2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier Four

This week we move onto tier four of the American League starting pitcher keeper rankings. This appears to be the last of the tiers comprised of pitchers who could still truly remain targets in mixed leagues. We also welcome our first rookie into the mix, which is always exciting. As a refresher, here is how the first three tiers went…

Tier 1:
Justin Verlander
CC Sabathia
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester

Tier 2:
Jered Weaver
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett
David Price
James Shields

Tier 3:
Michael Pineda
Max Scherzer
C.J. Wilson
Brandon Morrow

Without further ado…

Tier 4:

Matt Moore

Many years ago, rookie pitchers were banned from my fantasy teams. Given the existence of TINSTAAPP and the unreliability of the young and inexperienced, it was relatively easy to avoid these pitchers in mixed leagues. However, I have seen the light and I now evaluate rookies on an individual basis and no different than any other pitcher. Moore is currently the top pitching prospect in baseball and looks to have a rotation spot with the Rays heading into 2012. Amazingly, the 23-year old lefty has never posted a K/9 below 11.5 at any minor league stop, or during his super short stint with Tampa Bay this season. His control has also been good, and it looks like he will be around league average in inducing ground balls.

He is not going to average nearly 96.0 miles per hour with his fastball as a starter all year, but I would guess he settles in between 93 and 94, which is still fantastic, and even more so for a lefty. Yes, it was only over 9.1 innings, but man that 14.2% SwStk% is ridiculous. That might have a little to do with the quality of his stuff in this early PITCHf/x look that finds that his fastball has a lot more movement than average, while his curve ball could be a lethal strikeout pitch. Obviously, don’t go crazy with your expectations, but any pitcher with this type of strikeout potential and history of punch out rates deserves all the hype he gets.

Ricky Romero

I am a fan of Romero and took an in-depth look at him last month. Pitchers who combine a good strikeout rate, decent enough control and induce tons of ground balls are the type I want on my fantasy team. Though I do think he has a bit of strikeout rate upside, a low-7.0 rate is essentially what pushed him into this fourth tier, rather than the third. His ERA is going to jump back into the mid-3.00’s next season as his luck runs out, but he should generate good fantasy value once again.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Jimenez was one of the toughest pitchers for me to rank. Of course, that is no surprise after I called him the head-scratcher of the year. I am not all too concerned about his inflated ERA. Most of that was just poor fortune. What does scare me is the huge drop in velocity. Falling from 96.1 miles per hour to 93.5 is a dramatic decline and not to be taken lightly. It killed his SwStk%, which fell below 8.9 for the first time ever and actually came well below the league average. In addition, the Indians infield defense is not supposed to be very good, though Jimenez’s GB% was at its lowest mark since 2007. There are lots of question marks here, but we know what he is capable of and so I could not possibly justify ranking him any lower. And since his missing velocity is a mystery, he certainly wasn’t going to be ranked any higher.

Gio Gonzalez

For the second year in a row, Gonzalez outperformed his SIERA and xFIP rather significantly. The ballpark probably has a bit to do with it, but I am still betting his true talent level is closer to these metrics than his actual ERA the past two seasons. His poor control means he will never help your WHIP and playing in front of a mediocre offense is going to limit his wins, even if he has won 31 games the last two seasons. That suggests a downside of just a two-category contributor, which is why he is not ranked higher. Of course, he is still plenty valuable with that strong strikeout rate and above average ground ball percentage.

Derek Holland

Holland likely saw his perceived value increase with his overall postseason performance, when he posted a 3.38 ERA. His skills this year were solid all around, yet unspectacular. However, the most exciting observation is that of his fastball velocity. It jumped 2.1 miles per hour, which is huge. Surprisingly though, the increased velocity did not lead to a spike in his SwStk% or K%. Fastball velocity has a pretty strong correlation to strikeout rate, for obvious reasons, so if he could sustain the jump, I would expect his strikeout rate to rise, potentially returning to the 8.0 range. His control may regress a bit next season given his mediocre F-Strike%, but a better strikeout rate will offset that, and his slight ground ball tilt could lead to an ERA in the 3.50-3.75 range.

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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. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Stuck in a slump
Stuck in a slump

I really think you’re underrating Gonzalez here. His velocity has been creeping up, his BB/9 dropped and his K/9 rose from his first full season. Up until 2010 the guy never threw more than 160 IP, so the fact that he found success last year while throwing over 200 IP, and then improved upon that in his second straight 200 IP season gives me reason to think that he may have started to figure things out.

Nothing jumps out other than that walk rate as a warning sign for him, but it’s moving in the right direction, which is very encouraging. I’d rank him above Morrow unless your league uses xFIP. I mean, you can’t really knock Gonzalez for WHIP when you’ve got Morrow a full tier ahead (yes, the K’s are sick, but the ERA can make fantasy owners feel sick) and their career WHIP’s are 1.41 vs 1.38 and over the last two years (their first two full seasons) Gio has WHIP’s of 1.32 and 1.31 while Morrow has 1.38 and 1.29. Given the different environments that they pitch in, I’ll take Gio instead. At least I can start him at home and not have to worry too much.