Clearing The Bases: Going 9 Fantasy Baseball: Top 25 Starting Pitchers

This may be my favorite time of the season. Pitchers and catcher have reported. Instead of the anticipation, we have actual baseball action. We can start to dream about warm summer days watching a ballgame in the backyard and having a barbecue. Some of my favorite times. Speaking of favorite times, draft day. For me it’s like Christmas morning, when I draft a player, that is my gift. With that in mind we’re going to rank my each position starting with my top 25 starting pitchers. Now these rankings are designed for 5×5 mixed leagues, since those are the ones the majority of fantasy owners play in.

Mark Healey and I spoke to Jim Duquette, (MLB Network Radio) about the Marlins, on “Going 9 Fantasy Baseball” this past Saturday and he let us know that while Miami ace Josh Johnson should be healthy going into the season, he may not be the horse he used to be in past years.

On Sunday, we spoke to Bill Ivie of I70Baseball.com who relayed news that Adam Wainwright, he who had Tommy John surgery last season, was considered healthy enough to be activated last September 1 so he could be placed on the post-season roster. Should tell you all you need to know about his health going into this season.

These are the kind of nuggets fantasy owners should be dying to find out. I know that I would certainly feel more comfortable drafting Wainwright now. Whether or not he makes my top 25, you will have to keep reading.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit: Not much more can be said about Verlander’s 2011 season. Simply magnificent. While I may be worried about the defense around him, his 250Ks in 250.1 IP eases those concerns somewhat. It’s unlikely that he can approach the same gaudy numbers, 24 wins, .920 WHIP, but would anyone really be surprised if he does?

2. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia: Halladay is the definition of consistency. He’s had four straight seasons of at least 17 wins, an ERA of less than 2.80, 200 plus Ks, and a WHIP less than 1.127. All of this while pitching in hitter’s ballparks. Imagine what he might do if the deck was stacked in his favor.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: We’ve known that Kershaw was a good pitcher for a couple of seasons, well in 2011 Kershaw let it be known that he can be great. 21 wins for the Dodgers to go along with a 2.28 ERA and .977 WHIP has fantasy owners salivating for an encore performance.

4. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia: Lee’s first full season in the National League was even better than his half season in 2009. His ERA was lowered by almost a run, WHIP by .103, even his strikeout rate was higher. No wonder why he finished third in the CY Young voting.

5. Jered Weaver, Angels: What else can be asked of Weaver? For the third straight season his ERA, WHIP, and BAA all went down. He had 18 wins to go along with 200 Ks and the addition of Albert Pujols to the lineup could make life even easier for him this year.

6. Felix Hernandez, Seattle: Kudos for the BBWAA for giving the Cy Young to Hernandez in 2010 and not holding his lack of wins against him, problem is as fantasy owners we can’t do the same. King Felix is certainly one of the best pitchers in MLB, but starting pitchers already only hit four o the five categories we need (no saves) and his lack of wins now make him a 3.5 cat player.

7. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco: I’ve never had Lincecum on any fantasy team of mine and although it’s true that I usually wait until later in my drafts to select pitchers, I’m also waiting for Lincecum’s arm to fall off with that delivery of his. That being said it wouldn’t really bother me if I did end up with him on a team or two this season.

8. Dan Haren, Angels: Haren posted the best numbers he ever had in the American League last season. With a WHIP of 1.024, 3.17 ERA, 16 wins and 192 strikeouts there is even room for improvement.

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees: With the Yankee lineup you know the wins will be there for CC, 18 is almost guaranteed, it’s the peripheral numbers we will look at. Sabathia’s ERA of 3.00 was the lowest he’s had as a Yankee but his WHIP of 1.226 the highest as CC was good at wriggling out of trouble. Sometimes it looks like Sabathia gets bored on the mound as the Yanks can give him plenty of run support to work with and he pitches to the score. This is good for the Yankees, but sometimes not to good for fantasy owners.

10. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia: This is a contract year for Hamels, one that could net him a nine figure contract. Will he rise to the occasion? I’m betting yes. Hamels K/9 slightly declined last season but that could also be the reason why his control improved as he seems to have learned that you don’t need to strike everyone out, it’s okay to let them hit the ball from time to time.

11. Jon Lester, Boston: Insert chicken and beer one-liner here. Lester will be primed to rebound off a porous September. New manager Bobby Valentine will see to that. Like with the Yankees, we know he will get the run support, just be nice to see Lester find the 40 plus Ks he lost last season.

12. David Price, Tampa Bay: The second half of this list is dominated by Rays. Price is the ace now, as well he should be. Price’s ERA of 3.49 was higher than expected, but his WHIP of 1.137 is right in line, he’s walking less, striking out more, and pitched the most innings of his career, me likey.

13. Matt Cain, San Francisco: Cain, like Hamels, is pitching for a contract, one with lots of zeroes. Cain, unlike Hamels, pitches in the grand canyon, and can afford to make mistakes. Out of all of Cain’s numbers, the one he can’t control is getting the W. The Giants don’t score many runs and seem to score even less with Cain on the mound. No real statistical reason, just bad luck.

14. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee: For all intensive purposes Gallardo had the best season of his career in 2011. Best WHIP 1.215, ERA 3.52, Wins 17, Ks 207, IP 207.3, even his fastball averaged the highest velocity 92.69. I’m worried about the Brewers offense though, losing Prince Fielder for the entire season and Ryan Braun for a possible 50 games, put more pressure on the entire pitching staff.

15. James Shields, Tampa Bay: Big game James pitched well in more than just big games last season. Shields had career best numbers across the board last season including a ridiculous 11 complete games. Why do I still have my doubts about him?

16. Zack Greinke, Milwaukee: It should come as no surprise that Greinke’s first season in the National League was a positive one. His 3.83 ERA leaves something to be desired but it’s hard to complain about any of his other peripherals.

17. C.J. Wilson, Angels: You have to think a change from pitching in Texas, where the ball flies out of the park to a more pitcher friendly environment in Los Angeles, should only help Wilson. This converted reliever has proven most of wrong. Who would’ve thought he would become one of the better starters in baseball?

18. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis: Carpenter has averaged 221 IP over the past three seasons and that seems to be a concern to the Cards “new” management team this season as they have already let it be known that they will limit his pitches this spring training and could limit his innings this season.

19. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay: Hellickson had an impressive rookie season with a 2.95 ERA, 1.153 WHIP to go along with 13 wins. His strikeout totals are never going to impress but that shouldn’t stop you from drafting him.

20. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis: Without that comment from Bill Ivie there is no way I would’ve placed him on this list. Now I do so confidently.

21. Michael Pineda, Yankees: Joining the Yankees will surely cause his ERA and WHIP to rise slightly, but the added Ws should more than make up for it. The trade to New York also puts him in the top 25.

22. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay: If not that the Rays usually handle their young pitchers with kid gloves and could limit his innings or shut him down in September he would be much higher on this list and most likely will be next season. Moore throws 95 MPH plus with ease. He will K a ton and not be afraid of the AL East competition.

23. Stephen Strasburg, Washington: Everything I just wrote about Moore could be placed in this spot as well. Next season he will be much higher on this list, I’m just wary of the Nats having a pitch count on Strasburg, and how I expect them to shut him down after 160IP.

24. Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds: Line Pineda, Latos goes from a major hitters ballpark to one of the best hitter’s park in the majors. How will this affect his performance? We know his ERA and WHIP will jump, but will he win enough games to make up for it?

25. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers: I know many rankings have him much higher, but I’ve yet to see a Japanese pitching import come over and dominate, and until I do, I’ll advise caution.

George┬áKurtz is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, and is the co-host of “Going 9 Fantasy Baseball” on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210 / XM 87). His published work can also be found at RotoWire.com and Seamheads.com.