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 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.

43 Responses to “Updated AL Starting Pitcher Rankings”

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  1. jpbusta says:

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

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    • Adam says:

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

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      • upfootball says:

        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.

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  2. John G. says:

    Thoughts on Andrew Miller or Tim Wakefield? Neither of them are first-choice options, obviously, but if you’re going to include John Lackey…

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  3. dfghjk says:

    Don’t understand how John Danks, Edwin Jackson and Brandon Morrow are in the same tier as Ricky Romero.

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    • JWTP says:

      Max Scherzer as well, he’s been pretty awful this year despite a wondrous second half last year.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        Danks is at the bottom of the tier, and Romero is at the top, and both Jackson and Morrow have significantly better xFIP than Romero. Here at Fangraphs, people don’t look at just wins and ERA. In fact, I would say we hardly do.

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  4. David says:

    Ah man I really like the Black Keys but I don’t like anyone in that tier, especially Fausto Carmona… but especially the other Fausto Carmona

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  5. Todd says:

    Lester (recently injured) in the top tier and Verlander in the 2nd tier makes no sense to me.

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  6. G says:

    Verlander and Felix are tops.

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  7. rofl says:

    verlanders “great luck” has been going on all season. could just be the new norm

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  8. Must-See J.V. says:

    Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball not nicknamed Doc. I am flabbergasted he is not tier one, and I do not use that word often.

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  9. Heavy Consumption says:

    Al much as I like advanced statistics, watching nearly every Verlander start and most Yankee games, it seems pretty obvious that Verlander is a better pitcher than CC.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      especially with CCs Ks dropping for another year… although a couple straight 11K starts have begun changing that…

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  10. Mike Podhorzer says:

    On Verlander- the idea here is to look beyond his ERA to project what he will do in the future. Besides the lower walk rate, which I argued I don’t think is sustainable, how has he improved to make everyone believe he is suddenly a top 3 pitcher in baseball?

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    • Biff says:

      Make a case for Lester over Verlander…

      Have you watched any Verlander starts this year?

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    • batpig says:

      seriously, can you please justify Lester being a full tier up from Verlander? Verlander has significantly better FIP/xFIP numbers, he has a track record of studliness as long as Lester’s, and he piles up Wins like Lester too (one of Lester’s biggest strengths).

      Lester is not an elite ERA/WHIP guy — I still can’t understand how he is a full tier up from Verlander, Weaver, and Haren.

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    • Matt says:

      “Besides the lower walk rate, which I argued I don’t think is sustainable, how has he improved to make everyone believe he is suddenly a top 3 pitcher in baseball?”

      Well according to fangraphs he’s been one of the top 3 pitchers in baseball for a few years now. For the past 3 seasons only Halladay has produced more WAR(and even that’s by only .1) and since he debuted in 06 I believe he’s in the top 5. So maybe he hasn’t made any improvements, maybe his bad fortune is finally becoming good fortune since his fielding dependent stats have shown that he should’ve been better than what his regular stats have been the past few years.

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      • Mike Podhorzer says:

        WAR uses FIP, correct? I use xFIP, I always ignore FIP. xFIP has been shown to be a better predictor of future ERA than FIP, so why use FIP? Verlander has kept his FIP lower coz of below league average HR/FB ratios. How much of that is luck, the park, or skill, I don’t know. We prob need a larger sample size to be sure.

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  11. V says:

    I think Bedard is lower than he should be, but I understand why he’s there (injury risk). I put him in the ‘Chipper Jones’ from the mid-2000s class; when he’s healthy, he’ll perform. But be prepared to stash him on the DL.

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  12. Eric Cioe says:

    Verlander showed pretty similar control in 2009, though. It wasn’t sub 2, but it was pretty close. Verlander since he got really good in 2009 was a guy whose FIP was always better than his ERA because he didn’t seem to pitch well with men on base. He’d have big innings of two or three runs. Those of us who watched him thought he’d get frustrated and try to throw his fastball past everyone every pitch when he was in trouble, and it usually got him into more trouble. This was especially true in 2009, when he threw his fastball 67% of the time. Now, his pitch selection has totally changed, he’s down to 50% fastballs. So that could be one reason strand percentage has improved, though I agree that 80% is unsustainable.

    Another thing to look at is the dogma about BABIP being .300 every year. It’s not this year. Offense is down. Most of the BABIPs I’m looking at are around .285. So maybe it’s time to recalculate. It wouldn’t be the first time league average BABIP has fallen, either. FIP was developed during a time of unprecedented offense, and no one has taken a look into it to see if the model still works with the reduced offense we’ve been dealing with the last three years.

    Verlander’s been a sub 3.00 FIP pitcher since 2009. Lester has never had a sub 3.00 FIP. Verlander has thrown 50 more IP since the beginning of 2009. Verlander’s walk rate has been almost 1 per 9 lower since then. Verlander’s strikeout rate is a shade lower, which he compensates for in fantasy terms by throwing more innings.

    I do not see how Verlander can be ranked lower than Lester. You can’t argue wins. You can’t argue FIP. You can’t argue control. You can’t argue wins. You could argue strikeout rate, but those are neutralized by gross strikeouts. Your entire argument comes down to ERA. Even if Verlander’s ERA matched his FIP (or his xFIP, or his tERA), he’s still basically a half-run better than Lester with more innings, more strikeouts, more walks, and if the past is to be relied on for this, equal or more wins.

    I mean, I don’t even understand how this is an argument. If you have people clamoring that Verlander is underrated here, it’s because he is underrated here. I just showed you why with regard to Lester. And without getting too deep into it, if you give Sabathia anything resembling his normal HR/FB%, I could show you why Verlander’s better than him, too.

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  13. Eric Dykstra says:

    I can make a good argument that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball.
    In fact, I recently wrote about it here:

    The short version: Go look at pitcher WAR leaders on this site from 2009 to present, and then take into account league disparity. I’ll certainly take Verlander over Lester.

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  14. brendan says:

    the most alarming thing about this list is that you consider the Black Keys only 1 tier above Miley Cyrus, and just 2 above Justin Bieber.

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    • RobMer says:

      Actually, I can’t get past the idea that he has Pearl Jam one step above The Who.

      Trying to ignore that, I’d flip Verlander and Lester.

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  15. batpig says:

    LOL at you sticking with your silly placement of EJax so high. Hey look, he STILL has a 4.30 ERA and 1.44 WHIP!

    He is and always will be a mediocre fantasy starter, FIP be damned.

    Can you please justify how EJax could be ahead of CJ and Gio, two guys who have similar or better FIP numbers and MASSIVELY better “real world” numbers? Both Gio and CJ were significantly better fantasy pitchers last year, and have been significantly better fantasy pitchers this year. Why would EJax rank ahead of both of them? Is this some silly, stubborn need to stick to the preseason “EJax is primed for a breakout” predictions because of a couple of good months at the end of last season under Cooper?

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    • batpig says:

      also, on that same note, Brandon Morrow isn’t that good. In fantasy FIP means diddly, and Morrow has yet to be anything but a mediocre fantasy pitcher.

      again, is this just a stubborn need to stick to preseason breakout predictions? How’s Ricky Nolasco’s impending ERA breakout looking these days?

      it’s amusing to see you use FIP/xFIP to justify some unjustifiable rankings like Morrow or EJax, and then also apply it inconsistently (e.g. Lester being above Verlander or Weaver). It may be time for some self examination about your methodology.

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  16. Sean says:

    Where would you rank Rich Harden? Also, Andrew Miller if he sticks in the rotation.

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    • Phillie697 says:

      What’s the point of ranking Harden? By the time the author finishes writing he’ll be back on the DL.

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  17. Dan Haren says:

    I feel insulted. I’m better than Lester, Verlander, and Weaver.

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    • batpig says:

      that’s a pretty tough argument to sustain.

      I mean, take your teammate Weaver: better ERA, better WHIP, better strikout rate, more wins. So it’s objectively factual that Weaver has been a better fantasy pitcher so far in 2011. And Weaver has better in in 2010 as well.

      Weaver has a better FIP, Haren has a better xFIP. I think at best you can say they are neck-and-neck.

      It’s hardly an “insult”.

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  18. Max says:

    Pearl Jam is overrated and should not be in the top tier. Once their unsustainable .210 BABIP normalizes, they will be down to the 2nd or 3rd tier, where they belong.

    Pink Floyd is the real Felix Hernandez of music. As for the Halladay-only tier of the NL rankings, I would say Ludwig van Beethoven fits nicely.

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    • JKB says:

      I would like to clamor for an R.E.M. tier – almost 30 years now and still going strong. Guys like James Shields would fit perfectly in the R.E.M. tier, or anybody on the Braves (forget about the AL/NL dichotomy, don’t most people play in mixed leagues anyway?)…

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  19. phoenix2042 says:

    honestly, id like to see combined AL and NL rankings. i mean if im in an AL or NL only league, ill just pay attention to the guys in that league on that list. as in if im in an NL or AL only and see mixed rankings, i just adjust. if i see them in segregated rankings, and i play in a mixed league (which most people do), there is nothing i can do but guess where guys stack up.

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    • JKB says:

      Combined AL / NL rankings would be more useful to me too. The way I would do it is assume a standard 12 team mixed league with 5 SP per team, or 60 total SP. Then do something like 10 tiers, with 6 or so per tier, that way Mike P. could work in the Pink Floyd and R.E.M. tiers, which should be mandatory in a list like this.

      Actually, a better option for naming the tiers would be to use the lineup for the Rays after-game weekend concert series (past performers include The Beach Boys, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, M.C. Hammer, REO Speedwagan, The Wiggles, Avril Lavigne, Jimmy Buffett, **.countrywesternband.**, **.guyfromamericanidol.**)… Does every team have these things or just the Rays?

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  20. cs3 says:

    i agree that segregated rankings are really useless to most people.
    and mixed rankings would be useful for everyone… so i fail to see why they are split.
    any reason?

    its just the Rays, since they are the only team that has the seating capacity to host a concert while their team is playing

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    • JKB says:

      CS3 – the Rays have the 3rd highest attendance in the AL East, for what it’s worth. Toronto and Baltimore wish they had TB’s fan base (and Toronto wishes they had our bullpen, but that’s another story). More than that, they wish they had the Wiggles performing after last Sunday’s game.

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  21. David says:

    The title of this section should be: “n” Responses to “Justin Verlander being in the 2nd Tier”

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    • JKB says:

      David – I disagree. The title should be “Now Please Help Me (Re)Name My Ranking Tiers.”

      Let’s start with the most obvious: Why does the naming convention suddenly break down when we hit the Injured Players and Players Demoted to the Minor Leagues? There is gold to be mined there. Some suggestions:

      The Minutemen or Wasted Youth = Demoted to Minor Leagues
      Tom Waits, The Beach Boys, Circle Jerks, or Morphine = Injured Players

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  22. War Humor says:

    Searching for Jimmy Buffett is The Greatest Parrot Head Book Ever!!!!

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