Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are Athlon's picks for fantasy aces this season
Opening Day is less than three weeks away, meaning the fantasy baseball season is quickly approaching. Drafts are going across the country, and probably the globe, and Athlon Sports' annual Baseball Preview magazine is available on newsstands everywhere.
Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman, straight from our magazine for you to peruse, utilize and scrutinize as we get ever so closer to hear those beloved words, "Play ball!"
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2012.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.
Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP
Athlon Sports' 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers (A)
Verlander can be a budget buster, but fortunately he’s not yet too far down the physical cliff. The newly minted 30-year-old offers a confluence of past performance and consistency unrivaled in the pitching fraternity. He’s the No. 1 winner and No. 2 strikeout man since 2006, and with an MLB-high 16 September victories the past four years, durability seems to be a non-issue.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (A)
The first to lead both leagues in ERA back-to-back since Pedro Martinez in 2002-03. The only “Claw” flaw has been the modest 12 win-a-year average. And maybe the September hip scare. The Dodgers’ offensive upgrade will help the former, and the R&R should have addressed the latter. Three-year WHIP and strikeout totals are the NL’s best.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (A,B)
Unshackled by an innings limit, there is no limit to Strasburg’s possibilities. To wit: At his career strikeout rate, he’d fan 274 batters in 220 innings this year. Three of the four worst starts of his career came in his last eight outings — hopefully just a meaningless blip.
4. David Price, Rays (A)
Price has officially rounded off the rough edges into true-ace status. Sub-3.00 ERAs and 200-punchout totals should be more rule than exception. He gets the grind-it-out Rays deep into a lot of close games, so he’ll need the back end of the pen to be as airtight as it was in 2012 to approach 20 wins again.
5. Matt Cain, Giants (A)
Cain’s been pretty much the same guy for four years now, but in 2012, he put all the fantasy factors in place by finally getting passable run support. He went 15–0 when he received three or more runs to work with. Since 2009, his 2.93 ERA is fourth in the majors.
6. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals (A)
Ryan Zimmerman says Gio is the friendliest player he’s ever met. He’s your BFF, as well — a peaking 27-year-old on a good team who’s lowered his ERA while increasing his wins and strikeout sums each season.
7. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (A)
Of the 11 500-inning pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 the past three years, Hernandez’s .533 winning percentage is at the bottom — and it’s not close. Outside of his flimsy support system, and the X-factor of the fence adjustments in Seattle, he’s Tier 1 material.
8. Cole Hamels, Phillies (A)
Hamels has found a groove of roto-reliability that has seen him constrain his ERA below 3.10 in four of the last five campaigns. His 17 wins of 2012 were, and probably will remain, a career high, since Phillies scoring seems destined to decline for a fourth straight season.
9. Jered Weaver, Angels (A)
Weaver is a big silver lining with a little cloud. He’s a 20-game winner with a refurbished offense, and his 2010-12 WHIP of 1.034 topped MLB. Reservations stem from September shoulder issues and an 87.8-mph average fastball that was the third-pokiest among AL starters. (On the other hand, he allowed the lowest OPS — .549 — on fastballs.) Since he’s 13–0 with a 1.85 ERA in his last 18 pre-May starts, if there are any portents, the evidence will present early.
10. Cliff Lee, Phillies
Lee’s 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 207 SOs were SOP for him. But there’s this: His six wins were the fewest ever by a pitcher with a sub-3.20 ERA and 200 whiffs. Barring another historical prank, he’ll continue to track just below the elite.
11. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (B)
Hit his strikeout number of 2011 (191) precisely, and offset a nearly doubled gopher ball total with one fewer hit per nine innings. Still a bit of a moving target, but his bull’s-eye is a Cy Young Award.
12. Chris Sale, White Sox
Sale had the most wins (17) and lowest ERA (3.05) of any 23-or-younger pitcher. That earnie stood at 2.11 one start past the All-Star break, but bloated to 4.32 after that — excusable for someone who’d pitched barely 100 professional innings prior to 2012. We’re not all-in on him because he has the only delivery in the game that actually forces anyone who sees it to have Tommy John surgery.
13. Johnny Cueto, Reds
Five years in the making, Cueto took the requisite step to ace-dom in 2012 with his first 200-inning effort and a huge spike in his SO/BB ratio to 3.47. The consequence was 19 wins and a 2.78 ERA. The final step is doing it again.
14. Yu Darvish, Rangers
The hot start was unsurprising for an Asian import with more unfamiliar pitches than Hideo Nomo has vowels, but even more impressive was how Darvish adjusted. On the heels of a 5.82 ERA over 13 starts, he finished 2.35 in his last eight. That bodes well for an even better 2013.
15. CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabes, the only 100-game starter since 2007 who’s won 70 percent of his decisions, boasts an impeccable résumé. But between his pitch (and calorie) count, two trips to the DL and surgical elbow clean-up, he’s past-peak and a tad chancy.
16. Kris Medlen, Braves
Medlen was to pitching in 2012 what Jose Bautista was to home runs in 2010. He came out of the bullpen — and abject obscurity — in late July to allow nine (!) earned runs in 12 starts and extend his career record as a starter to 16–2. Pay what you will for a half-season of absolute domination and near-zero precedent.
17. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Impervious for short bursts, Chapman’s .141 opponents average and 15.3 strikeouts per nine as a closer are untranslatable to starting. Owns a ceiling as high as Strasburg’s, and even the worst-case scenario isn’t awful: The Reds might return him to the pen.
18. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (B)
Matt Cain and Zimmermann were the highest-rated starters for whom we predicted a “career year” in 2012. That worked out so well, we’re re-B’ing him in 2013. Time for his wins (12) to tag along with his 2.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
19. R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays (E)
Had the ninth-worst ERA (5.43) in baseball from 2001-09, but 11th-best (2.95) from 2010-12. More relevant than his advanced age is the extreme ballpark impact from sociable Citi to hostile Rogers. Since his reinvention as a knuckleballer, he’s made seven starts in the quiet air of domes, where his ERA is 1.72.
20. Mat Latos, Reds
A move from Petco to GAB helped inflate Latos’ longball yield by 60 percent, but he’s been the same pitcher for three years now — mid-teens wins, mid-3.00s ERA, mid-1.10s WHIP, mid-180s whiffs. Ideal for your mid-rotation.
21. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
He’s Latos with higher WHIPs. Seemed to cross a threshold in 2011 by dropping his BBs/9 from 3.6 to 2.6, then he went right back to 3.6 last year. If Gallardo could pair the 2.6 with his measly 12 home runs allowed three years ago, he’d be Tier 1.
22. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Wainwright’s comeback from Tommy John went as well as could have been expected, though the bottom line was nothing like his prime years. He should take another stride forward, so if he splits the difference between 2012 and 2010, he’s looking at 17-3.13-198-1.14.
23. Roy Halladay, Phillies (F)
Shoulder problems sent him reeling from a top-three fantasy pitcher to below the league average in almost everything. If anyone can adapt, Doc Halladay can, but at 35 years old, there can be no clear presumption that this was more stumble than plunge.
24. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Both in the scouting and fantasy communities, the assessment of Greinke ranges from perplexing to divisive. His 2009 “Cy” ERA of 2.16 is 1.67 lower than in his three years since. At worst, he’s a 15-win/200-strikeout horse. Prone to midseason swoons (40–50 career ledger May through July).
25. James Shields, Royals
Speaking of the equine, Shields is more War Horse than Secretariat — a grinder and a finisher who’s made exactly 33 starts each of the last five seasons. ERA oscillations (5.18 to 2.82 to 3.52) and splits (4.54 away from Tropicana Field, including 6.38 at Kauffman) are discomforting.
26. Max Scherzer, Tigers (B)
Due to extended bouts of mechanical discombobulations, Scherzer’s Slinky of a season saw his ERA tumble in every month, from 7.77 in the first to 1.91 in the last, before settling at 3.74 with the AL’s No. 2 strikeout number (231). If he ever combobulates wire-to-wire, watch out.
27. Brett Anderson, Athletics (B)
Should his career gain some traction after missing almost 60 starts the past six years, Anderson might emerge as a top-10 pitcher. Extreme ground-baller, great control and still only 25.
28. Jake Peavy, White Sox
Fully healthy for the first time since 2008, his season (11-3.37-194-1.10) was reminiscent of his salad days in San Diego. Physical breakdowns — some minor, some major — tend to be a question of when, not if.
29. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
Threw shutouts of three or fewer hits in three of his first dozen starts of 2012. His ERA in the other 205 outings of his career is 4.28. Cy Young stuff, Chris Young dependability — and no longer young enough (28) to draft on potential alone.
29. Homer Bailey, Reds (B)
After five years of making mediocrity (4.89 ERA) look like his projected ceiling, the 13 wins, no-hitter and dazzling NLDS start were a revelation for this one-time megaprospect. They could well have been a false positive, but we think not, and assess him as a legit No. 2 or 3 in a good rotation.
30. Matt Harvey, Mets
Big promise, big ballpark … small run support, small sample. Led NL with 10.6 SOs/9, and ranked eighth with a 2.73 ERA, after his late-July debut.
31. Mike Minor, Braves (B,C)
4–0 record, 0.87 ERA and .129 opponents average in five September starts erased the dis-ease of his bumpy career start and revived the talk of his substantial potential.
32. Jon Niese, Mets
He’s not an impact pitcher, but Niese is nice in the midpoint of a fantasy rotation. Trimmed his ERA a full run to 3.40 and posted a top-20 WHIP.
33. Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
An otherwise breakout year was deflated by poor support (three or fewer runs in 18 of his 28 starts) and two June beatdowns that inflated his ERA from 3.13 to 3.81. Has submitted his application to the 200-K club.
35. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
A recurrent underperformer whose strong peripherals and intermittent overpowering outings don’t jive with his 48–51 career record. Amazing what $80 million will buy you these days.
36. Matt Moore, Rays
Wasn’t the instant smash many predicted, but he kept getting better. Will be a major strikeout force as soon as this year and — as he pares those 4.1 BBs per 9 and learns to avoid the heart of the plate (AL-high 47.1 percent of pitches in the zone) — a Kershaw-type lefty.
37. C.J. Wilson, Angels (F)
The so-called “most interesting man in baseball” always keeps things interesting with unacceptable walk totals. Will his results ever play up to his stuff? Stay thirsty, my friends.
38. Alexi Ogando, Rangers (C)
This 2012 reliever was a 13-game winning All-Star with a 1.14 WHIP in 2011 as a starter, the task to which he now returns.
39. Matt Garza, Cubs (F)
Barring insurgence from his sore, but non-surgical elbow, Garza’s only drawback as a mid-staff roto starter is that he’s a Cub. Crafted a lifetime-low 1.18 WHIP before he shut it down last July.
40. Doug Fister, Tigers
Saddled with historically meager run provisions in Seattle, Fister’s gone 18–11 with soaring strikeout rates since becoming a Tiger at the 2011 trade deadline. Usually has one atrocious start a month, however.
41. Josh Johnson, Blue Jays
Average fastball velo fell below 93 mph for the first time last year. Gives you an honest day’s labor though; he owns by far the game’s longest streak of starts (117) of not allowing more than six runs.
42. Ross Detwiler, Nationals (B,C)
The best No. 5 starter in the game, bar none. As such, he should present a grand bargain on draft day and return something on the order of 14 wins, a 3.30 ERA and an escalating strikeout haul.
43. Jon Lester, Red Sox
Lester’s SO rate was 27 percent below what it was three years earlier and his 4.82 ERA the third-highest of qualifying lefties. Perhaps it was just a mid-life crisis; even a halfway comeback makes him usable.
44. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees (E)
Not sexy — but smart, professional, impervious to age, terminally underrated, numbingly consistent and (against all odds) lights out at Yankee Stadium.
45. Jarrod Parker, Athletics
Parker did not get enough acclaim for his 13-3.47-140-1.26 debut. The 24-year-old’s upside is a sliver beyond those numbers.
46. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Overachieves in ERA by stranding runners (an astonishing 82 percent in his career), but underachieves in wins because he can’t get past the sixth inning (failing to do so in 22 of 31 starts last year).
47. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants (E)
He was the NL ERA leader at 2.27 as late as Aug. 12, but a 6.75 in his last 10 games raised it a full run. Even Lazarus rose from the dead only once, so we’re thinking his rags-to-riches thing has run its course.
48. A.J. Griffin, Athletics (C)
Second pitcher of the past century to go undefeated in his first 11 MLB appearances (6–0, 1.94), all of which were starts. Hitters caught up to him after that, but he’s a big ol’ bulldog who can locate four pitches.
49. Dan Haren, Nationals (F)
Has thrown more pitches than anyone — 27,659, of which a significant percentage were arm-taxing cutters — since 2005. He’s paying the price in core pain and an average heater mph that’s gradually eroded from 92 to 89 the past six years.
50. Trevor Cahill, Diamondbacks
He’s more the workmanlike innings eater of the past two seasons (3.97 ERA) than the 18–8, 2.97 upstart of 2010. Beware of high-risk mechanics.
51. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks (E)
First rookie since 1983 with 14 wins and an ERA under 3.00 in his first 25 games of a season.
52. Derek Holland, Rangers
53. Johan Santana, Mets (F)
54. Tim Hudson, Braves (E)
55. Chris Tillman, Orioles (B,C)
56. Kyle Lohse, Free Agent (E)
57. Alex Cobb, Rays
58. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
59. Phil Hughes, Yankees
60. Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks (F)
61. Josh Beckett, Dodgers
62. Paul Maholm, Braves
63. Wade Davis, Royals (C)
64. Jason Vargas, Angels
65. Lance Lynn, Cardinals (E)
66. Tim Lincecum, Giants
67. Shaun Marcum, Mets (F)
68. Joe Kelly, Cardinals (C)
69. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
70. Wandy Rodriguez, Pirates
71. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers (F)
72. Shelby Miller, Cardinals (C)
73. Ryan Dempster, Red Sox (E)
74. Ryu Hyun-Jin, Dodgers
75. Matt Harrison, Rangers (E)
76. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (F)
77. Ted Lilly, Dodgers (F)
78. Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles
79. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
80. Edwin Jackson, Cubs
81. Ervin Santana, Royals (C)
82. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals (F)
83. Jason Hammel, Orioles
84. Jeff Niemann, Rays (F)
85. Bud Norris, Astros
86. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals (C)
87. A.J. Burnett, Pirates (E)
88. Tommy Milone, Athletics (E)
89. Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays (E)
90. Hector Santiago, White Sox (C)
91. Drew Smyly, Tigers
92. Marco Estrada, Brewers (C)
93. Lucas Harrell, Astros
94. Zack Wheeler, Mets (G)
95. Chris Capuano, Dodgers (E)
96. Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies
97. John Lackey, Red Sox (F)
98. Nathan Eovaldi, Marlins
99. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays (F)
100. Jose Fernandez, Marlins (G)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013