The Detroit Tigers starting rotation has a good shot at being the best in the majors. They have two of the last three Cy Young Award winners. Add another starter that led the American League in ERA last year, and you have three top fantasy starting pitchers in one rotation. Sure, they lost Doug Fister in the offseason, but Drew Smyly is certainly an intriguing option to replace him. Let's dig into the rotation a bit deeper.
2014 Detroit Tigers - Pitching Staff Preview
2013 Stats: 21-3/2.90 ERA/240 K/0.97 WHIP
Those who have watched Max Scherzer for the past few years knew a breakout was coming. It came, and it exceeded all expectations. He was at or near the top in every counting category for starting pitchers. There has to be some regression coming, right? Probably a little, but I believe Scherzer will remain an elite pitcher for the next few seasons. The difference from 2013 to 2014 is that Scherzer will now have a big price tag on draft day. Pitchers always carry some risk, but Scherzer will likely be worth it.
Draft Projection - 2nd to 3rd round 2014 Projection - 18-6/3.24/233/1.08
2013 Stats: 13-12/3.46/217/1.31
For everything that broke right for Scherzer, Verlander seemed to be the guy getting all the bad luck in return. He posted five-year worsts in every fantasy category. It might well have been more than just an off year, too, as we saw a big spike in Verlander's walk rate. If he doesn't improve on that, he will end up with very similar numbers in 2014. If I had to guess, I'd say that Verlander will bounce back in a big way. The final month of the season saw a big bump in K:BB and a stellar 2.27 ERA. Scherzer might be the strikeout king in Detroit, but Verlander may end up being the 2014 Cy Young contender.
Draft Projection - 3rd round 2014 Projection - 16-6/3.18/225/1.15
2013 Stats: 14-8/2.57/202/1.15
Are the top two Detroit rotation guys a bit too high-priced for you? Sanchez is almost as good, and he comes at a little bit of a discount because he's not quite as well known and doesn't have any big awards. He's a great player, and though he probably did pitch a bit better than he actually is in 2013, playing for a great team and being pretty good should lead to a decent amount of wins, a lot of strikeouts and an ERA that will be above-average in 2014. He'll probably be a solid #2 fantasy starter on a standard team. The 2013 ERA was a fluke-- he hadn't been below 3.55 since his rookie season, so keep that in mind and temper expectations.
Draft Projection - 6th Round 2014 Projection - 15-7/3.44/199/1.22
2013 Stats: 6-0/2.37/81/1.04 (as a reliever)
Smyly is the wildcard of the rotation. He showed promise in 18 starts as a rookie two years ago, and then looked great as a reliever last year. Can he make the transition back to a starting role? In his rookie season, Smyly struck out nearly a batter an inning, so he has a lot of promise in that respect. I've seen people targeting his draft value all over the place, but the consensus seems to have him fairly late, at round 20 or later. At that price, Smyly makes a great gamble-- not a ton of risk, but the upside of double-digit wins, a decent strikeout rate and a solid ERA. With a young guy like this, there is always chance that he will get injured or be given a lighter workload as the season wears on, so keep that in mind, as well.
Draft Projection - 21st or 22nd round 2014 Projection - 11-8/3.81/164/1.24
2013 Stats: 13-8/4.32/142/1.28
Porcello is a guy that sabermetric stats have always loved, but he has never been able to live up to those expectations due to a lack of overpowering stuff. The intriguing part about Porcello is that he really is still developing. He'll be just 25 this year, only a half-year older than rotation-mate Smyly. Porcello took another step forward last year, even though he was mostly irrelevant for fantasy purposes. His ERA improved and he made major gains in strikeout rate. If that holds, he might just be a steal this year. An additional factor to consider is that Porcello is an extreme groundball pitcher, third among all starters last year. A groundball pitcher tends to require a better defense behind him, and this is one place that I find myself really intrigued with Porcello: his defense this year will represent a serious upgrade over 2013, with a full season of Iglesias at short and Miguel Cabrera in a position where his defense will hurt the team the least, to say nothing of the addition-by-subtraction with the absence of Prince Fielder. Porcello won't wow anyone, but he might be a fantasy contributor yet!
Draft Projection - End of draft/Undrafted 2014 Projection - 12-8/4.04/155/1.22
2013 Stats: 43 Saves/1.39/73/0.89
Nathan has been one of the most dominant closers of the past decade, and that didn't change last year, despite his advanced age. He'll be 39 this year, but there is no real reason to let that deter you from adding him to your team. Nathan lacks the strikeout numbers to be one of the first closers off the board, and I'm not an advocate of taking closers early, so that puts Nathan at an interesting spot. He won't go super-early, but he will get the saves. With guys like Kimbrel and Chapman going in the fifth round, settling for Nathan a few rounds later is better value for a reliable top closer.
Draft Projection - 10th round 2014 Projection - 46/2.14/75/1.04
Those are the big players for the 2014 fantasy baseball season. If your league uses holds or is deep enough for middle relief pitchers, Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque are both potential low-risk/high-reward type players if they can show some control. Coming up soon, I'll be covering the Detroit Tigers top prospects, so keep an eye out for that!