Updated AL Starting Pitcher Rankings

It’s nearly All-Star break time and my fantasy team is running out of time to remember how to hit. Since offense is crazy again this year, my brain is hurting trying to figure out these wacky hitter seasons. So, let’s talk about pitching…American League starting pitching of course. Last month’s rankings for your enjoyment. Oh, and yes, I did realize I have no fallers in the rankings. Not sure how that happened, but it is mostly because any fallers were only a couple of spots within a tier and did not warrant a shiny down arrow.

Pearl Jam
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester
C.C. Sabathia

Fresh after asking whether we should worry about Lester and concluding that we shouldn’t, he posts a 2.31 ERA in June. He’s fine and belongs in this tier.

The Who
Justin Verlander
Jered Weaver
Dan Haren
David Price
Josh Beckett
James Shields

I am sure many are clamoring to move Verlander into the Pearl Jam tier. However, all of his ERA drop is the result of a nearly 1.00 drop in BB/9, plus a heaping of luck. With an F-Strike% nearly identical to past years, I question whether he could continue showing this career best control. Oh, and a .229 BABIP and 81% LOB% won’t last. Weaver is pitching worse than last year, but great fortune is making him look godly. Beckett’s xFIP- is actually 1 point worse than last season. I have always been a big Beckett fan, but a big regression might be coming soon. Shields is actually leading the AL in xFIP, so it has not just been better luck. A change in pitch mix, including fewer fastballs and more curves have generated more swings and misses, leading me to believe Shields has reached a new skill level.

Ricky Romero
Trevor Cahill
Max Scherzer
Edwin Jackson
Brandon Morrow
Michael Pineda
Gio Gonzalez
C.J. Wilson
John Danks

No movement here, despite many of these pitchers posting ERAs above 4.00 or under 3.00. Scherzer has been quite unlucky so far this season and he showed last year he has no problem handling the AL. Pineda still suck in the middle of this tier, huh? Sorry, but I just cannot get past the xFIP/ERA differential, the horrible offense backing him and the possibility of an innings cap or tiring down the stretch. Wilson jumps a tier, as he is proving that last year is no fluke. Warnings signs though, such as a below average SwStk%, despite an above average K/9 and a history of worse control and reasons I did not place him higher.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jeremy Hellickson
Gavin Floyd
Erik Bedard
Scott Baker
Ervin Santana
Justin Masterson

Hellickson continues to post worse peripherals than his even more advanced metrics suggest. He has been a weird case this year, but I would expect his xFIP to drop sooner or later, while his ERA rises a bit. Bedard is injured again, surprise surprise. But he was pitching quite well before his latest DL stint, so he stays. No, I was not bullish on Baker in this article, despite many readers curiously thinking I was, but he has pitched even better since, suggesting maybe there will be a second breakout for him. Masterson’s luck has reverted, so his ERA is finally matching his skills.

Colby Lewis
A.J. Burnett
Bartolo Colon
Alexi Ogando
Jake Peavy
Phil Hughes
Derek Holland
Zach Britton
Doug Fister
Jeremy Guthrie

Some slight shuffling within the tier. Lewis’ velocity has been better lately and his skills have improved as well. Fantasy owners should be a little more confident starting him now than earlier in the season. I still cannot understand how Colon has managed an 8.3 K/9 given his pathetic SwStk%. He has gotten a ton of called strikes, but is that really something fantasy owners should bank on being sustained? I wouldn’t. It should be interesting to watch how Ogando performs in the second half. I am not optimistic. Peavy has shown solid skills this season, but a terrible LOB% has ruined his ERA. Hughes returned last night and has thrown 4 innings as I type this. His velocity has indeed rebounded, so time to revert back to our pre-season projections. Doug Fister gets welcome to the rankings after I have been mistakenly leaving him off. An increase in velocity has resulted in more swings and misses and a higher strikeout rate, but that mark still is well below average, and he is the unfortunate victim of being cursed with offensive “support” from the Mariners.

Cee Lo Green/The Black Keys
Carlos Carrasco
Francisco Liriano
Mark Buehrle
Joel Pineiro
Fausto Carmona
Philip Humber
Freddy Garcia
Matt Harrison
Brandon McCarthy

The hope is that your pitching staff includes none of the above names. Of course, AL-Only leaguers will have little choice. Carrasco jumps a tier and shoots to the top of this one, not because I am so bullish, but simply because the alternatives are so blech. Liriano did not pitch well yesterday, but he quietly had a fantastic June, posting a 2.53 xFIP and having a strong outing in his first July start. The velocity remains down, but there appears to be progress. Maybe use this latest poor outing as a possible last chance to buy very low? I do expect Carmona to get better results, but it’s not like his upside is all that high with such a meh strikeout rate. Philip Humber finally enters the rankings after I forgot him last month. As one of the luckiest pitchers of the first half, he deserves no higher.

Miley Cyrus
Jake Arrieta
Josh Tomlin
Carl Pavano
Jason Vargas
Jeff Niemann
John Lackey
Jeff Francis
Luke Hochevar
Brian Duensing
Wade Davis

Man, do I have to really analyze these pitchers? And I thought the above tier was boring! I am getting sick simply looking at these names. But, hooray for Vargas, who I have been convinced to move higher after last month’s comments. Pitching half your games in Seattle could do wonders for a pitcher, but he still has a crappy strikeout rate and remains an extreme fly ball pitcher. I would still have no desire to own him.

Justin Bieber
Ivan Nova
Brad Penny
Tyler Chatwood

Chatwood joins the rankings, but not based on any merit. With equal walks to strikeouts, and a terrible 122 xFIP-, it is mind-boggling how he has kept his ERA below 4.00. Roster and start at your own risk!

Injured Tier
Brett Anderson
Clay Buchholz

I have not heard any recent updates on Anderson, who I own on my fantasy team, but I am crossing my fingers. Buchholz seems to be a mystery with his back issues.

Demoted to the Minors Tier
Kyle Drabek
Brian Matusz

Drabek’s major control issues got him demoted, while Matusz’ puzzling lack of velocity was the root of his struggles. Who knows when and if they will be back.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: 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.

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Maybe it’s just me but I’d take Verlander over anyone except Halladay in all major league baseball.


Its not just you. Verlander has gotta be in the top tier.


Agreed. Verlander is one of the top 3 pitchers in baseball. In fact he may have the best arsenal of stuff in baseball. The author loves stats. He also thinks luck has a lot to do with Verlander…. I suggest this guy take a look at what kind of stuff Verlander has and re-evaluate his “luck” theory.