In Roto and H2H category leagues, scoring is based 50% on offensive and 50% on pitching, but that doesn’t mean the positions are equally important during the draft.
Any hitter has the ability to contribute in all offensive categories. Even though some may contribute very minimally in certain categories, the opportunity is still there. The same is not true for pitchers. Pitchers are separated into starting (SPs) and relief pitchers. Saves is a category that starting pitchers have no opportunity to contribute to, so if you’re in a 5×5 league, for example, all of your SPs can only add value in 80% of the pitching categories. On top of that, if your league includes Holds as a category, then it’s another category they offer no value in. For that reason, the approach I recommend is to grab one ace to anchor your pitching staff early, then wait on pitching until you’re comfortable with your offensive base.
With that being said, there are certain aspects I look at to break ties between closely ranked pitchers:
- Pitchers with home stadiums that suppress HRs and/or scoring obviously help keep ERA down.
- NL pitchers face easier lineups and collect more strikeouts, since they pitch to opposing pitchers.
- Strikeout to walk rate is important, not only for leagues that use WHIP, but also because it limits the damage that can be done when opponents do get base hits.
- Injury concerns exist for all players, but any pitcher with arm issues entering the season always poses great risk for more serious injuries during the season.
- Successful ground ball pitchers are safer bets than fly ball pitchers. They’re more difficult to hit home runs off of, and they can take their game to any stadium.
- Wins are impossible to predict, but better lineups providing run support can only help if a SP is pitching well late enough into games to earn a decision.
Now that I’ve just shared my approach to drafting pitchers with all of my league mates before the draft, it’s on to the rankings.
- Justin Verlander: His consistency delivering Cy Young caliber stats and remaining healthy makes him the top choice.
- Clayton Kershaw: He’s only 25-years-old and puts up great numbers, and would have been my #1 SP if it weren’t for games missed last season. He has a good stadium for pitchers and improving lineup around him.
- Felix Hernandez: I don’t expect the fences moving at Safeco to effect him much, plus the Mariners have added some nice offensive pieces, which should hopefully help add to his win total.
- Stephen Strasburg: I understand the risk with him, and I’m willing to overlook it because he has the talent to be the top pitcher for years. Based on his 2012 rate of 11.13 strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), he would have almost 250 Ks if he pitches 200 innings.
- Cole Hamels: Age is the separating factor between Hamels and Lee.
- Cliff Lee: Hamels and Lee are examples of why chasing wins is a futile effort. Their strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA totals were very similar. Despite pitching for the same team, however, Hamels had 17 wins and Lee had 9 in 2012.
- David Price: Price is great, but I’m skeptical that he can post a sub 3.00 ERA again in the AL. He had a Left On Base (LOB%) of 81%, while league average is normally in the low 70% range. It’s likely then, that more of the base runners he allows will score this year.
- Gio Gonzalez: As I said about Braun, I don’t expect repercussions from the off-season PED news. Nothing about 2012 appears to be a fluke; he is primed for success again.
- Madison Bumgarner: For two straight seasons he’s averaged over 8/K9 and 2 BB/9. That’s a good combination and should get him to 200 Ks.
- Matt Cain: Last year’s 193 Ks was a career high, and I don’t think he’ll reach that number again. He is a very consistent and safe bet to turn in top tier pitching stats, however.
- Adam Wainwright: Over the last three seasons he’s pitched, he’s averaged 8 K/9 and a 50% groundball rate. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the game.
- Yu Darvish: With only one year of MLB stats to look at it’s not a large sample size, but in the second half of the season he dropped one K/9 and had a WHIP of 1.18, compared 1.36 in the first half. Therefore, I’m buying him as an improving pitcher. If the control does elude him, try to trade him. Texas is too hitter friendly to put runners on base.
- CC Sabathia: Sabathia is a workhouse, who hasn’t pitched less than 200 innings since 2006, and even that year he threw 192. His 2012 Homerun per Fly Ball % (HR/FB) jumped 4% above his average as a Yankee, so it’s reasonable to expect that to regress and bring his ERA down a bit with it.
- Jered Weaver: He had a really rough August and still managed an ERA below 3.00. My issue with him is that his K/9 rate has trended down for three straight seasons, and finished at 6.77 K/9 in 2012. With that rate I’d take him as a SP2, but not the ace of my staff.
- R.A. Dickey: I honestly have no idea what to make of Dickey’s knuckleball moving indoors, though I’ve seen arguments from both sides. He was good in all three years with the Mets, but in 2012 he topped his previous career high in strikeouts by about 100. He’s going to come back to earth a bit, especially pitching in the AL.
- Zach Greinke: An elbow issue prior to the season starting is never a good sign. He’s a top option when healthy, but I’ll let someone else have him this year. If you want to roll the dice with him, make sure you have another stable SP option on your roster.
- Matt Latos: He put together a good season, and most of what he did seems repeatable, with a chance to get close to 200 Ks.
- Chris Sale: His jump in innings is a concern, but aside from injury risk, there is nothing not to like about Sale.
- Johnny Cueto: Cueto is a solid option, but I don’t think he’ll have another season that matches his 2012. Wins are hard to count on, and a lot of his value was tied to his 19-9 record.
- Matt Moore: He improved his walk rate in the second half of the season, which led to lower ERA and all around better numbers. If he continues improving, he’ll be the elite SP everyone is expecting, since he strikes out a batter per inning.
- James Shields: Shields was a different and much better pitcher in the second half of 2012. While he was better at home than on the road, I think that balances out with leaving the normally prolific AL East.
- Kris Medlen: His strikeout to walk rates put him among the best in the league. The bulk of his past work has come in relief appearances, however. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves monitor his innings.
- Max Scherzer: The BABIP against him suggests that he got unlucky in the first half and then that turned around in the second half of 2012. He has a ton of strikeout upside, and should be able to keep his ERA in 3.60 range.
- Jordan Zimmerman: He doesn’t collect the strikeouts I look for from upper echelon SPs, but he’ll help to keep your ERA and WHIP low.
- Yovani Gallardo: He strikes out enough guys to help mask it, but he’s still issuing too many walks. He only has one full MLB season with a WHIP below 1.30.
- Ian Kennedy: There has to be some middle ground between 2011 and 2012 for him. Aside from increased BABIP against and HR/FB, the numbers were very similar, so I expect him to bounce back.
- Jake Peavy: He proved again that he has the ability to be an ace when healthy, and as long as you minimize risk with your other SPs, he’s worth reaching for.
- Doug Fister: He doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but he doesn’t walk a lot of people, and contributes around 200 solid innings for a good team.
- Dan Haren: He had the highest HR/FB rate of his career, which should come down pitching in the NL. His other stats were close to his 2011 numbers, so I expect a good season if his health isn’t an issue.
- Brandon Morrow: There is injury risk and there is Morrow, who is pretty much guaranteed a trip to the DL at some point. He’ll provide you with good numbers if he’s on the field, but it’s a risk/reward decision you’ll need to make.
Aroldis Chapman: I’m not ranking Chapman as a SP, because I believe he’ll be moved back to the Closer role. He and his manager have both said that it’s what they prefer. It also makes more sense. Throwing 100 mph is possible in one inning stints, but not sustainable for 6 consecutive innings in one game.
**I’ll be adding more SPs to this list later this week, but I wanted to get the first part of it posted since people have drafts coming up.
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