Fantasy Baseball Preview: Pitchers

  Who to choose and who to avoid in your fantasy draft.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

After doing all my positional rankings, we’re finally to the pitchers. Before I even begin this almost overwhelming endeavor of ranking so many players at a lofty position, let me tell you… I will not be ranking relievers.

In the words of Matthew Berry, “never pay for saves.” I’ve had the same approach in fantasy over the years with great success.  Wait until the last round possible to get a guy that will get you some saves, and you’ll still round out your team OK. Last year I picked up Leo Nunez and Joel Hanrahan in the mid-to-late rounds, and I had more saves than half the league by years-end.

So now that you have my advice with relievers, let’s move on to starters.

Get one stud early, and then you can wait a little bit to round out the rest of your rotation. Sure, pitching is deep again this year. But because it is so deep, it takes better stats at the front-end to win your pitching categories than it used to.

Note: As long as I don’t have to over-pay, I am also taking a prospect with high upside over a veteran with a guarantee of average numbers, (ie. Mike Minor over Jake Peavy)

Note Two: I will only ‘rank’ my top 60 players, considering these players would be the only guys I would start immediately in a standard 12-team mixed league.

Guys I Love. (And Great Value Picks!)

Based on their ADP (average draft position), these players could be draft day bargains. Get ready to jump.

1 Roy Halladay (Phi) – Elite year-in and year-out. Always in contention for Cy Young.

2 Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – Coming off his first Cy Young, he’ll be a perennial candidate.

3 Justin Verlander (Det) – Elite pitcher, but threw a lot of innings last year. Don’t reach.

4 Cliff Lee (Phi) – One of the best pitchers in the NL. Career best ERA last year.

5 Felix Hernandez (Sea) – Won Cy Young in ’10, with ’11 being a ‘down’ year (3.47 ERA) Love him for the price this year.

9 Matt Cain (SF) – Most under-rated pitcher in the game. Whip always hovers around 1.00.

14 Adam Wainwright (STL) – He’s been healthy since October and his velocity has been full strength this spring. Expect the Cy Young-candidate Wainwright of old.

15 Madison Bumgarner (SF) – Set for a huge year. One of the best pitchers in MLB after May last year. All in on Bummy.

22 Jordan Zimmerman (Was) – Would have made more noise if not for his innings limit last year. He’s turning into an elite NL pitcher. Bold prediction: He could be better than Strasburg.

27 Ricky Romero (Tor) – He keeps improving every year. His ERA in ’11 was 2.92.

28 Cory Luebke (SD) – 3.29 ERA, pitcher’s park.  Age 27. He’s for real.

29 Chris Carpenter (STL) – Is starting the season the DL. Once he’s back I’m confident he’ll pitch like he did in ’11.

30 Gio Gonzalez (Was) – Great AL pitcher moving to the NL? Yes please.

34 Tim Hudson (Atl) – Will be on DL to start the season, but if he falls to you, he’s as reliable as any. Great #2 starter.

38 Clay Buchholz (Bos) – Amazing ’10 season is almost forgotten after he was hurt nearly all of ’11. Wouldn’t be shocked if he turns in an All-Star ’12 season.

39 Brandon McCarthy (Oak) – Along with Matt Cain, could be the most underrated pitcher in the game. He throws for control, so not a ton of strikeouts, but induces a huge amount of groundballs and will get you a low ERA in pitcher-friendly Oakland.

40 Chris Sale (CHW) – My bold prediction: he’ll compete for the AL Cy Young, if not this year, then next. Expectations for this kid are that high in the long run.

41 Vance Worley (Phi) – He’s legit. Had an ERA just over 3.00 in route to finishing third in the Rookie of the Year vote. Love this kid.

42 Ubaldo Jimenez (Cle) – He’s not going to put up numbers again like he did in Colorado, but he also got a little unlucky last year. He could post an ERA under 4.00 again.

43 Johan Santana (NYM) – No reason he can’t perform like an All-Star.

49 Doug Fister (Det) – Dominated once he landed in Detriot last year. Won’t get you many Ks, but a good ERA and WHIP.

54 Ryan Vogelsong (SF) – An All-Star that came out of nowhere last year. Although his numbers might revert some, he’s a legit #3 starter. Simply a late bloomer.

58 Mark Buehrle (Mia) – He could do well moving to the NL. Low Ks, but good ERA.


Value Is Appropriate

These guys are being drafted close to their value. Feel free to grab at the right time, but do not reach.

6 Tim Lincecum (SF) – Had a little bout of struggle last year, but still one of the best.

7 Jered Weaver (LAA) – After two amazing years I’m finally sold he’s one of the best.

8 CC Sabathia (NYY) – Finished 4th in MLB in both wins and Ks.

10 Cole Hamels (Phi) – Guaranteed 200 Ks.

11 Dan Haren (LAA) – Overshadowed by Weaver, but still solid at age 31.

12 Zack Greinke (Mil) – Stage is set for a huge year. K/9 last year was 10.54.

13 Jon Lester (Bos) – If healthy, could compete for AL Cy Young.

16 Yovani Gallardo (Mil) – Expect 3.50 ERA or better.

17 David Price (TB) – Will get you 200 Ks with a good ERA.

18 Tommy Hanson (Atl) – Injury-plagued in ‘11, but should be good for ’12. Adjusted his delivery.

19Josh Johnson (Mia) – If he can stay healthy, he’ll compete for the Cy Young. Lots of risk here though.

20 Stephen Strasburg (Was) – Elite, but will have innings limit.

21 Mat Latos (Cin) – Not in the greatest ballpark for a pitcher, but still elite in the NL.

23 Josh Beckett (Bos) – Returned to his true form in ’11, I expect the same in ’12.

24 James Shields (TB) – Had a career year in ’11. Might regress some, but still reliable.

25 Ian Kennedy (Ari) – See ‘James Shields’

26 CJ Wilson (LAA) – Same division + different team = same pitcher. Good guy to have, unless it’s the post-season.

31 Matt Moore (TB) – The best young pitching prospect in all of baseball. Always risk with taking a youngster so early though. Remember if these rookies struggle for a month, they’re back in the minors.

32 Yu Darvish (Tex) – Wants to be the best pitcher in the world. He’ll start in the Texas heat in a hitter’s park.

33 Shaun Marcum (Mil) – Control guy that will get you an ERA around 3.50 and decent Ks.

35 Daniel Hudson (Ari) – Average fastball was third best in the NL. Expect a 3.45 ERA with average Ks.

36 Matt Garza (CHC) – You could do worse. Good #2 starter.

37 Michael Pineda (NYY) – New city and more hitter-friendly ballpark for the sophomore.

44 Brandon Beachy (Atl) – K/9 was 10.74 last year; unreal. But some injury risk here.

46 Jair Jurrjens (Atl) – Elite when he can play. Big injury risk.

47 Jhoulys Chacin – (Col) – I don’t like Colorado pitchers because of the light-air

48 Jeremy Hellickson (TB) – Got incredibly lucky last year on balls in play. Don’t reach.

50 Jaime Garcia (STL) – Solid #3 or #4 for your rotation. Good ERA.

51 Johnny Cueto (Cin) – Dominated with a 2.31 ERA last year when he was healthy. Health is a big concern though, and over his career he’s been streaky.

52 John Danks (CHW) – Tough ’11 season, but will be relied on to be the ace in CHW.

53 Neftali Feliz (Tex) – Would be much better if he didn’t have to pitch in Texas.

55 Alexi Ogando (Tex) – The ‘Feliz’ experiment worked out. Smart gamble if taken late.

56 Wandy Rodriguez (Hou) – The fact he’s in Houston hurts his value. Good #3 or #4 at best.

57 Matt Harrison (Tex) – He got lucky with some of his numbers in ’11 and he still pitches in Texas. I think there are better gambles out there.

60 Justin Masterson (Cle) – Will probably revert some, but he’s a good spot start at worst.

Josh Collmenter (Ari) – Analysts say he was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last year. Could be worth a flier late.

RA Dickey (NYM) – Knuckleballer is a good spot start at the very least. Could give you a good ERA.

Josh Tomlin (Cle) – Control guy that’s still young enough to improve numbers.

Ricky Nolasco (Mia) – Decent strikeout guy. Risk in high ERA. You can do better.

Jeff Niemann (TB) – Don’t count on an ERA over 4.00. He goes through some warm streaks though that make him a spot-start candidate.

Ivan Nova (NYY) – Young enough to still improve on numbers. Good #4 or #5.

Jonathan Sanchez (KC) – Good strikeout guy, but now he’s in the AL too. Meh.

Erik Bedard (Pit) – Matthew Berry’s ‘fantasy kryptonite!’ He’s great when he can play; which is about 10 percent of the time.

Daniel Bard (Bos) – Rolling the dice on a guy that’s been a reliever in the past.

Gavin Floyd (CHW) – Nothing tells me he can finally get his ERA under 4.00 on a less than stellar White Sox squad.

Trevor Cahill (Ari) – Now in the desert, he was better off in pitcher-friendly Oakland. He could still turn out great numbers if all the right pieces fall.

factor, but Chacin is the closest good bet you’ll get in a Rockie uni for the price.

Scott Baker (Min) – Meh.

Bud Norris (Hou) –  Won’t be spectacular.

Colby Lewis (Tex) – Good ’10, but gave up 35 HRs in ’11.

Chad Billingsley (LAD) – Better than his ’11 numbers.

Derek Holland (Tex) – Still growing up, his numbers will probably improve. But in a Texas homer-friendly park, he should be your #5 at best.


Don’t Over-Pay!

These guys have solid numbers, but be careful. They’re going much higher in drafts than they should, considering their value.

59 Anibal Sanchez (Mia) – I don’t think he can keep up the low ERA, but the high Ks most likely.

Jake Peavy (CHW) – I don’t care how late it is, don’t waste a pick in your draft. There is talk he may even be in the bullpen in 2012.

Carlos Zambrano (Mia) – He’s a hot head that had an ERA near 5.00 last year. No thanks.

AJ Burnett (Pit) – His ERA was over 5.00 last year. Sure, he’s in the NL now, but there are so many options that will be superiorly better this late in the draft.

Aaron Harang (LAD) – No way he repeats last year’s numbers. He’s a career 4.25 ERA pitcher.

Randy Wolf (Mil) – Good for spot-starts, that’s about it.

Francisco Liriano (Min) – Literally, based on factual numbers and odds, had the luckiest no-hitter in the history of baseball last year.

Edwin Jackson (Was) – Bi-polar pitcher who is good for two starts, then awful for three..etc. I would pass.

Phil Hughes (NYY) – 5.79 ERA last year. Enough said.

Ervin Santana (LAA) – Don’t overpay based on his no-hitter.

Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) – Don’t count on his NL numbers in the Bronx.

Ryan Dempster (CHC) – Don’t trust him.

Brandon Morrow (Tor) – Incredibly high ERA, not worth the Ks in my book.

Ted Lilly (LAD) – Still don’t trust his health.

Max Scherzer (Det) – He’s a fly-ball pitcher in the AL that had an ERA of 4.43 last year.


Late Round Gold Mining. AKA Deep Sleepers!

45 Mike Minor (Atl) – One of the hottest pitchers this spring. Could be the next big thing in the Braves crazy-insane-great pitching farm system.

Shelby Miller (STL) – Top pitching prospect yet to make a start could get his call-up early if Lance Lynn struggles.

Tom Milone (Oak) – The A’s have a rich history of producing great young pitchers. This kid broke camp and made the starting rotation. I’m keeping my eye on him.

Phillip Humber (CHW) – Was All-Star caliber in the first half before falling apart after the break.

Danny Duffy (KC) – Royals still love him. He’s young enough to still do very big things.

Zach Britton (Bal) – One of the best prospects Baltimore has. Expectations are still high in the long run.

Henderson Alvarez (Tor) – One of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Watch closely as he could be this year’s Michael Pineda. Snag him late for possible gold.

Drew Pomeranz (Col) –Great prospect, but plays in homer-friendly Colorado. Tread carefully.


The rest of the league

I wouldn’t bother looking at any of these players unless they’re your back-up in an incredibly deep league. These guys are second-string, at best.

Jon Niese – NYM

Travis Wood – CHC

Luke Hochevar – KC

Edinson Volquez – SD

Bruce Chen – KC

Jeremy Guthrie – Col

Wade Davis – TB

Mike Leake – Cin

James McDonald – Pit

Brad Peacock – Oak

Bronson Arroyo – Cin

Brett Cecil – Tor

Andy Pettitte – NYY

Rick Porcello – Det

Homer Bailey – Cin

Jason Vargas – Sea

Freddy Garcia – NYY

Tim Stauffer – SD

Carl Pavano – Min

Dillon Gee – NYM

John Lannan – Was

Randy Wells – CHC

Jacob Turner – Det

Jake Arrieta – Bal

Brian Matusz – Bal

Joe Blanton – Phi

Joe Saunders – Ari

Brett Anderson – Oak

Roy Oswalt – Free Agent

Lance Lynn – STL

Jarrod Paker – Oak

Dallas Braden – Oak

Jeff Francis – Cin

Guillermo Moscoso – Col

Charlie Morton – Pit

Mike Pelfrey – NYM

Paul Maholm – CHC

Brian Duensing – Min

Chris Narveson – Mil

Bartolo Colon – Oak

Jake Westbrook – STL

Blake Beavan – Sea

Jordan Lyles – Hou

JA Happ – Hou

Alex Cobb – TB

Kevin Correia – Pit

Wei-Yin Chen – Bal

Kyle Drabek – Tor

Kyle Lohse – STL

Tyler Chatwood – Col


Josh Helmuth is the sports editor and lead baseball writer for CraveOnline and has won ‘The League Of Champions’ fantasy baseball league four out of six years. You can follow him on Twitter @Jhelmuth and you can subscribe to CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.