Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Buzz Around The Bullpen: Fantasy Positional Preview: Starting Pitchers

[Editor’s note: With the fantasy baseball season fast approaching, SportsJudge continues its preseason positional preview. Please be sure to check back every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for a weekly positional analysis that will lead you right into your fantasy draft.]

Other Fantasy Positional Previews:

Welcome back to another edition of “The Buzz Around the Bullpen.” One more week of Spring Training and one more week of drama and news surrounding newly-signed Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez. This time it came from an Esquire magazine article where Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon called Manny Ramirez a "cancer" to the clubhouse during his last days in Boston. While I don't think I need to expound on how I truly feel about Manny, I will say it was out of line for Papelbon to "air the clubhouse's dirty laundry" in Esquire magazine.

For one, in some perverted, egotistical way, I believe this is exactly what Manny wants to hear. As we've seen by his arrogance to not "settle" for $41 million dollars during the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Manny is concerned with one person and/or thing. Himself. By Papelbon speaking about Manny, he is acknowledging he is still in the minds of some of his former Red Sox teammates and I believe this is music to Manny's ears.

Secondly, regardless of the situation, I've never been a fan of players publicizing clubhouse drama. It's only human nature for there to be drama and dissent in the clubhouse. After all, these guys spend as much, if not more time with their teammates as they do with their own families. It is only a matter of time before some drama arises. With that being said, Papelbon should have taken the high road and simply said that "it was in the best interest for both parties to go their seperate ways." Unfortunately, it seems likes Papelbon's emotions got the best of him. And in case you have not noticed, Papelbon is kind of an emotional, charasmatic guy.

For right now, let’s get back to some preseason projections. Last week we focused on Relief Pitchers and today we will move to the workhorses. In previous positional previews, I've provided you with an in-depth analysis of each player. However, because of the sheer number of starting pitchers, I'm only going to provide a sentence or two which will hopefully explain my ranking. Let’s talk about some Starting Pitchers.


1. Johan Santana (NYM): While some are worried about his move to a new park, I'm pretty sure Johan could get people out on my little league field. Until someone can out-pitch this guy on a consistent basis, he has to be the consensus number one.

2. Tim Lincecum (SF): His crazy delivery makes him extremely deceptive and difficult to pick-up. Because of his delivery, even the after the 10th time you've faced him, you still have trouble seeing where that ball is coming from. I look for another year of dominance over NL hitters.

3. C.C. Sabathia (NYY): He was unreal down the stretch last year for the Brew Crew. This guy has the character and personality that won't be affected by the lights and media of New York City. Add that with a much more explosive offense on his side and Sabathia is a legitimate 20-game winner in '09.

4. Roy Halladay (TOR): A complete game and innings monster. Somehow he quietly puts up stud numbers year in and year out and does not get the recognition he deserves. But don't let that stop you from taking him as your number one starter.

5. Cole Hamels (PHI): Hamels was impressive on baseball's biggest stage last fall. You can't measure how much that will do for his confidence and growth as an elite pitcher. The Phils should be very good again and I see Hamels even snagging a couple more wins that last year (14).

6. Brandon Webb (ARI): The great thing about Webb is even when his other stuff is mediocre, his sinker is dominant enough to win him games. He is a ground ball machine and that will only continue in '09. However, I do see a decrease in his games won. Look for around 16-18 wins. And remember, it's never a bad thing when you decrease your games won and still finish with 17.

7. Jake Peavy (SD): Speaking of games won, Peavy would be among the top 3-5 fantasy pitchers if he was on a better team. Only in San Diego can you have a 2.85 ERA over 175 innings and only win 10 games. His numbers are too good to ignore though.

8. Dan Haren (ARI): Option 1(b) in Arizona is not a bad fall back option to lead your pitching staff. He continues to dominant and his K/9 continues rise each year. I look for Haren to match Webb in wins this year with somewhere around 16-18.

9. Francisco Liriano (MIN): It wasn't too long ago that Liriano was matching Johan Santana start for start in Minnesota. He showed glimpses of dominance in '08 and every healthy month that passes is good news for Liriano. He's on the cusp of being 100% again and that is nothing but bad news for AL hitters.

10. Roy Oswalt (HOU): Oswalt was one of the most vocal players this off-season speaking out against steroids. In '09, I expect Oswalt to get back to letting his pitching do the talking. He's a bulldog and I don't think he was too happy about his mediocre numbers last year.

11. John Lackey (LAA): In '09 I predict that Lackey will get back to the consistent numbers he has put up throughout his career. Don't underestimate how much his early season injury affected his rhythm and throwing program last year.

12. James Shields (TB): Shields was really good way before the Rays knew they were any good. Now with some confidence and a ton of post-season experience, the Rays will be a much better team in '09. That can only mean good things for a guy that has put up consistent impressive numbers since his arrival to the big leagues.

13. Chad Billingsley (LAD): He has looked really good in the spring and that should quiet his critics who were concerned about his leg which he broke in the off-season. I think '09 is a breakout season for Billingsley and he will finally be mentioned among the league's elite.


14. Felix Hernandez (SEA): King Felix was the victim of injuries in '08 and I expect him to recover with some great numbers in '09. If Erik Bedard can pitch well and Brandon Morrow can develop as expected, that will take some added pressure off of Hernandez. This is a good thing for a guy that is still only 22 years old.

15. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS): "Dice-K" pulled off some tricks that were nothing short of Houdini-esqe in '08. How could someone walk that many batters and still win 18 games? Well he plays on a great team and big time pitchers, make big time pitches in big time situations. Dice-K makes pitches when he has to and his stuff is filthy which never hurts.

16. A.J. Burnett (NYY): I'm going to sum-up Burnett's career in one sentence. IF healthy, his stuff is as good as anyone in MLB. The problem is that he has spent so much of his time on the DL and we never really get to see what he can do over the course over a season. Is he just injury prone or does he really like the training room? My guess is that the NY media will be asking that question at some point this season.

17. Josh Beckett (BOS): Speaking of injury-prone, Beckett carries a very similar tag as does Burnett. I wouldn't draft him as your number one but if you can manage to slate him as your two or three, you've got a nice staff in the works.

18. Yovani Gallardo (MIL): I'm beginning to think there is a theme here. Gallardo was injured in '08 with a torn ACL but in the few starts he did have, he was very good. Remember the fantasy craze that followed this guy when he finally got the call to the bigs? It was well-deserved and if he is 100% healthy, he could put together quite an impressive stat line.

19. Zack Greinke (KC): It seems as though Greinke has harnessed some of the mental and emotional issues he was having earlier in his career. Now that he's focused on becoming an elite major league pitcher, he is due to have a huge year in '09. The Royals should be better and even if they aren't, sometimes you have to go for the "diamonds in the rough" to better your squad.

20. Cliff Lee (CLE): In the words of Ricky Bobby, "That..just...happened." Those are the only words that come to mind when I look at Lee's line from '08. I find it almost impossible for him to repeat those numbers but what he did last year was not a fluke. Lee made some major adjustments and his numbers were a direct product.

21. Rich Harden (CHC): Do yourself a favor. Take a look at Harden's numbers throughout his career. If the word "if" doesn't come to mind, you're not looking closely enough. One of these years Harden is going to put together a 200+ innings season and lead the league in K's.

22. Edinson Volquez (CIN): This will be a huge year to determine what kind of pitcher Volquez is going to be. Will he breakdown after 190+ innings in '08 or will he be fresh and even better? My guess is that he puts up very similar numbers in '09 which makes him a top 25 starting pitcher for the next couple of years.

23. Scott Kazmir (TB): Owners were a little worried coming into '08 because of some inflammation in Kazmir's elbow. However, Kazmir put up...Kazmir numbers in '08. He still needs to work a little deeper into games and with that, his K's numbers will go up and the hope is his WHIP will go down.

24. Ryan Dempster (CHC): Before last year, I took a look at Dempster's numbers as a starter and I was immediately a fan. After last year, now's not the time to jump off of that bandwagon. Expect more of the same in '09.

25. Ricky Nolasco (FLA): It seemed as though Nolasco started to "get it" in the second half last year. I think he continues to build on his strong second half and I even see a decline in his 3.52 ERA from last year.
The Best of the Rest

26. Carlos Zambrano (CHC): There is definitely a question of which Zambrano we will see in '09. He wasn't very good down the stretch and his numbers definitely reflected that. I think he benefits from some time off and comes into '09 with a great supporting cast in the rotation.

27. Adam Wainwright (STL): Add his raw stuff along with some guidance from Chris Carpenter and good things should happen.

28. Joba Chamberlain (NYY): The Yankees have spent a ton of money this off-season and if he earns a spot in the rotation, they need to let this horse pitch. You can only hold him back so much before he forces you to let him pitch 180+ innings.

29. Kevin Slowey (MIN): The comparisons to Brad Radke are dead on. He is a control freak who will only get better in '09 because of his intelligence and work ethic. Just ask my 14 year old all-star team. Although it won't show up for any fantasy points, it couldn't happen to a nicer kid.

30. Matt Cain (SF): Take a look at his stats over his career. If you like them, then take him in your draft. Your destin to get very similar numbers.

31. Jon Lester (BOS): Great team and he's still learning to pitch at the major league level. That's scary.

32. Derek Lowe (ATL): The sinker-baller gets a change of scenary with his move to Atlanta. He has looked pretty good in spring training. You can't expect many K's but he should help you out with 12-15 wins.

33. Ted Lilly (CHC): He's not a very sexy pick but his team and his K's keep him in the conversation.

34. Justin Verlander (DET): There is no way he can be that bad again.

35. Scott Baker (MIN): Along with Slowey and Liriano, the Twins are putting together a nice staff. His numbers continue to improve each year.

36. Randy Johnson (SF): The age-less wonder continues to put up above average numbers. I think the fact that he joins a very young staff only re-energizes him more.

37. Aaron Harang (CIN): (See Justin Verlander) There is no way he can be that bad again either. The decrease in innings in '08 should help him recover in '09.

38. Max Scherzer (ARI): His stuff is electric, nasty and filthy. The question is where will he fit into the D-Backs staff and can he stay healthy.

39. Javier Vazquez (ATL): A ton of K's and a high ERA. It's been Vazquez's M.O. for years now.

40. Matt Garza (TB): He showed his potential in the ALCS last year. Which Matt Garza will show up in '09?

Ten Pitchers Who Could Change Your Season: The next ten guys all come with questions and because of that, they may be ignored on draft day depending on the size of your league. However, they all have great potential to help significantly improve your fantasy squad. If you don't draft them on draft day, keep a close eye on them because you don't want to lose out on this type of fantasy potential.

41. Josh Johnson (FLA): Johnson did the unthinkable in putting up such efficient numbers so shortly after having Tommy John surgery. Time is the best thing to have on your side during that recovery and that probably means even better numbers in '09.

42. Chris Carpenter (STL): He was very good in his few starts at the end of '08. Injuries don't get easier as you get older and that's what still makes Carpenter a question. He could be a huge bargain if he somehow regains his Cy Young form or even close to it.

43. Brandon Morrow (SEA): Like Joba, there are some questions as to where Morrow fits into the Mariners' pitching staff. If he does serve as a starter, his upside is entirely too much to ignore.

44. David Price (TB): If you watched the post-season last year, you really don't need too much analysis. If you do grab him on draft day, you may have to wait a little. There are rumors that he may start the season at Triple-A.

45. Erik Bedard (SEA): I'm still suffering from some of the burns I got from drafting Bedard last year. He supposedly was injured from the beginning of the season last year so the hope is that the off-season surgery has him back to 100%. He could be a great value pick if other owners are willing to let him drop.

46. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL): Now I know it was the Netherlands, but if you got a chance to see him pitch in the WBC, you would be just as high on him as I am. He does struggle with command at times but this will come as he matures. I think this is the year he makes a name for himself.

47. Clayon Kershaw (LAD): I haven't heard this much hype since the Jonas brothers came to Pittsburgh. Kershaw was "good" last year but he was nowhere near the immediate stud some had projected. He will be someday and he is only going to get better in '09.

48. Jonathan Sanchez (SF): If there is one person that can benefit from the Big Unit, it might just be Jonathan Sanchez. If he can learn to cut down on his walks, he immediately becomes a much more attractive fantasy option. My guess is that the Unit teaches him a little bit about pitching instead of throwing.

49. Justin Masterson (BOS): In what became a crowded starting rotation in the off-season, somehow Masterson might start the season as the Sox 5th starter. You have to love his numbers from '08 in limited starts.

50. Mike Pelfrey (NYM): He is developing into the pitcher that scouts thought he could be. Now he moves into the Mets rotation permenantly and I look for him to handle it well. I'm predicting career-best numbers for Pelfrey and a definite increase in strikeout numbers.

As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.

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Brian Doyle said...

I like the list. Your commentary on Jonathan Sanchez is spot on. I think that he's teetering on a fence with "Daniel Cabrera-esque" on one side, and "good" on the other. Randy Johnson is the guy who can fix it because he's been there (he had a terrible WHIP '89-'92). Sanchez pitched well against the Dutch which, like you said with Jimenez, might not be that impressive, but Sanchez starts tonight in the elimination game against the U.S. so it will be interesting to see how well he does.

Scott said...


Thanks for the comment...I really appreciate and value your input. I've been a huge fan of all of your articles (especially the piece on Dominican baseball). I do think Sanchez could grow a ton under the guidance of the big unit. I know I've mentioned this on several occasions but San Francisco has really put together a nice staff. Even a minimal upgrade from Sanchez in '09 will do wonders for a the back-end of an already above average rotation. Thanks again for the comment.