2011 Player Rankings: AL Starting Pitchers

You guys probably know the drill by now. We RotoGraphers stayed up all night with calculators in hand, glasses firmly in place, and computers in front of us, as we sat comfortably in David Appelman’s mom’s basement. We brainstormed until the only images in our head were C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon together at last on the buffet line. Today I unveil the results of this night to remember and bring to you our American League starting pitcher rankings. I will also be your AL SP tour guide for the rest of the season.

Pearl Jam
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester
C.C. Sabathia

Out of eight rankers, I was one of two that ranked Felix second, with Lester first. I am projecting identical ratios, but the higher strikeout rate and much better offense behind him give Lester the edge in my view. Sabathia has some hidden downside risk with a rising walk rate and falling strikeout rate. He was able to work around the skills decline by inducing a career high ground ball rate last year, but that may not happen again in 2011.

The Who
Justin Verlander
Jered Weaver
David Price
Dan Haren
Francisco Liriano

How much of his strikeout rate spike will Weaver retain? With his extreme fly ball tendencies, that will be the difference between posting another low-3.00 ERA and an ERA jumping back into the high-3.00s. Price will almost certainly be overvalued at your draft given his 2010 FIP that was .70 runs above his ERA and xFIP a significant 1.27 runs above. Haren should be undervalued and will bounce back and Liriano is somewhat of a wildcard now. He has the skills to be in the top tier, but possible shoulder issues are a concern.

Max Scherzer
Clay Buchholz
Colby Lewis
Phil Hughes
Brett Anderson
John Danks
Brandon Morrow
Gio Gonzalez
Josh Beckett

I think Buchholz will improve his skills this year, but still expect his ERA to rise into the mid-3.00s. Seeing that I ranked him worst among RotoGraphers, I think he will be a bit overvalued in drafts. Morrow is this year’s sleeper that isn’t. Like Buchholz, I had him ranked the lowest among staffers, but still like him. Josh Beckett is the pick in this tier. I am willing to give him a complete mulligan on his disastrous 2010. He could finish this season right at the top of The Who tier and even flirt with the members of Pearl Jam given his skill set.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Ricky Romero
Jeremy Hellickson
Trevor Cahill
C.J. Wilson
Edwin Jackson
Brian Matusz
Gavin Floyd
John Lackey
Ervin Santana

Hellickson has proven me completely wrong so far. I took off my stat-blinders for a change and thought that he was the type of pitcher, from a scouting perspective, that would disappoint. I was incorrect then and expect to continue being so. Cahill is in for a fall, though with his low strikeout rate that even casual owners could plainly see, he may not be so overvalued after all. Edwin Jackson is one of my favorite targets. His skills took a huge leap forward with the White Sox and it was clear that Don Cooper’s magic truly made a significant impact.

Carl Pavano
Wade Davis
Brett Cecil
Jeremy Guthrie
James Shields
Scott Baker
A.J. Burnett

Phoenix- certainly has the potential to perform well (earn positive value) and I like some songs (pitcher’s skills), but not totally convinced they are that good. James Shields sticks out here as he was killed by poor luck in every metric. You cannot forget that behind the 5.00+ ERA stood a career high 8.3 K/9. Almost guaranteed to earn his owner a profit this year. I kind of like Burnett as well, as the majority of baseball fans, Yankees fans and fantasy owners have seemed to have completely given up on him. He still owns a mid-90s fastball and devastating curve, so it would be no surprise at all to see him rebound to post a sub-4.00 ERA with nice strikeout and win totals.

Cee Lo Green
Kevin Slowey
Dallas Braden
Jake Peavy
Jeff Niemann
Derek Holland
Mark Buehrle

I am fully aware that I officially just turned the comments section into a “bash Mike for not liking Cee Lo Green” party, but it was just part of my evil plan to set a new comments record. Don’t draft Dallas Braden. When his luck neutralizes, he becomes a 0-category contributor. If I told you I had a clue what Peavy was going to do this year, I would be lying. I do think he was unlucky last year and his skills remained pretty solid. But I have no idea how his health is going to allow him to perform. Derek Holland is my favorite of this tier and I think he could pretty easily return more value than rotation-mate and Chili Pepper tier member C.J. Wilson. He just needs to improve his control from last season’s level and stay healthy.

The Black Keys
Kyle Drabek
Michael Pineda
Justin Masterson
Joel Pineiro
Fausto Carmona
Carlos Carrasco
Rick Porcello

Had a chance to see The Black Keys open for Pearl Jam and they rocked it. Though with six albums released, they aren’t exactly young breakout music stars, but like this tier, they have shown the world an impressive body of work and now are finally (or will be) being recognized for it. Drabek, Pineda and Carrasco are an exciting group of youngsters. I like Carrasco the best for this year, but if Pineda somehow manages to match Carrasco’s innings, he could make things interesting in a showdown between the two. Masterson is the sabermetric darling who just needs to stop crapping his pants when a lefty steps to the plate and start getting out more of them. Who knows when and if that will ever happen. Worth taking a flyer though for the chance that it’s this year as he could make you a considerable profit.

Miley Cyrus
Jeff Francis
Marc Rzepczynski
Luke Hochevar
Brian Duensing
Erik Bedard

Not totally fair to name the tier after Hannah Montana, as I do like Rzepczynski. His skill set is not too different from Masterson’s, so he could be a great gamble if he wins the fifth slot in the rotation. What’s that? Erik Bedard is looking healthy I hear?! I think I am having déjà vu.

Justin Bieber (did you expect anyone else?)
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Brad Penny
Chris Tillman
Brandon Webb
Jason Vargas
Phil Coke
Ivan Nova
Tommy Hunter
Jake Arrieta

Still have not heard more than about five seconds of a Bieber song and am happy to keep it that way. Webb is even more of a crapshoot than Peavy and Bedard, but if his worm-killing talents return, you’ll be elated you took the chance. There are worse ways to speculate at the end of your drafts or with your last dollar. There is really no one else here I have any desire to roster.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

34 Responses to “2011 Player Rankings: AL Starting Pitchers”

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  1. Chris says:

    Really? Pearl Jam over the Who? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of both bands, but the Who were by far the superior band. When was the last time that Pearl Jam got together and composed a rock opera, hmmmm?!

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    • EdwardM says:

      Well said! Your band ranking skills are no match for your talents in analyzing pitchers. I like Romero but his walks scare me a bit. 5BB’s in his lastest spring start!

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    • Schide says:

      This was the first thing that crossed my mind when I started reading this article as well.

      Perhaps to generate more actual baseball discussion the writers should stop ranking bands and movies and such along with players in these things. Although RP is the only thing left so whatever!

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  2. Metsox says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Loved the write up, in a quality start league though (a much better format), so have to glean insights through that filter….

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  3. CampBrice says:

    I guess the Radiohead tier would include Pedro Martinez circa 1999/2000

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      Yeah, it’s like when you want to talk about great pitchers and great seasons, and the only one anyone wants to talk about is Pedro. Sounds just like a Radiohead fan to me.

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  4. KJ says:

    I think you could have gone with Neon Trees in place of Phoenix, but fine. I would have liked some Emo band as the “pitchers you love to cry over” category. Some of your Cee Lo and Phoenix pitchers would belong there for me (especially Slowey, Peavy, and Baker). Side question, Mike: Taking your projections and the guys I just drafted based on them (fingers crossed!), is there some way that I can project my team BA, XBA, WHIP, ERA, and XERA?

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    • Mike Podhorzer says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Haha, love the emo band idea. Maybe Dashboard Confessional should have been included.

      You could certainly project those, as you just have to back out the earned runs inferred from the ERA and xERA calculations. E-mail me for the xBA calculation and indicate which hitters you need them for.

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  5. Mario Mendoza says:

    Way to embarrass yourself with the musical tiers. You should sort the AL relievers by order of your favorite Lifetime movies.

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  6. Mario Mendoza says:

    The Phoenix tier should have one player listed 16 times, just like their albums.

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  7. Eric Cioe says:

    Isn’t Verlander better than Sabathia at this point?

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    • phoenix says:

      can’t forget wins. sabathia owns anyone in wins, whether or not he actually deserves them. his ERA would probably shake out to the same as verlander, but with fewer strike outs.

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  8. wickethewok says:

    Josh Beckett flirting with the members of Pearl Jam? Can we expect MLB/90s alternative slash fiction to be a regular feature on RotoGraphs? :P

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  9. Shaggychild says:

    Matsuzaka has potential to end the year in the Chili Peppers tier. He’s worthy of a sentence at least.

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    • Mike Podhorzer says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I think Daisuke only has the potential to be injured and walk a lot of hitters. At this point, his skill set would require another heaping of luck to keep his ERA below 4.00.

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  10. Mike Podhorzer says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I have to admit, love the comments so far. If you are doubting Peal Jam at the top and have never seen them live, do yourself a favor and make sure to change that during their next tour.

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    • Chris says:

      That’s just not fair though, you can’t fault The Who for their Superbowl fiasco, they’re like 70 years old and missing Keith Moon. So the only thing I think you can do here is to compare live footage of both bands. For me though, nothing tops The Who’s Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour gig where he blew up his drum kit and permanently damaged Townsend’s hearing.

      Your rankings though seem pretty good, though I’d really have to think that Verlander and Sabathia need to be switched. As Sabathia begins to decline he’ll be facing the monstrous AL East while Verlander, still peaking, faces the AL Central. The only thing that I can think of as a true edge that Sabathia might have is wins as he has the better offense, otherwise I’ll take Verlander over him everyday.

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  11. Shizane says:

    What SP are in the “John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band” category?

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  12. GTW says:

    Pearl Jam was the obvious option for the top tier since their debut album was a “Ten.” As for the pitching ranks, I’m a little surprised to see Haren ranked below Weaver. I’m digging Haren’s value this year which you referenced.

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  13. Mike says:

    Black Keys rule all. Also points for including baseball references in at least a couple of their songs. I insist they be moved to the top.

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  14. EspeciallyK says:

    So…Pedro during his peak years would be in the AC/DC division..clearly

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  15. Dingo says:

    Sorry if you’ve explained this already elsewhere, but is there a reason why you split up outfielders and pitchers into AL and NL? It makes sense to break them into smaller groups to make them more manageable, but it’d be nice to have overall rankings for those of us who play in mixed leagues.

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    • Mike Podhorzer says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I believe we will be posting mixed league rankings shortly.

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  16. markinsand says:

    pearl jam! awesome…im a HUGE fan

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  17. Jason Wright says:

    Really? Who is this guy? Terrible article, tell us something we don’t know already. We’re two weeks from the season, and this is the list you put together? I hope Rotographs isn’t paying this guy to post crap like this.

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  18. The DOB says:

    I’ve seen both The Who & Pearl Jam in concert. The Who once, PJ about 30 times. Both bands are brilliant both instrumentaly and lyricaly. They both have altered there genres and the culture of their generations. The Who have lasted the test of time, and PJ is in the midst of doing so. Brunettes or Blondes fellas,,,,bend em over and there’s no diff.

    The Black I Pees are garbage. Id rather listen to my grandma get gang trained than 1 of thier “songs” The synthesised “songs” the marketing depts create for them is a kick in the crotch to any kid that sat at home and practiced an actual instrument everyday after school. You can snart into the computer and make it sound like 1 of their “songs” Thank god there was finaly an act during the superbowl 1/2time that allowed me to mingle and or drop duece.

    As for the baseball picks, I seem to be overvaluing Peavy, HUnter, and Webb. P & W can be an A or F, but worth a roll of the dice. Hunter, when healthy, has done well. His team puts up runs and he’s got a solid pen backing him, 13 W’s in a shortened season last year, but no1 is giving him an ounce of respect..

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  19. bSpittle says:

    Apologies – I have an overwhelming desire to write this somewhere.

    I finished a keeper draft yesterday.
    Its the best fantasy draft I’ve had.
    Get to keep 14 players next year.

    Granted I took some gambles on the infield, but I think beckham will be fine and castro has a lot of doubles power which could become home run power. 3b is a slight concern.

    C Posey
    1b Miguel Cabrera / brandon belt
    2b Gordon Beckham / ackley
    SS Starlin Castro
    3b Casey McGhee / Chris Johnson
    OF Jason Heyward
    OF Mike Stanton
    OF Travis Snider

    SP Felix Hernandez
    SP Josh Johnson
    SP Justin Verlander
    SP Jered Weaver
    SP Francisco Liriano
    SP Max Scherzer
    SP Mike Minor
    SP Matt Moore

    Carry on.

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  20. Joe M says:

    Where would Gavin Floyd fall on this list?

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  21. onceindc says:

    Maybe swap Pearl Jam with the Black Keys….

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