Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: Starting Pitchers

I spend way too much time each spring going through player lists in preparation for fantasy baseball season. Of course I want to win my league, but it's more than that: I seriously cannot stop thinking about drafting, even though it's over a month away.

My unshakable obsession and problem is your gain: I present to you, position by position, my fantasy baseball previews for the 2009 season. What credentials do I have to back up these previews? None. Instead, I'll do my best to assemble for you as much information as possible and tell you what it means to me.

We start with Starting Pitchers, because these are players that can really make or break your draft. Invest in the wrong guy (such as Justin Verlander last year) early and your team could be torpedoed before it gets out of the gates. Make a couple great mid- and late-round choices (Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee last year) and you can coast through your season barreling over all in your path. Every single year, there is no position where actual performance varies from projected performance more than at the Starting Pitcher positions.

I'll do a more in-depth discussion of my drafting approach at the end of this list; but first, let's get to the rankings. Suggested dollar values are from; stats are 2008 totals.

Johan Santana, NYM ($27) 16w, 206k, 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Still the king of the hill, going into his age-29 season. As I'll discuss at the end of the article, I'm normally wary of taking a pitcher in the first 5-6 rounds because of the risk of injury- Santana is one of the few guys I'm willing to make an exception for, because he's shown that he can consistently pitch 220+ innings and doesn't have a particularly worrisome delivery. His indicators are all steady and the Mets will get him the wins to make him worth taking. After several years where he's gone in the late first round, Santana is being projected to go late 2nd/early 3rd this year despite the fact that his peripherals haven't changed. If anything, it feels like he's a safer pick because he's safely 'broken through' the age 26-27 years where so many pitchers get injured because of bad mechanics or overuse. The real reason he's falling is that he has 'only' put up 15 and 16 wins the last two years. I'm tempted to take him if he falls below 20th overall - he's still, in my opinion, that much better on draft day. Oh, sure, one of Lincecum, Webb, Hamels or Peavy could easily outpitch him this year, but do you know which one? There's no pitcher who you'd be more willing to bet on to finish top 3 in the CY voting at this stage.

Drafting Santana, even in the late second round, would be a departure for me and any other GM who looks to stock up on bats for the first 5-7 rounds. This year, I'll consider it because I think it's too low for him to go. If I pass on him with a 18-22nd pick, I'm almost definitely taking him if he's still there from 27-31 or later. It's an especially difficult question because there's a real dropoff in talent, in my opinion, after the second round this year. The tail end of the 2nd in most leagues will feature some combination of Soriano, Beltran, C. Lee, Pedroia, Manny and Crawford, while the third round is filled with very good-but-not-amazing players like Morneau, Kemp, Markakis etc. For that reason, I don't see Santana making it past the 25th pick in almost any league, and in most leagues, he'll go around 15-18.

If you do pick him, and you're like me in your commitment to offense first, you have to pick bats for at least four more rounds, probably five. With Santana, there's no need to pick another starter until the ninth round, and only one pick before that should be a closer (we'll get to my closer thoughts in another article). Final verdict: if you're picking in the latter half of the second round, feel free pull the trigger if he's there from picks 18-24.

Tim Lincecum, SFG ($26) 18w, 265k, 2.62, 1.17
I won't deny it; he's awesome. He's arguably a better pitcher than Santana. Third round, though? I had him on several teams last year and I love him, and I'll still watch his starts whenever I can, but I won't draft him this year. There are too many things that might prevent a repeat performance:
-Injury risk. Some experts believe Tim has better-than-perfect mechanics, others cringe when they see him throw. I'm not worried, but the risk is always there for young pitchers, especially given his 80IP workload jump last season.
-The Giants. Sure, Tim got 18 wins last year, but his almost-as-good sidekick Matt Cain had a 8-14 record last year with a 3.76 ERA. If Tim only gets 10-12 wins in 2009, you'll be screwed.
-Control concerns. I watched a lot of Lincecum last year, and his stuff is sick. He's not tricking hitters with junk; they simply can't see the ball. Nevertheless, don't underestimate the possibility that Lincecum may go off the rails from time to time. He gave up 84 walks last year, and young pitchers like him often go through entire seasons where they can't throw strikes: Oliver Perez, Carlos Zambrano, even Roy Halladay. Older pitchers like Santana don't have this risk; you shouldn't ignore the possibility that Lincecum may have a couple off years before he finds his stride.

I might be wrong. There's a very good chance that Lincecum wins another Cy Young this year. But there are too many risks here for me to want him in the third round.

CC Sabathia, NYY ($26) 17w, 251k, 2.70, 1.11
On the other hand, here's a guy I feel better about. At 28, he's starting to mature and has been consistently awesome the past few years. Sure, he's fat and could get injured anytime. Look back at recent history, though, and you'll see that fat pitchers aren't really bigger injury risks than the general population. Sure, Bartolo Colon and Sidney Ponson have had their problems, but David Wells was 38 before he missed a large part of a season due to injury. I'm less worried about CC than most other starters. If I don't take Santana and CC is around after the 35th pick, I'll consider him. I'd probably rather have Prince Fielder if he's still around, but CC is a nice pickup there. I'd take CC before Lincecum without a doubt.

Roy Halladay, TOR ($23) 20w, 206k, 2.78, 1.05
I play in a league full of Blue Jays fans, so Halladay always goes in the second round. Otherwise, though, he'll go late 4th/early 5th round this year, tightly bunched together with the next bunch of starters. After easing back on his strikeouts in '06 and '07, Roy cranked it up last year and there's no reason to believe he won't pitch with the same approach this year. He was used heavily down the stretch, but his 'injury-prone' label is misplaced. At age 31, he still has an easy delivery. I wouldn't pick him before 55th overall, especially if some of the next couple guys are also around, but I'd be happy to have him at that point.

Brandon Webb, ARI ($23) 22w, 183k, 3.30, 1.20
My outlook on Webb is similar to Halladay, and they're worth about the same in my mind. Again, I wouldn't take him in the 4th round, but if he's there after 55, I'll give him a long look.

Dan Haren, ARI ($23) 16w, 206k, 3.33, 1.13
I'm not sure why rates him with Webb and Halladay. Don't get me wrong, he's really good, but I'm not interested until the 7th round at least. Haren strikes me as the guy who will go right after Halladay, Webb, Hamels and Peavy are all off the board and one GM is still desperate to get his 'ace'. Don't be that guy-if you do, you're picking him at a time when the top catchers (McCann, Martin) are going. Even if McCann, Martin and Mauer go, I'd rather take Abreu, Dunn or Soto at this point. I'd also take a top closer (Papelbon or Nathan) over him. Someone in your draft will take him in the 5th or 6th round, and that's too early. There are better values to be had by taking several pitchers in the 9th-12th rounds.

Cole Hamels, PHI ($22) 14w, 196k, 3.09, 1.08
Hamels is listed down here because I'm simply working off the list. It's easy to argue, actually, that he's the fourth-best starter after CC/Lincecum. He's going there on, which puts his ADP at 41.34, squarely in the middle of the 4th round. I'd probably rather take a catcher (McCann, please) there, but I'll consider Hamels a few picks later (46th or so) if I'm pretty sure I can get one of McCann, Martin or Mauer on the way back. I'm not worried about injuries, control or makeup. He only had 14 wins last year, but that should come up. Of this group of pitchers, I like Hamels the best if I'm going to take a starter in the 4th or 5th round. That being said, as much as the crop of No. 2 outfielders in the 5th round (Victorino, Hart, McClouth, Abreu) is a bit underwhelming, the outfield options further along are even uglier. If you're in a league that plays 5 outfielders, I strongly recommend that you take one here, because otherwise you're going to be rostering players like David DeJesus and Jason Kubel on a daily basis. As Corey Schwartz at likes to point out, after catcher, there may be no thinner position in fantasy than outfield. The quick explanation: for most leagues, 18 MLB infielders will be drafted at each of 1B, 2B, SS and 3B (12 for each spot plus 6 each to fill CI/MI)- that's 60% of the league total. Most of those players will be everyday players and even if they're light on power or speed, at least they will put up runs and RBIs. In the outfield, though, at least 60 (5 OF spots x 12 teams) will be drafted- that's 67% of MLB spots. You can expect some mix of DHs, OFs and CIs to fill the utility spot, but let's call that a wash.

It goes beyond that, though. In the infield, if a player is a hitter or defender, he still tends to play every day. In general, the decent hitting outfielders are far more likely to be platooned than infielders, while full-time players on the bottom end tend to be more defensive players. Once you get into that range, the available pool of outfielders is messy. Either they play everyday, but aren't that good (DeJesus, Rowand, the list goes on) or they are platoon players who can't be counted on for more than 400 ABs. At least with pitchers you can pick up extra starters to make up your innings; with outfielders, even with a revolving door spot on Mondays and Thursdays, it's basically impossible to use up your outfield playing time- unless you fill those spots with full-time players in the early rounds. That's why I can't stress enough how valuable players like Abreu, McClouth - even Vernon Wells - are. You can find decent pitchers in later rounds and on waivers; finding outfield talent is next to impossible later in the draft.

If, on the other hand, you're in a league that only requires 3 outfielders, breathe easy. There ARE 36 good, everyday outfielders available. If this is the case (in Yahoo! default leagues, for example), the value of those #2 outfielders drops rapidly. You'll won't do much worse than Rick Ankiel, Chris Young or Jayson Werth for your #3, so you can afford to wait. Grab that SP in round 4 or 5 because you can fill your outfield later.

Jake Peavy, SDP ($21) 10w, 166k, 2.84, 1.18
Peavy was held to 173 innings last year and was hurt by a terrible offense that kept him from getting wins. He's not really any more of an injury risk than Hamels, Webb or Haren, and I'd be comfortable taking him in the 5th round. I value him about the same as the others, so if it's the 4th round, grab that catcher and be happy with whoever makes it back to you.

Ervin Santana, LAA ($21) 16w, 214k, 3.49, 1.12
Santana's season last year was a little hard to believe after he put up a 5.76 ERA in '07. Nevertheless, his indicators are all moving in the right direction (214/47 K/BB), he has probably hit his groove. Once that kind of control is shown, pitchers don't tend to lose it quickly. You have every reason to expect a repeat performance, aside from the always-present injury risk for young pitchers coming off big innings (219 IP at age 25 last year). Because of a lack of hype, you can probably get him in the 8th round, so there's no need to reach for him. If you've grabbed all bats for your first 7 picks, he's a good option. If you still haven't taken a closer and Soria is still around, or if a good OF is sitting there, I'd take one of them.

John Lackey, LAA ($21) 12w, 130k, 3.75, 1.23
Why doesn't this guy ever get any love? He's got as much talent as Haren, Webb or Halladay but because he has been unlucky with wins he gets ignored. He won't put up the same strikeout totals as most of the guys ahead of him but he is worth a long look. He missed the start of the year last year with a triceps strain but was back in excellent form by season's end and should continue to be great in '09. I'm targeting him in the 9th round this year and would be more than happy if he's the first starter I take.

Josh Beckett, BOS ($20) 12w, 172k, 4.03, 1.19
Beckett is a good pitcher. He's improved the last two years and his control has become more refined. He's also giving up fewer home runs. A side strain nagged him last year and he's had blister problems in previous years, but there's no reason to believe that either will cause serious problems. There's a good bet he'll miss a couple starts at some point, but when he's pitching, his K/BB ratio (172/34 last year) suggests that he should be a star when healthy. Go ahead and draft him if he's still around in the 11th with the knowledge that he'll be your best pitcher 80% of the time.

Cliff Lee, CLE ($19) 22w, 170k, 2.54, 1.11
Cy Young winner this low? Yeah. No one expects him to win 22 again, because he just doesn't strike out enough hitters. He was lucky on his FB/HR rate and can't sustain a 2.54 ERA. I think he's a terrific pitcher, but I wouldn't take him over any of the guys above, save maybe Beckett. Someone else in your league will take him in round 7-9; don't touch him before the 10th or 11th.

Jamie Shields, TB ($19) 14w, 160k, 3.56, 1.15
Shields has put up basically the same season two years in a row. Again, I wouldn't take him over the other guys already listed, but if he's around in the 11th or 12th, you can take him.

Roy Oswalt, HOU ($19) 17w, 165k, 3.54, 1.18
Why so low? Oswalt has traditionally gone in the 4th-6th round but has been dismissed by a lot of pre-season rankings. He got off to a terrible start last year with a 5.61 ERA on Memorial Day. From there, he was like a house on fire, pitching well enough to bring his stats to the numbers you see above. Because of his slow start, he got dropped in many leagues last year and his stats looked subpar until about September. Since so many fans have put together their Cy Young shortlist by the All-Star break, many assumed that Oswalt was declining. News flash: he's only 31, and his stats last year compare favourably to previous years. Expect him to be an ace again and check where he's preranked on your league's draft list. If you think you can get him in the 10th round, this is a guy to target.

Felix Hernandez, SEA ($18) 9w, 175k, 3.45, 1.39
You can put last year's won-loss record down to a weak supporting cast, but don't think for a second that Kind Felix is poised for a breakout Cy Young season. Reason one: his walk total jumped alarmingly last year to the point where he has just a 175/80 K/BB ratio. As I mentioned in the Tim Lincecum comment, young pitchers have growing pains in the control department. While they can be the most dominating pitchers in the league at their best, you have to suffer through stretches where they can't find the plate. Because of the continual hype that surrounds him, Felix will be drafted in the 7th-9th round by some GM who thinks he's catching a rising star. Maybe he is, but you can get a pitcher who already is a star by taking Lackey or Oswalt in the 9th or 10th. Don't touch Felix.

Javier Vazquez, ATL ($17) 12w, 200k, 4.67, 1.32
While I applaud for ranking him this high, there's no way Javy will rank this high in most other arenas. What that means is you should target him if he's around in the 13th/14th round or later. Atlanta is a good destination for him as his struggles in Chicago were caused by home runs, which should fall off in Atlanta. While he's still no guarantee to have an ERA under 4.00, he's a premium source of Ks and has good control so your WHIP won't be hurt. He also pitches 200 innings like clockwork so he's one of the best late-round bets to win 15 games. Consider him in the 12th-14th; don't let him fall past the 15th round. Where to target him depends on how he's preranked in your league. Expect most of your rival owners to stick pretty closely to the prerankings; if, say, Javy is ranked 150th (about where I expect he'll be), that means the people at Yahoo! or whatever site you're on think he should go mid-13th round. In that case, you might want to stretch a little and take him in the 12th (unless one of the other guys above is still around). If he's lower (which is also very possible), say 200th, then he's expected to go in the 17th round. In that case, you can wait until the 14th or even 15th if you're sure you can get him.

Francisco Liriano, MIN ($17) 6w, 67k, 3.91, 1.39
Hey, he's got talent. Yeah, he's hyped. The fact is, you can't be too sure what you'll get out of this guy. Consider this: even if he pitches really well, do you think the Twins want him to pitch 200 innings this year after 76 last year coming off his Tommy John? The only way that happens is if they're in a tight race. Otherwise, he'll be pulled after 6 innings every start no matter how good he is, which will cost you wins. He's no longer throwing as hard as he used to and gave up an alarming 32 walks in 76 innings last year. Some guy in your league will draft him in the 9th-11th round on the hype and will probably be disappointed. If he's somehow around in the 15th, yeah, I'll give him a shot, but no earlier. MockDraftCentral reports an ADP of 70, which is insane. Stay away.

Scott Kazmir, TB ($17) 12w, 166k, 3.49, 1.27
Kazmir has been erratic at best the last few years, and has never won more than 13 games. He had an elbow strain last year. All this has combined, it seems, to make people shy away from him. He's by no means perfect, but he's better than a lot of pitchers out there. Look to grab him, if you can, in the early teens (rounds 11-15). He will give you great Ks and ERA, while putting up perfectly decent WHIP. Frankly, his stuff is so good that last year's numbers feel like the downside. As he is now, he's a terrific pitcher; if his control improves at all he's a Cy Young candidate because he'll be able to get through the seventh inning without throwing 125 pitches. Yes, he's an injury risk, but in rounds 10-20 almost every pitcher is. Like Vazquez, check the preranks and figure out what round you can get him.

Chad Billingsley, LAD ($17) 16w, 201k, 3.14, 1.34
I think has him ranked about right, but in your league, expect him to be ranked higher (9th-11th round), because of last year's numbers. He broke his knee during the offseason and is expected to be back in time to start the season, but I'm nervous anyway. He's only 25, his control stinks, and his workload had been getting too big, too fast. He threw a ton of pitches in '08 because of his spotty control and I worry the wheels may come off this year, particularly because the knee injury makes him a risk for cascade injuries in his upper body. Don't touch him.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS ($16) 18w, 154k, 2.90, 1.32
How do you win 18 games and post a 2.90 ERA with a 154/94 K/BB? You get really, really lucky. Or you sell your soul to the devil. Assume it's the latter and that Dice-K will stink big-time this year. Or at best put up a 4.40 ERA like he did in 2007. Let him be someone else's mistake.

Ricky Nolasco, FLA ($15) 15w, 186k, 3.52, 1.10
Who? Nolasco went from a nobody to a superstud seemingly out of nowhere last year, and still noone knows who he is. He is a prime sleeper target for 2009. You won't be the only one wanting him (keep an eye on whoever had him in your league last year), but if you can get him in the 12th round or later, you're golden.

Jon Lester, BOS ($15) 16w, 152k, 3.21, 1.27
He's good, not awesome. I'd take most of the guys I've targeted above first because Lester was worked very hard last year and while he's got good stuff, he's not so dominant that you should expect a 3.21 ERA again. He'll go in the 10th or 11th; that's too early.

Zack Grienke, KC ($14) 13w, 183k, 3.47, 1.28
The casual observer can't be blamed for not being too impressed with Grienke; his image of inconsistency and personality problems is reinforced by the fact that, in photos, it looks as if a 12-year-old somehow snuck onto the mound. Don't let the image fool you. If you've seen him pitch, you'll understand. His stuff is nasty - it's like the movie Rookie of the Year come true. His strikeout numbers are 100% legit and his control is good. He may not win more than 15 games, but you can be almost certain of an ERA under 4.00 and almost 200 Ks. Like any young pitcher, there's an injury risk, but if you can get him in the 11th round or later, do it. Again, check your league's preranks.

A.J. Burnett, NYY ($14) 18w, 231k, 4.07, 1.34
For the first time in years, A.J. made it through a full season and was a horse. Don't bet on it to continue. He threw a lot of pitches last year- his 221 innings weren't easy, with 86 walks and a 1.34 WHIP, he was pushed past 115 pitches again and again down the stretch. The injury risks this season mean that there's a real chance he throw half as many innings; even if he does that, his control means that you're going to see some stinker starts and fewer wins than you'd like. Don't take him before the 13th round, but you can consider him then onwards.

Matt Cain, SFG ($13) 8w, 186k, 3.76, 1.36
He's a much better pitcher than his W-L indicates, but he still gives up a lot of walks-91 last year. He could find his control at any time now that he has three full seasons under his belt, but don't pay a premium for it. Take him no earlier than the fifteenth round.

Justin Verlander, DET ($13) 11w, 163k, 4.84, 1.40
Verlander had a tough year last year, seeing a rise in walks and fall in strikeouts that torpedoed his performance and killed the Tigers. He may have been dealing with an injury, and I don't want to bet on a rebound. Though he might get back to normal, you could also suffer through three months of a 5.00 ERA while you wait for him to get it together. In the 13th round, you've got better options.

Rich Harden, CHC ($12) 10w, 181k, 2.07, 1.06
Harden's got all the talent in the world, but has exceeded 50 innings once in the last 3 years. If he gets taken before the 15th round, that's too early. Let him be someone else's headache.

John Danks, CHW ($11) 12w, 159k, 3.32, 1.23
A solid young pitcher who seems a good bet to repeat his performance (excepting the ERA). Don't reach for him, but grab him in the 15th or 16th if the better options are gone. He's a good #4/#5 for your staff.

Edinson Volquez, CIN ($11) 17w, 206k, 3.21, 1.33
He'll be ranked higher than this on draft day- expect him to go in the 11th or 12th round. His line last year was too good to be true- he was BABIP-lucky and gave up 93 walks as he wore out down the stretch. In addition to a serious probability of injury, there's a guaranteed probability of regression to the mean. He's not that good. Volquez, as you may have heard, showed up in a Dominican Republic rap video handing his friend a gun; he may face a suspension for this. Don't touch him.

Joba Chamberlain, NYY ($11) 4w, 118k, 2.60, 1.26
This is a tough one, because it all depends on how many innings he gets. His per-inning performance is up there with Rich Harden, though-but in Joba's case, you at least know what you're getting. There's little chance he throws less than 100 IP, but he won't go much over 150. I'd take him in the 15th round without hesitation if you can make up the innings elsewhere.

Ryan Dempster, CHC ($11) 17w, 187k, 2.96, 1.21
Like Volquez, he'll be ranked higher than this, but shouldn't be. He was hit-lucky and stayed healthy all year, but this is a total departure from his established level of performance. Bank on a return to a 4.50 ERA and don't draft him.

Matt Garza, TB ($11) 11w, 128k, 3.70, 1.24
Here's a guy I like. A 25-year old with hard stuff and good control, on a great team. I like his chances to get 15 wins with an ERA under 4.00 this year, which would be great value any time in the 15th round or later.

Ted Lilly, CHC ($11) 17w, 184k, 4.09, 1.23
Has anyone noticed that this guy has put up 15 wins 3 years running? That his K totals keep going up? His pedestrian stuff and worried countenance can be overlooked so long as he keeps winning. He'll be the lowest-preranked 17-game winner in your league, and you can happily take him as your #4 in the 15th or later if he's there.

Ben Sheets, free agent ($11) 13w, 158k, 3.09, 1.15
Sheets has just today opted for arm surgery that is likely to cost him at least half the season. If you have multiple DL spots, you could possibly justify holding on to him from draft day, but I'm not certain. At most, take him in the last two rounds, but until he signs a contract I'm not touching him. Best-case at this point looks like he might pitch 80 innings at the end of the year, and that's not worth planning around.

Brett Myers, PHI ($11) 10w, 163k, 4.55, 1.38
Brett's a flake. He's been bounced around from bullpen and rotation after inconsistency the last two years. That said, he was awesome down the stretch last year and you can bet it'll continue. With Hamels leading the way, the pressure is off Myers. I like him to put together a rebound year. Given his poor '08 he may be available as late as the 17th or 18th round; check your preranks and plan accordingly. He's a justifiable pick as early as the 14th.

Aaron Harang, CIN ($11) 6w, 153k, 4.78, 1.38
The wheels came off for Harang last year as he went an ugly 6-17. Beyond the record, though, he was actually decent. He still put up a 3:1 K/BB and can be expected to do it again; as for his 4.78 ERA, if that's your off year, you're a pretty good pitcher. He suffered from an ugly BABIP and is a strong bet to rebound to a 4.00 ERA, and a bundle of wins and Ks. He'll be available late; grab him in the 17th or later and be glad you've got him. He's not going to win the Cy Young, but he'll be a very solid workhorse at the back of your rotation.

Kevin Slowey, MIN ($10) 12w, 123k, 3.99, 1.15
He's a good, not great pitcher. His pinpoint control means he gives up fewer walks than almost anyone, while still getting a very healthy total of strikeouts/9. He's a useful guy to own if he drops to the 17th or later.

Yovani Gallardo, MIL ($10) 0w, 20k, 1.88, 1.25
All talent and no track record. His injury problem was in his ACL; though he may not settle in right away, his arm should be just fine. He's a great guy to take a chance on in the 17th or later if you already have a lot of 'safe' veterans in the top of your rotation. He could be a big zero or could outpitch most #2 starters.

Carlos Zambrano, CHC ($10) 14w, 130k, 3.91, 1.29
Big Z looks to have been overworked in his early years with the Cubs - thanks, Dusty. Carlos was basically the same guy he's always been-effectively wild where he gives up a ton of walks and gets lots of Ks, but he's not an ace. While he's a strong ERA guy because he's not too bad on home runs, there are a stack of guys I'd take first. He'll be drafted in the 13th round or so and that's about five rounds earlier than he should be.

Scott Baker, MIN ($9) 11w, 141k, 3.45, 1.18
Baker is basically the same pitcher as Slowey. He's boring, which works in your favour. Draft him late if you need a fourth or fifth starter and he'll be solid if not amazing. Anytime from round 18 onward is good value.

Max Scherzer, ARI ($9) 0w, 66k, 3.05, 1.23
He's got tons of talent but his value is totally dependent on whether he has a job. He won't be a highly-ranked player so you can get him in the 22nd round or later if you want him. Keep an eye on him in spring; if he starts the year in the rotation, he should be on someone's roster.

Gil Meche, KC ($9) 14w, 183k, 3.98, 1.32
Meche has been great for the Royals since they signed him, but he's nothing special. Someone will take him in the 16th round or so, earlier than you want him. He's as good as he'll ever be and guys like this are a dime a dozen on the waiver wire. Pick someone else instead.

Randy Johnson, SFG ($9) 11w, 173k, 3.91, 1.24
Last year's line sounds like a reasonable projection for the Big Unit and I'd be happy to have him in the 17th or later. Check your preranks-he may be worth stretching for a bit; if there are other guys listed above available, you may be able to wait.

Adam Wainwright, STL ($9) 11w, 91k, 3.20, 1.18
A good, not great pitcher with some injury issues. I'm not convinced he's actually a good bet to be better than Slowey or Baker when healthy. I'd avoid him until the 20th round, at which point I'll take him.

Derek Lowe, ATL ($9) 14w, 147k, 3.24, 1.13
Lowe is a terrific pitcher who gets underrated because he's not that glamourous. He's a harsh groundballer so leaving Dodger Stadium shouldn't hurt his numbers. A very safe pick in the 15th onward, and as good a bet to post 200 <4.00 style="font-weight: bold;">Jered Weaver, LAA ($9) 11w, 152k, 4.3, 1.28
He's continually improving but he's not the dominator he was in his rookie year. He's more along the lines of a slightly better version of Slowey/Baker: a young control pitcher who will put up a 4.00-ish ERA and a low WHIP. A guy you won't mind having, but there are so many useful pitchers like him that your best move is to not worry about getting one specific guy out of the group but to pick whoever's there to be your #4 and #5 in the mid-late teens.

Chris Young, SD ($9) 7w, 93k, 3.96, 1.29
Nagging injuries have cut into his innings every year, but he is a decent pitcher. Like Gallardo, it's ok to take him late if you've got some more reliable anchors higher in your rotation. Only take him if he drops a round or so below your league preranks.

Erik Bedard, SEA ($9) 6w, 72k, 3.67, 1.32
Stay away! Someone will take a flier on him early in the hopes that he can maked it a full year again. Pitchers coming off serious injuries don't usually get back to form so quickly. Yeah, he might be good, but with the 15th round pick you'll have to use, you can get a pitcher like Matt Garza who you can count on to be good.

David Price, TB ($9) 0w, 12k, 1.93, 0.93
The trade of Edwin Jackson signalled the Rays' intention to give Price a full-time starting job this year after he forced his way into a role in the playoffs. He is a must-draft target who could give you amazing value even if he gets capped at 150 innings. Check your league's preranks and be prepared to stretch for him. You should be looking to get him no earlier than the 14th round, ideally a bit later.

Josh Johnson, FLA ($8) 7w, 77k, 3.61, 1.35
He was only around for the second half last year as he came off Tommy John. He's a decent pitcher and should be healthy. He's a good #5 option but there's no need to pick him before the 19th round as there are piles of better players to take first.

Johnny Cueto, CIN ($8) 9w, 158k, 4.81, 1.41
Cueto started like a house on fire last year, and then started giving up a lot of homers. He's not a guy to trust, but take a flier on him in the late rounds if you want. Give him a couple starts, and if he stinks, you can cut him. He may reward you with a nice season.

Mark Buehrle, CHW ($7) 15w, 140k, 3.79, 1.34
He's a boring pitcher but he gets it done. His strikeout rate ticked up last year, too, so he's no longer a worry in that department. Pick him if he's available, but don't reach for him. He has no upside above last year's value.

Chien-Ming Wang, NYY($7) 8w, 54k, 4.07, 1.32
Wang missed time last year with a torn foot tendon and should be healthy this year. He, like Buehrle, is a pretty known quantity. Their value is basically identical, but if your league has a low innings limit, you might avoid both of them. They'll drag your strikeout totals while only adding a few wins to the bottom line.

Manny Parra, MIL ($6) 10w, 147k, 4.39, 1.54
He's better than he looks. He suffered from a tough BABIP and should be expected to improve this year. He's better than Cueto and an excellent speculative option in 20th or later.

John Maine, NYM ($6) 10w, 122k, 4.18, 1.35
He's good, but a rotator cuff injury cut his '08 short. The Mets will be depending on him, though, so expect them to push him to come back for a full year. If he does, he'll be a very good value in the 19th or later.

Brandon Morrow, SEA ($6) 3w, 75k, 10sv, 3.34, 1.14
Morrow is a young fireballer who gives up lots of walks and gets tons of Ks. It's still unclear whether he'll start or close, but my guess is they'll let him start to maximize his long-term value. Draft him in the last two rounds if you want, but be prepared to cut him if he struggles with his control early. If he ends up the closer, you're better off anyway.

Oliver Perez, NYM ($6) 10w, 180k, 4.22, 1.40
Lost in the excitement of Perez' return to form in the last two years is the fact that he still hasn't got his control figured out. Last year he walked 105 in 194 innings. Your fellow GMs will draft him too early because they'll view him as "Mets Ace Oliver Perez", while forgetting that he'll torpedo their WHIP when he puts up something around his career 1.42 mark. Don't draft him, but you might pick him up for spot starts when he gets cut by a frustrated owner.

Armando Galarraga, DET ($6) 13w, 126k, 3.73, 1.19
He's not that good...his BABIP last year was highly favourable and he's likely to regress. His strikeout rate is too low for him to have a star season. Look elsewhere for #5 starters.

Ubaldo Jimenez, COL ($6) 12w, 172k, 3.99, 1.43
See Perez, Oliver - this guy gave up 103 walks last year in 198 IP. Oh, and he pitches in Colorado. Don't draft.

Wandy Rodriguez, HOU ($6) 9w, 131k, 3.54, 1.31
Sleeper Alert! Wandy is a guy to target for your #5 spot in the 20th or 21st round. All his peripherals are going in the right direction and he's getting the ball on the ground more. He's not exceptional in any one way, but every single thing about him looks good this year. He's a very good candidate to put up 15 wins with a 3.70 ERA or something in that range.

Joe Saunders, LAA ($6) 17w, 103k, 3.41, 1.21
I became increasingly angry last year as Saunders piled up win after win for one of my fantasy rivals, telling myself that he's just not that good. He doesn't strike guys out and he had a very lucky BABIP. His ERA could easily jump by a full run. Avoid him.

Justin Duchscherer, OAK ($6) 10w, 95k, 2.54, 1.00
He's been injury-prone recently, but late in the draft, he's a good guy to take in the last two rounds. If he's healthy, he'll give you good numbers (his control is awesome). If he's hurt, you can cut him.

Chris Carpenter, STL ($5) 0w, 7k, 1.76, 1.30
He's unlikely to pitch enough to warrant a SP slot as it's hard to see him being more than a 5-inning guy at this point. If he gets the closer job, give him a look, but otherwise he's not worth rostering.

Jonathan Sanchez, SFG ($5) 9w, 157k, 5.01, 1.45
He could be a good source of strikeouts late in the draft if you're low on those, but he'll be below-average in every other way. I'd avoid him unless all other guys I like are gone and I need a #5 (note: as we'll discuss after this article, this shouldn't happen to you).

Fausto Carmona, CLE ($5) 8w, 58k, 5.44, 1.62
This guy blows. Last year he was bad in every possible way and he walked more men than he struck out, which wasn't many. It's easy to argue, in fact, that his ERA should have been worse. Don't pay for his 2007 numbers, because you'll never see them again. He could yet put up some value, but don't hold your breath.

Andy Sonnanstine, TB ($5) 13w, 124k, 4.38, 1.29
A respectable option if you're stuck for a pitcher late. As I mentioned in the Jon Sanchez comment, though, you want to have your rotation filled before this point. If you're in a 15-team league, he's very serviceable.

Hiroki Kuroda, LAD ($5) 9w, 116k, 3.73, 1.22
Kuroda took to the NL seamlessly last year and could actually improve further this year. Dodger Stadium is a big plus in his outlook, so I'd be happy to have him as a #5 late.

Gavin Floyd, CHW ($5) 17w, 145k, 3.84, 1.26
He's a perfectly decent pitcher, just don't count on 17 wins again. He'll be drafted earlier than you'd want him, and frankly, Kuroda's probably more valuable.

Jeremy Bonderman, DET ($4) 3w, 44k, 4.29, 1.56
Don't draft, too many question marks.

Bronson Arroyo, CIN ($4) 15w, 163k, 4.77, 1.44
Don't draft- while his durability is attractive, having a guy with a 4.50+ ERA eating up your innings doesn't help your team.

Randy Wolf ($4) 12w, 162k, 4.30, 1.38
Waiver bait to start the year, but pick him up if he heats up.

Andy Pettitte, NYY ($4)
14w, 158k, 4.54, 1.41
While his ERA suffered from a poor BABIP that can probably be blamed on Derek Jeter, Pettitte's peripherals were better in '08 than '07. Draft him late if he's there and you'll get a steady #5.

Jair Jurrjens, ATL ($4) 13w, 139k, 3.68, 1.37
He walks too many and was BABIP-lucky. Don't draft.

That, folks, is about your top 70-odd starters that are going to be drafted in '09. There are, of course, another 80 guys that will break camp with SP jobs, and many of them will have a lot of value. A favourite fantasy stat of mine, heard of course on's Fantasy 411, is that while 90% of hitting value (that is, dollars earned in auction formats) is taken on draft day, while only 50% of pitching value gets drafted. Every year, there's a stack of undrafted starters (Cliff Lee, Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez, Joe Saunders last year) who put up all-star seasons. It's impossible to predict all or even a few of them. Similarly, there will also be a pile of starters that tank - see Aaron Harang and Fausto Carmona for just two examples from last year. These can be a little more predictable.

The lesson is that it's risky to make big investments in pitchers. Drafting Santana in the second round and Peavy in the fourth is to eschew a steady, valuable asset (such as an Alfonso Soriano in the 2nd, or Brian McCann in the 4th) for a risky one. If they do stay healthy, you're still not safe, though. Every league has a guy who, on draft day, decides he's going to take the top two SPs and dominate the pitching categories. He very well might. But by doing that, he's assuring himself a bottom-of-the-barrel offense. Imagine a guy who takes Santana and Lincecum this year. To get them, he's passing on, say, Alfonso Soriano and Prince Fielder. Instead, he now has to make up those bats in the 11th and 13th rounds, where he'll end up with Paul Konerko and Raul Ibanez. Yuck!

Secondly, the guys being drafted in the 4th, 5th rounds are there because everyone knows who they are. I don't doubt that they'll be among the league's best, and most of them are not major injury risks. However, the reason I'm recommending against picking them this year is because like most other years, there are so many awesome starters to be had in rounds 10-15 that I'd rather just take bats in the early rounds. Think about it: I'd rather take McCann in the 4th and Zack Grienke in the 14th than pick Peavy in the 4th and be stuck with Bengie Molina as my catcher. In my opinion, the bats get ugly fast in the late rounds and you're digging yourself into a hole if you take too many pitchers early. On the other hand, you can easily pass on starters until the 9th round and still draft a mean staff. Here's a potential draft:

picks 1-8: 7 bats + 1 closer
pick 9: John Lackey
pick 10: Roy Oswalt
pick 11: closer...broxton, maybe
pick 12: bat
pick 13: Zack Grienke
pick 14: bat
pick 15: Javy Vazquez
pick 16: bat
pick 17: closer...lindstrom?
pick 18: bat
pick 19: Hiroki Kuroda
pick 20: bat
pick 21: bat
pick 22: Wandy Rodriguez
pick 23: bat

You can adjust it as you like, but by the end of the draft, there are still tons of terrific pitching options, and with so many bats early, you'll be easily one of the best offenses. The key thing is to make sure that every starter you take is a good one. Picking the Zack Grienkes instead of the Joe Saunderses will pay huge dividends.

I may update this list as we approach Opening Day; I'll be in Phoenix mid-March for Cactus League play so I'll be sure to pass along any observations I have along the way.

I'll be moving to Closers for my next preview sometime in the next few days. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on starters- please leave comments and I'll respond!

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