The Fantasy Landscape: Starting Pitchers

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Alex Kantecki kicks off starting pitcher week with an overview of the position, including his thoughts on AL-/NL-only leagues and draft strategy.

You know the drill. Today we kick off starting pitcher week at Fake Teams, where the staff brings you positional rankings, player profiles and much, much more. In addition to all of the great content you are about to see throughout the week, we are again very excited to bring you Daniel Schwartz's projections and auction values from Rotobanter.com, as well as Daniel Kelley's Equivalent Fantasy Average. Here is the schedule for the upcoming week (subject to change):

Time Slot/Day

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

7am

State of the Position (Alex)

Prospect Profile: Marcus Stroman(Brian C.)

Top 75 Starting Pitcher Rankings, Part 2 (Ray)

Starting Pitchers to Target (Staff)

Top 75 Starting Pitcher Rankings, Part 3 (Ray)

10am

Top 75 Starting Pitcher Rankings, Part 1 (Ray)

Prospect Profile: Kyle Zimmer (Jason)

Prospect Profile: Jonathan Gray (Tom)

Starting Pitchers to Avoid (Staff)

12pm

Starting Pitcher Profile: Jose Fernandez

Starting Pitcher Profile: Shelby Miller (Jasper)

Prospect Profile: Hunter Harvey (Jason)

Starting Pitcher Profile: Doug Fister (Alex)

AL-only sleepers (Ray)

2pm

Starting Pitcher Profile: Ubaldo Jimenez (Daniel)

2014 Starting Pitcher Draft Strategy (Zack)

Prospect Profile: Tony Cingrani (Joe)

NL-only Sleepers (Jasper)

4pm

Starting Pitcher Profile: CJ Wilson (Jasper)

Starting Pitcher Profile: Corey Kluber (Zack)

SP ADP Trends (Ray)

Starting Pitcher Profile: Justin Verlander (Daniel)

Prospect Profile: Matt Barnes (Brian C.)


The Lay of the Land

2013 was all about Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers left-hander posted a sub-2.00 ERA for the first time ever (1.83 ERA) on top of a 0.92 WHIP, winning 16 games and striking out an NL league-leading 232 batters. In the American League, Max Scherzer was the Junior Circuit's best pitcher, winning 21 games with a 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP to go along with 240 strikeouts.

Yu Darvish led all pitchers with 11.98 strikeouts-per-nine and 277 Ks, and could challenge 300 punch outs in 2014. Adam Wainwright was a horse for the Cardinals, nearing 300 total innings (including the postseason), going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 241-plus innings. The best value of 2013 was rookie Jose Fernandez, who recorded a pristine 2.19 ERA and struck out 187 batters in his first major-league season. Fellow rookie Matt Harvey was on his way to a possible Cy Young, posting a 2.27 ERA and striking out 191 before his season ended prematurely with Tommy John surgery. He'll likely miss all of 2014.

The National League's Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner rounded out the top-10 pitchers, while the AL's Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and Anibal Sanchez finished 11-13, respectively. There were many surprises in the top 20, including Hisashi Iwakuma, Bartolo Colon and Clay Buchholz, and rounding out the top 25 were Homer Bailey, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Julio Teheran, James Shields and Francisco Liriano.

The Great Divide (AL/NL)

The Official Fake Teams Starting Pitcher Rankings will be coming out shortly (in three posts of 25, with the top 25 being released in three hours), and the NL claims 15 of the top 25 while the top 10 is evenly split, five-to-five. Kershaw was the unanimous No. 1 starting pitcher among the Fake Teams' writers, followed by Darvish, who received all but two second-place votes. Both are first-round considerations in "-only" leagues.

After Kershaw, the next tier of starting pitchers in the NL includes Wainwright, Lee, Stephen Strasburg, Fernandez and Bumgarner. Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann and Mat Latos are not far behind, but spring injuries threaten the draft-day values of Greinke and Latos. The NL offers plenty of starters worthy to anchor your fantasy staff, and breakout candidates include Bailey (I think he can be even better), Mike Minor and Doug Fister.

After Darvish, the next tier of starters in the AL includes Hernandez, Scherzer, Sale, David Price and Justin Verlander. Some might include Sanchez and/or James Shields at the tail end, but, on paper, it appears that the AL trails the NL in terms of impact starters (although only slightly). Breakout candidates from the AL include Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Draft Strategy

Zack Smith will bring you an in-depth look at starting pitcher draft strategy, much like he did last week with outfielders. Similar to the outfield, starting pitching is deep. But, unlike outfielders, I believe there are more near-elite pitchers to be had at the position. I've seen Kershaw go as high as fifth overall in expert leagues, but I think you're hurting yourself on offense if you choose to go that route. I'd only suggest taking Kershaw if you're at the turn or one or two picks away from the spot.

In mock drafts I've participated in, I've been happy to wait on starting pitching until the fifth, sixth or seventh round, and ended up with staffs anchored by Hamels, Latos, Bailey or Shields. I prefer to load up on hitting early, and I think this year's starting pitching class allows for that strategy to be executed quite effectively.

If you are in a 12-team league, I'd be happy with any one of the top-12 starters, according to NFBC: Kershaw, Darvish, Scherzer, Fernandez, Strasburg, Wainwright, Hernandez, Lee, Bumgarner, Verlander, Sale and Price.

The New Kids on the Block

Last year, Miami's Fernandez went from draft-day unknown to fantasy ace, posting a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP to go along with 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings of work. The Marlin enters the season as a top-five starter, according to NFBC. Atlanta's Teheran announced his arrival with the Braves, winning 14 games with a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 170:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 185-plus innings. Hyun-jin Ryu and Corbin also made loud debuts, finishing the season as top-25 starters.

Another trio of young arms factored into many fantasy championships in 2013: Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha and Sonny Gray. Cole, who won 10 games for the Pirates, is the best second-year starter of the bunch, but Wacha and Gray aren't far behind. All three starters played an important role in bringing their teams to the postseason. Cole and Wacha aren't going to come at a discount, however, as both are going inside the top-20 starting pitchers, according to NFBC; Gray is just outside the top 35 and offers the greatest bang for your buck.

Tony Cingrani and Danny Salazar are two of the more exciting young arms in baseball. Cingrani, 24, recorded 10.32 strikeouts-per-nine innings while Salazar, also 24, struck out 11.25 (in roughly half the innings).

Among starting pitching prospects, The Fake Teams Prospect Staff -- Jason Hunt, Brian Creagh, Matt Mattingly and Tom Sheils -- will profile Marcus Stroman, Kyle Zimmer, Hunter Harvey, Jonathan Gray and Matt Barnes.

What's Next?

In three short hours, Part 1 of The Fake Teams Consensus Starting Pitcher Rankings will be released, along with projections and auction values from Rotobanter for every player ranked. Over the next five days, we'll bring you 14 player profiles, including six prospect profiles. The staff will also highlight multiple starting pitchers to target and avoid, a comprehensive draft strategy and AL- and NL-only sleepers. Ray and the gang have worked long and hard to bring you the best pre-season coverage available, so we appreciate all of the feedback, whether it's good, bad or in-between. If there is anything you'd like to see in addition to the content being provided, please let us know about it in the comments below.

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