We covered closers in a previous piece, so this week, let's take a look at my top 50 starting pitcher keepers for 2013. Before we dive into the list, a handful of key assumptions:
Focus is on how I expect them to perform in 2013
Rankings also take in perceived upside beyond next year
Standard 5x5 12-team mixed league
Pitchers who miss bats get ranked higher than those who don't
Young pitchers with a strong prospect track record get priority
I have to say this was really tough, as there were several pitchers I liked that I had to leave off to keep it at 50. Those pitchers are mentioned at the end.
1. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) - We'll have to see if the reins come off 100 percent and allow him to throw 220 innings, but for 2013, expect at least 200 innings pitched. That could very well allow Strasburg to strike out 250 while being a four-category guy. He's an easy top-10 pick for me in redraft leagues.
2. Clayton Kershaw (LA) - Baseball's top lefty has seen his strikeout rate dip a little this year (8.8 K/9IP vs. 9.6 in 2011), but he's on a roll now with a 1.94 ERA in his last six starts. I wonder how much the Dodgers will pay him in his new contract?
3. Justin Verlander (DET) - Could see the argument for a higher ranking, but these guys are really all close in terms of value.
4. Felix Hernandez (SEA) - The concerns about his dip in velocity remain perhaps, but the results have been Felix-like.
5. Cole Hamels (PHI) - Next year will be his age 29 season, so he's right in his prime as one of the more consistent pitchers in the game. On pace for a fifth consecutive season with 31-plus starts.
6. Matt Cain (SF) - Strikeout rate up and BB/9IP down from 2.6 to 1.8 year-over-year. No doubt who the ace is by the Bay these days.
7. David Price (TB) - Velocity is up this year, and he's just entering what should be his prime years. I'd love him more in the NL West than the AL East, but he's still an easy top-10 starter.
8. Cliff Lee (PHI) - Yes, Lee turns 34 on the day this piece gets published, but here is his K:BB this month: 37:1. He's still good and should continue to be for at least the next couple years.
9. Jered Weaver (ANA) - Lower strikeout rate than many on this list, so that holds him back a bit. He also heads into his age 30 season, so we have to wonder a bit how he'll age. In case you're wondering, his brother Jeff fell apart after his age 28 season. I don't expect that to happen with Jered, but I do wonder whether we've already seen the best he has to offer.
10. CC Sabathia (NY-A) - Turns 33 mid-season next year and has had his first arm injury this year, so that affects his ranking on this list. When he's on ,though, he's still elite as evidenced by last year's 230 strikeouts.
11. Roy Halladay (PHI) - Still has his trademark control (1.4 BB/9IP), but he's getting older, and this year's shoulder injury is a real concern when projecting his 2013 and beyond.
12. Johnny Cueto (CIN) - Next year is his age 27 season, and with a 2.48 ERA and improved walk and strikeout rates, next year could be even better for the Reds ace.
13. Madison Bumgarner (SF) - Continues to get a little better each year it seems and enters 2013 as a 23-year-old with more than 80 career starts. Hard to beat a Cain/Bumgarner duo at the top of a rotation.
14. Chris Sale (CHI-A) - So much for wondering what his role should be. With a 2.81 ERA, 15 wins and 155 strikeouts, he's been fantasy gold given his draft position. He's on pace for approximately 190 innings compared to last year's 71, so do with that data what you will. I'm not a huge believer in the Verducci Effect.
15. Adam Wainwright (STL) - Two runs or less in each of his last eight starts, so unlike Francisco Liriano, he's come back strong from his Tommy John surgery. Strikeout and walk rates right in line with 2010 - 8.5 and 2.1 respectively.
16. R.A. Dickey (NY-N) - I know he turns 38 in October, but he might very well be the NL Cy Young winner this year, and his knuckleball could allow him to pitch at a high level for another 2-to-3 years.
17. Zack Greinke (ANA) - His ranking probably depends on where he ends up as a pending free agent, but I expect it to be with either the Angels or Dodgers. I'd bump him up five spots if it's the latter given the environment and lack of DH. Yes, the late-season swoon since moving to the AL is a concern, but while 2009 looks like a bit of an outlier, he's still been very good in his other seasons as well. Just be careful considering him anything more than a great No. 2 starter.
18. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) - Zimmermann is yet another Tommy John success story. He's on pace to approach 200 innings, and though a 6.7 K/9IP may suggest an ERA more in the 3.50's, he looks like a solid No. 2 to Strasburg's No. 1 for another several years.
19. Mat Latos (CIN) - Fantasy stock took a hit with the trade from San Diego, but given that the Reds are more competitive these days, his wins stat might be positively affected. Latos' HR rate has predictably gone up (.74 HR/9IP in 2011, 1.28 this year), but his strikeout and walk rates have remained steady.
20. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) - At May's end, Gonzalez was 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA and looking like a Cy Young candidate. While he's tailed off a bit, he misses bats, he has a good team around him and he's walking fewer hitters due in no small part to the move to the NL. Another step forward at age 27 next year wouldn't be a surprise.
21. Matt Moore (TB) - Based on how 2011 went for Moore, expectations were sky-high for his 2012 campaign. Moore, though, opened with a 5.71 ERA in his first six starts before rediscovering his control and posting a 2.97 mark in his next 19 starts. He could easily be a top-15 guy next year if he can continue driving consistency in his delivery.
22. Max Scherzer (DET) - Scherzer has a decent chance to win the MLB strikeout crown, as he's only three K's behind teammate Justin Verlander. He's fanned at least eight in each of his last eight starts and has a 1.33 ERA in his last four. If this keeps up, he's top-15 material.
23. Ian Kennedy (AZ) - A HR rate that's nearly doubled won't allow a top-four NL Cy Young finish for Kennedy again this year. His 8.0 K/9IP and 2.3 BB/9IP remain strong, but he'll have to do a better job avoiding the big flies if he wants to avoid a 4-plus ERA again next year.
24. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) - His inconsistency has frustrated me this year, but I guess he's still a solid No. 2 starter. He's missing bats, but I'd like to see fewer free passes - 3.5 BB/9IP.
25. Tim Lincecum (SF) - This is a tough one. The two-time Cy Young winner is still only 28, but is 2013 going to be a bounce-back campaign? He'll be a free agent after 2013, and the Giants seem unlikely to sign him to an extension until they see evidence of a return to form. This ranking is based in large part on past performance, but I can see putting him 20 slots lower as well. I'll leave him be for now.
26. Josh Johnson (MIA) - Another tough one. He's supposedly healthy this year, but the velocity is way down from his peak and the results just haven't matched the reputation. Could be a nice buy-low or a total bust.
27. Jon Lester (BOS) - Entering 2010, Lester was mentioned as a perennial Cy Young contender, but his career has gone in the wrong direction. He's still a solid pitcher, but I really thought there was more here.
28. Kris Medlen (ATL) - I've always liked Medlen, so go ahead and make an argument that this ranking is too aggressive, but I'll respectfully disagree. Since joining the rotation, Medlen has a microscopic 0.66 ERA in six starts while fanning at least six in each of his last five. True breakout potential.
29. Tommy Hanson (ATL) - I do like the upside still, but the injuries scare me. Combine that with a 4.40 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, and he ranks a lot lower on this list today than he would two years ago.
30. Matt Garza (CHC) - Could get dealt this winter, but wherever he lands in 2013, expect solid results. He hasn't and won't become the ace I thought he could a few years ago, but a healthy Garza is a strong No. 2.
31. James Shields (TB) - Consistent as always, and his 8.7 K/9IP would be the best mark of his career if it holds.
32. Dan Haren (ANA) - Home runs and a regression in his impeccable control have made this a really off season for Haren. I do expect a strong finish and for the Angels to pick up his option, so look for a bounce back in 2013.
33. Jaime Garcia (STL) - I like him, but the velocity isn't there this year, and he's had his share of injuries in his career. It will take his first 200-plus innings season for me to move him up much more than this.
34. Edwin Jackson (WAS) - Jackson has turned into a pretty consistent pitcher, so it would be a big surprise if he's not considered for a long-term deal as a free agent this winter. He turns 29 in a week or so, so there should still be several solid seasons left in his arm.
35. Doug Fister (DET) - He's yet to make 30 starts in a season and his fastball runs in the upper-80s, but Fister when healthy has proven very effective given his 3.53 career ERA. Given his home park and groundball tendencies, he should remain effective for the next several years.
36. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) - A 3.42 ERA in the AL East is commendable, but I still think Hellickson has more in him. Hellickson had a 9.8 K/9IP and 2.1 BB/9IP in his minor league career, so his 6.0 and 3.2 big league marks could be in line for improvement next year.
37. C.J. Wilson (ANA) - Wilson has scuffled a bit lately, but I still like his chances in 2013. He turns 32 this offseason.
38. Jarrod Parker (OAK) - Big home/road splits, with a 2.48 ERA at home and 5.04 mark on the road. If he can narrow that gap, a step forward is possible next year.
39. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) - It's year two of his improbable comeback, but Vogelsong is 35, so how much more of this does he have left? A year? Two?
40. Josh Beckett (LA) - This was a tough one. No, he doesn't have top-10 upside anymore, but back in the NL and presumably motivated, Beckett could still be a top-20 starter, especially given the commitment to building a strong team around him. Still, given his struggles this year, I'm hedging a bit with his ranking.
41. A.J. Burnett (PIT) - Getting out of the New York pressure cooker and back into the NL has done wonders for Burnett's numbers. I fully expect him to re-sign in Pittsburgh.
42. Brandon Morrow (TOR) - Morrow's K/9IP rate has trended as follows from 2011-2013: 11.0, 10.2, and 8.1 this year. That's not what we want to see, but at the same time, his control has improved. He's a bit of a lottery ticket, but the payoff could be pretty high.
43. Anibal Sanchez (DET) - Yet another pending free agent not finding the AL to his liking. Dodgers, among others, will have interest.
44. Wade Miley (AZ) - I was skeptical of Miley due to has lack of top-shelf stuff, but the solid results are undeniable at this point. He should be a key member of the Arizona rotation for many years. I'm still a little uncomfortable ranking him this high given the plethora of higher-ceiling arms in the same system.
45. Tim Hudson (ATL) - The strikeouts are no longer there, but the groundballs and solid ERA are. He is probably looking at another solid year or two.
46. Clay Buchholz (BOS) - I'm stubborn in many aspects, and Buchholz is one of them. His 6.0 K/9IP is less than inspiring, but I still think he has more to offer.
47. Jake Peavy (CHI-A) - A nice comeback season, and assuming his $22 million option is declined by the White Sox, I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up back in the NL. Dodgers?
48. Ryan Dempster (TEX) - Better in his last couple starts, but I look for the Rangers to let him walk this winter so they can pay Josh Hamilton. A National League return makes a lot of sense.
49. Brett Anderson (OAK) - So far so good in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. I do have to wonder whether his innings will be limited next year.
50. Trevor Bauer (AZ) - Had to slot someone here, so going with a guy who could be a bit of a post-hype sleeper given he didn't dominate big league hitters from the get-go.
Aroldis Chapman (CIN) - Rotation or bullpen? I think it is probably the latter, but we'll see.
Dylan Bundy (BAL) - Double-A is a far cry from the Yankees and Red Sox, but he's easily baseball's top pitching prospect.
Michael Pineda (NYY) - We'll see how the injury heals up, but he's young enough to bounce back.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Really tough to leave off: Mike Fiers (MIL), Chad Billingsley (LAD), Patrick Corbin (ARI), Matt Harvey and Jon Niese (NYM), Hiroki Kuroda (NYY), Derek Holland (TEX)
Others: Ricky Romero (TOR), Tyler Skaggs (ARI), Gavin Floyd and John Danks (CHW), Bud Norris (HOU), Mark Buehrle (MIA), Shaun Marcum (MIL), Ivan Nova (NYY), Tommy Milone (OAK), Edinson Volquez (SD), Lance Lynn (STL)
CHECK BACK IN 2014
Brandon Beachy (ATL - elbow)
Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.
Follow @vtadave on Twitter.