Fantasy Baseball Preview 2014: Pitchers
I'm nearly 30-years-old and single. Some might call me a commitment-phobe. Others might call me smart.
In my entire life I can count the girls on one hand I would call actual "girl friends." Although almost every single male in my high school graduation class is on their first or second marriage, I'm in no rush. I'm waiting. Which is exactly what you should do when it comes to pitching in fantasy this year.
Go ahead and have your fling with that one special pick early-on, and then wait for the big one. And don't even get me started on closers. As ESPN's Matthew Berry says, "Never pay for saves!" Ergo we're just focusing on starters here at Crave.
Cy Young Tier
The very best in fantasy baseball.
1 Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Without a doubt the best pitcher in baseball, had a ridiculous 1.83 ERA last year — one of the best single season performances in history. However, I won't have him on any of my teams because no pitcher is worth a first round pick, especially when the pool is as deep as it is this year. He's great, but don't overpay.
2 Yu Darvish – Texas
If Darvish was in the NL he would have the same numbers as Kershaw. He pitches in arguably the most hitter-friendly park in baseball and he's still out of this world, posting ERAs at 2.83 and striking out nearly 300 batters. Sounds funny, but I was all-in on Yu when he came to the States two years ago and declared he wanted to be the best pitcher in the world. Someone that confident has to be good.
3 Adam Wainwright – St. Louis
This may be a homer pick, but Wainy is not only great, but as reliable as they come. He looked as good as ever last year, leading the league in wins and finished second in the league in K/BB ratio. The Cardinals will be in the hunt for another World Series this year and Wainwright is their leader in what is a fairly average division.
4 Felix Hernandez – Seattle
Some are worried about the tread on the tires as King Felix struggled a little bit with a strained oblique last year. He still finished with a 3.04 ERA and 216 Ks. Remember he's still only 27-years-old in a pitcher-friendly park.
5 Cliff Lee – Philadelphia
He just continues to get it done. He finished 2013 first in the NL with a 7 K/BB ratio, second with 222 Ks and fourth with a 1.01 WHIP. His ERA was 2.87.
6 Max Scherzer – Detroit
Scherzer finally showed us why he was a top prospect for years. He was flat out the best pitcher in the American League. He finished third in MLB in swing and miss rate (27.9%) which means what he's throwing is no joke. Guys can't hit him.
7 Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox
The kid has the tools to win a Cy Young. The wins category might hurt him a little, but he's a lock for over 200 Ks and an ERA around 3.00 or under. Ignore those who say his delivery makes him an injury liability.
8 Jose Fernandez – Miami
What Jose did last year was historic. We've literally never seen a 20-year-old pull of what we did — a 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 187 Ks over 172 2/3 innings. He was even better down the stretch, going 7-1 with a 1.34 ERA in his last 11 starts of '13. He's the next big superstar.
Bob Gibson Tier
Still among the best in the game, drafting here ensures great consistency and reliability.
9 Stephen Strasburg – Washington
Slight injury risk here, but he did pitch through minor pain in 2013 and was still phenomenal. An ERA under 3.00 with well over 200 Ks is highly likely.
10 Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco
He's had a sub 3.40 ERA for three years straight and is still only 24-years-old. Scary.
11 David Price – Tampa
Price struggled out of the gate in '13 and everyone panicked. However, after he returned from a lengthy DL stint he tossed a 2.53 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP over 18 starts, proving he must have been pitching through an injury and the minor blip-dip wasn't the start of a decline.
12 Justin Verlander – Detroit
Verlander was very sub-par for Verlander last year — but guess what, he was still damn good. Although his velocity dipped a little bit, he finished last season strong, posting a 0.39 ERA in the playoffs. He had core-muscle repair surgery in the off season and should be 100 percent over Spring Training. Watch closely, but a bounce back from Verlander is very likely. He's just too good.
13 Zack Greinke – Los Angeles Dodgers
He loves the NL and in a pitcher-friendly park Greinke is a lock to have another year of a sub 3.30 ERA.
14 Jordan Zimmerman – Washington
He'll get you a solid ERA and WHIP with an average K rate but he also hardly walks batters.
15 Matt Cain – San Francisco
Cain, who at one time was the luckiest pitcher in baseball analytically, had some regression to the mean last season. Every sabermetrician will tell you Cain still has the same skill set but simply had some bad luck in 2013. Still take him expecting an ERA a little over 3.00 and a great WHIP.
16 Homer Bailey – Cincinnati
The Reds just gave him $105 million and he has two no-hitters in the last two years. Does that tell you anything?
17 Matt Latos – Cincinnati
You just read what I wrote about Bailey — Latos is just as good only a little more consistent, slightly lower ceiling than Bailey most likely however.
18 Anibal Sanchez – Detroit
Can't lie, I've whiffed on Sanchez. Never been a fan. But there is no way to ignore last year's numbers. He had an ERA under 3.00 for the first time in his career, and the man is 30 years old. Late bloomer? Regardless, the numbers say he's no fluke.
19 Cole Hamels – Philadelphia
Hamels is still elite but comes with some risk this year due to an injury he's currently battling. Word is he won't be ready for Opening Day so tread carefully.
20 Gio Gonzalez – Washington
Awful April last year but following his slow start had a 2.97 ERA and 1.23 WHIP after May 1.
21 Mike Minor – Atlanta
Assign each Braves pitcher a side, roll the dice and take who comes up on top. It honestly wouldn't surprise me if any of Atlanta's starting five leads their team in all major categories. They have the best rotation in the majors. Minor seems to be most people's favorite; he's young, is a lefty, and had a 3.21 ERA last year.
22 James Shields – Kansas City
Had a terrific 3.15 ERA while keeping his walks and home runs down.
23 Bargain Alert! Michael Wacha – St. Louis
Everyone went wacha for Wacha after he won the NLCS MVP last year. He was nearly unhittable for almost a month. He's elite. He's very good. But don't over-pay for a kid who might have an innings limit put on him by the end of the season.
24 Kris Medlen – Atlanta
Just another solid Braves pitcher with a high ceiling. The FanGraphs ZiPS computer has him at a 3.31 ERA this year.
25 Bargain Alert! Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh
Analysts love this guy. He's big. He's strong. He has control. He had a 3.22 ERA last year. He's in the NL. Buy him now while you can still get him.
26 Bargain Alert! Alex Cobb – Tampa
If not for taking a line drive to the head last year, Cobb would have been in the discussion for a Cy Young Award.
27 Bargain Alert! Shelby Miller – St. Louis
The Cardinals rested him during the playoffs last year, but don't forget he was projected to be even better than Wacha.
28 Julio Teheran – Atlanta
Go ahead. Say "just another great Braves pitcher" one more time! Analysts are all over the map when predicting Teheran's stats for this season, but they all agree his long-term ceiling is high.
29 Bargain Alert! Doug Fister – Washington
Has been under the radar for the most part in the American League behind King Felix and Justin Verlander the past few years. This guy should see his numbers go up moving to the NL. [ESPN]: Since the date of Fister's first MLB start in 2009, he has the majors' fourth best walk rate (4.8 percent) and walks-per-nine ratio (1.81), as well as the highest swing rate on non-strikes (38.4 percent) and the second-best called-strike rate (38.4 percent), behind only Lee. Yup. I like him.
30 Jered Weaver – Los Angeles Angels
Although he has great control and should still be solid, his velocity keeps declining and experts are saying they wouldn't be shocked to see his numbers take a big dip this year as well.
31 Hisashi Iwakuma – Seattle
Iwakuma had a little bit of luck last year sabermetrically, but the main reason I'm not taking him is because of his lingering injury. Tread carefully but missing out on just a few weeks — if that's the case — might not be so bad for having a solid Seattle pitcher on your roster.
Jack McDowell Tier
Although not always an All-Star, these guys could show flashes of greatness and are worth starting on many teams.
32 Sleeper Alert! Sonny Gray – Oakland
[FanGraphs]: In 12 appearances including 10 starts, Sonny Gray did all the things you want to see out of a potential fantasy workhorse. He struck out over a batter per inning (9.42 K/9), kept the walk rate under control (2.81 BB/9), and threw ground balls over 50 percent of the time, all while wielding a 93 mph fastball. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP all stood below 3.00, which is about as sure a sign of dominance as there can be…. I love this kid. The only reason he's this low is because of the small sample size we've seen.
33 Bargain Alert! Jeff Samardzija – Chicago Cubs
Trade rumors are swirling so he could be with a new team by Opening Day. There are a few NL teams I would be excited to see him on (L.A., Pittsburgh, New York, San Diego) — any AL team would scare me. He strikes guys out at an alarming rate but can be inconsistent.
34 Masahiro Tanaka – New York Yankees
The Yankees gave this Japanese import one of the biggest contracts in MLB history, but Brian Cashman stated he expects Tanaka to pitch like a No. 3, knowing it will take some time for him to adjust to MLB hitters.
35 Sleeper Alert! Tony Cingrani – Cincinnati
Throws serious heat and has potential to be future ace. Will get you a lot of Ks.
36 Matt Moore – Tampa
Once an elite prospect, he had a solid season in 2013 but the underlying numbers suggest some slight decline considering the drop in Ks and spike in walks. You could still do much worse for a No. 3 starter.
37 Sleeper Alert! Danny Salazar – Cleveland
I love any kid that can throw 100 mph and still have some control. An innings limit and small sample size keep him fairly reasonable.
38 C.J Wilson – Los Angeles Angels
Just above average pitcher but if you play him with the right matchups could benefit your team.
39 Bargain Alert! Matt Garza
Milwaukee Pick No. 209 for a guy who will probably get you a 3.70 ERA at the very worst? Yes please.
40 Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati
Elite but often injured. High risk/high reward.
41 Patrick Corbin – Arizona
He was an All-Star last year yet people aren't buying. The numbers tell us he doesn't over-power anyone but last year wasn't a complete fluke.
42 Lance Lynn – St. Louis
Not a name anyone will get excited about when you draft him, but he's a pitcher on the Cardinals staff who's proven himself worthy. A sub 4.00 ERA is a lock.
43 Marco Estrada – Milwaukee
Under-rated pitcher who is solid matchup play.
44 Jon Lester – Boston
Lester was awful last year for the most part, then he was good in the post-season. Was it because of a mechanical change? Is it a temporary fix or will it carry into 2014? Too inconsistent for my blood.
45 Bargain Alert! Tim Hudson – San Francisco
He had his season cut short last year because of a broken ankle but he was still on pace for a sub 4.00 ERA. He won't get you many Ks but he keeps the ball in the park and will help you in not only ERA but WHIP as well. He's not done yet.
46 Justin Masterson – Cleveland
Another name that kind of drags off the tongue, yet can help your team if you play matchups.
47 R.A. Dickey – Toronto
The dude turns 40 this year and some predict his ERA could be as high as 4.50. Still, he throws nasty knuckleball and if started against the right teams could give you good numbers.
Steve Avery Tier
Only draftable in the deepest of leagues.
Guys I like at this price: Dare I say…
Brandon Beachy – Atlanta
C.C. Sabathia – New York Yankees
Dan Haren – Los Angeles Dodgers
A.J. Burnett – Philadelphis
Tyson Ross – San Diego
Andrew Cashner – San Diego
Joe Kelly – St. Louis
Trevor Bauer – Cleveland
Yordano Ventura – Kansas City
Zack Wheeler – New York Mets
Tajuan Walker – Seattle
Tyler Skaggs – Los Angeles Angels
Alex Wood – Atlanta
Carlos Martinez – St. Louis
James Paxton – Seattle
Guys still worth drafting in super deep leagues or streaming during specific matchups:
Hiroki Kuroda – New York Yankees
A.J. Griffin – Oakland
Francisco Liriano – Pittsburgh
John Lackey – Boston
Rick Porcello – Detroit
Ian Kennedy – San Diego
Tim Lincecum – San Francisco
Kyle Lohse – Milwaukee
Scott Kazmir – Oakland
Ubaldo Jimenez – Baltimore
Jake Peavy – Boston
Jose Quintana – Chicago White Sox
Dan Straily – Oakland
Chris Tillman – Baltimore
Chris Archer – Tampa
Yovani Gallardo – Milwaukee
Clay Buchholz – Boston
Ivan Nova – New York Yankees
Dillon Gee – New York Mets
Wade Miley – Arizona
Alexi Ogando – Texas
Travis Wood – Chicago Cubs
Wei-Yin Chen – Baltimore
Jarrod Paker – Oakland
Mike Leake – Cincinnati
Jhoulys Chacin – Colorado
Bartolo Colon – New York Mets
Josh Johnson – San Diego
Corey Kluber – Cleveland
Eric Stults – San Diego
Erasmo Ramirez – Seattle
Josh Beckett – Los Angeles Dodgers
Brandon McCarthy – Arizona
Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa
Michael Pineda – New York Yankees
Do Not Draft Under Any Circumstance
Bronson Arroyo, Hector Santiago, Jon Niese, Ricky Nolasco, Brad Peacock, Miguel Gonzalez, Wandy Rodriguez, Mark Buehrle, Garrett Richards, Edwin Jackson, Phil Hughes, Henderson Alvarez, Wily Peralta, Charlie Morton, Trevor Cahill, Martin Perez, Brandon Morrow, Zach McAllister, Roberto Hernandez, Matt Harrison, Felix Doubront, Nathan Eovaldi, Scott Feldman, Felipe Paulino, Jason Vargas, John Danks, Tommy Milone, Jorge De La Rosa, Jaime Garcia, Derek Holland, Bruce Chen, Kyle Kendrick, Edinson Volquez, Ross Detwiler, Bud Norris, Jeremy Guthrie, J.A. Happ, Brett Anderson, Ryan Vogelsong, Kevin Correia, David Phelps, Paul Maholm, Gavin Floyd, Brett Oberholtzer, Kevin Gausman, Erik Johnson, Hunter Harvey, Scott Baker, Ryan Dempster, Jake Arrieta, Jeff Locke, Chris Young, Randall Delgardo
And finally, again, don't pay for saves. Just don't. Closers get hurt and the ones that do stay healthy are no lock. Mariano's and Hoffman's only come around once a decade. There are players who come out of nowhere to pickup saves each summer. But just like looking for a wife, don't wait too long — you at least want to get someone who is reliable.
Photo Credit: Getty