Starting pitching is deeper than ever before. There are some real difference makers at the top of the list, some great values in the middle and quality sleepers at the end. Everyone is going to have talented pitchers on their side, so a winning strategy might be the difference between being near the top of the standings in the pitching categories and being near the bottom. How you choose to invest in starting pitching during your draft will likely be among your most important draft day decisions.
In making our SP rankings, we each listed our top 75 players, but you will find the top 80 players ranked in this piece. Position eligibility is a little different here than it was for the hitters. Naturally any pitcher who started five or more games in 2013 will be counted as a starter. Additionally, any pitcher who is expected to be in the rotation (Drew Smyly) was considered here.
These rankings will focus on 2014, and are geared toward traditional 5 x 5 formats. Also, please note that the rankings continue on pages two and three. Without further ado, here are the assembly’s rankings:
1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Kevin: There’s no concern with him, unless/until something breaks. But that’s the risk with every single SP, so you may as well enjoy his uncontested elite status.
Paul: You might have to settle for 9k/9 and a 2.50 era. It’ll be okay.
2. Yu Darvish, TEX
Jim: Strikeout machine made big strides with his ERA & WHIP last year.
Tommy: Yu’s super elite K rate earns this rank, but beware the high HR rate (1.12 HR/9). I won’t draft Darvish in the 2nd because the price for the guys ranked 3-9 on my list is much more reasonable and I don’t see a huge difference in the overall package. Darvish also carries some additional injury risk.
3. Adam Wainwright, STL
Paul: Waino is a consistently excellent starter. Feel safe taking him as your #1. Close to 200 strikeouts with good wins and ratios.
Tommy: He is as safe as they come. The high BABIP from last year looks real due to a high LD rate. Waino’s miniscule BB rate is what makes him elite.
4. Felix Hernandez, SEA
Jim: 8 straight years of health, consistency and high strikeouts from this workhorse with very little downside.
Kevin: Long-term, Felix is a great buy, and likely a top-5 SP. For redraft, his value takes a slight hit. He posted his best K/9 and BB/9 in 2013, but perhaps the high IP have caught up with him. It’s hard to assume he’ll maintain his career best skills and return to 230 IP.
5. Max Scherzer, DET
Jim: Elite strikeout numbers, but expect the ERA to go back into the mid 3’s.
Tommy: There likely will be some BABIP regression here, but his K rate along with the improved Tigers’ infield defense gives him more upside than Wainwright.
6. Stephen Strasburg, WAS
Paul: It’s not hype when you watch him pitch. He could easily win 18 and strike out 200 for next 5 years.
Tommy: Strasburg would be number 3 on this list if he could go deeper into games and if he did not carry so much injury risk. The combination of a high K rate, high ground ball rate and a low line drive rate is enough to make owners salivate.
7. Madison Bumgarner, SF
Kevin: He keeps improving his K/9, but the BB/9 jump in 2013 prevents him from being a top-10 option, at least for now. I personally think he can correct the walk increase and keep the strikeouts.
Paul: Giants Ace keeps getting better and he’s just 24. 200 strikeout ability with great ratios.
8. Cliff Lee, PHI
Jim: Wins may be harder to come by, but the rest of his numbers can hang with the top dogs.
Kevin: You could make the argument that he’s a top-4 arm, and I wouldn’t disagree.
Age hasn’t caught up to him yet, but it will eventually, so I’d rather take a younger ace.
9. Jose Fernandez, MIA
Paul: Beware of the naysayers. Fernandez is an elite talent that put it all together almost immediately. Wins might not be there for him in Miami, but I will never draft for wins.
Tommy: Fernandez has truly limitless potential, but last year’s .240 BABIP looks lucky given his batted ball profile. Can he continue to win with the Marlins?
10. Chris Sale, CHW
Jim: He’s proved the skeptics wrong about his durability and would make a great #2 for any fake team.
Kevin: He’s an undervalued ace who can rack up 200 K and have a great ERA and WHIP despite pitching in a home park that favors hitters.
11. David Price, TB
Jim: Rough start but strong finish last year. He should be back to normal and could be traded to a contender this summer.
Tommy: Price’s new pitch to contact approach may help the Rays win games, but his reduced K rate holds him out of the top 10.
12. Justin Verlander, DET
Kevin: He’s allegedly figured out what caused the hitch in his game (release point), but he’s also got a lot of IP piled onto his arm. He’s fully reliable as a 2014 ace, but there are guys I like a bit more at this point.
Paul: Tigers #3 arm comes with some risk in 2014 though he appears to be on track for opening day. 15 W 3.45 ERA with 200 K seems about right.
13. Zack Greinke, LAD
Paul: I predicted he’d win the NL Cy Young, so you can say I’m all in here. He’s going way too low in drafts.
Tommy: Greinke’s K rate in 2013 was as low as it has been in a long time (7.5 K/9). His stellar ERA was driven by a career low BABIP of .276. Aside from 2013,Greinke has never been below .300 in his major league career. Expect regression.
14. Anibal Sanchez, DET
Jim: He’s either a late bloomer or it was a career year. Sanchez is good for wins and K’s, but I’d rather put my money someplace else.
Kevin: He had some luck factor in 2013, but he’s a good strikeout pitcher. The issues will be whether he can maintain a K/9 above 9.0, and whether he can ever reach 200 IP, though 190 IP isn’t bad either.
15. Cole Hamels, PHI
Jim: Very similar to Felix Hernandez when it comes to consistency but recent shoulder issues should be considered. Move him up or down depending on news/progress come draft time.
Peter: May miss start of 2014, slide down very slightly (from 14).
16. Gio Gonzalez, WAS
Kevin: He lost a bit off his stellar 2012, but overall he’s still a great SP in his prime. The K/9 fade in the second half was offset by BB/9 gains. If he can get his walk rate under 3.0, he could post an even better WHIP to go with a great ERA.
Paul: Good consistent ratios with high strikeouts make Gonzalez a very safe pick for your #2. Heck, he could be your #1.
17. Gerrit Cole, PIT
Kevin: He has further strikeout potential, but it’s not here yet. He’s gold for keeper
leagues, but in redraft formats you’re better off with a more experienced #2 SP, unless
you want to sell high on his hype.
Tommy: If Cole can continue to limit the walks and keep the ball in the park along with a strikeout an inning, he will be the next breakout ace.
18. Matt Cain, SF
Paul: He was due for an ERA correction after 7 straight years of outperforming his xFIP. Still a solid performer with good innings, strikeouts in a great ballpark.
Tommy: Cain was a top 5 SP off draft boards last season. After his early season struggles, he was able to right the ship, but his overall numbers present a buying opportunity for 2014 drafts.
19. Mat Latos, CIN
Jim: Petco or Great American Ballpark, he’s the same pitcher no matter where he throws. Don’t let the latest injury scare you that much, championships aren’t won in April.
Kevin: A K/9 fade in the second half is the only nitpick, but he continued with a solid ERA and WHIP all season despite it. He’s a solid #2 SP for redraft, but not quite a #1 guy.
20. Mike Minor, ATL
Paul: 26-year-old lefty took a big step forward in 2014. I’m not sure there’s another step ahead, but 200 IP with 150-160 K and a 3.50 ERA seems like a safe bet.
Tommy: Minor’s fly ball tendencies and his ability to limit walks certainly help the WHIP, but his HR/9 must come down in order for Minor to become a true ace. As is, he is a solid SP2.
21. Homer Bailey, CIN
Jim: The ERA, WHIP and BAA against continue to shrink while the strikeouts and innings pitched continue to rise. Expect modest gains to an already improving package.
Peter: Peripherals indicate breakthrough year possible in 2014.
22. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS
Kevin: Another stellar ERA and WHIP pitcher who doesn’t get the love he deserves because he doesn’t strike out batters at an elite pace. There is still some further ceiling potential in his arm, so use 2013 as his floor and hope for more.
Tommy: Zimmermann will likely help your ERA and WHIP, but his K rate is lacking and it would be unwise to count on 19 wins again.
23. Alex Cobb, TB
Jim: The more he relies on his curveball the better he will be. This number 3 pitcher could be a top 20 starter come September. Sleeper?
Paul: When you have a 55% GB rate and strikeout nearly a batter per inning great things happen. Cobb could be baseball’s next big ace.
24. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY
Jim: He’s a gamble as Japanese numbers don’t always translate, but the rewards outweigh the risks.
Kevin: He’s the wildcard that will come at the cost of a top-15 SP. The problem is, he may not perform better than a top-30 guy, which is where I rank him. He’s no Darvish, so don’t bank on stats better than a #3 or maybe #2 SP.
25. James Shields, KC
Paul: Shields can reliably give you 200 innings with 8K/9. Very consistent performer.
Tommy: Forget about the lack of wins. Shields’ declining K rate, increasing BB rate and all those innings over the years are legitimate reasons to worry.
26. Shelby Miller, STL
Kevin: His BB/9 and K/9 worsened in second half. Is this due to the long season and his adjusting to the IP increase? I wouldn’t buy him and expect a full season of his
2013 first half, but he’ll be better than his second half.
Tommy: Miller performed very well for fantasy owners in 2013, but there are some major warts. He managed a strand rate over 80% despite averaging 1.04 HRs per 9. He also failed to get through the 6th inning in 15 of his 31 starts.
27. Julio Teheran, ATL
Jim: There is the potential for a sophomore slump but a lot of upside. The risk is worth it here.
Paul: In the second half of 2013, opponents hit .209 off of Teheran and he struck out more than 1 per inning. The more I look at Teheran, the more I like him.
28. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD
Paul: Excellent ground ball pitcher, very consistent in 2013 with 22 quality starts.
Tommy: Ryu’s numbers were very solid last year and the second half K/BB ratio of 6.1 is special. Many of the SP imports from the far east have fared better in their sophomore seasons than their rookie production. Ryu could be a great bargain this year.
29. Kris Medlen, ATL
Jim: Expect a repeat of his 2013 season, but with a higher ERA and lower WHIP. There will be no threat of him going to the bullpen this year.
Kevin: He’s underrated, even by many of the Assembly team. He’s capable of improving even more; the only knock is that he doesn’t possess an elite K/9.
30. Michael Wacha, STL
Jim: Every bit as good as Gerrit Cole, but with little minor league seasoning. Inexperience is the only thing standing in his way.
Kevin: He has a high ceiling, but it’s hard to expect a full season of his 2013 performance. Remember that he has just one year of pro ball experience, and pass on him in redraft leagues if he’s going in the top-30 SP.