A look at the top starting pitchers in the major leagues . . .
1. ROY HALLADAY, Philadelphia Phillies
There is nothing Halladay won’t do for your pitching staff. Wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts. And he pitches in the National League where he only has to face eight legitimate hitters every game. Halladay should have no problem duplicating the 21 wins he had in 2010.
2. JOSH JOHNSON, Florida Marlins
Johnson won the National League ERA title last year at 2.30, not Halladay (2.44). Johnson, who missed the final month of the year with a back injury, was 11-6 with a mediocre Marlins team. He struck out more than a hitter an inning (186 in 183.2 innings). Just 27-years-old, he’s made 61 starts over the past two seasons so the injury concern shouldn’t keep you from grabbing this guy.
3. TIM LINCECUM, San Francisco Giants
Forget those five or six starts in August. Everyone is due for a bad month once or twice in his career. Lincecum still led the National League in strikeouts with 231 and he still won 16 games with a solid ERA (3.43) and WHIP (1.27). Expect him to shave at least a half run off that ERA this year. Lincecum is also just 27.
4. FELIX HERNANDEZ, Seattle Mariners
Yes, he has amazing stuff. And, yes, he’s the best pitcher in the American League. But he plays for the Seattle Mariners so you might get another 13-win season. Hernandez was likely the most dominating pitcher in baseball a year ago with a 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 232 strikeouts in 249.2 innings. And he’s just 25.
5. JUSTIN VERLANDER, Detroit Tigers
Verlander is fantasy money in the bank. He’s won 37 games over the past two years with 588 strikeouts, a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. The Tigers have beefed up their offense and will compete for the American League Central title so Verlander will get you his usual 19 wins, 200 strikeouts, solid ERA and low WHIP.
6. JON LESTER, Boston Red Sox
Lester won 19 games with 225 strikeouts for an ugly injury-riddled Red Sox lineup in 2010. He could win 25 games this year as the Red Sox will likely get to the World Series. Lester, at 27, is in his prime now. The Red Sox have also fortified their bullpen. Everything points to a big year.
7. ADAM WAINWRIGHT, St. Louis Cardinals
The former closer quietly had an outstanding 2010. Wainwright, now 29, won 20 games a year ago with a 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 213 strikeouts. It was almost a duplicate of his 2009 season when he won 19 games with a 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 212 strikeouts.
8. MATT CAIN, San Francisco Giants
Cain was just 13-11 a year ago for a team that won the World Series. But he should have won 18. The big right-hander fanned 177 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Right-handers hit just .217 against him. In the postseason he didn’t allow an earned run over 21.1 innings. He’s ready to blossom.
9. DAVID PRICE, Tampa Bay Rays
He still doesn’t even know how to pitch. The 25-year-old, though, won 19 games with a 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 188 strikeouts last year on sheer talent. It might not be long before he’s the most dominating pitcher in baseball. He gave up three or less earned runs in 28 of his 31 starts in 2010.
10. CLIFF LEE, Philadelphia Phillies
How can a guy strike out 185 hitters and walk just 18 and still only win a dozen games? Lee is now 32. He’s no longer pitching for a contract. He’s not one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in the big leagues. We should see a steady decline in his numbers now. But he’s still a No. 1.
11. CLAYTON KERSHAW, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw had the best season for a pitcher last year that nobody noticed. The 23-year-old was incredible with a 2.91 ERA, 212 strikeouts in 204 innings and a 1.18 WHIP. He cut his walks down by 10 in 2010 (over 2009) in 33 more innings. This might be the last year you can get him past the fifth round of your draft.
12. C.C. SABATHIA, New York Yankees
Sabathia is automatic. Over the last two years he’s been fantasy gold: 40 wins, 397 strikeouts, 1.20 WHIP and a 3.25 ERA. The Yankees will also have a better bullpen this year with Rafael Soriano. It’s never a bad thing to have the Yankees’ ace on your staff.
13. ZACK GREINKE, Milwaukee Brewers
Greinke is now finally with a major league team. Don’t be shocked to see 18-20 wins out of him this year. Greinke struggled at times in 2010 as he ERA ballooned to 4.17. And his strikeouts declined by 61 in just nine fewer innings (from 2009). Greinke might never have a season like 2009 ever again (2.16 ERA, 242 Ks, 1.07 WHIP) but he’s just 27. And now he can win 7-5 games instead of losing 4-3 every other start.
14. UBALDO JIMENEZ, Colorado Rockies
Jimenez was probably the best pitcher in the first half but then he won just two of his final 11 starts on a team that scores a ton of runs. But don’t be too worried about that second half. He still gave up three or fewer earned runs in eight of those 11 starts and he’ll still get you 200-plus strikeouts and 18-20 wins. The best thing he has going for him pitching in Colorado is that he simply doesn’t allow the ball to be put in play all that much (just 164 hits in 222 innings).
15. YOVANI GALLARDO, Milwaukee Brewers
Gallardo and Greinke will be the Brewers’ version of Lincecum and Cain this year. Just 25, Gallardo cut his walks down in 2010 and became a bit more hittable (28 more hits in the same amount of innings as 2009). But he’ll get you 200-plus strikeouts, 15-plus victories and he won’t hurt you in ERA (expect 3.75) or WHIP (expect 1.35).
16. JERED WEAVER, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver had a similar season a year ago to the Mariners’ Hernandez. In the same amount of starts, the two right-handers each won 13 games, each had a microscopic WHIP (Hernandez was 1.06, Weaver 1.07) and each piled up strikeouts (233 for Weaver, 232 for Hernandez). Hernandez had a better ERA 2.27 to Weaver’s 3.01) but that will be evened out because the Angels are a better ball club than Seattle so Weaver could win four or five more games than his Seattle rival.
17. ROY OSWALT, Philadelphia Phillies
Oswalt was brilliant after he joined the Phillies in 2010, going 7-4 with a 1.74 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. For the year with Houston and Philly, the 33-year-old was 13-13 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.03 WHIP and he fanned 193 in 211.2 innings, a dramatic upswing in his strikeout rate (just 138 in 181 innings in 2009). Don’t expect the ERA and WHIP to stay that low or the strikeouts to stay that high.
18. CHRIS CARPENTER, St. Louis Cardinals
Carpenter is getting old (36) but he’s still one of the top pitchers in baseball. Carpenter has made 63 starts over the last two year so maybe all the injuries are a thing of the past. He won 16 games last year with 179 strikeouts and a 1.18 WHIP. Grab him.
19. COLE HAMELS, Philadelphia Phillies
Hamels would be the ace of most pitching staffs. With the Phillies, though, he’s No. 4 behind Halladay, Lee and Oswalt. Hamels is still just 27-years-old and he’s coming off a great comeback year (12 wins, 3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 211 strikeouts). Expect the wins to jump to at least 15.
20. MAT LATOS, San Diego Padres
Latos had a solid breakout year in 2010, winning 14 games with a 1.08 WHIP, 2.92 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 184.2 innings. But he struggled in September when his team needed him the most, losing his final five decisions and watching his ERA jump up from 2.21. Don’t make him your No.1 starter but don’t wait too long to get him either.
GRAB THEM IF YOU CAN GET THEM
Tommy Hanson, Atlanta; John Danks, White Sox; Matt Garza, Cubs; Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati; Carlos Zambrano, Cubs; Dan Haren, Angels; Francisco Liriano, Minnesota; Max Scherzer, Detroit; Ryan Dempster, Cubs; Ervin Santana, Angels.
GREAT STAFF FILLERS
Trevor Cahill, Oakland; Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee; Ted Lilly, Dodgers; Clay Buchholz, Boston; Chad Billingsley, Dodgers; Brett Anderson, Oakland; Tim Hudson, Atlanta; Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco; Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers; Dallas Braden, A’s; Colby Lewis, Texas.
WORTH A LOOK LATE
Wandy Rodriguez, Houston; Brian Matusz, Baltimore; Gio Gonzalez, Oakland; Phil Hughes, Yankees; Jaime Garcia, St. Louis; Brett Myers, Houston; Edwin Jackson, White Sox; Gavin Floyd, White Sox; Javier Vasquez, Florida; Johan Santana, Mets; Jake Peavy, White Sox; Derek Lowe, Atlanta; Ian Kennedy, Arizona; Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay; Ricky Romero, Toronto; C.J. Wilson, Texas; Josh Beckett, Boston.
ONLY IF YOU ARE DESPERATE
Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati; Brandon Morrow, Toronto; Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco; Ricky Nolasco, Florida; John Lackey. Boston; Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta; Scott Baker, Minnesota; Homer Bailey, Cincinnati; Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati; Randy Wolf, Milwaukee; James Shields, Tampa Bay; Daniel Hudson, Arizona; Mark Buehrle, White Sox.