Fantasy Midseason Rankings: Starting Pitcher

Continuing my series of rankings updates, it’s time to look back at my preseason starting pitcher rankings (part one and part two) and update them for the rest of the season. Keep in mind that this is a list of who I think will be the best starting pitchers for the rest of the season, not who I think have been the best starting pitchers so far this season. (Preseason ranking in parentheses.)

1. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks (4): I think I saw him ranked as low as 45th before the season because people were worried about him coming back from injury at his age. Now, he’s first in WHIP (tied with Ben Sheets at 0.89) and strikeouts (154), sixth in ERA (2.84) and tied for sixth in wins (10). If he gets traded to the AL, his ERA, WHIP and strikeouts may suffer a little bit, but he should also get more wins with a better offense.

2. Jason Schmidt, Giants (6): He’s 28-7 with a 2.40 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 342 strikeouts in 329.2 innings since the beginning of last season. You can’t really ask for any more than that, and you certainly can’t question him at this point.

3. Kerry Wood, Cubs (9): He was off to a tremendous start this season before his injury knocked him out for two months. In his first start back, he pitched seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. I don’t see any reason why he won’t be one of the very best pitchers in baseball the rest of the way.

4. Ben Sheets, Brewers (49): Is he really this good? I have no idea, but he leads the league in ERA and WHIP and he’s provided no reason to think he’s just getting lucky. His 133 strikeout-19 walk ratio is just sick.

5. Curt Schilling, Red Sox (3): I predicted 18-20 wins, a 3.25 ERA, 1.05-1.10 WHIP and 225-240 strikeouts before the season started. He’s currently on pace for 21 wins, a 3.16 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 222 strikeouts. Not bad. If his ankle ever stops bothering him, he might even be able to take things up a notch.

6. Johan Santana, Twins (12): For the first two months of the season, Santana made me look like an idiot for ranking him 12th as he racked up a 5.61 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Since May turned to June, however, he’s posted a 2.01 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. Oh yeah, he has 136 strikeouts in 123.2 innings, too. I don’t think he can keep up what he’s done the last six weeks, but he’s shown that he clearly is the dominant pitcher many of us thought he would be.

7. Mark Mulder, A’s (14): His ERA (3.21) and WHIP (1.19) aren’t likely to be worse the rest of the season than they are now. He gets a decent number of strikeouts and he pitches deep enough into games to help make sure he picks up wins.

8. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox (2): He hasn’t been the Pedro of old, for sure, but he still has a solid 1.13 WHIP, he still has 112 strikeouts in 117.2 innings and he still pitches for a team with a great offense. I think the ERA (3.67) will be as much as a run lower the rest of the way.

9. Roger Clemens, Astros (21): He’s pitched much better than anybody could have expected thus far and he should continue to pitch well the rest of the way. However, I don’t think he’ll be able to keep his ERA under 3.00 and I think his WHIP will also go up a touch will his strikeouts decline slightly.

10. Roy Oswalt, Astros (11): He’s not moving up a spot because of anything he did, but rather because of the struggles of half of my preseason top 10. At 8-7 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 116 strikeouts in 130.2 innings, he’s merely been good and I expected great. I do think he’ll pitch better the rest of the way.

11. Javier Vazquez, Yankees (8): He’s had an up-and-down first season in the Bronx, but it’s mostly been good. He was never going to be as dominant as he was last year in Montreal, but that New York offense has him on pace to easily set a career high in wins with 19.

12. Matt Clement, Cubs (33): He’s only slightly improved his walk rate from last year, but he’s got his strikeout rate back up to the 9.44 K/9IP of 2002. He had a 3.60 ERA this year and he might not be able to keep his ERA below 3.00 this year, but he’s certainly been a more dominant pitcher and should have more than seven wins.

13. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs (36): A hefty bump in his strikeout rate and a slight improvement in his walk rate have more than balanced the fact that he’s already allowed as many homers (9) this year as last year. One concern is that he’s walked at least four batters in six consecutive starts.

14. Carl Pavano, Marlins (62): Finally fully healthy for an extended period of time, he’s been able to show off his talent. I don’t think he’ll be able to stay around a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but he’s much better than the average pitcher he’s looked like much of his career.

15. Oliver Perez, Pirates (NR): Perez averaged 10.02 strikeouts per nine innings last year, but had a 5.47 ERA. Those strikeouts indicated a ton of potential, and he’s apparently figured out how to reach that potential. This year, he’s striking out even more hitters (10.82 K/9IP), but the key is that he’s cut his walks from 5.47/9IP to 3.42/9IP and he’s cut his homers from 1.56/9IP to 0.83/9IP.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

The result is a 3.24 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, although he only has five wins to show for it thanks to the Pirates offense. Regardless, he turns just 23 years old in August and looks like a bright star in the making.

16. Brad Penny, Marlins (46): He’s striking out more hitters than he ever has in his career and having more success than he ever has in his career. Seems pretty simple. He’s also allowing fewer homers than he did last year and he’s been able to keep his walk rate stable.

17. Freddy Garcia, White Sox (39): He’s bounced back nicely after two disappointing seasons and, once again, the key has been a few more strikeouts, a few less walks and a lot less home runs. He should also pick up some more wins with the White Sox after getting no help from Seattle’s offense.

18. Tom Glavine, Mets (73): He looked like he might be washed up last year, but the Mets brought in Mike Cameron and suddenly Glavine has a 2.66 ERA. He’s still not striking anybody out and I think that ERA will keep creeping up until it’s over 3.00, at least, but he’s a useful fantasy pitcher again.

19. Russ Ortiz, Braves (37): He’s upped the strikeouts a little bit, cut down on the homers a little bit and the result is a solid 3.58 ERA and another year in which he’s on pace for around 20 wins.

20. Tim Hudson, A’s (10): He’s probably out for at least another two weeks, but he’s a good enough pitcher that he’ll be one of the 20 or so best fantasy options the rest of the way even if he misses a few more starts.

21. Odalis Perez, Dodgers (34): His numbers are pretty similar to what he did in 2002 — a few more strikeouts, a few more walks and a few more home runs, and it wouldn’t surprise me if his ERA ends up being a little bit higher than the 3.00 mark he managed that year.

22. Mark Buehrle, White Sox (53): After four seasons as a soft-tossing lefty, Buehrle’s on pace to set a career high in strikeouts by more than 50. He’s also averaging the fewest walks of his career, although he’s allowing the most home runs.

23. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (NR): I don’t think he’s really this good, but he’s got solid numbers pretty much across the board (3.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.58 K/9IP and 1.93 BB/9IP) and he deserves the benefit of the doubt. The only real concern I have is his 16 homers allowed.

24. Andy Pettitte, Astros (22): His problems so far have mostly been injury-related, as he’s got a decent 4.14 ERA and 1.23 WHIP when he has been able to pitch. Even more encouraging, he’s notched 55 strikeouts in 54.1 innings. If he can stay on the field, I think he’ll be a very nice fantasy option from here on out.

25. Matt Morris, Cardinals (17): As lackluster as his season’s been, he does have 10 wins, a 4.20 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. His 5.44 K/9IP and 1.65 HR/9IP rates are not encouraging, but I still think he’s got a chance to be, if not his old self, then at least a solid starter the rest of the season.

26. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays (5): He really hasn’t pitched all that badly this year. The only significant difference between this season and last season is that he’s already issued more walks this year. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting his ERA below 4.00 before the season ends.

27. Brad Radke, Twins (70): He doesn’t strike many people out and the Twins haven’t been helping him get many wins, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help your fantasy team. He doesn’t walk people at all and he’s cut down on the home runs this season, and that’s allowed him to make a run at posting the best ERA of his career.

28. Kevin Brown, Yankees (13): He hasn’t pitched well since April, he hasn’t been healthy for a while now and he just got shelled down in Single-A. Still, he’s always pitched well when he’s been healthy and I think he can still pitch well (and rack up some wins) before too much longer.

29. Joel Pineiro, Mariners (29): He had an awful 8.26 ERA in five starts in April, but he’s been very solid since then. In his last 14 starts, he has a 3.40 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 100.2 innings. He doesn’t get many wins thanks to Seattle’s offense, but he can still be a good fantasy starter.

30. Mark Prior, Cubs (1): Earlier this week, I was debating whether I should put him right back in the top five or leave him somewhere in the middle of my top 30 since he hadn’t really pitched that spectacularly since returning from his injury. Then, he went and got hurt again on Thursday. Since I don’t know how serious it is, I don’t really know where to put him. I’m leaving him here, because he’ll be a top 30 fantasy pitcher if he doesn’t miss more than three or so weeks the rest of the year.

Fell from top 30

Mike Mussina, Yankees (5): Enough excuses for one season, it’s time for Mussina to start pitching well. I just don’t have enough confidence that he will to put him in my top 30.

Josh Beckett, Marlins (15): I hope you didn’t overpay for him because of last year’s postseason. This will likely be the third straight season he’s failed to reach 150 innings in the regular season, and nobody seems to know when he’ll be back.

Barry Zito, A’s (16): He’s solved the one problem I thought he had (declining strikeout rate) and he’s still not pitching well. He’s giving up a lot of home runs this year, and I’m not sure why.

Bartolo Colon, Angels (18): If you can’t say anything nice…

Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks (19): I really thought he’d be able to come close to duplicating last year’s success, but he’s just handing out way too many walks this season.

Randy Wolf, Phillies (20): His 3.56 ERA is nice, but his WHIP’s a little high, his strikeout total’s a little low and he’s not winning any games for some reason. I’d expect the wins to start coming, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see his ERA rise.

Jose Contreras, Yankees (23): Thursday’s outing should give you some confidence that he might actually be able to help you, but I can’t put him in my top 30 just because he had one dominant outing.

Esteban Loaiza, White Sox (24): Journeymen pitchers just don’t turn into Cy Young candidates after turning 30 very often. I’m not really surprised to be dropping him from my top 30.

Kevin Millwood, Phillies (25): With all the things he’s accomplished in his outstanding career, Millwood-for-Estrada has got to be the deal that makes John Schuerholz smile the most.

Jamie Moyer, Mariners (26): With his low strikeout totals, even a slight slip in the other categories really hurts his fantasy value.

Hideo Nomo, Dodgers (28): Stick a fork in him…

Wade Miller, Astros (29): He hasn’t pitched all that badly and he’d probably have made the top 30 if he wasn’t injured right now.

Greg Maddux, Cubs (30): It’s jarring to see Maddux in the “struggling to be average” phase of his career. I hope he doesn’t let this phase last too long.

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