Updated AL Starting Pitcher Rankings – September

So, after missing last month due to a wild road trip in bison land, I am back with an updated set of rankings for your perusal. I don’t think I ever clarified how I decide to move players or maintain rankings, but it is basically strictly looking forward. If you drafted now for the rest of the year, what should the order be? I don’t care what a pitcher’s current ERA is, to me that’s just some random number the ball landed on on a roulette wheel. The skills and projected future skills are much more important and this philosophy is reflected in the rankings.

Pearl Jam
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester
C.C. Sabathia
Justin Verlander

I held out, but finally caved. Verlander joins the top tier, though he’s doing it with improved control, which I don’t think is sustainable. Same F-Strike% as last season and just a tick better than 2009. Everything else is nearly identical to last season and no one called him a top five pitcher in baseball back then. He’ll be overvalued next year.

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

Aside from the loss of Verlander to rock out with the rest of the Pearl Jammers, no movement here. James Shields has proven he is no fluke and his new pitch selection has vaulted him toward the top of the AL heap.

Ricky Romero
Max Scherzer
Brandon Morrow
Michael Pineda
Justin Masterson
Gio Gonzalez
C.J. Wilson
Ubaldo Jimenez
John Danks

Romero has pitched almost identically to last year, looking at all his skills and even his SIERA. However, a .249 BABIP and nearly 81% LOB% has allowed him to shave almost 0.80 runs from his ERA. No one should have been surprised that Pineda’s ERA has crept well above 3.00. Despite the many scouting type arguments justifying his apparent luck, he has proven that he doesn’t have some magical skills to suppress home runs after all. His second half could be explained as a rookie tiring or hitters adjusting, but I like to simply think his luck regressed. He still has excellent skills though and is in a perfect park for his fly ball ways. Masterson jumps another tier since the last update. I guess he figured out lefties? Maybe…or his luck just neutralized. Either way, he had the skill profile to post a strong ERA (not sub-3.00 strong, but pretty darn good), so there is nothing flukey here. The 4.5% HR/FB ratio will spike of course, but this is a good pitcher.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jeremy Hellickson
Gavin Floyd
Erik Bedard
Ervin Santana
Brandon McCarthy

Hellickson continues to post an impressive ERA despite poor skills. But, his advanced statistics still suggest better peripherals ahead so he does not get dropped in the rankings. Man, talk about riding the luck roller coaster up and down. Floyd was once the poster boy for a pitcher who benefited from great fortune (2008), but since then, he has underperformed his SIERA every year. He will be undervalued next year and be an excellent AL-Only purchase. Ervin Santana is putting up the best ERA of his career backed by a career best ground ball rate of nearly 45%, the first time it has been over even 39%. Curiously, his pitch mix is identical to previous years. As a result, I am not sure how sustainable this newfound ability is. McCarthy flies up the rankings as he continues to pitch well after returning from a shoulder issue. It is difficult to expect him to maintain that elite 1.4 BB/9, but his newfound ground ball inducing ability has helped him rank 12th among AL starters in SIERA.

Trevor Cahill
Colby Lewis
Bartolo Colon
Alexi Ogando
Jake Peavy
Phil Hughes
Mark Buehrle
Jeff Niemann
Derek Holland
Felipe Paulino
Zach Britton
Doug Fister
A.J. Burnett

Hughes’s peripherals have been fine in Aug and Sept and his velocity has rebounded, so he should be okay moving forward. Buehrle is pitching as he always does, but he typically outperforms his ERA estimators and is doing it once again this season. His value is limited though because of his pathetic strikeout rate, but it’s hard to keep calling it luck when he does this year in and year out. Niemann has pitched pretty well since returning from a back injury, including a sparkling 1.06 ERA (2.93 xFIP) in 34.0 July innings. I was never really a fan of his in the past, but his skills are moving in the right direction and looking better than league average for a change. I hate to say this, but Burnett isn’t pitching all that poorly. His xFIP- is right at the league average, but a second worst career HR/FB ratio is killing him, and hurting his LOB% as well. I dropped him in the rankings, but only within the tier. With an above average strikeout rate and the Yankees offense to support him, he’s still ownable in AL-Only leagues.

Cee Lo Green/The Black Keys
Ivan Nova
Joel Pineiro
Fausto Carmona
Philip Humber
Freddy Garcia
Matt Harrison
Danny Duffy
Jeremy Guthrie

He’s 15-4, Rookie of the Year! Whatever. Nova is an extreme ground ball pitcher, and that’s about it. Weak strikeout rate and only average control, so not too exciting from a fantasy standpoint, but he has shown enough to get him moved up from the basement. I was never a fan of Guthrie and always needed great BABIP marks to post acceptable ERAs. That simply cannot be counted on every season and with a poor strikeout rate and a league average fly ball rate, he is little room for error.

Miley Cyrus/Justin Bieber
Brett Cecil
Carl Pavano
Jason Vargas
John Lackey
Jeff Francis
Luke Hochevar
Brian Duensing
Wade Davis
Brad Penny
Tyler Chatwood

Ughh, this is like the group of kids that everyone points at and laughs.

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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.

23 Responses to “Updated AL Starting Pitcher Rankings – September”

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  1. st says:

    Morrow…sorry I just can’t believe. My fantasy team is 6 feet under thanks to his performance last night.

    I’d take CJ Wilson or E.Santana over him in a heartbeat. I believe in DIPs theory 95% of the time. the other 5% is reserved for Morrow, Nolasco, Cain, etc.

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    • Matt says:

      The Morrow love on FG is astounding. DIPs theory is great in theory, but pointless when the pitcher lacks the skill necessary to succeed. Morrow just is not a very good pitcher. He can’t locate his pitches well and when they get hit, they get hit a mile. Yes, his strike-out numbers are dazzling, but they come at the expense of all the runs he gives up. Can you look at his stats and say, gee, with some improvement he has the underlying skills to succeed? Sure. But can you look at his stats and say, he is somebody I want accruing stats for me every fifth day? Hell no. I’d maybe take him over Burnett or Britton, but in a mixed league, it’s a big no thank you. I like to have a chance at competing in rate stats.

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  2. Matt C says:

    You say that you don’t care about ERA than why are you so down on Verlander? Besides ERA what has any of the 3 people above him done better than him the past 3 years? Among those 3 guys the past 3 seasons Verlander has a higher K rate, lower BB rate, better FIP and higher fWAR. And from a more traditional standpoint he has more wins than all but CC and a better WHIP than all of them.

    For the record I’m not arguing that Verlander should be above them I’m just arguing the fact that you act like it’s pulling teeth for you to put him on the top tier when the past 3 seasons his peripherals have been right on par with those guys.

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    • Matt C says:

      Also the reason nobody said he was a top 5 pitcher before this year was because of his ERA but since according to you that is just some random number the ball landed on the roulette wheel it doesn’t matter. But other than ERA he clearly has been a top 5 pitcher, hell since 2009 he leads all pitchers not named Halladay in WAR and since he came into the league 6 years ago he is 4th in WAR.

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      • Mike Podhorzer says:

        Although wins are obviously very difficult to project, that was most of the difference between Verlander and Lester/Sabathia. Simply, the Sox and Yankees have the better offense and so even if the other 3 categories were similar, you had to project a higher win total for those two.

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      • Eric Cioe says:

        Had to project a higher win total, sure, but Lester has won 10 (!) fewer games than Verlander and Sabathia since 2009.

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  3. Sheldon says:

    No Ubaldo?

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  4. J.V.P. says:

    The fact Verlander is not at the top of that list is astonishing to me.

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  5. geo says:

    Duffy has been shut down for the year, and Pineda has what? one start left? Things to keep in mind for rest-of-the-year rankings…

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  6. EJ says:

    First off… The first tier should be:


    The fact that its not that, and in that order just shows how horrible the rest of the list is going to be…

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    • pastadiving jeter says:

      there is no debate: if you disagree that jered weaver is not exactly the 4th best pitcher in the AL, your rankings are horrible. EJ has decreed it; let it be so, thusly.

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  7. jeffrey gross says:


    I just saw Pearl Jam Saturday at PJ20. Let me assure you they do not deserve to be the top-named bracket :)

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  8. benjipants says:

    I’m not even sure Scherzer is rosterable at this point. And yet I can’t seem to cut him.

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  9. Luis says:

    I considered Verlander an easy pick for Top 5 coming into this season

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  10. Steve Balboni says:

    At this point in the season, the schedule is incredibly important once you descend into the second tier. I’d rather have Fister vs Minnesota, Cle and Oakland than David Price vs Texas, Boston and Toronto.

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  11. Tom B says:

    “he’s doing it with improved control, which I don’t think is sustainable”

    Who are you to make that assumption?

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  12. Dan says:

    LOL holy shit this list is HORRIBLE

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  13. Eric Cioe says:

    2009-2011 stat rankings of the top tier guys, minimum 500 IP.

    1 Verlander, 2 Hernandez, 3 Sabathia, 4 Lester

    1 Hernandez, 2 Verlander, 3 Sabathia, 9 Lester

    1 Lester, 2 Verlander, 3 Hernandez, 7 Sabathia

    1 Verlander, 2 Hernandez, 3 Lester, 4 Sabathia

    7 Verlander, 8 Sabathia, 12 Hernandez, 17 Lester

    1 Verlander, 6 Hernandez, 7 Sabathia, 9 Lester

    1 Verlander, 3 Hernandez, 4 Sabathia, 6 Lester

    T1 Verlander, T1 Sabathia, 3 Lester, 4 Hernandez

    1 Hernandez, 3 Verlander, 4 Sabathia, 5 Lester

    1 Verlander, 2 Hernandez, 3 Sabathia, 4 Lester

    1 Hernandez, 2 Lester, 3 Verlander, 4 Sabathia

    1 Hernandez, 2 Verlander, 4 Lester, 5 Sabathia

    1 Verlander, 2 Lester, 3 Hernandez, 4 Sabathia

    Originally I started this list to show that Verlander, since 2009, has been as good as the other three in the AL. In making it I convinced myself that he’s been the best in the league by a slim margin. If any of those four doesn’t belong, it’s Lester.

    Your qualms with Verlander seem to be totally based on his control this year not being sustainable. For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you that. Even so, Lester’s walk rate is THREE QUARTERS OF A BATTER higher per nine over the same period. Why no complaints about his control? The only things he beats Verlander in is K/9, which Verlander makes up for by throwing more innings, and xFIP, by 0.01.

    How can you be so hesitant to include Verlander yet never seem to question Lester, whom, as I have shown, has been demonstrably less good than Verlander since 2009?

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    • batpig says:

      your post assumes that (1) Mike P is willing to listen to counterarguments and (2) Mike P is even able to apply his own rules consistently. I have pressed him on Lester before and he always runs away and hides.

      every time he ranks Morrow about CJ Wilson I giggle a little. Frankly I’m shocked he didn’t throw E-Jax up there in Tier 2 just because he has such an FIP boner for him, even though he is now in the NL.

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  14. Biff says:

    Verlander might just double Lester’s WAR this year. This list is a joke.

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  15. community says:

    Have you ever thought about creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

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