Welcome back, baseball!
Each Sunday, I'll be ranking all of the two-starters and highlighting four or five guys I think can safely be used for both of their starts (unless noted otherwise). The first week is a little tougher because all of the two-starters are aces or No. 2's, which means most of this week's options are owned in the majority of leagues. Fortunately for us, Vance Worley and Bud Norris qualify as aces in the Year 2013.
On to the ranks...
- Justin Verlander: Mon-@MIN (Worley), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
- Clayton Kershaw: Mon-SF (Cain), Sun-PIT (Burnett)
- David Price: Tue-BAL (Hammel), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
- Stephen Strasburg: Mon-MIA (Nolasco), Sun-@CIN (Cueto)
- Matt Cain: Mon-@LAD (Kershaw), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
- Felix Hernandez: Mon-@OAK (Anderson), Sun-@CWS (Axelrod)
- Cole Hamels: Mon-@ATL (Hudson), Sun-KC (Shields)
- R.A. Dickey: Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-BOS (Lester)
- Yu Darvish: Tue-@HOU (Harrell), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
- Adam Wainwright: Mon-@ARI (Kennedy), Sun-@SF (Cain)
- Chris Sale: Mon-KC (Shields), Sun-SEA (Iwakuma)
- Jered Weaver: Mon-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@TEX (Darvish)
- Johnny Cueto: Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sun-WAS (Strasburg)
- James Shields: Mon-@CWS (Sale), Sun-@PHI (Hamels)
- Yovani Gallardo: Mon-COL (Chacin), Sun-ARI (Corbin)
- CC Sabathia: Mon-BOS (Lester), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
- Jon Niese: Mon-SD (Volquez), Sun-MIA (Nolasco)*
- Jarrod Parker: Tue-SEA (Iwakuma), Sun-@HOU (Norris)
- Brett Anderson: Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@HOU (Bedard)
- Jeff Samardzija: Mon-@PIT (Burnett), Sun-@ATL (Hudson)
- A.J. Burnett: Mon-CHC (Samardzija), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
- Ian Kennedy: Mon-STL (Wainwright), Sun-@MIL (Estrada)
- Jon Lester: Mon-@NYY (Sabathia), Sun-@TOR (Dickey)
- Hisashi Iwakuma: Tue-@OAK (Parker), Sun-@CWS (Sale)*
- Matt Harrison: Mon-@HOU (Norris), Sun-LAA (Hanson)
- Jason Hammel: Tue-@TB (Price), Sun-MIN (Worley)*
- Tim Hudson: Mon-PHI (Hamels), Sun-CHC (Samardzija)
- Marco Estrada: Mon-COL (De La Rosa), Sun-ARI (Kennedy)
- Bud Norris: Sun-TEX (Darvish), Sun-Oakland (Parker)
- Ricky Nolasco: Mon-@WAS (Strasburg), Sun-@NYM (Niese)*
- Vance Worley: Mon-DET (Verlander), Sun-@BAL (Hammel)
- Justin Masterson: Tue-@TOR (Dickey), Sun-@TB (Price)
- Edinson Volquez: Mon-@NYM (Niese), Sun-@COL (Chacin)
- Hyun-Jin Ryu: Tue-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-PIT (Locke)
- Jhoulys Chacin: Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sun-SD (Volquez)
My Two-Start Picks
Jon Niese: Mon-SD (Volquez), Sun-MIA (Nolasco)
2012: 13 W, 155 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Niese gets two cupcakes at home against two of baseball's lowest scoring offenses from a year ago. I'm very high on Niese going into the season and his first two matchups couldn't be any peachier. I'm definitely cheating here because Niese is owned in 100 percent of leagues, but it's my two-starter party and I'll cry Niese if I want to. I know, I know, spring schming, but Niese sparkled in preseason ball with a 1.23 ERA and a 19:11 K:BB in 22 innings. He struck out 155 in 190.1 innings last year, and I think that number can creep up into the 170-175 range, as he's shown the ability to strike out eight per nine as recently as 2011. ZiPs has Niese pegged as an 11-win pitcher with a 3.91 ERA this year, and my guess is that a big chunk of that ERA inflation is coming from a projected BABIP adjustment after he posted a career-best .272 BABIP in 2012. I'm much more optimistic myself, and I see Niese finishing with a sub-3.50 ERA. Feel free to throw Niese out there on the fantasy bump every fifth day. No need to play the matchups here.
Hisashi Iwakuma: Tue-@OAK (Parker), Sun-@CWS (Sale)
2012: 9 W, 101 K, 3.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
After Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma could very well be the Mariners next best starter. Last year, Iwakuma was used as both a starter and a reliever, but by far his best work came when he was moved out of the bullpen. He posted a 2.65 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 95 innings as a starter, compared to a 4.75 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 30.1 innings as a reliever. He gets a favorable away start in Oakland to start things off followed by another away meeting with the White Sox on Sunday. The matchup in Chicago might seem daunting because of Iwakuma's 17-percent home run rate in 2012, but don't be fooled, Iwakuma's a ground ball pitcher (52.2% GB%), and the long ball shouldn't haunt him so much in 2013. I'd go ahead and use Iwakuma in both away starts this week. He's still available in 74 percent of ESPN leagues.
Jason Hammel: Tue-@TB (Price), Sun-MIN (Worley)
2012: 8 W, 113 K, 3.43 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
I keep seeing Hammel's name pop up in bold prediction pieces all over the web. I even saw one that predicted him to be the best starter in the AL East this year. (You know, the division that includes reigning AL Cy Young award winner David Price.) Now that's bold. If you've followed my work this past week, you've probably noticed me beating the Hammel drum, too. Owned in just 5.6 percent of ESPN leagues, I've been picking up Hammel wherever I can. He matches up against (TA-DA!) Price at Tampa Bay in his first start (not great), but then gets a nice cushy start at home against the Twins to wrap up Week 1 (grrrreat!). Hammel's velocity was up last year, his ground ball rate was way up and his home run rate was way down. ZiPs is cautious in its prediction of Hammel after his 2012 season was cut short by a knee injury, giving him nine wins, a 3.73 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 133 innings. If he can stay healthy for you, you could get an extra 50 strikeouts on top of that. I wouldn't be shy in using Hammel for both starts this week.
Ricky Nolasco: Mon-@WAS (Strasburg), Sun-@NYM (Niese)
2012: 12 W, 125 K, 4.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Nolasco is available in over 92 percent of ESPN leagues and gets two away starts in Week 1. Normally, I'd be yelling AVOID, AVOID for a Marlins starter pitching away from Miami's lime green eyesore, but looking closer, Nolasco could easily end up with a win or two before the week is up. In his career, Nolasco is 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in six starts at Nationals Park, and he picked up a win in two starts there last season. It's a way small sample size, I know, but the Nationals aren't going to throw anything Nolasco's way that he hasn't seen before, and the same goes for his second away start against the Mets. Could Nolasco sneak out of Week 1 with two wins?
Alex Kantecki is a contributor at Fake Teams, Big Leagues Mag, Dobber Sports and Vigilante Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter at @rotodealer.