2013 NL Starting Pitcher Tiers: May

Boy, how things can change after just one month. Due to the promotion of Tony Cingrani, emergence of Matt Harvey and struggles of Matt Cain, the National League starting pitching landscape has been altered quite a bit. Since this is actually my first time doing rankings at the site, I’m going to put my own spin on them. Inside of normal tiers, we’ll rank them according to best Radiohead albums. I figure opening myself up to criticism from two different sides should be…fun. I’m also going to use the album titles to link to a song from that album, because, why not? But, first, let’s get to the rankings.

OK Computer

Clayton Kershaw

That’s it, just Kershaw. This ranking is more a comment on his ability and consistency, than a reflection on the pitchers in tier two. There’s not much else to say about Kershaw. He’s a strikeout machine, doesn’t walk many batters and is only 25-years-old. He’ll continue to be great for a long time.

Kid A

Adam Wainwright
Stephen Strasburg
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Madison Bumgarner

Nothing wrong with any of these guys. Yes, Hamels hasn’t started out strong, but that should come to an end given his pedigree. Strasburg is perhaps the most questionable inclusion. The numbers look fine, but he hasn’t looked like the same pitcher at the beginning of the season. He’s struggled more than usual with his fastball control, which has limited him to just six innings or less four times. There’s also the forearm issue, which is going to be made into a big deal even if it’s nothing. As Strasburg has already shown, he can put up great numbers even when his fastball isn’t perfect. Once he gets rolling, you’ll see those dominant starts.

The Bends

Zack Greinke
Matt Cain
Mat Latos
Matt Harvey
Gio Gonzalez
Kris Medlen
Johnny Cueto

Here’s where we start to see some interesting names. Cueto probably would have been in this tier at the beginning of the year, and I’m keeping him here since it looks like he’ll be back relatively soon. I bumped Greinke down a tier, but believe his performance will be good enough once he returns to remain high on the list. Cain and Gonzalez have started slowly, but you should be patient with both of them. I’m far less worried about Cain, though, as he’s had a longer track record of dominance. Gonzalez, like Strasburg, has had early control issues, which is not uncommon for him. Harvey’s meteoric rise brings him to the third tier. If he continues to pitch this well in May, he’ll likely jump into that elite group.

Hail to the Thief

Tony Cingrani
A.J. Burnett
Jeff Samardzija
Ian Kennedy
Jordan Zimmermann
Yovani Gallardo
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Homer Bailey
Mike Minor
Shelby Miller

This group is still fairly reliable, but they each lack one thing that keeps them from being fantasy aces. Cingrani and Ryu haven’t been around the league enough to know whether their performances can be trusted. Samardzija, Burnett and Gallardo all have higher walks rate than you would like from an ace. Burnett is also A.J. freaking Burnett, which can sometimes be concerning. Bailey and Minor have suppressed home runs well thus far, but have had issues with the long-ball in the past. Zimmermann is solid, but doesn’t have the strikeout potential of the players in this tier. You can rely heavily on these guys, but you’ll probably be left wanting just a little more from your ace.

In Rainbows

Marco Estrada
Tim Hudson
Jon Niese
Jose Fernandez
Patrick Corbin
Andrew Cashner
Kyle Lohse
Lance Lynn
Trevor Cahill

Patrick Corbin’s emergence has been pretty nice, and he’s a guy worth monitoring over the next few starts. He’s added some velocity this season, and is throwing over one mph harder than he did last year. There’s some uncertainty over whether he’ll be able to keep his job if Tyler Skaggs pitches well or when Daniel Hudson returns. He’s also not going to give you a ton of strikeouts. But if he keeps his walks down, that approach will play. Based on upside, Cashner would be in a much higher tier than these pitchers, but you can’t trust him to stay healthy yet. Cahill has intrigued me since he came into the league. He’s utilizing a cutter more often this year, and it’s helped him up his strikeout rate. He’ll walk batters, which limits his upside.


Tim Lincecum
Paul Maholm
Jhoulys Chacin
Ross Detwiler
Wade Miley
Edwin Jackson
Jaime Garcia
Kevin Slowey

With the exception of Edwin Jackson, it’s tough to buy the performances of most of these pitchers. They all have red flags. Lincecum and Miley are walking too many hitters, Garcia is coming off a weird shoulder problem and Maholm has never shown this strikeout ability before. Detwiler has been fantastic, but isn’t striking out anybody. This might sound crazy, but I think I’m buying Maholm slightly more than the other players in the tier. His strikeout rate jumped when he joined Atlanta, and he’s used his cutter more. I would sell him high if other players will pay, otherwise, he’s a decent guy to hold while he’s performing well.

King of Limbs

Dan Haren
Roy Halladay
Julio Teheran
Ryan Vogelsong
Carlos Villanueva
Josh Beckett
Brandon McCarthy
Ricky Nolasco
Kyle Kendrick
James McDonald
Shaun Marcum
Barry Zito
Travis Wood
Wandy Rodriguez

McCarthy is here based on current performance, but he’s a candidate to see a ton of improvement. A .397 BABIP is the likely culprit. He’s still shown similar strikeout and walk rates, and could be a buy low if owners gave up on him already. Vogelsong is in the same boat if he can get his home runs under control. Haren and Halladay have had more poor games than good ones to begin the year, and neither can be considered dependable yet. You might want to try and start them against weak opponents until they show they are back. Marcum could rise, but he has to show he’s healthy first. Zito’s pitched better than this tier, but lacks upside.

Pablo Honey

Here’s a list of injury guys you should stash or prospects who might be up soon.

Cory Luebke
Brandon Beachy
Zack Wheeler
Matt Garza
Daniel Hudson
Francisco Liriano

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

60 Responses to “2013 NL Starting Pitcher Tiers: May”

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  1. CB says:

    I don’t know about the pitchers, but I think you did pretty well on the Radiohead albums

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  2. Milkshake says:

    No Shelby Miller?

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  3. Chris R says:

    Shelby Miller? I’d put him solidly in the Hail to the Thief tier, and maybe as a bonus track on The Bends.

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  4. TroutMask says:

    Bump In Rainbows up one notch and we’re all set. Oh, and I find the pitcher tiers to be remarkably accurate…

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  5. SteveBarnett says:

    I see its been noted but…no Shelby Miller?

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  6. Franklin says:

    You didn’t rank Shelby Miller?

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  7. fantasysportshawk says:

    Good stuff. Well played…

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  8. Ender says:

    Cueto is pretty easily a rank too high. There really isn’t that much difference between him and Lohse who you have 2 ranks lower and there certainly isn’t any reason to have him over Jordan Zimmerman, especially considering Cueto is hurt.

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    • SKob says:

      I think Cueto is significantly better than Lohse. Have you even watched him for the past 2 years? I mean actually watching games? He’s back in 2 weeks, the injury is insignificant. I would take him over half the guys of the tier he is in and there is nobody in the tier lower I want over Cueto. Please note I am not a Reds fan and don’t own Cueto in any fantasy league… I just watch baseball!

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    • Jason B says:

      I would agree the Cueto is clearly preferable to Lohse. And also that Zimmermann is a tick low, I would have him the lowest in the “The bends” tier or highest in the HT^3 tier. (Which is where he is already, so it’s really a very minor quibble.)

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  9. Jabronies says:

    Anyone who would rather have Niese than Jaime Garcia is nuts

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  10. Mr.MojoRisin says:

    If you’re using Radiohead albums, then all of these pitchers must suck!

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      Would you have been happier if I ranked Doors albums?

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      • Urban Shocker says:

        1. This delights me.
        2. Self-titled, LA Woman, Waiting for the Sun, Morrison Hotel, Strange Days, The Soft Parade.
        3. Let’s do the Jesus and Mary Chain next.

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      • Jason B says:

        Rush albums! Or Elton John albums, pre-1977ish?

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      • Mr.MojoRisin says:

        If you did the Doors than they would all be great… :)

        FWIW I couldn’t think of many bands that have an array of good to great, maybe Metallica.
        You can use Justice and Master as the elites with Kill em’ All, Garage Days, and Lightning to round out the useful tiers and then use the rest as the crappy tiers.

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  11. Old Uncle Randy says:

    Travis Wood?

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      I added Wood and Slowey. Feel a little better about Slowey. Wood has been good, but I want to see if it continues another month.

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  12. Miketron says:

    I know his peripherals are not great, but Jake Westbrook is not even worth a mention with his 0.98 ERA? I also think Dillon Gee can be usable in NL-Only.

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  13. Wobatus says:

    Francisco Liriano should go in the Pablo Honey. He’ll be up May 10.

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  14. disembodied catcher's mitt says:

    Kid A was better…

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  15. ZombieCubFan says:

    Travis Woooooooooooood.

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  16. Ross says:

    Jose Fernandez, Kevin Slowey!
    Ricky Nolasco

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  17. Jeff says:

    Apart from the inability of his team to win ball games, Kevin Slowey has been sneaky good with an uptick in his historic K/9. Where would you put him?

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  18. Chas says:

    Would you pick Chacin or McCarthy in mixed-leagues? Is McCarthy’s pitch mix and velocity the same?

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  19. oilcanboy says:

    You vastly underrate Amnesiac here.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      Where would you have put it?

      My hardest decision was putting HTTT over In Rainbows. Really love both.

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      • Rob Deer says:

        I would have bumped HTTT down a couple notches, below amnesiac. Some very good tracks but its not an album I go back to.

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      • Ozzie says:

        Agree HTTT is one of their weaker albums. In Rainbows should have been 4th but I agree with your top 3.

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      • oilcanboy says:

        I would put it above HTTT and In Rainbows, but I Might Be Wrong.

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  20. Kevin says:

    Jake “Skoal” Peavy

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  21. davelamb9000 says:

    Ohhhhhh Wandy
    I came and I looked for you on the tier list
    Aren’t you a senior league pitcher?

    ahem. Wandy Rodriguez?

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  22. Chad says:

    How has nobody mentioned Yu Darvish? Pretty sure he’s in the A’s now that his walks are down.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      Yu Darvish is pretty awesome, but you might be looking for the AL rankings.

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      • Chad says:

        Haha my bad, that would explain it. I noticed all my starters on here because i only draft NL guys so didnt even think about it. Great list I just think Samardzija should be up a category. He was great all year last year, his underlying stats prove it wasn’t a fluke, and he has continued it this year.

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  23. Drew says:

    How come only the second group gets a letter grade?

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  24. Steve says:

    Is anyone else as amused as I am by Jordan Zimmermann’s name auto-generating a link to the page for Jordan Zimmerman, with a lonely little non-bold n hanging at the end?

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    • MDL says:

      That is classic Fangraphs’ auto-linker for you. It pops up now and then for guys like Zimmermann or, say, Johan Santana. I’m surprised they haven’t implemented a fix for this yet.

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  25. ADam says:

    Surely Tony Cingari has pitched enough to at least be recognized for what he has done even if its a small sample. Ther has to be more interest in him than Travis Wood or Ricky Nolasco?

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  26. SKob says:

    I love how the guys who mention AL pitchers don’t even notice that Verlander is missing. Darvish and Peavy have been really good, but come on? haha. Can’t wait for the AL list… I didn’t miss it did I?

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  27. TheTheory says:

    So if Hail to the Thief is my favorite Radiohead album, does that make the HTTT tier my favorite NL pitchers?

    (Seriously, I can’t get enough of HTTT–so good!)

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  28. arrjcee says:

    Very nice tiers, Chris. Seems like Kevin Slowey might actually be worth a look in my 16 team mixed league.

    But come on… In Rainbows #5??!! That is criminally low. While it doesn’t have as many classic songs as OK Computer, Kid A, or The Bends, I’d argue it might be their strongest album as a whole, and I find that it’s their most consistently listenable album regardless of my mood or situation. Certainly Top 3 for me. Not a big Hail to the Thief fan. I’d put it #6 behind Amnesiac.

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  29. tehzachatak says:

    Good job on the Radiohead rankings. The Bends is one or two spots too high, IMO, but I know that’s a rather polarizing one.

    I tend to view these only from the point of view of the team I like – the Cardinals, and I think unlike what a few people mentioned, Westbrook was a good omission. Has very little left.

    On the other hand, Jaime Garcia two full tiers below Shelby Miller is a little weird to me. I am aware there is perceived injury risk there, but in terms of pitching talent, he’s probably better than Miller right now.

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    • tehzachatak says:

      Honestly, I would probably swap Garcia and Lynn, and call it a day. Lynn’s velocity makes me think the K/9 is gonna come down a bunch, but maybe his velocity starts heading back up again.

      I would also argue for Wainwright in the OK Computer tier, but that’s probably just me being a homer.

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  30. JGreenwood says:

    In Rainbows is ranked too low. It’s a top 3 Radiohead album.

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  31. jon says:

    So can I assume from these ranks that you would trade Bumgarner to get Cliff Lee? What about in a league that counts QS, K/9, IP and NOT Wins? Who’d you rather have? thanks!

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      No. The tiers should be viewed as guys who are relatively close in value. You can make that deal if you feel confidently in Lee over Bumgarner, but I expect them to be about the same going forward.

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  32. Alan says:

    Are these tiers meant to represent value over the remainder of the season? Because I don’t see how a half season of Greinke should be on the same value level as Cain, Latos, Harvey or Gonzalez and a full tier above Zimmermann and Samardzija.

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  33. Matt says:

    I can tell that the author is very young. Pablo Honey is the worst album? Seriously? It should have been Kershaw’s tier.

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