CC Sabathia will be every fantasy owner's anchor this season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There is always a big debate as to whether to choose your starting pitchers early in your draft or late because so many surprises pop up each season, but the one thing that is clear to me, is that staying healthy is the most important characteristic you want from your staff.
For that reason, I'd be very fearful of picking Johan Santana, at this time, even though he is still listed as the No.2 overall starting pitcher, until his spring training problems are completely diagnosed. It's hard enough to keep your guys healthy throughout the marathon baseball season, but when they start at less than 100% it's almost impossible.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees - Down the stretch last season, he was the best pitcher in baseball. With his team, then Milwaukee, fighting for a playoff spot, Sabathia went the final three weeks starting five games, pitching 35 2/3 innings yielding just nine runs and striking out 34. His ERA was 2.27 and his WHIP was 1.04. After his mid-season trade to the Brewers, his numbers were a stunning 11-2, 130 2/3 innings pitched, 106 hits, 128 Ks, 1.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP. Now he heads to the "Big Apple" and the best team money can buy. He's a stud who has only started less than 30 games in a season once and will be every fantasy owner's anchor.
Johan Santana, New York Mets - Since 2004, Santana has started either 33 or 34 games each year, showing how durable he was. But with the Mets announcing his spring training injury, though we still don't know the severity, it will call that into question. When healthy he is certainly one of the top pitchers in the game (2008 ADP - 16.73), but is it possible that pitching 1,147 innings over the past five years is catching up to him?
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco - Lincecum (2008 ADP - 121.45) was one of the two "best bargains" of 2007 (along with Cliff Lee). People shied away from him because they thought the weak Giants offense would prevent him from winning many games. Of course, when you pitch as well as Lincecum did (18-5, 227 innings, 182 hits, 265 Ks, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), it doesn't matter how bad the team is. He reminded me of Steve Carlton in 1972 who went 27-10 for the last-place Philadelphia Phillies (59-97)
Brandon Webb, Arizona - Webb had a great 2008 finishing second to Lincecum in the NL Cy Young voting. He went 22-7 in 226 2/3 innings, yielding 206 hits, striking out 183 with an ERA of 3.30 and a 1.19 WHIP. With a young and improving Arizona Diamondbacks team, he should continue to excel. Webb has made 30+ starts every year since 2004, so durability is on his side.
Roy Halladay, Toronto - Halladay pitches in the toughest division in baseball, but still succeeds. He has 52 wins over the past three seasons including 20-11 last year with a 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Pitching north of the border, he doesn't get the publicity of some other pitchers (2008 AFP - 86.64) so he is usually a bargain on draft day.
Dan Haren, Arizona - Like his Diamondbacks' teammate Webb, Haren has been durable and successful. Despite leaving the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland for Arizona, his numbers stayed relatively the same as in 2007. Haren went 16-8 in 216 innings, yielding 204 hits, while striking out 206. His ERA was 3.33 and his WHIP 1.13.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia - Hamels was good during the regular season (14-10, 227 1/3 innings, 193 Ks, 3.09 ERA 1.08 WHIP) and great in post-season (4-0 35 innings, 23 hits, 30 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP). At 25-years-old he still has yet to peak, but it will be interesting to see if the NLCS and World Series MVP will continue to pitch at his post-season level or revert back to "good" status. Too much publicity to be a "bargain" in 2009, you'll either get "fair market value" if he pitches great or "overpay" if he pitches like last year's regular season.
Cliff Lee, Cleveland - Lee's 2008 season is one of those fantasy stories you tell for years. "I picked him up off the waiver wire because I knew he would pitch well and boy was I right," you'll tell your friends, neighbors or anyone who will listen. After a 5-8 2007 season, Lee posted these numbers in 2008: 22-3, 223 1/3 innings, 214 hits, 170 Ks, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP. Was this a "career year," or did the lefthander mature into a superstar? We will find out together, but he's unlikely to match those numbers so beware of picking him too early.
Josh Beckett, Boston - Remember what I said about health...and durability? Well Beckett is the opposite of Sabathia and Santana, guys who pitch 30+ games every season. Beckett has made 30-or-more starts just twice. After being a fantasy star in 2007 (20-7, 194 Ks, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Beckett reverted to his injury-prone self it 2008, going 12-10 in 174 1/3 innings with 172 Ks, an ERA of 4.03 and a 1.19 WHIP. He's looked good so far this spring, but he's a gamble.
Jake Peavy, San Diego - The Padres keep trying to trade Peavy, so I don't believe you can expect him to pitch all season in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Last year Peavy was 5-5 in Petco with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. Away from the friendly confines he was 5-6 with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. The only way I'd draft him is if I planned on trading him since "big name" pitchers are always tradable.
Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels - With the health of Johan in question, Ervin might be the "better" Santana in 2009. He was pretty good in 2008 going 16-7 in 219 innings striking out 214 with an ERA of 3.49 and a 1.12 WHIP. He has a new contract in hand and should be comfortable on the mound. My question is whether the Angels will be good enough to support Santana's pitching, but it's the same question people had about Lincecum in 2008.
AJ Burnett, New York Yankees - Like his former Florida Marlins teammate Beckett, the questions around Burnett concern health, not ability. Since 2000 he only made 30-or-more starts twice. But one of those times was last year when he went 18-10 for Toronto. Eighteen wins is nice, but his ERA of 4.07 and WHIP of 1.34 were nothing to write home about. Now that he's in New York, he'll be drafted too high for his actual value.