Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fantasy Baseball: 2011 Starting Pitcher Rankings

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

Fantasy Baseball: 2011 Outfielder Rankings

Our top three fantasy outfielders in 2011 are the same top three fantasy outfielders that most other sites have in their top three. However, I've seen all three in the top spot at a relatively even split. In an ideal world, I'd like to get my No. 1 outfielder as the third outfielder off the board.

Here are our top 50 outfielders in fantasy baseball for 2011:

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers: Although Braun hit a career-low 25 home runs in 2010, he has 90-plus runs, 97-plus runs batted in and 14-plus steals every year. Plus, he has hit .300-plus in three out of four seasons.

2. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: What a breakout season it was for Gonzalez! Despite missing 15 games, he finished with a line of .336-111-34-117-26. As solid as he was across the board, CarGo played much better at Coors Field (.380, 26 homers, 76 RBIs) than on the road (.289, eight homers, 41 RBIs) in 2010.

3. Carl Crawford, Red Sox: Crawford set career highs in runs scored (110), home runs (19) and runs batted in (90) last year in Tampa. In the past five years, Crawford has hit over .300 four times. And with the exception of his 109-game season in 2008, Crawford has stolen 46-plus bases every year since 2003.

4. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: Excluding his .290 batting average in his rookie season (.290), Holliday's full-year batting averages have been .300-plus every year. While he's unlikely to ever steal 28 bases again (as he did in 2008), Holliday will help in all counting numbers to the tune of roughly 95-100 runs, 100-110 runs batted in, 25-30 homers and 10-15 steals.

5. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Other than a small year-over-year increase in home runs (26 to 28), Kemp's numbers declined across the board in 2010 from 2009. After three straight seasons hitting .290-plus, his average plummeted to .249. In addition, he saw year-over-year declines in runs scored (97 to 82), runs batted in (101 to 89) and stolen bases (34 to 19).

6. Josh Hamilton, Rangers: When projecting Hamilton's fantasy value, the first thing you need to take into consideration is the number of games you expect him to play. Even so, he can be highly productive when he misses plenty of games as he proved last year by being named the A.L. MVP despite missing almost 30 games.

7. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: In 2010, three players hit .300-plus, hit 20-plus home runs and stole 20-plus bases: Florida's Hanley Ramirez, Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez and Choo. For Choo, he's done so in back-to-back seasons (his only two where he has played 100-plus games).

8. Nelson Cruz, Rangers: Over the past two seasons, Cruz has missed 88 games but he still managed to hit 55 home runs and steal 37 bases during that span. That's a 162-game pace of 37 home runs and 25 steals.

9. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: Upton, the number one overall draft pick in 2005, is still only 23 years old and undoubtedly has plenty of upside. Over the past two years, Upton have averaged 21.5 home runs and 19 steals despite averaging only 135.5 games. With good health, Upton should easily reach 20-20 with the potential for 30-25.

10. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: Like Justin Upton, McCutchen was a high first-round pick in 2005 and has plenty of upside. As a 23-year-old, McCutchen finished with a line of .286-94-16-56-33. Since he'll start the season batting third in the Pirates' lineup, McCutchen should see his RBIs increase by a significant amount over last year's 56.

11. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: Since Ichiro won't help you in home runs and runs batted in, his value is tied to how well he performs in the batting average and steals categories. Over the past four seasons, he's had two seasons with .350-plus batting averages and two seasons with 40-plus steals. Only if he could do both in the same season (which he hasn't since 2001 and likely won't) ...

12. Jayson Werth, Nationals: Werth will play half of his games in Washington instead of Philadelphia, which is a bit of a concern, in 2011. That said, I can see a season of .275-100-25-100-15 (or close to it) for Werth.

13. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Although there's virtually no chance that he duplicates his 54-homer performance from 2010, Bautista could hit 35 or so homers with 100 runs batted in. Even better, he also has position eligibility at third base.

14. Jason Heyward, Braves: Heyward, who will turn 22 years old in August, hit .301 after the All-Star break in his rookie season last year. This spring, Heyward has been hitting the ball well (.356 average over 18 games). I see a line of .290-90-25-90-10 for Heyward in 2011.

15. Hunter Pence, Astros: Pence set career highs in runs scored (93), runs batted in (91) and stolen bases (18) in addition to tying his existing career high in home runs (25) in 2010. With a solid average (career .287 hitter), Pence should help in all categories at a very fair price.

16. Alex Rios, White Sox: There were 38 outfielders that hit 20-plus home runs in 2010. There were 15 outfielders that stole 30-plus bases in 2010. There were only two that did both -- Rios and Cincinnati's Drew Stubbs. The worry about Rios is his inconsistency and 15 (of his 21) home runs and 23 (of his 34) stolen bases came before the All-Star break.

17. Andre Ethier, Dodgers: Ethier got off to a hot start (.392 average, 11 homers and 38 runs batted in through 33 games) before fracturing his right pinky finger, which he feels bothered him after he came back too soon from the injury. He still managed to finish the season with a .292 average, 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in despite missing 23 games.

18. Mike Stanton, Marlins: Between Double-A and the Marlins, Stanton hit 43 home runs and 111 runs batted in combined. Stanton has big-time power and could come close to hitting 40 homers in his first full season in the big leagues. (Take our poll on how many home runs Stanton will hit in 2011.)

19. Jay Bruce, Reds: Bruce, who will turn 24 in April, hit .281 -- .338 from August to October -- with 25 home runs last season. As's John Schlegel points out, Bruce has hit more home runs (68) than any other player his age and he ranks 41st all-time for most home runs in his first three seasons.

20. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: As the Red Sox leadoff hitter, Ellsbury should hit for a good average and rack up a ton of steals and runs. If you're a glass-half-empty kind-of guy, he won't do much to help in the power categories.

21. B.J. Upton, Rays: In the past two seasons, Upton has hit .241 or less. On a positive note, however, Upton has stolen 40-plus bases for three consecutive seasons. In addition, he hit 18 home runs last year while setting a career high in doubles (38). Had a couple of those doubles been homers, he would have been the only 20-40 outfielder last season.

22. Delmon Young, Twins: Young, baseball's top overall draft pick in 2003, hit nearly .300 (.298, to be exact) while setting career highs in home runs (21) and runs batted in (112) last year.

23. Chris Young, Diamondbacks: Young set career highs in runs scored (94), runs batted in (91), stolen bases (28) and batting average (.257) while belting 27 home runs. Provided the composition of your team will help you withstand the negative impact Young will have on your team's batting average, Young will help you all other categories.

24. Shane Victorino, Phillies: From 2006 to 2009, Victorino hit .281 or better every season. Although his batting average slipped to .259 in 2010, it was also the only season since 2006 in which his BABIP was below .300. Expect a bounce-back in average for the Flyin' Hawaiian, who has averaged 92 runs, 14 homers and 33 steals over the past four seasons.

25. Drew Stubbs, Reds: While Stubbs won't help any in batting average, Stubbs was one of only two outfielders to hit 20-plus home runs and steal 30-plus bases in 2010, as noted above.

26. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
27. Corey Hart, Brewers
28. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
29. Nick Markakis, Orioles
30. Carlos Lee, Astros
31. Torii Hunter, Angels
32. Bobby Abreu, Angels
33. Adam Jones, Orioles
34. Michael Bourn, Astros
35. Ben Zobrist, Rays
36. Juan Pierre, White Sox
37. Carlos Quentin, White Sox
38. Vernon Wells, Angels
39. Brett Gardner, Yankees
40. Nick Swisher, Yankees
41. Aubrey Huff, Giants
42. Grady Sizemore, Indians
43. Jason Bay, Mets
44. Rajai Davis, Blue Jays
45. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
46. Carlos Beltran, Mets
47. Chris Coghlan, Marlins
48. Denard Span, Twins
49. Manny Ramirez, Rays
50. Tyler Colvin, Cubs

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 infielders: C - 1B - 2B - SS - 3B