RankingsMarch 7, 2009

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Positional Tiers: Starting Pitcher

By R.J. White

Today in the Positional Tiers series, we’ll be delving into one of the most critical positions to building your fantasy team, the starting pitchers. The championship rotation is usually built by drafting one or two aces to go along with a few solid mid-round hurlers and finding one or two hidden gems at the end of the draft or on the waiver wire. These tiers are designed to give you a guide as to when to draft pitchers from each of the preceding categories, as being stuck with a weak SP1 could end your season before it begins.

Below, you’ll find my SP tiers. I’ve listed each pitcher’s 2008 stats along with their strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) and strikeout-per-nine inning (K/9) ratios. Not too many pitchers can have consistent success with a sub-2.0 K/BB or a sub-6.0 K/9, which I’ve taken into account.

Tier 1: Rounds 2-4

Johan Santana161672.531.15206633.2697.911234 1/3
Tim Lincecum181852.621.17265843.15510.507227
CC Sabathia2217102.701.12251594.2548.929253
Roy Halladay4220112.781.05206395.2827.536246
Cole Hamels3714103.091.08196533.6987.760227 1/3
Brandon Webb352273.301.20183652.8157.266226 2/3
Jake Peavy4110112.851.18166592.8148.603173 2/3
Dan Haren531683.331.13206405.1508.583216

Some fantasy owners don’t like selecting pitching this early, but as these eight SPs are far and away the best options at the positions, you would be wise to snag one before they’re all gone. Some will burn a second-round pick on Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum, but you’d be better served to grab an elite hitter in Round 2 and to wait until four or five of these Tier 1 guys are off the board. This will give you a great start to your offense and still leave you with a top-notch, near-sure thing at the top of the rotation. In particular, I would target the pinpoint control of Roy Halladay or the high-strikeout potential of Jake Peavy.

Tier 2: Rounds 5-8

Ervin Santana791673.491.12214474.5538.795219
Chad Billingsley8816103.141.34201802.5139.015200 2/3
Josh Beckett6612104.031.19172345.0598.879174 1/3
James Shields821483.561.15160404.0006.698215
Roy Oswalt7717103.541.18165473.5117.117208 2/3
John Lackey851253.751.23130403.2507.163163 1/3
Scott Kazmir901283.491.27166702.3719.807152 1/3
Cliff Lee682232.541.11170345.0006.851223 1/3
Zack Greinke13413103.471.28183563.2688.140202 1/3
Francisco Liriano75643.911.4067322.0947.93376
Felix Hernandez919113.451.39175802.1887.849200 2/3

If you’re unlucky enough to be without a starting pitcher by now, I would strongly urge you grab two guys from Tier 2, including one of those first five guys. Remember that some of the teams that already have a Tier 1 starter will likely end up with one of these guys as well, so it’s crucial to take two quality guys from this list so you don’t fall further behind.

What Ervin Santana did last year was amazing, as he didn’t turn in one poor start at all in 2008. If you take his 2008 numbers alone, he belongs in Tier 1. If he turns in a similar performance in 2009, he’ll be locked into Tier 1 from this point on. With an elite skill-set, that remains a distinct possibility.

The second half of this tier is comprised of guys that are either injury risks or young aces that haven’t quite put everything together. One name that doesn’t fall into either category is Cliff Lee, and it’s quite possible that in writing off his Cy Young 2008 season as a fluke, your fellow owners could let Lee slip further than he deserves. Judging from his MDP ranking, I’m going to end up with Zach Greinke on a lot of teams. He’s outperformed Felix Hernandez, who is taken 40 spots higher, and his 2008 ranks right up there with Roy Oswalt and John Lackey.

Tier 3: Rounds 9-13

Joba Chamberlain114432.601.26118393.02610.584100 1/3
Yovani Gallardo116001.881.252082.5007.50024
Javier Vazquez13312164.671.32200613.2788.640208 1/3
Ricky Nolasco1281583.521.10186424.4297.884212 1/3
Daisuke Matsuzaka921832.901.32154941.6388.266167 2/3
Jon Lester991663.211.27152662.3036.505210 1/3
Edinson Volquez1051763.211.33206932.2159.460196
A.J. Burnett9818104.071.34231862.6869.393221 1/3
Rich Harden1031022.071.06181612.96711.006148
Adam Wainwright1261133.201.1891342.6766.205132
Scott Baker1721143.451.18141423.3577.364172 1/3
David Price130001.930.931243.0007.71414
Matt Cain1278143.761.36186912.0447.691217 2/3
Ted Lilly1651794.091.23184642.8758.091204 2/3
Chris R. Young123763.961.2993481.9388.179102 1/3
Carlos Zambrano1081463.911.29130721.8066.201188 2/3
Ryan Dempster1321762.961.21187762.4618.144206 2/3
John Danks1561293.321.23159572.7897.338195
Matt Garza1571193.701.24128592.1696.238184 2/3

This is where leagues could be won: the owners that nail the right Tier 3 pitching selections are going to be near the top of the pitching categories. Make sure you take one of your favorites from this list for your SP3 and try to back him up with another Tier 3 pitcher that presents good value for your SP4.

Javier Vazquez has elite-level K/BB and K/9 ratios yet posted disappointing ERA and WHIP numbers in 2008. Moving to the NL and its weaker lineups should benefit Vazquez in those two categories, giving you potentially high Tier 2 numbers from this Tier 3 pitcher.

Other guys I’m targeting from this group: Joba Chamberlain, who will only be limited by the Yankee’s inning count for him; Ricky Nolasco, a great pitcher that doesn’t get enough attention due to the team he plays for; Scott Baker, who has consistently posted excellent K/BB ratios; and Ted Lilly, who’s proven to be an ace pitching in the NL Central.

Tier 4: Rounds 14-20

Josh Johnson152713.611.3577272.8527.93587 1/3
Brett Myers14710134.551.38163652.5087.721190
Kevin Slowey17312113.991.15123245.1256.904160 1/3
Derek Lowe15114113.241.13147453.2676.271211
Max Scherzer160043.051.2366213.14310.60756
Randy Johnson19111103.911.24173443.9328.462184
Aaron Harang1596174.781.38153503.0607.470184 1/3
Justin Verlander12011174.841.40163871.8747.297201
Johnny Cueto2009144.811.41158682.3248.172174
Chien-Ming Wang169824.071.3254351.5435.11695
Brandon Morrow182343.341.1475342.20610.43864 2/3
Gil Meche21614113.981.32183732.5077.830210 1/3
Clayton Kershaw188554.261.50100521.9238.359107 2/3
Wandy Rodriguez259973.541.31131442.9778.585137 1/3
Erik Bedard166643.671.3272371.9468.00081
Andy Sonnanstine2991394.381.29124373.3515.773193 1/3
Jered Weaver20811104.331.28152542.8157.744176 2/3
Kenshin Kawakamin/a---------

Here’s where it gets tricky. Tier 4 is rife with young guys with less than a full season in the majors and potential bounce-back candidates that want to put 2008 injuries behind them. At this point, I’m looking at Brett Myers, who looked great in the second half of last year, and Kevin Slowey, who ranked just behind Halladay and Haren at the top of the K/BB rankings. Don’t forget about Randy Johnson, who had quite a return to form last year with excellent K/BB and K/9 ratios. Kenshin Kawakami has a repertoire of pitches that should make him a great pitcher for at least the first half of 2009, making him a hidden gem.

Tier 5: Rounds 21+

Manny Parra2971084.391.54147751.9607.970166
Justin Duchscherer2031082.541.0095342.7946.035141 2/3
Paul Maholmn/a993.711.28139632.2066.063206 1/3
Jonathan Sanchez2839125.011.45157752.0938.943158
Mark Buehrle26115123.791.34140522.6925.762218 2/3
Jeremy Bondermann/a344.291.5644361.2225.55271 1/3
Jeremy Guthrie27910123.631.23120582.0695.664190 2/3
Jair Jurrjens19313103.681.37139701.9866.643188 1/3
Andy Pettitte22614144.541.41158552.8736.970204
Chris Volstad252642.881.3352361.4445.55084 1/3
John Smoltz285322.571.183684.50011.57128
Gavin Floyd1891783.841.26145702.0716.325206 1/3
Hiroki Kuroda2699103.731.22116422.7625.695183 1/3
Jesse Litsch2941393.581.2399392.5385.063176
John Maine2311084.181.35122671.8217.842140
Oliver Perez2451074.221.401801051.7148.351194
David Purceyn/a365.541.4858292.0008.03165
Dana Evelandn/a994.341.48118771.5326.322168
Koji Ueharan/a---------

In the end game, you’re looking for the needle in the haystack, the guys that could explode out of the gates in 2009 en route to becoming the most added pitcher in fantasy leagues. While other guys are picking up unexciting options like Jeremy Guthrie and Hiroki Kuroda, I’m targeting John Smoltz for the second half. His 2008 stats don’t look like they came from a pitcher nearing the end of his career. I’m also looking at David Purcey, a pitcher with solid numbers that might be the next Toronto gem.

That’s going to wrap it up for the starting pitcher Positional Tiers. We’ve covered catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and outfield. Be sure to check in tomorrow for the last set of rankings in the series, Positional Tier: Relief Pitcher.

R.J. White (or daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 14 years. He is addicted to fantasy sports and loves writing, the Atlanta Braves, music, the Buffalo Bills, theatre, the Philadelphia Eagles, his family, and the number 42, though not in that order.
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