2008 Version of Echelon-Divided Starting Pitchers

(Originally posted at Rotojunkie.com)

I put in a great deal of care and research, but I know these rankings aren’t perfect by any stretch. As such, I invite any and all constructive feedback and discussion regarding the rankings. I’m not yet certain if I will post updates as the Spring progresses. I know I’ll be updating them on my spreadsheets, but I don’t know if there’s much value in me continually shifting players a spot or three here and there throughout March.

In closing, I hope the ‘Pen can glean some value from this and for those that take the 11,000-word journey from start to finish, I thank you in advance.

1. Johan Santana, New York Mets (29) – Here is what I wrote pre-trade: “Don’t get it twisted; Santana is still the best, most reliable pitcher available. He suffered some gopheritis in 2007 and still posted incredible numbers. A trade would only raise his value higher… if that’s possible.” And now post-trade: “Yep, it’s possible, his value has definitely increased. That said, I still won’t take him in the first round myself, but that’s a personal philosophy more than anything else. It could be a magical ‘rebound’ year for Johan.”

2. Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres (26) – Three straight 200+ inning seasons assuages injury fears even the down year in ’06 had plenty to love. Mike Cameron’s departure hurts the outfield defense, but Peavy’s skills can easily overcome the loss. Oh, and he just got company at the NL Cy Young Award party, but his attitude leads me to believe that he’s game for the challenge. You might see two studs go toe-to-toe and race to a pair of sub-2.00 ERAs!

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3. Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners (29) – Here is what I wrote pre-trade: “Like Santana, a trade only boosts his already sky-high value. A late-season oblique strain derailed the career year that would’ve garnered serious Cy Young consideration. He could even take another step in 2008 as the mileage is relatively low on that golden left arm. He is capable of putting up baseball’s first 250+ strikeout season since 2004. (R.Johnson, 290)” And now post-trade: “He actually didn’t move up to three, I already had him here, but the trade isn’t enough to move him past the two Senior Circuit studs. I’m betting on a full season, which means Cy Young consideration.”

4. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (25) – Sophomore slump this! Verlander followed up a brilliant rookie campaign with an even better second season. He shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and with that lineup up behind him, a 20+ win season wouldn’t surprise. Pay for the skills, though, as wins are almost completely unpredictable. He is my pick for American League Cy Young in 2008.

5. Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks (29) – He has only had one “bad” year since joining the majors and that was his sophomore slump when he walked 119 men. Even then, he posted a 3.59 earned run average despite a 7-16 record and 1.50 WHIP. Anytime someone puts up four straight 200-inning seasons in this era, people will worry, but Webb hasn’t shown any ill effects.

6. Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox (27) – Left for dead after the disastrous 5.02 ERA of ’06, but peripherals said he wasn’t nearly that bad. He has shown several flashes that indicated a potential 20-win season and last year everything came together to deliver said season. If health remains, so will remarkable numbers.

7. C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians (27)
– He posted a career-high for innings (241), but that doesn’t mean he will breakdown, but it’s something to be aware of since it’s such a spike (up from 192 in ’06). Enough negativity though, Sabathia has four straight seasons of declining walk totals and with that kind of control, it won’t matter how many batters he has to face!

8. John Lackey, Los Angeles Angels (29) – He has lowered his WHIP for five straight seasons, coincidentally his star has risen in unison with the drop. Perceived as a power pitcher, three straight declines in K/9 say not so much. That said, he still dials it up for 7+ punch outs per nine. Oh yeah, he’s only 29.

9. Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks (27) – The fourth Oakland ace to head to the National League in the Billy Beane era, but the first to be dealt at his peak. The second half might scare some off, but let that be your gain and enjoy an ace entering his prime. Any benefit you give him for moving into the National League should be neutralized by moving from a very friendly home park to a much less friendly one in Arizona. He should see a rise in strikeouts, though as he is now facing the pitcher in each lineup and nine pitcher-like hitters in San Francisco.

10. Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays (24) – It bears mentioning yearly: He was traded for Victor Zambrano! The control (1.38 WHIP) remains the weakness, but that is skewed by a rough 1st half (1.55). His brilliant 2nd half (2.93 ERA in 111 IP) and the fact that he is 24 years old make him a true ace now and a legitimate cornerstone pitcher for his owners moving forward. Whoever thought we would see a Tampa Bay Ray in the top 10 of a pitcher list?

11. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (22)
– Ok, THIS is the season! I’ve successfully passed on the Hernandez Hype Train the past two seasons as I felt he’d be remarkably overvalued… and he was. Peripherals say ’07 was much better than 3.93. Pay for the breakout his proponents have been promising for two years. Post-Bedard addition, “This only takes more pressure off of him and allows him to be slotted as the #2-starter.

12. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (24)
– Why do I feel like Hamels’ brilliant season was “quietly” achieved last year? Maybe it’s because he started just six times from August on, or perhaps I’m an idiot. His worst months were still top-flight making him a bona fide ace provided a clean bill of health.

13. Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds (30) – Chalk another up for Billy Beane, who stole him from Texas and now watches him join the laundry list of arms that have been groomed by Oakland under his reign. Harang’s a true workhorse with four straight years of ERA decline and three straight years of K/9 incline. Death, taxes and Harang.

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14. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays (26) – A tale of two halves likely due to the nearly 90-inning spike in workload from ’06 to ’07. His skills are legit, make no mistake, but don’t pay ace money. Not because he’s not worth it, but because you just shouldn’t have to at this point.

15. Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros (30) – A very reliable, upper-echelon pitcher, but his peripherals are telling a story of rising ERA while the strikeouts per nine have dropped four straight seasons. That said, few would quibble with him as their anchor. That lineup may be underrated and could lead to another big win total for Roy-O in 2008.

16. Chris Young, San Diego Padres (28) – He is raising his strikeouts per nine while lowering his ERA each year in the majors as he solidifies himself as a top-flight starter. As I don’t with Colorado hitters, I’m not going to punish Young for the fact that he uses his home field to his advantage… a lot! If he can pull his home stats from last year (1.69 ERA in 85.1 IP) and his road stats from two years ago (2.41 in 93.1 IP), he can be a top 5 pitcher.

17. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs (26) – In the six months of last season, Zamrbano was remarkable for three and plain awful in the other three. Five straight 200+ inning seasons is a red flag to be cognizant of when bidding, but given how brilliantly he pitched in those three good months, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. In 442 drafts run at MockDraftCentral.com through 1/25/08, his average draft position was ninth amongst pitchers, I’m not giving him that much benefit of the doubt.

18. John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves (41) – Another freak of nature that has become more and more frequent in today’s sports landscape, as Smoltz actually IMPROVED on his already solid 2006 by posting a 3.11 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while increasing his K/9 for a third straight year in 2007. Perhaps the four years of closing helped stretch out the back end of his career and with numbers like these, it’s tough to bet against him.

19. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox (27) – The highly touted Asian phenom impressed during his first half of major league baseball, but then fell apart after the break including a dismal September (7.62 ERA in 28.1 IP), but there was plenty to like about the much-hyped debut (specifically, nearly a strikeout per inning). A lack of control was the issue that continually ruined starts in the second half, but even while he was struggling, he managed to strike out 8.4 batters per nine innings, which wasn’t too far off of his 9.3 from the first half. He might be something of a post-hype sleeper in 2008, which could trim a few bucks off of his auction price.

20. Javier Vazquez, Chicago White Sox (31)
– It was his best season since the 2003 campaign that was good enough to get him traded from the Montreal Expos to the New York Yankees. After three years of 1.25 or higher WHIP, he came back down to 1.14 and voila, the ERA dipped below 4.00 once again. If he avoids bad luck with his strand rate and holds or improves upon the four-year uptrend in strikeouts per nine innings, Vazquez is a good bet for a repeat. With a much improved offense supporting him, his win total might not have to rebound like it did in 2007, either (3 wins pre-break, 12 after).

21. Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians (24) – I know this means jack to anyone reading and there is no way to even know if I’m being truthful, but I’ve guessed on the last four ages before looking them up and I’m 4-for-4! Just thought I’d share, sorry. Anyway, Carmona’s 2007 season is the kind of season that makes a fantasy championship. He likely cost his owners next to nothing and delivered Cy Young-worthy statistics. Of course, this now sets him up to be a detriment to his 2008 owners in re-draft leagues because he will likely be overvalued. I think he’ll be a fine option, but you have to temper the expectations. In one “expert” mock I saw, he was the 10th starter taken, that’s just absurd. A bucket full of wins, a high 3.00s ERA and an average WHIP (1.30+) will cost too much this year.

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22. Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays (31) – I didn’t guess Halladay’s age, streak over. He is definitely a workhorse, the seven complete games (a major league-best) says so, but his ERA and WHIP are trending up the last three years while his strikeouts per nine are trending down in the same period. Is he becoming a Greg Maddux type of pitcher? Well, he’d need to walk fewer batters for that to be the case, but my point was a low strikeout, decent ratios guy that can still get you a good number of wins. I think he might have one more sub-4.00 ERA year in him, but beyond that, I’m worried.

23. Brad Penny, Los Angeles Dodgers (29) – Did you know he was third in the NL Cy Young voting last year? That doesn’t mean he necessarily deserved it, but he was nonetheless. Penny outperformed his peripherals numbers by a healthy margin, but his fantasy owners for 2007 only care about how his numbers looked when the season ended in October, not what his numbers said he should’ve done. However, his 2008 owners should be more focused on the “should’ve” aspect. Folks, we’re dealing with a 4.00 ERA pitcher, who isn’t striking batters out as much anymore. There’s nothing wrong with that and if he can hold the gains in groundball rate, he might stay below 4.00 again in 2008, but be careful betting that it will be too much below 4.00.

24. Rich Hill, Chicago Cubs (28) – He was very strong in his first full season in the majors. He offered a solid ERA at 3.92, but also threw in a bunch of Ks (8+ per nine) and baseball’s ninth-best WHIP at 1.19. If pressed to complain about something, I’d say that he could definitely stand to get the ball on the ground a bit more and avoid allowing it to get caught up in that Wrigley wind, which could wreak havoc on many an afternoon. But the kid is strong and I like improvements in ERA, wins (though highly unpredictable) and strikeouts while the WHIP holds or experiences a slight bump into the low 1.20s.

25. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers (22) – I have some reservations about slotting the youngster this high, but he is damn good. He was excellent in his 17-start stint with the Brewers in 2007 and nothing in his skill set suggest he won’t get even better. He has dominated the minor leagues since 2005 and the highest level of competition didn’t seem to get to him during a healthy sample of ’07 (110.1 IP), so despite the concerns of placing a 22-year old this high, I’m confident that the numbers back the ranking. Many people are ranking him even higher, but I see that turning into a Felix Hernandez situation where they are setting themselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. In keeper leagues where he has a low salary, do pretty much anything you can to acquire him, but be smart with your dollars in re-draft leagues. If you’re paying a lot above a player’s age and he isn’t a top-flight hitter, it is likely a mistake.

26. Ian Snell, Pittsburgh Pirates (26) – His pitching wasn’t terribly different from half to half when looking at the expected ERA (around 3.90 in both), but the actual results were remarkably different. His breakout first half (2.91 ERA) had many clamoring for his services, but he followed it up with a 4.58 ERA and 1.46 WHIP after the break. Even still, he ended the season by lowering his ERA nearly a full run from 2006 and the breakout looks legit. Draft his skills and don’t worry about the fact that his wins could be scarce on the Pirates.

27. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants (23) – It’s tough not to buy into a power-pitching (9.2 K/9) 23-year old after a strong debut, but I suggest caution. I have seen him in the top 20 in some circles, but I am just not ready to go that high yet. His delivery is conducive to injury and his control was shaky during stretches last year. He will learn from his 146 innings from 2007, but there are still some growing pains ahead for him. Of course as negative as that profile sounds, I still rated him 27th, so I still like the kid plenty!

28. Jeff Francis, Colorado Rockies (27) – I know, a Rockies pitcher in the top 30, am I nuts? No and this isn’t just me buying into the magical run by the Rockies at the end of last season either. Francis really put it all together in his third season as a pro and a little more second half luck would’ve allowed us to see a sub-4.00 ERA on the Rockies’ staff! He is getting a handle on the walks, but could stand to allow fewer hits to enjoy the gains of lowered walks in his WHIP. As I’ve maintained throughout, wins are too tough to predict, but he seems a good bet for at least 15 (if not a repeat of the 17) with a low-4.00s ERA and a mid-to-low 1.30s WHIP.

29. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants (23) – I didn’t realize that Cain was this young until looking up his age a second ago. Wow, the Giants have a killer 1-2 punch for years to come. Too bad they have very little else. A case study of the “can’t predict wins” issue I’ve been harping on as he posted a 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP yet was 7-16. He cut over a strikeout of his per nine rate from 2006, but that was mostly due to the 6.6 rate in the first half. He finished strong, striking out 8.2 per nine after the break. He’s a 200-inning workhorse that you can count on every five days.

30. Dustin McGowan, Toronto Blue Jays (26) – He was finally a full-time starter last year after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen during his stints with the Jays in 2005 and 2006 and it seems that consistency in role really helped McGowan. He was especially impressive after the break going 7-6 with a 3.67 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 98 innings. The 191.7 innings pitched was the most of his career and an 80-inning spike from 2006. That said, he has displayed a pretty consistent peripheral skill sets despite varying ERAs over the past five years suggesting that he is the real deal.

31. Brett Myers, Philadelphia Phillies (27) – He suffered an up-and-down season that saw him start in the rotation and end as the closer. He also spent some time on the disabled list with an elbow issue, which is never good. His poor first half was due in large part to bad luck. He came back in late July after the injury and things balanced out so his numbers got much better. Frankly, he is a very good option regardless of where the Phillies put him, but I think you can confidently draft or buy him as a starter for 2008.

32. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals (26) – It was most definitely a tale of two halves for starter turned closer turned starter. In the first half, he was 7-7 with a 4.66 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, but in the second half he was 7-5 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. An even further look shows that only his April and May were problematic while he was did very well from June until the end of the year. Offensive supporting cast be damned, I’m very high on Wainwright. I hated watching him shut the door on my Tigers in the ’06 World Series, but watching him in those playoffs you could see he was nasty. That nastiness has converted nicely back into the rotation. He doesn’t quite have the K/9 displayed in his two AAA seasons, but if he can sustain the 7 per from the 2nd half, then it’s merely an expected regression from making the jump to the bigs (7.7 in the two AAA seasons). Even in AAA, his control was a bit suspect at 1.40 and 1.51 WHIP for the two AAA seasons, so his 1.40 WHIP from last year isn’t out of the ordinary, but at the same time, it’s not very good. He’ll need to hang onto the 2nd half improvement to entrench himself in that solid second tier of starters. As mentioned earlier, I’m very high on him so I like him to build off of the second half by keeping the K’s near 7p9 and balancing out that WHIP in the high 1.20s to low 1.30s. (taken from my write-up for him on the message board Rotojunkie.com)

33. Jeremy Bonderman, Detroit Tigers (25) – After a disastrous second half last year (6.19 ERA), Bonderman is the perfect post-hype sleeper. I think he foolishly pressed through pain last year before being shutdown on September 10th, but he has been given a clean bill of health for the 2008 season and I’m predicting a nice bounce back. Nothing went right for him in that second half, yet the skills were still there. He is on baseball’s best team and I think he will be integral to the Tigers holding onto that distinction. The last five years he has alternated strikeout rates every year with odd numbers being the off years, so he could return to the 8+ level in ’08 if he holds the trend.

34. Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins (24) – He lost the 2007 season to Tommy John Surgery, but appears ready for a full recovery as the anchor of their now Johan Santana-less rotation. He drew plenty of comparisons to the aforementioned Santana in his rookie year of 2006, and with good reason. It would be foolish to pay for the excellence displayed in ’06 as there may very well be some bumps in the road as he gets back into the groove. That doesn’t mean he can’t deliver the kind of numbers he did two years ago, it just means that if he does, you should receive them at a bargain if you’re considering getting him.

35. Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers (23) – Impressed as both a starter and reliever last year, closing out the year in the former. The ERA lowered in three consecutive months starting in July and ending with September’s 2.59 in 31.1 innings. The only real issue with Billingsley is the control. He walked nearly four per nine last year and that could lead to disastrous games from time to time. Adding it all up, he’s a growing star at age 23 that strikes out almost one per inning and needs to iron out his control. I’ll buy that for a dollar… or even close to $20.

36. A.J. Burnett, Toronto Blue Jays (31) – Is anyone else surprised that he only made 25 starts? Yeah, that’s what I thought. At this point, if you’re paying for more than 25 starts, you’re an idiot. He has pitched over 173 innings twice in his career, so aim for 22-25 starts and take the rest as gravy. All that said, he enjoyed a healthy spike in his strikeouts per nine last year jumping up to 9.6 and had a good second half (3.45 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), which does help raise his stock a bit coming into the 2008 season. Skills say top 25, health says top 40.

37. Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves (32) – He returned to Oakland-like excellence last year after two “off” years. On the periphery, both of those two seasons carried an expected ERA right in line with his career norms, but a sharp rise in walks doomed the WHIP in each season and bumped the ERA in 2006. After two straight seasons in the 3.0s, he was back down to 2.1 last year and all of sudden he was a $20+ pitcher again. I like more of the same in 2008 for Hudson, so bid accordingly.

38. Ben Sheets, Milwaukee Brewers (29) – It’s a damn shame. It really is. Ben Sheets simply can’t make it through an entire season anymore. After a brilliant 2004 campaign, Sheets has been hurt in each of the last three seasons, topping out at 156 innings. Unlike the first two injury-riddled seasons, last year Sheets showed some flaws in the arsenal. First, his strikeout rate nosedived down to 6.8 from 9.8 in 2006. Worse yet, his walks per nine skyrocketed up to 2.4 from 0.9 in 2006. The closest he was to 2.0 in the past four years was 1.8 in 2003, so the 2.4, while not bad on its own merit, is alarming for someone like Sheets. In the spirit of the 36th ranked pitcher, “Skills say top 25, health says top 40.”

39. Pedro Martinez, New York Mets (36) – He looked strong in his September return, but there is still plenty to prove for aged and frail former ace. The sample size is too small to worry about an inflated ERA spurred by the 41% hit rate. He mowed batters down with more than one strikeout per inning and gave up just eight runs in 28 innings of work. He and teammate Oliver Perez have enough potential to earn full price from someone, don’t let it be you. If either is available at value (or below), then enjoy their services and pray for that full rebound, otherwise pass.

40. Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs (32) – Lilly enjoyed a career year upon his return to the National League (pitched with Montreal in 1999), but don’t pay for a carbon copy in 2008. After three straight years of 4.0 walks per nine, he was down to 2.4 last year, so the smart money is on a jump at least back into the 3.0s. Even with that regression likely, he will still be a strong option on the mound and he should be able to amass another big win total with that great lineup backing him up.

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41. Oliver Perez, New York Mets (26) – After two absolutely brutal seasons in a row, Perez found a bit of that 2004 magic last year. Many will fall too far in love with him and overpay for a 2008 season that likely won’t be as good. His walks shot back up in the 2nd half (4.6) and the ERA joined (4.06 after 3.13 in the 1st half). Ok, I got that negative stuff out of the way, now I return you to your regularly scheduled man-crush. Perez is still only 26 years old, has a strong 8+ strikeouts per nine trend over the past three years, plays for a great team and in a home park that stifles home runs, a key weakness of his. A return to 2004 excellence isn’t out of the question, paying for it is.

42. Philip Hughes, New York Yankees (21) – He gave everyone a taste of what is forthcoming with an incredible September to the tune of 3-0, 2.73 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 29.7 innings. He is slotted to be the fourth starter and while it will be part of a great team, I will be practicing caution when deciding whether or not to acquire the youngster’s services, especially in redraft leagues. I’m reminded of Felix Hernandez’ 2005 audition when I’m seeing hysteria surrounding Hughes. Hughes’ debut wasn’t as impressive, yet the fanfare is nearly equal. If you’re playing to win this year (and if you aren’t, why play?), be careful when investing your money in a 21-year old arm unless he is going to be your 3rd or 4th starter. Some of them work out at this age, but most do not.

43. Joe Blanton, Oakland Athletics (27) – He is an Oakland Athletic for now, but they are actively shopping him. It seems their asking price is remarkably high, so he might break camp with the team as well. He has been a workhorse for each of his three seasons in the majors averaging 208 innings per, but the other numbers have bounced up and down during his time. He had pinpoint control last year that continued a three-year downtrend. The sharp drop from 2.7 to 1.6 isn’t likely to stay that low, but if he can keep some of the gains he is likely headed towards another solid, yet unspectacular season. Any trade would likely improve win potential since he’d be leaving Oakland and that awful lineup support, but he’d also be leaving a very friendly home park.

44. John Maine, New York Mets (27) – Wowed everyone with a remarkable first half (2.87 ERA), but it did contain a fair bit of luck. His second half luck-o-meter shifted all the way into a bit “unlucky” and he was exposed in the second half with an ERA more than two runs higher. If he can hold the strikeout gains from the second half (up two full to 9.5) and balance out the luck, he is a very viable option on the mound.

45. Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees (28) – Back-to-back 19-win seasons, a great lineup supporting him and a repeatable, useful skill (60% groundball rate), yet Wang can’t seem to get much love in fantasy circles. It is probably because he doesn’t rack up the strikeouts, though he did add nearly two strikeouts per nine to his total in 2007 (4.7). Ok, so he won’t be a four-category starter, but two seasons of good numbers in the other three should be enough to merit a higher ranking than he has seen in some projections.

46. Derek Lowe, Los Angeles Dodgers (34) – He is often overlooked, but Lowe has been remarkably consistent the past three seasons. You can count on him for about 200 innings with a high 3.00s ERA and 1.27 WHIP. His ERA faded badly in the second half (5.08) last year, but there was a good bit of misfortune involved there as his peripherals stayed intact. He may not be the flashiest name and at 34, he is unlikely to all of sudden pull a sub-3.00, 20-win season out of his bag, but if you want a reliable #2 for your fantasy roster then Lowe is your guy.

47. Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh Pirates (25) – He had a breakout first half, but fell apart in the second half. He doesn’t strikeout enough batters to mask his walk rate. At 25, there is plenty of room for growth and I expect Gorzelanny to enjoy some in 2008. The key will be maintaining the strikeout gains while bringing his walks back down to the first half level. A low-4.00s ERA is likely, but if everything goes right, he could wind up below that mark as he did in 2007.

48. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (25) – He missed some time out of the gate, but posted solid numbers once his season got started. If you are paying for his magical 2006, you are wasting your money. He is much closer to mediocre pitcher his brother has been than he is the 11-2, 2.56 ERA stud we saw in 123 innings during that rookie campaign. With Kelvim Escobar starting the season on the shelf, they will be asking more out of Weaver as the #2 starter, the effect of which can really go either way.

49. Zach Greinke, Kansas City Royals (24) – With his life in order, Greinke is back to fulfilling the promise he showed as a highly touted prospect and solid-performing rookie way back in 2004. Back-to-back bombings in early May were the only thing that kept Greinke from an excellent season. His ERA was a solid 3.69 at the end of the season, but would have been 3.02 had those disasters not happened. That said, you can’t pick and choose which stats count and which ones do not. A young, power pitcher coming off of an impressive second half with some decent offense behind him? Sign me up.

50. Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels (32) – He has long been one of my favorite players who isn’t a Detroit Tiger, which is probably why I get burned by him so often. It’s not that he isn’t good, in fact, he has some top tier stuff, but the man just cannot stay healthy! Even last year, one of his best ever, he was brilliant in the first half but then nagging injuries caused a precipitous second half decline. If you pay the big picks or spend the top draft pick and don’t set up a contingency plan, you have no one to blame but yourself.

51. Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees (22) – It is reported that the Yankees will go the Johan Santana route with their young phenom in 2008. Chamberlain will be eased into the rotation via the bullpen much like baseball’s best pitcher was in 2002 with the Minnesota Twins. The number being bandied about right now is 140 innings for Chamberlain, but injuries or poor performance (Mike Mussina, Kei Igawa anyone?) could force New York’s hand and increase that total. Honestly, even if he were slotted in the rotation from the get-go, I wouldn’t have rated Chamberlain too much higher anyway. His age, heavy increase in workload and the fact that he hasn’t actually ever started a game in the majors are reasons to tread cautiously when looking to acquire him.

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52. Gil Meche, Kansas City Royals (29) – Everyone scoffed at the lucrative deal he received from the Royals, myself included, but Meche came out and delivered a career year. His ERA, WHIP and walks per nine are all on a positive three-year trend. He is entering his prime so he could push each of those to a fourth year. He does play in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, but he is almost certain to be undervalued in most leagues and will be a nice fit in the middle of your rotation.

53. Rich Harden, Oakland A’s (26) – Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 647 times, shame on me!!! For computer drafts where I have the iTunes on during the draft, I will listening to The Who when Harden comes up for bid because I won’t get fooled again. He has inning totals of 189, 128, 46 and 26 over the past four seasons. In each of those abbreviated seasons, he has flashed signs of his previously displayed brilliance from 2004. He is said to be feeling great (who-Kelvim Esocbar, you don’t answer-isn’t right before and during spring?), but I cannot envision paying the price you are likely going to have to in order to get him. If you can get him for single-digits or late in a draft, then it’s a nice risk-reward proposition. With his potential, that scenario is unlikely, so let someone else ride the rollercoaster.

54. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox (29) – Bounced back from a rough 2006 for a strong year that included a no-hitter. That said, Buehrle is WYSIWYG kind of guy. His numbers scream a 4.00-something ERA, a decent WHIP and low strikeout totals. The wins have a chance at moving up with a much improved offense working for him this year. He has pitched 200+ innings for seven straight seasons, so be aware of the miles on that left arm.

55. Shaun Marcum, Toronto Blue Jays (26) – Marcum joined Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch to give the Blue Jays some legitimacy to their rotation last year behind workhorse Roy Halladay and oft-injured A.J. Burnett. Marcum was figured out a bit more the second time around (4.97 ERA post-break), but the experience of pitching a full season in the majors should eliminate the breakdown factor in 2008. Plan for mid-4.00s, a decent strikeout rate and league average WHIP then plant him into the middle of your rotation.

56. Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox (23) – Capped off the no-hit parade of 2007 with a gem in Boston against the Baltimore Orioles on September 1st which promptly earned him just seven and two-thirds more innings during the season. The World Series Champions had no reason to over-extend their young ace leaving him primed and ready to be an integral part of their defense of that title in 2008. The injury concerns surrounding Curt Schilling may open the door widest for the youngster, but remember that the signing of Bartolo Colon means time in AAA is also a possibility. Still, dominant strikeout rates, sparkling minor league totals and a brilliant September call-up portend future excellence.

57. Greg Maddux, San Diego Padres (42) – Four straight years of declining strikeout rates would generally be a red flag, but not when it’s paired with three years of ERA improvement as is the case with Maddux. You couldn’t have scripted a better setting for the twilight of a truly remarkable career than Petco Park. Looking to off-set a high WHIP and get ridiculously reliable numbers at a bargain? Acquire Maddux and enjoy.

58. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (44) – Though his twilight hasn’t, on the whole, been bad, it has been decidedly less reliable than Maddux’s. Johnson was in rare form to start the season before his back gave out and led to another surgery. His 2008 (and career at this point) remains in doubt, so tread very carefully. I can’t envision wanting to be the one with my money on red 51 for anything above the $10-mark.

59. Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees (35) – HGH shmHGH, sayeth Pettitte. He doesn’t seem to have let this Roger Clemens/Mitchell Report scandal get him down. His past two seasons seems to suggest he misses his human growth homie, but if you pair him with somebody like Maddux to alleviate the WHIP damage, he is a pretty solid option for your 4th or 5th starting pitcher. Unfortunately for New York, he will likely be their 1st or 2nd.

60. Dontrelle Willis, Detroit Tigers (26)
– If last season’s performance from Willis caught you completely off guard then you’re just dumb. The writing was on the wall… in Sharpie. It was a tad extreme with the plus 5.00 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, but he has been begging for a mid-4.00s ERA for some time now. Perhaps a change of scenery to a winning team will allow him to recapture that Rookie of the Year, Cy Young-contending form. The Tigers, and your fantasy team for that matter, really just need a sub-4.50 ERA with a heap of wins to get a decent return on investment.

61. Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins (26) – It is in this realm of the starting pitchers where I always choose a guy like Baker over someone like Randy Johnson or Andy Pettitte. I’m a sucker for potential. Upside is almost always used somewhere in the sentence immediately following the acquisition of someone like Baker. Beware the downside, though. As a pitch-to-contact sort (10.2 hits/9), he could see some innings snowball on him and watch his ERA balloon in the dangerous American League Central.

62. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros (29) – Rodriguez doesn’t even have to completely fix his road woes (6.37 ERA in 82.7 IP) to be a very solid option provided he remains nearly unhittable at home (2.94 ERA in 95 IP). If he could just come down below 5.00 on the road, he would be a tremendous bargain ready to breakout. Strong improvements across the board including a proven portion of success make Rodriguez a strong buy candidate heading into 2008.

63. Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels (25) – Santana doesn’t even to have to completely fix his road woes… OK, maybe he does. I considered just copy-n-pasting the previous entry while changing the names and numbers. It really wouldn’t have been too far off the mark except that Santana was a complete abomination on the road while not shining as bright as Rodriguez at home. Pegged as a breakout candidate, Santana disappointed so heavily in 2007 that he was a jettisoned to the minors for a period of time. That said, he is still very young and his peripherals didn’t abandon him last year. In fact, he improved his strikeout rate over one full from 2006 (up to 7.5 per nine). His poor campaign last year will leave him undervalued and you should be ready to pounce on the positive margin that waits.

64. Shawn Hill, Washington Nationals (27) – In parts of seven minor league seasons, he has a 3.08 ERA in 508.7 innings; a total fit for a reliever yet Hill has started 95 of the 96 games he has appeared in during that stretch of time. He hasn’t pitched over 100 innings in any season since 2003, so he has been unable to cash in his seemingly strong potential. Despite being around since 2000, he is still just 27 making well worth the risk if the price is right. Pitchers notorious for incomplete seasons rarely ever just start completing them (A.J. Burnett anyone?), so temper expectations.

65. Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds (31)
– When viewing his career statistics on the whole, his 2006 season is clearly the outlier. The 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP on the heels of a 4.51 and 1.30 the previous season no doubt offered tremendous to profit to the owners that were fortunate enough to have him. It also bred a set of lofty, unrealistic expectations that he couldn’t meet in 2007. Owners that were scratching their heads at his 4.23/1.40 season have only themselves to blame when expecting something different from a career 4.22/1.33 pitcher. The 9-win total was out of sorts, but it simply lends more evidence to the unpredictability of that category as a whole.

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66. Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins (24) – Put together a brilliant AAA campaign before coming up and posting some mixed results in 66.7 innings with the Twins. Unlike a lot of the entries you will find past the 60-mark, Slowey does not give away bases via the walk. Over 200 innings between AAA and the majors last year, he posted an eye-popping 5.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Over parts of three minor league seasons, he has 7.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 354.3 innings. This is the kind of skillset you want! If he can use that control to create more groundballs for himself, you could see big improvements in 2008.

67. Andy Sonnanstine, Tampa Bay Rays (25) – Your eyes don’t deceive you, I did rank someone with a 5.85 ERA in the rookie season as the 67th best fantasy baseball pitcher for 2008. Look closer for the primary reason for the ranking: Sonnanstine had a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio! Another problem was that if he left the game with runners on base, they were damn near guaranteed to score because of that putrid bullpen at manager Joe Maddon’s disposal. To wit, when he was out of harm’s way (in this example, the Rays’ bullpen is “harm”), he enjoyed a 2.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 5.1 K:BB ratio and 6-4 record in 71 innings of AAA work. As with Slowey, grab this skillset immediately. Whodathunk that the Rays would be a bastion for fantasy pitching in 2008, yet they will feature their fourth starting pitcher on the list in about three capsules from now.

68. Brian Bannister, Kansas City Royals (27) – As arguably the statistically best rookie pitcher in the American League last year, perhaps you would expect a better rating for Bannister. The problem is that his tools for success last year weren’t strikeouts and groundballs, rather smoke and mirrors. He had a great summer with strong efforts in June, July and August, but the other three months and September in particular, left plenty to be desired. He doesn’t strikeout many nor benefit from a high groundball rate to counter the lack of dominance making him a risky play moving forward. On the plus side, he does have a 107-inning sample of good production to build upon.

69. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (22)
– While he might have been the highest touted prospect pitcher coming into the season, he was the one that got hit the hardest while his peers like Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo enjoyed plenty of success. Most damaging during the 45-inning stint? How about 28 walks against 28 strikeouts. Yikes. He looked great in 67 and 1/3 innings of AAA work, so don’t let a small sample of major league work scare you off too far. His control issues will continue to serve up heartburn for his owners until he matures.

70. Matt Garza, Tampa Bay Rays (24)
– Speaking of control issues… You will find Garza ahead of teammate Sonnanstine in many rankings and it’s likely due to some appetizing stat sets. For example, he pitched 47 innings of 2.49 ERA on the road and 26 and 1/3 innings of 1.37 ERA in July. Of course, no matter home or away he carried a WHIP over the 1.50-mark. As a much more heralded prospect than Sonnanstine and others, he is likely to be overrated. If he can be had at the appropriate value, I advocate acquiring him.

71. Boof Bonser, Minnesota Twins (26) – Bonser had a remarkable May after a garbage April and quickly showed that it was the outlier, by a longshot. After the 4-0, 2.45 ERA month of May, he never got below 4.70 again or won more than two games in one month. Nevertheless, he has decent strikeout and groundball rates for a 26-year old, so the potential for upside remains.

72. Jon Garland, Los Angeles Angels (28) – From 2005 to 2006, he increased his ERA by a full run yet smoothed it over by booking his second straight 18-win season. From 2006 to 2007, he gave back about 0.30 on the ERA, but at the cost of eight wins. He possesses virtually none of the dominance you would expect from a 6’6” pitcher with fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings each of the past four seasons resulting in a tepid outlook. His 2007 was a tale of two halves and that bad one was the second which you never like to invest in when filling out your rotation. Tread carefully here.

73. Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers (33) – He is coming to America on the heels of his worst season in the past three and as a 33-year old to boot. Owners dreaming of a Hideo Nomo-like debut will have to remember that Nomo was 26 years old upon his arrival and had that unorthodox delivery as a key part of his arsenal. Kuroda will likely just have to settle for being a back of the rotation, very old rookie.

74. Chuck James, Atlanta Braves (26) – Similar to what I mentioned earlier, when faced with these decisions later on in the draft, I tend to side towards the youth provided there is legitimate upside found within the skillset. This power lefty is by no means brimming with it, but you can certainly envision him enjoying extended periods of success. If he can’t reverse a declining strikeout rate and lower an enormous flyball rate (49%), upside becomes upchuck in a hurry.

75. Dave Bush, Milwaukee Brewers (28) – Both he and James burned me rather badly in 2007, but I haven’t given up on either. By the way, Bush was 12-10 last year with a 5.12 ERA and 1.40 ERA and 12-11 the year before with a 4.41 ERA and 1.14 WHIP lending overkill evidence to the fact that pitching performance will have little correlation with W-L record. Even in a poor season, Bush had his glimpses (specifically a 3.51 ERA in June), but immediately pulled the rug out from under owners as soon as they got excited about a good start or two. He also suffered from Bondermanitis, allowing hitters a .350/.388/.540 line in the first inning last year. Pay for 12 wins and a mid-4.00 ERA while hoping that he can improve the strong peripherals of 2006.

76. Chris Capuano, Milwaukee Brewers (29) – After his May 7th start, he was 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings of work. He didn’t win another game the rest of the season, finishing the season at 5-12 with a 5.10 ERA. His skills didn’t disappear all of a sudden meaning he will be remarkably undervalued coming into the 2008 season. He had a strong September (2.81 ERA in 16 innings) and he has over 440 innings of quality work (spanning 2005 and 2006) to show that he is in fact a quality starting pitcher worthy of a roster spot. There is depth in the Milwaukee rotation and as a lefty, Capuano will be coveted by those needing an arm. For the same reason, the Brewers will likely want to hang onto him.

77. Micah Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks (25) – In leagues that count pitcher batting numbers, Owings is a beast! I don’t actually know of any such leagues, but the guy can rake. He put together a .333/.349/.683 line with four home runs and 15 runs batted in over 60 at-bats. On the mound, where his numbers actually count, he is decidedly less spectacular. He should be good for eating some innings with a fair ERA and WHIP, but he isn’t a top-flight prospect that the D-Backs are waiting to see blossom.

78. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox (24) – Battled back from lymphoma very impressively going 4-0 in 63 innings with a 4.57 ERA. Hopefully he is able to focus solely on pitching with the health in order. If that is the case, he will have to work on his command. He is a young, power pitcher on a great team that can lose the plate at times. This will cause headaches as well as an inflated WHIP, but fixing the problem should come with experience. You have to like his win potential on such a strong offensive team, but don’t assume they will pile up regardless of how he pitches.

79. Doug Davis, Arizona Diamondbacks (32) – There aren’t any surprises when it comes to Doug Davis. What you see is pretty much what you get, and that is a .500 pitcher with a grotesque WHIP and passable ERA. He will likely strikeout around seven batters per nine innings, as well. His WHIP is driven by his love for walking batters; you might call him Anti Sonnanstine. It took a solid second half rebound to land at a 1.59 WHIP. He posted a 1.72 in the first half, but then came back to his career levels with a 1.46 in the second half (career: 1.49). His value lies in the consistency to eat innings and not destroy a staff that he has offered the past four seasons.

80. Ian Kennedy, New York Yankees (23) – Kennedy is being groomed as part of a youthful triumvirate in the Big Apple along with #42 Phil Hughes and #51 Joba Chamberlain. Though better than Hughes with the big league club last year (albeit in a far more limited sample), Kennedy is ranked third on the hierarchy of pinstripers. The other two are thought to have better raw stuff, while many rave that Kennedy better uses what he does have. His 8.8 strikeouts per nine ratio in 34.7 AAA innings a season ago was the lowest rate he had thrown in any minor league stop or during his two seasons with the USC Trojans. The power carried over well in his 19 inning cup of coffee as he struck out 15 batters (7.1/9). Since he is less heralded, he has a chance to provide the best value amongst the trio, at least for 2008.

81. Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles (29) – The 4.95 ERA of the second half was much closer to what you should expect from Guthrie than was the 2.45 of the first half. He enjoyed a spike in strikeouts up to 6.3 per nine, but nothing else remained consistent from half to half. I think he can approach 200 innings with a mid-4.00s ERA and a WHIP that won’t hurt your staff. The O’s are going to win 60-something games and 15 of those might be during Guthrie starts, but as I’ve been saying throughout this piece, there’s really no way to tell. Pay for the ratios and take whatever wins you can get.

—–

82. Aaron Cook, Colorado Rockies (29) – When you strikeout fewer than four batters per nine innings as Cook has throughout his career, it’s a lot easier to throw 75-pitch complete games as Cook did on July 25th of last season. An oblique strain shutdown a career year in the making, but he returned in the World Series to throw six innings against the Boston Red Sox. He does his best to alleviate his miniscule strikeout rate with a huge groundball ratio that nears 60%. Troy Tulowitzki and his defensive crew is Cook’s best weapon. Look for another year similar to last, but be careful with your innings expectation as his totals fluctuate from year-to-year with 2006 as his only season topping 200.

83. Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants (30) – So how much does a 4.53 ERA cost these days? Oh, about $119 million dollars. I can’t recall encountering anyone that thought the deal the Giants gave him last offseason was anything close to worthwhile. My question is how did GM Brian Sabean and his cohorts look at Zito’s trends and think that he was worth anything close to $119 million dollars??? It is simply mind-boggling. That said, no fantasy owners will have to pay such a fee to acquire his services and he will no doubt be a clearance bin pickup. At 30, he is young enough to fix what was broken last year, especially if his devastating curve is working consistently. His ADP has fallen over six rounds from last year to round 17 with his low point being round 20. I can see myself rostering him during the latter or later, but in any round prior to the 20th, I have to leave him to someone else.

84. Nate Robertson, Detroit Tigers (30) – His 2006 season was too good to expect a repeat, but the 2007 follow-up was too poor to expect a repeat, either. He is somewhere in between the two meaning you should look for a near-200 inning season with low-4.00 ERA and 1.30-something WHIP and a pile wins with that amazing offense behind him. The key to heading back towards the 2006 season will be getting lefties out again. He allowed a .181 average against them during his career year, but watched that average balloon to .296 a season ago.

85. Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore Orioles (27) – No matter how good your stuff is, if you walk nearly five per nine, you’re going to struggle. Sadly, the 4.8 walk rate was an improvement from the vomit-inducing 6.3 of 2006. If you believe he will eventually put it together, then he remains an intriguing option. At this point, I think the best you can hope for is 4.50+ ERA with a healthy number Ks and poor WHIP. Maybe you can find an appetizing split and spot start him in daily-move leagues.

86. Mike Mussina, New York Yankees (39) – He showed his advanced age a season ago, but it was surprising given how well he had performed the year prior. He is probably somewhere in between those two seasons, meaning he will be around 4.50 and 1.35 (+/- .10 for both rates). He offers a strong potential for wins as part of the Yankees if he can stay on the right side of 5.00 with the ERA. His best month was September adding some shine to his prospects as late round, semi-reliable option for the back end of your rotation.

87. Kevin Millwood, Texas Rangers (33) – Similar to the Barry Zito situation, it was hard to look at Texas’ acquisition of Millwood and see it as a good move. Of course, they didn’t throw away barrels of money like the Giants did with Zito, but it was still pretty obvious that they weren’t going to get the 2.86 ERA they paid for when buying him from Cleveland. He is better than the 5.16 ERA from a season ago, but not by leaps and bounds because his home park always hurt him. He should come at bargain basement prices in just about all league formats.

88. Andrew Miller, Florida Marlins (22) – Miller zoomed through the minors and ended up pitching 64 innings with the Tigers enjoying little success. He was obviously rushed a bit, but I don’t think it will stunt his growth. Now, he moves to a friendlier park and gets to be part of a rotation that can sustain any growing pains he may incur again this year. As a power pitcher than can induce the groundball, Miller has the tools for success, but may just require more seasoning before being consistently effective. I can envision him going through stretches of greatness multiple times during the season, but he will also suffer his share of starts where he fails to get through the fifth inning (he had four such starts out of 13 last year including his final three) as his control can abandon him at times.

89. Orlando Hernandez, New York Mets (38) – His three year positive trends in ERA and WHIP might overvalue him, but don’t be fooled. His peripherals scream a 4.25+ ERA pitcher, especially with the extreme flyball tendencies. He is getting up there in age as well and it’s tough to predict just how many innings you can reasonably expect from him on a year-to-year basis. Given how much uncertainty is in his portfolio, I’d hesitate to make him anything more than a reserve player or very last pitcher in the starting lineup for your fantasy team.

90. Jason Bergmann, Washington Nationals (26) – There is some goodness within this skillset, but you might have to deal with some growing pains as he develops into a worthy fantasy option. A boatload of second half bad luck inflated the final numbers on Bergmann, but he’s worth a late-round flier.

91. Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies (23) – Kendrick was the butt of a hilarious practical joke in which the team informed him he had been traded for a hot dog eating champion. That is probably what he is most known for at this point, but he offers some value as a control-based youngster. A diminutive K-rate (4.0) doesn’t always portend a pitcher that will struggle, especially if it is paired with pinpoint control, as Kendrick does.

92. Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee Brewers (33) – Another pitch-to-contact type that carry much upside. He is your typical innings eater that doesn’t strikeout very many batters. He is trending negatively in ERA and WHIP the past three seasons, which doesn’t do the already non-existent upside any favors. If you pay for a 4.40 ERA and 200 innings without expectations of anything more and the ability to handle slightly less, then you will do alright with Suppan. To truly maximize his value, hold off on acquiring him until after the break. He has a 3.09 ERA in 271.3 post All-Star Game innings since 2005.

93. Paul Byrd, Cleveland Indians (37) – Yet another supreme control pitcher that thrives on being stingy with the free passes and virtually unwilling to strike anyone out. Even if his ERA hovers around the 4.50 range, he is likely to help or stabilize your WHIP while notching a hanful of wins on a good team.

94. Joe Saunders, Los Angeles Angels (26) – If he can get a few more of these batted balls to find his defense’s gloves then he would see a pretty strong uptick in his value. He saw a 0.34 point jump in batting average against last year which led to a 0.10 WHIP jump, as well. As it is, he is a southpaw that the Angels have brought along nicely. After two partial seasons, Saunders looks to nail down a rotation spot for his first full season in the majors as a fifth starter. His strikeout rate from the minors (6.7 in 587 innings) has held pretty well at 6.0 in 187 major league innings. If he could add 0.5 to that total while keeping his walks where they are (2.7), he should be a solid back of the rotation option.

95. Franklin Morales, Colorado Rockies (22) – He pitched extraordinarily well down the stretch for the white-hot Rockies as they streaked into the playoffs and that may artificially inflate his value, so don’t get caught in the trap. He only brought 6 of the 9.7 strikeouts per nine he had in 428 minor league innings, so there is room for growth in that area. Of course, if he starts heading back towards the 9.7 mark, he may also head towards his 4.9 walks per nine ratio from the minors as well. He only had 3.2p9 during his stretch run that spanned 39.3 innings. There is plenty to like about this fireballer, especially his extreme groundball tendencies, but pay heed to the fact that he will suffer growing pains and regardless of all the humidor talk, Coors Field was still a severe hitter’s park.

96. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies (24) – I obviously paired these two together on purpose given their similarities (youth, power, suspect control and team). Jimenez brought more of his peripheral stats with him last year as he struck out 7.5 and walked 4.1 per nine innings (his rates in the minors were 8.8 and 4.5, respectively). As such, we got a clearer picture of what he has to offer and the potential shortcomings awaiting him this year. He is a groundball pitcher like Morales, though less pronounced. Either way, both allow that strong defense to take care of a lion’s share of the dirty work. In order to be consistently valuable for a fantasy team over the course of an entire season, Jimenez needs to be closer to three walks per nine than he is six walks per nine.

97. Randy Wolf, San Diego Padres (31) – He is now part of the “Pitching Excellency Test Center Operative”, commonly referred to as PETCO Park. That alone will spike his value and will likely price me out of the running for his services. He is vying for that 5th starter role on the Padres, but he will have stiff competition (namely Mark Prior and Clay Hensley). Of course, if he continues to fail to complete the first inning of his Spring Training starts (as he has done twice in row through March 5th), he will quickly remove himself from that competition.

98. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves (22) – On the surface, he fared pretty well during his 30.7 inning call up with the Detroit Tigers last year posting a 4.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Looking closer, you see a 1.0 K:BB and just about lose your lunch. At 22 years old, it is easier to excuse that kind of performance, especially when he has over 500 minor league innings of a 3.3 K:BB ratio. He is probably best served with some time in AAA to start the season, but the Braves’ fifth spot is wide open and he is quickly emerging as the favorite. Something he has done well in the minor leagues is keep the ball in the park with a 0.50 HR/9 rate and moving from Detroit to Atlanta only helps the cause of keeping it that low. Turner Field was slightly in favor of pitchers in terms of home runs allowed last year, rating a 99. Meanwhile, Comerica Park checked in at 114.

99. Justin Duchscherer, Oakland A’s (30) – After posting 188 innings out of the bullpen for the A’s over the past five seasons, Duchscherer is headed back to the rotation for the first time since 2003. He is no stranger to the rotation, with 152 out of 170 of his minor league appearances coming as starts. And by all accounts during the spring, he is extremely happy to be heading back out for first inning action. The question won’t be if he has the skills to succeed as a starter, but rather his surgically repair hip will hold up or not. If it does, he could be a big time sleeper in just about every format. Since he is making a big move and coming off of a major injury, he finds himself on the back end of this Top 100.

100. Tom Glavine, Atlanta Braves (42) – My child will be left-handed, that way he can pitch in the majors forever! Glavine fell off the table in the second half of last year leaving many wondering if age finally caught up to him (prior to last year, he had three straight sub-4.00 ERA seasons) or if he just had a bad stretch. Well there were plenty of negative indicators in his 4.11 ERA first half that suggested he was headed towards the 5.00 mark, so the season at large paints a picture of decline. That said, he is heading back to Atlanta where he might just have one last hurrah left in him and stay on the right side of 4.50 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. His name alone will likely get him drafted/bought in most leagues, but don’t overdo it and reach for him.

Twelve under 30:

Gio Gonzalez, Oakland A’s (22) – This guy gets dealt more than the aces of clubs in the Bellagio, but he might have found his best landing spot yet in the Bay Area. He is still very young and pitched brilliantly in AA last year with 11.1 K/9 and a 3.3 K:BB ratio.

Luke Hochevar, Kansas City Royals (24) – With just 12.1 innings pitched, it was more of a sip of coffee as opposed to a cup, but he did look good in that very limited sample. He didn’t have any clear trends carry over between AA and AAA and he lost over 2 strikeouts per nine innings in the jump. He’ll need more seasoning, but definitely someone to watch.

J.P. Howell, Tampa Bay Rays (25) – A good season in AAA was marred by a disastrous spin around the majors. He lost control as his hits per nine went from 7.7 to 12.2 and walks from 2.4 to 3.7. If he can rid himself of the gopheritis and continue to fan plenty of batters, there could be a strong bargain available here.

Adam Loewen, Baltimore Orioles (24) – You have to wonder if Loewen is best friends with Daniel Cabrera after watching him walk 26 batters in his 30.3 innings last year. Given the sample size and how obscenely horrific that rate is, we can chalk it up as an aberration for now. But even in 2006, he was nearing five walks per nine, so his control as well as how he rebounds from the elbow injury will determine how far he goes.

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates (25) – It is always tough to get excited about young guys that don’t blow batters away. Maholm’s 5.3 strikeouts per nine is not going to impress many, but when it is paired with only 2.5 walks per nine it is easier to digest. Though his actual ERA was 5.01, his work suggested something much nearer to 4.00. The potential is there.

Adam Miller, Cleveland Indians (23) – He has topped 70 innings in a season just twice since 2003 and only made it through 65.3 last year. Elbow problems are eating away at his potential, but lucky for him there is more than enough to eat. In his 461 minor league innings, he has struck out 8.9 per nine and walked just 2.7. Health is the key, as it is for throngs of young pitchers.

Scott Olsen, Florida Marlins (24) – This piece of garbage ruined several fantasy teams in 2007 (thankfully none of mine), but he had 180 solid innings under his belt coming into the season, so it might just be a sophomore slump. Off the field issues become a concern now, but a late round/low dollar flier could pay off.

Manny Parra, Milwaukee Brewers (24) – He actually increased his K/9 moving from AAA to the big show, but along with it came a sharp rise in walks and hits allowed which led to a fair, but unspectacular cup of coffee.

John Patterson, Washington Nationals (30)
– He can be a really valuable arm when healthy. How many pitcher profiles start out like that? Tons, I know, but Patterson is Prior-esque in his inability to stay healthy. Honestly, if you pay more than $2 for him or draft him before the reserve rounds, you’re not very interested in winning. Don’t chase, but recognize that he is still just 30 and still has the talent to be a season-changer if he can go 198 innings like he did in 2005.

Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets (24) – A disastrous debut may have taken him off of most radars, but he has a strong groundball rate (48%), but too many were counting for hits and he was walking four batters per nine innings leaving him with a ridiculously high WHIP. As a post-hype sleeper on an excellent team, he could be a strong reserve pick and end-game $1 arm.

Mark Prior, San Diego Padres (27) – Hey, he’s still Mark Prior and only at 27, someone in your league is going to fall in love with the fact that he’s moved to Petco (or “Pitching Excellency Test Center Operative”), the place where pitchers go to succeed. It’s still uncertain when he will be able to get back on the mound (perhaps late May, perhaps mid-summer), but there is intrigue.

Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds (23) – The Texas Rangers just hate having viable pitchers, so they moved Volquez for Josh Hamilton. Volquez owned both AA and AA to the tune of 10.5 K/9 and a 3.2 K:BB ratio before a solid showing in 34 innings with the Rangers. He is a candidate for a rotation spot in Cincy for 2008, but as a flyball pitcher moving from one launching pad to another it is a buyer beware situation.

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5 Responses to “2008 Version of Echelon-Divided Starting Pitchers”

  1. I really liked your blog with the Roy Halladay item. I think Halladay will be an instant hall-of-famer.
    I try to follow as much MLB news as I can from Caracas, Venzuela.

  2. G’day!
    As an Australia-based Braves fan, I found your blog on google and read a few of your other Braves posts.
    I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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