h2h Corner ~ 2011 head-to-head Pitcher Rankings

For a downloadable spreadsheet, please visit: awesome-h2h-rankings.comsizzle.

Chicks dig the long ball, and so do I. That’s just one of the many reasons I prefer evaluating hitters to pitchers. From a ranking perspective, hitters are more predictable and stable from year to year. In addition, they tend to be more insulated from the injury bug. Because of this, I value pitchers differently compared to other writers who cover h2h league strategy.

Most notably, I completely disregard wins. Wins are too unpredictable; some of the best fantasy pitchers this year will undoubtedly be guys with low win totals because they play on crummy teams or are flat-out unlucky. Devaluing these guys for such arbitrary reasons is ludicrous. Second, I don’t aim to sweep the pitching categories each week when I create my draft board. During the season, I let my Monday/Tuesday starters do the talking. If they post good ratio performances, I hold my borderline starters back. If they have poor early week outings, I release the hounds and try to win strikeouts and wins. You can manage a pitching staff on the fly: good match-ups will always be out there. That is why you don’t grab pitchers early. Other reasons include: Chris Carpenter, Erik Bedard and Ben McDonald.

So, what do I like in a pitcher? Decent ratios and strikeouts. I love Ks because they are consistent. Even if a heavy strikeout pitcher has a bad outing, he’s still likely to contribute in Ks. When looking at week-to-week fluctuations, certainty – in any category – is incredibly valuable.

In terms of draft strategy, I try to select hitters with my first eight to ten selections at least. Because that takes the Lincecums, Halladays, and Greinkes off the table, I focus instead on identifying the best undervalued pitchers. In year’s past, I have obsessed over the furry Aaron Harang (more on him later), no matter what he looks like. Two years ago, I loved Javier Vazquez in March and was happily rewarded when he paid off nicely throughout the summer. Last season, I was big on Ubaldo Jimenez. Quite simply, you can get pitchers who end up in the top 10 late in your draft; there isn’t the same level of fluctuation with hitters.

Now, let’s talk about closers. People tend to devalue closers in h2h leagues, viewing them as one-category wonders that can’t be trusted to either retain their job or finish games consistently from week to week. While the latter half of that statement might be true, that doesn’t mean closers lack value. Every week you have to maximize your results in the pitching categories. If you lock up saves, all you have to do is win four of the remaining nine categories for a tie or five of nine for a nifty .600 winning percentage. Five/nine is about 55%, whereas six/ten is 60%, so you increase your odds of winning by loading up on closers (roster permitting). This works because most h2h players eschew a bulk closer strategy and usually only have at most three. If you double that amount, you’re in good shape.

It ain’t pretty, but that’s how trophy…let me finish, wives are earned. With closers, it’s important to remember that there is always safety in numbers. However many RP or P spots you have, you should have a closer for each of those spots. So long as you have at least one great closer and several fringe closers, you can pretty much guarantee your team will win at least one category.

I’ve outlined below a few questions about my rankings and included a few sleepers. Feel free to ask me on Twitter about other ranks or post a comment. I will answer every question.

How can you have the reigning NL Cy Young winner at Number 3?

It’s not any fault of Roy Halladay (3). Seriously, the dude is amazing. But so is Tim Lincecum (2) (owner of back-to-back Cy Young awards).

Over the last three years, Lincecum has averaged a 2.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 222 IPs, and 252 Ks.

In his first year in the NL, Halladay pitched 205.2 innings, posted a 2.44 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and struck out 219 batters.

Halladay will be 34 this season, Lincecum will be 26 in June. While Halladay outpitched Lincecum last year, I’m looking at Lincecum’s last three seasons as a good indicator of future success. Obviously this is splitting hairs, but if you’re in a dynasty league, I’d be calling Lincecum’s name before Halladay’s.

Mostly, I wrote this section to highlight Lincecum’s awesome year in 2010. Most people seem to think that he greatly disappointed (and perhaps if you picked him in the first round, he did); nevertheless, it was still an amazing top five caliber fantasy year.

Jon Lester? Again?

As many of you remember, I ranked Lester as my fifth pitcher last year. Well, I’m at it again, placing him fourth this season. In his three full seasons, Lester has averaged a 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 201 Ks.

He plays in a tough league, division and ballpark, but that’s been the case for the last three years. Quite possibly, Lester could be the new Roy Halladay. For reference’s sake, Halladay averaged a 3.08 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 184 Ks in his last three seasons in the AL.

Smart drafters will forego the Halladays, Lincecums, Lees, etc. and choose Lester to be their ace.

You really believe in Ubaldo Jimenez?

Last year, in my rankings column, I wrote:

“I don’t think that Jimenez is getting the respect he deserves as a legitimate 200-k pitcher with solid ratios and win potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up more valuable than Beckett, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson or Chris Carpenter. If given the chance (and the right spot), I think you should draft Ubaldo with confidence (I ranked him as the 22 best pitcher).”

Does this mean I think Ubaldo (5) will be quite as good as he was last season? Absolutely not – that was a Gibsonian effort, a once-in-a-lifetime rollick through the National League. That said, can Jimenez post a 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 200+ Ks? Absolutely. I also think there is upside with those numbers and am, consequently, quite comfortable with him as the fifth pitcher off the board.

A reliever not named Rivera in the top 15?

As noted above, in h2h, I like to focus on locking down saves and Ks in any given week and then letting my pitchers either go after wins or ERA/WHIP.

This makes someone like Carlos Marmol (17) (who can combine 110+ Ks with 30+ saves) an ideal selection. Over the last three years, Marmol has averaged 115 Ks, while posting very nice ratios (2.86 ERA and 1.18 WHIP). If you are worried that his ERA last season (2.55) was fluky, don’t. His FIP was 2.01 owing to a .325 BABip – the highest, by a large margin, that he has posted in his career. I think it’s a safe bet that he has an ERA around 3.00 (with considerable upside) and 35 saves and over 100 Ks. That is more valuable than a lot of starting pitchers.

Can anyone ranked in the roaring 20s finish in the top 10?

Absolutely – it will likely happen – just look at Ubaldo or Jered Weaver last season.

This year I’d pick Max Scherzer (22). In very limited time (just 422 MLB innings), Scherzer has become a strike-out artist (9 Ks per 9 IPs). Over the last two years, he has averaged 179 Ks, a 3.79 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Quite simply, he should be able to reach 200 Ks this season without much of a problem.

If the Tigers cash in on some of the offseason success, Scherzer could also be looking at an uptick in wins – all he really needs is a few more double-Us and a full season (during which he’ll reach 200 Ks) to enter the top ten.

Draft with confidence, my friend.

Same question – this time in the not-so-roaring 30s!

I’ll take Chad Billingsley (34) with this one. In 2008, as a 23-year-old, Billingsley reached that mythical plateau of 200+ Ks in a year. This landed him high in most rankings heading into 2009, during which he would underperform (4.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and just 179 Ks). However, that year wasn’t really all that bad – a few more HRs (his HR/FB rate and HR/9 rates increased) accounted for the drop in ERA.

Those normalized in 2010 and we saw a return to a 3.50ish ERA. While his Ks have declined every year since his 2008 season, I’m looking for Billingsley to take a massive step forward this season. His walks and HRs were down last year and not much stands in the way of him being a very useful pitcher.

If things break right for him, he could easily approach the top 10.

Same question, now the war-torn 40s!

I’ll take Brandon Morrow (47) – someone I simply love and a phenomenal flip sider. While I’m not sure Morrow, given his division, can crack the top ten, I wouldn’t be surprised if he found his way near the top 15 at the end of the year. Sure there are health risks (he battles Type-1 diabetes), but there are seen and unseen risks with every pitcher, so let’s just (for the most part) ignore them.

He basically has one full season of starting over the course of his career. He has started 41 games, pitched 225 innings, and posted a 4.47 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Still, he maintained a 9.9 K/9 rate (not far off the 10.1 rate he posts as a reliever).

His ERA last season (4.49) is a bit scary, but he did have a 3.16 FIP – owing to a .348 BABip. I look for that number to be much closer to .315 in 2011. If he can stay healthy, Morrow should reach 180 Ks without a problem and has upside to strike-out 200.

Who has the best chance of exiting the Cold War ‘50s and moving on up to the 20s?

The eloquently named Jorge de la Rosa (51), that’s who! I loved him last year, yet an injury stopped me from hitting on two Rockies pitchers.

In his last 16 starts of the year (after he got healthy), de la Rosa posted a 4.29 ERA and 87 strike-outs. Over a 162-game season that averages out to 185 Ks.

Like I said last year, his ratios won’t help you much (think 4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP), but he should approach 190 Ks, which is very rare upside as the 51st pitcher.

Shorties got Low, Low, Low, Low, Low…otherwise known as the No Love Club

Clay Buchholz (37): I see Buchholz going around the likes of Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Dan Haren, Chad Billinglsey and Shaun Marcum and I don’t quite get it.

Ok, sure, he had a 2.33 ERA last year – that is impeccable. But he also had a .265 BABip and 79% strand rate (typically that number rests around 72%). I don’t think the Sox defense is that exceptional, nor do I think their bullpen will continue to be so prolific at stranding runners (though they do have a very good and flexible stable of arms).

In reality, I see Buchholz landing squarely in the mid-3.00s for ERA with an unimpressive K-rate (maybe 7 per nine). You add that up and you have a guy with decent win potential, but an average (for fantasy purposes) ERA and no real upside in Ks. He’s a nice pitcher, but barely a top 40 option in my opinion.

Tim Hudson (80): Aside from his horrid 2006, he hasn’t had an ERA above 3.55 in a full season since 2000. Yet I don’t like him? Why am I hating? Well, his 162-game average K performance is just 152. He struck-out just 139 batters in 228 IPs last year and allowed one less hit per nine than he has for his career. He also posted his worst K:BB rate (1.88) since that abysmal 2006. Lastly, his FIP was 4.09 – i.e., a long way from his 2.83 ERA. Basically he had an awesome strand rate (81.2%) which is something completely out of his control. He also benefited from a ridiculous BABip (.250), which is at least somewhat out of his control. His career BABip is .286. In short, I see Hudson posting an ERA around 3.50 with the same old 130 Ks. There isn’t much special in that whatsoever.

Octavio Dotel (100): I’ve never minded Dotel – as a closer, he’s provided two 20+ save seasons and has struck out over 70 batters the last three years. However, I’m real concerned about his ability to hack it in the American League East. Others (most notably the great Jason Collette) have noticed his splits (righties hit .205/.279/.375 off him while lefties do a bit of damage: .237/.348/.405). With a lot of left-handed mashers in the AL East, there could be a lot of tough outings for him. As a cheap option I like him, but be careful.

Mark Buehrle (153): Like Hudson, people seem to like Buehrle (and have for years) way more than I have. Sure, over the last three years, he has averaged 14 wins, a 3.97 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. However, he only averages about 115 Ks a season (and only Ked 99 in 210 innings last year). In most leagues, there isn’t much use for a guy who will pitch a ton of innings with an ERA around 4.00 who doesn’t help with Ks. Don’t pay for the gold, go for upside with pitchers. There are always Buehrle types on the free agent pile (they are called Chris Narveson).

The Snuggie Super Sleeper Sofa Section:

Anibal Sanchez (ranked 61): Sanchez made 32 starts last year and almost eclipsed 200 IPs. He posted a 3.55 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, while cutting his walks by about 1.5 per nine innings (and thereby increasing his K:BB rate by about .7 pts). That’s a pretty good improvement for someone who will be 27 this season and was a super sleeper just a few years ago. I see Sanchez and Clay Buchholz pitching very similarly this year: 3.75-4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 175 Ks. Not bad when you’re mining for pitchers outside the top 50.

Edwin Jackson (73): Somewhat surprisingly, Jackson got dominated by NL foes and beat down batters in the AL . He did have 10 more starts (and a truer sample) in the NL and got to face depleted late season line-ups full of September call-ups in the AL . So why do I like him? For starters, he had a 3.86 FIP last year (a 3.20 BABip, with a career .311 line) and just a 69% strand rate. He will be 28 in September and was born in Germany ! I wouldn’t be surprised with an ERA in the 4.25-4.50 range with 170 Ks. Not bad at all!

Brett Cecil (77): Cecil went to a rival high school of mine and is only 24. He got 28 starts last year and did some nice things in tough environments (4.22 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.17 K:BB rate). He has the ability to improve upon those across the board. While his IPs might be down in the 170 range given his youth and the volatility of the Blue Jays rotation, this just makes him an excellent pick for innings capped leagues. I really see a 4.00-4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 140 Ks (with upside to 170 if he pitches the full season).

Jordan Zimmerman (88): Two years ago, Zimmerman pitched 91.1 innings and threw up a 4.63 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 9.1 K/BB rate. In two AA seasons, Zimmerman has a 3.07 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 rate. Of course, since that time, his career has been derailed by injuries. Still, he won’t be 25 until May and should be fully recovered. I think you can expect a sub-4.00 ERA about 130 Ks and a WHIP in the 1.20 – 1.35 range. In short, he is Tim Hudson with upside and a much lower draft value.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (90): since going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 2008, Matsuzaka has had a tough road. In the two seasons since he has battled his way to just 37 starts and a 4.99 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. Still his 2009 (25 starts) was better and he has flashed the ability to put up huge K numbers (career 8.3 K/9 rate). Given his team, run production should be plenty, so wins might be easy to come by – even if he doesn’t pitch deep into ballgames. But that’s not why I like Dice-K. Quite simply, I see him throwing up an ERA around 4.00, a not so nice 1.35-1.40 WHIP, but a deliciously cheap 160+ Ks. At barely inside the top 100, it’s hard to find that upside.

Aaron Harang (135): There was a time (2005-2007) when Harang was my bread and butter fantasy ace. During that period, he averaged a 3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 199 Ks. Of course, the three years since then paint a Gil Meche-esque picture of an overworked workhorse (4.71 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and just 126 Ks a year). However, Petco has been known to cure a lot of ills and, luckily for Harang, some of his are curable. During his heyday Harang’s HR rate sat at around 1 HR per 9; over the last three years it has jumped to between 1.29 and 1.71. Clearly leaving Cincinnati ’s bandbox will help. Further, Harang had .317, .339, and .346 BABips over the last three seasons compared to a historical norm of .300 and his career line of .318. The Padres emphasize defense and the supporting cast in San Diego should be an improvement over what Harang had with the Reds. Not that we’re looking at a career renaissance here: some of these diminished numbers result from decline in skill in addition to overwork. Still, Harang only pitched 111 innings last year, so he should be better rested and primed to regain a bit of his glory days. I see him as a low 4.00 – 4.25 ERA candidate with 150 Ks or so.

Derek Holland (136): We have finally gotten to the portion of rankings where I fawn over Holland, a man with just 195.2 MLB innings, a 5.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 161 Ks. He also owns a pretty nice 7.4 K/9 rate. I have written about Holland in flattering terms hereherehere, well you get the point. Holland only managed 57.1 IPs in the majors last year, but showed significant promise (8.6 H/9, 8.5 K/9 and a 2.25 K:BB ratio). At some point, a fantasy owner will cash in on his promise. In 2011, Holland can throw up an ERA right around 4.00 and a K/9 rate around 8. If he gets the innings, he could be a sneaky strike-out source.

Brandon McCarthy (188): If you listen to me on the radio (and who hasn’t), you know I’ve been bullish on the Oakland Athletics since last year. I thought that if they could add a few pieces, they could really challenge the Rangers. While most of those pieces needed to be able to drive the ball better than Jack Cust and Rajai Davis, McCarthy represents a nice addition. McCarthy, just 27, has five seasons and 372 innings under his belt. Last year, in 17 starts for the Rangers, he posted a respectable 4.62 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 65 Ks in 97 innings. With a HR/FB rate around 10 for his career and a HR/9 rate around 1.33, the move from Texas to Oakland will be beneficial. He could easily log 150 innings as the fifth starter and post a sub-4.00 ERA. He won’t wow you with the Ks, but this late in the draft, someone who can pick up some wins and not destroy your ratios is mighty nice.

You can get full pitcher ranks here.

If you have ideas for other columns, post your thoughts in the comments. Also, feel free to share your insights below or at my Twitter (@h2h_corner).

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5 responses to this post.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fantasy Baseball 101, Albert Lang and Albert Lang, Albert Lang. Albert Lang said: Took awhile, but pitchers ranks have reported RT @fb101: #roto #h2h ~ 2010 head-to-head Pitcher Rankings http://twitthis.com/47xiat [...]

    Reply

  2. [...] I’ve not let my love of Ubaldo Jimenez be hidden over the last several years (here, here, here, here). He was, perhaps, one of my greatest sleeper calls ever. But I had him as a top 5 SP [...]

    Reply

  3. [...] Maybe it’s because I love Sideshow Bob’s brother that I really believe in Cecil (see here, here and here). Flying under the radar with all of the other unfair things the Jays have been doing, he [...]

    Reply

  4. [...] it’s because I love Sideshow Bob’s brother that I really believe in Cecil (see here, here and here). Flying under the radar with all of the other unfair things the Jays have been doing, he [...]

    Reply

  5. [...] Brandon McCarthy – This is a total tease for my column Don’t Think Back in Anger for Razzball, which will have an in-depth look at McCarthy tomorrow. Let me just say that McCarthy has two wins over the last week and nine Ks in 13.2 IPs (just ignore the 4.61 ERA and 1.54 WHIP). I still like McCarthy… [...]

    Reply

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