Re-Ranked: Starting Pitchers, Top 25

Note: Bloguin was in the process of changing servers on June 23rd, so this article may not have been posted correctly on that date. This is the updated and, hopefully, correct version.

 

Starting pitchers…there are many of them. There is also a ton of movement every season in the rankings as guys fall to regression and injury while others thrive from development of new pitches, increases in velocity and, sometimes, luck. Where do the starters rank up for the remainder of the season?

 

1. Tim Lincecum – While Lincecum battled a stretch of command problems, he seems to be back on track for now. His strikeout numbers remain top notch and he is third in baseball in K/9 and second in whiff rate. It is that type of dominance that helps maintain a low ERA despite a .313 BABIP.  Until someone out-pitches Lincecum over the course of a full season, he’s still my top arm.

 

2. Ubaldo Jimenez- What is interesting about Ubaldo Jimenez’s performance so far this season, other than how incredible the numbers look, is that he hasn’t improved his strikeout rate or really lowered his walk rate all that much. His ground ball rate has always been above average and it is once again in 2010, but it has only increased, to this point, by roughly two-percent.  He’s not even missing more bats. Actually, his whiff rate is just slightly better than 80 percent, which has generally been about league average. The big difference has come in the results of his balls in play. Jimenez has only allowed a line drive rate of 13 percent, which helps explain such a low .239 BABIP against. He has also done a great job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, allowing only three home runs to this point.

 

All that being said, to expect this type of dominance to last 200 or so innings is asking a lot due to the fact that the results are based on balls in play and not a high level of strikeouts. A .239 BABIP is extremely hard to maintain, as is a left on base percentage of over 90 percent.

 

Jimenez will continue to be a top-level pitcher this season, but the chance to take his 100 best innings and sell for a first-round-level bat is now.

 

3. Josh Johnson – Johnson’s .270 BABIP against has a chance to regress toward .300 as the season moves along, but everything else in his numbers is top-notch. A K/9 just under nine and a 2.3 BB/9 combined with the ability to generate ground balls (48.5 percent), and the ability to miss bats (26 percent whiff rate, good for third best in baseball).

 

4. Adam Wainwright – I didn’t think Wainwright could pitch much better than he did last season, but he just continues to improve. So far this season he has a better K/BB rate, a better ground ball rate, a better whiff rate and has only allowed a 16.4 percent line drive rate. Even if his numbers regress a little in the second half, he should maintain his ranking as a top-end fantasy starter.

 

5. Jon Lester – Despite a poor start to the season, Lester has been so good that his ERA and WHIP are still excellent. The best part is that his peripherals have improved every month with regards to strikeout rate, walk rate and ground ball rate. He is an ace who should continue to post top-notch strikeout numbers to go along with the wins, ERA and WHIP.

 

6. Roy Halladay– Same ole story and it’s a good one. Halladay just continues to use his excellent command to keep the ball on the ground and keep hitters off balance. He won’t improve his strikeout numbers much, which keeps him out of contention for a top-three ranking, but he’s just a darn good and reliable fantasy ace.

 

7. Jered Weaver– After back-to-back seasons posting similar K/BB rates, Weaver has seen a huge jump in strikeouts helping him post a 4.65 K/BB rate thus far. Weaver has increased the usage of his offspeed stuff, which has translated into more swings and misses, more swings at pitches outside the strike-zone and thus more strikeouts. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to continue to put up fantasy ace numbers.

 

8. Cliff Lee– In 77.2 innings, Cliff Lee has allowed four walks. That’s right, FOUR walks, while striking out 67. He has basically become Roy Halladay with BETTER command. The problem comes with the win potential of his current ball club. There is a chance Lee gets traded yet again as the trade deadline approaches, but as it stands his offense will have to give him more run support for him to jump up in the rankings even more.

 

9. Chris Carpenter – Many of Carp’s numbers are right in line with what he did last season. He’s keeping the ball on the ground, limiting line drives and his strikeouts are actually up a bit this season. If there are any question marks, they come in the form of an injury plagued past and a loss in velocity across the board. That’ll keep him out of the elite, but still among the best fantasy pitchers in baseball.

 

10. CC Sabathia– While Sabathia remains a very good fantasy starter, he’s not the dominant force he once was. Part of that can be blamed on the league and division he now plays in. There might also be something to the high innings totals he has thrown since 2007. No matter what the reason, he’s close, just not elite anymore.

 

11. Felix Hernandez – There is really nothing wrong with the way King Felix has pitched this season other than the fact that he has done it for the offensively challenged Mariners. Hernandez ranks 77th in run support in baseball so far this season (minimum of 80 IP).

 

12. Clayton Kershaw– Still having an issue with control, Kershaw won’t move into the elite category just yet do to an inflated WHIP. However, as far as generating swings and misses as well as strikeouts, he’s one of the best in the business.

13. Stephen Strasburg – He has done nothing but live up to every bit of the hype and now has 41 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched with an insane 8.2 K/BB ratio. Innings will be limited, but his production has been so good that fact in only a small knock on his overall ranking.

 

14. Yovani Gallardo– There is only one weakness in Gallardo’s game this season, his walks allowed. While he has made a slight improvement over last season’s 4.56 BB/9, he’s still allowing too many baserunners to keep his WHIP down.

 

15. Matt Cain – One thing and one thing only continues to make me worry about putting too much stock in Matt Cain: His declining strikeout totals. Cain is trying to go back-to-back seasons with an ERA under 3.00. Last season was seen by many as a sort of fluke given a low .286 BABIP against. That’s not to say that Cain didn’t pitch well, but sub 3.00 well? The same thing is happening this season as hitters have managed only a .238 BABIP against him. It would be easy to say that BABIP is sure to rise toward .300, but then again, Cain has a career .274 BABIP against. The fact that his strikeouts are down make him a bit risky, but Cain seems to find a way to always get the job done despite what his peripherals say.

 

16. Tommy Hanson – After suggesting to buy low on Hansonon June eighth, he had back-to-back very good outings before getting shelled for nine earned runs against the White Sox in his last outing. For the reasons started in that article and because a nine spot can greatly skew an ERA, there is another chance to buy low on this super talented youngster.

 

17. Cole Hamels– Aside from a rain-shortened three earned runs outing on June 1st, Hamels has only allowed three earned runs in less than six innings once since April 28th. He has increased his strikeout rate by over a full K/9 from his 2008 and 2009 totals, but has also raised his walk rate by a over one BB/9. Hopefully those walks allowed are on the way down as Hamels hasn’t walked over three in a game since May 16th.

 

18. Zack Greinke– Despite a 4.61 K/BB rate, Zack Greinke is 2 and 8 with a 3.94 ERA. While he is certainly not the pitcher he was last season, his number’s should get much better as the season moves along. His biggest problem so far has been his home runs allowed. All of last season Greinke only allowed 11 home runs. In only 96 innings this season, he has allowed 13. His defense hasn’t done him any favors either and a .309 BABIP against while only allowing a line drive rate of 17.3 percent is evidence of this. Now would be a great time to buy low. He may not get the wins either way, but he should help in strikeouts, WHIP and ERA going forward.

19. Colby Lewis – After time spent in Japan turning himself into a better pitcher, Colby Lewis has come back to the United States and exceeded expectations to this point. The biggest surprise has been his strikeout rate, which stands at 8.65 K/9. It was his command that saw the biggest improvement during his time overseas, but such a good strikeout rate was completely unexpected. That being said, the question now turns to his BABIP against, which is an incredibly low .233. As long has he maintains a K/9 over eight, he’ll have plenty of value, even if the BABIP regresses.

 

20. David Price – Funny how much difference it makes to simply keep the ball in the yard and get a few more ground ball outs. Price’s K/9 and BB/9 don’t tell the story here…

 

2009: 7.15 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, .282 BABIP, 41.5% GB%

2010: 7.17 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, .271 BABIP, 47% GB%

 

Price has only allowed 0.69 HR/9 while that rate was at 1.19 last season. While that means that he has improved as a pitcher this season, it still makes a sub 3.00 ERA somewhat surprising given the K/BB rate under 2.0.

 

21. Clay Buchholz– In the same light as I looked at David Price’s season so far, Buchholz hasn’t necessarily done much different with regards to his K/BB rate. However, he has definitely done a better job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. He has only allowed three home runs through 91 innings this season while he allowed 13 through 92 innings last season. As is the case with Price, Buchholz may be pitching a bit over his head as far as his ERA is concerned, but as long as he continues to keep the ball in the yard he’ll be an effective fantasy starter going forward.

 

22. Roy Oswalt– A savvy veteran, Oswalt realized that he could no longer rely so heavily on his fastball this season and has gone to more offspeed pitches than ever before in his career, especially with regards to his changeup. The problem is that, for the time being, he remains a member of the helpless Astros, who fail to help him out much on the offensive or defensive side. If he is traded to a contender, he could easily jump a spot of two in the rankings.

 

23. Justin Verlander– The big drop in strikeouts is hurting Verlander’s value, though he is still a very good fantasy option. For some reason, Verlander has not used his fastball as much as he did in 2009, when it was a pitch worth 25.4 runs above average.

 

24. Dan Haren – See: Dan Haren: 2010’s Ricky Nolasco, Only Better

 

25. Johan Santana – A continued regression in strikeout rate as well as velocity have caused Santana’s fantasy stock to fall despite continuing to post solid ERA and WHIP numbers. Whether this regression is due to the elbow problems he faced last season or just the natural regression of a pitcher who has logged a lot of innings over his career, one thing is for certain: He’s not the fantasy ace he once was.

 

I’m sure there are a number of names not in this top 25 list, but I assure you that I will be covering more in the next article. For example, Phil Hughes and Mat Latos just missed this list because of innings limitations and that will be covered tomorrow.