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Position Profiles: Starting Pitcher

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Maybe it’s the new ballparks. Maybe it’s the end of the Steroids Era. Maybe it’s the evolution of baseball. Whatever the reason, the starting pitcher position in fantasy baseball is extraordinarily deep in 2011. Previous staples like Carlos Zambrano and AJ Burnett aren’t fantasy starters anymore. And several of my sleeper candidates are nowhere near the top 60. What does all this depth mean? It frees you up to take more risks. If an injury risk or prospect fails, there’s plenty of talent to fall back on. The Geek’s strategy with starting pitching is to grab an ace, then fill out the rest of my staff a good deal later with guys who fall through the cracks. I love the arms going in the120-150 range in average draft position. I’m going 60 deep with the profiles because that covers a 5-man rotation in 12-team mixed leagues, but there are really some bargains to be had even after the top 90 pitchers are off the board.

1. Roy Halladay, PHI, SP – He may not have the lowest ERA or the most strikeouts, but no one wins games like Doc. That’s mostly because he leads the league in complete games almost every year.

2. Felix Hernandez, SEA, SP – Unlike Halladay, King Felix is stuck with a bunch of jesters to provide run support. For the most part, Hernandez has improved every full season he’s been in the Majors. It’s scary to think what could be next.

3. Tim Lincecum, SF, SP – For most pitchers, 16 wins with a 3.43 ERA and 1.27 WHIP is a banner year. Not for Timmy. Fantasy owners found out that there are no sure things on the mound. Lincecum finished strong, but 2010’s decrease in velocity is cause for some concern.

4. Cliff Lee, PHI, SP – With Lee, you sacrifice some strikeouts for WHIP. Keep in mind, he missed the beginning of last season and pitched for the gawd-awful Mariners in the first half. He should get back over the 15-win plateau in Philly.

5. Jon Lester, BOS, SP – Prior to last season, Lester had a reputation as a slow starter. In 2010, he came out of the gate throwing cheese and it resulted in 19 wins. Now, with a revamped lineup behind him, this is the year Lester is a clear frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award. If you want to get a little nit-picky, he could stand to cut down on the walks.

6. CC Sabathia, NYY, SP – One of my favorite offseason stories was the one about Sabathia losing weight because he stopped eating Cap’n Crunch cereal. Now, he wasn’t eating a bowl or two. He was spooning down an entire box a day. Can you imagine standing behind him in the supermarket checkout line? A trimmer CC should be a good thing, so expect more of the same from the Yankees’ workhorse.

7. Justin Verlander, DET, SP – 2010 was almost a carbon copy of 2009 for Verlander. The one major difference was his strikeouts. In ’09, he had a ridiculous 269 Ks. That fell to 219 a year ago. Can’t really complain about that. Verlander’s a lock to get you over 200 whiffs with a solid win total.

8. Clayton Kershaw, LAD, SP – So far, owning Kershaw has been a frustrating. Yeah, you’re getting good numbers, but it just feels like he’s capable of more. He’ll only be 23 at the start of the season, so he should be ready to stretch those 6-inning outings to 8 innings. With that, you’ll get more wins and even more strikeouts. Here comes the breakout.

9. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL, SP – Speaking of breakouts, how about that first half for Ubaldo. He was straight filthy. A late-summer regression suggests he was probably pitching over his head a bit. Even dropping to 15 wins and 200 Ks, Jimenez is a top 10 pitcher.

10. Mat Latos, SD, SP – No reason to be “Latos Intolerant” after the first five or six rounds of your draft. With an increase to 200 innings, you should have the NL’s version of Felix Hernandez. The wins won’t be there. The dominance will be.

11. Jered Weaver, LAA, SP – After being dubbed the Halos’ ace after the departure of John Lackey, Weaver took the role by storm. Elevating his K/9 from 7.7 to a whopping 9.4, Jeff’s little brother ascended to uncharted territory. Not totally confident he’ll repeat that dream season, but he’s a legit ace.

12. Josh Johnson, FLA, SP – Reminds me of another Tommy John survivor, Chris Carpenter. The Marlins were careful with their ace, shutting him down early down the stretch last year. That merits your attention in spring training. If Johnson is good to go, he’ll be threat to punch out 200+ with a sub-3.00 ERA.

13. Chris Carpenter, STL, SP – You’ve heard it before: “Top pitcher…when he’s healthy.” Carp will turn 36 in April. If you’ve owned him before, you know that you have to hold your breath every time he takes the mound. Sure, he tossed 235 innings last season. Are you confident he can do it again? I’m not.

14. Tommy Hanson, ATL, SP – Somebody get me a napkin. I’m drooling at all the young talent they’ve collecting in Atlanta. Hanson was terrific in his sophomore season. He had a couple of rough stretches, but those should fall by the wayside with more experience. Also keep an eye on Hanson’s teammate, Mike Minor.

15. Matt Cain, SF, SP – Maybe now that the Giants have won the World Series, they’ll figure out a way to score more runs for Cain. The guy has been lights out, yet he still has a losing record for his career. Bring Cain aboard and he’ll chalk up around 14 wins, 180 Ks and an ERA in the low 3.00s.

16. Cole Hamels, PHI, SP – Overshadowed by new ace, Roy Halladay, Hamels quietly mowed ‘em down in Philly. The wins weren’t there, but the other categories were top-10 caliber. Cole hasn’t been the most consistent pitcher, but with all the competition in that Phillies rotation, he’ll have another nice under-the-radar season.

17. Clay Buchholz, BOS, SP – It’s time. Clay has molded himself into a top-of-the-rotation starter. What’s not to like about a 17-7 record and 2.33 ERA? Buckle up and hold on tight because Buchholz is going to win 20 games. Yeah, I said it.

18. David Price, TB, SP – The stat heads are slashing Price this season. They look at his batting average on balls in play (.270) and his strand rate (78.5) and don’t anticipate a repeat performance. I look at a highly touted pitcher who has room for improvement, so don’t let the peripherals scare you off too much.

19. Roy Oswalt, PHI, SP – Phour Phillies in the top 20? That’s insane. Oswalt put up plenty of 0s on the scoreboard after his trade to Philadelphia. I wouldn’t count on a sub-3.00 ERA again this season and you have to worry about Roy’s back problems, but he’ll be a great #2 starting pitcher on any fantasy staff.

20. Max Scherzer, DET, SP – Sometimes you have to take a step backward before you can take two steps forward. Scherzer was far from a sure thing when he was getting rocked left and right early last season. The Tigers sent him to Triple-A to refocus and did it ever work. He came back a new pitcher, lowering his 7.29 ERA all the way down to 3.50. I like Scherzer to hang onto the momentum he built up in the second half.

21. Zack Greinke, MIL, SP – Greinke got exactly what he needed in the offseason: a change of scenery. Now, he’s in a better league for pitchers with a much better lineup in Milwaukee. That should fuel a strong comeback effort for the talented 27-year-old. This just in: Greinke has a cracked rib will miss his first three starts of the season. Draft him accordingly.

22. Dan Haren, LAA, SP – Dan “First Half” Haren needs a new nickname. In 2010, instead of his usual strong start and late fade, Haren flipped the script by getting crushed in the first few months of the season and pitching well down the stretch. The bottom line is, Haren will end up with solid stats, but he’ll suffer some rough stretches somewhere along the way.

23. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU, SP – I was big on “Magic” Wandy heading into last season. He struggled so much that I actually dumped him in my 12-team mixed league. But I kept a close eye on him and was fortunate to snatch him back up when he started rolling in July. When doing my research, I was surprised to see he’s 32 years old. Doesn’t mean he’s not capable of taking his game to new heights.

24. Jonathan Sanchez, SF, SP – Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn has nothing on Sanchez, who issued 96 free passes in 2010—normally a WHIP killer. But he was what they call “wildly effective,” allowing just 142 hits in his 193 1/3 innings. He’ll need to keep missing bats (1.06 K/9) to maintain his value…because Jonathan “Juuuust A Bit Outside” Sanchez is surely going to keep missing the strike zone.

25. Chad Billingsley, LAD SP – After breaking out in 2008, Billingsley has fallen off a bit. I think practicing a little patience will pay off. Now that he’s fallen off the radar a bit and expectations have been lowered, we could see a re-breakout campaign.

26. Brett Anderson, OAK, SP – 47 1/3 IP, 11 ER. That’s how Anderson finished the season, after dealing with elbow issues. The questionable health has turned Anderson into a post-hype prospect. There’s still a lot to like about this young hurler. Of course, he could blow his elbow out in May and leave you with a gaping hole. Not a pick for the risk averse.

27. Yovani Gallardo, MIN, SP – Only 25 years old, there’s room for improvement here. However, Yovani has yo-yoed his way through the past two seasons, pitching a couple of gems, then getting rocked. Unlike some experts, I’m not convinced this is the year he’s going to break out of the 3.75 ERA/1.300 WHIP range.

28. Francisco Liriano, MIN, SP – Three years removed from elbow surgery, Liriano finally started putting it all together in 2010. I’m not completely sold he’ll take another step forward though. He can be dominant, but he throws too many sliders and has too many short outings mixed in to top 15 wins.

29. Ricky Nolasco, FLA, SP – Nolasco’s one of those second-half guys that’s never been able to get it done of the course of an entire season. His ERA has never mirrored his dominance. Still, you have to like the prospects of a pitcher who struck out 147 batter, while walking just 33 in 157 2/3 innings. Is this the year he turns the corner? The peripherals are too good for him not to, provided he can curb the long balls.

30. Colby Lewis, TEX, SP – Now we’re knee-deep in the pitchers I’m going target. Colby was a bit of an unknown coming into last season after pitching in Japan for two years. So when he had early success, lots of skeptics weren’t buying it. When he helped pitch the Rangers to the World Series, fantasy owners took notice.

31. Jhoulys Chacin, COL, SP – Despite rockin’ it for the Rockies when injuries befell Jeff Francis and Jorge De La Rosa, Chacin was relegated to the bullpen in the middle of the season. When he got another crack at the rotation, he put a death grip on it, yielding 2 runs or fewer in his final 8 starts. Sure, he pitches in Coors Field, but Jhoulys could be a real jewel.

32. Trevor Cahill, OAK, SP – I’m not a big believer in BABIP. Though it’s hard to deny that Cahill was verrrrry fortunate last season. The critics are calling for a statistical regression based on Cahill’s absurdly low .236 BABIP. Yes, I think he will have a hard time keepin up with last year’s pace. I also think he’s a great young pitcher who will still have plenty of success.

33. Brett Myers, HOU, SP – Where did that come from? After three seasons of ERAs in the mid- to high-4.00s, Myers gathered a head of steam and kept if going all season. He pitched at least 6 innings in 32 consecutive starts. I’m worried he’ll revert back to the old Brett Myers, who couldn’t avoid trouble—on and off the mound. He throws a ton of breaking pitches, which is also makes him a bit of a health risk.

34. Brandon Morrow, TOR, SP – Do you ever peg a player for a breakout season, but somehow don’t end up with him on any of your teams? Hate that. I wanted Morrow last season and tried to trade for him a couple of times. No dice. His crazy strikeout rate makes his upside sky-high. Look for him to hone his control a bit more to turn into a more consistent pitcher.

35. Madison Bumgarner, SF, SP – He comes up in June, registers a 3.00 ERA and puts on a World Series ring. Not a bad for a 21-year-old rookie. Bumgarner is surely no bum, yet I feel like there will be some growing pains here. Expect a mid-3.00s ERA, but perhaps a uptick in his strikeout rate.

36. Jeremy Hellickson, TB, SP – I’m buying into the heavy hype. Sort of. Hellickson will fare well in his first year in the rotation. He’ll be better than the pitcher he’s replacing, Matt Garza. The Yankees and Red Sox may knock him down a peg or two, but I think if you draft Hellickson and have reasonable expectations, you won’t be disappointed.

37. Josh Beckett, BOS, SP – What do you do with Beckett? He’s a puzzle wrapped in an enigma twisted into a pretzel. I have no clue which Beckett will show up this season. With good health, you could get the steal of your draft. Or, you could get the next AJ Burnett. As I said, I like to roll the dice. So I’d take Beckett if enough owners are scared off by his inflated 2010 numbers.

38. Shaun Marcum, MIL, SP – A serious arm injury proved to be a mere speed bump for Marcum, who came back strong for the Blue Jays last season. Now a member of the Brew Crew, Marcum should get you around 14 wins with a mid-3.00 ERA and decent strikeouts.

39. Tim Hudson, ATL, SP – And that’s why you never write off crafty veterans. It’s almost like Hudson’s Tommy John surgery was more like the procedure they did on the Bionic Man. His arm was in great shape en route to a 17-win, 2.93-ERA season. Throw out a rocky 2006, and Hud’s been money. He’ll be a solid value yet again.

40. Daniel Hudson, ARI, SP – Back-to-back Hudsons. I have a soft spot for top prospects who tear through the league in their first go-around, despite being largely unproven. Even though they often get lit up in year two, guys like Hudson are ideal for the risk-taking owners out there. (That’s me!) You have to pass up proven commodities to get Hudson, but the dividends can push you to the playoffs.

41. John Danks, CWS, SP – Funny how the best pitcher on a team is only the #3 starter. I’d much rather have Danks than Buehrle and Peavy. Pencil in 15 wins, a 3.60 ERA and 160 Ks. That’s a conservative projection. You may be erasing those numbers for better ones at the end of the season.

42. Neftali Feliz, TEX, SP/RP – At the time of this post, the Rangers are trying Feliz out as a starter. Thus, I feel like he should be ranked accordingly. He says he prefers the closer role, so I’ll also rank him at that position as well. Pitching coach Mike Maddux is attempting to replicate the feat Texas pulled off last year, converting CJ Wilson into a very effective starter. It may not go as smoothly for the young Feliz. Still, the potential to dominate drives his value up.

43. Jorge De La Rosa, COL, SP – I see De La Rosa as a Jonathan Sanchez type. Huge strikeouts, lots of control issues. Sanchez turned the corner last season and De La Rosa should follow in his footsteps.

44. Brandon Webb, TEX, SP – Pay close attention to Webb in spring training. If he makes it through unscathed, you could have yourself a very nice value. He may never win another Cy Young Award, but he can pile up some wins against weak AL West lineups. Newsflash: Webb won’t be ready at the start of the season, and the Rangers aren’t saying when he will make his first start. Puts a damper on Webb’s value.

45. Jaime Garcia, STL, SP – Yet another Tommy John success story. If you scooped this guy up last season, pat yourself on the back. He didn’t get much hype from scouts. He didn’t get any love in drafts. All he got was third in the Rookie of the Year voting. With a small reduction in WHIP, Garcia will follow up his terrific 2010 with more sweet stats, helping fill the void left by Adam Wainwright.

46. Edinson Volquez, CIN, SP – Volquez’s 2010 season was a lost cause, as he attempted to comeback from Tommy John surgery after serving a 50-game suspension. He had his strikeout pitch working, but was wild as a goose. With more time to build up stability in the elbow, Edinson should get his control back and emerge as a good value.

47. Ted Lilly, LAD, SP – Lilly doesn’t get a ton of love from fantasy owners. He is, however, the type of player who is an important cog to a team’s success. Not a lot of flash. Just a lot of quality outings.

48. Matt Garza, CHC, SP – I think what you see is what you’re gonna get with Garza. His win total nearly doubled last season. Though his strikeouts took a big hit. Going to the NL, he should be able to punch out more batters, but he may not get back to 15 wins with the Cubs.

49. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD, SP – Kuroda didn’t corrode a bit last season at the age of 35. In fact, he got stronger. He suffered from the same problem as all the other Dodgers starters: poor run support. Count on a dozen wins and a pretty good ERA and WHIP.

50. C.J. Wilson, TEX, SP – The Rangers’ experiment of moving Wilson out of the bullpen and into the rotation worked like a charm. I’ll be honest. I thought Wilson would run out of gas late in the year as his innings piled up. Turns out, he did struggle in September. But he proved he could go 200+ innings and should have more stamina this season.

51. Phil Hughes, NYY, SP – Heading into the All-Star Break, it looked like the Yankees had a new ace in Hughes. Then the house of cards came crashing down. At the price you’ll pay for this 24-year-old, the potential reward certainly outweighs the risk.

52. Ian Kennedy, ARI, SP – Sleeper alert! This former Yankees prospect is starting to blossom in the Arizona desert. With mild improvement, he’ll be a solid #4 or #5 fantasy starter.

53. Brian Matusz, BAL, SP – Definitely a kid to keep and eye on. This may not be the year he makes “the leap,” but with better bats behind him, Matusz will be worth owning.

54. Johnny Cueto, CIN, SP – Most of the numbers are trending in the right direction, so there’s good reason to think Cueto can improve upon his 3.64 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. You’d think he’d rack up more strikeouts though.

55. Ryan Dempster, CHC, SP – If you were one of the unfortunate owners who started Dempster in your head-to-head playoff in late September, I feel for you. Dempster blew up many teams’ title hopes with a 1 2/3-IP, 9-ER catastrophe that ruined an otherwise effective season. The ERA and WHIP may continue to creep up, but this guy should be a fantasy workhorse again.

56. Carl Pavano, MIN, SP – He’s not a sexy pick, but if you’re set in strikeouts, you could do worse than rounding out your rotation with the Twins’ Opening Day starter. Can’t argue with 17 wins and a 1.19 WHIP.

57. John Lackey, BOS, SP – Last year, there was no way I was touching Lackey. The trends weren’t favorable and Fenway is a tough place to pitch. This season, however, Lackey’s stock is rock-bottom, so he presents a good buy-low opportunity.

58. Ricky Romero, TOR, SP – I’m hesitant to jump on the Romero bandwagon. He’s just not high on my list of up-and-comers. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have a stellar minor-league track record like many of his contemporaries. He could deliver as a #5 fantasy starter, but I want to see one more year of improvement before I get on board.

59. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS, SP – If you need to add some strikeout potential to your roster in the latter part of your draft, you may want to take a flier on Zimm. Even though he’s unproven and a year removed from TJ surgery, big things are expected of him in Washington.

60. Javier Vazquez, FLA, SP – Don’t laugh. Isn’t there a chance Vazquez just couldn’t handle pitching in pinstripes. Now that he’s back in a low-pressure situation in Florida, it’s worth a small gamble that he returns to anywhere near his 2009 form. If not, just dump him and move on. No big loss.

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