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2012 Fantasy Baseball: Top 75 Pitchers

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This article is long.  Eff the intro.  I’ll make euphemisms about the pitching rubber and condoms next week.  For now, here is the extra-long first edition of The Rubber 2012.

1. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Philles, ADP among SP: 1)
2. Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies, ADP: 4)
3. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers, ADP: 3)
4. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, ADP: 2)
5. Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, ADP: 11)

By a couple measures, Greinke was the best pitcher in baseball last year as he led the league in both xFIP and K/9.  He also had an excellent walk rate with a 2.36 BB/9 (4.47 K/BB) and a nice groundball rate of 47.3%.  Unfortunately, his ERA (3.83) didn’t match up with his 2.56 xFIP.  But the reasons for that were out of his control.  His BABIP was on the unlucky side at .318, his strand rate was a touch below league average at 69.8%, and his HR/FB rate was an inflated 13.6% (league average is about 10%).  There is no reason to expect the bad luck to continue, and a luck-neutral Greinke is capable of being a top 5 pitcher.
 
6. Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies, ADP: 10)
7. David Price (Tampa Bay Rays, ADP: 12)

Price’s xFIP from 2009-2011: 4.46, 3.85, 3.27
Price’s K/9 from 2009-2011: 7.15, 8.11, 8.75
Price’s BB/9 from 2009-2011: 3.79, 3.41, 2.53

Price’s improvement is not as noticeable when looking at more traditional numbers like ERA.  But looking at those peripheral numbers you should see a very good pitcher on the edge of becoming a great pitcher.  Price is ready to enter elite territory as he enters his prime.
 
8. CC Sabathia (New York Yankees, ADP: 8)
9. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners, ADP: 5)
10. Dan Haren (Los Angeles Angels, ADP: 9)
11. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants, ADP: 6)
12. James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays, ADP: 16)
13. Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels, ADP: 7)

Weaver’s career BABIP is .276.  He’s capable of sustaining that lower-than-normal number because he’s a flyball pitcher with the ability to miss bats.  But last year’s BABIP of .250 is probably not repeatable.  It’s just more likely that the number will return to his mean.  Kind of like his K/9 did last year (7.56) after a big uptick in 2010 (9.35).  In the same way, expect his strand rate (82.6%) to return to something close to what it was the two years prior (76%).  Returning to all those numbers doesn’t mean Weaver will be a bad pitcher, but it does mean he won’t be the pitcher he was last year.
 
14. C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels, ADP: 17)
15. Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondback, ADP: 19) 
16. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants, ADP: 21)
17. Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants, ADP: 14)
18. Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox, ADP: 13)
19. Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers, ADP: 15)

Like Price, Gallardo is entering his age 26 season and has seen improvement in key areas over the last few years.  His xFIP has dropped three straight years and though his K/9 has dropped in each of the last two years his BB/9 has declined along with it.  All that sounds like things I’d say about a guy I had ranked higher than his ADP, but if you’ve ever owned Gallardo, you know he’s not the most consistent pitcher.  His first start of the season is a fine example of that (3.2 IP, 6 ER, 7 H, 5 BB, 4 HR, 3 K).  In the end, all that really matters is his totals, but as a H2H player, I’d rather not have Gallardo blow up my ERA and WHIP a few weeks each year.

20. Mat Latos (Cincinnati Reds, ADP: 25)
21. Matt Garza (Chicago Cubs, ADP: 30)
22. Anibal Sanchez (Florida Marlins. ADP: 41)

I guess this is becoming a theme of this article, but Anibal is another pitcher who has been improving over the last few years.  His xFIP has gone from 4.58 to 4.04 to 3.25, his BB/9 was 4.81 in 2009 but dipped under 3.00 last year, and his K/9 jumped over 9.00 as well.  The strikeout jump may not be completely for real, but the other numbers probably are.  His roto numbers lagged behind his peripherals because of a little bad luck, but if the bad luck doesn’t happen again, then Anibal is going to provide a ton of value for those who drafted him.

23. Jordan Zimmermann (Washington Nationals, ADP: 34)
24. Josh Beckett (Boston Red Sox, ADP: 27)
25. Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays, ADP: 20)
26. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals, ADP: 23)
27. Josh Johnson (Florida Marlins, ADP: 28)
28. Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals. ADP: 18)

The starting point for analyzing Strasburg is also the limiting factor.  Strasburg just isn’t going to pitch more than about 160 innings this year.  So the sub-3.00 ERA, stellar WHIP, and strikeout-plus per inning are desirable, but they’d be more desirable if they came with 200 innings.  And when you throw in the risk that Strasburg misses time due to injury as he has done previously, that inning total is potentially even more limited.  And thus so is Strasburg’s value.

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29. Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers, ADP: 33)
30. Daniel Hudson (Arizona Diamondbacks, ADP: 24)
31. Brandon Beachy (Atlanta Braves. ADP: 35)
32. Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves, ADP: 31)
33. Michael Pineda (Seattle Mariners, ADP: 32)
34. Shaun Marcum (Milwaukee Brewers. ADP: 37)
35. Ubaldo Jimenez (Cleveland Indians, ADP: 29)
36. Jaime Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals. ADP: 44)
37. Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays, ADP: 22)

Romero has seen marginal gains in walk rate and SIERA, but, for the most part, his numbers have been fairly constant over the last three years.  What hasn’t been constant is his luck.  His BABIP and strand rate were well outside normal ranges last year which allowed his ERA to get under 3.00 and his WHIP to be an excellent 1.14.  But the peripheral numbers pretty clearly peg Romero as a guy with a 3.70-is ERA, 1.25-ish WHIP, and a K/9 a little over 7.00.  That’s good, but it isn’t great.

38. Ricky Nolasco (Florida Marlins, ADP: 77)

Normally you’d see Nolasco’s 3.55 xFIP and 4.67 ERA from last year and assume he was due for some positive regression.  But if you raise your gaze an eighth of an inch while looking at his Fangraphs page, you’d see these xFIP/ERA combos from 2009 and 2010: 3.23/5.06 and 3.37/4.51.

There comes a point where you have to stop assuming a player will regress to the mean in one direction or the other and assume the difference between their peripheral and roto numbers is status quo.  So are we at that point with Nolasco?

Given that I have him ranked 38th as opposed to his ADP of 77, it should be obvious that I don’t think so.  But let me explain why.  Nolasco’s two biggest problems have been a high strand rate and a high BABIP.  The strand rate has partially been Nolasco’s fault as he had trouble keeping balls in the park in 2009/2010.  He was easily above average in that department last year (0.87 HR/9), but a lower-than-normal strikeout rate kept his strand rate below the mean.  It’s safe to say Nolasco’s BABIP probably isn’t going to be below .300 at any point (.309 career), but it was high even by Nolasco standards at .331.

All these numbers led to more numbers one of the weirdest seasons in baseball history.  Nolasco was just the 13th pitcher in the last 75 years to have a BB/9 under 2.00 and a WHIP of 1.40 or higher in the same season.  And only one of those 12 other pitchers had a strikeout rate anywhere close to Nolasco’s 6.47 K/9 from last year (John Burkett in 1997).

Nolasco’s underperforming roto numbers were his fault in 2009/2010.  But last year he really was unlucky.  So if he can maintain the level of performance from last year, particularly limiting the long ball, and the BABIP luck swings in his direction a little bit, his roto numbers might finally look as good as his peripherals.

39. Jeremy Hellickson (Tampa Bay Rays, ADP: 26)

The inexperienced fantasy player will see Hellickson’s 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and assume Hellickson is a top 25 pitcher.  But the more experienced player will notice that he had the biggest gap between ERA and xFIP of any pitcher last year, the lowest BABIP in the league, a very high strand rate, and an unimpressive 1.63 BB/9 and assume Hellickson isn’t even a top 50 pitcher.  But if you look even closer, you’ll see that he should probably fall somewhere in between.

Hellickson had excellent strikeout numbers in the minors, and it is safe to assume that those K’s will translate better to the majors as he gets more acclimated.  And some of those K’s were traded last season for weak contact.  Probably the best measure we have for a pitcher’s ability to induce weak contact is infield fly ball rate.  Last year, Hellickson had the highest infield fly ball rate in the league (16.2%).  And pitching to contact is a good idea when you have the best defense in the league behind you, which Hellickson does.  So while there is cause for concern with the young righty, I’d bet the inexperienced player’s first impression is closer to being right in this particular instance.
 
40. Hiroki Kuroda (New York Yankees, ADP: 43)
41. Cory Luebke (San Diego Padres, ADP: 39)
42. Brandon Morrow (Toronto Blue Jays, ADP: 49)
43. Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers, ADP: 38)
44. Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics, ADP: 54)
45. Bud Norris (Houston Astros, ADP: 64)

Bud’s biggest strength is his ability to miss bats.  His K/9 dipped below a 9.00 last year, but it came with a significant dip in his walk rate as well (3.39).  If the walk rate continues to trend towards 3.00, then watch out.  Wins will always be hard to come by in Houston, but if the walks come down, Norris could see his ERA get below 3.50 and his WHIP get below 1.30.  Those rate stats combined with excellent strikeout numbers would be an excellent combination.

46. Derek Holland (Texas Rangers, ADP: 61)
47. Wandy Rodriguez (Houston Astros, ADP: 53)
48. John Danks (Chicago White Sox, ADP: 74)

A little bad luck last year kept Danks from being the pitcher we’ve come to expect him to be, which is a guy with an ERA in the high 3.00’s, a WHIP under 1.30, and a decent K rate.  In fact, his K/9 went up and his BB/9 went down.  Given that improvement in areas he can control, there’s no reason not to expect Danks to be the pitcher we’ve come to expect him to be if not a little bit better.
 
49. Scott Baker (Minnesota Twins, ADP: 50)
50. Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox, ADP: 72)
51. Gavin Floyd (Chicago White Sox, ADP: 60)
52. Ryan Dempster (Chicago Cubs, ADP: 62)
53. Juan Nicasio (Colorado Rockies, ADP: 110)
 
Compare the numbers of these two pitchers last year...

Player A: 3.43 xFIP, 1.27 WHIP, 3.22 K/BB
Player B: 3.95 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, 1.72 K/BB

Player A is Nicasio who was drafted in 1% of ESPN ten team leagues.  Player B is Jhoulys Chacin who was drafted in 51% of leagues.  I know Nicasio is coming back from a scary injury after being struck by a come-backer, but he’s healthy.  He came back strong with this line against the Astros in his first start: 7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 4 K.  He should be owned in WAY more leagues and in at least as many as Chacin.

54. Justin Masterson (Cleveland Indians, ADP: 48)
55. Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, ADP: 36)

The deep fences and ample foul-territory of Oakland Coliseum are no longer a factor for Gonzalez, but the control issues are still present.  Until Gio can get the walks well under four per nine, he’s a potential WHIP killer who should be avoided.

56. Ted Lilly (Los Angeles Dodgers, ADP: 52)
57. Ervin Santana (Los Angeles Angels, ADP: 46)

Once upon a time, Santana exhibited excellent control (1.93 BB/9 in 2008).  But more recently he’s been about a 3.00 BB/9 type of pitcher.  Absent BABIP luck, his WHIP will sit around or above 1.30.  He got some of that BABIP luck last year and rode it to a 1.22 WHIP and 3.38 ERA.  However, his xFIP and SIERA show his ERA should have been near four if he had been luck-neutral.  Without more luck, expect Santana to post an ERA just under four, a WHIP around 1.30, and slightly above average K numbers.  Solid, but not worthy of a top 150 pick.

58. Jhoulys Chacin (Colorado Rockies, ADP: 79)
59. Colby Lewis (Texas Rangers, ADP: 51)
60. Jonathon Niese (New York Mets, ADP: 76)

Niese’s xFIP has dropped the last three years.  His strikeout rate has improved the last two years.  His walk rate dropped below 3.00 for the first time last year, all the way down to 2.52.  And his groundball rate jumped into well-above-average territory (north of 50%).  But the problem is that Niese’s BABIP and strand rate have consistently been on the unlucky side of things.  If luck is at all on his side, or even if it’s just not against him, Niese cold have a big, big breakout.

61. Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox, ADP: 56)
62. Vance Worley (Philadelphia Phillies, ADP: 66)
63. Tim Stauffer (San Diego Padres, ADP: 56)
64. Chad Billingsley (Los Angeles Dodgers, ADP: 75)
65. Philip Humber (Chicago White Sox, ADP: 127)

Humber had a strange 2011.  In the first half, he was extremely fortunate.  And in the second half, his luck took a turn significantly for the worse.  But aside from a rough August, Humber pitched pretty consistently like a mid-3.00 ERA pitcher with a K/BB around 2.50.  So don’t be scared off by his 5.02 ERA from July on.  He pitched just as well in the second half, if not better, than he did in the first half.

66. Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves, ADP: 57)
67. Chris Capuano (Los Angeles Dodgers, ADP: 98)

Capuanohas some legitimate potential to be a surprising spot-start option.  His 4.55 ERA and 1.35 WHIP from last year aren’t appealing, but his peripheral numbers were excellent.  He posted a 3.60 SIERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 3.00.  Only 29 other pitchers who threw at least 120 innings managed a SIERA of 3.60 or less combined with a strikeout-to-walk over 3.00 last year.  Not that Capuano is going to be a top 30 pitcher this year, but he should certainly be owned in more than 2.4% of leagues.

68. Trevor Cahill (Arizona Diamondbacks, ADP: 71)
69. Neftali Feliz (Texas Rangers, ADP: 54)
70. Alexi Ogando (Texas Rangers, ADP: 87)

Texas has a lot of solid arms at its disposal.  And that is great for them, but not so great for fantasy owners because it’s hard to be certain that players will have consistent roles throughout the year.  If I had to bet, I’d guess Ogando and Feliz end up with similar inning totals.  The slight edge goes to Feliz because he could pick up a few saves along the way, but he was over-drafted and Ogando was undervalued during draft season.

71. Erik Bedard (Pittsburgh Pirates, ADP: 83)
72. Johan Santana (New York Mets, ADP: 58)
73. Francisco Liriano (Minnesota Twins, ADP: 67)
74. Homer Bailey (Cincinnati Reds, ADP: 93)
75. Henderson Alvarez (Toronto Blue Jays, ADP: 95)

All ADP’s from ESPN.com.

Written by Brett Talley exclusively for thefantasyfix.com.  Brett is a law student in Dallas who spent his Sunday night writing this 2,500 word article that nowhere close to 2,500 people will read.  You can tell him to cry 2,500 rivers and/or ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @therealTAL.

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