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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.

Here we go. It's time to kick off another year of Mound Musings. Thanks to all for your emails and comments, even those that trend toward the critical side. In this column, I hope to bring a certain level of insight, a little humor and perhaps a few things that you haven't previously considered. This year, I hope to do a better job of checking back once this is posted and responding to your comments. You can always hit me up on Twitter (@vtadave) or email (vtadave@yahoo.com) with comments/questions.

This week we'll look at my initial Top-100 starters. These lists always inspire a certain level of disagreement, which is fine and healthy, so if you want to give your opinion, that's what the comments section is for.

1. Justin Verlander (DET) -
Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are as easy a 1-2 as we've seen in years. I wouldn't argue with flip-flopping the two.

2. Clayton Kershaw (LA) -
If anyone is going to approach 300 strikeouts this year, it's the 23-year-old Kershaw. Given the Dodgers' lack of offense outside Matt Kemp, don't expect another 21 wins. Do expect solid production across the board.

3. Roy Halladay (PHI) -
At some point age is going to catch up to him, but don't expect that to be this year. A sub-2.50 ERA, a lot of wins and strikeouts and a WHIP in the 1.00 range are all likely.

4. Cliff Lee (PHI) -
Baseball's best No. 2 starter should be in line for yet another solid season in 2012.

5. Cole Hamels (PHI) -
Hamels is baseball's top impending free agent, but it's not his free-agent status as much as his talent that makes Hamels a top-10 overall starter.

6. CC Sabathia (NY-A) -
Yeah, he's fat. I get that, but what I also get is that he's good for another 230-plus innings and solid fantasy production across the board.

7. David Price (TB) -
A Cy Young is in his future, but is it this year or sometime in the next five?

8. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -
Prince Fielder signing in Seattle would have been nice, but either way, Hernandez is still an elite starter.

9. Zack Greinke (MIL) -
A pending free agent, Greinke looks to be set up perfectly for a run at his second Cy Young. We'll see if he gets enough run support for a run at 20 wins.

10. Dan Haren (ANA) -
Mr. Underrated lives in the shadow of Jered Weaver, but I still like him to be the team's top pitcher in 2012.

11. Tim Lincecum (SF) -
He still walks too many to rank him in the top 10, but I still believe in his ability to overcome his lack of size and toss 220 innings with solid numbers.

12. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -
One of baseball's more underrated starters is hurt by Prince Fielder's defection and Ryan Braun's potential suspension, but Gallardo is still an elite starter.

13. Jered Weaver (ANA) -
The signor of baseball's all-time most under-market $85 million contract, Weaver will compete with the likes of Cliff Lee to be to be baseball's top No. 2 starter.

14. Jon Lester (BOS) -
Talk about guys with something to prove. Lester's stuff is top-5 material, but the "chicken and beer" incident has his stock down. Lester, though, has Cy Young stuff, so pounce if he drops to the bottom of the top-15.

15. James Shields (TB) -
At age 30, Shields is at the back end of his prime years and 2011 may very well be his peak, but he's not going to fall off the map either. Expect a ton of innings and 200-plus strikeouts, but also expect that ERA to creep closer to 4.00

16. Matt Moore (TB) -
If I were bold enough, I'd put this talented lefty in the top 10, but an innings limit and a lack of experience leave Moore as a more likely 2013 top-10 type.

17. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -
Only an innings limit keeps Strasburg outside the top 10, but he should still be good for 200 strikeouts.

18. Dan Hudson (AZ) -
Kenny Williams surely would love to have him back, but Hudson has firmly established himself as a solid No. 2-level starter. Now we'll see whether he can take that next step and approach 200 strikeouts.

19. Adam Wainwright (STL) -
All signs point to a 100-percent healthy Wainwright, and that is a potentially great thing for whomever drafts him this year. The potential for a setback is there, but so is the potential for a top-10 starter.

20. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -
Toss out April, and he was dominant last year. He might be the team's best starter in 2012.

21. Matt Garza (CHI-N) -
Who knows where Garza will be come Opening Day, but he'll still be a guy with 200 strikeouts and solid ratios.

22. Matt Cain (SF) -
30-plus starts in each of his last six seasons, so he's as consistent as they come. He improved his GB% last year, resulting in a career-low 2.88 ERA. He should be able to duplicate his 2011 numbers this year.

23. Ricky Romero (TOR) -
A slow start to his career, but Romero has done a great job making himself a top-30 starter.

24. C.J. Wilson (ANA) -
He may be the Angels' fourth-best starter, but Wilson should be good for a solid 2012. The key will be maintaining the progress he showed in his walk rate last year, dropping his BB/9IP rate from 4.1 to 3.0 year-over-year.

25. Yu Darvish (TEX) -
Darvish could be a top-20 pitcher as early as this year, but maybe there's a slight adjustment period. Of course, having Albert Pujols in the division won't help.

26. Ian Kennedy (AZ) -
Kenney allows too many flyballs to project another sub-3.00 ERA, and likely won't win another 21 games this year. Still solid and reliable, but not a top-10 starter by any means.

27. Josh Beckett (BOS) -
Great reputation and all, but Beckett has topped 200 innings once in four years and, believe it or not, has never topped 200 strikeouts. Perhaps he'll show some pride after "chickengate," but it also wouldn't be a shock to see him outside the top-35 starters in 2012 when all is said and done.

28. Josh Johnson (MIA) -
Johnson, rather than the players the Marlins bought in free agency, is the key to the Marlins' 2012 fortune. If Johnson can manage 30-plus starts, the Marlins can win the division and Johnson can be a top-10 starter. I'm just not that willing to invest a high pick, but if he slides too far outside the top 20 ...

29. Chris Carpenter (STL) -
Carpenter has tallied 97 starts over his last three years with back-to-back 235-plus innings seasons, so perhaps the injuries are a thing of the past. That said, he turns 37 in April, so the decline phase could begin at any point.

30. Mat Latos (CIN) -
Going from Petco to the GAB isn't exactly going to do wonders for Latos' ERA, but he has the stuff to overcome the move. The Reds also have an elite defense, particularly if Scott Rolen can manage 130-plus games.

31. Michael Pineda (NY-A) -
Moving to Yankee Stadium won't help his ERA and WHIP, but he'll be in line for more wins. Really like his upside, and now he doesn't have to face ... the Yankees.

32. Derek Holland (TEX) -
A sub-4.00 ERA last year and a great performance in Game 4 leaves Holland as a potential top-15 starter as early as this year.

33. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -
With a 10.7 K/9IP and 2.9 BB/9IP, Beachy continues to fly under the radar. That's partly due to the lack of hype compared to a host of other young Braves hurlers, but on the flip side, Beachy also failed to top six innings in 22 of 25 starts last year. He may top out at 180 innings, but that could come with more than 200 Ks.

34. Max Scherzer (DET) -
Love the stuff, but Scherzer needs to be more efficient and go deeper into games before he takes that next step to top-20 starter status.

35. Anibal Sanchez (MIA) -
With his first 200-plus strikeout season under his belt in 2011, Sanchez appears poised to cash in big time in free agency next winter. An improved team around him should allow Sanchez to top last year's eight wins, but beware the rising HR rate.

36. Jaime Garcia (STL) -
Hitters batted .300 against him after the All-Star break, so until I see a consistent full season, I can't rank him any higher.

37. Cory Luebke (SD) -
Surprising 9.9 K/9IP last year, and he's set for his first full season as a big-league starter. In that ballpark, he could be a nice fantasy surprise.

38. Trevor Cahill (AZ) -
Ballpark change isn't good for his fortunes, but an elite groundball rate will help mitigate the change. He also lands in a good division for pitchers, so he'll be just fine.

39. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -
I have a feeling he's going to provide very positive returns this year after having had time to adjust to the league change.

40. Colby Lewis (TEX) -
Lewis saw his velocity and K/9IP dip last year and now he gets Pujols in his division. I can see another step back, but it won't be a huge one.

41. Tim Hudson (ATL) -
Injuries appear to be a thing of the past, but a DL stint or two wouldn't be a surprise at this point in his career.

42. Hiroki Kuroda (NY-A) -
Aging, but 2011 was his best year in the states. He'll be fine.

43. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -
concerned about the injury and the change in his delivery. I won't own Hanson in too many leagues.

44. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -
A little overrated in my book, Cueto was limited by injuries to 156 innings last year and his 6.0 K/9IP was nothing special. He should come off the board in the 30ish range among starting pitchers.

45. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -
Elite strikeout pitcher, but if you think he's underrated, get back to me once he tops 180 innings in a year.

46. Bud Norris (HOU) -
Yeah, I just can't imagine too many Astros on my roster, but Norris gets enough strikeouts to be a sneaky deep league play.

47. Ervin Santana (ANA) -
Competing with guys like Ryan Vogelsong and Vance Worley to be the league's best No. 4 starter. Stuff is very good, but he can't seem to get past that 7.0 K/9IP mark.

48. Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -
You mean he's still with the A's? Probably not for long if he starts off strong in 2012, which I expect.

49. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -
He is going to get traded at some point, likely to a contender. Still underrated to me.

50. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -
K/9IP dipped from 9.0 to 7.0 last year and he still walks far too many, but there's still some upside.

51. Edwin Jackson (WAS) -
Jackson lands in a pretty good situation in Washington and appears to be a lock for another 200 innings, sub-4.00 ERA and 160 strikeouts.

52. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -
Roy Oswalt is still available. If he winds up with the Rangers as rumored, Ogando could shift back to the bullpen, but so could Matt Harrison.

53. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -
Only thing holding him back a bit on this list is the possibility of an innings cap, perhaps in the 180 range. I can see the 7.0 K/9 increasing, and when combined with a 1.7 BB/9IP, his upside is certainly intriguing.

54. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) -
To me at least, Gonzalez is extremely overrated. Far too many walks (90-plus in each of the past two seasons), and now he's in a hitters' part with a suspect defense behind him.

55. John Danks (CHI-A) -
Danks is pretty much what you see in the numbers and isn't likely to take a big step forward, but there's a place for pitchers like this on your roster.

56. Justin Masterson (CLE) -
His strikeout rate may be trending down, but considering where both will be drafted, Masterson is the better value over Jimenez.

57. Chad Billingsley (LA) -
I once thought Billingsley could be the Dodgers' version of Matt Cain behind Kershaw, but it's not happening. Still, last year likely was an aberration, and he'll be more the 2008-2010 Billingsley this year.

58. Mark Buehrle (MIA) -
League change and durability are big plusses, but at some point the decline phase begins ... just not this year.

59. Ryan Dempster (CHI-N) -
Really don't like rostering a bunch of starters who walk 70-plus, but there's value in Dempster's durability.

60. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -
He's no Matt Moore, but expect Hellickson to take a step forward and cut his walks significantly (check out his minor league BB totals - elite).

61. Doug Fister (DET) -
Don't like the strikeout rate, but like the durability and ballpark.

62. Gavin Floyd (CHI-A) -
Trade bait, but if he stays, expect more of the same, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

63. Vance Worley (PHI) -
How is he not the No. 4 ahead of Joe Blanton? Anyway, assuming he breaks camp in the rotation, Worley should be among the league's elite No. 4 (5?) starters.

64. Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -
I have him on a long-term deal in an NL-only league with one year left on that deal, so expect him to stink this year and win the 2013 Cy Young. Nolasco posted a 9.5 K/9IP in 2009, but that dropped to 6.5 a year ago.

65. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -
As long as he avoids the beer and chicken and his back is 100 percent, Buchholz is the type who can win fantasy leagues.

66. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -
Health is the big concern here, so he may be a good guy to deal should he start strongly.

67. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -
Another player the Brewers could lose to free agency, Marcum doesn't have the stuff to take a big step forward, but he should maintain consistency.

68. Roy Oswalt (FA) -
No, he won't retire, but yes, he'll spend time on the DL.

69. Scott Baker (MIN) -
I'm done with Baker's potential on my teams, especially considering the elbow issues the last two seasons.

70. Jon Niese (NY-N) -
One of the few Mets with upside, so expect him to be traded.

71. Neftali Feliz (TEX) -
Not 100 percent convinced that this will work, but I'd invest a pick to find out.

72. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -
The hype is over and he has a new two-year deal, but is regression coming?

73. James McDonald (PIT) -
One of the few Pirates hurlers who can miss bats. I'll buy in NL-only leagues, as there's some upside.

74. Luke Hochevar (KC) -
My least favorite almost-Dodger, Hochevar hasn't come close to living up to his No. 1 overall draft status, but he looks to be a pitcher who can carve out a Gavin Floyd-type career.

75. Mike Leake (CIN) -
No, I don't see Aroldis Chapman pushing Leake to the bullpen.

76. R.A. Dickey (NY-N) -
Mets really just need to deal this guy for whatever they can get. He's a solid innings eater who should post a sub-3.75 ERA and average strikeout totals.

77. Mike Minor (ATL) -
Should open in the rotation, but that 1.49 WHIP last year leaves the door open for the likes of Julio Teheran this spring.

78. Jeff Niemann (TB) -
A bit underrated, but doesn't pile up enough strikeouts to be ranked higher.

79. Jeremy Guthrie (COL) -
Move out of AL East: good. Winding up in Colorado: bad.

80. Randy Wolf (MIL) -
Provides innings, but not a huge contributor in any one category.

81. Ted Lilly (LA) -
Do we care about the declining velocity? Probably not. Expect more of the same from the aging lefty.

82. Tim Stauffer (SD) -
I'm not sure he'll ever be a 200-plus innings starter, but in that ballpark, he's still draftable.

83. Ivan Nova (NY-A) -
Overrated based on his 2011 16-4 record, but could still be a solid contributor now that the Yankees have taken some of the pressure away with the Kuroda and Pineda deals.

84. Rick Porcello (DET) -
It's now clear he won't live up to the draft hype, as he doesn't miss enough bats and probably never will.

85. Erik Bedard (PIT) -
Could thrive in the NL and in a low-pressure situation. Of course, it's the Pirates, so I'm probably over-optimistic.

86. Brett Myers (HOU) -
Another Houston trade candidate who could wind up with a contending team.

87. Dillon Gee (NY-N) -
Gee had a nice run last year, but a step back wouldn't be a shocker.

88. Phil Hughes (NY-A) -
Hey, it's our first "best shape of his life" story, as Hughes has reportedly replaced an undetermined amount of fat with muscle. Still, he's far from guaranteed a rotation spot.

89. Jonathan Sanchez (KC) -
Yeah, maybe he'll suddenly start throwing strikes, but now that he's in the AL (with the Royals, no less), don't count on it.

90. A.J. Burnett (NY-A) -
Pirates, Yankees ... doesn't matter a whole lot. Did I mention earlier that I don't like high-BB pitchers.

91. Carl Pavano (MIN) -
A lots of innings, not a lot of strikeouts. Stream away.

92. Johan Santana (NY-N) -
Yeah, I'd take a flier here.

93. Aaron Harang (LA) -
He was shelled on the road last year, so slot him in your lineup accordingly.

94. Wade Davis (TB) -
Young and a solid minor-league track record, but I haven't seen enough production to bump him higher on this list.

95. Homer Bailey (CIN) -
No, sadly I haven't completely given up on Bailey.

96. Dan Bard (BOS) -
Guess he's in the rotation, but still not convinced this will work.

97. Henderson Alvarez (TOR) -
Excellent command, but not sure he misses enough bats to be a solid AL East starter.

98. Josh Tomlin (CLE) -
May turn out to be what we thought Kevin Slowey would develop into.

99. Javier Vazquez (FA) -
He's only 35 and coming off a good season, so no, I'm not convinced he's retired.

100. Jake Peavy (CHI-A) -
Yeah, guess he'll be on my radar, but he hasn't started 30 games in the big leagues since 2007.

Just missed: Francisco Liriano, Jason Vargas, Bruce Chen, Joe Saunders, Chris Capuano, Edinson Volquez, Chris Sale.

Arriving soon: Julio Teheran, Hector Noesi, Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker, Jacob Turner.

Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.