How early should you draft starting pitchers in fantasy baseball?
The answer you get to that question will probably vary quite a bit from person to person, but there is a fairly consistent strategy I've used in drafting my teams. Typically, I will look to add one elite pitcher, a top-five (or so) starter, within the first five rounds. After I draft my "ace," I will look to find one or two solid values in the 10-12 round range (or so) and then a few guys with lots of upside late in the draft.
Here are my top 40 starting pitchers for fantasy baseball in 2011:
1. Roy Halladay, Phillies: In the past three seasons, Halladay has posted sub-3.00 ERAs, struck out 200-plus batters and thrown nine complete games each season. During that span, Halladay has won 58 games, which doesn't include a post-season no-hitter in his first ever post-season start last year.
2. Tim Lincecum, Giants: Through four seasons, Lincecum has struck out 907 batters in 811 innings pitched. That's a career K/9 rate of 10.07. Lincecum, who's averaged 252.3 strikeouts per year over the past three seasons, is 248 away from tying Tom Seaver's record for most strikeouts in a pitcher's first five years during the modern era.
3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: "King" Felix, who is more like a 2(a) in these rankings, won the A.L. Cy Young last year despite finishing with a 13-12 record due to poor run support. Hernandez struck out 232 batters and posted a 2.27 ERA in 249.2 innings last year.
4. Cliff Lee, Phillies: In 2010, Lee walked a total of 18 batters in 212.1 innings pitched, which was a league-best 0.76 walks per nine innings. Not surprisingly, Lee, who struck out 185 batters, led baseball in K/BB ratio (10.28) last year as well. In fact, Halladay, his new teammate, finished second in the category (7.30) while Jered Weaver finished third (4.31).
5. Jon Lester, Red Sox: Similar to Lincecum and Hernandez, Lester and Yankees' ace C.C. Sabathia are 5 and 5(a) in these rankings. In the past three seasons, Lester has posted an ERA under 3.50 each year while compiling a record of 50-23 during that span. In addition, he has struck out 450 batters in 411.1 innings over the past two seasons.
6. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees: By limiting the Cap'n Crunch this off-season, Sabathia was able to shed 25 pounds. Regardless, Sabathia has a 40-15 record in his two seasons in the Bronx with ERAs of 3.37 and 3.18, respectively.
7. Justin Verlander, Tigers: With the exception of 2008 (11-17 and 4.84 ERA), Verlander has won 17-plus games with a sub-4.00 ERA every year since 2006. He has 488 strikeouts in the past two seasons and posted a career-best ERA of 3.37 in 2010.
8. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Kershaw, who just turned 23 years old earlier this month, has finished with a sub-3.00 ERA for two consecutive seasons in addition to setting career highs in wins (13) and strikeouts (212) last year. The sky's the limit for the former high school teammate of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
9. Tommy Hanson, Braves: Hanson, who is only 24 years old, has put up solid back-to-back seasons. In his first full season, Hanson struggled a bit in the first half last year, but he finished strong (2.51 ERA after the All-Star break).
10. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: While 2007 and 2008 were wiped out due to injury, Carpenter has finished with an ERA under 3.50 in his other five seasons with the Cardinals. In the past two seasons, Carpenter has compiled a record of 33-13 and finished with ERAs of 2.24 and 3.22, respectively.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies: In his first 14 starts last year, Jimenez allowed more than two earned runs only once (three earned runs vs. the Blue Jays on June 11th). Before the All-Star break, Jimenez won 15 of his 18 starts and posted an ERA of only 2.20. After the break, he finished with a record of 4-7 and 3.80 ERA. That said, he made year-over-year improvements in strikeouts, wins and ERA in the past two seasons.
12. Josh Johnson, Marlins: Johnson led all of baseball in home runs allowed per nine innings with a ratio of 0.34. Johnson only started 28 games, however, because he was shut down for the last month of the 2010 season. That said, he posted career bests in ERA (2.30), K/9 (9.11) and BB/9 (2.35).
13. Cole Hamels, Phillies: Hamels bounced back nicely in 2010 by posting a career high in strikeouts (211) and a career low in ERA (3.06). And he was even better after the All-Star break (2.23 ERA and 9.68 K/9) and in the post-season (1.20 ERA and 10.20 K/9).
14. Dan Haren, Angels: Haren actually had better splits after he was traded to the American League last year. In 14 starts with the Angels, Haren finished with an ERA of 2.87 and a WHIP of 1.16 (versus 4.60 and 1.35, respectively, with the Diamondbacks). That said, his K/9 rate dropped from 9.00 in Arizona to 7.18 with Los Angeles.
15. Francisco Liriano, Twins: Last year, Liriano bounced back with career highs in wins (14) and strikeouts (201). While switching to Target Field may not be a welcome move for the team's hitters, it helped Liriano set a career low in HR/9 of 0.42, which was the fourth lowest in baseball.
16. Jered Weaver, Angels: Last year, Weaver finished sixth in baseball in K/9 ratio (a career-high 9.35) among qualified leaders. Weaver also set career bests in innings (224.1), strikeouts (233), BB/9 ratio (2.17) and HR/9 ratio (0.92).
17. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: Gallardo, who turned 25 in February, has recorded 200-plus strikeouts and sub-4.00 ERAs in back-to-back seasons.
18. Roy Oswalt, Phillies: After Oswalt was acquired from the Astros, he was 7-1 with an ERA of 1.74 and WHIP of 0.90. While his peripherals were good before the trade (3.42 ERA and 1.11 WHIP), Oswalt was only 6-12 in 20 starts with Houston.
19. Matt Cain, Giants: Who was the "dark horse" candidate for N.L. Cy Young by Yahoo!'s Steve Henson? Considering where I'm asking this question, you surely know the answer (whether you or I agree with Henson or not). Despite having a career ERA of 3.45, however, Cain has an all-time record of 57-62 and has yet to win more than 14 games or strike out more than 186 batters in a season. In other words, I can see Cain finishing with about 15 wins, 180 strikeouts and and ERA of 3.25 (but no Cy Young).
20. Zack Greinke, Brewers: The good news is Greinke should have much better run support when he pitches in 2011 in addition to getting the opportunity to pitch to pitchers (and boost his strikeout rate). That said, we will have to wait to see that as Greinke, who will begin the season on the disabled list, might be out for all of April.
21. David Price, Rays
22. Mat Latos, Padres
23. Max Scherzer, Tigers
24. Brett Anderson, A's
25. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
26. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
27. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
28. Matt Garza, Cubs
29. Tim Hudson, Braves
30. Shaun Marcum, Brewers
31. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
32. Gio Gonzalez, A's
33. Ted Lilly, Dodgers
34. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
35. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
36. Brett Myers, Astros
37. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
38. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
39. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks
40. John Danks, White Sox
Feel free to send fantasy baseball questions to me via Twitter at @EDSBaseball or post them in our fantasy baseball forum.
See our fantasy rankings for everyday players: C - 1B - 2B - SS - 3B - OF