Over the next two weeks Major League Fantasy Baseball Writer Ben Bruno (Position Players) and I will choose the 2014 NL and AL All Star Rosters based purely on Fantasy Baseball Value to date. So, these are the Fantasy All Stars from the first half of the 2014 season based solely on Value from an Advanced Fantasy Baseball Perspective. Feel free to argue or dismiss any of our choices, but remember we are considering Fantasy Baseball relevance only, so aspects important in the real game such as defense, reputation, intangibles and leadership will not be factors here. We also will not be adhering to MLB’s rule that at least one player must come from each team. Of course if this list looks like the roster of any one team in your league it may be time to move along.
Here are my choices for the 14 man Pitching Staff of the National League Fantasy All Star Team:
SOMEONE HAS TO START THE GAME:
I just finished saying that reputation is not a factor here, but I may use it to help pick the Starter for the game. I’m choosing between four guys who have already made the team. Getting the actual Start is an honor, and one I won’t just base on stats. In a Standard ESPN League, the Player Rater is topped by Johnny Cueto with Adam Wainwright not far behind, then Julio Teheran and Clayton Kershaw a notch below that. In our Fantrax Leagues which use more advanced stat categories and attempt to reward certain peripheral skills as opposed to just the box score numbers Wainwright tops the list with Cueto right behind him and Teheran and Kershaw a notch away from them again. So, I need to pick from one of these guys to start the game.
1. Adam Wainwright, StL – I realize that Clayton Kershaw has been recognized as the #1 NL starting pitcher in fantasy for a few years now, but who is more consistent than Adam Wainwright over that same time? Since 2009 he is averaging 230 Innings Pitched (IP), 19 Wins (W.) 200 Strikeouts (K’s) and an Earned Run Average (ERA) in the mid 2’s. What is even more impressive is that he missed all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery and 2012’s reentry season, while not Waino’s best work was still a good season by any other measure. But, we are talking about this season. In 2014 Waino has started 16 games over 116 IP, 13 of those are Quality Starts 10 of which ended up in a W for Waino, and he has chipped in 3 Complete Games (CG) & 2 Shutouts (SHO) which spell dominance. He has a stellar 2.01 ERA and a miniscule Walks + Hits per IP (WHIP) of .900. We see quite a few WHIP’s below 1.00 this season, but Wainwright’s is mostly sustainable as it is not too far from his average since 2009. With a (Fielding Independent Pitching) FIP of 2.36 his ERA is not luck driven either but that FIP is nearly a point below his lifetime average, so the ERA should come up a bit. His 105 K’s vs only 22 BB gives him a K/BB ratio that places 5th in the NL for pitchers who have made at least 12 starts. His 3.7 WAR (Wins above Replacement) projects to 7.4 for a full season which is stellar (For reference, Kershaw’s WAR for his 2013 Cy Young season was 7.8). He projects out over a full season at 20-8 with 210 K’s 26QS and those sick ratios that will likely correct a little bit. Sadly, I’ve never had the pleasure of owning him as he tends to be gone by the time I’m ready to draft a pitcher, and his owners seldom trade him. But when I close my eyes and picture it I envision a season of feeling pretty secure about the top of my rotation.
2. Johnny Cueto, CIN – Heeeeere’s Johnny! There is no doubt that Johnny has arrived. He’s been one of the best NL SP for a while now. but like Wainwright his young career was sidetracked by a major injury which pretty much sapped his 2013 season. Like Wainwright he has bounced back and not only picked up where he left off when he won 19 games for the Reds in 2012, but is actually pitching better than he has in his entire career. Anyone who reads my articles knows that i think it is no coincidence that Johnny was 27 when pitchers and catchers reported this Spring. Many of his numbers are better than Wainwright’s which is why he finished a little higher on the more basic ESPN player rater, but Waino has him on some of the more advanced metrics which leapfrog him ahead of Cueto on the Fantrax rater. But, Cueto is 8-5 in 17 starts, a whopping 15 of which are quality starts, with 3 CG & 2 SHO. Quality Starts don’t mean quite as much at the top of the SP ratings, but when over 90% of your starts are of the QS variety it means very simply that Johnny C. almost never gets blown out in a game. Put him in the lineup April 1st and don’t look back. He is 2nd in the NL with 122 K’s in a league leading 124 IP which is far and away his best career K/9 Rate after several years of trending upward in that ratio. While he walks a few more than Waino his BB/9 is also trending in the right direction over the last few years and now sits at an extremely good 2.1 BB/9. I haven’t even gotten to his ratios yet and his 1.88 ERA and .836 WHIP only lead the National League. His 2.93 FIP doesn’t scream for too much ERA regression and his 3.5 WAR is only a notch below Waino’s.
3. Julio Teheran, ATL – Like Cueto 15 of his 17 starts have been QS, but he only has 7 W’s due in large part to Atlanta’s inconsistent offensive support in 2014. He has 2 CG/SHO under his belt already for 2014. His 103K & 23 BB in 119 IP is eerily similar to Wainwright’s totals, as are his 2.34 ERA & .950 WHIP. Teheran had an awesome rookie season in 2013, in fact I’m not sure how he finished only 5th in the ROY voting. He had the misfortune of arriving the same season as Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, but actually pitched a little better than Shelby Miller and Hyun-jin Ryu. He has taken his game to another level in 2014, a level far beyond that usually attained by a 23-year-old pitcher. His 3.20 WAR is great though his 3.23 FIP might lead to some ERA regression. We knew Teheran was going to be good, but I think owners have to admit they are getting more than what they expected in 2014. He may only be the third best of Harvey, Fernandez & Teheran, but he is the only one of the three contributing to your Fantasy Baseball team right now.
Brief Note: I was having trouble deciding between Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez for someone to throw out the first pitch but the idea was overruled by the commissioner’s office anyway for fear of another elbow setback. The NL missing those two certainly gives the AL a bit of an advantage this season, no?
4. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – Well those who drafted Kershaw in the first round this season certainly had to worry he would join Harvey and Fernandez on the 2014 scrap heap, but he recovered in time to make this All Star Squad. Has he done enough to start the game though? We have to consider him as he is the reigning Cy Young winner two of the last three seasons. He has 9 QS in 11 GS leading to an 8-2 W-L Record after missing nearly all of the first month of the season, and has 2 CG and 1 SHO already. His 2.24 ERA & .912 WHIP are right in line with his last 3 seasons. Where his talent has jumped off the charts this season is in his walk and K rates. He has 94 K & 9 BB in 72.0 IP leading to career bests of an otherworldly 11.7 K/9 and Maddux like 1.1 BB/9, or an incredible 10.4 K/BB which show he is still maturing and improving as a pitcher. That is not surprising to me as he is 26 years old this season. His extremely low 1.60 FIP is well below his career 2.8 FIP but everything else is right on target so I would not worry about the ERA moving. He has a 2.5 WAR so far in his abbreviated season.
Based on all of the above information I have to give the starting nod to Adam Wainwright for the 2014 Fantasy All Star Game. His overall numbers top the NL and his reputation over the last 4 or 5 years certainly gives him the respect needed to be named the starter. I’d like to pitch him the first two innings and then follow him up with Kershaw, Cueto and Teheran for an inning each. Who do we have for the middle innings?
ROUNDING OUT THE STARTING PITCHING STAFF:
Those first four were easy picks. Now I’ll have to think a bit harder to name only ten more pitchers, some of whom will be relievers.
5. Zach Greinke, LAD – His numbers speak for themselves. With 11 QS,10 W & 2.4 WAR he is among the lead leaders in all three areas. He has 111 K’s and only 20 BB in 103.2 IP leading to a 5 to 1 K/BB and a 9.66 K/9. His 2.78 ERA & 1.17 WHIP are in line with his career averages.
6. Madison Bumgarner, SF – Mad-Bum’s numbers are eerily similar to Greinke’s. Based on where these two guys are drafted, imagine having one of them as your #2 SP. He has 10 QS & 9 W although a rather low WAR of 1.7 in a league leading 17 starts. Despite the low WAR he is helping your fantasy team with a 2.90 ERA & 1.17 WHIP & 9.44 K/9. Even his 114-26 K/BB ratio mirrors Greinke. His 2.76 FIP on top of a 2.90 ERA shows what you see is what you get, an ALL STAR SP.
7. Kyle Lohse, MIL – I’ve spoken about him a lot in my articles this season, and sure enough he made the cut here. His 9-2 W-L record is not a mirage as he has 13 QS in 114 IP and backs that up with a 79/22 K/BB ratio. His 3.08 ERA & 1.08 WHIP are in line with Lohse’s usual first few months of a season, but this year he seems to be carrying it a lot further. His 6.24 K/9 is not top of the line & his 3.57 FIP points to some regression, as does his history, but he deserves to be here in his 14th MLB season.
8. Jordan Zimmerman, WAS – Zim seems to fly under the radar most seasons even after winning 19 games in 2013, but he is one of the best SP in the NL the last few years. In 2014 he only has 5 W in 10 QS which makes it easy to overlook his 2.95 ERA & 1.18 WHIP. His 2.79 FIP makes the ERA look pretty sustainable. What sets him apart is his 86/18 K/BB ratio and this season his 4.78 K/BB ratio & 7.92 K/9 are the highest of his career.
9. Josh Beckett, LAD – Who would have thought that Beckett would be competing for an AS berth, let alone a fantasy roster spot in Spring Training? His No-Hitter is nice but not even the reason he is on this list as a No-No does not help your fantasy team as much as it sells newspapers. He is here because of his 2.11 ERA & 1.00 WHIP & 2.8 WAR. Unfortunately his 9 QS have only led to 5 W’s, but his 8.46 K/9 and 88/28 K/BB show he is back to where he was a few years ago. That is three Dodgers now and a case could be made for Ryu, but we can’t do that, can we?
10. Stephen Strasburg, WAS – There are some pitchers who have better overall numbers then Mr K in 2014, but since K’s are one of the most important fantasy stats, and he leads the NL with 123 K, he is on this list. His 6-6 record in 13 QS is in part a lack of support from the surprisingly soft Nationals offense. He has a 3.70 ERA which is tempered a bit by a 2.77 FIP that shows he is due for a positive ERA correction. His 1.280 WHIP is due to correct as well based on a career high, sky-high .359 Batting Avg on Ball in Play. That is a lot of if’s, but I see a guy here who has improved his K/BB ratio to a career best 123/23 or 5.35 K/BB. This article is about 1st half production, and I think Stephen’s is better than it looks and the 2nd half will prove that out.
11. Jason Hammel, CHC – Another big surprise is Hammel who snuck up on all of us in 2014 along with his teammate Jake Arietta. Hammel has tossed 11 QS with 7 W and is among the league leaders with a 3.0 WAR. His 2.98 & 1.01 WHIP are among the league leaders and will help any Fantasy Staff. A stellar 97/21 K/BB in 102.2 IP puts him in elite class as does his 8.5 K/9. I’ll bet the O’s wish they had him back.
I think we only need a few, as I want SP going most of the way, using one of these guys to close it out and the others to put out fires in earlier innings. Also, Closers mostly add just one category to your team score, but these three are doing a lot for your ratios as well.
12. Craig Kimbrel, ATL – Who else? 23 Saves (S), 2.30 ERA & 1.033 WHIP & 55 K’s. He will of course be saved for the 9th inning out of respect, much like how I chose the SP.
13. Francisco Rodriguez, MIL – A blast from the past! Closers Close but in this game he will be called on to put out any mid inning fires. He leads the NL with 27 S, and has a 2.34 ERA & .898 WHIP. He’ll help in K’s as well.
14. Houston Street, SD – Here is a guy making it easy on Mike Matheny to choose a Padre. 20 Saves, .960 ERA & .790 WHIP.
So, there is my 14 man staff. We’ll see how that compares to the staff put together by Matheny and the League, remembering that they don’t always look at things the same way we do when building a team. See you in two weeks for the AL All Star Starting Pitching Staff. Next week I’ll join Bryan Robinson with some Bold Predictions for the 2nd half of the season in pitching.
Randall Simon, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roarke, Cole Hamels, Hun-jin Ryu, Michael Wacha, Tim Hudson, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Samardzija, Aroldis Chapman, Rafael Soriano & others.