2011 Fantasy Rankings - Starting Pitchers

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We've examined all the position players over the past two weeks, so now it's time to tackle the pitching staffs. We'll begin with starting pitching.

There are many theories out there as to how to build your pitching staff.

One says to avoid spending any early picks on pitching because of their unpredictability and because of high percentage of arm injuries. If Josh Hamilton gets a sore arm, the Rangers can play him at DH. But if Tim Lincecum's shoulder is sore, he's going to be placed on the DL. So selecting a pitcher in the first two rounds is a high-risk strategy and selecting more than one is probably foolhardy.

Another theory says find one reliable star (translation - gives you 30+ starts every season) to anchor your staff and then look for "diamonds-in-the-rough." Sometimes, those "diamonds-in-the-rough" don't reveal themselves until a month or so into the season so it requires a lot of early season effort and attention.

But the rewards can be huge.

In 2008 Cliff Lee was one of the year's biggest bargains after going 22-3. He was a free agent pickup in most leagues because the previous season he was just 5-8 with an ERA of 6.29 and a WHIP of 1.52.

Last year, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia was a perfect example of a "DITR." Garcia had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and missed the entire campaign. He was an unknown to most fantasy owners (2010 - ADP 332), until his April 17th outing against the Mets in which he went seven innings and yielded just one hit. Owners began to watch and like what they saw as he made four starts in April, going 2-1 with an ERA of 1.04 and a 0.96 WHIP. He finished the season 13-8 with an ERA of 2.70.

Tim Hudson was a more well known "DITR," but a bargain none the less. After missing most of 2009 due to injury, Hudson came back in 2010 with a vengeance. He threw 228.2 innings for the Braves, his highest total since 2003, and went 17-9 with an ERA of 2.83 and a 1.15 WHIP. He was about a 20th-round selection in 2010 (ADP 243).

No matter what strategy you use, correctly evaluating talent is the most important bit of information. So, begin the evaluations.

Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (ADP 15) - There is very little new to say about Halladay. He's been a fantasy star for about nine years and 2011 figures to be the same. He's made 30+ starts in each of the past five seasons and threw at least 220 innings. Given his work habits, there is no reason to think those numbers will change. He's got a career 3.32 ERA, but last season was his third consecutive year under 2.80. Halladay won 21 of 33 starts, struck out 219 batters, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter. He should be worthy of the second-round pick it will take to get him.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco (ADP 23) - After dazzling the world for two seasons, Lincecum had a "down" year in 2010. But that was still good for 16 wins, 231 strikeouts, a 3.43 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Most pitchers would love those numbers. I'm expecting Lincecum to bounce back and have a sub 3.00 ERA and a WHIP below 1.15.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle (ADP 26) - Hernandez had a magical year on the mound, but the Seattle offense didn't help him out. Compare "King Felix's" numbers to Halladay and Hernandez wins most of the categories...except victories. If your league uses quality starts instead of wins, Hernandez would rank right alongside Halladay. If wins are still a factor, the Mariners offense looks like it will have another down year, so Hernandez's victory total will be limited.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (ADP 40) - Sabathia has 40 wins in two seasons with the Yankees and is the team's workhorse. He'll be called on again to carry the Bombers' staff and should post 230+ innings and around 200 strikeouts. It's the strikeout total which makes him a better choice than Cliff Lee despite the fact that Lee has a lower ADP.

Cliff Lee, Philadelphia (ADP 34) - Lee pitched for four different teams over the past two seasons and all the movement had an downward effect on his numbers. If you ignore all the hype, Lee was just 14-13, 3.22 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 2009 and 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP last season. Now with a long-term contract in hand, a happy Lee should be much better.

Justin Verlander, Detroit (ADP 48) - Although he struck out 50 less batters than in 2009 (269-219), Verlander put together an excellent season, worthy of a top-10 ranking. He's reliable (30+ starts for five consecutive seasons), and both his ERA and WHIP have dropped for two straight years. The addition of free agent Victor Martinez to the Tigers lineup could be worth an extra win or two for Verlander.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado (ADP 47) - Jimenez was the best pitcher in baseball for the first three months of the last season, going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP through the first week of July. He finished 19-8 with an ERA of 2.88 and a 1.15 WHIP.

Jon Lester, Boston (ADP 41) - Lester had almost identical seasons in 2009 and 2010. He's got a good chance to win 20 games and post 225 strikeouts, but to get into the top-five he'll need to lower his ERA and WHIP, in particular his walk total.

David Price, Tampa Bay (ADP 55) - In his second full-time season as a starter, Price stepped up his game and is on the verge of become an elite pitcher. He accumulated 19 wins in 31 starts with an ERA of 2.72 and a 1.19 WHIP. The loss of some important offensive pieces (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett) could limit Price and Tampa Bay's win total.

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 54) - Chad Billingsley used to be the Dodgers ace, but that title belongs to Kershaw now. He's posted more than a strikeout-per-inning totals in each of the past two seasons while keeping his ERA below 3.00. As is frequently the case with young lefthanders, his control has been slow to arrive, but his WHIP has dropped from 1.49 as a rookie, to 1.22 in 2009 and 1.17 last season.

Josh Johnson, Florida (ADP 46) - Johnson has all the tools to be a top-10 fantasy pitcher as we have seen over the past two seasons. But a question remains around his health which prevents us from putting him that high. He has started 30-or-more times in a season just once in his career.

Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (ADP 66) - Weaver gets very little attention, but that's a mistake you shouldn't make. Though his won-loss total didn't show it (13-12), Weaver had his best season in 2010, making 34 starts and posting a 3.01 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with a league-leading 233 strikeouts. The Angels offense should be better because of the return of Kendry Morales and the addition of Vernon Wells which will help Weaver's win total.

Zack Greinke, Milwaukee (ADP 68) - Greinke disappointed many fantasy owners who were looking for 2009-like statistics last season and didn't get them. His ERA jumped from a league-leading 2.16 in 2009 to 4.17 last year, his WHIP rose correspondingly and he record sank from 16-8 to 10-14. The truth is he's not as good a pitcher as the numbers he produced two years ago, nor as bad as last season. With a change in venue to Milwaukee, he'll have to work hard to keep his ERA below 3.00, but his win total should increase with the power the Brewers have in their lineup.

Chris Carpenter, St. Louis (ADP 69) - After missing most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with injuries, Carpenter has once again become a top-15 fantasy value over the past two seasons. He wasn't quite as good last year as in 2009 (ERA and WHIP rose), but he did improve on his strikeout total. There will be more pressure on Carpenter in 2011 because of the loss of Adam Wainwright to injury and an early hamstring injury had fantasy owners and Cardinals fans sweating, but he appears to be on target for Opening Day.

Matt Cain, San Francisco (ADP 74) - Cain is reliable (30+ starts for five straight seasons) and has top-10 talent, but is just a notch below that in his production. However, he's headed in the right direction as indicated by his WHIP which has dropped from 1.36 in 2008 to 1.18 in 2009 and 1.08 last season.

Mat Latos, San Diego (ADP 84) - Latos was a wonderful surprise in 2010, going 14-10 with an ERA of 2.92 and a WHIP of 1.08. He benefits from pitching in one of the most pitching-friendly parks in baseball. Still, he's only done it for one season, so there is risk in picking him too high.

Tim Hudson, Atlanta (ADP 104) - After an injury-filled 2009, we saw a vintage Hudson on the mound last season. He made 34 starts, going 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Assuming he stays healthy, his numbers are repeatable and as a ninth-round selection is a solid value.

Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee (ADP 79) - Gallardo has been the "ace" of the Brewers staff over the past two seasons, but he's less than that as a fantasy starter. He'll give you strikeouts, but has a less than satisfying WHIP and has yet to pitch more than 190 innings in any season.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota (ADP 82) - Liriano is in the Gallardo mold, solid strikeout totals, but a weak WHIP and he hasn't shown the ability to post 200+ innings. His WHIP hasn't been below 1.26 since 2006.

Daniel Hudson, Arizona (ADP 124) - Daniel Hudson was a huge surprise after joining Arizona. In 11 starts for the Diamondbacks, Hudson went 7-1 with an ERA of 1.69 and a WHIP of 0.841. He was the best pitcher in the National League from August 1st through the end of the season. There is a huge upside because his light track record will keep many fantasy owners away.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.