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American League SP Tiers Update

As you no doubt have noticed, this week we have been rolling out our updated positional tiers and consensus rankings. Today is American League starting pitcher day, which means that I have not actually forgotten to rank Lance Lynn, and no, this does not mean I think Tim Lincecum is not roster-worthy. Most importantly, these tiers are based strictly on how I rank the pitchers going forward. What’s done is done, so I don’t care what a pitcher’s results are right now, aside from how it may help me project them going forward. You can check out my pre-season tiers again to compare.

There was relatively minor movement among the top couple of tiers as you would expect. But lots of movement in the mid and bottom tiers.

You’re the Best

Justin Verlander
CC Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
Jered Weaver
Dan Haren

The only change in the top tier is Haren dropping to the bottom from third. Along with many others, Haren has suffered from a drop in velocity, and he is now teetering in dangerous territory as his fastball has averaged just 88.8 miles per hour. It has not affected his peripherals much though and his SwStk% and F-Strike% are as strong as always. Sabathia, Weaver and Hernandez rank two, three and four in SIERA in the AL, while Verlander sits seventh.

Second Best

James Shields
David Price
Jon Lester
Yu Darvish
Matt Moore
Josh Beckett

For those who did not believe in Shields coming off last season’s career year, maybe he is convincing you to change your mind now. Interestingly, he’s doing it with a significantly higher ground ball rate, which would be a major help for someone who has been victimized by the long ball in the past. Lester was dropped from the top spot in the tier and is at risk of declining further. His walk rate should rebound as his F-Strike% is actually a fantastic 65.4%, well above the league average and the first time it has sat above even 59% in his career. But his SwStk% is down again after initial declining last year from 2010. As I had worried, Darvish’s poor spring control was a harbinger of things to come, but everything else looks good. Matt Moore fans have reason to be optimistic as both his F-Strike% and SwStk% point to much improved walk and strikeout rates in his future. He represents a great acquisition target, though his extreme fly ball rate is a concern.

Strong Enough

C.J. Wilson
Brandon Morrow
Colby Lewis
Max Scherzer

C.J. Wilson was a source of much debate in the comments section of my initial rankings. I did move him up to the top of this tier, but his SwStk% has dropped below 8.0% and I simply cannot believe he can sustain an 8.0+ K/9 if that continues. In addition, that .227 BABIP is obviously going to rise, which combined with an expected drop in strikeout rate, means his ERA should soon push above 3.00. Forget about Scherzer’s ERA, his peripherals are just as expected and his SIERA is nearly three full runs lower.

Seeing is Believing

Derek Holland
Jake Peavy
Jason Hammel
Jeremy Hellickson
Hiroki Kuroda
Daniel Bard
Ervin Santana
Ricky Romero
Gavin Floyd
John Danks

Peavy enjoyed a huge jump in the rankings, though the funny thing is that according to SIERA, he is actually pitching identically to last year. The luck pendulum has simply swung the other way, but he can be no higher than this given his injury risk and his insane fly ball rate. Hammel didn’t even make my pre-season rankings, yet debuts in the fourth tier. I obviously don’t expect his peripherals to remain this good, but he’s a different pitcher this year with increased velocity and that means he should be better than all below him. Did you know that he leads the American League in SIERA?

Seriously, Jeremy Hellickson is trying his darndest to convince us to rethink everything we thought we knew about DIPS theory and underlying skills. He’s working his magic yet again, but I actually dropped him a tier. I expected his strikeout rate to jump, offsetting his luck neutralizing and ERA rising, but that has not materialized and his SwStk% now sits below the league average. If Hellickson can really be this good despite horrific peripherals, he needs to teach the rest of the Rays staff what the heck he is doing.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Jeff Niemann
Doug Fister
Felipe Paulino
Brandon McCarthy
Philip Humber
Danny Duffy
Neftali Feliz
Drew Smyly

This is our first tier of pitchers who are primarily match-up plays as they should only be worth a couple of bucks in mixed leagues at most. I highlighted Paulino yesterday and he has breakout potential, while Duffy’s improved velocity and strikeout rate is also intriguing. Unfortunately Duffy’s poor control and recent return from elbow trouble is a red flag and prevents him from being any higher. I was not particularly optimstic about Feliz’ transition to the rotation to begin with, and I remain less than excited. Despite a 4.50 SIERA, he has created the illusion of a strong start thanks to a .210 BABIP and 80.3% LOB%. He’s a nice sell high candidate. Drew Smyly joins the rankings and I honestly have little clue as to what he will do the rest of the way. His peripherals are fantastic, but he has limited minor league experience, including just 1.2 Triple-A innings, sports just a 54.9% F-Strike% suggesting a control regression is coming and he was never considered an elite pitching prospect.

Livin’ on the Edge

Matt Harrison
Jake Arrieta
Jerome Williams
Felix Doubront
Bartolo Colon
Tom Milone
Jeanmar Gomez
Ivan Nova
Henderson Alvarez
Drew Hutchison

The majority of these pitchers have low strikeout rates, which limits their fantasy upside. Though Arrieta’s fastball velocity is up and his stuff looks good to my amateur eye, it has not translated into swinging strikes. His low F-Strike% also gives us pause when looking at his good walk rate. Jerome Williams has been quite the pleasant surprise so far, as he owns a 3.67 SIERA resulting from a strong ground ball rate and good control. His SwStk% even suggests strikeout rate upside. Of course, given his history of mediocrity, it is going to take more than a month of decent skills to push his ranking higher. Henderson Alvarez has the second lowest strikeout rate in baseball.

The Great Disappointment

Wei-Yin Chen
Jarrod Parker
Kyle Drabek
Carl Pavano
Josh Tomlin
Derek Lowe
Justin Masterson
Francisco Liriano
Ubaldo Jimenez
Clay Buchholz
Jason Vargas
Brian Matusz
Luke Hochevar
Rick Porcello
Jonathan Sanchez
Hector Noesi

This last tier is a smattering of crappy veterans, young pitchers who are unlikely to contribute and major disappointments. Jarrod Parker caused fantasy owners to rush to the free agent pool to pick him up after his solid first start upon his promotion, but I don’t think he is going to generate any value this year. Masterson has lost a couple of ticks off his fastball and his control is back to terrible territory. You know the story with Liriano and Jimenez. Both pitchers have the potential to be excellent, but something is seriously wrong and needs to change before they come close to be worth activating in any league. Jimenez has actually walked more than he has struck out.