Pitchers and catchers and spring, oh my!
One of the consequences of the Super Bowl consistently occurring in February now is that the time between the end of football season and the opening of Spring Training has shrunken to less than two weeks. With pitchers and catchers reporting as early as Feb. 11, fantasy owners ought to think about their baseball rosters. We will begin our 2013 fantasy preview with starting pitchers.
There are three legitimate candidates vying for the title of baseball's best pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. Kershaw may not be the finest pitcher of the three, yet he is the optimal choice for fantasy owners, thanks in part to playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and the less-potent league.
Kershaw led the senior circuit in wins, strikeouts and ERA in 2011. Last year, he again led the league in ERA and was one strikeout shy of his second straight whiff title. The Dodgers' revamped lineup should allow Kershaw to vie for 18 to 20 victories, up from 14 in 2012. An ERA under 2.50 and 220 strikeouts are far from unrealistic hopes for the young lefty.
Verlander and Hernandez are quite similar in their output, with Verlander having a sizable advantage in wins, due largely to the Tigers' supremacy to the Mariners. The big righties make up two-thirds of AL pitchers with cumulative ERAs under 3.00 for the last four seasons. The edge in wins and strikeouts makes Verlander a more significant fantasy staff member than Hernandez.
The third AL hurler to keep his ERA south of three since 2009 is Jered Weaver. Weaver won 20 games and had a 2.81 ERA in 2012, but his auxiliary numbers showed a troubling trend. His strikeout rate was 6.8, down from 7.6 in 2011 and 9.3 in 2010. Weaver plays in a difficult hitters' park, and his home ERA last year was three-quarters of a run better than on the road, and his WHIP was 32 percent better. Weaver is still a reliable No. 2 fantasy starter who is more effective when he pitches in Los Angeles.
In addition to Weaver, the pitchers likely to be drafted too high this year are R.A. Dickey, Chris Sale and Zack Greinke. Dickey put the perfect touch on an inspirational personal story by claiming the NL Cy Young Award in 2012. In the first three months of his campaign, he was nearly unhittable, going 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA. From July 5 onward, he was 8-5 with a 3.28 ERA. The second half of 2012 is more in line with his recent output and is a reasonable gauge for his production in 2013.
Sale was another pitcher who limped down the stretch after a strong outset. A converted reliever, Sale went from 72 innings in 2011 to almost 200 last season. The increased workload caught up with him following the All-Star Break, when he went 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA. His talent is not a question if he can overcome the fatigue he exhibited late in the summer.
Greinke is in danger of being one of the most overrated fantasy pitchers this season. He is moving to an accommodating stadium for pitchers, but he has been simply ordinary since winning the 2009 Cy Young. Greinke has averaged 14 wins, a 1.215 WHIP a 3.83 ERA that is just six percent above the league mark for the last three years. It is hard to imagine Greinke having greater than 16 wins or less than a 3.30 ERA despite pitching in Chavez Ravine.
Max Scherzer, on the other hand, is one of the rising stars in the pitching ranks. Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson are the only AL pitchers in history with a higher single-season strikeout ratio than Scherzer's 11.08 last year. He went 11-3 with a 2.53 ERA in his final 19 outings of 2012.
Jake Peavy and Adam Wainwright are both ready to regain their status as dependable fantasy aces. Peavy enjoyed his first injury-free season since 2008 with a 3.37 ERA, 194 strikeouts and a 1.096 WHIP, all of which ranked among the top 10 in the AL.
Wainwright came back from Tommy John surgery to pitch 198.2 innings, win 14 games and whiff 184 batters. He was 8-5 with a 3.18 ERA and 8.2 K/9 over his last 16 starts.
Here are my 2013 fantasy starting pitcher rankings: 1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 2. Justin Verlander, Tigers; 3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners; 4. Matt Cain, Giants; 5. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; 6. Cole Hamels, Phillies; 7. CC Sabathia, Yankees; 8. Cliff Lee, Phillies; 9. David Price, Rays; 10. Madison Bumgarner, Giants.
11. Max Scherzer, Giants; 12. R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays; 13. Jered Weaver, Angels; 14. Kris Medlen, Braves; 15. Chris Sale, White Sox; 16. Roy Halladay, Phillies; 17. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; 18. Mat Latos, Reds; 19. Jake Peavy, White Sox; 20. Zack Greinke, Dodgers.n