START BY BUILDING A STARTING ROTATION: PART 3 OF 4, RANKINGS 55 THROUGH 77:
Welcome back everyone. If you read the first two parts of this series you know that I have now attempted to rank and discuss the first 54 2014 Major League Baseball Starting Pitchers from a Fantasy Baseball League Draft point of view, using my basic, shoot from the hip, educated but unscientific, gut feeling method of rating players for draft day. If you are still reading, then I thank you for coming along for the ride whether you agree or disagree with my rankings or strategies, and I expect you to disagree to some extent. My goal is to present my spin on how to build a Pitching Staff in a draft, and hopefully some of you will take a piece of this and try to look at your own rankings or strategies from a slightly different point of view. If you win your league this season, then I take full credit. If you come in last, well, then you should never have listened to me, and my lawyers will make sure I print one of those 3 paragraph long legalese disclaimers at the end of this piece that absolves me and MLFS of any liability whatsoever, and, in fact, we won’t even feel guilty at all. Seriously, read this for fun, and if you get anything out of it at all then I am a happy Fantasy Baseball Enthusiast.
At this point in the draft, I expect to have a good solid foundation of starters for the season and now only need to find some value in the late rounds to round out my staff and maybe take a flyer or two on some potential upside or comeback starting pitchers. In a standard 12 team Roto League, each team should have about 5 SP by now. If it is a deeper 14 or 16 team league, then we may only have 4. Most standard leagues have a maximum of 180 starts for the season, and most teams will aim for that number as a goal so as not to leave any starts on the table. Some owners may have alternate strategies that would fall far short of that 180 game limit, but that is beyond the scope of this writer’s basic draft strategy. Some owners will draft 5 SP and leave an opening for streaming or spot starting based on matchups during the season. This, of course, may be limited by any league rules that regulate the number of moves a team may make in a season or any other similar restraints. For this exercise we will assume no limits other than the 180 start maximum. Basic math says that I will need 6 SP to get through a 180 start season assuming 30 starts per spot. We all know from experience that we will need a lot more than that because of injuries, demotions, ineffectiveness or the desire to spot start. We also know we can always find quality SP during the season whenever we need them, and, in fact, the last few years have shown an overall deepening of the quality of SP in general.
All that being said, we can surely find some draft worthy SP in the next few rounds of this draft, right here in the range of #’s 55 through #80, so our staff will be pitching staff will be A-OK to start the season. My assignment is to rank the top 100 SP, so I will assign numbers to these pitchers, though I think at this point it is no longer about rankings. I prefer to think that these pitchers fall into categories, and each owner will certainly target one or more of the pitchers in these categories based on their own scientific research or plain and simple old-fashioned gut instincts. The first group, category A, will be established veterans or talented youngsters who were just not quite worthy of top 50 status for one reason or another, but will likely be drafted in all leagues if only based on name value, hype or past success. I will label the next group the O category, for Optimism that these pitchers will outperform their draft round. It is made up of players who have had plenty of career success in fantasy terms, but are either coming back from injury, ineffectiveness, or obscurity, or are aging gracefully. The last group, Category K, will be the rookies and sophomores who are not quite as gifted, or in some cases, hyped, as the large group I discussed in the last segment.
I don’t expect every one of these 25 or so pitchers to be rostered in all leagues on draft day, so many may be waiting there on the wire for you if or when you need them. Chances are you only need one or two more SP from the A O K Groups to start the season. So, you’ll want to take your best shot, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, but also knowing that the guys at this level are easily dropped and replaced if need be. So, let’s take a look at some of my favorites first, and go from there.
Note: To save space and repetition, the following codes will be used after a pitcher’s name:
Z – One of my “sleeper” picks for 2014. IP – Quality Innings Eater. K – Good source of K’s. W – Good source of Wins, ERA, WHIP – Oh, you get it now.
55. Tim Lincecum – (IP, K) Well, while there are surely worse things a person can do to themselves, smoking weed is seldom a “performance enhancer” in Sports. Art, music, and other things, perhaps, but controlling and maintaining a 98 MPH heater, not so much. The bad news: His velocity is down a few MPH, and someone will probably draft him far sooner than this (prior to round 15 or so). The good news: The “kid” is only 29. If the velocity does not come back, he is still young enough to learn to pitch “smarter”, though he may have to lay off the bong on game days. The Giants thought he had enough left in the tank to give him $35M for two more years. So, if he can settle in at 15 Wins, 200K’s and a mid 3’s ERA, well, then he is no worse than Yovanni Gallardo, right? If I can get Lincecum in the later rounds as my 5th SP, I’m all in. (Disclaimer: The references to Weed are purely for medical purposes, and are included for entertainment value only. Neither this writer nor MLFS is presuming to have any knowledge that Mr. Lincecum is engaging in any activities that include controlled substances of any kind. So, are we cool man? Awesome!)
56. Matt Garza – (IP, K, Z, if healthy) On the one hand it seems Garza is an injury risk, however the injury he suffered through last season had nothing to do with his arm, and when he came back, for the most part, he was Matt Garza again. Call this a hunch, but I think he will be largely forgotten about on draft day presenting an opportunity to reap good value from him late in the draft. And, while it seems he has been around a long time, Garza is only 30 years old this season, meaning he is right in mid-prime as is …
57. Ubaldo Jimenez (IP, K) also 30, and he seemed to put it all together the second half of 2013. Naysayers will point to a 3rd straight season of declining velocity, but glass half full drafters will look at the 1.82ERA, 1.14WHIP and 10.7K/9 he sported in his last 13 starts of 2013, and think he re-invented himself. Aside from 80 walks keeping his WHIP high, his overall 2013 numbers look pretty good as well, with 194k’s in 182 IP and a 3.30 ERA. The threat of 200 K’s will always get him drafted as an endgame pick in most leagues, but if he does put it all together he could be the steal of the draft, as could…..
58. Ervin Santana (IP, K) 31, who went undrafted in many leagues last season, but turned in the best ERA of his career (3.24, with a 1.14 WHIP) in 211 innings for the Royals. Between his own inconsistencies and pitching for some poor teams the last few years, Ervin has not been helping Fantasy teams in the W department, nor has he been an easy SP to spot in matchup situations. These factors have led people to forget that he nearly won the Cy Young Award 5 years ago, and forget about him on draft day. Now, you won’t forget him, and he is another SP that I would feel comfortable with as my 5th or 6th SP, as I would…
59. Jake Peavy, (W, K, WHIP) 32, who I have owned on nearly all my teams the last 2 seasons while many people seem to forget about him in drafts, and I can get him in the very late rounds when others are drafting their back-up 2bman. Those same people also seem to forget that Peavy was one of the best SP in the National League for several years, and was even under rated then as well. Sure, he has weathered more than his share of injuries, has lost a couple of MPH off his fastball, and has only pitched more than 200 innings once in the last 6 years. But, 32 is really not all that old for a SP anymore, and like Garza, if he can stay on the field he will easily outperform his draft position and continue to contribute in 3 of the 4 SP categories.
While you would never risk them being your entire opening day starting rotation, those last 5 SP all represent excellent value and the possibility of regaining much of their past success while they are still in their prime. Before I get to any other veterans I want to make sure we talk about a few youngsters who are on the brink of joining their elite sophomore brethren that are being drafted a good 10 rounds earlier. These are the Category A kids.
60. Chris Archer 25 – Another Tampa product who has Potential Ace written on his uniform. At the least he looks like a good mid rotation starter right now. He still has to develop a change-up and his walk rate was so much better in the majors last season than it ever was in the minors, giving us some skepticism that he is truly ready to take the next step or be a member of the Stang’s opening day rotation.
61. Corey Kluber (K, Z) 27 – While his upside is not as high as Archer’s, his development is far enough ahead of him to assume that Kluber’s immediate value and potential contribution also exceed that of Archer. He has a K-Rate already approaching 9.0 and his FIP indicates that his already decent ERA has the potential to improve as well. That and the fact that he is at the magic age of 27 puts him squarely on my draft day radar if I can get him in a reasonable draft round.
62. Chris Tillman (IP, K, Z) 25 – Tillman came into the majors in 2009 as an elite prospect, but has taken a little time to develop. He’s had some velocity and consistency issues over the last 3 seasons, including giving up far too many Camden Yard HR, but in 2013 he earned an All Star birth going 11-3 in the first half and actually pitched even better in the 2nd half when he was only 5-4. I’m not sure how far a 25-year-old 200IP, 16 game winning, 180 K SP will fall on draft day, but I’m hoping that he is a well-kept secret outside of Baltimore, and that my league-mates join Timmy Lincecum on the hookah pipe before the draft.
63. AJ Griffin (IP,K) 26 – As opposed to Tillman, Griffin was not a top prospect, which made him a good sleeper last season, but he won’t fall far enough this season after putting up nearly identical Roto stats as Tillman in 2013. Unfortunately, he also gave up far too many HR, to the tune of 36 which led the league, along with the 6th worst HR/9 rate in the majors while playing in one of the largest ballparks. His FIP was an alarming 4.55, and coupled with a BABIP of .244, makes Griffin a potential time bomb waiting to explode. I’m passing. He may, however, hold value as a match-ups play if he is not rostered.
64. Jose Quintana (IP, K, Z) 25 – Another SP about to enter his prime, Q helped me to the finals in my MLFS League, in part because ESPN had him RP eligible even though all 33 of his appearances were starts. That won’t happen this season, and it remains to be seen if Q, like Griffin, are bona-fide Fantasy rotation mainstays, or better off left on the wire as a match-ups play.
65. Ivan Nova (W, Z) 27 – Another nearly impossible to rank Yankees SP. The Good: He is the magic age 27. He pitches for the Yankees. He had a great run down the stretch for the Yanks in 2013 and became their #2 SP. He has fairly good command with a good ground ball rate. The Bad: I think that is all there is. He was never an elite prospect, he’s not a dominant high strikeout type pitcher, his peripherals don’t point to any impending improvement, and his status as the Yanks #2 SP may have been more a product of attrition then domination. If he was not a Yankee, I’m afraid I would not even know who he was, and as a Yankee fan I hope he kicks butt for them in 2014. But, I’ve never owned him and I don’t think 2014 will be the year I do. In Spanish, No Va loosely translates to NO GO. By the way, did I mention that I am not very high on Nova?
So, that was the 3rd tier A category. Now, as promised we’ll go over the 3rd tier O category. I know I’ll own one or two of these guys, in fact I already own two of them in my contracts league. This group of guys will require a dose of optimism if one were to spend a draft pick on them, but it could end up being one of the most rewarding value picks on draft day. Every one of these pitchers has had a degree of Major League success as a starting pitcher, in fact nearly all of them have gotten Cy Young Award votes in the past including two who won the award themselves. We are well past the point where 10 or even 12 team leagues are still trying to fill SP slots on draft day, and nearing the end for 14 and 16 team leagues. This is when the draft becomes fun for me. I’m looking for the 2014 version of……….
66. Bartolo Colon (IP, W, ERA, WHIP) 40 – This guy literally came out of nowhere in 2011 and showed he could still pitch. Then, in 2012 he showed he could pitch pretty well, but in 2013 he went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in nearly 200 innings. Bart Who? Simpson? Nope. Colon. He came in 4th in MLB in Wins, 6th in ERA and sported a 5.0 WAR. Many people don’t even realize he is the same Colon who has won nearly 200 games and has nearly 2000 K’s not to mention a CY trophy on his mantle. He was CC Sabathia before CC was. Was it PEDS? Mirrors? Miracles? I’m not sure, but I also bet he will still be pretty low on most draft boards, if only because no one believes this was real. He also had very few K’s which often lulls people into thinking that the blowup is around the corner. If he was 30, he would be a top 25 SP, now he’ll be lucky to be drafted. I promise he won’t go undrafted in any league I am in. The same is true of………………..
67. RA Dickey, but he is only 39 (W, IP, K), and that is young for a Knuckleballer. I think Phil Niekro went another 10 years or so from that age. We all can say we were right about the 2012 CY winner’s 2013 regression, just like we will be able to say that about Colon after 2014, but Dickey didn’t fall all that far considering the move from the NL Least to the AL Beast. I can’t give metrics or stats predictions on this guy, because he is a bit off the grid, but any pitcher who goes over 200IP consistently with nearly 200k’s, double-digit W’s and ratios that don’t sink the ship has value in most leagues.
68. Dan Haren (IP, K, WHIP, Z) is still relatively young at 33, and I have optimism that he is far from done. I think the Dodgers and their stadium will rejuvenate him. Sure, he has lost some velocity, but he also seldom walks anyone which lessens any potential damage from the long ball. If you look past his final line from 2013 you will see that his 2nd half ERA was 3.52 compared to his full season which was a miserable 4.67. Haren should still be rostered in most leagues, and I won’t be afraid to add him to mine should he fall to the late rounds, unlike this guy from a few hundred miles down the interstate…………
69. Ian Kennedy (IP) has only three things going for him right now. 1.) A move to Petco Park in SD where he improved his ERA by a full run in 10 late season starts, and where he has a career ERA of 2.41 2.) He is only 29, and 3. He did win 21 games and come in 4th in the CY voting just 3 seasons ago. So, what is the problem? The problem is that 2011 was the exception, not the rule. This guy is an average mid rotation innings eating veteran SP. He is also an Ex-Yankee pitching prospect. Quick, for 50 points name 5 Ex-Yankee pitching prospects in the last 20 years who have had as good or even close to the career of Kennedy. No, I didn’t think you could either. But, the answer is 1. Ted Lilly 2. Mark Melancon 3. Tyler Clippard. 4. Jose Quintana, and 5. Randy Choate. Ouch. Maybe Phil Hughes can turn that around. In the meantime, some owners will still draft based on the baseless 21 Wins in 2011.
70. Jonathon Niese (Z) is my definition of an Optimism pick. I had high hopes for him in 2013 and he disappointed, though after he came back from a partial rotator cuff tear he pitched as good as or better than his breakout 2012, giving me optimism. He is also entering his, you guessed it, age 27 season. That type of shoulder injury at his age is ominous considering he has still never gone 200 IP in a season, so we’ll have to see how he is this season, a season which will determine if Niese is a rosterable rotation mainstay or a future match-ups guy. He was on a few of my 2013 rosters to start the season. There is a good chance that won’t be the case in 2014, but I wish him luck just like…………
71. Marco Estrada who is in the same boat as Niese, but happens to be 3 years older and also on the cusp of determining if he is a rotation candidate going forward or a match-ups guy, a role he has already performed well thus far in his career. He showed elite K-Rates in 2012 with solid ratios in 138 innings giving promise for a strong career as a starter after a few seasons as primarily a reliever. In 2013 he, like Niese, got off to a poor start, got injured, and matched all his 2012 numbers in 9 starts after returning to finish out the season. Now, he has to “Show Me” he can stay on the field before I’ll draft him again.
72. Ricky Nolasco (IP) is also over 30 now as hard as that is to believe, and he has been on my “optimism” list for years now. He can show flashes of brilliance with a skill set similar to former teammate Anibal Sanchez, but can’t seem to sustain it, and every time I decide to trust him he gets a case of gopheritis and gets blown out to the tune of 8 or 9 runs in a game, thus doing irreparable harm to my ERA. At some point I have to face the fact that a player will not realize his apparent potential just because I want him to. I will never be able to spot start him though. As a recovering Nolasco addict, one good outing and I would be hooked again, to my eventual demise.
I’m going to lump the next 5 guys together. They have several things in common. All are over 30 and have come back from serious injury to post fantasy worthy seasons, but are all on the optimism list because they have limited fantasy skill sets to start with, so we don’t really know how good it is that they have made it back yet. One of them has a famous line named after him by the good folks at ESPN. Fittingly, that line is the Wandy line, which fondly marks the point at which any SP falling below that line is strictly a match-ups pitcher and should not be rostered. Wandy himself has always teetered on that line, thus setting the mark for perceived futility. It should be noted, however, that every one of these guys, including Wandy himself, may no longer be above that line. Proceed at your own risk, but they are still worthy of top 100 status and perfectly streamable with the right conditions, or, if everything breaks right, a good rotation sleeper.
73. Scott Kazmir (K, Z) 30 – was the feel good story of 2013 just as Bartolo Colon in 2012 and RA Dickey the year before that. However, even at his best, Kazmir was never more than a K machine, well, and a walk machine, posting insane walk rates and high ERA’s with even higher WHIPS. What is interesting is that 2013 was not only his first full season in 5 or so years, but he posted the best Walk rates of his career without losing much of the K rates. He is only 30, a former 1st round pick of the Mets, and once fanned 239 batters in 34 starts. He’s also a lefty who are notoriously late bloomers. Some lefty named Randy Johnson learned to pitch when he was 30 and we know what happened after that. RJ, nah, but who knows?
74. Tim Hudson (IP, W, WHIP) 38 – Averaging 16 wins over 15 years with great control and good ratios will get you on top 100 lists no matter how bad your k-rate is or how much time you missed the last two seasons. It will also make you the answer to a trivia question: What do Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas have in common? They were traded to Oakland for Hudson in 2004. But, it is the missed time at age 38 that will land the former R.O.Y. at #74 and near that Wandy line. We’ll see what he has left in SF.
75. John Lackey (W) 35 – Another former R.O.Y. and winner of an average of 15 games per season suffered Tommy John surgery two years ago and there was no guarantee he was coming back. Interestingly, he posted the lowest walk rate of his career in 2013, the first time it was ever under 2.00 in his career and went to his 6th post season with the WS Champ Bosox. But, correct me if I’m wrong Matt, but isn’t he one of those guys who is better in real life than fantasy, much like the now retired Andy Pettitte? He really has only had a couple of fantasy worthy seasons in my opinion. Meh, maybe he is a late bloomer. Good for him.
76. Jorge De La Rosa (W, K) 32 – It is hard to believe he has been in the league for 10 years. He has teased us with 2 good fantasy seasons spread out between several injury plagued seasons, the last being Tommy John surgery. He has also teased us with good K rates coupled with horrendous Walk rates giving him some horrendous WHIPS, but, as the trend is here, he posted his best full season walk rate of his career in 2013. Another late-blooming lefty? I’ll let you find out. I traded high on him last season after he had a good 1st half.
77. Wandy Rodriguez (ERA, W) 35 – Way-Rod himself finally, and a fitting end to this, the third part of my top 100 SP. This probably means that everyone in next week’s last 25 is below the Wandy Line, no? Well, no, but some of them are. Would it surprise you that Wandy is a Lefty pitcher who has tortured us with horrible Walk Rates and WHIPS for his whole career, but, in 2013 after coming back from elbow troubles, posted the Best Walk rate of his career? It was also his 6th consecutive season with an ERA less than 4.00. An even later blooming lefty? Tough to own and tough to stream as you never know what you will get from Way-Rod. The Pirates seem happy though.
I was going to add here the K Class of this A-OK group, the not quite ready for Prime Time Kids, but they will have to wait until the last segment next week as this one has run far over what I had planned. Sorry, I love Building a Starting Pitching Staff with mid round value picks. Can you tell? See you next week where somehow we will find a place in the top 100 for Matt Harvey. Maybe you can give me some suggestions.