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“65 Mustangs” Start by building a starting pitching staff: Part 2, The middle rounds (28-54) 2014

If I have done my homework and my draft is going well, I probably own two or three of the top 27 pitchers I talked about last week. The next 27 or so can be a gold mine of talent and potential top 25 starting pitchers. Some owners will only draft offense in the first 10 rounds, then start cherry picking from this next group. Others, like me, will certainly fill up on offense early, but I want to come out of the tenth with at least one, if not two staff anchors. If I only have one, I better be slick in the next few rounds as this tier of pitchers is make or break time for my season. I realize I can trade for a top SP during the season, but I’m surely going to have to part with some offense to do it, and I’d rather not. Plus, somewhere near this part of the draft, the first closer run is going to start, and, well, that could set me back another round or two from my plan.

There is not one SP in this next 27 that I would not own. I will probably not find the next Kershaw in this group, but every one of these guys is capable, or already has been a top 20 SP. The first 9 are established MLB starting pitchers, mostly 200 inning guys who don’t live on the DL and are either high SO or low Ratio guys or both. The next 14 are the more advanced of the fun crop of recent graduates from the minors, who all look to be the next generation of Fantasy mainstays. Every one of them has the talent to be a top 20 SP, but not all 14 of them will make it. So, unless you have room on your roster for half of them, you may not want to draft them as top 20 pitchers. No one knows which are going to fly in 2014, and which are still a year or two away. Some owners will reach in the draft, and pounce on some of these pitchers, as many owners just love the new shiny toys. But, there are some solid proven hurlers I would take first. Finally, the last 4 in this tier are some guys that I don’t know where to rank from this group. All 4 have been top 20 SP, some as recently as 2013, but they have also disappointed many owners, which often lets them drop to the late rounds.

“Let’s take a fun little ride, shall we?” I’m going to give you a set of stats, just basic Roto stats, no deep analysis here. Remember, I’m the guy, who along with my “mentor”, Tommy Lasorda, relies less on advanced metrics, and more on my gut instincts. So, how would you feel if your 4th or 5th SP gave you this for imagesthe season? 15-10, 203 SO, 3.63 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in about 200IP. I’ll help you out. “Sure, why not?” I mean a better WHIP would be nice but if I got this guy in the 23rd round, like he went for in a recent Fantasy Source 2014 Mock Draft, I’d be happy right? A lot of people are down on this guy because he has not fulfilled his promise of perennial top 20 SP that he came into the league with. So, if I draft him as a top 20 SP I would be setting myself up for disappointment, right? But, what if I draft him for what he is, a good solid high strikeout SP with top 20 potential who is only 27 but has been in the league for 7 seasons and has not had a major injury or started less than 30 games in the last 5 years. And, I might possibly get him in the late rounds because so many people have been “burned” by him in the past. So, who is he? You’ll have to read the list to find out, as he is #54 on my list of top 100 SP, and those are his average stats over the last 5 seasons. So, why did I bring this up Mr. Lasorda? That same stat line is also a pretty typical John Lester season, but he went in the 7th round of that same draft I mentioned. Yes, SP is deep and getting deeper. A patient owner does not have to waste the first half of his draft setting up his 5 or 6 SP and his closers. There is value to be found for the patient drafter all up and down the draft board and this next group of pitchers is full of those values.

Ok, I’m ready to try to rate the next 25 SP. Well, actually, since I went to 27 last week I’ll have to start at #28. Plus I’m adding the 4 guys that I think belong in the top 50 but I just don’t know where. So, we are going to #54 with the second “25”. Only in a league that doesn’t use advanced metrics or customized categories, will 27 + 27 = 50, or is it 25 + 25 = 54?  I don’t know, but Mr. Lasorda and I are not too good at math. However, my ratings are geared toward a standard 5 X 5 or 6 X 6 Roto style league, so, adjust accordingly. If you are in a Head to Head League or a league that uses advanced stats like IRS or MWhip, or, if your league uses customized stat categories like (K-.50BB) or W=Sum(W + CG + SHO) then you are on your own. I’m promoting skill set here, not specific stat targets. With all that being said, here is my take on the 3rd and 4th tier of SP in Fantasy Baseball, #’s 28 through # 54.

28. I wanted so badly to include Anibal Sanchez in my top 25. I probably could have if not for my unhealthy man-crush on CC Sabathia. But, when push comes to shove, if my pick comes up and both Anibal the Cannibal and the Big Kahunna are on the clock and I’m due for a pitcher……I might still take CC.  Why? Well, because Anibal has never pitched more than 196 innings in his career and he is now 30 years old. By 30, CC had pitched 5 seasons in a row of 230 IP or more, and now is up to 7 in a row of at least 200, and 8 of the last 11 seasons, never having pitched less than the 180 he logged in his rookie season. Ok, so maybe that would not stop me from taking Anibal, but I think that fact is relevant, and I want a workhorse in the middle of my rotation. That takes some of the stress off the more risky picks I’ll have chosen before the end of the draft, and that is why I did not put him in my top 25 even if he has the talent. He did make huge strides in 2013, knocking more than a full run off of his ERA to an AL best 2.57 with a NL style 1.15 WHIP. He also greatly increased his K-Rate while greatly reducing his BB-Rate, and, even Mr. Lasorda can guess that would reduce his K-.50BB to #13 in the MLB.

29. No one ever said that #29 would be a sexy pick, and there is not a lot exciting about drafting Derek Holland. I know I’m going to take some flack for ranking him this high, but I think he has even more upside then this. I was high on him last season and except for a bad stretch early in the season he did not disappoint. He only won 10 games in 2013, but he set career bests in ERA, GS, IP, K’s, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, WAR, and virtually EVERY advanced metric on display at Baseball-Reference.com, and even had his best season for (K-.50BB) @ 157, good for 23rd in all of baseball. He is also going to be 27 for the entire 2014 season. Anyone who has read anything I’ve written knows how I feel about the age 27 season.

30. Mike Minor was exactly as advertised. He followed up his first full season, where he and his teammate Kris Medlen had dominant 2nd halves with a superb sophomore season at the head of the Braves young but talented rotation. He was good enough, in fact, that the Braves were willing to let Tim Hudson walk and traded Randall Delgado to make room for Julio Teheran, another talented Braves rookie. Minor pitched over 200 innings without missing a start and came in with an ERA of 3.21 and a 1.09 WHIP. He did that by dramatically raising his K rate while at the same time dramatically reducing his BB rate, or more simply, improved his K/BB ratio. This performance put him in the top 20 of most leagues’ scoring models, and another similar season would put him in my top 20 next season.

31. Lance Lynn and 32. Justin Masterson had nearly identical numbers after last season, with the difference being Lynn’s 2nd consecutive 2nd half swoon, which he recovered from in September. Lynn was 15-10 with nearly 200k’s in 200 innings and 76 walks, but with average ratios of a 3.97 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Masterson was 14-10 with nearly 200k’s in 200 innings and 76 walks, but pulled in with a mark of 3.45/1.20. Both are capable of taking the next step and moving into the top 20. I’m more skeptical of Lynn then Masterson though, if only because of that pair of 2nd half swoons, although he is 3 years younger.

33. John Lester and 34. C.J. Wilson also both had nearly identical numbers as Lynn and Masterson, but I ranked them later because while the other two are in their 20’s and on their way up, Lester and Wilson are on the wrong side of 30 and probably have no more upside. But, they ended the year at (15-8, 17-7), nearly 200 k’s in 200 IP and while Lester’s Walk Rate and thus his Whip were a bit better than Wilson, Wilson’s ERA was nearly a half a run lower. I would be happy to own any of those 4 as my #3 SP, and not coincidently, they finished 19, 24, 30, and 33 in K-.50BB. in the same order I have them ranked.

35. While Hiroki Kuroda is my 3rd ranked Yankee SP, he was arguably their best and most consistent SP in 2013. As I am pointing out, the main thing you get at this point in the rankings, and in the middle of your rotation, is consistency. You need to have it somewhere and right smack in the middle is where I want it. We can take more risks later. He’s not going to win you 20 games or strike out 200 batters, but with pinpoint control and durability (he has not missed a game in 5 of his 6 US seasons) he will stabilize your ratios. I’d rather own him as my #4 but he seldom drops that far.

36. Speaking of consistency, Doug Fister is exactly that. Like Kuroda, he will probably not win you 20 and will never strike out 200, but he seldom gets blown out as he is an extreme ground ball pitcher. His ratios increased in Comerica, but his move to the NL East should correct that. Again, I like him as my number 4; if he is my #3 I better get one or two of the next few guys on my roster.

Let’s have some fun with the kids. No, my wife is not calling me; she knows I won’t walk away from the draft table for anything. What I’m referring to are my next 14 ranked SP for 2014. I don’t ever remember there being this deep and talented a group of up and coming prospects, rookies, sophomores and late bloomers all coming into their own at once. While it is exciting, it is a double-edged sword, as any one of these 14, along with several more that could break in this season, could very well pitch their way into the top 25 SP in baseball in 2014. However, any one of them could also suffer disappointing growing pains, sophomore slumps, not be ready for prime time yet, or have their innings drastically limited and at the absolute worst time of the fantasy season no matter what format. Most of them have also not yet had their Tommy John Surgery, which seems tountitled be somewhat of a right of passage the last few years. Mr. Lasorda suggests: A. Draft with caution and don’t reach too soon, especially for your favorite home town hype machine. And, B. Don’t put all your eggs…er balls all in one basket. Even in a Dynasty format, remember, most prospects don’t make it, or at least not to the level hoped for. At this level, maybe 1 or 2 out of 3 will actually reach stud status in the next few seasons. Everyone likes a “shiny new toy” but it could derail your season as easily as pitch you to a championship. I’ll be lucky to own one or two of these guys, and I think I know which one or two it will be. The rest will likely be drafted long before I would have taken them. But, I’ll be ok. I’m going to go through these fairly quickly, as I’ve not had the chance to see or own most of them, and you and I can both read the same articles about them.

37.Gerrit Cole could be the next Tom Seaver” Ughh, when I hear things like that about a young pitcher I colecringe, and I know I’ll have a tough time drafting him where I’d want to. This one is special though. The 1st overall pick in the 2011 draft may get to make the long-suffering Bucs fans able to forgive the team for all those losing seasons. Called up to the majors half way through his 2nd pro season, Cole actually pitched better in the majors then in the minors including a stronger K/BB rate and ERA, and he got better as the season went on, helping the Bucs to their first playoff berth in over a decade. The only thing that may stop him from top 20 status in 2014, aside from a sophomore jinx, is a possible innings cap like the one Strasburg has been working under. I don’t have the patience for that, but like I said last week, knowing you have a problem…………………One other thing, he may be trying to upstage Hamels for the hottest baseball wife, well, if she marries him anyway. gerrit-cole-amy-crawford-lead

Also, is it me or is it really strange to see players with birth dates in the 90’s?  Yeah, the 90’s, ugh, we’re getting old.

38. What are the odds that a team could bring in Shelby Miller (15-9, 169k/173IP, 3.06/1.21, 138 K-.5BB) and 39. Michael Wacha (4-1, 65k/64IP, 2.78/1.10) in the same season and have both look like aces from the start. With these two after Waino and Lynn, and the possible return of Jaime Garcia, what can stop the Cards? Only a contagious 2nd half Lynn collapse leading to a couple of sophomore hangovers. You will likely be able to draft Wacha quite a few rounds after Miller gets taken.

40. Look up High Risk/High Reward in the dictionary or just Google it if you can’t find a real dictionary, and you will see a picture of Matt Moore. The Rays seem to crank out future aces the way Lagunitas cranks out Craft Beers, and Moore could be the best of them all. He’s won 28 games in his first two seasons with a K per IP. But, as is often the case with young Lefties he has trouble keeping the ball over the plate; walking exactly half as many batters as he has struck out. He also went down for about a month last season with elbow soreness, and while he looked fine when he came back he had lost 2 MPH off his fastball. He may be fine, but as Clint Eastwood famously said, “Do you feel lucky?” If he is back to where he was, watch out.

41. The only team better at cranking out aces then the Rays is the Atlanta Braves.  Kris Medlen followed up Mike Minor’s debut with a sterling one of his own, going 10-1 in 2012 once he joined the rotation after 3 seasons mostly in the Atlanta bullpen. He sported an ERA under 1.60 and a WHIP of .91. In 2013, as a full-time member of the rotation, he won 15 games with decent ratios. He may never be truly dominant unless he beefs up his K/9, but he should be a perennial top 30 SP going forward. Why then did you rank him at #41 then Mr. Lasorda? Well, he has not been a top 30 SP for more than a season yet, and I had to rank the shiny new toys ahead of him or people would be all over me.

42. One of my “stealth, sleeper picks” heading into 2014 is Danny Salazar. It is not as though he is unknown in fantasy circles, but after only 10 games in the majors I’m hoping he falls to a round I’m comfortable drafting him. In Dynastic leagues he surely is already owned. Sshhhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone about him. 12.0 K/9’s don’t grow on trees.

43. Jeff Samardzija will put it all together one of these seasons. Mr. Lasorda told me so, and I’m going to own him when that happens. I just hope he is more Randy Johnson then Brandon Morrow. In the meantime I’ll wait till he drops to my target round and then call out his name. Well, that is if I can pronounce it. Sama…samardzijaSamar….Samarz….Samardzgzig

44. Sonny Gray came out of seemingly nowhere last season to help the A’s win a division title. Sure, he was a first round draft pick in 2011, but his minor league numbers were far from top prospect worthy until he dominated in the hitter friendly PCL in 2013 before getting the call. He also pitched a couple of gems in the playoffs for the A’s. Aside from his elite K-Rates, Gray is also an above average ground ball pitcher making him another potential top 20 Ace SP. Like Cole, his MLB numbers were far better than his minor league numbers. You are probably sick of hearing it, but he also could be in for some growing pains and rookie yips, etc, but with a dozen MLB games and a few playoff games under his 24-year-old belt, he gives the A’s reason to believe there are Sonny Days ahead. That was corny Mr. Lasorda, though I do feel a song coming on………….

45. Andrew Cashner helped me get to the finals in my MLFS League in 2013. The reason I owned him was kind of a fluke as our league has a minimum……….ah never mind, no one wants to hear this story. Anyway, the guy pitched his butt off, and his dual RP, SP eligibility helped me immensely in that league. Cashner is another potential sleeper in 2014 as he only struck out 128 batters in 175 innings, but, and don’t tell anyone I told you this, the dude has a mid 90’s fastball and pitches in Petco Park half of the year where his ERA was 1.95 last season. His only negative may be a possible innings cap as he was injury prone in his early career, so the Friars are treating him with kid gloves. I’d love to be able to pencil him into my 5th SP spot again this year. Wish me luck. Mr. Lasorda pictures him as another C.J. Wilson, and that is not too shabby.

46. “Who?” That was my response when, early last year, the Reds announced that Tony Cingrani was being called up for a few starts, and I suddenly saw my league mates scurrying to snatch him up. C’mon, don’t laugh, I don’t have time to read about all the prospects and I seldom trust any of them anyway when I am trying to win a league. Well, I showed them, huh? This is where you hear me say, “Top 20 potential” again. 120K’s in 104IP/2.92 ERA/1.10WHIP. That ERA sounds good, but it was the first time in his pro career his ERA was higher than 2.00! His Minor League K-9 was 12.0. Why didn’t I know who he was Mr. Lasorda? You were too busy imagesCADWVG0Mtrying to win 10 leagues. He does have a propensity to allow a few HR and his walks are high due to YLS (Young Lefty Syndrome) but, at 24, we don’t even need to go into the advanced metrics for this guy. I’ll be shocked if he is not in the Reds rotation coming out of Florida, and he could be a good part of the reason that Bronson Arroyo is still looking for a contract. The usual innings limit caveat applies.

47. “Who?” This time I’m kidding, but the name Patrick Corbin was not often used with the word Ace in the same sentence prior to last season. In fact, when he was 11-1 at the All Star Break in 2013 I sold high on this guy in all my leagues that I owned him. He’s not as good as he was the first half of 2013, but his final numbers for 2013 would make him a perfect #4 Fantasy SP for pretty much any league. 14-8, 178K’s in 208IP, 3.41ERA, 1.17WHIP, and his K-.5BB of 151 was #28 in all of baseball in 2013.

48. Alex Cobb has a great baseball name, and knows how to use his head when on the mound. Ok, that sentence was both Corny and a bad joke at the same time. I’ll stop now. Cobb took a liner off his Ear and missed a good chunk of 2013.  Stop it. With the rash of concussions over the past few years seriously derailing and even ending careers, this was scary for both Cobb and the Rays. However, in his last nine starts after returning in August he pitched the best baseball of his young career. He is another of the new breed of extreme ground ball pitchers who can also bring heat, and he paid his dues in the minors perfecting it, starting at age 18 and pitching in parts of 7 minor league seasons. I like workhorses in my rotation, and there is a seat in my dugout for Cobb as my 4th or 5th SP if I can get him at the right price. Tampa is dealing these days with the young core of Price (28), Moore (24), Cobb (26), Archer (25) and Hellickson (26). Cobb is the real deal.

49. If you read my first piece on SP last week, you would know how familiar I am with Hishashi Iwakuma. Well, sadly to say, I know even less about Hyun Jin Ryu. What I do know is that it appears the Dodgers got themselves a bargain at $6M per when you see guys making a lot more than that and producing far less. Unlike Iwakuma, whose K-Rates actually appear better in the States then they were in Japan, Ryu is not striking guys out at nearly the same pace as when he was in Korea. He is sporting exceptional control and appears to be durable as he actually got better as the year went on and he became more acclimated. His showing against the NL on his second time through the league should give Dodgers fans and Fantasy owners’ confidence that it will keep up. I wish I could tell you more, and feel free to use the comment section to tell me more about him.

50. Julio Teheran finally rounds out my top 50 SP as well as the final piece of my stretch of tier two rookie and sophomore class of 2014. Like the Cardinals and Rays, the Braves seem to crank out Ace quality starting pitchers like…well, you know, and Teheran is their 3rd SP in this section alone, with apologies to Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy. But, hey, they can’t all be top 50. Teheran is another reason the Braves felt ok about not resigning Tim Hudson and being able to trade Randall Delgado in the trade that netted them Upton. Now, say it along with me everyone, “Teheran has the potential to be a top 20 SP this season.” This is like a safety blitz on the top 20 this year. To put it in perspective, his 2013 season, 14-8, and 170k’s in 185 IP vs. only 45 walks, (Yeah, for those scoring at home that is a K-.50BB of 148, good enough for #29 in MLB in 2013) and ERA of 3.20 and a 1.17 WHIP was only good enough for 5th place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.  FIFTH.  Fernandez, Puig, Miller and Ryu made it a bit tough on him. After reading what I just wrote here, I probably should have rated him about 10 spots higher. For that reason I doubt I’ll get to own him in 2014, but what a 5th starter he would make, no?

As promised, here are the 4 guys who I had trouble ranking. You know them so I don’t need to tell you much about them, except for why I am struggling.

51. AJ Burnett has been a different pitcher since he left the Bronx Zoo, but has recently talked about retirement for the second off-season in a row. He has more money than he’ll ever need and helping me win a fantasy championship may not be enough incentive to keep him from going fishing. We’ll have to wait until he decides to know for sure. If he is back, I would make him my #4 SP on any team. And, not just because he finished 10th in MLB in 2013 in K-.50BB

52. AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez formed a pretty good trio of retreads to gather in Pittsburgh and help the Pirates get to the post season after years of drought.  Whether we want to admit it or not, it was the best season of Liriano’s fabled career. Believe it or not, it was the 8th MLB season for Liriano and he is only going to be 30 in 2014. But, how much do you pay for a SP who has never pitched 200 innings and has frustrated far, far more than he has ever rewarded. If he falls far enough, which he probably won’t, I have a spot for him at the back-end of my rotation.

53. Clay Buchholz is an ACE.  Clay Buchholz is an injury prone BUM.  EXACTLY!

54. Yovanni Gallardo – What? Who else were you expecting here?gallardo

See yas next week.

STAT KEY:

(K-.5BB) – Custom category measuring Strikeouts LESS ½ of Walks

(MWHIP) – Standard WHIP plus HBP. Well, duh, a HBP is just like a walk, no?

(IRS) – Inherited Runners Stranded.- Designed to give more value to Relief Specialists.

{W=Sum (W+CG+SHO)} – Wins + Complete Games + Shutouts as one category, attempting to W more value.

I’m an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I’ve been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like “antique” cars of the 60’s and 70’s and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I’m also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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  1. Pingback: “65 Mustangs” Start by Building A Starting Rotation, Part 4 of 4 – Rankings 78-101, 2014 «

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