Boy, how things can change after just one month. Due to the promotion of Tony Cingrani, emergence of Matt Harvey and struggles of Matt Cain, the National League starting pitching landscape has been altered quite a bit. Since this is actually my first time doing rankings at the site, I’m going to put my own spin on them. Inside of normal tiers, we’ll rank them according to best Radiohead albums. I figure opening myself up to criticism from two different sides should be…fun. I’m also going to use the album titles to link to a song from that album, because, why not? But, first, let’s get to the rankings.
That’s it, just Kershaw. This ranking is more a comment on his ability and consistency, than a reflection on the pitchers in tier two. There’s not much else to say about Kershaw. He’s a strikeout machine, doesn’t walk many batters and is only 25-years-old. He’ll continue to be great for a long time.
Nothing wrong with any of these guys. Yes, Hamels hasn’t started out strong, but that should come to an end given his pedigree. Strasburg is perhaps the most questionable inclusion. The numbers look fine, but he hasn’t looked like the same pitcher at the beginning of the season. He’s struggled more than usual with his fastball control, which has limited him to just six innings or less four times. There’s also the forearm issue, which is going to be made into a big deal even if it’s nothing. As Strasburg has already shown, he can put up great numbers even when his fastball isn’t perfect. Once he gets rolling, you’ll see those dominant starts.
Here’s where we start to see some interesting names. Cueto probably would have been in this tier at the beginning of the year, and I’m keeping him here since it looks like he’ll be back relatively soon. I bumped Greinke down a tier, but believe his performance will be good enough once he returns to remain high on the list. Cain and Gonzalez have started slowly, but you should be patient with both of them. I’m far less worried about Cain, though, as he’s had a longer track record of dominance. Gonzalez, like Strasburg, has had early control issues, which is not uncommon for him. Harvey’s meteoric rise brings him to the third tier. If he continues to pitch this well in May, he’ll likely jump into that elite group.
This group is still fairly reliable, but they each lack one thing that keeps them from being fantasy aces. Cingrani and Ryu haven’t been around the league enough to know whether their performances can be trusted. Samardzija, Burnett and Gallardo all have higher walks rate than you would like from an ace. Burnett is also A.J. freaking Burnett, which can sometimes be concerning. Bailey and Minor have suppressed home runs well thus far, but have had issues with the long-ball in the past. Zimmermann is solid, but doesn’t have the strikeout potential of the players in this tier. You can rely heavily on these guys, but you’ll probably be left wanting just a little more from your ace.
Patrick Corbin’s emergence has been pretty nice, and he’s a guy worth monitoring over the next few starts. He’s added some velocity this season, and is throwing over one mph harder than he did last year. There’s some uncertainty over whether he’ll be able to keep his job if Tyler Skaggs pitches well or when Daniel Hudson returns. He’s also not going to give you a ton of strikeouts. But if he keeps his walks down, that approach will play. Based on upside, Cashner would be in a much higher tier than these pitchers, but you can’t trust him to stay healthy yet. Cahill has intrigued me since he came into the league. He’s utilizing a cutter more often this year, and it’s helped him up his strikeout rate. He’ll walk batters, which limits his upside.
With the exception of Edwin Jackson, it’s tough to buy the performances of most of these pitchers. They all have red flags. Lincecum and Miley are walking too many hitters, Garcia is coming off a weird shoulder problem and Maholm has never shown this strikeout ability before. Detwiler has been fantastic, but isn’t striking out anybody. This might sound crazy, but I think I’m buying Maholm slightly more than the other players in the tier. His strikeout rate jumped when he joined Atlanta, and he’s used his cutter more. I would sell him high if other players will pay, otherwise, he’s a decent guy to hold while he’s performing well.
McCarthy is here based on current performance, but he’s a candidate to see a ton of improvement. A .397 BABIP is the likely culprit. He’s still shown similar strikeout and walk rates, and could be a buy low if owners gave up on him already. Vogelsong is in the same boat if he can get his home runs under control. Haren and Halladay have had more poor games than good ones to begin the year, and neither can be considered dependable yet. You might want to try and start them against weak opponents until they show they are back. Marcum could rise, but he has to show he’s healthy first. Zito’s pitched better than this tier, but lacks upside.
Here’s a list of injury guys you should stash or prospects who might be up soon.