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Mound Musings: Top 100 Starting Pitchers

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

It's time for my annual Top 100 Starting Pitchers list.

A few notes about the list:

It's slanted toward standard 5x5 roto leagues.

It's more a list for non-keeper formats.

Pretty simple. I started with the RotoWire standard cheatsheet and moved guys up and down as I saw fit. I'm slotting Neftali Feliz as a starter because that's where I think he ultimately ends up come April, though I'm open to being proven wrong. A healthy Adam Wainwright likely ranks No. 2 on this list, but an out-for-the-year Wainwright won't be drafted outside of keeper leagues.

The Top 50

1. Roy Halladay, PHI -
I suppose I should find something negative to say about the reigning NL Cy Young winner who finished with a 1.1 BB/9. How about workload? - 239-plus innings in each of the last three seasons. Are you going to bet against him though? Not me.

2. Felix Hernandez, SEA -
Incredible to think he's two years younger than Tim Lincecum but has more than 330 more big league innings. Can he top last year, though?

3. Jon Lester, BOS -
Projecting him to lead the AL in strikeouts and wins. Yeah that's probably a guy you want to target.

4. Clayton Kershaw, LAD -
Cut his BB/9 to 3.0 after the break. Don't worry about the poor outing on Tuesday - there's hardware in his near future.

5. Tim Lincecum, SF -
If he can cut the walks, he'd jump to a top-three pitcher. Even then, he's still quite good obviously.

6. Cole Hamels, PHI - I've made no bones about it - I love Hamels this year, and he's one guy in whom I do put stock into the "best shape of his life / looks great in camp" story.

7. Cliff Lee, PHI -
A 185:18 K:BB is pretty good folks. Expect a little regression, but only because I'm pretty sure he's somewhat human.

8. David Price, TB -
Please no need to bring up the "but he pitches in the AL East" takes. ERAs last year against AL East opponents: BAL: 0.60, BOS: 2.61, NYY: 4.39, TOR: 0.58. 79:28 K:BB in 93.1 innings versus those opponents as well. At 24 last year, Price saw his average fastball jump two mph to 95.3.

9. Matt Cain, SF -
Three scoreless innings this week should put elbow soreness concerns to bed. Cain is one of baseball's more reliable workhorses and he took a big step forward last year in terms of his control, entering 2010 with a career BB/9 rate of 3.6 but posting a 2.5 mark last season.

10. Dan Haren, LAA -
The fact that at age 30, Haren has been already trade three times is rather curious, but the bottom line for fantasy owners: three straight 200-plus strikeout seasons and a 1.19 career WHIP. You know what you're getting here, particularly in light of his six consecutive seasons of at least 33 starts.

11. Mat Latos, SD -
Probably won't be any pseudo-innings limits for Latos this year, and with his stuff, he could put up Cy Young numbers pitching in the NL West. At 23 coming off a year in which he posted a 9.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9, Latos is poised to become a top-10 fantasy pitcher, if not more.

12. Justin Verlander, DET -
Verlander wasn't quite as good last year as in 2009, as his K/9 rate dipped from 10.1 to 8.8, but his velocity held steady, and Verlander actually saw fewer hard hit balls off his stuff. At 28, he'll be just fine again in 2011.

13. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL -
15-1 with a 2.20 ERA at the break, Jimenez went just 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA the rest of the way. This strikeout rate actually increased after the break, but his walk rate turned the wrong direction. Jimenez's final start was an 8-3-0-0-2-10 gem, so we won't worry. He should be among the league's best again in 2011.

14. CC Sabathia, NYY -
Sabathia has averaged 20 wins and 197 strikeouts in his two years in pinstripes. This year should be interesting, as Sabathia lost a reported 30 pounds in the offseason, a move designed to prevent his troublesome knee (offseason surgery) from becoming an issue later in his career.

15. Josh Johnson, FLA -
I still have that 2007 Tommy John surgery in the back of my mind and shoulder/back injuries limited Johnson to 28 starts last year. That knocks him down somewhat on this list, but if healthy, 200 strikeouts to 50 walks is a potential ratio for Johnson.

16. Zack Greinke, MIL -
Value takes a hit with the rib injury, but he should still be good for 30 starts of sub-3.00 ERA ball. Factor in an excellent offense and a favorable league change and Greinke could be 95 percent of what he was in his Cy Young year.

17. Jered Weaver, LAA -
In 13.1 innings more than he pitched in 2009, Weaver struck out 59 more batters in 2010, actually leading the majors in that category with 233. Weaver is also a flyball pitcher, so adding Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos defensively should help quite a bit.

18. Tommy Hanson, ATL -
Big guy, elite stuff ready for a breakout? If he can refine his command a bit (not that it's awful), Hanson could find himself in the top 10 or 15 on this list come 2011.

19. Shaun Marcum, MIL -
Moving out of the AL East where he posted a very respectable 3.64 ERA, Marcum is a candidate for the 2011 most improved fantasy pitcher with the move to the AL Central. I could easily see 200 strikeouts this year.

20. Max Scherzer, DET -
A stint in Triple-A caused Scherzer to return to Detroit a changed man, as the ex-Diamondback posted a 2.47 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break. He should easily be a top-20 fantasy pitcher this year.

21. Francisco Liriano, MIN -
Four years after Tommy John surgery, Liriano is finally close to being back to the guy we saw as an in-his-prime Johan Santana at one point. Liriano struck out 201 batters while improving his velocity a full two mph and improving his GB%. Liriano, though, is/was dealing with a sore shoulder this spring, so knock him down a couple notches as a precaution.

22. Tim Hudson, ATL -
He's not a top fantasy pitcher due to the strikeout rate that hovers in the 5.5-K/9 range, but Hudson should again be a solid ERA guy for the Braves and fantasy owners. Where Hudson excels is when batters make contact, as last year, Hudson's 64.1 GB% and 13.6-percent line drive rate were both the league's best.

23. Clay Buchholz, BOS -
Buchholz has increased his velocity in each of the last three seasons, so his so-so 6.2 K/9 remains puzzling. Factor in a low .265 BABIP and I'm a bit worried he'll regress quite a bit this year. On the flip side, he's still just 26, so expect some further development this year.

24. Dan Hudson, ARI -
Nice move by Arizona getting Hudson, a younger, cheaper and better pitcher than Edwin Jackson, the man for whom he was traded. Hudson offers excellent command and the ability to approach 180 strikeouts. He does give up a few flyballs, something that could be troubling in Chase Field, but as a whole, he's a nice sleeper.

25. Roy Oswalt, PHI -
Not a bad rotation when your No. 4 guy posts a 3.50ish ERA with more than 170 strikeouts. Not having to front a rotation any longer could take off some of any pressure Oswalt may be feeling.

26. Chris Carpenter, STL -
Troubles with the long ball hit Carpenter a bit last year, resulting in a near full-run spike in his ERA. He also turns 36 in April and has been dealing with hamstring issues this spring. That said, when healthy, he should be among the league's top hurlers again in 2011.

27. John Danks, CHI -
Guessing the Rangers would take back the Brandon McCarthy-Danks trade if they could. Danks turns 26 in mid-April and appears primed for a career year after setting career highs last year in multiple categories - wins, innings, and strikeouts among them. A 6.9 K/9 isn't among the league's elite ratios, but there's probably a little room for growth in that number.

28. Yovani Gallardo, MIL -
Cut that .340 BABIP down and Gallardo's 2010 looks a bit better. As it was, a 3.84 ERA and 9.7 K/9 aren't too shabby. Just needs to refine command a bit.

29. Ricky Romero, TOR -
3.5 BB/9 isn't great, but Romero did show growth in his peripherals in 2010. At the tender age of 26, he's just getting started.

30. Brandon Morrow, TOR -
I usually make it a rule to really like pitchers who strike out 11 per nine innings. Morrow's command got better as the season progressed, and if he can knock that 4.1 BB/9 down into the 3.5 range, he'll push for top-15 starter status.

31. Chad Billingsley, LAD -
Looking to mix in a changeup more this year, a move that could put him in the top 20-25 fantasy starters. 3.2 BB/9 was a career low.

32. Brett Anderson, OAK -
Elbow problems that limited him to 19 starts a year ago are all that kept me from putting Anderson in my top-20. Upgrades on offense and defense should help Anderson to a career year if healthy.

33. Colby Lewis, TEX -
196 strikeouts does not equal a fluke. He had 1.37 and 0.97 BB/9s in each of his prior two years in Japan, so if he can channel near that sort of control, look out.

34. Trevor Cahill, OAK -
Peripherals do portend a bit of a downfall, but success at a young age gives us some optimism that Cahill will offset some of that decline with future growth.

35. Matt Garza, CHI -
Hard to not like a guy with his stuff escaping the AL East grind. He's just entering his prime.

36. Ricky Nolasco, FLA -
Great peripherals but a high ERA in one year could be a fluke, but Nolasco has done it in back-to-back seasons. Is he this decade's Javier Vazquez or is Nolasco just unlucky? I'll guess the latter and say his ERA threatens to finish less than 4.00 this year. Package that with 180-200 strikeouts and you have a nice bargain.

37. Ted Lilly, LAD -
Lilly has vastly improved his command the last two years, and in his 12-start stint in LA last year, Lilly struck out 77 batters in 76.2 innings. A flyball pitcher, Lilly has to be rooting for Tony Gwynn Jr. to spend significant time in the Dodgers outfield.

38. Philip Hughes, NYY -
A 4.90 post-break ERA derailed Hughes' first full year as a starter, so let's see how he responds in year two. He'll either be a slightly overhyped Yankees prospect but solid No. 3 level starter or, considering he's still just 24, he could take a big step forward this year.

39. Josh Beckett, BOS -
Concussion was a slight setback, but he's my leading candidate for a bounce-back year. Even in an off year, Beckett still had an 8.2 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. Expect both to be better in 2011, particularly the latter metric.

40. Jeremy Hellickson, TB -
I like his skillset quite a bit (elite command, three plus offerings), but let's stop the Greg Maddux comps please.

41. Jonathan Sanchez, SF -
"If only he could improve his command ...". Weren't we saying that about Daniel Cabrera for several years? Sanchez should continue to show flashes of brilliance, but until we see it in the numbers, figure on far too many walks yet again.

42. Javier Vazquez, FLA -
Elbow soreness is worth monitoring, but assuming it's minor, I fail to see anything worse than a sub-4.00 ERA for Vazquez in his return to the Senior Circuit.

43. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD -
Kuroda had his best year stateside in 2010, and after being brought back on a one-year deal, I'd expect more of the same.

44. Ervin Santana, LAA -
The long ball is the only thing holding Santana back from being a top-30 starter, and that's not something that is normally easily correctable. The key now is seeing whether he can post back-to-back solid seasons.

45. Ryan Dempster, CHI -
Hopefully the BB/9 jump (2.9 to 3.6) turns around a bit in 2011. Otherwise, he's a solid mid-round option as a pitcher who increased his strikeout rate a full point in 2010.

46. Ian Kennedy, ARI -
7.8 K/9 was more than I would have expected from him last year and Kennedy should provide more of the same. Won't be a guy who takes a huge leap towards stardom.

47. Travis Wood, CIN -
Minor league numbers actually translated quite well to his 17 big league starts. Pretty sure he wins a rotation spot along with Homer Bailey.

48. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU -
Dealing with a sore shoulder, but that appears minor. Solid reliable option, but considering he's 32, the rebuilding Astros have to consider trading him, right?

49. Jaime Garcia, STL -
Yet another year removed from 2008 Tommy John surgery, I have to wonder if Garcia's 3.5 BB/9 doesn't show some improvement this season. Expect his ERA to top 3.00 this year, but check out that GB% and invest.

50. Gio Gonzalez, OAK -
Just one run in 9.1 innings with a 13:3 K:BB this spring. Opportunity is there for a breakout, but command issues mitigate some of that excitement.

The Next 50

51. Anibal Sanchez, FLA -
Best pitcher in the game who once tore his labrum, if I'm not mistaken.

52. C.J. Wilson, TEX -
Maybe second full year as a starter will allow him to see dip in BB rate.

53. Jhoulys Chacin, COL -
Strikeouts are enticing, but can he do it over 180 innings?

54. Bronson Arroyo, CIN -
Has become surprisingly consistent.

55. Tim Stauffer, SD -
Shoulder issues discovered during the draft are ancient history, as Stauffer has surprised most observers by becoming a legitimate No. 3 level starter. In Petco Park, that's a pitcher worth grabbing. One caveat is that Stauffer accumulated just 100 innings between the rotation and bullpen last season, so it's an open question whether he can handle a starter's workload in 2011.

56. Madison Bumgarner, SF -
Should be interesting to see what he can do over a full year. Expect the Giants to exercise some caution.

57. Neftali Feliz, TEX -
No decisions yet, but all signs point to Feliz joining the rotation.

58. Gavin Floyd, CHI -
Season-long consistency has proved elusive so far.

59. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS -
Has yet to allow a run this spring, but do the Nats limit him to 160 innings and play more for 2012?

60. Joel Pineiro, ANA -
I normally don't target low-K guys, but GB% contributes to solid ERA.

61. Wade Davis, TB -
He's not Hellickson, but he may ultimately be better than Niemann.

62. John Lackey, BOS -
I'm optimistic, but there are simply quite a few pitchers I'd rather invest in.

63. Edinson Volquez, CIN -
Velocity was there, control wasn't in Tommy John surgery return. We'll see what happens in '11.

64. James McDonald, PIT -
Flashes of brilliance, but THAT over 190 innings? TBD.

65. Carlos Zambrano, CHI -
Can't stomach the walks, but he's an interesting pitcher this year.

66. Bud Norris, HOU -
9.3 K/9 but 4.5 BB/9. Like him more in keeper formats, but K's are nice.

67. Brian Matusz, BAL -
Expect strides, but breakout is 2-3 years down the road.

68. Jorge De La Rosa, COL -
Misses bats and induces GBs. Always a nice combination.

69. Clayton Richard, SD -
He's not your typical soft-tossing lefty. K-rate is actually fairly good.

70. Brett Myers, HOU -
Solid reliable arm at this point in his career with above-average strikeout rate.

71. Carl Pavano, MIN -
Has he actually become reliable? I say yes.

72. Brett Cecil, TOR -
1.84 ERA in 34 IP against the Yankees. Could be 15 spots higher on this list last year.

73. James Shields, TB -
Should improve ERA considering 8.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. Homers still an issue, though.

74. Jonathon Niese, NYM -
Has some upside, but expect the Mets to be brutal.

75. Derek Holland, TEX -
Can't imagine he goes to the pen in favor of Neftali Feliz.

76. Homer Bailey, CIN -
Seems to have a lead on a rotation spot but may need strong finish to be secure.

77. Edwin Jackson, CHI -
9.2 K/9 in 11 starts with the Sox last year. Pretty reliable these days.

78. Michael Pineda, SEA -
Looks like he's making the club. Top-5 pitching prospect in the game right now.

79. Derek Lowe, ATL -
Still good for wins, innings and a decent ERA.

80. Brian Duensing, MIN -
Not a big strikeout guy, but solid command and GB% gives him value.

81. Dallas Braden, OAK -
Perfecto aside, he's become a pretty reliable AL-only option.

82. J.A. Happ, HOU -
Command should improve this year, but not the most exciting option, is it?

83. Aaron Harang, SD -
I've lost the love, but I do love his new park.

84. Jake Peavy, CHI -
Let other owners go here, as I'd prefer to see how a healthy Peavy's stuff looks.

85. Kyle Drabek, TOR -
Don't expect greatness this year.

86. Jair Jurrjens, ATL -
Didn't seem right all year last year, but appears healthy now. Nice start on Sunday.

87. Johnny Cueto, CIN -
No longer the upside we saw in him three years ago.

88. Rick Porcello, DET -
Is THIS the year he starts striking guys out? I have my doubts.

89. Mike Pelfrey, NYM -
Will never live up to top-10 draft status, but should settle in as a No. 3 or 4 type.

90. Jeremy Guthrie, BAL -
Old guy in a rotation filled with young guns. Should be last season in Baltimore.

91. Jason Hammel, COL -
Just watched the Rangers dismantle him on Wednesday, but we'll keep him here anyway.

92. Mark Buehrle, CHI -
Good for innings and ERA, but not much else.

93. Tommy Hunter, TEX -
Probably makes rotation, but perhaps only until Brandon Webb is ready.

94. Carlos Carrasco, CLE -
One of the few Indians starters I would actually watch.

95. R.A. Dickey, NYM -
We'll see how flukish THAT was last year.

96. Mike Minor, ATL -
Seems to be Atlanta's No. 5 starter.

97. Randy Wolf, MIL -
I think we'll see a bit of a rebound this year.

98. Randy Wells, CHI -
Has been good enough this spring to win a job.

99. Jeff Niemann, TB -
Hasn't lived up to No. 1 overall pick status but still has value.

100. A.J. Burnett, NYY -
Because someone had to be No. 100. Strikeout potential yes. A pitcher I'd prefer on another owner's team? Yes.

Pitchers Moved Up Quite a Bit From the RotoWire List

Brandon Morrow, TOR
Yovani Gallardo, MIL
Edinson Volquez, CIN
Brett Cecil, TOR
James Shields, TB

Pitchers Dropped Several Slots from the RotoWire List

Ted Lilly, LAD
Ian Kennedy, ARI
Travis Wood, CIN
Tim Stauffer, SD
Jeremy Guthrie, BAL

Pitchers Who Just Missed

Kevin Slowey, MIN
Joe Blanton, PHI
Fausto Carmona, CLE
Jake Arrietta, BAL
Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS

See You Next Year

Stephen Strasburg, WAS - I'm already looking forward to Opening Day 2012.
Adam Wainwright, STL - Monitor recovery and stash in keeper leagues.
Aroldis Chapman, CIN (?) - 105 mph in the pen becomes 96-99 in the rotation. Not bad.
Julio Teheran, ATL - Braves learned lesson with Neftali Feliz. Teheran isn't getting traded.
John Lamb, KC - Best of a quartet of impressive young KC left-handers.
Manny Banuelos, NYY - Too young for pinstripes?

Regan is a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

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