American League SP Tiers

You’ve read the consensus rankings, complained about them and have been no doubt counting down the minutes until the tiered rankings are released. Well, it’s your lucky day, as your final 2012 rankings sit below. Yes, my crystal ball is that good, it already knows how the season will play out.

Before I unveil them, there are two things I want to note. First, these are American League only rankings. No, I did not forget about Jonathon Niese. Second, these rankings differ slightly from my rankings from the consensus article. That is because I am continually updating my projections and rerunning my dollar values. Speaking of which, these 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
CC Sabathia
Dan Haren
Felix Hernandez
Jered Weaver

As much as I talk about how overvalued Verlander is, he is still the best pitcher in the American League for fantasy purposes. Of course, even the best pitcher can be overvalued. Haren’s pinpoint control and resulting excellent WHIP (best projected of the group) vaults him into the third spot here. I think I value Hernandez a bit lower than most, which is interesting because of this group, I am projecting him to post the best ERA. However, his projected WHIP is second worst, and not surprisingly, he has the fewest projected wins. I thought Weaver was massively overvalued too, but when you continually post below average BABIPs, you have to start ruling out luck as the reason and assume it will continue.

Second to None

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

The only thing holding Lester back from being in the first tier is his control and resulting WHIP. But given his historical skills, he can easily move into it. I am not expecting a repeat from Shields. In fact, my projections for him over the past few years have essentially been the same. His luck has simply bounced back and forth like a yo-yo. Even a 3.49 ERA (my projection) gets him here. Pineda’s down velocity is obviously a concern (though it appears to be slowly recovering), and especially for me since I own him in both of my leagues. But aside from that, I wasn’t as worried about his move as most others were and his win potential obviously skyrocketed.

Moore is near the top of my list of players I cannot wait to see how they perform this year. The ranking and projection is aggressive, but given his minor league performance and his repertoire, it is difficult to be any less optimistic, unless you fall back on the tired “but he’s a rookie!” argument. Darvish’s spring control problems are a bit worrisome, or could just be nothing. He probably has as good a chance of landing in the first tier as he does in the third tier.

Strong Enough

Brandon Morrow
Colby Lewis
Max Scherzer
C.J. Wilson
Jeremy Hellickson
Scott Baker
Chris Sale
Hiroki Kuroda

Please Brandon, can you make me look good for a change? You do not want to officially be diagnosed with Ricky Nolasco disease. Yes, C.J. Wilson is all the way down here. Below average control and a strikeout rate regression will lead to a poor WHIP, and luck regression means his ERA is heading north. Hellickson should improve his skills enough to offset an increase in BABIP (of which I am projecting a .275 mark). You already know I love Sale, and managed to draft him in my local league. Only a 160 innings pitched projection is keeping him this low.

Seeing is Believing

Derek Holland
Ubaldo Jimenez
Daniel Bard
Ervin Santana
Ricky Romero
John Danks
Gavin Floyd
Francisco Liriano
Justin Masterson

Ubaldo might be the first big downgrade. Apparently his velocity is down again, and though I stress that you should ignore spring numbers, it may be time to take notice when they are combined with a physical issue. Bard’s spring performance is also raising questions about how his transition into the rotation will go. His control has been awful and he hasn’t been striking out hitters at his normal rate. He may very well be working on things though, so I think it’s way too early to panic given the tiny sample size. Romero will need another healthy dose of BABIP luck to move into Tier 3. Liriano is looking like a prime candidate to be my first huge upgrade. Though I cannot seem to find specific mention of it, I believe his velocity is up, and he has posted an amazing 18/2 K/BB ratio in 13.0 spring innings so far. I ignore spring ERA (heck, I typically ignore regular season ERA), but I do pay attention to strikeout and walk rates.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

Doug Fister
Brandon McCarthy
Neftali Feliz
Jake Peavy
Henderson Alvarez
Philip Humber
Clay Buchholz

This group is filled with last season’s surprise breakouts, potential rebound candidates and young starters. Fister and McCarthy’s fantasy valued are capped by their blah strikeout rates, with the latter also backed by a weak offense. I was already pessimistic about Feliz’ outlook in the rotation, but now with right shoulder tightness, there is simply no reason to draft him unless everyone else feels the same way as me and you’re in an AL-Only league. I like Alvarez, but like the first two names, his fantasy value is limited by his history of weak strikeout rates.

Livin’ on the Edge

Tom Milone
Jeff Niemann
Felipe Paulino
Carl Pavano
Kevin Slowey
Josh Tomlin
Danny Duffy
Matt Harrison
Derek Lowe
Ivan Nova

Milone could be a cheap source of WHIP, while Niemann showed his best skills last year and could turn a nice profit if he wins the fifth starter spot. The two Royals pitchers have strong breakout and profit potential. Paulino simply needs some better luck on balls in play and a sub-4.00 ERA is there for the taking. Duffy’s new cutter might be all that he needs to shake off last season’s disappointing debut and live up to his minor league skills. Don’t let the 16-4 record and solid surface ERA fool you – Ivan Nova‘s fantasy prospects are not very exciting.

The Great Disappointment

Bartolo Colon
Jason Vargas
Brian Matusz
Luke Hochevar
Brett Cecil
Rick Porcello
Jonathan Sanchez
Brad Peacock
Hisashi Iwakuma
Hector Noesi
Jarrod Parker
Jake Arrieta

Matusz is the potential gem here. His velocity has recovered this spring and his performance has backed it up. However, he is still an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park that inflates home runs, and he pitches in the AL East. Don’t get carried away by the sleeper hype, but he has a great chance to move up these rankings swiftly.




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


46 Responses to “American League SP Tiers”

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  1. Congo Hammer says:

    I feel like this is pretty high on Lewis, pretty low on McCarthy. McCarthy’s strikeout rate improved significantly (and walk rate declined) as the season went on, and he should have a better supporting cast, both offensively and defensively. Lewis is 32 with a 4.54 FIP, and I’d expect numbers closer to 2011 than 2010 unless his old velocity comes back… Scherzer’s upside dwarves Colby’s.

    But maybe I’m just bitter for trading Colby and holding onto McCarthy. Well at least McCarthy has a good sense of humor.

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    • I don’t look at FIP. Lewis’ SIERA was 3.88 in 2011, not that much higher than his 3.58 mark in 2010. It was just some bad luck. The velocity will be important though as it could lead to a strikeout rate rebound.

      McCarthy’s K/9 did increase in the 2nd half, but it’s still average at best, and I don’t put much stock in monthly trends to begin with unless there is a clear reason behind a change.

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    • Tim Tebow says:

      What is a ‘congo hammer’ anyways?

      For what it’s worth, I agree with you on Colby Lewis being overvalued here (not to mention Christopher Sale & Scott Baker). Ricky Romero stands out as one who has major profit potential lower on.

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      • batpig says:

        agree on Scott Baker, his elbow issues are pretty worrisome. I would bet anything on him going down with an injury at some point this season.

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  2. Stu says:

    Im sorry but Ricky Romero is definitely Strong Enough…

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    • Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

      Agreed. How is he “Seeing is Believing” while Moore, Sale, Pineda, and Darvish are in higher tiers?

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    • Phil says:

      Hey, Stu. Let me know when Alan gets hitched & we’ll do the same movie again in a different locale.

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  3. Eddie says:

    No Kershaw in these rankings?

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  4. Ted L. says:

    I appreciate the tiered rankings starting to roll out, but I think they’re too late for most people. All of my leagues have drafted by this point.

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  5. Andrew says:

    Does anyone really do AL or NL only leagues anymore? Wish we could just have this list for everyone.

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  6. chris says:

    Really think Mccarthy isn’t done justice here… He had a breakout year in his age 27 season, and its not like this peripherals came from nowhere. He had a 9.75 k rate and a 1.83 bb rate in 600 minor league innings. Plus pitching in oakland has really helped keep the hr down it seems. I dont see why any reason to think his season last year doesn’t coincide with a young guy hitting his stride, starting to live up to his sparkling minor league peripherals.

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    • jsp2014 says:

      I think the problem is his extensive injury history. I agree he could be in a tier higher but 175ip might be a stretch.

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      • chris says:

        well sure, but hes never had surgery on that shoulder, pitched 170 last year and has had no problems with it all spring. *He tore his fingernail the other day but thats not really anything to worry about)

        Plus, hes adp is up around where most guys take their fillers, so way worth the risk IMO

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  7. Cody says:

    I love the My Chemical Romance reference with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”. I know what I am listening to for the rest of the day.

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  8. jsp2014 says:

    Are people expecting a big step forward for Holland this year? I know a lot of people are high on him and I’m guessing that you all expect his peripherals to improve pretty dramatically. I know he was much better in the second half but is there evidence he was a different pitcher? I generally don’t buy into 1st/2nd half splits. The K%/BB% overall for 2011 look strikingly similar to 2010.

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    • Andrew says:

      I think the big thing with Holland is that heslightly increased his K:BB while upping his ground ball rate and increasing his infield fly ball rate. Those three changes, while small, are a good sign all together. Plus, he has added velocity this past season.

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  9. Ryan says:

    Mike, I’ve really enjoyed your contributions to this site. But I still can’t get over the (admittedly relative) “hate” for C.J. Wilson. You’ve talked about him at length already, and while I’m certainly not expecting him to post another sub-3 ERA season, I don’t see why he couldn’t easily put up a 3.5 ERA and 1.25 WHIP even with a 3.5 BB/9, especially with the change in home parks. His K rate and SwStr% were right in line with his career numbers, so 8.0 K/9 seems reasonable enough. Plus the 50% GB rate certainly limits the damage of baserunners.

    To me, those numbers put him in a dead heat with Josh Beckett and Michael Pineda, who are both due for some regression as well (BABIP and home park, respectively). Maybe it’s the inclusion of Lester/Shields/Price at the top of Tier 2 that’s throwing me off, since I think there is a mini-tier between them and the rest of the names you mention. But I just think Wilson belongs comfortably within the back-half of that group there. Obviously just my two cents. To each his own, though. Keep up the great work!

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    • Andrew says:

      I think Wilson will be hard pressed to have that WHIP. Between the walk rate and the high GB rate (which leads to a higher BABIP generally), I’d bet he has a whip closer to 1.30 than 1.25.

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      • Ryan says:

        Not a ton to go on, but he does have ~700 IP with a .287 BABIP on the books already and his GB% and BABIP were right in line with the rest of his career numbers. He was at a 1.19 WHIP last year without significant BABIP help, and an increase of 0.5 BB/9 translates to a 0.0555… increase in WHIP. And even if the Angels stick with Trumbo (and not Callaspo) at third, they should still be a pretty solid group defensively.

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    • Tim Tebow says:

      Yes, I agree with you about CJ Wilson. He went at at an almost unfathomable discount in most drafts/auctions last year & while it isn’t as extreme pre-2012, he is still undervalued.

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  10. Luke says:

    I like the rankings, but I’m not 100% sure you know what “second to none” means. That means they’re second to NONE….or…first. Doesn’t make much sense to then have them ranked second….

    Just giving you a hard time. Thanks for the write up.

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    • batpig says:

      yeah, should be “second to SOME” ;-)

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    • It’s funny, because I did know that and thought I should search for another song. But then I thought, no one is going to care and notice, and decided to leave it. I figured I’d rather spend my time writing about the players than researching song titles that fit the tiers! But seriously, I’m down for a suggestion that makes sense here and I’d be happy to change it.

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  11. OzzieGuillen says:

    It’s tough to be this confident in Michael Pineda right now.

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  12. mm says:

    Ubaldo’s velocity is down again?? Rotoworld has been reporting that it’s back. Please clarify.

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  13. Wade8813 says:

    In regards to Weaver, if you look at this article http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/jered-weavers-favorite-rockpile/, maybe it’s not luck – but still fortuitous.

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  14. jrdo410 says:

    Bard is heading to the pen. Its a shame but I wouldn’t be surprised if he racked up 20 saves this year.

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  15. Matt says:

    I don’t really understand why more people do not view Derek Holland as the same type of sleeper as Brandon Morrow.

    Led the AL in CG shutouts last year. Pitched better in the 2nd half than he did the first, and posted a strikeout rate over 8.

    To be honest, based on Morrow’s inability to pitch from the stretch, I think Holland is not only more likely to break out, but he’s also safer.

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  16. Paul Sporer says:

    Interesting list. Some thoughts on a few over/under rankings that I see (note, I’m not trying to trash the piece… I’m only pointing out some disagreements I have so I hope this comment isn’t seen as overly negative as that’s not the intention).

    -Big leap of faith with Pineda. And I’m not even talking about the ST noise or anything, just moving from Safeco & AL West to Yankee Stadium & AL East alone is going to ding him. Win potential is on the rise without a doubt, but that of course can’t be guaranteed, either. A mitigating factor could be his rising GB rate during the season if it sticks and wasn’t just a blip for a few months. Still, a sophomore heading to the Big Apple carries some real risk, again, even before the Spring Training craziness. Methinks perhaps your heavy investment in him has influenced the ranking a tad.

    -Conversely, CJ Wilson leaves an unfavorable park for a far more favorable one which marries perfectly with his numbers as a starter and thus appears criminally under-ranked (2.56 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 211 road IP; 3.70, 1.25 in 217 at home). The reasoning felt a bit flimsy, too (unless it was discussed at length elsewhere which is why you only made cursory mentions). Why is his strikeout rate regressing? Plus there is more than a decent chance he continues to improve his walk rate. Not a chance I’d take Colby Lewis ahead of him. Truth of the matter is that Lewis’s best deployment is as a road-only spot starter.

    -Even with a good spring, Bard seems vastly over-ranked. Of course, 8 days later things are different, but I’m curious if you can expound on that ranking. It seems wholly undeserved. I wouldn’t take him ahead of anyone in that tier or the tier after, really. Nothing about that transition looked particularly appealing even before Spring. Odd move by Boston.

    -I don’t know your history of loving Sale (not questioning it, rather saying I haven’t read those articles or comments), but I’m on board and yet that ranking is still far too high in my estimation. He’s looking at 150ish innings which makes him 75-80% of a starter and even if he performs as well as expected, he isn’t better than a 200+ IP Ervin Santana or Ricky Romero, etc…

    -Buchholz would seem to fit better in that Livin’ on the Edge tier as he’s simply not very good. His skills fit with the guys in that grouping. The name on his jersey seems to get him more credit than he deserves.

    -I assume you’re predicting a huge injury for Colon? Otherwise, he should be even better than last year moving from NY to OAK, right?

    Anyway, just wanting to get a better understanding of a handful of ranks. Obviously a lot of this is opinion-based and as someone who does SP ranks, too, I get that so please don’t take it as a personal attack on the ranking list.

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    • I will attempt to answer these questions concisely as to avoid writing an article’s length:

      Pineda- Though his ERA was 3.74 last year, leading most to assume it will rise further after the ballpark switch, he was actually unlucky, having posted a 3.36 SIERA. So, my projection assumes similar skills, but better luck. Combine that with the ballpark change and you get an ERA worse than last year’s SIERA, but a bit better than last season’s ERA. I did not change my projection based on the down velocity, though rumors he may open the year in the minors (which seems insane) would obviously affect his IP projection and projected value.

      CJ Wilson- I think I have decided to write a full article on why I’m down on him.

      Dan Bard- Excellent strikeout rate supported by good stuff (though really only 2 pitches) and a well above average ground ball rate. So basically, fantastic skills.

      Sale- Even better skills than Bard, and he uses his change-up more than him making his transition more likely to succeed (if Bard even gets the chance). Ground balls aplenty, great strikeout rate backed by a mid-90s fastball, this is exactly the type of skill set to salivate over. I disagree about both Santana and Romero, as both were extremely lucky last year, with much higher SIERA marks than ERAs.

      Buchholz- The tier is arbitrary and doesn’t really mean much. I’d pay more attention to his overall ranking, which indicates I’m not much of a fan.

      Colon- Can’t remember my IP projection. But his strikeout rate is headed for a big fall given his pathetic SwStk%. Without the strikeouts, his ERA won’t have a chance to drop toward his 2011 SIERA, and backed by a poor offense limiting wins, suddenly he’s basically a 0-category contributor, being replacement level everywhere.

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      • Paul Sporer says:

        Thank you for responding, Mike. A few responses to the responses.

        Re: Pineda – Was he really unlucky, though? Perhaps a bit, but just because his ERA was higher than his secondary numbers doesn’t automatically make him unlucky. His BABIP and HR/FB rates were actually better than average, the former especially so while it was his LOB% that was below average.

        He was a bit unlucky with the LOB% as the bullpen allowed 8 of his 11 bequeathed runners to score and that should improve with NYY’s bullpen, but the shift to the much tougher home park and division will almost certainly mitigate any gains. We could see an ERA better than last year’s 3.74, but the data doesn’t suggest it’s likely. There are more factors working against him than for him.

        I’ll be interested to see the Wilson piece since there is almost nothing in the stats supporting any level of degradation moving from TEX to LAA. At least nothing that would make Colby Lewis a better play than Wilson.

        All that is true about Bard… in the bullpen. Assuming it’ll translate to the rotation is a giant IF especially since he has just two pitches.

        Like I said, I love Sale and do think he will succeed to a degree, but he’s still over-ranked as a RP shifting to SP on an innings limit with zero track record as a pro starter. Dismissing Romero & Santana as just lucky based on their SIERA misses the mark a bit, IMO.

        It’s dangerous to just look at BABIPs, LOB%s, xFIPS and SIERAs and start assigning lucky & unlucky tags. They’re indicators, not certainties. Even at 3.80 ERA, Romero for 200 IP is still worth way more than what Sale is likely to do in his 150.

        Generally tiers imply that those within a tier are grouped as similar values so that’s how I read them and interpreted you as like Buchholz on the level of those in the tier. My b, I guess.

        Even with a K dip, Colon has plenty of chance to succeed in OAK and lower his ERA. Just ask Dallas Braden. Several OAK guys have shown you don’t need to fan the world to maintain a strong ERA in that park.

        Anyway, we’re probably on the verge of going in circles as we just aren’t going to agree on some of these guys. I was just looking for a little bit of the reasoning behind some of the ranks. Again, thanks for responding.

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  17. matt harrison says:

    where am i, living on edge? shame on u.

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