Owners in dynasty leagues, while playing in a league that fosters the idea of building for the future, also have to play to win today. Starting pitching is often a great trade tool, both for dealing off to add chips for today and for targeting to land a future ace while they are still a prospect. This list should offer insights into both, as several young arms populate the top of the ranks, while many productive veterans appear in the top 40.
1. Clayton Kershaw (26 years old): There isn’t a safer bet out there right now. ERA under 3, K/9 approaching 9, only issued 52 walks in 236 innings in 2013. Two-time (and 2012 runner-up) Cy Young award winner.
2. Yu Darvish (27 years old): So much for being scared away by Texas pitchers, Darvish is solidly the #2 fantasy arm out there. ERA under 3 in the AL, K/9 of 11.89 in 2013!
3. Jose Fernandez (21 years old): The 21-year old quickly became a fantasy baseball sensation in 2013, and probably won a fair number of leagues for savvy owners while winning the NL Rookie of the Year and finishing 3rd in the Cy Young voting. With a dominating mid-90s fastball and low 80s slider and curve, Fernandez won 12 games for a bad Marlins team. Finishing the year with a 2.19 ERA, 187 Ks in 173 innings and a WHIP under 1 (0.98), Fernandez should be one of the top SP drafted in 2014.
4. Adam Wainright (32 years old): I don’t go chasing wins, but Wainright has 3 19+ win seasons in the past 4 years (toss out 2011 which he missed due to TJ surgery). Add to that an ERA under 3 in those years, with 8.2 K/9. Also pitched 230+ innings in those seasons, a possible red flag for the 32 year old.
5. Felix Hernandez (28 years old): If this guy pitched for a team with a better offense he would win the Cy Young every year. His K/9 increased, his ERA went down, his walk-rate went down and his WHIP decreased in 2013. He is still in his prime, and is a top fantasy pitcher.
6. Madison Bumgarner (24 years old): Hard to believe this guys is only 24-years old. With 3 straight 13+ win seasons, increasing K/9, decreasing ERA, Bumgarner is an ace to grab for years to come.
7. Matt Moore (24 years old): Moore was only able to pitch 150 innings in 2013, but he won 17 of his 27 starts. If Moore can harness his walk-rate, an ERA in the mid-3’s with 8K/9, and 12-16 wins in 30 starts are reasonable expectations for his floor.
8. Stephen Strasburg (26 years old): Strasburg is a strikeout machine, and it appears concerns following his TJ should be erased. He made 30 starts in 2013 (after making 28 in 2012), pitching a career high 183 innings (with 191 Ks), so if he can take the step to 200 innings, he could be a top 5 arm. The Nationals are a team on the rise and Strasburg is their ace.
9. Max Scherzer (29 years old): Scherzer has great stuff on the mound, with a fastball sitting at 93 MPH on average. The trouble has been consistency, but he put it all together in 2013 winning the AL Cy Young award, so he will be pricy in 2014 drafts. Scherzer will bring you strikeouts (more than 10K/9 the past 2 years), but he has been hurt by the longball before.
10. Matt Harvey (25 year old): Harvey will miss the 2014 season recovering from offseason Tommy John surgery. However, his high ranking is deserved due to his immediate dominance upon reaching the big leagues. While he won’t take the mound again until he is 26 years old, Harvey has been better than advertised at all levels of his professional career. The Mets have a year to build a better offense around him and owners can hope he returns in 2015 without missing a beat.
11. Jon Lester (30 years old): Lester returned to his pre-2012 form during most of 2013, and was a dominating ace in the posteason. If you throw out the Bobby Valentine 2012 season, Lester has won no fewer than 15 games each of his 5 full seasons. At 30 years old, Lester has 4-5 more prime seasons in him.
12. Gerrit Cole (23 years old): The Pirates were careful with Cole in his first full season, limiting him to 117 innings. He finished 10-7 in 19 starts, and the fact that he had 17 decisions in 19 starts shows he is able to go strong into games. The Pirates may not allow him to get more than 175 innings next year, but 15 wins are a possibility. Once the Pirates let Cole free to approach 200+ innings, his K/9 (probably settling in between 8 and 9) will put him around 200 strikeouts per season (only 12 pitchers topped 200 strikeouts in 2013).
13. Julio Teheran (23 years old): In his first full season in Atlanta Teheran finished 14-8, flashing glimpses of the dominance and some growing pains. Teheran should settle into the kind of pitcher who can deliver a K/9 of around 7.5, an ERA in the mid-3s and with a potent Braves lineup providing him ample run support (and as much of a sure thing closer in the bullpen) be in line for 14-16 wins each year.
14. Justin Verlander (31 years old): Verlander struggled with consistency throughout 2013, but if his postseason performance is an indication there is plenty left in the flamethrowers tank. He showed a very slight decrease in his fastball velocity from 2012 to 2013, but he actually threw his slider harder. He was really hurt by his walk rate, which topped 3 for the first time since 2008 and his BABIP, which was 0.316, was his highest since 2009. Verlander has 8 straight seasons of 30+ starts, and pitching 20 fewer innings in 2013 may be a good sign.
15. Cole Hamels (30 years old): In 2013, Hamels received 3.36 runs per start, low enough for 9th lowest in baseball. His K-rate declined slightly, but not due to any decrease in velocity but rather an increase in batter contact on his pitches across the board. In his previous 6 seasons he had won double-digit games each year, and he has made at least 28 starts for 7 straight seasons. Expect 4-5 more solid seasons from the lefty.
16. Chris Sale (25 years old): Sale was supposed to be the closer of the future in Chicago but a funny thing happened on the way to the 9th inning, the White Sox made him a starter. After a 17-win season in 2012 Sale suffered from some bad luck and ended 2013 11-14. The peripherals indicate that he was better than that, so don’t let this ace slip too far in your drafts. Sale has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with a 83 mph change. His best pitch is a slider that he throws about 30% of the time. With a K/9 above 9, Sale will pile up the strikeouts, and deliver solid peripheral stats.
17. David Price (28 years old): Price was not his dominant self in 2013, but he still ended up with 10 wins. He saw nearly a 2 mph drop in his fastball velocity, and whether this is related to his 3 straight 200+ inning seasons or something else is not known. Price is still in his prime, so expect several more “ace-like” seasons from him.
18. Anibal Sanchez (30 years old): Sanchez came into his own in 2013, going 14-8 with an ERA of 2.57. The question in 2014 is can he repeat or improve these numbers. The trends indicate he can. His innings have been consistent the past 4 years (right around 190), his K/9 has been between 7 and 9, walk-rate has been below 3 walks/ 9 innings, with an ERA in the mid-3’s on average. The Tigers provide plenty of run support so you can bank on double-digit win potential.
19. Zack Greinke (30 years old): 3-straight 15+ win seasons from Greinke, but he remains a frustrating fantasy pitchers as he can go through stretches where he is not very good. He has made 28+ starts for 6 consecutive seasons but he was all over the map in 2013. His 80.8% left-on-base rate could be an indication of a regression coming, but remaining in LA could mean several more sub-3-ERA seasons with 15+ wins.
20. Cliff Lee (35 years old): Lee has been surprisingly durable over the past 6 seasons, with 5 30+ start seasons (the other was 28). He doesn’t walk anyone (he issues 32 walks in 222 innings in 2013) and he gives you about a K per inning. He would be ranked higher, but a 35-year old pitcher in a dynasty league has a ticking clock.
21. Mat Latos (26 years old): After a 14-loss season in 2011, Latos has posted back-to- back 14 win seasons in Cincinnati. A steady 200-inning pitcher, he will give you nearly 190 strikeouts, a WHIP around 1.20 and an ERA in the mid-to-low 3s. Latos is just entering his prime.
22. Matt Cain (29 years old): Cain saw his HR-rate increase and his run support was the 11th lowest in baseball. He is better than his 8-10 record, and owners should expect a return to 12-16 wins in 2014. At 29-years old Cain has several more prime seasons left.
23. Shelby Miller (23 years old): Miller benefitted from a Left on Base percentage of 80 in 2013, but certainly has the arsenal to keep that up. His K-rate was just under 9, which was a decrease from his dominant 10-13 in the minors. The Cardinals should allow him to approach 200 innings in 2014, so it will be interesting to see what sort of adjustments he makes.
24. Kris Medlen (28 years old): Medlen moved into the Braves rotation in 2013 and quickly asserted his will on opposing lineups. His K/9 sits around 7, so an uptick there would be a bonus however his career average is around 7.6, so not likely to see a large increase.
25. Sonny Gray (24 years old): Gray had a K/9 of 9.42 over 64 innings in 2013. He is the ace of the future in Oakland, and the future is now. Gray throws hard (93 mph fastball) and punishes the strikezone (63% strikes), generating 53% groundballs. Oakland has a history of producing great pitchers, and ultimately dealing many of them away, so a similar path could be in Gray’s future.
26. Archie Bradley (21 years old): The Diamondbacks prospect is probably still a year or so away from the majors, but Bradley showed his potential at AA. With an ERA of 1.97 over 123 innings, Bradley racked up 119 strikeouts while issuing 59 walks, so there was some control issues there. At 6’4”, 225, Bradley is built like an ace and should perform with his plus-plus-fastball as a top of the rotation starter for years to come, just might be a year before he gets the chance.
27. Jordan Zimmermann (27 years old): Though his K/9 crept down and his ERA slipped up (to 3.25), Zimmermann won a career best 19 games in 2013. He also pitched a career high 213 innings striking out a career high 161 batter. With a K/9 around 7 he won’t dazzle you with K totals, but all his other stats are very solid.
28. Clay Buchholz (29 years old): Buchholz finished 2013 at 12-1, but barely pitched 100 innings. Such has been the story with Buchholz who has alternated between 170+ inning years and 80+ inning years. If the trend maintains, a healthy Buchholz should emerge in 2014, 2016 and 2018. His K-rate is around 7 and his career ERA is 3.60, but as he enters some prime seasons, if he can remain healthy, you could get a great value pick here.
29. Gio Gonzalez (28 years old): Gonzalez has made 32 starts each year over the last 4 seasons, and has seen his K-rate increase (a slight dip in 2013), ERA decrease (a slight rise in 2013) and WHIP decrease (a slight rise in 2013). With his peripherals remaining consistent, could his “unlucky” 2013 be a fluke or related to his increased use of his changeup and slight decrease in overall velocity? The 28-year old should have plenty of solid seasons ahead of him in the Nationals rotation.
30. Derek Holland (27 years old): Holland may have ended the season 10-9 but he made some important strides. He pitched 213 innings, struck out 189 batters and lowered his ERA by over half a run. Those sorts of improvements, paired with a 4% increase in first pitch strikes, indicate that the sinkerballer may be entering his prime and is an arm to target.
31. Dylan Bundy (21 years old): Bundy has the talent to be a top of the rotation pitcher, but coming back from Tommy John surgery there are some questions. His recovery is on schedule, but any setbacks would delay his return to the mound. Bundy has a fastball that can sit in the upper 90’s. He began his professional career as a 19-year old and retired 39 of the first 40 batters he faced (21 by strikeout) over 17 hitless and scoreless innings.
32. James Shields (32 years old): Big Game James has 7 straight seasons of 200+ innings and 11+ wins. His K/9 dipped slightly in 2013 but still finished at 7.71. Hard to rank a 32-year old starter too high in a dynasty league, but if you grab James as a #3 starter you should be in line to win now.
33. Mike Minor (26 years old): Another member of the Braves rotation that evokes memories of the 1990’s, Minor topped 200 innings and won 13 games in 2013. He also showed an increase in K/9, decrease in BB/9, nearly a run less in ERA. 2013 was a sign of great things to come.
34. Alex Cobb (26 years old): Back-to-back 11 win seasons with K/9 over 8.4 and an impressive 2.76 ERA in 2013 suggest Cobb could take the sort of step teammates David Price and Matt Moore each took.
35. Danny Salazar (24 years old): Salazar saw his K/9 nearly double in 2013 (from about 7 to over 11 between AA and the majors), flashing potential for an elite strikeout pitcher. He pitched just over 130 innings between 3 levels of play in 2013 making 30 starts, so there is still some growth in innings and innings per start to take place. Expect a decline in his left on base rate (83.3% in a small sample of 52 MLB innings), but if his other stats stay in line, he has the potential to be a #2/3 fantasy starter.
36. Michael Wacha (22 years old): Wacha’s K/9 numbers are videogame-esque, though in very small samples in the minors, but he translated them to a 9.05 in 64 innings in 2013. Assume an innings cap in 2014, and then if the Cardinals let him free in their rotation going forward a top-10 starter is not out of the question.
37. Hisashi Iwakuma (33 years old): Iwakuma is “punished” in dynasty ranks for his age, but he did nothing in 2013 to disappoint owners. A 14-6 record, with an ERA under 3 and 185 strikeouts in 219 innings shows durability and control.
38. CJ Wilson (33 years old): Ho hum, another typical season from the lefty Wilson. 17-7, 212 innings, ERA under 3.50, close to 200 Ks. Even though he is 33, Wilson may have more in the tank due to the fact that he has only been a starter for 4 seasons.
39. Chris Tillman (26 years old): Tillman stepped up and won 16 games for the Orioles in 2013. He should produce solid 200 inning performances each year with a K/9 around 7. Pitching in the tough AL East depresses his value slightly.
40. Patrick Corbin (24 years old): Corbin won 14 games for the Diamondbacks in 2013, showing improvement in his K/9 and HR/9. He did show a slight uptick in walks per nine, however he lowed his HR/9.
41. Justin Masterson (29 years old): Masterson showed a major improvement in his K- rate, jumping more than 2 full points. If this improvement is real, and it could be related to him using his slider more, he gets a slight bump. Masterson still walks too many batters. In 2013 he only received 3.52 runs of support per start (good for 15th lowest among qualifying starters), so an increase in run support could bump his wins up to 16-18.
42. Brandon Beachy (27 years old): Beachy underwent elbow surgery in September and is expected to be ready for spring training in 2014. In 267 MLB innings, he has an ERA of 3.23 with 275 strikeouts. He lost a little velocity but remember he was coming back from Tommy John surgery he had in 2012. Expect his arm strength to improve and his velocity to return, giving him top tier potential.
43. Homer Bailey (27 years old): Bailey had his second 200-inning season in 2013, and while he finished below 0.500 with an 11-12 record, he increased his K/9, decreased his HR/9 and ERA. His peripherals indicate these improvements were real so perhaps another step forward in development is in line.
44. Jared Weaver (31 years old): Owners may have reason to be concerned with Weaver’s skill set. He showed a decrease in velocity across all his pitches. He was only able to make 24 starts (having topped 30 the previous 5 seasons) and while he won 11 games, that was his lowest total since 2008.
45. Jeff Samardzija (29 years old): Samardzija is a good pitcher to own in rotisserie leagues due to his strikeout potential, finishing 12th in K/9 in 2013, but wins are hard to come by in Chicago and he is already 29-years old.
46. Tony Cingrani (24 years old): Cingrani is a K-machine, with K/9 of 10.32 in 104 innings in 2013. His success is predicated on getting a slot in the Cincinnati rotation, and if he does that he could be an MLB strikeout leader.
47. Zack Wheeler (23 years old): Wheeler pitched in exactly 100 innings for the Mets in 2013. He ended the year at 7-5, with 84 strikeouts, 46 walks, an ERA of 3.42 and a WHIP of 1.36. He needs to improve his control (walk rate is too high), but Mets fans should be excited to have a rotation with Harvey and Wheeler in 2015.
48. AJ Griffin (26 years old): Griffin rose through the Oakland system rapidly and won 14 games in his first full season as a starter. Expect his Ks to increase a bit next season, and he could certainly end up with 16-17 wins.
49. Johnny Cueto (28 years old): I always thought Cueto struck more batters out than he does, as he is a career 7.03 K/9 pitcher. 2012 was a career year, and 2013 was marred by injuries. There are questions around Cueto, injuries being one of them, but he has the stuff to be a very good fantasy pitcher.
50. Ivan Nova (27 years old): Will Nova emerge as the ace of the Yankees rotation in 2014? He induced 53.5% of batters to hit groundballs, basically scrapped his slider and finished the year with an ERA just north of 3.
51. Jarrod Parker (25 years old): In the low minors, Parker flashed high K/9 numbers, but that has not translated at the MLB level. If he can increase his K-rate, Parker can be the ace he was projected as while a prospect in the Arizona system.
52. Dan Straily (25 years old): Straily had dominant K/9 ratios throughout the minors, so if he can approach those numbers (10+) in the majors, he will be a must own.
53. Alex Wood (23 years old): With Tim Hudson signing in San Francisco, Wood could be in line for a rotation spot in 2014. A very solid K per inning pitcher, Wood could see 25 starts in the majors next season. He threw 63% of his pitches for strikes for 2013, inducing groundballs nearly 50% of the time. He could be a big piece of a very solid Atlanta rotation for years to come.
54. Martin Perez (23 years old): Perez was dominant in the low minors and struggled a bit at AAA. He was 10-6 in 2013, with solid peripherals. His K-rate was higher in the low minors, and if he settles into the range of 6-7 K/9 he is worthy of streaming and speculative wins, but if he rebounds to the 8-10 K/9 range he should move up the ranks.
55. Taijuan Walker (21 years old): The Mariners prospect dominated his way up through the minors, with a K/9 north of 10. He appeared in 3 games for the big club in 2013, striking out 12 over 15 innings. His stuff is electric and he has the potential to grow into an elite starter.
56. Lance Lynn (27 years old): Another big arm in the St Louis rotation, Lynn has a 9+ K/9 in the majors. Had a slight uptick in ERA and BB/9 but his peripherals essentially remained constant from 2012. St. Louis is a perennial threat to win 95+ games, so Lynn is worth owning in most formats.
57. Francisco Liriano (30 years old): Injuries are always a risk so temper expectations, but 14-17 wins with a K/inning can be expected.
58. James Paxton (25 years old): Paxton carried dominating K numbers through the minors (12.86, 11.77, 11.37, 9.31, 8.09) and struck out 21 in 24 innings during his 2013 callup. If he breaks camp in the rotation, 10-12 wins could be a conservative estimate, with an innings cap around 150.
59. Felix Doubront (26 years old): Doubront is probably a better pitcher in real life, bringing flexibility to the Red Sox, but if given a rotation spot in 2014 his fantasy value would rise. He has back-to-back 160 inning, 11 win seasons in Boston, with K/9 over 8 (306 strikeouts in 323 innings).
60. Rick Porcello (25 years old): Porcello has already won double-digit games for 5 straight seasons. His peripheral stats trended in the right direction in 2013 (ERA down though still over 4, K/9 up but just over 7, BB/9 down, WHIP down). The groundball pitcher may benefit from Jose Iglesias now manning SS in Detroit, so there is room for growth and realized upside here.
61. Jose Quintana (25 years old): Quintana has pitched over 300 MLB innings, and holds an ERA of 3.61. He is certainly trending in the right direction (ERA down, K/9 up, BB/9 down, WHIP down), so a solid start to 2014 could move him up the ranks.
62. Ian Kennedy (29 years old): Kennedy moving to SD might help his inflated ERA, but certainly won’t help his wins. He has been durable (putching 180+ innings in 4 consecutive seasons), and if his K/9 stays around 8 he is worth owning for his strikeout potential.
63. Andrew Cashner (27 years old): Another reliever turned starter, Cashner was a fantasy surprise in 2013. While he was 10-9, he delivered an ERA of 3.09 over 175 innings with a WHIP of 1.13. He won’t K many or walk many, but his peripherals make him worth owning in rotisserie-style leagues.
64. Hyun-jin Ryu (27 years old): Ryu finished 14-8 in his first MLB season with an ERA of exactly 3. Not sure there is much upside with Ryu.
65. Matt Garza (30 years old): I am not a Garza fan, never have been. He has a career K/9 of 7.62, but his career ERA is 3.84 and he has been prone to surrendering the long ball (career 1.03 HR/9). An ERA around 4 paired with a propensity for homeruns is not a good combination for a Texas starter.
66. CC Sabathia (33 years old): Seven consecutive 200+ inning seasons may have started to take their toll on Sabathia. He went 14-13 in 2013, with an ERA of 4.78 (the highest in his career and 1.4 runs higher than 2012).
67. Tim Lincecum (29 years old): Oh how the mighty have fallen. While Lincecum still has a K/9 of almost 9, 3-straight seasons with records under 0.500, a declining K/9 (it was 10.51 in 2008), an increasing ERA and decreasing velocity indicate a case of buyer beware here.
68. Jesse Biddle : Don’t let his 5-14 record in AA turn you away from Biddle. Possibly a late season call-up to Philadelphia in 2014, he is worth a speculative add especially in deeper leagues.
69. Chris Archer (25 years old): Archer has flashed elite strikeout potential during his professional career, and the Tampa Bay Rays certainly have the pedigree of producing great young arms.
70. Corey Kluber (28 years old): With 200 innings of MLB experience under his belt, Kluber has shown great potential. A K/9 of 8.18 and an increase in his strike rate. However, his ERA is still approaching 4, his WHIP is near 1.3, and his HR/9 rate is still approaching 1.
Minor League arms that didn’t make the cut in ranking #1
71. Kevin Gausman (23 years old): A big armed righty in the Orioles rotation, Gausman could be nicknamed Gas-man because of his mid-90s fastballs. He struck out 49 batters in 47.2 innings in 2013, and showed good control walking on 6.5% of batters.
72. Noah Syndergaard (21 years old): Syndergaard made it to AA in 2013, so a season in AA/AAA should be expected before any move to the majors, though TJ surgery for Matt Harvey could make the Mets consider a late season call-up. Good command of the zone and tremendous strikeout ability make Syndergaard a minor league arm to keep on your radar, or in your minor league system.
73. Kyle Zimmer (22 years old): Zimmer is another young arm with elite strikeout potential (he struck out 140 batters in 108.1 innings between A+ and AA in 2013.
74. Kyle Crick: (21 years old): The Giants righty stuck out 119 batters in 84.1 innings in 2013 (between Rookie ball and high A). He has carried that dominance over to the Arizona Fall League with 24 strikeouts in 15.2 innings, though he has also walked 11 batters.
Check out the rest of the Dynasty League Rankings.