Two weeks ago Major League Fantasy Baseball Writer Ben Bruno (Position Players) and I gave our choices for the NL pitchers and hitters for the 2014 All Star Game based purely on Fantasy Baseball Value to date. So, this week we will cover the AL Fantasy All Stars from the first half of the 2014 season based solely on Value from an Advanced Fantasy Baseball Perspective. Our colleague Bryan Luhrs has been following the All Star Futures Game and you can see what he has to say about that here. Finally, Bryan Robinson talks about some players coming off the DL recently and what we can expect from them in the 2nd half. 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. I still have purposely not looked at the pitchers chosen for the real game as I don’t want reality to sway or distort my fantasy choices. No, I really haven’t, though I do know that some big names like Price and Tanaka will not be there.
Here are my choices for the 14 man Pitching Staff of the American League Fantasy All Star Team:
SOMEONE HAS TO START THE GAME:
Just as I said two weeks ago, there are only two places where I will consider a reputation. The pitcher who starts the game and the 9th inning closer will have to be having a great season, but also have earned the right to hold one of the AL’s two most prominent positions on the AS Team. I’m choosing between four guys who have already made the team and I’ll talk about another guy who would have been in the conversation a week ago. Getting the actual Start is an honor, and one I won’t base just on stats. In a Standard ESPN League, the Player Rater is topped by Felix Hernandez with the injured Masahiro Tanaka not far behind, as well as Chris Sale, then Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish a notch below that. The ultra surprising Scott Kazmir is in the top 10 as well, but I can’t hand him the ball in the first inning. 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 Felix again tops the list. Tanaka and Sale are in the top 10 along with the equally surprising but not in contention for the starting honor Garrett Richards of LA. Scherzer(#16 of all MLB pitchers) and Darvish(27) are a ways back, but have to be considered based on their amazing 2013 seasons where Scherzer snagged the CY Award. So, I need to pick from one of these guys to start the game.
1. Felix Hernandez, SEA – (11-2 154K/25BB, 2.12 ERA .901 WHIP)This is a no brainer compared to the NL choice as no one is legitimately close in either performance or stature in the game. Having him as my #1 SP has me in contention for a playoff berth in my two Fantrax leagues. I realize that Felix, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price & Zack Greinke each have a trophy on their mantle since Felix won 19 games in 2009, but I think he is the best AL pitcher over that stretch and it is not close. He is often maligned in fantasy circles for his perceived low win totals, but there is no other SP in the AL I’d rather own both for consistency & an Ace stat line. Since 2009 he is averaging 15 wins (if he wins the 18 he is projected for this season) and no other AL pitcher but Verlander can boast that. During that time he has never pitched less than 200 Innings or struck out less than 216 batters. But, we are talking about this season. In 2014 Felix has established new career bests so far in BB/9, K/9, Hits/9, HR/9 and of course K/BB. Seriously, his K/BB this season is 6.16 which is nearly 2 points higher than last season’s career best 4.7. It should be no surprise then that he is also tossing to career best ERA and WHIP rates. Would anyone like to guess why a pitcher this good, who has been in the majors for 10 years already, would suddenly take another step in 2014? Correct, he was 27 years old when Pitchers and Catchers reported this Spring, and as you know I’m a big believer in the magic #27 for players to break out. With a (Fielding Independent Pitching) FIP of 2.02 his 2.12 ERA is not luck driven either though it is nearly a point below his lifetime average, so the ERA may come up a bit. I don’t see any reason not to name him the starter for this game. The best SP in the AL having his best season to date.
2. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY – (12-4 135K/19BB 2.51 ERA 1.01 WHIP) What a season for AL rookies! Had Tanaka not joined the UCL Tear Club this season, it would have been a tough call for AL ROY after this season with Abreu, along with some pressure to let him start the AS Game. As a Yankee fan and Tanaka owner this is a sad way to end his rookie season if it is indeed over. I can’t put him on my AS Team let alone start him, but he deserves mention here. I’ll chose a replacement later, but Tanaka has been as good as advertised. The 19 walks in 129 IP is the most telling stat. His FIP of 3.06 may have signaled some slight regression, but this guy is the real deal. He is only 25, so if he does need TJ Surgery he has a long way to go still. I hate to say it but, in this, the year of the UCL Tear, Tanaka was the biggest fish after Jose Fernandez.
3. Max Scherzer, DET – (11-3 146K/BB 3.35 ERA 1.17 WHIP) 2012’s 27 Year Old Breakout Pitcher and 2013’s reigning Cy Young Award Winner, Max has had a few rough games this season as he has been a bit more hittable. But his peripherals are all showing that he is the same pitcher he was last season, just more bats are finding his pitches. While his .315 Babip is in line with his career average(.306), the .260 Babip from 2013 was the outlier. Perhaps a bit of regression should have been expected but his FIP (2.95) is nearly the same as last season’s (2.74). His numbers and performance still earn him the honor of making this team and at least being in the conversation to start it as the reigning CY Winner. We’ll bring him in when we need a strikeout.
4. Chris Sale, CHI – (8-1 102K/16BB 2.08 ERA .840 WHIP) – That WHIP is not a miss-print and leads the AL. I admit I was late to get on the Sale bandwagon, but I’m sold now. I just thought he looked a bit fragile when he first came up looking like a skinny teenager. His numbers are steadily improving through his early 20’s and it is scary to think what he’ll be like when he hits the magic age 27 in two years. Keeper Leagues need to be all over this guy, as I am sure they are already. He finished 6th and 5th respectively in the CY voting the last two years and I could see him moving up a spot or two from that this season. I can’t give him the start though as he doesn’t have the King’s resume just yet. Now, if he brings his wife to the game we may have to change our minds. Yup, that is Sale’s wife. No, the one in front of the car.
5.Yu Darvish, TEX – (8-5 142K/39BB 2.97 ERA 1.21 WHIP) Now that his FIP and his ERA have come together and he has turned 28, I think this is the Yu we can expect for the next 5 years.He has been a little more hittable this season as his unsustainable 6.2 H/9 last season led the AL and his Babip has jumped from .264 to .324, but all his other ratios are right in line with last season. I don’t own him this season as he became too expensive after the year he had in 2013, but I would never hesitate to let him lead my staff.
Based on all of the above information it should not be a surprise that I have to give the starting nod to King Felix for the 2014 Fantasy All Star Game. His overall numbers top the AL 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 Scherzer, Sale and then Darvish for an inning each.There should be a lot of strikeouts by the 5th inning.
ROUNDING OUT THE STARTING PITCHING STAFF:
Those first four were easy picks. Now who do we have for the middle innings? I’ll have to think a bit harder to name only ten more pitchers, some of whom will be relievers.
6. David Price, TB – (8-7 159K/20BB 3.42 ERA 1.09 WHIP) His ERA may be higher than you want from your fantasy ACE as he can give up a homer or two, but this guy is quietly having his best season to date from a strikeout and walk perspective. His 7.95 K/BB, 10.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 are all career bests for this 28-year-old. Unfortunately for the AL squad he is pitching Sunday for the Rays and will have to back out of the All Star Game, so I’ll name a replacement later. He is also the subject of many a remaining pitching trade rumor out there, so we’ll keep an eye on that during the break as well.
7. Sonny Gray, OAK – (9-3 103K/41BB 2.97 ERA 1.19 WHIP) How do the A’s do it? Another 1st round draft choice that is as good as advertised. He still walks too many batters but makes up for it with overpowering stuff. The walks will have to come down for him to make the next tier, but I think he’ll figure it out.
8. Scott Kazmir, OAK – (11-3 108K/27BB 2.38 ERA .980 WHIP) How do the A’s do it? Oh, I said that already, but this time they did it with $11Million. Scott is only 30 years old which is amazing considering how long it seems he’s been around. He is not the 10 K/9 pitcher he was when he came up with the Mets, but he is also walking less than half the batters he did then as shown by his 2.1 BB/9 vs a lifetime 3.8 BB/9 career average. I dismissed him at the draft table this Spring, much to my deteriment.
9. Rick Porcello, DET – (12-5 67K/28BB 3.39 ERA 1.182 WHIP) This guy is my #1 regression candidate of this staff, but you can’t leave him off with a league leading 12-5 record. Plus the Tigers are used to having 2 guys on the staff, so we’ll keep that alive. He hardly strikes anyone out and his FIP of 3.93 points to that regression I speak of. His Babip of .274 is the first time in 5 years it has been under .310. So, he is allowing fewer hits but all his other ratios are in line with his young career. He is only 25 and other pitchers have had good careers without a high K rate, I just don’t think he is quite this good.
10. Garret Richards, ANA – (11-2 127K/43BB 2.55ERA 1.06 WHIP) Who would have thought that Richards would be competing for an AS berth, let alone a fantasy roster spot in Spring Training? He wasn’t even this good in the minors, though he was not there long. He is here because of his 11-2 record 2.55 ERA & 1.06 WHIP, He walks a few too many still, and like Porcello his Babip is .30 points lower than his lifetime Babip, but this 26-year-old has a FIP of 2.68 which gives us hope that the ERA will stay low. He is another guy that I can’t say I own. I never saw it coming.
11. Dallas Keuchel, HOU – ( 9-5 87K/28BB 3.20 ERA 1.188 WHIP) Another big surprise is Keuchel who snuck up on all of us in 2014 coming out of the talent black hole of Houston. This season has changed that perception between Dallas, George Springer and Jon Singleton, not to mention the great season Jose Altuve is having. The main thing Dallas has done is cut down the walks and his 3.12 FIP is nearly the same as his ERA which I like for sustained success. He turns 27 just before Spring Training next season, so he’ll be on my cheat sheets at the draft table.
12. Jered Weaver, ANA – (10-6 96K/36BB 3.45 ERA 1.133 WHIP) – OR – Mark Buehrle, TOR (10-6 73K/32BB 2.64 ERA 1.274 WHIP) These two guys are sporting remarkably similar records and stats for two vets who come from very different pitching styles. Weaver was a power pitcher who had to learn to work with less and Buehrle is just the opposite, never having been a power pitcher and always working with less. My colleague Corey Roberts will kill me for saying this, but I don’t think Weaver is this good anymore. I’m not sold on Buehrle’s late career rebirth giving him a ton more fantasy value going forward either. Weaver’s FIP is a whopping 4.23 & Buehrle’s is 3.70. I’m not buying either of them, but I need a veteran presence on my under 30 AS team so I figure I need to take one of these guys as Weaver is 31 and Buehrle is 35. Both seem a bit fragile so I’ll bring them both along just in case. Hey, it is my fantasy, er.. article, I can do whatever I want.
12B. Honorable Mention – Jeff Samardzija, OAK – He’s having a really good season even though his 3-8 record belies it. Perhaps he can finally carve out a winning record on the left coast if his first two Oakland starts are a hint of things to come. Do you think he was excited? He has the honor of being the only pitcher in the “Sorry” section at the bottom of both leagues as he was traded in between articles. He didn’t make my NL staff and I can’t put him on the AL staff after 2 starts. Well, I can, but i’m not.
I was originally thinking we only could fit two relievers on the All Star Squad, but i had two more i wanted to include. The Price and Tanaka situations gave me the chance to add them to the team. I think this pretty well covers the AL team during the late innings.
13. Derek Holland, KC – (24 Saves 1.87 ERA & 1.010 WHIP.) Now out of Mo’s Shadow, he is clearly the premier closer in the AL. He’s just about on pace to match his 47 Saves and 101 Strikeouts from 2013, as well as the sub 2.00 ERA and near 1.000 WHIP.
14. Koji Uehara, BOS – (18 Saves, 1.65 ERA, .760 WHIP.) Koji has 57 k’s to only 6 walks. In fact, during the past 5 years over 260 MLB games he has a K/BB ratio of over 10 with 331 K’s and only 32 BB. There are not many more reliable closers.
15. Fernando Rodney, Seattle – (27 Saves, 1.98 ERA, 1.130 WHIP) Replacement for David Price, TB – I’ve been waiting for this. I took some risks in several leagues banking that Rodney was going to repeat last season. I waited until the top closers were gone and drafted Rodney late, making him my #1 closer – He not only repeated, but has pitched even better than last season. A few heart attack 9th inning rally’s not withstanding.
16. Dellin Betances, NYY –(12 Holds, 84K’s in 55 IP, 1.46 ERA & .700 WHIP.) Replacement for Masahiro Tanaka, NYY – This guy flat-out deserves to be here on performance alone. David Robertson is doing a good job closing, but Betances appears to be the better pitcher. I’ve watched him pitch. Pure dominance. His hold total is low as he did not get the 8th inning gig until Robertson’s injury pushed Shawn Kelly to the 9th. Betances has not given the 8th inning back to kelly though, and I doubt he will. He may force the Yanks to make some tough decisions about their closer position after the season.
So, there is my 14/15 man staff. We’ll see how that compares to the staff put together by John Farrell and the League, remembering that they don’t always look at things the same way we do when building a team. See you all next weak when we’ll keep talking about the 2nd half of 2014.
James Shields, John Lester, Jose Quintana, Jeff Samardzija (again), Phil Hughes, Jake Odorizzi, C. Young, Cory Kluber, John Lackey, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, & others.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio picks up again tomorrow Monday July 14th from 1-2pm EST. E.J., Corey, and Joe Iannone will discuss second half All Star hitters and pitchers. Be sure and tune in or download the podcast on I-Tunes or the Google Play store so you can listen on the fly. The call in number is 646.915.8596.