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Updated AL Starting Pitcher Rankings

After nearly a month in the books, it is time to update the AL starting pitcher rankings. As a fantasy baseball projectionist and owner, I am not much of a tinkerer and it takes a lot to change my opinion after only a month of play. At this point, I completely ignore a pitcher’s ERA and instead focus solely on the underlying skill set and metrics; it is process over results for me. So keep this in mind when perusing through the risers and fallers and remember that the original rankings were a compilation of eight RotoGraphers’ individual rankings. Although I would love to adjust all the rankings to reflect my own personal opinion, I will not give in to temptation and simply move players up and down based on potential new information we have learned so far.

Pearl Jam
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester
C.C. Sabathia

No movement here as all three pitchers have performed as expected.

The Who
Justin Verlander
Jered Weaver
Dan Haren
David Price
Brett Anderson
Josh Beckett

Francisco Liriano departs (see if you could guess which tier he has fallen to), while Brett Anderson and Josh Beckett join The Who tier. I have been a huge Anderson fan ever since he was in the minors, drooling over his ground ball inducing ability in combination with excellent strikeout rates and strong control. The lack of an elite strikeout rate means it will be tough for him to move up much further, but he is a darkhorse candidate to lead the league in ERA and possibly even WHIP. I will probably regret all year not bidding on Beckett at my auction. I knew my projection was the most optimistic out there, but I guess I chickened out. Ignore last year, he’s back.

Muse
Max Scherzer
Ricky Romero
Trevor Cahill
Edwin Jackson
James Shields
John Danks
Brandon Morrow
Gio Gonzalez

Out: Clay Buchholz, Colby Lewis and Phil Hughes. I think Ricky Romero was ranked too low to begin with because many fantasy owners were not sure if his 2010 breakout was for real. It was. Over 50% GB%, good strikeout potential aided by a fantastic change-up, and decent, but improved control? Sign me up. Hmmm, should I consider myself wayyyyy wrong about Trevor Cahill already? The strikeout rate is unlikely to remain at 8.3, but with his grounders and improved control, even a 6.5-7.0 rate would allow him to blow away my expectations and actually earn his draft day price tag. Yes, Edwin Jackson actually rose in the rankings despite a 4.88 ERA. He has been wildly inconsistent and his peripherals were boosted by that one huge game against the Rays. However, he has posted a 3.40 overall xFIP and the K/9 jump is proving that last year’s rise after his arrival in Chicago was no fluke. For as much as James Shields‘ actual ERA has bounced around, his xFIP has been amazingly consistent. Including this season so far, it has remained in a tight range between 3.55 and 3.99 (his rookie year, 3.87 is his high ignoring that season).

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jeremy Hellickson
C.J. Wilson
Gavin Floyd
Brian Matusz
Ervin Santana

Leaving on an Aeroplane out of this tier is only John Lackey, and the only other change I made was pushing Gavin Floyd above Brian Matusz. Though Jeremy Hellickson‘s peripherals aren’t pretty, I am still optimistic that he will rebound shortly. C.J. Wilson is showing excellent skills, but I was down on him coming into the season due to his huge workload increase, so I am hesitant to bump him up.

Phoenix
Derek Holland
Scott Baker
Carl Pavano
A.J. Burnett
Justin Masterson
Michael Pineda
Zach Britton
Clay Buchholz
John Lackey
Colby Lewis
Bartolo Colon
Wade Davis
Jeremy Guthrie

See ya to Brett Cecil. Coming into yesterday’s game, Holland has shown increased velocity, generated a high SwStk%, induced a higher percentage of ground balls, and improved his control. Now that’s progress. Of course Justin Masterson gets off to this start after I championed him all of last season and then finally gave up. However, his xFIP suggests he is pitching the same as last year, plus he still has not developed a change-up (thrown only 1.8% of the time). Better luck means better results, but he is still not doing what I want to see before fully buying in. I am not ready to move Pineda any higher. His 50% FB% scares the heck out of me and his win potential is hampered by a terrible offense backing him. Oh, and he is a rookie with a likely innings limit. Zach Britton’s GB% makes me take notice, but his low strikeout rate and mediocre control will limit his fantasy value upside. What happened John Lackey? Colby Lewis + Clay Buchholz – velocity is down for both and they are getting crushed. Not a pair of buy low targets. Bartolo Colon enters the rankins has had good results so far in his two starts. However, he has not posted an xFIP below 4.00 (and only 3.91 at that) since 2005, and that was his only career sub-4.00 xFIP season. His strikeout rate will likely tumble soon as his SwStk% is just 5.1%, significantly below the 8.6% league average. Decent win potential backed by the Yankees offense and a potentially acceptable WHIP put him in this tier though.

Cee Lo Green
Alexi Ogando
Brandon McCarthy
Dallas Braden
Jake Peavy
Jeff Niemann
Mark Buehrle

We say F*ck You! to Kevin Slowey and welcome two newcomers to the rankings, Alexi Ogando and Brandon McCarthy. Ogando allows too many fly balls and only pitched about 80 innings last year, so he is a risk, but he does have enough strikeout potential to top this tier. There has been enough written about McCarthy, including a piece I posted during spring training. You cannot expect that minuscule walk rate to be sustained, but he is clearly a different pitcher with the new 2-seamer and ground ball approach.

The Black Keys
Kyle Drabek
Joel Pineiro
Fausto Carmona
Rick Porcello
Matt Harrison

We say goodbye to Carlos Carrasco after his elbow issue, but we welcome another new edition to the rankings in Matt Harrison. Kyle Drabek currently sports a pretty ERA, but only an above average GB% is keeping me somewhat optimistic. If Rick Porcello could sustain this improved strikeout rate on the back of a spike in his SwStk%, he could move up again and yield a nice profit to his AL-Only owners.

Miley Cyrus
Carlos Carrasco
Francisco Liriano
Jeff Francis
Marc Rzepczynski
Luke Hochevar
Brian Duensing
Erik Bedard
Brett Cecil
Kevin Slowey

Raise your hand if you guessed that Francisco Liriano would end up with Miley Cyrus. To be honest, I have no idea what to think. He may in fact belong out of every ranking tier and be a total negative for fantasy owners no matter what league format! Is there any reason for hope here? He has to be pitching hurt, right? Brett Cecil is back in the minors after he lost his velocity, but if he manages to find it again, he is decent enough to produce some AL-Only value if given another shot this season. Kevin Slowey gets dropped as it appears he will just be a long reliever for the time being.

Justin Bieber (did you expect anyone else?)
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Brad Penny
Chris Tillman
Brandon Webb
Jason Vargas
Phil Coke
Ivan Nova
Tommy Hunter
Jake Arrieta

Ughh, do I have to write about these guys? Daisuke Matsuzaka somehow managed to put together two straight starts with 0 runs allowed over 15 innings which got him added in many leagues. But his peripherals are still terrible and his career best xFIP is just 4.17, which came all the way back in 2007, his rookie season. Is he finally healthy? I don’t know, but his velocity is at its lowest career mark and SwStk% is, get this, in a four year decline. That means it has dropped every single year he has been in the league, including this season so far. Stay away. Please.

???? Tier
Phil Hughes

Last night it was reported that Phil Hughes might have a circulatory problem, specifically thoracic outlet syndrome. Without knowing any further details, I would guess that there is a good chance Hughes is done for the year.