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Fantasy Baseball Rankings 2011: Review of Preseason Starting Pitcher Rankings

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Here is the seventh, and final, review of my review of preseason rankings, and today I review Part 1 of my preseason Starting Pitcher Rankings. I posted the preseason rankings after Adam Wainwright was lost for the season due to Tommy John Surgery, but never replaced him in my Top 12 starting pitchers for 2011, so I will include Dan Haren, my preseason #13 starting pitcher, at #12 for this review article.

Onto my review:

1. Felix Hernandez. SEA-King Felix followed his Cy Young season last year by going 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and 3.15 xFIP, with a 1.22 WHIP-his highest since 2008. He struck out 222 and walked 67 in 233.2 innings, and his K/9 and BB/9 pretty much went unchanged from 2010. He gave up more HRs this season than he has since 2007, and his batting average of balls in play-.307- was his highest since 2008. He is still a Top 5-7 starting pitcher for me, but may drop a few spots in 2012.

2. Roy Halladay, PHI-Halladay may or may not win the NL Cy Young award this season, but even if he doesn't, he will still be considered the best starting pitcher in baseball. Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, 2.20 FIP and 2.71 xFIP, with a 1.04 WHIP, while striking out 220 and walking just 35 in his 233.2 innings this season. He had an extremely low 5.1% HR/FB rate, which was more than half of his 2010 HR/FB rate of 11.3%. He will be my #1 starting pitcher in 2012.

3. Tim Lincecum, SFG-Lincecum helped me win the NL-only UBA league this year after a mid-season trade, but he was not as dominant this season as he was in years past. He went 13-14 with a 2.74 ERA, 3.17 FIP and 3.36 xFIP, with a 1.21 WHIP, while striking out 220 and walking 86 in 217 innings of work. What concerns me with Lincecum, is his drop in K/9 and increase in BB/9 over the last few seasons. Take a look:

2008- 10.51 K/9/ 3.33 BB/9

2009- 10.42 K/9/ 2.72 BB/9

2010- 9.79 K/9/ 3.22 BB/9

2011- 9.12 K/9/ 3.57 BB/9

His 86 walks were the highest of his career, but there is nothing wrong with a starter who strikes out 9 batters per 9 and keeps the ball on the ground at a 48% rate. 

Check out the rest of the review of my preseason starting pitcher rankings after the jump:

4. Cliff Lee, PHI-Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 2.60 FIP and 2.68 xFIP, with a 1.03 WHIP and a 238-42 K/BB rate this season. Lee's K/9 rate increased from 7.84 in 2010 to 9.21 in 2011, and he lead the majors with 6 shutouts this season. Lee is a candidate for the Cy Young award every year, and is a Top 5 starting pitcher for 2012.

5. Jon Lester, BOS-the beer drinking, fried chicken non-story  aside, Lester had a solid season in 2011, as he went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.62 xFIP, with a 1.26 WHIP. Lester struck out 182 and walked 75 batters in his 191.2 innings pitched, but his K/9 has dropped from 9.96/9 in 2009 to 8.55 in 2011. His strand rate of 78.1% this year was a bit high, but some pitchers can maintain a high strand rate and Lester is one of them, as he strand rates the last 4 years are as follows:

2008- 77.4%

2009- 76.9%

2010- 74.5%

2011- 78.1%

6. Clayton Kershaw, LAD-Kershaw is my choice for the NL Cy Young award this season, and I wrote about my reasons here. Kershaw finished the season with a 21-5 record, with a 2.28 ERA, 2.47 FIP and a 2.84 xFIP, a 0.98 WHIP and a 248-54 K/BB rate in 233.1 innings. Coming into the season, many were concerned with Kershaw's control, including me, but he improved so much that he has cut his BB/9 rate from 4.79 in 2009, to 3.57 in 2010 to just 2.08 this season. For me, Kershaw is a Top 2-3 starter in 2012.

7. Josh Johnson, FLA-many were worried about Johnson getting shut down last September after he went 11-6 with an excellent 2.30 ERA last year. Their worries were on the mark as Johnson made just 9 starts, going 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA, 2.64 FIP and 3.32 xFIP this season. He struggled in his rehab of his injured shoulder this season and was shut down in September. I would not be particularly anxious to draft any pitcher coming off a shoulder injury in 2012. He has dealt with shoulder issues two years in a row, and I have to think shoulder surgery is in his future.

8. Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE-Jimenez struggled early in 2011, mainly due to a loss in velocity, had a terrific June where he had a 2.45 ERA after posting a 6.75 ERA in April and a 5.45 ERA in May, but then fell apart after his trade to the Indians. He ended the season with a 10-13 record, 4.68 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 3.71 xFIP, with a WHIP of 1.40. His stats were down across the board, but his K/9 and BB/9 were virtually unchanged, as his K rate dropped by 0.09 and his walk rate dropped by 0.01. He was unlucky as his strand rate fell from 76.5% to 65.0% this year, so we could see a slight rebound from Ubaldo in 2012.

9. Jered Weaver, LAA-Weaver was absolutely dominant in the first half of 2011, going 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA, A 0.912 WHIP and a 120-31 K/BB rate in 140.1 innings. He ended the season with a 18- 8 record, a 2.41 ERA, 3.20 FIP and 3.80 xFIP, with a 1.01 WHIP. The wide variance in his ERA-FIP is due to an extremely high strand rate of 82.6% and a BABIP of just .250, so his ERA could regress by close to a full run in 2012. He is still a solid starting pitcher, but his K rate sits in the mid-7 range, so I would be leary of drafting Weaver too high next year.

10. Justin Verlander, DET-Verlander is my choice for AL Cy Young this year, as he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 2.99 FIP and a 3.12 xFIP, with a 0.92 WHIP, and a K/BB rate of 250-57 in 251 innings of work. He was the best starter in the AL this season, but there are some warning signs for 2012. Verlander posted an extremely high strand rate around 80% and his BABIP was very low at .236, so expect some regression in 2012.  

11. CC Sabathia, NYY- Looking back, I should have ranked CC higher than I did, as Sabathia went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA, 2.88 FIP and 3.02 xFIP, and a 1.23 WHIP. He increased his K/9 from 7.46 in 2010 to 8.72 this season, mainly due to a swinging strike rate of 11.2% and inducing more outside the zone swings and less contact. It will be interesting to see what type of offer he will command once he opts out of his contract after the World Series.

12. Dan Haren, LAA-Haren doesn't get the press but he was the 6th best pitcher in baseball according to fWAR this season, as he went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA, 2.98 FIP and 3.29 xFIP and a WHIP of 1.02. Of concern to me is the drop in his K rate from 8.27 to 7.25 this season, but he is limiting the home run ball, as he HR/FB% has dropped in each of the last two seasons. Here are his HR/FB rates over the last 3 years:

2009- 11.7%

2010- 10.8%

2011- 7.5%