You don’t have to have a no-doubt-about-it stud in your starting rotation to win a fantasy baseball championship, but there’s nothing better than having one of these aces pitching twice for you in a single week. If you’ve done your due diligence elsewhere, it’s the closest thing to a guaranteed victory in fantasy’s head-to-head competition.
The problem is, everyone wants one of these guys and there’s so few of them out there. In fact, I would put the number at three, as in the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the Phillies’ Roy Halladay and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
That leaves seven of the ten teams in your league scrambling to find the next best thing. Fortunately, there are enough of these stars to assure that everyone lands a legitimate fantasy ace.
For me, in no particular order, the next level of starting pitchers includes the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, the Angels’ Jared Weaver, the Brewers’ Zack Greinke and the Rays’ James Shields.
My list of “next level” pitchers does not include a few familiar names that crop up on other fantasy lists. It includes the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, the Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy, the Rays’ David Price, the Angels’ Dan Haren, the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter and either Jon Lester or Josh Beckett of the Red Sox.
Solid starters all, but perhaps overrated at the top of the draft. I’ll be searching for value elsewhere while these guys are coming off the board. I can do this because I’m fairly confident that there will be plenty of quality starters available later in the draft. If not, there will be plenty of opportunities to fill out my staff from the waiver wire.
It’s important to note here that starting pitching is probably the only category in which you can expect to pluck players off the waiver wire who can win you a championship. Good luck finding yourself a capable catcher or a slugger at any position after the draft.
So, without any further ado, my three sleepers in the starting pitcher category. The guys who present best value. (I’ll use CBSSports.com rankings and 2011 stats as a measuring stick.)
Doug Fister, Tigers, rated No. 52
31 starts, 20 of them quality starts;
216 innings pitched, 193 hits against, 146 Ks;
1.06 WHIP (Average of walks and hits allowed per inning pitched), 2.83 ERA
Fister was phenomenal once he came to the Tigers from the lowly Mariners at the trade deadline, going 8-1 in the middle of a pennant race. A full year in Detroit, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder providing more offense than he ever enjoyed in Seattle, should do wonders for his win-loss record (11-13).
Derek Holland, Rangers, rated No. 55
32 starts, 19 of them quality starts;
198 innings pitched, 201 hits against, 162 Ks;
1.35 WHIP, 3.95 ERA
Holland is another hurler who thrived in the spotlight. He’s only 25 and has good enough stuff to replace C.J. Wilson as the Rangers’ ace. Holland won 16 games last year, with four complete-game shutouts, for the American League champs.
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees, rated No. 71
32 starts, 22 of them quality starts;
202 innings, 196 hits against; 161 Ks;
1.21 WHIP, 3.07 ERA
Kuroda is a veteran who knows how to pitch. He’s going to thrive in the middle of the Yankees’ rotation. Twenty-two of his 32 starts last year were quality starts, but he was only 13-16 for a struggling Dodgers team. Those quality starts will translate into more victories in the Bronx.
Aces in the making: Three guys who are not viewed as fantasy aces but who have the ability: the Yankees Michael Pineda (1.10 WHIP, 173 Ks and 133 hits against in 171 innings); the Reds’ Matt Latos (1.18 WHIP, 168 hits against in 194 innings); and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (23 of his 33 starts were quality starts, 1.21 WHIP). …
Buyer beware: Three would-be aces who are coming off arm injuries: the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright; the Marlins’ Josh Johnson; and the Braves’ Tommy Hanson. Wainwright’s always been one of “my guys,” but recovery is a slow process. Careful not to draft too high.
Best guesses, please: How much will the Nationals’ conservative approach to limiting the innings of young pitchers affect Stephen Strasburg’s fantasy numbers? How will Yu Darvish make the transition from Japanese star to a major leaguer worthy of a $60 million deal? Will Ubaldo Jimenez have anyway near the success he had in Colorado two seasons ago, or is he destined for the scrap heap in Cleveland?
Rookies to watch: Wei-Yen Chen of the Orioles, the other Japanese star pitcher to join the majors this year; Jarrod Parker of the A’s, the top prospect Oakland received when it dealt Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks; and Brad Peacock, another high prospect acquired by the A’s in a trade (Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals).
Special bonus: Matt Moore of the Rays is a heavy favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. He’s only eligible at reliever to start the season, but he will be near the top of Tampa Bay’s starting rotation once the season starts. A young hurler with electric stuff who is eligible as a starter or a reliever. It’s the stuff that fantasy championships are made of.
This is the first of eight fantasy baseball reports concerning best market value for each position. Check back for the next edition: relief pitchers.