So we looked at the Top 50 Starting Pitchers, and towards the end it was getting a little hairy. Which means when we go 50 deeper it’s getting into Cousin It and Chewbacca territory. Like your creepy uncle who looked like he was wearing a sweater as he lounged in his bathing suit by the pool. Now that you’ve been thoroughly scarred mentally with that image, let’s look at what the latter part of our SP field has to offer, shall we?
Natural Tier 9
The glaring thing to me in this tier is the presence of the three converted relievers. It was like the rankers weren’t quite sure what to expect from them so they all ranked them immediately together. I personally don’t have much as far as expectations go in any of the trio, but if I had to roll the dice on any it would be Neftali Feliz. I think they’re doing good things with the pitching down there in Texas. They successfully converted C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to a legitimate staff ace, and it wouldn’t shock me if the same thing happened with Feliz, who is really a starter that just needs stretching out, in my mind. The other names that stick out to me are Ted Lilly, who apparently continues to get no respect, and Derek Holland, who was roughed up frequently in the early going last year, but finished the year after the All-Star break with 88.1 innings of 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP baseball, whiffing 80 batters and going 9-1. I think he has that ability in him to sustain over an entire season, and I think 2012 is where we’ll see him really emerge as a fantasy No. 2. Considering he has a MDP of 185, Holland is a guy I’m targeting in all of my leagues this season. Little risk, upside through the roof.
Natural Tier 10
Holy moley we have our first Met sighting! Ranked slightly below a guy who retired! Here’s my take on this tier. Brandon McCarthy. I could really just cut it off right there and I’d feel I was doing the group justice, but I guess I’ll elaborate. You can expect out of Brandon McCarthy what you’re praying for an absolute best out of Clay Buchholz, yet I can almost guarantee that Clay goes off your draft board well ahead of Brandon. I’m a believer in McCarthy’s new-found ability to keep men off base, and while his 6 K/9 isn’t getting anybody’s panties moist, it isn’t killing you like Mark Buehrle’s is. A low-3 ERA (he had a 2.86 FIP last year), 1.15 WHIP, and I’m happy to have this guy on my team for where he’s being drafted, while the rest of you get Nolasco’d (keep in mind Ricky’s K rate wasn’t much better than McCarthy’s last season, either). The only other real piece of potential here, and I only feel this way cause I’m a sucker, is Chad Billingsley. If he’d just stop walking everybody he’d be a serious monster. That may seem like a pipe dream, but keep in mind it wasn’t that long ago (okay, maybe it was) where that was the exact same sentiment felt about Ted Lilly. He was able to cut down on those walks and suddenly became a real threat and valuable fantasy asset. Bills, I wish I could quit you.
Natural Tier 11
Do you smell that? That, my friends, is the rancid stench of desperation, and while it isn’t fully encompassing the room yet, it’s certainly starting to seep through the cracks in the door. Mostly a group of has-beens and never-wases, riddled by either injury or ineffectiveness, with people hoping that maybe this is the year their elbow doesn’t flare up, or they avoid the big inning, or any other cliched statement you’ve heard managers mutter over the years. Here’s the reality: this year probably isn’t the year. As a Mets fan, I’ve developed this as a mantra of sorts, and thus far it’s kept me from losing control of my faculties. I will say this, though. If you have deep enough rosters where you can platoon pitchers, Tim Stauffer at Petco Park is a beautiful thing. Last season all he did was post a 2.57 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 94.2 IP. I have zero reason to believe he’ll perform any worse at home this season, as these were the expectations we had plagued ourselves with for Tim over the last several seasons. So start him at home and against his weaker road opponents in some of the NL’s bigger stadiums, and you have yourself a pretty valuable fantasy pitcher at a fraction of the cost. Bedard and Peavy are interesting plays. Effectiveness seems to rarely be their problem. Being able to trot out to the mound every five days, however; that’s a different story. If they log enough innings they’ll be extremely helpful to your team considering where they’re drafted. How confident are you that this is the year they log said innings though? Yeah, me neither. Can Vance Vance Revolution really continue the success he found last season in Philly? I want to say no, but really only because it’s hardly fair for the Phillies to have a No. 4 pitcher whose ERA approaches 3.00. I mean seriously.
Natural Tier 12
Ryan Dempster is the Cubs’ ace. His ranking here tells you all you need to know about the expectations for the Cubs in 2012. Dempster was very good from ‘08 through ‘10, and one down year has suddenly really soured a lot of fantasy owners on him; but not me. His 3.91 FIP and 3.70 xFIP from a season ago are more indicative of what to expect from him in 2012 than his 4.80 ERA is. He still struck out 8.5 men per 9 innings, and if the Cubs got any better whatsoever (I’m not sure they did), this should be a nice rebound season for Dempster, who can be had very late in drafts. Henderson Alvarez looked good for most of his call-up late last season, but the AL East is a tough trial by fire, and whether or not it will completely destroy his fantasy value is yet to be seen. Juan Nicasio is an interesting player who is coming off neck surgery after fracturing the C-1 vertebrae on the wrong end of a line drive that hit him in the head last season. It’s a miracle he’s even walking, never mind competing for a rotation spot this spring. He strikes enough guys out to take a flyer on, but really, what he’ll be able to do is anybody’s guess.
Natural Tier 13
Francisco Liriano could provide tremendous value here if his shoulder doesn’t fall off from throwing too many sliders, and if he isn’t too fat or behind on his throwing schedule this season. We think of better times for Liriano in what feels like the distant past, but it wasn’t really that distant. He can still be the guy with the filthy slider who strikes batters out at alarming rates, or he can be the guy who issues six free passes a game and makes you hate everything about fantasy baseball. Chances are he’ll be one of those two things on somebody else’s team in my leagues. Hochevar finished 2011 strong, to the tune of a post-All Star line of 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 68 Ks in 79.1 IP with a 6-3 record. He looked like a mature pitcher at the end of last season, and I think we may have seen him elevate his game. Wouldn’t shock me to see him carry a mid-3 ERA all year with modest strikeout totals. The whirlwind that is Carlos Zambrano may recapture some of his old magic in Miami, or he may continue to smash water coolers in dugouts and make everybody including his teammates, coaches, and fantasy owners hate his guts. There’s a reason he barely cracked the Top 100. Which brings us to our lucky century mark man, Felipe Paulino. Now why are people abuzz about a guy who posted ERAs of 6.27, 5.11, 7.36, and 4.11 the past four years? A K-rate approaching 9.0 will makes people believe anything they want. That and a FIP nearly a full run lower than his ERA. We’ve seen Paulino harness his great stuff for starts and look unhittable, but he’s also prone to the meltdown, and until he’s able to have more good days than bad, he’ll be a fantasy headache.
So there you have it. 100 starting pitchers, most of which will either be spending time on your DL or your waiver wire. It’s a fickle thing, ain’t it? By my count we’re on the kick of this race, with only the crap shoot that is relief pitching and our acknowledgments left for our final installation, which you’re definitely not going to want to miss! Don’t forget to check back soon!
Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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