Never has starting pitching been so deep; the major league strikeout rate is through the roof and the era of cartoonish offense has subsided. There's little reason you can't put together a staff featuring three high-end pitchers, but the key to getting over the top is rounding out your rotation with young, ascending pitchers, or through a capable veteran or two in line for a rebound. There's no shortage of these options in 2014, so let's hash out some early starting pitcher rankings for 2014 fantasy baseball and get to it.
Starting Pitchers (SP) – 2014 Fantasy Baseball Rankings
Tier 1 (1-5)
Kershaw, Darvish, Wainwright, Lee, F. Hernandez
Clayton Kershaw, the $215-million man, leads the way. His last three seasons have been magnificent, and there's no reason to expect any regression. Yu Darvish strikes out batters at a rate not seen since the days of Pedro and the Big Unit; he wins weeks all on his own. Adam Wainwright returned to his full pre-injury form and is locked in as one of baseball's best starters. Cliff Lee is a pitching machine; you can count on 200 strikeouts and a premium ERA year-in and year-out. Felix Hernandez can be penciled in for 200 IP, 200 K, and an ERA around 3.0 with perennial Cy Young Award upside. Any questions?
Tier 2 (6-10)
Scherzer, Strasburg, Price, Fernandez, Verlander
Max Scherzer will face a tall task repeating last season's winning percentage, but he's a strong bet to maintain his overall performance. Stephen Strasburg has all the ability to be fantasy's top starter, he just needs everything to come together in DC; the future is now. David Price was a disappointment to owners that invested a top pick in him last season, but he's in his free agent season and is backed by yet another talented Rays squad. Forget about the team Jose Fernandez pitches for-- he's already one of the game's most dominant hurlers, and his arrow is firmly pointed up. Justin Verlander was taken near the top of last year's drafts, but produced an uneven (for him) campaign. Still, 200+ strikeouts and a sub-3.50 ERA is more than enough to make him a low-end fantasy SP1.
Tier 3 (11-15)
Sale, Greinke, Iwakuma, Minor, Moore
Chris Sale is an elite option easily on the verge of top-ten status. Despite missing time early in the season, Zach Greinke was fantastic in his first season out west; draft him with confidence. Speculation that Hisashi Iwakuma was wearing down a bit last summer was put to rest after a dominant September-- this guy has all the peripherals to keep it up. Mike Minor continues to improve and could also be a top-ten starter this year. Besides an ugly June, Matt Moore showed what he’s capable of last season; if he can shave his walk rate then the sky is the limit.
Tier 4 (16-20)
Bumgarner, Zimmermann, Latos, Hamels, Shields
Madison Bumgarner is a highly reliable starter who has put together three consecutive campaigns featuring similar output; he had some luck on his side last year but can be counted on as a top option. Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t have the stuff of Strasburg, but he was Washington’s ace last season and should be the second half of one of baseball’s best one-two punches. Mat Latos is durable and continues to shine two years removed from Petco Park’s pitcher-friendly confines. Much of last season was a disaster for Cole Hamels, but he finished strong and still missed bats; expect a strong bounce-back campaign. The price was high for Kansas City to acquire James Shields, but the Royals got what they paid for-- he’s a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter.
Tier 5 (21-25)
Sanchez, Gonzalez, Cain, Bailey, Liriano
Anibal Sanchez rediscovered his 2011 strikeout rate and proved he can dominate in the AL. Gio Gonzalez had an up-and-down season but maintained his peripherals and can be relied upon in 2014. Matt Cain disappointed in 2013, and there are legitimate questions about his heavy workload over the years; still, he was a strong option in four of the season’s six months and showed his best form in September. Homer Bailey continues to improve and has the ability to surpass Latos as the top option in Cincy’s rotation. Heading to the NL salvaged Francisco Liriano’s career; a weak September should be ignored in light of his tremendous postseason pitching.
Tier 6 (26-30)
Lester, Weaver, Wilson, Medlen, Buchholz
Jon Lester, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are three veteran starters who present solid, predictable fantasy options. Medlen disappointed owners who were spoiled by his phenomenal run to close out 2012, but he was still a very good pitcher last year. Clay Buchholz was a Cy Young contender prior to getting hurt; if-- and it’s a big "if"-- he can stay healthy for a full season, he easily has the ability to pitch above this tier.
Tier 7 (31-40)
Fister, Cole, Cashner, Ryu, Tanaka, Cobb, Cueto, Corbin, Miller, Teheran
A move to the NL should benefit Doug Fister, and Gerrit Cole’s arrow is pointed up after a sterling rookie campaign. Masahiro Tanaka will be a popular guy on draft day and has great stuff, but don’t expect another Yu Darvish. Shelby Miller was terrific as a rookie and probably benefited workload-wise from being buried on the Cardinals’ postseason depth chart; Julio Teheran put it all together last season and should continue to improve.
Tier 8 (41-50)
Samardzija, Gray, Sabathia, Masterson, Wacha, Kuroda, Lackey, Beachy, Garza, Nova
Sonny Gray was sensational after his call-up and could dominate in Oakland. This is an important season for C.C. Sabathia-- has he truly entered the decline phase? Brandon Beachy offers great value this late and is far enough removed from Tommy John surgery that he should be counted on. Ivan Nova was fantastic after a first-half demotion; it's not far-fetched to think he may surpass Sabathia in the Yankees’ pecking order.
Tier 9 (51-60)
Dickey, Lincecum, Salazar, Gee, Tillman, Archer, Ross, Cingrani, Parker, Gallardo
R.A. Dickey and Tim Lincecum were disappointments, but they’re still worth taking upside fliers on. Dillon Gee was horrendous in April and May but rebounded to post four consecutive solid months of pitching. Danny Salazar, Tyson Ross and Tony Cingrani are on the ascent; they represent the types of value selections that can put you over the top.