Positional Ranks: Starting Pitchers

This is perhaps the most time consuming and yet most volatile position to project and rank.  These rankings are based mostly on five main factors.  Strikeouts, walks, durability and upside…in that order.  Wins mean something, but are highly unpredictable except for maybe the top few pitchers.  When ranking starters, or pitchers in general, I ask myself one main question:  Who is the best at the things they can control?  Secondly, I break that question down into parts: Who generates the most strikeouts and swings and misses?  Who has the best command?  Who gets a large amount of ground balls?  Who keeps the ball in the ballpark? 
With this in mind, here are the top 70 starting pitchers broken down into tiers.

Tier one

1. Tim Lincecum
There is no question with ranking Lincecum all alone.  We are looking at something historical when we watch this guy pitch.
Tier two
2. Roy Halladay
3. Zack Greinke
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Justin Verlander
6. CC Sabathia
The move to the National League should help Halladay’s strikeouts and ERA.  both Greinke and King Felix should keep up their dominance while Verlander should continue to rack up the strikeouts. 
Tier three

7. Dan Haren

8.Jon Lester

9. Johan Santana
10. Adam Wainwright
11. Yovani Gallardo
Jon Lester took a huge step forward in 2009 despite a rough start and he should continue to be the second half pitcher we saw last season.  Johan Santana’s elbow should be fully recovered, but the elite level strikeouts may never return.  Yovani Gallardo went through a bit of a learning curve in 2009.  Expect a correction in command to result in a big improvement in ERA and WHIP.
Tier four
12. Ricky Nolasco
13. Ubaldo Jimenez
14. Cliff Lee
15. Chris Carpenter
16. Josh Beckett
17. Clayton Kershaw
18. Javier Vazquez
Are you shocked to see Hot Nolasco Sauce ranked so high?  Then you didn’t follow this site last season.  His command was not what it was in 2008, but his K/BB rate was among the best in the bigs.  Look for his BABIP to come back down to earth and his numbers to resemble those soft fantasy ace.  Despite a huge 2009 for Javier Vazquez, his numbers won’t translate as well in the American League, especially in the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium.
Tier five
19. Chad Billingsley
20. Josh Johnson
21. Tommy Hanson
22. Jake Peavy
23. Cole Hamels
24. Wandy Rodriguez
25. Brett Anderson
26. Max Scherzer
Fantasy owners would have been happy to grab Chad Billingsley as their ace in 2009 drafts.  Now he comes at a discounted price with all indicators pointing to a bounce back.  The second half Tommy Hanson is the one we will see in 2010 and beyond and that would make him a fantasy ace on any of my teams.  Much like Billingsley, Cole Hamels is set to bounce back after his 2009 World Series hangover.  Look for both Brett Anderson to take a big step forward and Max Scherzer to keep racking up the strikeouts.
Tier six
27. Matt Cain
28. Matt Garza
29. John Lackey
30. James Shields
31. Ryan Dempster
32. Jered Weaver
33. Jorge de la Rosa
34. A.J. Burnett
35. Scott Baker
Matt Cain is in line for a regression, but he would still provide value if he drops far enough on draft day.  Matt Garza is right on the verge of a breakout season while John Lackey is on the wrong side of 30 and profiles as more of a fantasy 3-4 than the ace that he used to be.  Joge de la Rosa had a great second half, but don’t overdraft him due to command issues. 
Tier seven
36. Rich Harden
37. Ted Lilly
38. John Danks
39. Brandon Webb
40. Roy Oswalt
41. Carlos Zambrano
42. Jonathan Sanchez
43. Neftali Feliz
44. Gavin Floyd
45. Ben Sheets
46. Jair Jurrjens
This tier represents pitchers with some upside, but injury question marks (Harden, Webb, Sheets) as well as some veterans that seem to be in a slight decline (Oswalt, Zambrano).  There are also some upside strikeout pitchers in Jonathan Sanchez and Neftali Feliz.  Sanchez has control issues while Feliz doesn’t exactly have an impact role as of yet.  Jair Jurrjens may seem way too low on this list, but his K/BB rate is league average while his ground ball rate, whiff rate and o-swing rate (swings on pitches outside the strike-zone) all regressed in 2009.  I’m not touching him in 2010.
Tier eight
47. Clay Buchholz
48. Daisuke Matsuzaka
49. Scott Kazmir
50. Edwin Jackson
51. Joba Chamberlain
52. Mark Buehrle
53. Ervin Santana
54. Chris Young
55. Francisco Liriano
56. Aaron Harang
57. Price David
58. Kevin Slowey
59. Marc Rzepczynski
60. Randy Wolf
61. Brian Matusz
62. Mat Latos
The top of this tier is filled with pitchers that have the potential to be impact arms, but need to either bounce back (Dice-K, Kazmir) or prove themselvesves at the Major League level (Buchholz, Joba).  Edwin Jackson had a great first half, but a 5-plus ERA in the second half to go along with a mediocre K/BB rate overall.  The middle of this tier represents bounce back candidates in Ervin Santana, Chris Young, Francisco Liriano and Aaron Harang.  Liriano peaks my interest the most as reports are that he is looking like his old self in winter ball.  Three names toward the end of this tier (Marc Rzepczynski, Brian Matusz, Mat Latos) represent big upside plays at the end of drafts. 
Tier nine
63. Hiroki Kuroda
64. Jason Hammel
65. Tim Hudson
66. Joe Blanton
67. Johnny Cueto
68. Justin Duchscherer
69. Derek Holland
70. Shaun Marcum
71. Randy Wells*
Hiroki Kuroda is consistent, but unspectacular.  Derek Holland has big upside and a Shaun Marcum could surprise with solid across the board numbers if healthy, which it looks like he is heading into spring training.
*Randy Wells moves to 71 because I forgot to copy and paste Dan Haren in at 7.  My Bad.
Not listed:
  • Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman – Right now I don’t have a reason to project them for enough innings to be draft worthy.  Maybe Strasburg if you have bench space.  This will be something to watch this spring.
  • Colby Lewis is an interesting story to watch as well.  I want to see him throw before I make a solid ranking.  He might just be worth a last round flier though.
  • Felipe Paulino is an intriguing arm at the end of drafts.  Big strikeout rates, but inconsistent command.  Still, I’d take a flier.
Any others that you have questions about, just leave a comment. 
The Master List
1. Tim Lincecum
2. Roy Halladay
3. Zack Greinke
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Justin Verlander
6. CC Sabathia
7. Jon Lester
8. Johan Santana
9. Adam Wainwright
10. Yovani Gallardo
11. Ricky Nolasco
12. Ubaldo Jimenez
13. Cliff Lee
14. Chris Carpenter
15. Josh Beckett
16. Clayton Kershaw
17. Javier Vazquez
18. Chad Billingsley
19. Josh Johnson
20. Tommy Hanson
21. Jake Peavy
22. Cole Hamels
23. Wandy Hamels
24. Brett Anderson
25. Max Scherzer
26. Matt Cain
27. Matt Garza
28. John Lackey
29. James Shields
30. Ryan Dempster
31. Jered Weaver
32. Jorge de la Rosa
33. A.J. Burnett
34. Scott Baker
35. Rich Harden
36. Ted Lilly
37. John Danks
38. Brandon Webb
39. Roy Oswalt
40. Carlos Zambrano
41. Jonathan Sanchez
42. Neftali Feliz
43. Gavin Floyd
44. Ben Sheets
45. Jair Jurrjens
46. Clay Buchholz
47. Daisuke Matsuzaka
48. Scott Kazmir
49. Edwin Jackson
50. Joba Chamberlain
51. Mark Buehrle
52. Ervin Santana
53. Chris Young
54. Francisco Liriano
55. Aaron Harang
56. Price David
57. Kevin Slowey
58. Marc Rzepczynski
59. Randy Wolf
60. Brian Matusz
61. Mat Latos
62. Hiroki Kuroda
63. Jason Hammel
64. Tim Hudson
65. Joe Blanton
66. Johnny Cueto
67. Justin Duchscherer
68. Derek Holland
69. Shaun Marcum
70. Randy Wells