We are now entering the big guns you can build your staff around. Most of echelon two can lead a staff depending on your strategy. If you decide the let the truly elite arms pass by with their gaudy price tags, then a foundation around a couple of these guys will get the job done. In an AL or NL Only league, a lot of these guys are more than adequate #1s if you choose to stockpile hitting early on. Either way, this group shows just how deep starting pitching is for 2010.
Echelon 2 – Anchormen
52. Jair Jurrjens, 24, Atlanta Braves – No one, myself included, thinks he can sustain a 2.60 ERA with the peripherals he displayed last year. He limits home runs very well (0.5, 0.6 last two years) and sits right at the acceptable 2.0 K/BB rate so it’s not like I expect his ERA to jump to 5.00 or something crazy. He is much more of a 3.68 ERA pitcher (his 2008 mark) than 2.60 (his 2009 mark) so don’t pay for the cost of the latter. Unfortunately, that’s his market value right now as he’s going 32nd among starting pitchers (ahead of Scott Baker, Brett Anderson) and 142nd overall. At that price, I’m passing without question.
51. Carlos Zambrano, 29, Chicago Cubs – Though Zambrano has never posted an ERA north of 4.00, he is still a very scary investment on draft day. His K/BB has been below 2.0 each of the last four years, but it is on the rise since 2007 so perhaps he’s headed back over 2.0 in 2010. After five straight years easily surpassing 200 innings from 2003 to 2007, Zambrano has pitched 189 and 169 the last two years, respectively. He is a risky proposition, but he is still immensely talented capable of piling up strikeouts with a good ERA. He could pay huge dividends at the right price, but right now he is at cost or too expensive as the 163rd player off the board (39th SP).
50. Johnny Cueto, 24, Cincinnati Reds – A tale of two halves for Cueto as he posted a 2.70 ERA/1.12 WHIP in the first half but labored to a 7.00/1.72 second half including a DL stint. Overall this is still a good skills profile worth investing in with the home run rate being the final piece of the puzzle to a sub-4.00 ERA season. At 24, it may not come in 2010, but there are still plenty of strikeouts and a 4.20 ERA available here.
49. Brandon Webb, 31, Arizona Diamondbacks – He is supposed to return by the end of April, but how good will he be right out of the gate? Webb proves exactly how volatile and unpredictable starting pitchers are because coming into 2009, there were few if any pitchers thought to be more reliable than him. Then he got hurt after a poor four inning start and hasn’t pitched since. I’m reticent to completely write him off even if he misses the entire first month, but not at his current price: 146 ADP, 33rd among SPs. Aces who return 100% from injury at a discount are what make a championship season so keep track of Webb’s value in your league and be ready to pounce if he falls too far.
48. John Danks, 25, Chicago White Sox – His skillset dropped off a bit from his breakout 2008, but he was still very valuable. His HR/9 seems to be the key to his success right now with the 0.7 of 2008 really aiding him en route to a 3.32 ERA. Last year it ballooned to 1.3 but his ERA didn’t rise in concert. His second half K/9 (5.5) is alarming, but it was 8.2 in the first half so unless injury is the answer, it’s kind of silly to overreact to an arbitrary period because of its recency. I’ve heard some down reports on Danks this year, but his market price isn’t reflecting that as he’s going off the board as the 37th starting pitcher. I don’t mind Danks for 2010, but only at the right price.
47. Ted Lilly, 34, Chicago Cubs – Lilly has had three straight excellent seasons posting K/BB rates of 3.2, 2.9 and 4.2. He enters 2010 banged up with mid-April as his expected return time, but that hasn’t discounted him at all as he’s going 44th among starting pitchers with a 173 ADP. It’s always risky to latch onto someone who is already injured, but this isn’t expected to linger so I would proceed as scheduled.
46. Gavin Floyd, 27, Chicago White Sox – No one believed his 2008 breakout season because the skills were a bit shaky with a 2.0 K/BB and 1.3 HR/9, but then he went out and did even better in 2009 (2.8, 1.0) despite not getting the ERA to show for it (4.06). He got better as the season wore on including an 8.1 K/9 and 3.9 K/BB in the second half showing the is still another level of growth for Floyd. Home runs have always been an issue as they destroyed him in his early years (2.0+ twice, 1.7 another year), but he has reigned that in quite a bit despite still teetering on the acceptable 1.0 rate. I think his strikeout and walk rates will step up again in 2010 allowing him to overcome a 1.3 HR/9.
45. Roy Oswalt, 32, Houston Astros – Oswalt suffered his worst season ERA-wise (4.12), but he still posted a 3.3 K/BB rate so the skills are intact. He’s laboring through a minor hamstring tweak, but it doesn’t appear serious so I wouldn’t downgrade him based on that. As the 36th SP off the board, I’m a little concerned with his price, but I still see a bounceback season so you could reasonably invest around that ADP if you didn’t like the other names on the board at that point.
44. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 29, Boston Red Sox – I still believe. Not everyone does, but his ADP is 47th among starting pitchers so I am right in line with the marketplace here. The walks remain the biggest hurdle to believable stardom for Matsuzaka, but even in lieu of him getting a handle on that he offers a load of strikeouts with super-high win potential as part of the Red Sox. I’d never encourage chasing wins, but he showed in 2008 that imperfect skills could still net 18 wins. Last year was an injury throwaway, so focus more on 2007 and 2008 when assessing his value. Also check the injury report, of course. It doesn’t look like he will start the season in the rotation so perhaps the few weeks on the DL will bring a discount at the draft table.
43. Jeff Niemann, 27, Tampa Bay Rays – He managed a 3.98 ERA in the first half despite weak skills (5.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9), but then the skills caught up big time (7.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9) in the second half and the ERA lagged (3.90). He is a bit under the radar in a rotation of studs, but he looks poised for a huge season based on his 102-inning second half. I would take any of the five starters from Tampa Bay as part of my rotation this year, but Niemann’s price (55th SP, 216 ADP) is especially appealing.
42. Edwin Jackson, 26, Arizona Diamondbacks – It took a while, but Jackson delivered on the promise of a 3-time Top 100 prospect from 2003 to 2005. After a brilliant first half, Jackson came back to the pack a bit, but now he moves to the National League where his K rate could reach 8.0 per nine. His success will be determined by his HR/9 rate. In the first half when it was at 0.7, his ERA was at 2.50, but then it skyrocketed to 1.7 and his ERA approached 5.00 at 4.76. It is hard to believe he’s just 26 years old as it seems like he’s been around forever. His 2009 season was just the beginning for E-Jax.
41. A.J. Burnett, 33, New York Yankees – Prior to 2008, the knock on Burnett was his inability to stay healthy. Sure he had a great strikeout rate and at times looked like one of the two-three best starters in the game, but he averaged just 158 IP from 2004-2007. But 2008 was a contract year so perhaps Burnett would make it through to impress potential suitors. In fact, he did just that throwing a career-high 221 innings while racking up 18 wins (also a career-high) and eventually coaxing the Yankees to open their wallets for a fat contract. In his first season with them, he managed his second straight 200+ IP season, a career first. Finally this immensely talented arm is taking his turn every fifth day, everything is great, right? Wrong. Burnett has had an ERA over 4.00 in each of the past two years and last year saw a dip in K/9 and jumps in BB/9 and HR/9. The former resulted in a league-high 97 walks and 17 wild pitches. Of course, 200 IP of 4.00 ERA with mid-to-high teens wins and 190+ strikeouts is hardly chopped liver, but don’t just draft based on his name. He has become a liability in WHIP at this point and needs to be downgraded for it.
40. David Price, 24, Tampa Bay Rays – He gets crushed because he failed to meet an unrealistic set of expectations, but 128 league average innings isn’t awful for a rookie. His adjustments from the first half to the second showed his maturity and ability make adjustments. He had terrible control yet a great strikeout rate in the first half, but that yielded a 4.70 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. In the second half, his strikeout rate dropped from 9.6 to 5.9, but his walk rate plummeted from an absurd 6.3 to 2.4 resulting in a 2.4 K/BB rate despite the average K rate. This guy is as good as advertised, you just can’t expect every phenom prospect to post a sub-3.00 ERA with 190 strikeouts as soon as they reach the majors. I like Price to take a huge step forward into 2010.
39. Max Scherzer, 25, Detroit Tigers – What is not to like about a guy who strikes out a batter per inning while walking fewer than 3.5 per nine? Apparently something if you ask the Arizona brass because they seemingly couldn’t wait to unload him. Of course, it’s not like they got nothing in return (Edwin Jackson, specifically), but this is an ace in the making. That’s not just biased Tigers fan talking, either. Scherzer might lose some strikeouts coming over to the American League, but he is still going to be force at missing bats. Look for him to reach 190 strikeouts and post an ERA between 3.75 and 4.00 in his best season yet.
38. Francisco Liriano, 26, Minnesota Twins – The Twins apparently flirted with moving Liriano to the bullpen to take over for injured star closer Joe Nathan. Thankfully they have come to their senses and decided to leave him in the rotation where he should once again flourish. He won’t be posting the 2.16 ERA he had in 2006, but a sub-4.00 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 175 innings will fit quite nicely into any rotation, especially as the 56th SP off the board at a 218 ADP. Liriano is inexplicably going after Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte, who are vastly overvalued right now.
37. Jorge de la Rosa, 29, Colorado Rockies – His breakout season wasn’t fully rewarded as his first half ERA (5.66) was much worse than he deserved thanks to unfortunate hit and strand rates. A correction in the second half led to an excellent 12-2 record with 106 Ks, 3.38 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 104 innings. A blistering K rate plus a 45%+ groundball rate make up the best kind of profile to invest in. I think some people are still afraid to invest in Rockies pitchers, but I’m more than happy to take de la Rosa before his 188 ADP. I can’t help but wonder why the Kansas City Royals ever got rid of de la Rosa, but then again it’s the Royals.
36. Rich Harden, 28, Texas Rangers – He wasn’t quite as good as his 2008 ERA of 2.07 suggested nor was he as bad as his 2009 ERA of 4.09 suggested. Both years his skills were that of a mid-3.00s guy with an insane strikeout rate (11.0!!!). You know injuries are a concern for a guy when back-to-back 140 inning years are considered progress. He just can’t be relied on for a full season and as such, a top 10 talent is pushed down to a top 40 ranking.
35. Ryan Dempster, 32, Chicago Cubs – Skeptics were out in full force after a breakout 2008 season and while I expected some regression from his sub-3.00 ERA season, I didn’t hate him. I rated him 56th and said: “The workload spike theorists are probably having a field day with Dempster’s 140 IP jump though the impact may be lessened due to age and the fact that he has topped 200 IP in the past. A lot of strikeouts with a 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP is still a very good line so bid with that in mind.” He went 3.65, 1.31 with 172 Ks. I see no reason not to bet on more of the same in 2010.
34. Matt Cain, 25, San Francisco Giants – Cain is going to get his owners in trouble sooner or later. His ERA consistently outpaces his underlying stats and yet the projected regression never hits. In fact, last year he shaved nearly a full run off of his ERA down below 3.00 despite another drop in K/9 (third straight year) and a second straight jump in HR/9. His control improved down to a healthy 3.0 BB/9 and he will need to hold or improve on that metric to enjoy upper level success again in 2010, especially if he plans on once again cutting into his strikeout rate. Rest assured that despite the negative tilt to this capsule, I recognize that Cain is a very good pitcher. He is a workhorse with three straight 200+ inning seasons so you can rely on him every fifth day, just don’t be surprised if his ERA starts pushing toward 4.00.
33. John Lackey, 31, Boston Red Sox – Lackey has been a personal favorite for years, but I don’t let my personal biases affect my fantasy strategies. Lackey has missed significant time to injury for two straight seasons and the move from Los Angeles to Boston bumps him down several spots before a pitch is even thrown. He’s never been an overpowering force with strikeouts having been above 7.9 just once in his career and right around 7.2 each of the last three years. I love the 3.0+ K/BB for the past three years and he will definitely need it in Boston to avoid an ERA north of 4.00.
32. Jered Weaver, 27, Los Angeles Angels – I think Weaver is constantly viewed as a disappointment because he hasn’t been able to replicate his 2.56 ERA and 1.03 WHIP from his rookie season in the three years since. Of course those figures were luck driven to be that low because his peripheral skills have been virtually the same every single year of his career, including that sparkling 123 inning debut. Weaver is prone to the longball as an extreme flyball pitcher and that is what keeps his ERA up above 3.75 instead of down closer to 3.25 where a groundballer with his other skills might reside. He has settled in at this level, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth every nickel he costs on draft day. View his reliability as a skill.
31. Scott Kazmir, 26, Los Angeles Angels – It was a tiny sample (36 IP), but it was nice to see Kazmir rebound after being traded to LA. He’s a rich man’s Rich Harden (pun somewhat intended) right now having topped 200 IP just once and below 155 in three of his five seasons. His health is my only concern when it comes to wondering if he can be an elite starter or not. I don’t really about 5.92 ERA in 111 IP with Tampa Bay last year from a skills perspective as it was tied to injury. He’s coming at a discount as the 42nd SP off the board behind the likes of Carlos Zambrano, Edwin Jackson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Webb. Pass on that whole group and take a calculated risk on Kazmir.
30. Aaron Harang, 32, Cincinnati Reds – After establishing himself as one of the most reliable starters in the game from 2005 to 2007, Harang labored through his toughest years as a pro in 2008 as his ERA rose over a run to 4.78 and he had a league-leading 17 losses. Things weren’t much better in 2009 and when it was all over, Harang had been saddled with back-to-back six win seasons despite some really sharp skills that included 3.0 and 3.3 K/BB rates in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He had some bad luck mixed in with an increasing HR/9 rate, but overall this wasn’t a 4.20+ ERA, six win pitcher. He is said to be at 100% health and poised to return to his 05-07 form once again. Best yet is he’s dirt cheap right now as the 65th SP drafted with a 240 ADP.
29. Yovani Gallardo, 24, Milwaukee Brewers – It’s hard not to get excited about a K/9 near 10.0 (9.9 in 186 IP) from a 24-year old starter. The control was a bit off last year up over 1.5 walks per game from his 3.0 mark in 2007 (he was also at 3.0 in 2008, but that was an injury shortened season of 24 IP). And it was especially high in the second half at 5.3 BB/9 in 82 innings, which led to a near-5.00 ERA. That said, he was returning from a lost season and there was enough of his top shelf skill on display to feel confident about him moving forward. Even wonder what it would be like if Rich Harden could go 185+ IP? Gallardo’s 2010 could emulate what that would look like.
28. James Shields, 28, Tampa Bay Rays – When is two straight years of increased BB/9 not really a bad thing? When you are going from 1.5 to 1.7 to 2.1. Despite the increases, Shields still has elite level control. That said, it’s never a good thing when a skill is eroding, however slight the erosion may be. Shields was also a bit more hittable in 2009 and it led to his first 4.00+ ERA in three seasons. But as with Jered Weaver, Shields’ reliability (215, 215, 220 IP since 2007) is a skill that shouldn’t go unnoticed. He possesses an excellent K/BB rate having topped 6.7 K/9 in each of his four seasons so that despite being a control artist, he’s not a drag on your strikeout totals. He’s not a flashy pick by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t make him a bad buy for your rotation.
27. Matt Garza, 26, Tampa Bay Rays – Having seen him in person and many, many times on TV, I can confidently say that Garza has some of the best stuff in all of baseball and his stats are about to catch up to that stuff as he continues to mature and learn more about how to pitch. We saw the first step last year as he began to strike more batters out throughout the year, but as especially as the year wore on. His K/9 jumped more than two strikeouts to 8.4 and he was at 9.2 in the second half. A 15 win-200 strikeout-3.50 ERA season is well within reach for Garza in 2010 and the fantasy community knows it as he has a 115 ADP as the 24th SP off the board.
26. Brett Anderson, 22, Oakland A’s – He was a very integral piece of the package sent from Arizona to Oakland for Dan Haren and his rookie season showed why the A’s were so interested. Of course, they also got Chris Carter, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith out of the deal, but Anderson, Carter & Gonzalez were the big ticket items. Anderson was a groundball pitcher (51%) with excellent strikeout ability (7.7 K/9) that actually improved as the season wore on (8.7 in 2nd half) whereas most rookies usually hit a wall and fade in that first 162-game grind. After such an impressive debut, Anderson caught the eye of many and has become the sleeper du jour of the fantasy baseball industry, which in turn has made him anything but a sleeper. I am not at all dissuaded by the press he is receiving, though as I’m still targeting him because despite the raised profile he is still coming in as the 35th SP off the board at 153 ADP.
Ten more from this echelon and then the aces…