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2013 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: Preseason

OMG, we’re a week away from BASEBALL that counts! You’ve seen the consensus starting pitcher rankings, questioned them and have been eagerly anticipating the tiers for a more detailed breakdown. Your wait has ended. It’s time to continue spurring comment arguments as I unveil the first edition of the American League starting pitcher tiers.

However before I unveil them, there are two things I want to note. First, these are American League rankings only. So no, I did not forget about Clayton Kershaw. Second, these rankings may differ from those published as part of the consensus. That is because I am continually updating my projections and rerunning my dollar values. The tiers are strictly in descending order of projected dollar value based on my projections. The good thing about this is that I am able to divide the tiers much more easily, as I can simply make cuts where the dollar value gaps are, as opposed to arbitrarily breaking players up or guessing where there is a drop-off.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander

A tier all his own! Bad stuff that could happen that would drop him out of this spot: poor run support, terrible defense behind him inflating his BABIP, injury, orĀ Scott Kazmir** making the Indians rotation, saying to hell with the control problems of his past and posting a 2.20 ERA with 300 strikeouts.

Second Best

C.C. Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
David Price
James Shields
Yu Darvish
R.A. Dickey
Jered Weaver

I am projecting a little more than a $3 difference between the top and bottom guy in this tier, which really isn’t all that much. Yes, I have projected C.C. Sabathia as the second most valuable AL starting pitcher. Chances the team’s currently poor offense and his elbow make me look foolish by the end of the season? High. But seriously, I don’t see any signs of decline yet and he appears to be fully recovered from his offseason elbow surgery. Yup, James Shields is in this tier. After several drafts, I am quite aware that I like him more than, like, everyone. If he could maintain the jump in GB% he enjoyed last year, he should easily fit here assuming he doesn’t have one of those random bad luck seasons with an inflated BABIP. Remember, Kauffman Stadium has actually deflated home runs at a greater degree than Tropicana Field.

Yu Darvish has become a very trendy elite pitcher possibility and he certainly has the potential to break even for his owners paying the hefty price. But he still has to improve that control. R.A. Dickey‘s offseason was pretty bad in that he moved from the easier league and a pitcher’s park to a tough division, tougher league and hitter’s park. I still think his skills were mostly for real last year, but I’m now projecting a mid-3.00 ERA. Jered Weaver truly concerns me given his velocity and strikeout rate decline. But until he stops dramatically outperforming his expected ERA metrics, ya gotta assume he will continue to do so.

Strong Enough

Max Scherzer
Chris Sale
Jake Peavy
Matt Moore
Doug Fister
Jon Lester
Hiroki Kuroda

On the heels of his amazing second half, Max Scherzer is costing a fortune. Unfortunately, he still has to deal with that porous infield defense. There’s also little chance he posts a strikeout rate anywhere near what he did last year. Yes, the velocity jumped a bit, but I’m projecting some regression back to a 9.4 K/9. Doug Fister is a boring, yet solidly skilled pitcher, not too unlike Hiroki Kuroda. Both may very well be undervalued in your draft/auction. Like Darvish, Matt Moore just needs to get those walks under control. Unlike Darvish though, he’s a fly ball pitcher, so he could have more difficulty keeping the ball in the yard. Jon Lester‘s peripherals were down a bit last year, but his velocity was fine and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious explanation. I expect a rebound.

Seeing is Believing

Tommy Milone
Josh Johnson
Brandon Morrow
Anibal Sanchez
Jeremy Hellickson
Ryan Dempster
C.J. Wilson
Brett Anderson
Jason Hammel

Tommy Milone seems to be undervalued in every draft I have participated in, though he has yet to land on my team. His pinpoint control will guarantee a strong WHIP, if nothing else, and he still provides a decent strikeout rate. Isn’t it funny how the luck pendulum swings? For two years as a member of the Blue Jays rotation, Brandon Morrow had posted excellent peripherals and drastically underperformed his SIERA marks. He then became a trendy sleeper for some, while others tried to explain his underperformance and were continuing to avoid him. Then 2012 happened as he posted a 2.96 ERA in just 124.2 innings after missing time due to injury. Of course, this time, he actually got lucky for a change as his SIERA was a full run higher than his actual ERA. Now the question becomes whether the huge decline in his strikeout rate is a sinister foreshadowing of future performance or just a short season fluke.

Brett Anderson would be higher if I was confident he would pitch even 180 innings. At the moment, my projection only calls for 160, but he easily has the lowest ERA forecast of this group. I am a fan of Jason Hammel and think his breakout last year was mostly for real. As long as he maintains that velocity spike, I think he’ll earn profit given where I have seen him being drafted.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Joe Blanton
Gavin Floyd
Alexi Ogando
Phil Hughes
Felix Doubront
Alex Cobb
Wei-Yin Chen
Derek Holland

Joe Blanton has battled a high HR/FB his last four seasons and an inflated BABIP the last three. The move to Los Angeles might help him finally come close to his excellent SIERA marks over the last couple of years. Alexi Ogando may be higher if he was projected for more than 160 innings. Felix Doubront showed some tantalizing strikeout ability last season and should enjoy better HR/FB rate luck this time around. Alex Cobb has had one heck of a spring and I am a fan, but the poor SwStk% makes me hesitant to project a strikeout rate closer to his minor league rates.

Livin’ on the Edge

Clay Buchholz
Jarrod Parker
Andy Pettitte
Erasmo Ramirez
Ivan Nova
Hisashi Iwakuma
Matt Harrison
Ricky Romero
A.J. Griffin

Raise your hand if you’re not shocked to see Jarrod Parker‘s name all the way down here. No hands, that’s what I thought. My issues are thus: his SIERA was 4.15 last year, not good; his F-Strike% was well below the league average, suggesting his BB/9 is headed for a jump. I am expecting a better strikeout and ground ball rate, but those skill improvements are offset by the increased walk rate. He’s not going to allow another HR/FB rate as low as 6.8%, so he’ll need a lot more skill improvement to offset the loss of good fortune.

Somehow, Erasmo Ramirez may not even make the Mariners rotation, so this ranking assumes that he does. I only project 160 innings, but he ties Andy Pettitte for the lowest projected ERA of the group. I think he makes for an excellent late-round option, though only if he wins a rotation slot of course. Ricky Romero might still be a mess, so he could very well find himself in the bottom tier or off this list come next month. Although I’m really not much a fan of A.J. Griffin‘s, his ranking is hurt by his 160 inning projection. Remember that forecasted innings pitched plays a big role in projected value.

The Great Disappointment

Jason Vargas
Dan Straily
Bud Norris
Tommy Hanson
Mark Buehrle
Ervin Santana
Justin Masterson
Brett Myers
Zach McAllister
Wade Davis
Ubaldo Jimenez
Rick Porcello
Chris Tillman
John Lackey
Scott Diamond

This is one handsome group. I didn’t like Jason Vargas in Seattle and I don’t like him any more in Los Angeles. Poor Bud Norris. I used to be a big fan, but between the Astros move to the American League and his declining velocity, I’m off his bandwagon. Rick Porcello‘s spring is obviously intriguing. But, I haven’t made any adjustments to my projection. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan examined Porcello’s spring strikeouts and noted that he has nearly abandoned his slider in favor of his curve ball which he has thrown with limited frequency since his debut. That’s the type of explanation that could drive a change in performance. But, it will take more than 18 spring innings to convince me my strikeout rate projection is too low and that he is indeed a new pitcher. Chris Tillman is not a sleeper.

Just Missing the Cut

Jeff Niemann
Miguel Gonzalez
Lucas Harrell
Chris Archer
John Danks
Vance Worley
Trevor Bauer
Carlos Carrasco
Jordan Lyles
Joe Saunders

**I have no idea what Scott Kazmir is going to do this season and he still is no lock for the Cleveland rotation, let alone the team. So he is not appearing in any tiers at the moment for these very reasons.