Finding the next big star before your opponents is necessary to win any fantasy baseball league. Starting Pitching has a large amount of turnover in the middle of the rankings so it helps to know which cheap to acquire players could hop into the mix. Here are some starting pitchers to look at.
Jeremy Hellickson - The Rays moved Garza in part to make room for Hellickson who has nothing left to prove in the minors. The young righty is amazingly polished for a pitcher his age and is a front runner for Rookie of the Year in 2011. Combining a good K rate with well above average bordering on elite command is a recipe for success. If you're looking for a rookie who could finish the year as a top 30 SP then look no further than Hellickson.
Brandon Morrow - With the innings cap lifted Morrow could be a monster this year. He has an elite strikeout rate and was able to harness his stuff enough to make his command passable. He will need to keep the BB/9 around 4 or else he could see a lot of early hooks and his ERA will surely rise. He walks a tightrope between fantasy star and bust but the reward is well worth the risk. The Blue Jays look to have a steal in Morrow.
Max Scherzer - I really wanted Scherzer in my keeper league and made offers for him when he was demoted hoping his owner would be discouraged. I didn't get him but my excitement for him was bang on. After returning from the minors he was a beast and should continue his dominance in 2011. On a revamped Tigers team he will get some extra run support and should be a solid 1A behind Verlander in the Tigers rotation.
Madison Bumgarner - Limited strikeouts make him better in real life than fantasy but there is hope for improvement there. His velocity returned some last year and as he gains experience he should be able to get that K rate into the mid 7s. A control artist, he will help in WHIP and keeps the ball on the ground so his ERA should be solid. If he can regain the punch out power he had in his minor league career he could be really dominant.
Neftali Feliz - My gut and crossed fingers tell me Feliz will stay in the bullpen and continue earning saves for me, but it looks like the Rangers will give him every chance to earn a rotation spot. With a fastball that can reach triple digits he could put up a strikeout per inning as a starter while maintaining a low walk rate. If he makes the rotation he should have a cap on his innings to reduce the risk of injury which could hurt owners come playoff time but the Rangers aren't like other teams when handling pitchers and Feliz may get 175+ IP which would make him one of the top 20 SP in fantasy.
Ricky Nolasco - Sabermetricians love him. Fantasy owners who bought him are less smitten. If you look at his career 8.02 K/9, 2.12 BB/9 and 3.81 xFIP and you would think you had one of the game's top SP but instead you get ERAs of 5.06 and 4.51 the past 2 years. You have to think a pitcher with his peripherals is going to be huge eventually but he could end up being the antithesis to Matt Cain and forever underperform his xFIP. I'm willing to take a chance that that's not the case.
Homer Bailey - The K/9 over 8 is here to stay but the BB/9 close to 3 is less certain. If he can keep it at 3.30 where he had it last year we could see an ERA under 4 which could mean a good amount of wins pitching for he Reds who had the NL's best offense last year. He can be had cheaper than the guys listed above but could perform similar.
Jordan Zimmermann - When he wasn't being lit up he was dominating opponents in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. He showed good control for someone who hadn't pitched in a year and he struck out a respectable 7.84 per game. The Nationals are being cautious with Zimmermann limiting him to around 80 pitches per game last year and they've said they will be capping his innings this year around 150. He should continue to improve as he regains a feel for pitching and is a good pick up in keeper leagues.
Bud Norris - He has the K/9 but will need to improve his control if he wants to succeed. All of the strikeouts and walks lead to high pitch counts and quick hooks so you're going to want to watch his control during spring training and the early part of the season. His fastball has been ineffective so far but it has the velocity to be a plus pitch. If he improves his fastball he could add it to his wipeout slider and become a force. Unfortunately pitching in Houston doesn't help anyone's fantasy value except opposing pitchers.
Brian Matusz - A lot was expected of Matusz in 2010 and he disappointed early but spent august and september showing us why so many owners had faith in him putting up a 2.25 ERA over his final 56 IP. He won't be a top strikeout guy but gets he enough and should have a solid WHIP and ERA. The Orioles lineup is improved so he should get more opportunities to win. If he continues to pitch the way he did at the end of the year it doesn't matter what team employs him, he will produce wins for himself.
Mike Minor - Minor should earn a spot in the rotation this spring and that will make him a great breakout candidate in 2011. He is a bit flyball happy so home runs will be a problem but that's where the flaws end. During his first professional season he made stops at AA, AAA and the majors posting 10.55 K/9 over 156 IP including 9.52 over 40.2 IP in the bigs. Usually guys who dominate like that will walk a lot of batters but not Minor. He walked only 3.17 per 9 IP and only 2.43 BB/9 while with the Braves.
James McDonald - I covered McDonald in an earlier post here and I still believe he can be an impact pitcher this year. He has shown an elite BB/K rate in the minors and has a secure spot in the rotation for the first time in his career. He may wear down as the season goes on as he adjusts to a full time starter's workload but he should put up nice numbers as the Pirates de-facto ace.
Daniel Hudson - For those not paying attention Hudson actually broke out last year. 2011 will be fantasy owners' first chance to see what he can do over a full season. He dominated minor leaguers the past 2 years and National Leaguers didn't fare much better against him. Luck was on his side but so was skill. Hudson has a combination of power and control that few young pitchers possess. He is a bit flyball happy for a guy making his home in Arizona but he has the command to limit the damage when balls are driven deep.
Derek Holland - A personal favorite of mine, Holland could grow into a hot fantasy commodity. He has good command and can miss bats. His GB% is passable and he has a strong lineup scoring runs for him. How much his control improves will be the main determination of his major league success. You can find a closer look at Holland here.
Mark Rzepczynski - While working on my injury rebounds post I realized I over looked Rzepczynski. He can strike out more than 8 per 9 innings and has a GB% above 50 with a solid walk rate. The AL East is always a challenge for young pitchers but he has big upside.