In this series, RotoBaller.com will take a look at the top 40 starting pitchers, beginning with numbers 1 through 20. Now, while the top 40 are important, the top 41-100 can provide you even more value, so ask the experts for in-depth advice on any player in the majors at the Ask Us section of RotoBaller.com, and be sure to read the full 2013 SP Rankings.
1. Justin Verlander – Verlander wants to be the first $200-million-dollar pitcher, and with his resume, you'd have a tough time arguing that he doesn't deserve it. Just look at his past two seasons, during which he's won 41 games and struck out 489 batters in 489 innings. He pitched to a 2.40 and 2.64 ERA in 2011 and 2012 respectively; he is the best pitcher in baseball right now.
2. Clayton Kershaw – Kershaw is a very close second to Verlander. He owns a career 2.79 ERA which is a very difficult thing to find among SPs in this day and age. For his career, he has averaged over a K/IP-- Kershaw is the National League's version of Verlander, in that they both get above-average run support, they show no signs of fatigue as the seasons go on, and they put up Cy-Young caliber fantasy and reality stats.
3. Stephen Strasburg – He was shut down on September 7th of last year, right when your playoffs began. It was brutal to deal with, but there should be no limits on Strasburg this year. He is one of the most dangerous strikeout pitchers in baseball, posting double-digit strikeout games on five separate occasions last season. There is nothing to suggest the Strasburg won’t improve on his stellar 2012 season.
4. Cliff Lee – Lee is falling in drafts a little bit because of the Phillies poor team performance in 2013, but you shouldn’t overlook Lee’s season. He leads off the second tier of the RotoBaller starting pitcher ranks. Entering his third season with the Phillies, Lee will be worth the value with this rejuvenated Philadelphia club.
5. David Price – He has been playing up to his rank as the #1 overall draft pick in the 2007 MLB draft. After very productive 2010 and 2011 fantasy seasons, he really put it together in 2012, winning 20 games and posting a career-best ERA of 2.56 in baseball's toughest division. While the division is much improved, Price can hold his own and keep the Rays in any game he pitches.
6. Felix Hernandez – When announced that extension, every fantasy keeper owner of “King Felix” screamed. The team just doesn't win ballgames, and since 2006 they have fallen short of .500 five times. They added some pieces on offensively, but the fact that they are in the same division as the Rangers and Angels just doesn't bode well for Seattle. But Wins are only a single stat to evaluate when looking at fantasy pitchers. “King Felix” will still pitch to a low ERA and WHIP while putting up gaudy K numbers.
7. Cole Hamels – The second Phillie to crack this list in the top seven, Hamels won a career-high 17 games in 2012 and struck out a career-high 216 batters. He should benefit from the improved offense and the team's offseason moves; expect similar numbers to 2012.
8. Matt Cain – Much like Felix Hernandez, Cain doesn’t get a ton of run support from his team. That didn’t stop Cain from having the best season of his career in 2012. He has pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA three times in the past four seasons. And you can’t forget about his perfect game last June, during which he struck out 14. Bid with confidence.
9. Jered Weaver – Weaver has been among the best pitchers in baseball over the last four seasons. In 2012, he was tied for the league lead with 20 W, while also leading in WHIP at 1.02. With the Angels lineup only getting better, it's possible that Weaver could perform worse than he did in 2012 and still rack up the wins, but we expect bigger things.
10. Madison Bumgarner – The Giants' young star suffers from the below-average San Francisco lineup, but you should have no reservations about Bumgarner's performance. His 2012 was much improved from a solid 2011 season in which he really came strong on the scene. In 2012 he had career high in W and K, and a career-low WHIP. Expect Bumgarner to get better as he continues to develop as a major league pitcher.
11. Zack Greinke – One of many Dodger additions, Greinke will fit right in to the rejuvenated roster. He holds a career ERA of 3.77, but has pitched well below that over the past two years, and RotoBaller.com thinks he will continue that trend in 2013. The Dodgers have one of the best offenses in the National League which will only assist Greinke in racking up the wins.
12. Carsten Charles Sabathia – The Indians, Brewers and Yankees have all ridden the 300-lb. southpaw, as he has averaged almost 200 IP in each of his 13 major-league seasons. Sabathia has been the beneficiary of a potent Yankees offense, averaging over four more wins per season during his time with the Yankees. While anyone throwing over 200 innings per season while carrying 300 lbs. of muscle, fat and dirty-water dogs would be subject to injury, Sabathia has missed very little time in his career. As he ages, though, keep an eye on his health.
13. R.A. Dickey – We am extremely skeptical of Dickey's arrival in Toronto. Dickey had flourished with the Mets since perfecting his hard knuckleball. But the Mets had been under so much scrutiny over the past few seasons, and Dickey was fairly old, so perhaps he was pitching with the reckless abandon of someone with nothing to lose. Now, he is the ace of an AL East ball club that plays fourteen games in April against the Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees. While Dickey won’t need to pitch those 14 games he will have a quick idea of just how tough the AL is compared to the softer NL.
14. Adam Wainwright – He picked up in 2012 where he left off in 2010. After Tommy John surgery, which forced Wainwright to miss the 2012 season, he gained form and only got better as the season progressed. While it took time to settle in, Wainwright pitched to a 3.28 ERA in the second half, just a tad off of his career ERA. Look for a very productive season from Wainwright.
15. Roy Halladay – Coming off the worst season of his career, the third Phillie pitcher on this list, Roy Halladay, might be the best. The early reports from Spring Training are that Halladay is in excellent shape and the velocity on his fastball is up (both very good signs).
16. Yu Darvish – In his first season in the Majors, Darvish was solid. He is a strikeout pitcher, and with that typically comes a higher ERA and a higher WHIP. In 2012, that certainly was the case with Darvish. You will be taking a risk on the second-year SP, as we can’t predict how hitters with figure Darvish out, but his K and W potential make him worth the risk.
17. Max Scherzer – Similarly to Darvish, Scherzer is also a strikeout pitcher. He is the pitching version of Adam Dunn. Dunn’s high HR and depresed BA are an analog to Scherzer's high K total and elevated ERA. Nevertheless, Scherzer could figure things out as he did improve as a pitcher in 2012. You can expect high strikeouts with some substantial upside at his current draft position.
18. James Shields – Some say Shields will be hurt by pitching in Kansas City as opposed to Tampa Bay, but we think you can look for Shields to maintain his stats and fantasy value. Expect well over 200 K and an ERA in the 3.0-3.5 range. The Royals offense has some pop in it and they should not be overlooked.
19. Kris Medlen – Congrats if you were starting Medlen in August and September in which he earned 8 W and 81 K while allowing only 8 runs in just under 80 innings. You can’t expect that kind of production over a full season, but having those kind of stats during those months when it counts most is unheard-of. It will be interesting to see how Medlen performs in 2013 but drafting him here provides solid value.
20. Chris Sale – We all watched the midseason run in 2012 during which Sale was untouchable. He finished the season with 17 W and a 3.05 ERA. You could argue that Sale should be ranked higher, but given the possibilities of hitters making adjustments, and the potential for injury that the Sox harped on all through last season, we feel this is a good spot for Sale to balance the risk and the reward.
If you've missed them, be sure to also check out RotoBaller.com's other pre-season 2013 fantasy baseball positional rankings for more in-depth analysis: