|Debut: 2009 | BirthDate: 4/3/1975 | Team: Red Sox | Position: RP|
Profile: In what may have been one of the steals of last offseason, the Red Sox quietly signed setup man Koji Uehara to a $4.25 million contract. Pushed into the closer role through the injury ineffectiveness of Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Junichi Tazawa, Uehara lit the relief world on fire, posting an insane 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, and 101 whiffs in just over 74 innings. While some guys post those numbers thanks to some “lucky” peripherals, Uehara wasn’t one of them. His 3% walk rate continued to be among the league’s best and he even bumped his strikeout rate a bit (38% versus a 34% average in 2011-2012). His 1.36 SIERA bested all qualified major league relievers. Not too shabby. Some may pause at his below-average 88-90 mph fastball, but he posted 16-18% swinging strike rates in relief and a huge part of that was 25+% swSTR% on his splitter. He may not light up the gun, but apparently his opponents agree he’s tough to beat. Uehara’s age might be the only reason he sits a half tier behind Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, but if you are one of those people that like to lock up relievers earlier, Uehara is as good of a choice as any to be elite again this season. (Colin Zarzycki)
Quick Opinion: Uehara is another year older but showed no signs of slowing down in 2014. Even at 39, it’s not unreasonable to put him among the top six closers.
|Debut: 2003 | BirthDate: 3/24/1978 | Position: RP|
Profile: Valverde has had a fairly tumultuous two years as of late, being ousted as the closer twice by the Tigers since 2012. The Big Potato, now 35, will most likely be relegated to a middle relief role in 2014, unless some team desperate for a “proven closer” gives him a chance in the ninth again. Seems doubtful. (David Temple)
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 2/2/1983 | Team: Royals | Position: SP|
Profile: Jason Vargas is a very average starter, in terms of ERA and WHIP, but is well below average in strikeout rate. That limits his fantasy value, such that his projected starter ranking is somewhere around #100, according to both Steamer and Oliver. In 2013, he did produce a noteworthy increase in strikeout rate, which may have been caused by his rather dramatic shift in pitch selection (towards more curveballs and four-seam fastballs). The projections are marking him down for a big drop in strikeout rate in 2014, but they undoubtedly aren’t considering his changed approach. If he can maintain his 2013 pitching mix and K%, a ranking closer to #80 might be in order, but none of his pitches other than the changeup get average whiffs or ground balls for their pitch type. Still mostly downside here. (Steve Staude)
Quick Opinion: Count on Vargas to produce an average ERA and WHIP, and a below-average strikeout total for a starter. He’s probably not worth a pick, outside of deep leagues and AL-only, even if the 31-year-old has thrown a little wrinkle in his arsenal.
|Debut: 2009 | BirthDate: 9/18/1984 | Team: White Sox | Position: RP|
Profile: Veal significantly increased his ground-ball rate in 2013, but still struggled with control issues. His peripherals suggest he was better than the 4.60 ERA he posted, but not by a whole lot. He should get chances on a rebuilding White Sox relief staff, but needs to cut down on the walks to stick around. Either way, not much fantasy relevance here. (David Temple)
|Debut: 2010 | BirthDate: 3/20/1985 | Team: Braves | Position: P|
Profile: Venters is scheduled to return from his second Tommy John surgery next season. The formerly elite left-handed reliever will need to overcome a lost season and some 2012 struggles. The Braves will probably ease him back into the bullpen and may use him as a lefty specialist to start the season. Prospective owners should watch his velocity throughout spring training as that could be a lead indicator of his recovery. He’s averaged around 94-95 mph while in the majors and any substantial decline from there may mean that we’re looking at a different pitcher. Tread cautiously until we see more out of Venters. (Brad Johnson)
Quick Opinion: Venters is set to return from his second Tommy John surgery. Such pitchers tend to be unreliable both from a real world and fantasy perspective. At best, Venters will set up for Kimbrel, but he’ll likely start the season in a middle relief role.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 6/3/1991 | Team: Royals | Position: SP|
Profile: Ventura proved to Kansas City fans that good things can come in small packages. Coming in at under six feet tall with a slender frame, the right-hander averaged 97.5 mph with his fastball in three big league starts and routinely hit triple digits throughout his minor league career. Velocity isn’t everything, though, and the Dominican native made strides with his command in 2013, which helped him solve Double-A and Triple-A on his way to the majors. With the addition of veteran starter Jason Vargas, Ventura doesn’t currently have a rotation spot at the big league level and will likely open the season in Triple-A. However, he’ll probably be the first arm recalled in the event of an injury to one of the starters. (Marc Hulet)
Quick Opinion: The Royals should have a pair of impact arms at the top of their rotation in a few years with Ventura and Kyle Zimmer but neither is expected to receive a significant number of innings in the majors in 2014. Both pitchers should be targets in keeper leagues with Ventura having the edge because he has a similar ceiling and is more big league ready.
|Debut: 2006 | BirthDate: 10/20/1980 | Team: Cubs | Position: RP|
Profile: Veras has always been an intriguing reliever thanks to his domination of right-handed hitters, and his ability to get a punchout. Those two traits should keep him employed for quite some time, which is good news for him, since he’ll only be 33 in 2014. There were factors on both sides of his ledger to pay attention to as we head into the season. On the negative side of the ledger, he posted a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play, one that is likely not sustainable. On the positive side, he shaved about five percent off his walk rate, which brought it down to a much more manageable level. What’s also noteworthy about Veras is that — according to PITCHf/x — Veras no longer throws a four-seam fastball at all. Most pitchers, even if they don’t emphasize their four seamer, will flash it, but Veras abandoned the pitch in favor of his sinker. It didn’t affect his K rate, so it isn’t necessarily a red flag, but it’s certainly interesting. Currently a free agent, Veras’ opportunity to garner holds or saves will depend on where he lands.
Quick Opinion: Veras is very good for what he is — a set-up reliever who can occasionally close games, but who shouldn’t be trusted with the chore for the long haul thanks to his issues retiring left-handed hitters.
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 2/20/1983 | Team: Tigers | Position: SP|
Profile: When a 3.46 ERA is considered a disappointing performance, you know you have been on a roll in past seasons. But for arguably the best pitcher in baseball, that’s exactly how fantasy owners felt about Justin Verlander. On the heels of a one mile per hour decline in fastball velocity, Verlander’s peripherals took a step backward, driving his SIERA to its highest level since 2008. And for just the second time in his career, his batting average on balls in play jumped above the .300 plateau. Oddly, despite a walk rate that increased to the second worst mark of his career, his first strike rate actually hit a career high. His velocity did improve as the season wore on and he was as dominant as ever in September. While it would be unwise to expect the soon-to-be 31-year-old to return to peak form, his skills should rebound a bit and lead to a more typical Justin Verlander type season. (Mike Podhorzer)
Quick Opinion: A dip in fastball velocity and poor defensive support combined to hamper Verlander’s performance and disappoint his fantasy owners. But his advanced metrics suggest that this is nearly the same pitcher and he should remain a strong candidate to finish the season as the top earner among starting pitchers.
|Debut: 2006 | BirthDate: 11/28/1983 | Team: Cubs | Position: SP/RP|
Profile: Villanueva signed a two year deal with the Cubs prior to last season. He started 15 games for Chicago, but with mixed results. His season ending ERA (4.06), FIP (3.86), and xFIP (3.97) were strong for a back end type, but most of his good results happened as a member of the Cubs’ bullpen, and questions persist as to whether his stuff can work in a starting role. He’ll probably play a swingman role for the Cubs again in 2014, and will see more starts towards the end of the year if the team is again out of contention and deals away pitching for the third straight season. (Jack Weiland)
Quick Opinion: Stark splits between his bullpen and rotation work mark Villanueva’s profile. He’ll likely start the year as a swingman for the Cubs again, getting more starts later in the year if the Cubs are out of contention and trade pitching for the third straight season.
|Debut: 2011 | BirthDate: 11/13/1990 | Team: Cubs | Position: P|
Profile: With a 96 mph fastball and a sizzling tight curve that entices an elite whiff rate, Vizcaino is interesting no matter if he ends up in the rotation or the bullpen. Obviously his team and his fantasy owners are rooting for the rotation, so he’ll get at least one more shot at it. But health has been an issue, as well as an inconsistent change-up, and so there are two pieces that needed to fall into place for the golden arm to start producing golden eggs. And that health is a huge if — he hasn’t pitched at any level since 2011. (Eno Sarris)
Quick Opinion: Maybe two years off will have fixed what ailed Vizcaino’s arm. Watch health reports in the spring before you give him a shot in your deeper dynasty leagues.
|Debut: 2000 | BirthDate: 7/22/1977 | Team: Giants | Position: SP|
Profile: Vogelsong was out of tune in 2013 as his outcomes and health backslid. His batting average on balls in play rose nearly 40 points from where it was over the previous two seasons, his weighted on-base average against rose 65 points, and he spent time on the disabled list with a broken hand. Even when healthy, his stuff was not as sharp as it was from 2011 to 2012. His strikeout rate dropped six percentage points, and his home run per fly ball rate in 2013 nearly doubled from his earlier levels. The good news is his walk rate held true, but his stuff within the strike zone did not play up as well as it previously had. Most of that had to do with his drop in velocity. Throughout all of 2011 and the second half of 2012, Vogelson’g average velocity lived in the low 90’s; that was not the case last season. In 2013, he rarely topped 90 before his hand injury, and did so even less after returning from the disabled list. To make matters worse, he traded in ground balls for line drives, which led to the skyrocketing BABIP. He was a nice story after reviving his career, but he’s yet to throw more than 190 innings in a major league season and 2013 presented enough caution flags to make him reserve material in any format. (Jason Collette)
Quick Opinion: He was a nice story after reviving his career, but he’s yet to throw more than 190 innings in a major league season and 2013 presented enough caution flags to make him reserve material in any format.
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 7/3/1983 | Team: Pirates | Position: SP|
Profile: Pittsburgh’s attention to defensive positioning helped pitchers like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, and Mark Melancon. Volquez’s groundball tendencies should certainly enjoy the defensive support, but it cannot help him with his control problems. His 10% walk rate last year was his lowest over the past five seasons, and his issues with home runs finish the double-whammy on his ratios. He is capable of getting strikeouts, but chasing those strikeouts and wins will put a hurting on your ratios. A concern with his strikeouts is the fact his swing and miss rate dropped six percentage points last season, which was a main reason his strikeout rate fell below league average for the first time in his career. Command is the last thing that a pitcher gets back after returning from Tommy John surgery, but what we see of Volquez these days is what we get. It’s not good. (Jason Collette)
Quick Opinion: Command is the last thing that a pitcher gets back after returning from Tommy John surgery, but what we see of Volquez these days is what we get. It’s not good.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 7/1/1991 | Team: Cardinals | Position: SP/RP|
Profile: After Michael Wacha’s dominant rookie performance in both the 2013 regular and post-season, the issues around his fantasy value are not what leagues he should be drafted in (all, outside of bizarro leagues), but instead what tier he is in. His 2013 rate stats placed him among the top pitchers in baseball. His control looked just above average, but his ability to strike opposing batters was elite. Wacha’s repertoire is effective against both lefties and righties due to his plus-plus change up. Being just 23 at the start of the 2014 season means that Wacha is still further away from a gradual decline. The only real concerns with Wacha are both related to his his limited 2013 workload. Between the majors and the minors, Wacha pitched just around 150 innings in 2013. That is not a low number, but the Cardinals might want to be careful to make sure he does not wear down as Shelby Miller did. The other issue is sample size: yes, Wacha dominated the majors, but it was still just over 64 innings (and only nine starts). His .275 batting average on balls in play is not extremely low, but not many pitchers are true-talent .275 BABIP hurlers, and his strand rate was also high. This is not to say that Wacha is bad, or even just average. He is better than that, and in keeper leagues especially, his youth makes him a very good pick. But in relation to 2014 performance, it may be premature to draft him as a fantasy number one. His upside has a good chance to make that look silly in retrospect, just be wary. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Michael Wacha had an amazing rookie debut in 2013. If he is that good again in 2014, he will be one of the to pitchers in both fantasy and real baseball. As good as he is, though, drafting him as a number two makes more sense for now, although he has more value in keeper leagues due to his relative youth.
|Debut: 2011 | BirthDate: 1/1/1984 | Team: Blue Jays | Position: RP|
Profile: After years of pitching in the minors for various organizations, in 2013 Neil Wagner finally got something of an extended chance (38 innings) in the major leagues with the Blue Jays. He did not embarrass himself, keeping his ERA under four and having an average walk rate and slightly better-than-average strikeout rate. That seems reasonably close to his true talent, which might be good enough to make him a middle reliever on some teams. Unfortunately for Walker, the Jays are already pretty stacked in the bullpen. Even if he does get a spot, he is not good enough to merit attention in most fantasy leagues, as he’s a generic right-handed reliever of the sort one can usually find on the waiver wire. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: In 2013 journeyman Neil Wagner showed he could be a decent middle reliever in the major leagues. However, the Blue Jays’ pen looks to be too full for him, and even if he does wedge his way in, Wagner is not good enough to be worth drafting in fantasy.
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 8/30/1981 | Team: Cardinals | Position: SP|
Profile: In 2005, Wainwright threw two innings. He faced nine batters, and while he retired six of them, three reached base, and all three scored. That abbreviated “season” marked the first and last time that Wainwright posted a FIP- worse than 90. Put another way — In each of the seven full seasons of Wainwright’s career, he has been at least 10 percent better than league average, and in most cases far better than that. Last season was likely his peak, as his 70 FIP- was sixth-best in baseball. He set a career high in strikeouts, was 26th in the majors in K% and he tied for first overall in BB% with Cliff Lee and David Price. The latter is the most astounding. Wainwright has always had good control, but he had maintained a walk rate in the 6.2-6.8 percent range for four years running. Cutting another two and a half percent off of that mark to get it down to 3.7% is unheard of, and probably won’t continue. What should continue however is Wainwright being one of the ten-best pitchers in the game. And since St. Louis should once again have a strong squad, he is also a great bet to pile on the wins, which will be a far-too-important factor for most of you. Simply, Wainwright is the entire package. Don’t pass on him if you get the chance.
Quick Opinion: Wainwright continues to show no wear or tear following his Tommy John surgery, and had Clayton Kershaw not been head and shoulders above everyone on earth in terms of throwing a baseball to a certain spot, Wainwright would have been a legitimate contender for the National League Cy Young Award. Expect that to remain true in 2014, as Wainwright is one of the few true aces in the game today.
|Debut: 2010 | BirthDate: 11/16/1987 | Team: Braves | Position: RP|
Profile: The Braves acquired Walden from the Angels in exchange for Tommy Hanson last offseason. Walden took a step forward with his command and control last season, but the gains didn’t show up in his 3.45 ERA. The hard-thrower has seen his velocity decline by about one mph every season since his debut, but he still averaged over 95 mph. He generates a lot of swinging strikes (14.1%) and a strong strikeout rate (10.34 per nine). He’ll probably slot in as the eighth inning reliever for the Braves in 2014 and should improve upon his 14 holds. And he does all this while jumping off the mound during his delivery. (Brad Johnson)
Quick Opinion: Walden improved in his first season as a Brave, mostly by cutting his walk rate in half. Unfortunately, he earned a reputation with the fans for allowing untimely runs and his 3.45 ERA was surprisingly high given his strong peripherals.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 8/13/1992 | Team: Mariners | Position: SP|
Profile: Taijuan Walker cruised through four levels of minor league ball in three seasons, making his major league debut just after turning 21. The results were pretty terrific — a 3.60 ERA (2.25 FIP), a 20% strikeout rate to go with just a 6.7% walk rate. This was of course in just three games, two of which were against the Houston Astros who were on their way to losing 111 games. Walker profiles as a middle of the rotation type, with perhaps upside of a number two. He throws hard, has a plus cut fastball, and has a change and curve to draw upon although they may need more work. His time in the minors was highlighted by big strikeout numbers, but Walker also had a walk rate of nine percent or greater at every stop along the way, which he’s probably going to need to fix in order to be effective. There’s still no guarantee Walker opens the season in the Mariner rotation, although at this point it seems more likely than not. He’s probably best owned as a keeper right now, as there may be some bumps along the way in 2014. Steamer projects a 4.43 ERA with solid strikeout figures but an unseemly 11% walk rate. He certainly has the talent to be useful in fantasy circles, but his breakout party might have to wait a year. (Michael Barr)
Quick Opinion: Taijuan Walker possesses just about everything you would want in a fantasy starting pitcher. He’s big, young, he throws hard, amasses piles of strikeouts, and plays in a pitching-friendly park. But his inexperience and history of control issues should temper expectations for 2014. A definite candidate for your keeper squad, but he may not be a contributor in standard leagues for another year.
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 3/31/1980 | Position: SP|
Profile: Memories die hard. Wang is still getting interest around the league, and much of it has to be from his 2005-2008 stretch with the Yankees, during which his extreme ground-ball ways made him good, above average pitcher despite only decent control and laughable strikeout rates. Injuries and age have taken their toll, and although Wang managed a respectable 4.04 ERA for Washington in 2011, even that was over a small sample (62 innings). Wang was terrible in his brief major league stint for the Nationals in 2012, and even worse in the six starts he got from the injury-ravaged Blue Jays in 2013. He still gets ground balls, but the (frequent) contact is harder than it used to be, and he walks far too many batters for a pitcher who can’t miss bats. Stereotypically for a ground-ball pitcher, when the ball does go into the air, it goes out of the park pretty frequently. Wang is a free agent as of this writing, and maybe he will catch on with a team (most likely on a minor league deal). There might be someone in your league who might hear about it and decide to spend a pick on Wang on the basis of memories of 2007. Don’t be that person. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Chien-Ming Wang still gets enough ground balls that teams desperate for starting pitching are willing to give him a chance. You should not be that desperate in fantasy.
|Debut: 2011 | BirthDate: 5/30/1985 | Team: Pirates | Position: RP|
Profile: The 28-year-old southpaw is one of the reasons the Pirates bullpen was so fantastic this year. Though his first strike rate remained nearly identical to his previous two seasons, his walk rate plunged and he also benefited greatly from the Pirates defense. Although nowhere near as dominant against right-handed batters as lefties, he’s not necessarily a LOOGY, as a 4.23 xFIP suggests that he doesn’t need to immediately be pulled when a righty is at the plate. His strikeout rate should rebound given a healthy swinging strike rate, but he’s nothing more than a solid middle reliever who will only earn value in leagues that count holds. (Mike Podhorzer)
Quick Opinion: With no chance at closing out games, Watson’s fantasy value is limited to leagues that include holds as a category. He does possess solid skills though and should see a strikeout rate rebound, so he’s not a terrible option as your last pitcher in an NL-Only league.
|Debut: 2006 | BirthDate: 10/4/1982 | Team: Angels | Position: SP|
Profile: Jered Weaver’s 2013: 4.22 SIERA, 3.27 ERA. Which one should you put more credence in? His career SIERA is 3.96; yet his career ERA is 3.24, meaning we can say with about 99% certainty that his true career ERA should be no worse than 3.5. There’s something special about Weaver that the formulas just don’t adequately explain. That’s not to say he’s the same pitcher now that he was for most of his career; his fastball velocity has declined significantly for three years straight, as have his strikeout rates (despite rising league-wide K rates). The good news for Weaver is that his 2013 infield popup rate (FB% multiplied by IFFB%) was the best among all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched — 7.11% of batted balls against him were easy-out infield flies,a rate more than twice the major league average of 3.17%. More good news is that popup rate happens to be one of the more repeatable pitching stats. Those popups helped him obtain a .268 batting average on balls in play, which DIPS theory would generally assume to be a lucky fluke, despite his DIPS-bending career .271 BABIP. So, although projections do have some cause to worry about Weaver due to his declining strikeouts and velocity, remember that a lot of them likely fail to fully appreciate just how good he is at inducing easy outs. That said, due to the unpredictability of pitching, a starter ranking between 20th and 40th is the likely finish for him. (Steve Staude)
Quick Opinion: Don’t believe the [negative] hype about Weaver — he is criminally underappreciated by SIERA, xFIP, and even FIP, due to his freakishly low (but largely legitimate) batting average on balls in play and home runs per fly ball.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 8/18/1989 | Team: White Sox | Position: RP|
Profile: Late in 2012, a season in which he posted a dismal 5.81 ERA as a 22-year-old Low-A reliever, something clicked for Webb, as he was showing 93-98 mph heat and a solid slider/change up combination in August. That portended a jump onto the radar in 2013, and Webb did even more than could be expected, jumping through the minors’ top three levels in short order, dominating all the way and touching 100 mph on several occasions. A September callup went quite well, putting Webb high in the bullpen pecking order on the retooling Chicago squad. Expect him to be a very effective relief pitcher for as long as one can trust a relief pitcher. (Nathaniel Stoltz)
Quick Opinion: After years of struggling to get results out of good raw stuff, Webb figured things out in late 2012 and has rocketed to the majors since. With a fastball that touches 100 and two reliable offspeed pitches, he figures to be an excellent reliever as long as he can maintain his stuff and health.
|Debut: 2009 | BirthDate: 2/5/1986 | Team: Orioles | Position: RP|
Profile: Like the other pitching Webb before him, Ryan makes his living on inducing ground balls. His best season landed him in the Orioles’ pen, which seemed as good as any other before they traded away their closer. If the team fails to sign another established arm, Webb will absolutely be in the mix for saves. He doesn’t have the strikeouts you normally associate with the role, but he’s improved his change-up and control to the point where he can be used against hitters on both sides of the plate. And if there ever was a team that might give save chances to a ground-ball guy, it’s obviously the Orioles. (Eno Sarris)
Quick Opinion: The Orioles may not be done signing people, and Tommy Hunter may have more gas, but if you’re mapping out the back end of the Baltimore bullpen don’t forget to put Ryan Webb close to the ninth inning.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 2/10/1990 | Team: Red Sox | Position: SP|
Profile: When Allen Webster came to the Red Sox, he was widely perceived as the secondary piece in the deal (to Rubby De La Rosa). He quickly changed minds in Boston with a strong finish at Double-A Portland. Then he sat in the mid to upper 90’s with filthy stuff for much of Spring Training in 2013. Webster has front of the rotation stuff and has no problem missing bats. He had more of an up and down season but showed flashes of what he can be. Command and control is a problem for Webter and largely because he remains painfully skinny. When and if he fills in and adds strength this should improve, though. The Red Sox have no shortage of starting pitching options for the upcoming season, so drafting Webster for 2014 is a shaky proposition. If he gets a chance in the bullpen his stuff would play up very well there, too. The long term future remains very bright, though. (Al Skorupa)
Quick Opinion: Webster had a breakout season in 2013, reaching the majors and showing flashes of front line stuff. He needs to get stronger to improve his command and control. Major league innings in 2014 might be hard to come by with Boston’s great pitching depth.
|Debut: 2000 | BirthDate: 9/29/1977 | Position: SP|
Profile: Westbrook has been able to remain a major league starter for just shy of a decade thanks to an elite ground-ball rate and, at times, above average control. But he hasn’t been much of a fantasy option at any point during that stretch thanks to an inability to strike batters out. Last year that weakness became even more pronounced as Westbrook saw his strikeout rate fall into single digits (8.4%). The career low strikeout rate was coupled with a career high walk rate, and he actually walked more batters than he struck out. It was an easy choice for the Cardinals to buy out his $9.5 million option for just $1 million. It should be an easy choice for major league general managers to pass on Westbrook this offseason, too. But if someone gives him a spot in their rotation, it should be an even easier choice for the fantasy owner to pass on him. (Brett Talley)
Quick Opinion: Westbrook has never been anything more than an innings eater. To fantasy owners he’s never been more than an occasional spot starter for the owner who is chasing wins. This year he’s unlikely to be either of those things.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 5/30/1990 | Team: Mets | Position: SP|
Profile: With Matt Harvey sidelined for 2014, all eyes around the Mets will be on Zack Wheeler. Extremely high expectations, partially set by the absurd immediate dominance of Harvey, led to Wheeler’s debut being seen as something of a disappointment. For fantasy purposes, this dynamic may help to create an opportunity for value. Wheeler finished 2013 fairly strong as still has the profile and minor league track record that predicts a very high quality major league starter. He was unable to harness the elite strikeout rate he displayed in the minors, though his 7.6 per nine was useful. Wheeler needs to hone his control and get his walks down, which will both allow him to dominate games more and last deeper in his outings. If he’s able to make incremental progress in 2014, we should see a borderline top-40 starter. It’s more realistic to think that Wheeler will give the world an enticing preview of a future ace this season than it was to expect him to replicate Harvey’s dominance right off the bat. Wheeler could become a sexy pick in the offseason, and if he does that would cut into his value. But, either way you slice it, there is true breakout potential here. (Derek Ambrosino)
Quick Opinion: Compared to the immediate dominance of Matt Harvey, some may have viewed Zack Wheeler’s debut as somewhat disappointing. However, Wheeler showed plenty to justify why many expect big things from him. There’s definite break out potential here, with borderline top-40 starter expectations this coming year, and truly elite status to follow. If the hype machine dodges Wheeler a bit this offseason, he’ll be one to target in all leagues.
|Debut: 2011 | BirthDate: 12/16/1983 | Team: Mariners | Position: RP|
Profile: The Tom Wilhelmsen experience is one day going to be a killer roller coaster ride. The once highly-rated prospect who flamed out in the Milwaukee Brewers organization went on to bartend for several years until he got the baseball bug again. He picked up the ball and was able to throw it darn near 100 miles per hour and within a couple of years, he was one of the better closers in baseball. 2013 started out swimmingly but a disastrous June started the vultures swirling and by August he was back in Tacoma trying to regain his form. By the time he returned, Danny Farquhar had nailed down the closer role and Wilhelmsen was out of a job. Wilhelmsen has a plus fastball, but struggles with his command enough that he’s unreliable with the fireman’s hat. Until he can harness his stuff, the Mariners are likely to look elsewhere for closing duties, and that limits his fantasy appeal. Still a situation to monitor, of course. (Michael Barr)
Quick Opinion: Tom Wilhelmsen went from uber prospect to regular blue collar Joe to major league closer to reclamation project. His next status is anyone’s guess. He’s got great stuff, but until he knows where his pitches are going, he’s just a live arm with unpredictable results. Watch the closer situation in Seattle closely, as there will likely be several candidates.
|Debut: 2003 | BirthDate: 12/4/1981 | Team: Astros | Position: SP/RP|
Profile: A low strikeout rate, and a propensity for giving up home runs (despite playing in a pitchers’ park): these are the hallmarks of Jerome Williams. Even if he throws four secondary pitches with league-average (ish) whiff rates, the homer rates are still high on each of them. And none of his pitches rises to the level of excellent. Should a team pick him up off the non-tender pile this offseason, expect more of the same. Starter rankings peg him in the 130 -160 territory, making him a viable very, very deep league pick only. With only a slight boost if he ends up in the National League. In a pitcher’s park. In a bad division. (Steve Staude)
Quick Opinion: Williams figures to be a low-end fifth starter on a major league team. You do the math.
|Debut: 2005 | BirthDate: 11/18/1980 | Team: Angels | Position: SP|
Profile: Despite the alleged distraction of constantly having his head sniffed by attractive women, C.J. Wilson put up a very solid 2013 season. He may have had a bit of luck go his way, however, in the form of a 7.2% home run per fly ball rate (10.0% was average for a pitcher on the Angels). Along with facts like 1) his strikeout rate was pretty average (including relievers) and 2) his walk rate was a bit worse than average, those stats are the main reasons why ERA estimators like xFIP, SIERA, BERA, SBERA, and kwERA don’t paint nearly as rosy of a picture of his past season as did FIP and his actual ERA. Use them all in tandem, and you could probably say that his de-lucked ERA should have been a bit over four. Those are probably also the reasons why Steamer projects his 2014 season to be not nearly as good. However, OLIVER is a believer, so who knows. Just remember that ERA, wins and WHIP are all very unpredictable. About the only thing you can count on is that Wilson should put up solid strikeout and ground-ball totals. So, expect C.J. to be around the 20th-best starter, if you believe OLIVER, or around 65th-best if you trust Steamer more. Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty, as there is with most pitchers. (Steve Staude)
Quick Opinion: C.J. will get plenty of opportunities to win, and should put up solid strikeout numbers, but expect his ERA to regress a bit.
|Debut: 2012 | BirthDate: 8/18/1987 | Team: Pirates | Position: RP|
Profile: The 26-year-old southpaw was just another anonymous cog in the Pirates electric bullpen machine. Unfortunately, it was more smoke and mirrors that led to his 2.08 ERA than any incredible skills. He could thank the luck Gods for his .229 batting average on balls in play and stranding nearly 85% of his baserunners, both of which are unlikely to occur again. But, he does induce a ton of ground balls, which garners even greater benefit on a team that employs the shift so frequently. The good news is that his lefty/righty splits are essentially the same from an overall skills perspective, so he’s in no danger of being demoted to LOOGY duty. But, there are better middle relievers around with no chance of closing to fill your “pitcher that will keep my ratios down” slot in your NL-Only league. (Mike Podhorzer)
Quick Opinion: Wilson intrigues with his ground-ball inducing ways, but he doesn’t do anything else exceptionally well, making him look more like just an average reliever. With no chance at closing, that makes him not worth rostering, even in NL-Only leagues.
|Debut: 2006 | BirthDate: 3/16/1982 | Team: Dodgers | Position: RP|
Profile: Wilson had only a short time at the end of 2013 to prove he’d recovered from a second Tommy John surgery. He convinced the Dodgers, apparently, as they inked him to a $10 million contract to ostensibly be a setup man. He was pretty great in 2013 in fairness, posting a 0.66 ERA and accumulating .04 WAR in just 13.2 innings. He’d be next in line to get saves (if you’re into that sort of thing) if something were to happen to Kenley Jansen, but he’s even a solid play as a guy who will get strikeouts without suffering in any other category. (David Temple)
Quick Opinion: If he stays healthy, he’ll have some value.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 4/1/1989 | Team: Dodgers | Position: RP|
Profile: After four consecutive seasons at Double-A, mostly spent trying and failing to be a starter, Chris Withrow was finally converted to relief full-time midway through 2012 and ended up getting into 34 games for the Dodgers in 2013. Like so many before him, the move to the bullpen allowed him to unleash his velocity — a wicked 96.1 MPH average on his fastball — and focus on fewer pitches. As the season went on, he showed marked improvement in his slider, allowing only two hits despite throwing the pitch 159 times, and along with a solid curve, Withrow could show three plus pitches. That all helps explain how he struck out 43 in 34.1 innings, but his success will depend on managing the control issues that plagued him in the minors. Still, it was a fantastic debut for what had been a stalled prospect, one that would guarantee him a 2014 spot in most bullpens. Of course, the Dodgers signed enough veteran relievers this winter that his job may not be guaranteed. (Mike Petriello)
Quick Opinion: Since the Dodgers have approximately 82 closers under contract, Withrow is pretty far away from saves, and might not be immune from a trip back to Triple-A. As long as he’s in the majors, his strikeout skills are appealing from a fantasy perspective.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 1/12/1991 | Team: Braves | Position: SP/RP|
Profile: The southpaw found immediate success at the big league level as a freshman thanks to a funky delivery and an excellent changeup. His strong contributions came as both a reliever (20 games) and as a starter (11) but his pitching mechanics and delivery make it unlikely that he’ll hold up to a starter’s workload for more than a few seasons. However, Wood’s stuff and deception, combined, are good enough to help him succeed as a starter in the short term. He should battle Tommy John survivor Brandon Beachy for the fifth-starter’s gig but could also end up spending some time back in Triple-A while awaiting a regular role on the club. (Marc Hulet)
Quick Opinion: Wood could be a versatile pitcher for the Braves in 2014 but the organization can’t necessarily guarantee him regular innings unless one of the other young starters gets hurt or is ineffective.
|Debut: 2010 | BirthDate: 2/6/1987 | Team: Cubs | Position: SP|
Profile: Wood was revelatory in 2013, and figures to be one of the more divisive figures heading into 2014. On the one hand, his 3.11 ERA was the 19th-best in the majors, and he managed to win nine games for the 66-win Cubs. Still, partly because he doesn’t have knockout stuff (a fastball that sits below 90) Wood will always have his doubters, and they’ll have reason to doubt his All-Star resume going forward. Due in part to a batting average on balls in play of just .248, a strand rate of 77.4%, and a suppressed home run rate of just 6.9%, Wood’s FIP and xFIP lagged behind his sparkling ERA (3.89 and 4.50, respectively). Those marks are not far off Wood’s career levels, however, so there may be more skill than some perceive in his stellar 2013 season. Either way, he’s sure to be a boom or bust pick in 2013, and (as always) the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. (Jack Weiland)
Quick Opinion: While Wood was one of the league’s better starters in 2013, a case could easily be made that the veteran lefty benefited from luck during his All-Star campaign. He’s a boom or bust player for 2014, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 8/13/1988 | Team: Red Sox | Position: RP|
Profile: Tabbed by FanGraphs’ very own Mark Hulet as Boston’s 10th-best prospect headed into 2013, Brandon Workman made waves during his first major league season. While he started three games, Workman primarily operated out of the bullpen, posting an unappetizing 4.97 ERA in 41.2 innings. Peeking under the hood revealed a different story, however. His xFIP was 3.18, driven by an impressive 26.1% strikeout rate. The strikeout bump was a bit of a surprise since he fluctuated between 21-23% at his previous minor league stops. The whiffs were well-supported by an above-average 9.6% swinging strike rate. Primarily a fastball pitcher (66% usage, 92 mph), Workman’s offspeed stuff registered good linear weights, showing that, at the very least, he has the skills to be a solid late-inning reliever. He’ll either operate out of Boston’s bullpen or (more likely) head to Triple-A as a starter when 2014 opens, but will likely be the first guy riding the Pawtucket-Boston shuttle when injury strikes. He still lacks significant redraft value due to his role and likely inconsistent time in the big leagues. However, if he keeps posting solid strikeout rates he could perk up the ears of dynasty league owners by the all-star break. (Colin Zarzycki)
Quick Opinion: Brandon Workman surprised most in 2013 by posting strikeout rates at multiple levels that were higher than anything he’s shown during his time in pro ball. Still off the redraft radar in 2014, he has the skills to be a late-inning reliever or number-three-type starter in time.
|Debut: 2010 | BirthDate: 9/25/1987 | Team: Twins | Position: SP|
Profile: Worley drew the opening day nod for the Twins in 2013, and at the end of the day his ERA was 4.50. That’s the lowest it would be all season. Nothing went right for Worley in his inaugural season in the American League, which actually came to an end when he was sent to Triple-A after he was battered by the Braves to the tune of eight earned runs in just 3.2 innings in late May. In August, the Twins sent him home from Triple-A Rochester after elbow woes kept him from making a start after July 7. All told, it was a disastrous season and it’s hard to tell exactly where it went wrong. Worley threw more fastballs than he ever had before, and his velocity was down for a fourth-straight year. He scrapped the slider completely, and incorporated a split that he threw very infrequently. Pretty much everything he threw got blasted. None of the movement values on his pitches fluctuated greatly from 2012 to 2013, though. Down in Triple-A, Worley still didn’t pitch particularly well (3.88, but 1.41 WHIP and just 5.3 strikeouts per nine). It was almost certain that Worley would be worse moving over from the National League, but that injury likely made it worse. Worley won’t be promised a rotation spot entering 2014, but he’s out of options, and the Twins aren’t likely to sell off on a major trade acquisition this quickly. He’s not a fantasy consideration, however. (Brandon Warne)
Quick Opinion: Worley may still have a decent chance to crack the Twins’ rotation as its number five, but you shouldn’t be considering him in anything but the deepest AL-only leagues.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 9/30/1984 | Team: Red Sox | Position: SP/RP|
Profile: Wright has a chance to log some starts for Boston in 2014, and knuckleballers always make for good stories. He never had outstanding strikeout rates in the minors, even after his conversion to the knuckler, but he should be able to log some innings, should he get the chance.” I remember when the candle shop burned down. Everyone stood around singing ‘Happy Birthday’.” That previous sentence is a joke by Steven Wright. The comedian, not the pitcher. (David Temple)
Quick Opinion: Steven Wright is a knuckleball pitcher in the Boston system. Steven Wright is also a famous comedian from the Boston area. They are not the same Steven Wright, however, which is a shame since the combo would make for possibly the best person on the planet.
|Debut: 2013 | BirthDate: 3/24/1987 | Team: Astros | Position: RP|
Profile: The 26-year-old reliever was just one of the many pitchers in the Astros bullpen who recorded a save as the closer carousel went round and round. But this is no future closer — his control has been problematic. He does throw hard though, having averaged nearly 95 mph with his fastball, and induced a strong swinging strike rate to go along with a better than average ground-ball rate. So the seeds are there for the potential to be a useful middle reliever in NL-Only leagues. With no obvious standout closer candidate in Houston at the moment, there is also the chance he picks up a couple of saves once again. (Mike Podhorzer)
Quick Opinion: Zeid is just your run of the mill hard-throwing reliever with suspect control and a history of some strong strikeout rates in the minors. Sometimes everything clicks and these types deliver strong performances that earn value in NL-Only leagues, while other times their control eludes them and they damage a fantasy team’s ratios before his owners cut bait.
|Debut: 2008 | BirthDate: 10/10/1979 | Team: Diamondbacks | Position: RP|
Profile: Ziegler finally stabilized the back of the Arizona bullpen from July on after J.J. Putz and Heath Bell flamed out of the closer’s role. Ziegler complied 13 saves on the year while blowing only two. Ziegler is not your traditional closer. When you think closer, you think big right-hander with a power fastball-slider combo. But Ziegler has a sidearm/submarine delivery and relies primarily on his sinker and change up. And that’s probably why Arizona gave up a decent prospect to acquire Addison Reed this offseason. I was of the opinion that Ziegler could hang on to and succeed in the closer role, but he won’t get the chance unless Reed gets hurt. Which is at least possible given that Reed’s heavy slider usage and big dip in velocity last year could mark a possible injury. But even if Reed was hurt, there’s no guarantee that J.J. Putz wouldn’t get the first shot at filling his shoes. Ziegler was on pace for about 20 holds before becoming the closer last year, so he’ll still have value for those in holds leagues, but that’s about it. (Brett Talley)
Quick Opinion: After J.J. Putz and Heath Bell flamed out of the role, Ziegler finally brought some stability to the bullpen in Arizona. But Arizona obviously wasn’t comfortable using a submarine-style, ground-ball pitcher as their closer long-term because they went out and acquired Addison Reed in the offseason. Ziegler was on pace for 20 holds prior to becoming the close last year, so he’ll at least maintain relevance in holds leagues.
|Debut: 2009 | BirthDate: 5/23/1986 | Team: Nationals | Position: SP|
Profile: Jordan Zimmermann finally had the fantasy season to support the numbers he has been posting for the past few seasons. Since 2011, he has posted nearly identical ERAs (3.18, 2.94, 3.25). The only real change over those seasons has been a steady climb in the number of innings pitched (161 to 195 to 213). For 2014, people should expect the win total to drop a bit. In 2012 he went 12-8 and in 2013 the record jumped to 19-9. In each season he had 32 starts. Around 13 to 16 wins seems reasonable, but don’t expect 19 wins every season. Also, he has two trends which are headed in the right direction. First his batting average on balls in play has gone from .291 to .288 to .271. Second, his ground ball per fly ball rate has gone from .94 to 1.30 to 1.52. Truthfully, I have nit-picked a bit on him in the past, but if a person wants to know what to expect from him, just look at what he has done from 2011 to 2013 and put those stats into his 2014 values. (Jeff Zimmerman)
Quick Opinion: Jordan Zimmermann 2013 was just Jordan Zimmermann 2012 with more wins. Expect the same Jordan Zimmermann to show up in 2014. One of them at least.
|Debut: 2000 | BirthDate: 5/13/1978 | Position: SP|
Profile: Hasn’t seen an ERA below four since Barack Obama was elected… to the Senate. Hasn’t seen a WHIP below 1.30 since 2005. He’s won at least 12 games just once since 2006. If you are in a 30 team mixed league, Zito still should not appear on your draft list. In fact, I’m not even sure why I was asked to write him up. He’s the pitcher the commissioner throws on your roster as a penalty for being an inactive owner. Drafting Barry Zito on your fantasy team should be grounds for automatic dismissal from the league. (Jason Collette)
Quick Opinion: He’s the pitcher the commissioner throws on your roster as a penalty for being an inactive owner. Drafting Barry Zito on your fantasy team should be grounds for automatic dismissal from the league.
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