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2013 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: July Update

Because of last week’s July 4th holiday, these rankings are a bit late. So I apologize to all of you who have been spending this last week questioning how you could continue on with your life without this update.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander
Felix Hernandez
Yu Darvish
Max Scherzer

This is the longest I debated about what to do with Justin Verlander. His SIERA now sits at its highest mark since 2008, whereas in previous updates, his SIERA was normal. His walk rate is up, but his F-Strike% and Zone% are both fine. However, his K% is down, but you may not have realized it given the normal K/9, because his .336 BABIP is giving him more opportunities to strike batters out. The thing is, his velocity is down, which has been discussed many times this season. That’s something we could legitimately point to that has changed. So rather than dropping him a tier (he was alone previously), I just moved a bunch of other pitchers up to signify that there may not be a whole lot of difference anymore between Verlander and some of the pitchers below him.

Yu Darvish was just placed on the DL, but should only miss a start, so no big deal. As long as Max Scherzer could continue to get defensive support, he should remain top tier.

Second Best

C.C. Sabathia
James Shields
David Price

This tier has shrunk as half of it moved to the top tier. David Price has been excellent since returning from the disabled list, while both Sabathia and Shields’ value gets a boost from all the innings they pitch. Sabathia continues to get hurt by the long ball, but only twice in his entire career has he allowed a HR/FB rate above 10%, so you have to assume that will come down. And although his velocity was back down in his last start, it had been on a strong upward trend all season.

Shields’ skills actually haven’t been that great this season. His SIERA sits at its highest mark since 2009 and his monthly trends are a bit worrisome. More run support would be nice, but I’m not ready to drop him a tier.

Strong Enough

Chris Sale
Jered Weaver
Anibal Sanchez
Matt Moore

Chris Sale‘s appearance in this tier is primarily because of his expected innings total and the poor White Sox offense. I’m not sure he could throw 200 innings yet and that will limit his win total. I like him as much as anyone though in terms of ratios. After a slow start in terms of velocity, Jered Weaver is now back to normal, while his peripherals look nearly identical to last year. Of course, that means he is going to continue to rely on a low BABIP and HR/FB rate, along with a high LOB%, which remains dangerous.

So, Anibal Sanchez misses nearly a month with a shoulder injury and when he returns, his fastball velocity averaged its highest mark of the season. Go figure. That means he will remain right here, rather than getting dropped. Boy has Matt Moore had a rollercoaster of a season. Soon as I told owners to sell high, he immediately imploded over a three start stretch to open June. Now, of course, he has allowed just one run in his last three starts. He is precisely why you shouldn’t be making start/bench decisions based on a pitcher’s last start or two.

Seeing is Believing

R.A. Dickey
John Lackey
Derek Holland
Doug Fister
Hiroki Kuroda
Tommy Milone
Josh Johnson
Hisashi Iwakuma
Justin Masterson
Jon Lester
Ryan Dempster
Jeremy Hellickson
C.J. Wilson
Ervin Santana

As soon as you think R.A. Dickey has turned things around and the Dickey of the National League has returned, he allows six runs to the Twins. The good news is that his knuckleball has averaged its highest velocity since early April over his last three starts, so perhaps the Twins start was just a standard bad one any pitcher could have. Maybe he’s a decent buy low, but pitching in a hitter’s park in the American League East is just tough.

John Lackey jumps a tier as he is showing career best skills. How this has suddenly happened at age 34, I don’t know. But it’s easy to forget that Lackey used to be a pretty good real baseball and fantasy pitcher. Obviously, it would be silly to expect him to sustain a sub-3.00 ERA. But with a career best GB%, excellent control and his highest SwStk% since 2006, this is a legit rebound.

Suddenly Doug Fister‘s ERA is above 4.00 and well above his SIERA. What’s worrying though is that his strikeout percentage has dropped precipitously since the beginning of June. Hisashi Iwakuma has gone through quite the stretch since mid-June. He allowed exactly four runs in four straight starts and then followed that up with a six run clunker. Sorry folks, that’s just how regression works! It’s exactly what happened to Matt Moore. When a pitcher is significantly outperforming his SIERA, the implosion could come gradually or all at once, but usually, it does happen. Now he looks similar to Doug Fister, but has a worse offense backing him.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Corey Kluber
Rick Porcello
Roberto Hernandez
Scott Kazmir
Ivan Nova
Phil Hughes
Felix Doubront
Dan Straily
Hector Santiago
Bartolo Colon
Scott Feldman

The BABIP Gods have not been very kind to Corey Kluber. Excluding his two July starts, his monthly BABIPs have gone .333, .346, .354. The April mark was undeserved given his batted ball mix, but the May and June marks certainly were as he was allowing line drives all over the field. I remain on the fence with him, but he obviously could potentially be worth a tier better.

Even with a 4.80 ERA, Rick Porcello jumps two tiers. With a 3.23 SIERA heading into yesterday’s outing, which includes his weak April skills, he’s a great buy low candidate. Of course, digging deeper you find that he’s had trouble pitching with runners on. It’s not just bad luck, his skills have actually dipped. So he’s certainly not as good as his SIERA suggest, but shouldn’t post results nearly as bad as he has so far.

After receiving a tweet with the link to an article about Ivan Nova‘s recent changes, I’m slightly intrigued by him moving forward. His velocity is up and he has always induced lots of ground balls. He could really surprise.

Hector Santiago isn’t that much different than fellow lefty Felix Doubront from a skills perspective. The weaker offense obviously hurts his win potential, plus he’s not guaranteed to remain in the rotation when Jake Peavy returns. But Dylan Axelrod is just not a good pitcher, so he might get the boot instead.

Reminder: Bartolo Colon has a 4.22 SIERA. Sure, his ballpark helps and his elite walk rate should result in a beneficial WHIP, but that implosion I mentioned that happened to Moore and Iwakuma above could happen at any time here as well.

Livin’ on the Edge

Chris Tillman
Jason Hammel
Wei-Yin Chen
Jarrod Parker
Jose Quintana
Andy Pettitte
A.J. Griffin
Jordan Lyles

Jason Hammel‘s skills has jumped around each month, so it’s hard to gauge which Hammel will show his face moving forward. It doesn’t look like last year’s version is coming back though. Wei-Yin Chen finally returned yesterday from an oblique injury, but he has a ways to go to get his skill metrics back in order. In his U.S. debut last year, he showed solid control and a slightly above average strikeout rate, but the strikeouts haven’t been there thus far this season. Either have the swinging strikes.

The Great Disappointment

Miguel Gonzalez
Martin Perez
Ubaldo Jimenez
Bud Norris
Esmil Rogers
Mark Buehrle
Wade Davis
Scott Diamond

Martin Perez joins the rankings and his early success likely has fantasy owners rushing to pick him up. Don’t be deceived. His SIERA is double his ERA, and despite a solid SwStk%, he’s striking out no one. His minor league track record is also unimpressive and his poor F-Strike% suggests that good looking walk rate is heading skyward.

Ubaldo Jimenez posted a 3.09 ERA in June, but that came along with a 12.4% BB% and 4.39 xFIP. While it’s nice that the strikeouts have returned, his velocity continues its downward spiral, while his SwStk% is actually below the league average. Even in an AL-Only league I wouldn’t be confident he returns positive value. I don’t get the excitement about Esmil Rogers. He sports a poor SwStk% and F-Strike%, while pitching in a tough home park and division, which is going to make it very difficult for him to even earn AL-Only value.

This is what Mark Buehrle looks like without a heaping of good fortune. All of his luck metrics are right around league average and for the first time in a while, his ERA is actually right around his SIERA. With a poor strikeout rate, that makes him pretty much worthless.


Jake Peavy
Brandon Morrow
Matt Harrison
J.A. Happ
Brett Anderson
Brett Myers
Alex Cobb
Clay Buchholz
Alexi Ogando
David Phelps
Jason Vargas
Zach McAllister
Nick Tepesch
Tommy Hanson