Draft an ace and then wait.
That, my friends, is my formula for the starting pitcher position in fantasy baseball for the 2014 season. Every single season, the position is insanely deep, and this year is no exception. In 2013, seven starting pitcher ranked inside the top-30 on ESPN’s Player Rater, while a few more finished right outside that number. We always tend to find some young arms crack the team’s starting rotation (yes, we are looking at you, Jose Fernandez), which deepens the position even more.
So let’s get into it.
Gone are the days where Justin Verlander is the cream of the crop.
No, sir. The head of the class belongs to, and only belongs to Clayton Kershaw. The league leader in ERA in each of the past three seasons, Kershaw has become the first pitcher to accomplish that feat since Greg Maddux back in 1995. In 2013, he won 16 games, struck out 232 batters, posted an ERA of 1.83 and a WHIP of just 0.92, en route to a number three overall finish on the Player Rater, only behind the two best, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. He is the only pitcher worth consideration of a first round draft pick. The guy continues to improve, too, as he improved on his innings per start (7.18) and pitches per batter faced (3.77). His control and elite play allow him to get through innings quickly, which limits his pitches, in return. He’s the best, you should draft him.
After Kershaw, there are a handful of really, really, really good arms. Guys like Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright, for example. Let’s start with the pitcher in Texas that is sweeping the nation, so to speak.
Darvish really progressed during his second season in the majors, easily leading the MLB in strikeouts with a whopping 277. He continues to get better, as he significantly lowered his walk rate from 10.9 to 9.5 percent in year two, which attributed to his 277 k’s. More importantly, he improved on his pitch selection, as the guy seemingly has seven or eight pitchers at his disposal. His slider and breaking stuff improved, while his variety of fastballs accounted for 65 of his 277 strikeouts, according to ESPN. The guy should lead the league in whiffs once again this season.
Hernandez, meanwhile, caused owners to concern during the start of last season, as his fastball velocity was down. But Felix shook it off, and has his usual great season, posting a career-high in strikeout rate (26.3) and K/9 (9.51). The guy just gets out, as ESPN points out his insane 51.9 ground-ball percentage over the last four seasons combined. An extremely hitter-friendly ballpark will help Felix, and maybe with some offensive additions, the win total can finally increase.
Finally, one season after undergoing the dreaded Tommy John surgery, Wainwright showed zero signs of regression, as he finished second in NL Cy Young voting. He was also the number two overall pitcher on ESPN’s Player Rater, which I reference a lot because it does a terrific job of showing just how valuable a certain player was to your team. He’s got all the stuff, and should be one of the top five pitchers off your draft board.
The Young Arms
Okay, so after you land one of the top tier aces, you can wait, wait and then wait some more. The position is just so deep, and like I mentioned earlier, there are so many young arms in the game that will only get better. Of course, rookie sensation Jose Fernandez immediately comes to mind, but you’ll have to use a pick on him in the first five rounds or so. So, let’s take a look at some lower profile names that will be available later in your draft.
Let’s start with Tony Cingrani of the Reds. Cincinnati thought they were doomed when ace Johnny Cueto hit the DL with a lat strain, but it afforded them the opportunity to call up top prospect Cingrani. The guy simply strikes batters out, which is always fun for fantasy purposes. He boasted an incredible 10.3 K/9 last season, which would have been the second-highest in baseball if he were a qualified pitcher. While his fastball and changeup were his main weapons, Cingrani recently said he is developing a nice slider, which should be fun to watch.
Another intriguing name is young Patrick Corbin in Arizona. The 24-year old vastly improved in year number two, sporting an ERA of 3.41, WHIP of 1.17 and 178 strikeouts. Per Al Melchior of CBS, Corbin sported a swing-and-miss percentage on 11 percent of his pitches, with a hat tip to Baseball Reference. And in his 172 1/3 innings, he only walked 42 batters. The D-Backs have so much confidence in him, as he finished ninth in the NL in innings pitched with 208.1. His three complete games were also third-most in baseball. Don’t go chasing and overpay for these numbers, but he’s a great depth arm for your fantasy rotation.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.