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2014 AL Starting Pitcher Tier Rankings: April

A new season beginning means a new set of tiered rankings. As usual, I’ll be sharing with you lovely readers my American League starting pitcher ranks. All my rankings lists are based on projected value moving forward with no accounting for what the pitcher has already done (which of course is nothing for the majority of pitchers at this point). I am extremely patient before moving a pitcher up or down, mostly ignore ERA and focus primarily on a pitcher’s underlying skills. Though tier rankings are supposed to consider all pitchers within a tier as essentially interchangeable, this list is a straight copy and paste from my projected dollar values, so it will begin in order. For your debating pleasure, my tiers have been named after Parks and Recreation characters.

Before diving into the tiers, it is extremely important to understand how heavy a role innings pitched plays when valuing pitchers. That would explain a lot of some of the more controversial ranks.

Tom Haverford

Yu Darvish
Justin Verlander
Felix Hernandez
Chris Sale
Max Scherzer

Darvish’s neck issue is obviously a slight concern, but he’s set to start on Sunday so it doesn’t seem to be a major problem. His strikeout rate locks him into the top spot. I, and I assume most others given his auction/draft cost, expect a rebound from Verlander. Though, his first start wasn’t very encouraging as he actually walked one more batter than he struck out. It’s highly unlikely that King Felix increases his strikeout rate and reduces his walk rate yet again, but he doesn’t need to in order to remain near the top. Only the White Sox weak offense is holding Sale back from being in consideration for the top 3. Scherzer proved last season that his strikeout rate surge was no fluke, but his BABIP and HR/FB rates are due to rise.

Ron Swanson

David Price
Anibal Sanchez
Jered Weaver
R.A. Dickey
Hiroki Kuroda
James Shields

Price’s fastball velocity was down a bit in his first start versus last year, but that’s no big deal given that velocities are at their lowest at this time. However, it does suggest that the days of Price averaging 95 mph are over. He simply doesn’t have the strikeout rate to sit in the top tier, but has elevated his control to pinpoint level to remain one of the best. Obviously, Anibal’s shoulder is a concern, but unless he lands on the DL, I’m going to keep him here. He added velocity last year that led to a SwStk% and K% surge, but you figure there’s going to be some regression.

I’ve never been a Weaver fan, but there’s still nothing yet that suggests he’s lost the ability to suppress homers on fly balls or hits on balls in play. His skills have always been rather soft, but he’s well beyond the point of calling what he does luck. That said, he’s risky because he relies on skills that appear to be flakier. His first start aside, I think Dickey rebounds this year if his improved end of season velocity last year holds up. Of course, it was down in his first start, so we’ll have to wait and see if it improves. His high innings total does boost his value though.

Kuroda is perennially underrated and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s due to his age, but he’s shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. Arbitrary second halfs don’t count as a sign. His second half xFIP was actually better than his first half. Shields is as solid and reliable as it gets, though the decline in strikeout rate he experienced last year knocks him down a peg.

Chris Traeger

Alex Cobb
Hisashi Iwakuma
Danny Salazar
Masahiro Tanaka

Cobb was been a trendy darkhorse Cy Young pick heading into the season and it’s not that outrageous. He’s got the grounders, strikeout rate and control. Iwakuma may have been in the above tier if he was healthy. Alas, he is not. He’s not all that different than Cobb, inducing grounders, striking out batters at a healthy clip and flashing excellent control. Daniel Salazar, what more could be said about him? The only question that remains is how many innings he’s going to throw and will he last in games to garner enough wins. He averaged just 5.2 innings last year, so he’ll have to improve on that number to earn the inflated prices fantasy owners paid to secure his services.

Tanaka’s spring performance was certainly encouraging, but until he throws his first pitch that actually counts, we still don’t know exactly what we’re going to get. Who knows, maybe he belongs in that top tier. Or perhaps he’s the next Kei Igawa. I still think he’ll be similar to Kuroda, but expect him to throw fewer innings.

Donna Meagle

CC Sabathia
C.J. Wilson
Sonny Gray
Corey Kluber
Matt Moore
Jon Lester
Jake Peavy

I was killed last year on my continued faith in Sabathia and I might be again. He posted a 2.53 SIERA in his first start! Ha. The velocity is obviously the elephant in the room so it’ll be up to him to transition and adjust. If nothing else, he’ll pitch 200 innings and strike out at least 170 batters. We know not to make a big deal about early fastball velocity, but Sonny Gray was down 2.5 mph in his first start. We’ll see where he’s at over the next couple of outings, but it’s something to monitor. Like Kuroda, Cobb and Iwakuma, Gray is also a ground baller with strikeout potential and good control. Yeah, I like those types of guys.

We may have lost some members of the Corey Kluber Society after last night’s outing, but c’mon guys, it was just one start. He’s the type of guy owners are going to lose confidence in quickly, so he could eventually be a good buy low candidate if he has another couple of mediocre outings. Of course, in shallow leagues you might end up finding him in your free agent pool.

Andy Dwyer

Scott Kazmir
Clay Buchholz
John Lackey
Justin Masterson
Ricky Nolasco
Chris Tillman
Tommy Milone
Ubaldo Jimenez
A.J. Griffin
Rick Porcello
Dan Straily
Jose Quintana

This whole group essentially makes up the bottom tier of 12-team mixed league starters. These are guys who aren’t just streamer candidates, but should earn positive value in such formats.

On a per innings basis, Kazmir would be higher. But I couldn’t possibly project him for more than the 165 that I did. So far, so good in his first start and it’s crazy to think that this version of Kazmir is actually better than the previous good version. Porcello was a popular sleeper given his strikeout rate surge and impressive SIERA. The loss of Jose Iglesias hurts and he still needs to figure out how to pitch from the stretch.

Jean-Ralphio

Tyler Skaggs
Drew Smyly
Ivan Nova
Wei-Yin Chen
Michael Pineda
James Paxton
Chris Archer

Here is your first group of upsiders, for the most part. I wouldn’t call these guys streamers per se, as the majority have the potential to be nearly every week starters.

I’m a big Skaggs fan if that increased spring velocity is real. He also moved to a friendlier home park, though he’ll have to face the DH now. Smyly has gotten lots of sleeper love, but I think he became a bit overrated because of it. I think some were forgetting to reduce his strikeout potential after departing from the bullpen. The other issue, which is even more important, is how many innings he’s going to throw. He was at 76 last year as a full-time reliever, 117 in 2012 and 125 in 2011. It’s going to be hard to deliver a whole lot of value if he pitches only 150 innings.

Pineda is a crapshoot. His spring strikeout rate was encouraging, as was the word on his slider. But, if he’s only throwing 89-92, that has to take a bite out of his strikeout potential. And how many innings is he going to be able to pitch this year? I’m a big Paxton fan, as I love his ground ball tendency and strikeout potential. I think Archer is massively overrated as most are glossing over his 3.88 SIERA and choosing to focus on his 3.22 ERA. He benefited from an unrepeatable .253 BABIP last year, so he’ll have to improve his skills to offset any luck neutralization.

Leslie Knope

Hector Santiago
Mark Buehrle
Jason Vargas
Yordano Ventura
Scott Feldman
Miguel Gonzalez
Garrett Richards
Phil Hughes
Drew Hutchison
Bud Norris
Martin Perez

This begins your streamers. There’s some upside from Santiago and many are going gaga over Ventura and his velocity. Sure he has potential, but a fast fastball isn’t enough to get big league hitters out. Richards is another solid sleeper, but his slider is just slightly above average in generating whiffs and he has nothing else to complement the fastball.

I am confused about Hutchison. I was part of the hype machine after his strong spring and apparent velocity bump. However, his fastball velocity was identical to what it was in 2012. Was this supposed velocity jump reported from a hot gun? An early April Fool’s joke? He even only peaked at 94.4 mph. Wasn’t he consistently hitting 95 in his spring starts? Much of my optimism was because of that increased velocity, so not sure what to think at the moment.

Perd Hapley

Tanner Scheppers
Taijuan Walker
Erasmo Ramirez
Robbie Ross
Zach McAllister
Brett Oberholtzer
Brandon Morrow
John Danks
Bruce Chen
Kevin Gausman
Felix Doubront
Carlos Carrasco
J.A. Happ
Jesse Chavez
Erik Johnson
Derek Holland
Dallas Keuchel
Felipe Paulino

This group is mostly reserved for deeper mixed leaguers and AL-Only leaguers. But there are some names worthy of your attention if you play in a shallow league. Erasmo Ramirez is obviously someone I have been a fan of in the past, so he has the potential to rapidly rise in these ranks. Gausman is ranked here because my assumption is that he’ll be called up at some point and he’ll be quite good when he is.

You might be surprised to find Carlos Carrasco‘s name all the way down here. It’s that innings thing again. I’m only projecting 130 innings because as much as I believe in his potential, I really have no idea if he is going to reach it. The Indians have a plethora of pretty reasonable options to replace him in the form of Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Shaun Marcum, so Carrasco might not have a long leash.