Fantasy Baseball Focus: AL starting pitchers

Justin Verlander is preparing for another stellar season in 2012. (Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIRE)

The depth of pitching in baseball is at an all-time high. Almost every team seems to have a legitimate ace, with many having more than one. If your strategy is to take position players early, you will see plenty of starting pitching around later, even if you miss out on the top studs. Here is the breakdown of the American League pitchers, along with a handy guide to help you at your draft.

For-sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.

Top ten American League pitchers

1. Justin Verlander, Tigers — 2011 stats: 24-5, 2.40 ERA 0.92 WHIP 250 K

2. Jered Weaver, Angels — 2011 stats: 18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 198 K

3. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees — 2011 stats: 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 230 K

4. Dan Haren, Angels — 2011 stats: 16-10, 3.17 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 192 K

5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners — 2011 stats: 14-14, 3.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 222 K

6. James Shields, Rays — 2011 stats: 16-12, 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 225 K

7. Josh Beckett, Red Sox — 2011 stats: 13-7, 2.89 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 175 K

8. C.J. Wilson, Angels — 2011 stats: 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 206 K

9. David Price, Rays — 2011 stats: 12-13, 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 K

10. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays — 2011 stats: 15-11, 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 178 K

Baltimore Orioles

Jake Arrieta — He has the talent, posting a 2.89 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 332 strikeouts over 336 minor league innings, but he hasn’t been able to translate that success to the majors yet. At 25 years old, there is still time. For this year, he could get you around 10 wins with decent strikeout totals, but his ERA and WHIP will hurt you. Very deep leagues only.

Zach Britton — He started out the year going 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in March/April. Then went 7-10 with a 5.50 ERA and 1.66 WHIP the rest of the way. The 23-year-old has one of the best sinkers in the game and is a big time ground-ball pitcher, which means the strikeout totals are never going to be that high. Not ready for standard leagues yet, but a good option in deeper leagues and one to keep an eye on for the future. Long-term-potential.

Tommy Hunter — He actually lead the league in win percentage back in 2010 going 13-4 (.765). I bet nobody knew that one. Hasn’t topped 130 innings in any of his four seasons, so don’t count on too much production from him this year. His 5 K/9 ratio over his career isn’t much for fantasy either.

Boston Red Sox

Josh Beckett — He had a career year in 2011, posting career lows in ERA and WHIP, as well doing a good job of keeping his finger blisters in check. At age 31, still has a lot left and could be one of those pitchers who gets better as he matures. Will get a lot of run support, a lot of strikeouts and should be a top-10 pitcher in the AL this season.

Jon Lester — He is as consistent a pitcher there is. Over his last four seasons, he has had at least 15 wins, his ERA has been between 3.21 and 3.47 and he has averaged 196 strikeouts. He is durable and will also get a lot of run support. Everyone seems to waiting for him to have a huge breakout year with the stuff he has. 2012 could be it. A for-sure-pick based on his consistency.

Clay Buchholz — After his breakout 2010 season, in which he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, he had an injury shortened 2011. Over 14 starts, he went 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts but is a solid option for wins, ERA and WHIP. Health is a huge concern with him, however.

Daisuke Matsuzaka — Not a very good pitcher and can’t be counted on for fantasy. Do not draft him.

Chicago White Sox

John Danks — After getting better statistically in every category over his first four seasons, he regressed in 2011. An oblique strain, which caused him to miss five starts, certainly played a part in that. He went 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 135 K in 170.1 innings. The White Sox could be a sneaky team this season, so I could see him putting up 16 wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and about 160 strikeouts. A good option in all formats.

Gavin Floyd — He went 12-13 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 151 strikeouts over 193.2 innings last year. He has averaged 195 innings over his last four seasons, so the durability is there. He also keeps the walks to a minimum, which is great for his WHIP. He does give a good amount of home runs, which lead to a higher than average ERA. A solid late-round pick in standard leagues, and a good option in deeper leagues.

Jake Peavy — His injuries in recent years have been brutal. When he is right, he is one of the best, a high strikeout, low WHIP/ERA stud. Still just 30 years old, he can certainly get it together again, and having recently been quoted as being 100 percent healthy, I am putting a sleeper tag on him for 2012.

Chris Sale — The 6’-6”, lefty, who was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010, is going to start the season in the rotation. Over his first two years, he has a 2.58 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 111 K/37 BB over 94.1 innings. He has a high-90s fastball with late sink, a devastating breaking ball and a solid change-up. The only question is how many innings can he go?

Philip Humber — He went 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 116 K in 163 innings last season in his first year as a starter. Was 8-4, 2.88 ERA and 0.97 WHIP through the first three months, then struggled in the second half, showing his stamina wasn’t there yet. Could surprise this year with a full season under his belt.

Ubaldo Jimenez may have fantasy owners sweating out the season if he gets off to a slow start. (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

Cleveland Indians

Ubaldo Jimenez — How do you get worse after you leave Colorado? After his 2010 season, in which he flirted with Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA mark for the better part of the season, he found his new home in Cleveland less comfy. Overall, he went 10-13 with a 4.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 180 K in 188.1 innings. A lot of people will grab him thinking he will rebound, but he won’t, not in Cleveland. The strikeouts will be fine, the ERA and WHIP will be slightly better, but he won’t get any run support. Overrated.

Justin Masterson — He may be a better option than Ubaldo. Went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 158 K in 216 innings last season. The 26-year-old, 6’-6”, 250 lb workhorse is entering his prime and could better his 2011 numbers this year.

Josh Tomlin — He gave up more home runs (24) than walks last year (21) which lead to a very good WHIP (1.07), but not a very good ERA (4.25). He also only struck out 89 batters over 165.1 innings, another strike against him. A good deeper-league option, not good in standard leagues, mostly because of the low strikeout totals.

Derek Lowe — No! Stay away, this guy is done. Lead the league in losses, going 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and 137 K in 187 innings. With that many innings pitched, those numbers will kill you.

Detroit Tigers

Justin Verlander — The best pitcher in baseball, and the first one to be drafted in almost every league. Draft him in the first round if that is your thing, and count on another 20-win season, with great strikeout, ERA and WHIP totals. For-sure-pick.

Doug Fister — After going 3-13 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 89 K/32 BB over 146 innings for the Mariners, he went nuts for the Tigers after the trade. Over his 10 starts, he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 57 K/5 BB over 70.1 innings. While he won’t be that good this season, expect a line of 16 wins, 2.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and around 150 strikeouts. He fell just outside of my top-10 list, but could prove me wrong. Sleeper pick as most people still don’t know who he is.

Max Scherzer — He will get you around 12-15 wins with the offense he has around him, and around 175 strikeouts. He gives up a lot of home runs and hits, however, which will keep his ERA above 4.00 and WHIP above 1.30. A decent option late, a better option in deeper leagues.

Rick Porcello — Low strikeout totals (4.8/9 over his three-year career) keep him from being a good option. He will probably get between 12-15 wins, but will also give you a high ERA and WHIP. He has the talent to be a very good pitcher, and is still just 23 years old, but only a deeper-league option for now.

Jacob Turner (prospect) — He has filthy stuff and is going to be a very good pitcher someday. It just won’t be in 2012. Got rocked around as a 20-year-old last year, posting an 8.53 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over three starts, as the Tigers brought him up way too early. His confidence will be fine, and he could put up decent numbers this year, but will most likely spend some time in the minors and be on an innings count. Long-term-potential, but stay clear this season.

Kansas City Royals

Felipe Paulino — Had a 4.46 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 139.1 innings last year, which was the biggest workload for the 28-year-old. He did post nice strikeout totals, with 133 over those innings, an 8.6 K/9. At 6’-2”, 270 lbs, he definitely has the size to go 200+ innings, and if he does, will be a good option for strikeouts, but not much else.

Bruce Chen — He has now pitched for 10 different teams over his 13-year career, which tells you a little about his value. He did go 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 2011, but he only had 97 strikeouts over 155 innings. Might get 10-15 wins, but not a good option in standard leagues.

Jonathan Sanchez — Control has always been his problem. While he can strikeout a ton of batters (9.4 K/9 over 708 career innings), he also walks 4.8 per nine. Has only logged more than 170 innings once in his career, so durability is also a concern. A nice option for strikeouts in deeper leagues, not a good one in standard leagues.

Aaron Crow — He is going to be starting after coming out of the bullpen his rookie year. The 25-year-old, first-round pick of the Royals in 2009, has terrific stuff but will most likely be on an innings count of around 160 or so. He had a 2.76 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 62 innings in 2011, posting 9.4 K/9, but also 4.5 BB/9. Let him prove he can handle a full season, while also getting his command under control, before you  count on him in fantasy.

Los Angeles Angels

Jered Weaver — Keeps getting better and better with each passing season, and with Albert Pujols hitting in the middle of the lineup, could see his wins increase even more. Went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 198 K/56 BB over 235.2 innings in 2011. Also had four complete games with two shutouts. Will be the second AL pitcher selected after Verlander in most drafts. A for-sure-pick who could be better in 2012.

C.J. Wilson — Followed up a successful 2010 (15-8, 3.35 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 170 K) with an even better 2011, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 206 K. Had a 0.53 ERA and 0.77 WHIP with 14 K 4 BB over 17 innings at Angels Stadium last season. Top-10 pitcher who could put up great numbers in that ballpark, with that lineup.

Dan Haren — Will be the team’s third starter in the rotation, which means he will have the favorable match up every time. Went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 192 K/33 BB over 238.1 innings. Had four complete games with two shutouts. Has averaged 226 innings a year over his last seven seasons, so there are no durability concerns. One of the safest bets out there, and a for-sure-pick.

Ervin Santana — Like Haren, should have the advantage against almost every other fourth-starter he faces this season. Went 11-12 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 178 K/72 BB over 228.2 innings. Will get a lot of innings and a lot of strikeouts while posting more-than-solid ERA and WHIP numbers. You can get him in the later rounds, and he will outperform many guys that go before him. Sleeper.

Minnesota Twins

Francisco Liriano — Regressed last season posting a 5.09 ERA and 1.49 WHIP with 112 K/75 BB over 134.1 innings as injuries took their toll again. The 28-year-old lefty has tons of talent, but just can’t seem to stay healthy or find any consistency. Draft him late, then if his struggles continue, drop him.

Carl Pavano — Not a fantasy pitcher. While he logged 222 innings last year, his 4.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 102 strikeouts will not help your team at all. He also lead the league giving up 262 hits. Deep leagues only.

Brian Duensing — After posting a 2.62 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 130.2 innings in 2010, he had a 5.23 ERA, 1.52 WHIP over 161.2 innings last season, including 7.13 ERA and 1.69 WHIP after the break. His 5.9 K/9 ratio over his career isn’t fantasy worthy either. Not a good option.

Scott Baker — Had a very solid season, posting a 3.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 123 K/32 BB over 134.2 innings before elbow soreness caused him to miss a good chunk of the season. If healthy, will give you nice WHIP and ERA numbers, along with solid strikeout totals. The wins, however, may be hard to come by in Minnesota this season.

New York Yankees

CC Sabathia — Continues to be one of the premiere pitchers in the game and 2012 should be no different. Has averaged 215 innings over his 15-year career. Will get a ton of strikeouts, a low ERA and WHIP, as well as around 20 wins for the Yankees. Top five pitcher in the AL and a for-sure-pick.

Michael Pineda — Moving to a more hitter friendly park after being traded to the Yankees. Had an outstanding rookie year, posting a 3.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 173 K/55 BB over 171 innings. His .206 BAA shows the type of filthy stuff he has at such a young age (23). A sophomore slump is expected, especially with the pressure in New York, but still a very solid option in standard leagues, and a great keeper league pick-up. Long-term-potential.

Ivan Nova — Had a great rookie season, going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP over 165.1 innings last year. However, his 5.3 K/9 isn’t good for fantasy. He will come back down to earth in 2012, and I am putting an overrated tag on him because people will draft him on his win total from last season and not look deeper into it.

Freddy Garcia — has averaged 87 innings a year over his last five seasons, so health concerns are always there. Also owns a 6.4 K/9 ratio over his career, which isn’t fantasy worthy. At 34 years old, seems like he doesn’t have much left. Deeper leagues only as you just don’t know what type of production you are going to get.

Hiroki Kuroda — A solid option in all formats as he gives production across the board. Had a 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 161 K/49 BB over 202 innings for the Dodgers last season. Will be 37 this season but has showed no signs of slowing down. His career home/road ERA splits of 3.48/3.45 show he can pitch anywhere.

Oakland Athletics

Brandon McCarthy — had a breakout year in 2011, going 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 123 K/25 BB over 170.2 innings. His great command, mixed with a very good hitters park, will keep his ERA and WHIP low. His 6.2 K/9 ratio over his career isn’t great, but his numbers make up for it. A very good late-round pick that you can plug in for certain match ups, especially at home where he had a 2.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP over 13 starts last season.

Dallas Braden — Much like McCarthy, he will give very solid ERA and WHIP numbers, but health is a big concern as he made only three starts in 2011 before requiring surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule. Don’t gamble here as there are far better options out there at a deep position.

Bartolo Colon — Had a nice bounce back year in 2011, posting a 4.00 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 135 K in 164.1 IP with the Yankees. At 38 years of age, however, not a good option in most leagues.

Jarrod Parker (prospect) — One of the better pitching prospects in the game. Can dial his fastball up to the high 90s with movement and also owns a nasty curveball. May struggle some his rookie season but is a high strikeout pitcher who will be a top of the rotation guy soon. Long-term-potential.

Brad Peacock (prospect) — Like Parker, has top-of-the-rotation stuff. Went 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 177 K/47 BB over 146.2 innings in the minors last season. Also like Parker, will most likely have his struggles in 2012 but is another kid with long-term-potential.

Seattle ace Felix Hernandez will deliver the goods again despite the Mariners limited offense. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Seattle Mariners

Felix Hernandez — Top-five pitcher in the AL who has averaged 241 innings over the last three years as well as a 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 224 strikeouts and 15 wins. Take him in the first two rounds and count on those same type of numbers for 2012. A for-sure-pick.

Jason Vargas — Will get you 200 innings but not a lot of fantasy production. His career averages of 4.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 5.7 K/9 make him a far better real life pitcher than fantasy one.

Blake Beavan — The 23-year-old had a 3.9 K/9 ratio over 97 innings his rookie season. That is hard to believe for a guy who is 6’-7”, 245 lbs. Not a good option at all until he can up those numbers.

Hisashi Iwakuma (prospect) — Over five seasons in Japan, had a 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 7 K/9 over 780.2 innings. Not sure how that will translate for the 30-year-old. Don’t draft him, wait for him to show something, then pick him up off waivers.

Tampa Bay Rays

David Price — Has increased his workload every year while also increasing his K/9 ratios. One of the premiere lefties in the game, the 6’-6”, 225 lb, 26-year-old is an elite fantasy pitcher. With a very good lineup around him, mixed with a pitcher-friendly park, his overall numbers for 2012 will again have him in elite company. A for-sure-pick.

James Shields — After a terrible 2010, going 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and a league-leading 246 hits allowed, as well as 117 earned runs, he had a phenomenal 2011. He went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 225 K/65 BB over 249.1 innings. He also lead the league in complete games (11) and shutouts (4). Has averaged 221 innings over the last five season. May not duplicate last season but should still finish among the top-10 pitchers in the AL.

Matt Moore (prospect) — The best pitching prospect in the game. Had a 2.67 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 12.7 K/9 over 497 career minor league innings. Can reach the upper 90s with ease on his fastball and owns one of the better curveballs out there. Struck out 11 Yankees over five innings in his last start of 2011 for the Rays. Not a for-sure-pick yet, but definite long-term-potential and a future perennial Cy Young candidate.

Jeremy Hellickson — Went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 2011. Only had 117 strikeouts over 189 innings, but the other numbers make up for it. Does walk a lot of guys (72 last year), but held opponents to a .205 BA, which will keep his WHIP down. A solid mid-to-late round pick in standard leagues.

Jeff Niemann — Will give you decent numbers across the board but not a very good option in standard leagues. May split starts with Wade Davis as the depth of the Rays rotation is ridiculous.

Texas Rangers

Colby Lewis — A high strikeout pitcher who doesn’t walk a lot of guys. He did lead the league in home runs allowed last year (35) which won’t help the ERA. With the lineup around him, he should be good for 15-18 wins with decent ERA and WHIP numbers to go with around 175-190 strikeouts. A solid option in standard leagues.

Yu Darvish (prospect) — No one is sure how is success will translate to the majors. His talent and repertoire are unquestioned as he can throw about 10 different pitches from all angles. He is being taken anywhere from the fourth round to the eighth round in drafts I have seen. High risk/high reward as we just don’t know.

Derek Holland — Like Lewis, will give you decent ERA, WHIP and strikeout totals along with around 13-16 wins. Another solid, late-round pick in standard leagues.

Neftali Feliz — Starting after spending three years coming out of the bullpen as one of the better closers in the game. Owns a 2.55 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 over 162.2 career innings. His fastball can touch triple-digits, but how long can he sustain it over the course of a season remains to be seen. Will most likely be on a strict pitch and inning count this season. Another high-risk/high-reward pick.

Matt Harrison — Similar to Lewis and Holland. Will get you solid numbers across the board. Won’t hurt you in any category, but also won’t carry you in any either. Another nice, late-round pick in deeper leagues.

Toronto Blue Jays

Ricky Romero — Is turning into one of the better pitchers in the game. The 27-year-old lefty gets better every year despite pitching in the AL east. Had career highs across the board going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 178 strikeouts over 225 innings. Also had four complete games and two shutouts. A bit of a sleeper pick in my eyes because he gets left out of the conversation among the best pitchers, while putting up similar stats.

Brandon Morrow — Owns a 10.1 K/9 ratio over his five-year career. Will get you 10-13 wins with decent ERA and WHIP numbers, but his value is in his strikeouts. He had 203 over 179.1 innings last season. A nice, late-round pick if you need some Ks.

Bret Cecil — Not a strikeout pitcher, and hasn’t put up good ERA or WHIP numbers over his career to make up for it. Only useful in deep leagues.

Henderson Alvarez (prospect) — Showed great poise and control during his rookie season last year. The 21-year-old had a 3.53 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 40 K/8 BB over 63.2 innings. Not worthy of a draft pick in most formats but one to keep an eye on .

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