In order to be successful in fantasy, one must have a solid pitching staff. The best way to ensure that you have strong pitching is by drafting a top player who can anchor your staff. There are many strong starting pitchers to choose from. In part 1 of this article I am going to provide you with the top 10 in the order in which they should be drafted. With that being said, there are many complications that can arise when drafting pitchers. The most important one to look out for is that stats can be misleading. This means that just because someone has a strong season in 2012, it doesn’t guarantee they will repeat that same success in 2013. These players are still worthy of being on your roster, they just shouldn’t be drafted as early as the stats might suggest. In part 2 of this article I am going to provide you with 10 pitchers that I feel will not produce at the same level as they did last season. With this information, you should be able to draft the anchor of your pitching staff, while also avoid drafting certain pitchers too early, as they are likely going to have a worse season in 2013.
Part 1- Top 10 SP:
1. Justin Verlander: The 2011 AL CY Young and MVP awards winner is as good as it gets. He constantly pitches over 200 innings, while racking up well over one strike out per inning. To give you an idea of how good Verlander is, over the last four years he has averaged 19.5 wins and 244 strikeouts. With the Tigers being the heavy favorite to win the AL Central, expect Verlander to win 20 or more games, strike out 250 batters, have an ERA around 2.50 with a WHIP under 1.00. He is without a doubt the best pitcher in baseball.
2. Clayton Kershaw: At the ripe age of 22, Kershaw won the 2011 NL CY Young Award. He established himself as one of the best pitchers in the MLB and backed that statement up in 2012 with another fantastic season. He led the league in ERA, and had 229 strikeouts and a BAA of .210. He did only win 14 games, but I expect him to win closer to 20 in 2013, with a reloaded Dodgers roster. He is a lock to be in the top 5 in K’s and ERA, and have a WHIP around 1.00.
3. Felix Hernandez: Everyone is aware that he does not win a lot of games, yet he constantly puts up Cy Young caliber numbers, and he is now the highest paid pitcher in MLB history. The good news for fantasy baseball owners is that the Mariners have added some much-needed pop to their lineup in 2013, and King Felix should be provided with the most run support he has ever received. Expect well over 200 strikeouts, an ERA around 3.00, and 17 wins. There may be pitchers on this list who had better numbers in 2012, but Felix is one of, if not the most, consistent pitchers in the game today.
4. Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. He only started 28 games last year, as the Nationals wanted to keep him healthy moving forward. Although he missed an entire month, he still managed 15 wins, 197 strikeouts, and a 3.16 ERA. This season, Strasburg will not be shut down and should make 32 or more starts. The Nationals have improved offensively as well as in their bullpen, both of which will have a positive impact on Strasburg. Expect a minimum of 18 wins and 230 strikeouts to go along with an ERA under 3.00. He is an early candidate for the 2013 NL CY Young Award.
5. David Price: In 2011, Price had what many consider to be a down year. He won 12 games and lost 13. He also had an ERA of 3.49 and 218 strikeouts. I am not sure why that is considered so “down,” but it doesn’t matter because in 2012 Price erased the memories of anyone who had a negative outlook on him. Price won 20 games while only losing 5. He gave the Rays a chance to win every time he took to the mound. He also added 208 strikeouts to go with an ERA of 2.56. With James Shields gone, Price is going to be the number 1 in Tampa, which could hurt his win total a little. I still consider him a top 5 option in fantasy because even in a down year, he will provide you with more than enough production.
6. Jered Weaver: Weaver has had 2 Cy Young caliber seasons the last 2 years. He had some injury issues in 2012 that limited him to only 188 innings. His strikeouts were down, yet he still had 20 wins, an ERA of 2.81, and a WHIP of 1.02. In 2013, expect Weaver to have over 220 innings pitched and at least 20 wins again. His ERA will be below 3.00 and his WHIP will be around 1.00. The only reason why he is 6th on this list and not 3 or 4 is that his strikeouts have gone down every year since 2010. Assuming he gets back up to his 220 plus innings, he should be able to get 180 or more strikeouts.
7. Cole Hamels: He may not be listed as the number one pitcher on the Phillies depth chart, however, he sure pitched like it in 2012. On a Phillies team that desperately struggled to score runs, Hamels had a career high 17 wins to go with his 216 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA. With an improved roster, offensively and defensively, Hamels should improve upon his 17 wins and continue to rack up a high number of strikeouts. His ERA will remain low, as it hasn’t been over 3.06 in the last 3 seasons.
8. R.A. Dickey: Dickey dazzled hitters last season with a knuckle ball that would win dancing with the stars. He won the NL Cy Young Award while setting career highs in wins (20), IP (233.1), strikeouts (230), ERA (2.73), and WHIP (1.05). Although Dickey is now in the AL with the Blue Jays and he will be facing tougher lineups, his numbers won’t be as affected as you may think. Being a knuckle baller gives him an advantage over hitters, due to the unpredictability of the pitch. There is always a learning curve when switching leagues and divisions, but in this case, the hitters will have a tougher time adjusting to Dickey than he will have adjusting to the hitters. Expect over 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, and an ERA around 3.00 with at least 15 wins.
9. C.C. Sabathia: The big lefty struggled with injuries last season, but still managed to pitch in 200 innings. C.C. is a workhorse that provides you with consistency that you won’t find from most pitchers. He has thrown over 200 innings every season since 2007, and constantly racks up close to 200 or more strikeouts. Since coming to New York in 2009, Sabathia ranks 2nd in the MLB in wins, and has averaged 205 strikeouts per year. In 2013, I expect 18 wins, 3.15 ERA, 210 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP. He is always a safe bet and the Yankees will be extremely reliant on him again.
10. Matt Cain: Cain is coming off the best statistical season of his career. He won 16 games and had 193 strikeouts, with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Cain is now the ace of the Giants pitching staff, which is one of the best in baseball. He anchored them to their 2nd World Series championship in 3 years. His strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP have improved every season since 2010, and I expect them to improve again in 2013. I predict 16 or more wins, 200 strikeouts, 2.75 ERA, and 1.00 WHIP. There may be flashier pitchers than Cain, but he is extremely consistent and has shown no signs of regressing.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow…