Starting pitchers are difficult to assess. They’re a deep pool of talent, but they can also have widely variable results. Injuries steal a few elite hurlers every season, much to their owners’ chagrins, and there are always a few breakouts who no one saw coming. My rankings took a number of things into consideration: strikeouts, walks, groundball rate, xFIP, innings pitched and team, amongst others. I’ll post them as I did the outfielders, with the Top-10 first, then the next 25-ish. Here’s how it shook out:
1. Roy Halladay: “Doc” is best pitcher in the game, period. He get’s a good number of strikeouts and hardly walks anyone. His groundball rate is phenomenal for a starter and this results in great WHIP and ERA numbers, not to mention wins. He’s durable and plays for a winning squad. The bullpen should be fairly good again, giving Halladay a chance at 20 wins. He’s the definition of “elite.”
2. Clayton Kershaw: This young stud has really blossomed in LA. While he walks a few more than Halladay, he posts excellent strikeout numbers. As is Halladay, Kershaw can go the distance and will post a few complete games, a bonus if your league scores that category. His ERA should be very low again in 2012 and the bullpen for the Dodgers will be adequate at protecting leads and getting Kershaw his wins, likely somewhere around 18.
3. Cliff Lee: right behind the other two, Cliff Lee is yet another solid pitcher who is as dependable as anybody in the game. An excellent K/BB ratio, paper-thin WHIP, stellar ERA and high win totals make Lee the complete package. As a Philly, like Halladay, he’ll play for a winner and should pitch a few complete games of his own. You can trust Cliff Lee.
4. CC Sabathia: despite his slow starts to the season, Sabathia can rack up the wins with the Yankees offensive supporting him. His strikeout rate is quite good and he limits his walks, keeping his WHIP down and is ERA hovering right around 3.00 perennially. If you seek wins, Sabathia always has a shot at 20. Add durability to the mix and he’s definitely worthy of a high pick.
5. Justin Verlander: the Tigers’ offense is getting all the hype right now, but Verlander will once again anchor the rotation. Coming off one the best seasons for a pitcher in recent memory, Verlander will have to prove that his heavy workload the last few season, including 251 IP last year, won’t slow him down. His K/BB ratio is fantastic and he’ll get the needed run support to put up big win totals again. His ERA will likely take a small hit if Cabrera plays 3B all year.
6. Felix Hernandez: it’s easy to forget that Felix is so young given that he’s been seeing big league action since he was 19. Now 26, it appears he isn’t slowing down for anybody and is entering what should be his physical prime. As a Mariner, he won’t put up the gaudy win numbers, but he has solid strikeout and walk numbers which limit his ERA. The Rangers and Angels being in his division makes me a little nervous, but Felix usually pitches best when the stakes are highest.
7. Zach Greinke: although he got a late start to the season, Greinke was stellar once he got going. His ERA last season was unfortunately high, mostly due to some poor fielding from the Brewers (McGehee, Betancourt, others). Improved fielding, mixed with Greike’s superior strikeout numbers, suggest that he’ll be solid again, with a chance at greatness. He should still get enough run support to win 15+ if he can stay healthy all year.
8. Cole Hamels: yet another Philly, Hamels is clearly a young stud. An ace on most staffs, Cole will pitch in the #3 spot for the Philadelphia, where he should outshine most opposing number threes. He has solid strikeout and walk rates, although his K% isn’t amazing. He minimizes the damage by keeping his WHIP low, inducing a lot of grounders and his ERA should be in the low 3’s again.
9. Dan Haren: the Angels are blessed with a trio of good pitchers, led by Haren. He’s very efficient on the mound by keeping his walks way down and letting his defense do the work. He doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as the others on the list, but he’ll have Pujols and Co. supplying the power for the offense, giving him a good chance at 17-18 wins.
10. Tim Lincecum: the Freak has regularly been ranked higher than this, and some still have him around the top five. I’m skeptical, however, as his velocity has dropped over the last two years, his strikeouts are down and the walks are up. He’s relied on his changeup to get his K’s in the past, but with a diminishing fastball, the changeup becomes less effective. His strikeouts numbers are still fantastic, however, just not as good as they’ve been in the recent past. If he can limit his walks, he will be successful. Command is the key for this Giant.