As I write this, it's Day One of my annual trip to Glendale, Ariz., to see the Dodgers in all their spring training "glory." It's not so glorious around the Dodgers these days, as you might have heard, but the 30-degree bump in weather coming from my home in Reno, Nevada, plus the crack of the bat puts all that aside. Tuesday, I saw home runs from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Not exactly big news, but mix in Tony Gwynn Jr. going deep off of Takashi Saito and, later, Aaron Miles off Eulogio De La Cruz, and the trip may have already reached its Twilight Zone moment. Anyway, this piece is about pitching, so let's commence with something I'd like to do annually – we'll call it "Regan's Top 10s (or close to it)."
Top 10 Fantasy Starters
Roy Halladay, Phillies – I wouldn't take him in the first round of a 12-team mixed league draft, but he's easily the top guy on my board. The Phillies are the odds-on favorite to win another World Series and Halladay will be a big part of the equation. Halladay turns 34 in May, but he's yet to even show a hit of a decline.
Felix Hernandez, Mariners – The offense and bullpen look to be beyond anemic, but the infield defense behind Hernandez could be the best in baseball. The outfield looks pretty good too, but just HOW is this team going to score runs barring Justin Smoak suddenly channeling Lou Gehrig?
Jon Lester, Red Sox – Back-to-back 225-srikeout seasons, and he just turned 27. He'll get Sabathia money if the Red Sox ever let him hit the open market.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – Kershaw is going to win a Cy Young sometime in the next five years. It's just a question of which uniform he'll be wearing – Dodger Blue or Pinstripes. All depends on the LA ownership situation. The only question surrounding Kershaw coming into last year was his command. He answered that with a 3.0 BB/0 after the All-Star break. He turns 23 later this month.
Tim Lincecum, Giants – Lincecum had some issues with his mechanics and velocity at times last year, but ultimately he wound up leading the NL with 231 strikeouts while winning 16 games. Expect more of the same in 2011.
Jered Weaver, Angels – Last year's strikeout king turned 28 in October and should easily improve upon his 13-12 record from a year ago.
CC Sabathia, Yankees – Now has an elite bullpen AND a strong offense supporting him.
Cole Hamels, Phillies – I talked at length about Hamels last week, so I'll just repeat his post-break 2010 numbers: 2.23 ERA, 104:22 K:BB in 96.2 innings. He's five years younger than Cliff Lee and might already be better.
Cliff Lee, Phillies – Had to have him here somewhere.
Mat Latos, Padres – The wins might not be there consistently, but the Padres are set to take the gloves off this year and let him go 210-plus innings. The net result could be 230 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA. After the break last year, Latos posted a 90:22 K:BB in 78 innings. The sky is the limit. There are certainly safe guys (Matt Cain, Cliff Lee, etc.) to take this early, but I just wanted to underscore how impressed I am with this guy.
6 Pitchers Who Will Outperform Expectations
Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies – The home/road ERA splits (3.98/2.44) are a bit concerning, but Chacin possesses the stuff to be a legitimate No. 2 to Ubaldo Jimenez's No. 1. First off: 138 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. Second, a strong minor league track record. Third and last, a 2.24 ERA after the All-Star break last year. With less of a stigma attached to Coors Field pitchers these days, Chacin should be on all radars.
Colby Lewis, Rangers – Lewis came over from Japan with little fanfare last year, but proceeded to post a sub-4.00 ERA with 196 strikeouts. A slight regression wouldn't be a big surprise, but neither would Lewis outperforming a pitcher like Roy Oswalt. You don't strike out nearly 200 batters by accident.
Scott Baker, Twins – THIS is the year … no really … well, maybe.
Tommy Hanson, Braves – His stuff is just too electric to not put him on one of these lists.
Chris Narveson, Brewers – He was once a top prospect with the Cardinals, though that was seven years ago. Maybe he's just a late bloomer. Narveson made 14 starts after the All-Star break last year, delivering a 3.89 ERA in 81 innings with a respectable 66:24 K:BB. NL-only leaguers take note.
Ervin Santana, Angels – Sort of the forgotten man behind Dan Haren and Jered Weaver. It wouldn't shock if he was the team's second-best starter this year.
10 Who Will Regress
For this category, it's almost cheating to look at prior-year ERA versus a metric such as xFIP that measures how a pitcher SHOULD have pitched based on component metrics (K/9, BB/9, HR/9) and writing up the outliers. I'll try and avoid that here.
Justin Masterson, Indians – Former second rounder gets sleeper attention for 8.3 and 7.0 K/9s the last two years, but his splits are a bit scary - .290/.370/.414 vs. LHP and 103 points of OPS lower versus RHP. At least that was better than the near-300 point spread in 2009. He also can't seem to pitch on the road, making him at this point a one-trick pony.
Tim Lincecum, Giants – I already talked about Lincecum as one of the game's top fantasy pitchers, but we saw a few chinks in the armor a year ago – fewer strikeouts, more walks and a drop in velocity. Lincecum's stuff is still well above average and he hides the ball well, so he'll continue to be very good, just not 2008 good perhaps.
Trevor Cahill, A's – Further development will at least partially offset the coming regression, but in many leagues, look for Cahill to be overdrafted based on his 18 wins and 2.97 ERA. Those solid numbers help mask a 5.4 K/0 and .238 BABIP, so an ERA a full run higher wouldn't surprise.
Jeff Niemann, Rays - Niemann's 2010 second half ERA of 7.69 should raise red flags all over the place, particularly given his injury history. He's stayed healthy enough to amass 59 starts the last two years, but he's not a pitcher to buy in 2011.
C.J. Wilson, Rangers – From 73.2 innings as a reliever in 2009 to 204 last year (not counting the playoffs), Wilson is a prime risk for arm troubles. I'm also not fond of the 4.1 BB/9 and the unfriendly confines of his home park, so put a "stay away" label here.
Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies – De La Rosa's walk rate held steady at a mediocre 4.1 last year, but his strikeout rate dipped to 8.4 K/9 and a finger injury limited him to 20 starts. He does do a good job inducing ground balls, but it's still not certain that he's not going to disappoint again.
Edinson Volquez, Reds – Post-Tommy John the stuff was still there in 2010 (9.6 K/9), but he had some really ugly starts and finished with a 5.0 BB/9 in his 62.2 innings. It looks like he's headed down the path of Francisco Liriano in taking extra-long to recover from surgery. If you can afford to be patient however, the rewards could be significant.
Dallas Braden, A's – If he has a sub-3.60 ERA again, I'll take up MMA. Maybe I just need to see more of him, but I'm skeptical of a guy whose fastball travels slower than I average on Interstate 5.
Brett Myers, Astros – Maybe I just don't like guys who beat their wives, but I do find it interesting that FanGraphs rated Myers' fastball as the sixth least effective among all big league starters last year. Now, his breaking stuff was well above average, but I also have to wonder how playing for a terrible franchise is going to affect him in 2011.
Dan Haren, Angels – His component numbers took a slight dip last year, and he threw more pitches (3,749) than any player in baseball. He'll still be solid, but perhaps one or more of the three teams that has traded Haren in the last six years knows something.
10 Set-up Men to Watch
Jordan Walden, Angels – Upper-90s gas and Fernando Rodney as the closer. Walden does have Kevin Jepsen as another competitor for saves, but in the long (or short?) run, this is the Angels closer.
David Hernandez, Diamondbacks – The D-backs have J.J. Putz to close, but if the old injury-prone Putz resurfaces, Arizona will need to turn to Juan Gutierrez or Hernandez. The latter has taken well to his new role as a reliever, recording an 8.2 K/9 a year ago. He also allows too many flyballs and walks (4.8 BB/9), but Hernandez did show improvement as the year progressed.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds – It's not because I have him as a keeper in my Scoresheet League where starters have a ton of value, but the Reds are wasting his talents in the bullpen. No, he's not going to throw 105 mph consistently, but if the Reds leave him in the pen, he's likely to eventually get the ball in the ninth. How about Chapman in the rotation and Homer Bailey as closer?
Tony Sipp, Indians – Apparently the Indians figured 2011 was another write-off year, as they failed to address any of their holes in the pitching staff. For the bullpen, that leaves Sipp as the likely closer-in-waiting behind Chris Perez. Sipp struggled with his command (5.6 BB/9) and with the long ball (1.7 HR/9) in 2010, but he has shown some signs (career 10.2 K/9) of being a potential closing option in the past.
Jeremy Jeffress, Royals – Alleged affinity for a green leafy substance has set Jeffress' career back a bit, but he still reaches the upper 90s and is just 23. If Joakim Soria is traded or get shurt, Jeffress could be in a position to close, and with his stuff, he could be great.
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers – You may remember him as a catcher for Team Netherlands in 2009. Incredibly, a year later, he was pitching in Los Angles and reaching the mid-to-upper 90s while striking out 41 batters in just 27 innings (13.7 K/9). He's still in need of some polish, but keep an eye on the reliever who could be Jonathan Broxton's successor.
Daniel Cortes, Mariners – Talked about him last week, but I'll just re-iterate that I'm less than impressed with Brandon League, and David Aardsma (rib) is still hurt.
Tyler Clippard, Nationals – Drew Storen might not be ready to close come Opening Day, and Clippard struck out 102 in relief a year ago.
Joel Peralta, Rays – Kyle Farnsworth and Jacob McGee are ahead of Peralta on the pecking order, but while it's easy to be skeptical of the 34-year-old's 2.02 last year, there may be an opportunity for a few vulture wins and saves.
Bobby Parnell, Mets – Parnell was impressive last year after opening the season in Triple-A, and with the Mets needing to cut payroll, it's easy to see them doing whatever it takes to avoid Francisco Rodriguez's $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 to kick in. Note: option vests with 55 games finished.
10 Top Rookie Call-Ups
Assuming Michael Pineda, Kyle Drabek and Mike Minor all open in their respective rotations …
Julio Teheran, Braves – I don't care how young he is, and neither do the Braves. He's the best pitching prospect in the game, and he's opening in Triple-A. I might even stash him in year-to-year leagues.
Jordan Lyles, Astros – Lyles doesn't have quite the upside as some pitching prospects, but he's just 20 and split last year between the two highest levels of the minor leagues. He can certainly be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues, perhaps as early as this year.
Jarrod Parker, Diamondbacks – Reportedly recovering well from Tommy John surgery, Parker should make his big league debut this year. He could be the team's top starter by sometime in 2012.
Kyle Gibson, Twins – Like many Twins starters, Gibson features excellent command and middle-of-the-rotation upside. He was a first-round pick in 2009.
Zack Britton, Orioles – From what I've seen of Britton (limited to be sure) and the rest of the Baltimore starters, it's pretty clear he's one of their best five. That said, look for The Orioles to wisely delay starting his service time clock.
Simon Castro, Padres – He has the stuff to be their No. 2 or 3 starter by 2012, and we should see him in San Diego this year where he could be a fantasy asset right away.
Jenrry Mejia, Mets – He will head to Triple-A to build stamina as a starter, as the Mets make a good decision here and avoid the temptation to slot him as a reliever for their beleaguered bullpen. Good to see a team looking at the big picture.
Alex White, Indians – White will open in Triple-A, but former No. 1 pick doesn't exactly have the Phillies rotation blocking him. Should be a solid AL-only play once he's up.
Chris Archer, Rays – Key piece of the Matt Garza deal could have the upside of … Matt Garza. Opens in Triple-A.
Zach Stewart, Blue Jays – Not a hard thrower by any means, but he could be just a tick behind Kyle Drabek in time.
Regan is a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.