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Fantasy Baseball Preview: The Pitchers

After giving you my rankings for the hitters, it’s now time for the pitchers. While closers are generally easy to predict, the starters are a whole different animal. After about the top eight or so, there is a group of about 15-20 starters that can be grouped in many different ways. The trick is to find candidates for a breakout year, such as Brandon Webb or Aaron Harang last season.

Starting Pitchers

Tier 1

 1.Johan Santana, Twins
  2. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
  3. Roy Oswalt, Astros
  4. Brandon Webb, D-Backs
  5. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
  6. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
  7. Jake Peavy, Padres
  8. John Lackey, Angels
  9. John Smoltz, Braves
  10. CC Sabathia, Indians

Expected Tier 1 Stats: 215 innings, 17 wins, 3.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 190 K

Each team should have at least one of these elite pitchers to anchor their staff. Johan Santana is the consensus number one, and will likely lead all major pitching categories once again. However, it would be a better strategy to spend your first round pick on a hitter, then wait until the fourth or fifth round to pick up your number one starter. Carpenter and Oswalt are two of the more consistent pitchers up here; they’ve each been among the elite for three straight years. Webb, last year’s NL Cy Young winner, is great across every category. Zambrano can be erratic at times but is a strikeout machine. Peavy experienced a down season last year, but still was among the leaders in K’s, was on fire down the stretch, and will get his ERA back down under 3.0. Lackey is very underrated, with an average draft position around the sixth round, but is still good enough to be your top starter. Smoltz is a dominating, consistent workhorse who is still a stud despite his age. Sabathia has always been able to get strikeouts, but after last season’s career low ERA and WHIP he has vaulted into the elite status.

Tier 2

 11. Aaron Harang, Reds
 12. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
 13. Ben Sheets, Brewers
 14. Jered Weaver, Angels
 15. Chris Young, Padres
 16. Cole Hamels, Phillies
 17. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers
 18. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
 19. Brett Myers, Phillies
 20. Justin Verlander, Tigers

Tier 2 Expected Stats: 200 innings, 15 wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 170 K

The selection here highlights the need for a tier 1 pitcher. While each has tremendous upside, almost all of these players are risky picks. Harang, after leading the NL in both strikeouts and wins in 2006, is a dark horse Cy Young candidate. Kazmir’s breakout season was halted by an injury, but if healthy he’ll get you everything but wins. Sheets has been hurt for each of the last two seasons after a monster 2004, but his potential still makes him an appealing pick. Weaver and Young will both decline after tremendous seasons, but still have great value with an ADP around the ninth round. Hamels and Hernandez both have the potential to be absolute superstars, though Hamels is the better pick for this season after a solid second half in 2006. Bonderman and Verlander will each pick up plenty of wins for the Tigers, though Bonderman’s ERA and Verlander’s strikeouts are weaknesses. Myers has been a solid choice for the past two seasons, but don’t expect a huge breakout performance from him.

Tier 3

 21. Matt Cain, Giants
 22. Curt Schilling, Red Sox
 23. Jason Schmidt, Dodgers
 24. Dontrelle Willis, Marlins
 25. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
 26. Dan Haren, A’s
 27. Barry Zito, Giants
 28. Rich Harden, A’s
 29. Rich Hill, Cubs
 30. Erik Bedard, Orioles
 31. Bronson Arroyo, Reds
 32. Mike Mussina, Yankees
 33. AJ Burnett, Blue Jays
 34. Derek Lowe, Dodgers
 35. Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
 36. Kelvim Escobar, Angels
 37. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
 38. Chuck James, Braves
 39. Randy Johnson, D-Backs
 40. Nate Robertson, Tigers

Tier 3 Expected Stats: 190 innings, 14 wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 160 K

Like the tier 2 pitchers, there is a lot of uncertainty here. Matt Cain and Rich Hill were each on fire in September last season, and should lower their ERA’s dramatically. Players like Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Randy Johnson are vets who will likely be able to put out one more productive season. Johnson will greatly improve from last season as he moves back to Arizona, where he won multiple Cy Youngs. Jason Schmidt and Dontrelle Willis did not match their best seasons last year, but it would be no surprise for either one of them to return to elite status. Players like Dan Haren and Erik Bedard were waiver-wire players last year who each have great upside heading into 2007. While Barry Zito will never live up to his enormous contract, he is underrated as a fantasy player and will be helped from the move to the National League.

Injuries often delay both AJ Burnett and Rich Harden. While picking them is a gamble, it could pay off if they don’t get hurt, especially with potential ace Harden. One of my favorite young players is Anibal Sanchez, who went 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA last September, including a no-hitter. Escobar, James, and Robertson are three emerging players who should each produce far greater than their ADP would indicate. The two wild cards from this list are Matsuzaka and Papelbon of the Red Sox. With Papelbon moving to the rotation after closing last year and Dice-K moving to America after playing for Japan in `06, each could be great or terrible. It’s nearly impossible to predict.

Others worth noting

If you need wins, then look for Chien-Ming Wang, though beware of his historically low strikeout total. The White Sox starters (Contreras, Vasquez, Garcia, Buehrle) were fantastic in 2005 but declined last year. Most of them likely won’t even be drafted, but keep a close eye on the waivers if they are performing well. Two players I would avoid are Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. Since they will be missing a few months of action to start the season, there is no point wasting a roster spot for them. I think Tim Hudson will be back to his usual performance this year. He’s definitely worth a last-round draft pick, as he goes undrafted in many leagues. Watch out for Jeremy Sowers of the Indians, who went 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA after the break last season.

Closers

 1. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels
  2. Joe Nathan, Twins
  3. Billy Wagner, Mets
  4. BJ Ryan, Blue Jays
  5. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
  6. JJ Putz, Mariners
  7. Trevor Hoffman, Padres
  8. Huston Street, A’s
  9. Chris Ray, Orioles
  10. Takashi Saito, Dodgers
  11. Chad Cordero, Nationals
  12. Bobby Jenks, White Sox
  13. Brad Lidge, Astros
  14. Brian Fuentes, Rockies
  15. Bob Wickman, Braves

Like I said in the intro, closer is the easiest position to pick in fantasy baseball. Just wait until the 5th or 6th round, take one of the top closers, and then pick a second-tier guy around the ninth. Rodriguez and Nathan are the consensus top two and should record ERA’s under 2.00 and WHIP’s under 1.00. Billy Wagner has quietly become the league’s most consistent closer over the last five years, and playing for the Mets he should be a lock for 40 saves. BJ Ryan will not match the ridiculous 1.37 ERA he put up last year, but is a fantastic choice on an up-and-coming team. Rivera and Hoffman are getting older, but don’t be concerned about their age. They never get hurt and are still pitching as well as they have their entire careers. Putz, Street, Ray, and Saito each saw their first real production last year and are slightly riskier picks. However, Ray and Saito in particular are being drafted way too low.

Make sure to take one of the top 10, as numbers 11-15 represent a huge dropoff. Cordero and Jenks are opposites; Cordero will put up great percentages but not a lot of saves due to the terrible team he plays on; Jenks will have a high ERA with many saves for the White Sox. Brad Lidge was terrible last year for no particular reason. I wouldn’t expect his 04-05 level of dominance; however, he is already a comeback player of the year candidate. Fuentes puts up the lowest ERA you’d ever expect out of a Rockies pitcher. Meanwhile, Bob Wickman is an underrated choice; his ERA in 28 appearances with the Braves last season was 1.04.

Others worth noting:

After the top players, the closer position runs out quickly. One player I like is Joe Borowski of the Indians. He put up 36 saves and a 3.75 ERA with the Marlins last year, and will see a lot more save opportunities with Cleveland. Tom Gordon of the Phillies also nets you plenty of saves, though his ERA took a dive in the second half of last season. Some deep sleepers include the Diamondbacks’ Jose Valverde, the Pirates’ Salomon Torres, and Armando Benitez of the Giants.

While I’m not a huge fan of having middle relievers on my team, they can be useful. Some of the best this year will be Scot Shields of the Angels, Akinori Otsuka of the Rangers, Scott Linebrink of the Padres, and Mike Gonzalez of the Braves. the benefits of taking these players are obvious: they will reduce your ERA and WHIP, and would be the next closer in line in the case of an injury. Otsuka, who has incredibly injury-prone Eric Gagne in front of him, will likely be closing by the end of the year.

One of the more unique closing situations is Detroit’s. Veteran Todd Jones is the incumbent closer, and will remain in that position despite being outplayed last season by young reliever Joel Zumaya. Both players will be drafted, with Jones likely to produce 40 saves and Zumaya likely to duplicate his 1.94 ERA.

Overall, it seems like pitchers are much harder to draft than batters. But there are plenty of pitchers who fall off the board despite decent production. Draft them. Another thing to remember is to not load up with too many injury-prone, veteran, or unproven pitchers. While it’s good to take some risks, too many will down your team. Good luck with your team in 2007. My official baseball preview will be here sometime before the season starts.

2 replies on “Fantasy Baseball Preview: The Pitchers”

good article except for the fact that I think Rivera is better than a #5 closer in the mlb. he’s probably not #1 anymore, but probably 2nd or 3rd

update Papelbon was just named the Red Sox closer. He would go to #3 on my   relievers list now.

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