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Mound Musings: Top Keeper 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 only the beginning of May, but if you're in multiple keeper leagues like me, you may already be looking toward 2012. I love lists. I love putting them out there and letting you dissect them, implying that my IQ is in the double-digit range because I ranked so-and-so above so-and-so; and then I come and justify my rankings.

So here you go. My top-50 starting pitcher and top-25 reliever keeper candidates.

STARTING PITCHERS

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Not a free agent until after 2014, so please Yankees fans, stop with the Montero/Banuelos proposals.

2. Tim Lincecum, Giants
Yankees salivating at possible free-agent status after 2012 season.

3. Jered Weaver, Angels
Will Arte Moreno cave in to Scott Boras and give him a seven-year deal at $20-plus million a year? I doubt it. Yankee signing candidate come the 2012 offseason.

4. Jon Lester, Red Sox
Will win a Cy Young sometime in the next three years.

5. Roy Halladay, Phillies
Probably looking for a three-year extension worth $90 million. Phillies might go for that.

6. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
No, he won't be traded because the Dodgers won't make payroll at the end of the month.

7. Cliff Lee, Phillies
Turns 33 in August, but still at the top of his game.

8. CC Sabathia, Yankees
Will opt out and sign a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Yankees.

9. Josh Johnson, Marlins
Signed through 2013.

10. David Price, Rays
Sure would be nice to see him locked up long-term.

11. Justin Verlander, Tigers HR ball hurting him a bit, but he's still an ace.

12. Dan Haren, Angels
Second-best No. 2 starter in baseball (see Philadelphia).

13. Zack Greinke, Brewers
He'll take well to the NL Central.

14. Matt Cain, Giants
Has really seen his control come around the last couple years and is as a solid as No. 2 starters come.

15. Tommy Hanson, Braves
Excellent control and he's missing more bats. Could be a top-10 guy on this list next year.

16. Mat Latos, Padres
Not too worried about the slow start.

17. Brett Anderson, A's
He's just getting started. Strikeout rate keeps him from elite fantasy status.

18. Michael Pineda, Mariners
Sky is the limit.

19. Cole Hamels, Phillies
Has been great, but against poor-hitting teams.

20. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
Love the strikeout potential, but I'll wait to see if he can notch 210 innings in a season before moving him up too far.

21. John Danks, White Sox
He's not an ace, but think of Danks as a left-handed Chad Billingsley. Solid, little health risk (well, so far ...) and consistent.

22. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
His start to 2011 is the antithesis of what he had accomplished at this point in 2010, but barring other evidence (injury, loss of velocity), we have to conclude that he'll be OK.

23. Trevor Cahill, A's
From 18 wins and a 2.97 ERA in 2010 to a year in which he's been even better in terms of missing bats. Cahill's line drive rate is up from 15 percent to 23.2 percent, but otherwise, we're continuing to see growth in his game.

24. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Found his form this year, but can he sustain in back-to-back seasons?

25. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Showing steady improvement over 2010's disappointing season. Only 25, so another step forward is very possible.

26. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
So far at least, he's taken a step back from his back-to-back 200-strikeout seasons of 2009-2010. Should be able to rebound, but placement on this list takes a minor hit.

27. Matt Garza, Cubs
ERA predictably declining given 11.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Pretty sure he enjoys being out of the AL East.

28. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
Strikeout rate has dropped, but walk rate and GB rates have both improved. Signed through 2013, he's a good No. 2 to Josh Johnson's ace status.

29. Shaun Marcum, Brewers
Seems to like the NL Central, but has yet to top 200 innings

30. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
Too early to say these will stick for the year but a 9.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 would represent a strong step forward over last year's rates (7.5, 3.5 respectively).

31. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
2.9 BB/9 this year versus 4.6 for his career. That's progress.

32. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Smallish frame and injury history are minor red flags, but he's building upon a strong rookie year with a 2.48 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 2011.

33. Max Scherzer, Tigers
Control has taken a step back (4.3 BB/9), but youth and strikeout ability are two things on his side, and those are what you look for first in keepers.

34. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
A worthy No. 2 to Clayton Kershaw's No. 1, and a long-term deal will ensure he continues to throw in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. That is, unless McCourt can't afford to pay him later this month and the whole team is set free.

35. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Has predictably seen last year's 2.33 ERA rise, but it's a really big step back for him, at least so far. Turns 27 in August.

36. Brian Matusz, Orioles
Fairly high ceiling even if he's yet to pitch this year due to an intercostal injury. Should be back in three weeks or so.

37. Gio Gonzalez, A's
If he can just get those walks down, he'll shoot up this list.

38. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
$15 million option for 2012 should be exercised, but the 35-year-old has his best days behind him. Still, should be dependable in 2012 barring another arm injury.

39. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
5.5 BB/9 has him on pace for 100 walks. Can dominate for short periods, but walks may always be an issue.

40. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Showed much better control in the minors, but should be a quality No. 3 type for a long time.

41. Roy Oswalt, Phillies
Should have another good couple years in him.

42. Tim Hudson, Braves
Not getting any younger of course, but last year's 228.2 innings were his most since 2003.

43. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Should be ready for the start of next season.

44. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
Control much better this year, and .362 BABIP should correct itself. Steady guy, but really can't see much growth in his future.

45. Dan Hudson, Diamondbacks
Big difference this year is a .345 BABIP vs. last year's .221 and a walk rate that's spiked from 1.8 BB/9 to 3.1. He's missing more bats, though, so that should set him up fine for future success.

46. Zach Britton, Orioles
Impressive rookie, but upside limited by relatively low strikeout rate.

47. Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
We've seen his fastball in the mid-90s, but the real step forward comes in 2012 when he's an additional year removed from Tommy John surgery.

48. Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies
9.0 K/9 in 137.2 innings last year and should continue to improve. Just 23.

49. Francisco Liriano, Twins
No-no was nice, but can he string together a run of solid starts? No, solid is not walking six and striking out just two.

50. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Not sure he dominates out of the block, but I don't want to take the risk of NOT ranking him in the top-50.

JUST MISSED

C.J. Wilson, Rangers
1.41 WHIP, and still not convinced he's an every-year 200-plus innings, 3.75 ERA guy. Really had a hard time keeping him off the list, particularly after Wednesday's 12-strikeout effort.

Johan Santana, Mets
Don't have a clue how he's going to look when/if he returns in 2011.

Colby Lewis, Rangers
Not ready to call "one-year wonder" here, but 5.70 ERA is not so great.

Johnny Cueto, Reds
Tough ballpark, low strikeout rate.

Justin Masterson, Indians
Looking good but not convinced just yet.

Madison Bumgarner, Giants
No. 2 starter upside, but maybe not until 2012-13.

Julio Teheran, Braves
He's in Triple-A already and is baseball's best pitching prospect, so good chance he's in the 2012 Opening Day rotation.

TEAMS WITHOUT A TOP-50 PITCHER

Pirates
Royals

RELIEVERS

1. Carlos Marmol, Cubs
Locked up long-term in the offseason and will continue to miss bats (and the strike zone) as Cubs closer for the next few years.

2. Joakim Soria, Royals
Can't see the Royals trading him.

3. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
You want to bet against his cutter?

4. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Look for him to remain a closer.

5. Brian Wilson, Giants
The beard will be back.

6. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Slumping a bit lately, but he has the stuff to hold this job for the next several years.

7. Chris Perez, Indians
Yes, the Indians got their closer of the future and present in a deal for Mark DeRosa (2009).

8. Drew Storen, Nationals
Little doubt here that he's the guy for the next several years.

9. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
7.3 K/9 is a far cry from last year's 12.9, but he should be back as Pirates closer in 2012.

10. Heath Bell, Padres
Extension or free agency? Best bet is a July deadline deal, as there's no reason to give a closer a huge deal when your team isn't competitive and the budget is tight. I can see the Phillies being very interested. Have to think he's a closer for somebody in 2012, but hedging a bit here.

11. Huston Street, Rockies
Under contract next year and the Rockies should be competitive again, so he stays.

12. Jordan Walden, Angels
Guessing Angels fans feel more confident now that Fernando Rodney and Brian Fuentes aren't closing games.

13. John Axford, Brewers
Cheap, and after a slow start, pretty good.

14. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Could take over for Francisco Cordero next year if he's not in the rotation by then.

15. Andrew Bailey, A's
Health concerns sure, but barring surgery, he should be the A's stopper in 2012.

16. Dan Bard, Red Sox
Leading candidate to close in 2012 given Jonathan Papelbon's impending free agency and the struggles of Bobby Jenks.

17. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks
Trade candidate if the Dbacks are out of the race in July. Signed through 2012.

18. Jose Valverde, Tigers
Pending free agent should either return to Detroit in 2012 or close elsewhere (Dodgers?).

19. Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals
18:3 K:BB in 11 innings. Cards likely to have a new manager in 2012, and he'd be best-served by using this guy in the ninth.

20. Sergio Santos, White Sox
A 0.00 ERA is pretty good.

21. Brandon League, Mariners
2.25 ERA and eight saves, and I don't anticipate David Aardsma will return in 2012.

22. Brandon Lyon, Astros
The Astros are terrible, so they will consider dealing Lyon (if anyone is actually interested), but he's the most likely candidate to be the stopper in 2012.

23. Ryan Madson, Phillies
He'll be back next year, and though the Phillies will bring in competition, he could be the closer.

24. Leo Nunez, Marlins
Should get a huge raise next year and looks to be an offseason trade candidate. Should stick around this year considering the Marlins are competing.

25. Frank Francisco, Blue Jays
He has another year of arbitration eligibility and could be the closer in 2012.

COULD BREAKING INTO TOP 25

Joe Nathan, Twins
It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Twins bring him back in 2012, but Nathan is an impending free agent who is struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery. He's no sure thing to close in 2012.

Fernando Salas, Cardinals
We're giving the edge to Eduardo Sanchez in this race, but Salas is the name to keep in mind as a fallback.

Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Rough start to 2011, but he was impressive last year, and have you seen Jonathan Broxton "pitch" lately"?

Ryan Perry and Joaquin Benoit, Tigers
Jose Valverde is a free agent after 2011 and could hand over the reins to one of these guys.

Jacob McGee, Rays
Rough MLB stint in 2011, but don't write him off just yet.

Jose Ceda, Marlins
Leads the International League with seven saves and could be the closer in Florida next year once the Marlins decide that Leo Nunez is too expensive.

Jose Diaz, Orioles
This is a stretch, but the guy known to Dodgers fans as "Jumbo" (his neck is about a wide as my shoulders) leads the Double-A Eastern League with nine saves and has a 1.54 ERA.

Josh Lindblom, Dodgers
Former top pick has taken well to the bullpen with a 2.63 ERA and three saves for Double-A Chattanooga. Considering the state of the LA bullpen, keep his name in mind.

WHAT ABOUT THESE CLOSERS?

Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Free agent after 2011 and with all the money the Red Sox have spent lately, it seems unlikely they will meet Papelbon's asking price unless he accepts arbitration and the one-year deal that comes with it. He probably belongs in the top-25, but too many unknowns right now.

Matt Capps, Twins
Impending free agent. Could be a cheaper option for a team in need of a closer that doesn't want to spend what it will take to sign Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell.

Kevin Gregg, Orioles
Does he have a shot at 2012 saves? Maybe, but color me skeptical.

Kyle Farnsworth, Rays
Rays have a $2.75 million option on Farnsworth for 2011 that appears at this point to be likely exercised. Still, he's far from a sure thing to maintain consistency year-over-year.

Brad Lidge, Phillies
Can't imagine his $12.5 million option is exercised, but Lidge could be brought back, even as a closer, if he finishes 2011 strong.

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Pretty safe to say the Dodgers will be parting ways with this impending free agent after 2011, if not sooner.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
No way the Mets let his 2012 option (based on games finished) vest. Also seems unlikely the new regime will bring him back for 2012.

Francisco Cordero, Reds
2012 option is for $12 million. See ya Coco

Brian Fuentes, A's
Signed through 2012 and could close depending on the health of Andrew Bailey.

Jon Rauch, Blue Jays
2012 option is for a reasonable $3.75 million, so he could return. Can't see him as a long-term closer though.

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

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.

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