m sure some of you will notice the absence of Johnny Cueto on this list.  But take a look at this set of numbers and tell me one of these pitchers has been significantly better than the other since the beginning of last year.

As my Twitter friend @BChad50 pointed out to me, we may be at the point where we just have to accept Cueto as one of these pitchers whose ERA consistently outperforms their xFIP.  But Cueto has only done that to a significant degree in his last 200-ish innings.  Matt Cain is probably the ultimate “xFIP lower than ERA guy,” but he’s been doing that for over 1000 innings.  Cueto has only done it for roughly one full season’s worth of innings.  At this point it seems more likely to me that the BABIP, LOB%, and strand rate normalize and Cueto is exposed as the average pitcher he is.

Written by Brett Talley exclusively for thefantasyfix.com.  Brett is a law student in Dallas who won’t be able to say that next week because he graduates on Saturday.  You can follow him and/or ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @therealTAL.

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