Commentary

2010 Position Preview: Starting Pitcher

Draft-day strategy goes long way in determining values at this important position

Updated: March 30, 2010, 5:57 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Pitching wins championships.

Or does it?

Fantasy Baseball Draft  Kit

You might hear that comment bandied about on postseason telecasts, but over the years fantasy owners have come to see through it. In our game, we've come to assume that pitching is far less reliable than hitting and therefore should not be the centerpiece of your roster construction. In fact, after so many years of hefty offensive numbers, these days fantasy owners annually make a concerted effort not to pick too much pitching in the early rounds.

But is that still the correct strategy?

A statistic you should think about: During the past 10 seasons, beginning in 2000, the collective group of major league starting pitchers have posted ERAs of 4.87, 4.57, 4.41, 4.52, 4.62, 4.36 (2005, the first season in which suspensions were handed out for positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs), 4.69, 4.62, 4.44 and 4.45. That means that in the past two seasons, starting pitchers as a whole managed the third- and fourth-lowest ERAs of the decade, and if you include any season since the 1994 strike, add only 1997's 4.4513 as a lower number than 2009's 4.4517.

But that's the collective whole of starting pitchers, and fantasy owners tend to care mostly about reliability of high-priced draft targets at the position. To that end, there were 28 pitchers selected on average in the first 10 rounds of ESPN drafts in 2009 (that's the top 100 players picked overall), and 21 of them were starters. Of that group, 47.6 percent (10 of 21) finished the year among the top 100 players on the Player Rater. By comparison, 54.2 percent of all hitters selected (39 of 72) achieved the feat -- only 6.6 percent more.

Zack Greinke
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty ImagesZack Greinke emerged as the top starting pitcher on the Player Rater in 2009.

Breaking that down further, all four starting pitchers who were picked in the top 25 on average finished in the top 100 on the Player Rater, and three of them finished no further than 10 spaces from their ADP (average draft position). Of the 21 hitters in that group, 15 finished the year ranked in the top 100, and only four of those finished within 10 spots of their ADP. (Though, to be fair, four more finished within 20 spots and another three finished within 50.)

Of course, for every Jose Reyes and Josh Hamilton, the hitting busts of that group, there's a Brandon Webb, the No. 5 starter selected overall who made only one start before getting hurt. But that still demonstrates, even if only to a slight degree, that the pendulum of value has begun swinging back toward the pitching side. These days it's not quite so crazy to nab a staff ace in the early rounds.

Still, even in these days of (possible) pitching rebirth, sound strategy is key to attacking the position. It can be fairly argued that no position in fantasy baseball warrants as keen a strategy as starting pitching; it's the one around which many of the creative draft ideas have been crafted over the years. For instance:

The "LIMA Plan": Created by Ron Shandler, and signifying "Low Investment Mound Aces," this strategy advises fantasy owners to pour the bulk of their resources into the hitting positions, while targeting lesser-known pitchers with strong peripheral statistics -- especially sound command numbers -- and ERA/WHIP-helping middle relievers. The optimal LIMA team generally barely qualifies for a league's innings-pitched minimum in an attempt to maximize ERA/WHIP points. The drawback: These days it's a lot harder to sneak a cheap pitching gem by your leaguemates than it might have been when the strategy was first introduced.

Tim Lincecum
Andrew Carpenean/US PresswireTim Lincecum lived up to his lofty expectations in 2009, serving as a great anchor to a pitching staff.

The "Labadini Plan": Named for LABR participant Larry Labadini in 1996, this strategy dictates that a team should spend the bare minimum to field a pitching staff, $1 a pop per pitcher in an auction. Naturally, such a team would end up with a loaded offense and nothing but shots in the dark on the pitching side, meaning in-season trades are almost mandatory to be competitive. The drawback: I've never actually seen a team win a league with this strategy. It's for that reason that last year, in our NL-only mock draft, I attempted a "Modified Labadini," which dictated that I pick the top starting pitcher on the board, which was then (and is still now) Tim Lincecum, to serve as an anchor of my staff. My other pitchers were selected with my final eight draft picks.

That team, incidentally, also rostered Rafael Soriano, Leo Nunez and Ryan Madson, meaning in addition to a probable high finish in ERA and WHIP, it might have scored a healthy number of saves points. A few of the owners in the league agreed afterward that, in a mixed format, it might not have been that crazy an idea.

Punting saves: This one's fairly obvious, as an owner would deliberately avoid projected Opening Day closers in an attempt to win both the wins and strikeouts categories. Naturally, the drawback to this one is that relievers tend to help bolster your team ERA/WHIP, putting those categories at greater risk without them around to help, not to mention that if you fall behind in the ratios early, you might have done so while amassing so many innings that even the best relief pitcher might not be able to help bring them down to reasonable levels in-season.

Not that a fantasy owner must pick one of those strategies, but formulate a plan -- even if somewhat sketchy -- and stick to it. In an auction, for instance, a typical owner might spend 30 to 35 percent of his/her budget, or approximately $75-100, on pitching as a whole. Some of that might go to closers, some to an ace starter. Perhaps you might target one ace in the $20 range, a $15 starter, a $10 one and a few under $5, but evaluating the tiers might give you a better sense of what meets your goals. If you're especially confident that you can win with pitching, it's not outrageous to bump that budget up to $125, or spend multiple early-round picks on aces.

Keep in mind, however, that the more resources you allocate to starting pitching, the more you put your team at risk. Even with pitching on the rise the past two seasons, win totals are down, pitch counts are in vogue and there isn't a position in the game at greater risk for an unexpected disabled-list stint. It's for that very reason that the game's best hitter might be a $40 player, or a No. 1 overall pick. The game's best pitcher? He might be worth only $30, or a late-first-round selection. Even today, things aren't quite equal between the two sides.

The Elite

Starting Pitcher rankings

1. Tim Lincecum, SF, $27
2. Roy Halladay, PHI, $27
3. Felix Hernandez, SEA, $24
4. CC Sabathia, NYY, $23
5. Zack Greinke, KC, $22
6. Dan Haren, ARI, $20
7. Jon Lester, BOS, $18
8. Adam Wainwright, STL, $17
9. Cliff Lee, SEA, $17
10. Justin Verlander, DET, $17
11. Johan Santana, NYM, $16
12. Chris Carpenter, STL, $16
13. Yovani Gallardo, MIL, $15
14. Javier Vazquez, NYY, $14
15. Josh Johnson, FLA, $14
16. Josh Beckett, BOS, $14
17. Tommy Hanson, ATL, $14
18. Ricky Nolasco, FLA, $13
19. Matt Cain, SF, $13
20. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL, $12
21. Cole Hamels, PHI, $12
22. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU, $11
23. Jake Peavy, CHW, $11
24. John Lackey, BOS, $10
25. Clayton Kershaw, LAD, $10
26. Scott Baker, MIN, $10
27. Brett Anderson, OAK, $9
28. Chad Billingsley, LAD, $9
29. Matt Garza, TB, $8
30. Jair Jurrjens, ATL, $8
31. Jered Weaver, LAA, $8
32. A.J. Burnett, NYY, $8
33. Tim Hudson, ATL, $7
34. Max Scherzer, DET, $7
35. James Shields, TB, $7
36. Rich Harden, TEX, $7
37. John Danks, CHW, $7
38. David Price, TB, $6
39. Roy Oswalt, HOU, $6
40. Clay Buchholz, BOS, $6
41. Gavin Floyd, CHW, $6
42. Scott Kazmir, LAA, $5
43. J.A. Happ, PHI, $5
44. Ryan Dempster, CHC, $5
45. Jorge De La Rosa, COL, $4
46. Edwin Jackson, ARI, $4
47. Rick Porcello, DET, $4
48. Ted Lilly, CHC, $3
49. Mat Latos, SD, $3
50. Joe Blanton, PHI, $3
51. Mark Buehrle, CHW, $3
52. Jonathan Sanchez, SF, $3
53. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD, $2
54. Brandon Webb, ARI, $2
55. Brian Matusz, BAL, $2
56. Bronson Arroyo, CIN, $2
57. Aaron Harang, CIN, $1
58. Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS, $1
59. Francisco Liriano, MIN, $1
60. Kevin Slowey, MIN, $1
61. Wade Davis, TB, $1
62. Ben Sheets, OAK, $1
63. Aroldis Chapman, CIN, $1
64. Joel Pineiro, LAA, $1
65. Joba Chamberlain, NYY, $-
66. Carlos Zambrano, CHC, $-
67. Scott Feldman, TEX, $-
68. Jeff Niemann, TB, $-
69. Johnny Cueto, CIN, $-
70. Stephen Strasburg, WAS, $-
71. Bud Norris, HOU, $-
72. Brad Penny, STL, $-
73. Chris Tillman, BAL, $-
74. Andy Pettitte, NYY, $-
75. Derek Lowe, ATL, $-
Rankings based on 2010 projections in mixed 5x5 rotisserie leagues. Dollar values based on 10-team mixed league with $260 budget.

If you're planning to pay out the nose for pitching, grabbing an ace early is the way to go. An astonishing six out of the top 11 starting pitchers in ADP last season either exceeded or finished within seven ranking spots of their ADP on the Player Rater, and five of those once again fall within this group, joined by a sixth name: Defending American League Cy Young Zack Greinke, who was picked 17th on average at his position a year ago. Being a member of this group means a pitcher is one of two things: He's young, entering his prime and coming off an extraordinary season (Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Greinke) or a consistent source of elite-caliber fantasy numbers for several years (Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Dan Haren).

Each of the six can also stake his claim to a major league-leading number in at least one important statistical category in 2009: Lincecum in strikeouts per nine innings (10.42) and opponents' OPS (.561), Hernandez and Sabathia in wins (19), Hernandez in quality starts (29), Greinke in ERA (2.16), Halladay in shutouts (4) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.94) and Haren in WHIP (1.00).

If they're "Tier 1" among starting pitchers, then four other names belong squarely in "Tier 1A" -- which still qualifies as an elite classification: Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander.

At certain points last season, all four of these pitchers could stake a claim to being one of baseball's best at the position. Lee's best came on the national stage, as he was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in his five postseason starts. Lester rattled off 19 quality starts, 12 wins, 163 K's and a 2.31 ERA in his final 22 regular-season turns. Wainwright perhaps one-upped Lester with 17 quality starts, 11 wins and a 1.90 ERA in his final 18 appearances. Verlander, meanwhile, led all pitchers in strikeouts (269), not to mention tied for the big league lead in wins (19).

You'll notice two key names missing from the group: last year's No. 1 starting pitcher in terms of ADP, Johan Santana, and the National League's leader in ERA, Chris Carpenter. Interestingly enough, it's Santana who has a surgery most visible in his rearview mirror, having had elbow surgery to remove bone chips on Sept. 1. With a healthy spring, he could very well vault into this group of pitchers, but the smart approach at the onset of spring training is to slot him directly behind the game's elite. Carpenter, meanwhile, has an even spottier track record in the health department, including nine career trips to the disabled list and only five appearances total in 2007-08 due primarily to Tommy John surgery. When healthy, he can be as productive as any pitcher in the game, but it bears noting that the last time he made it through a season unscathed was 2005.

The Next Level

This is where you'll find your Santanas and Carpenters, but also other pitchers who, with the exception of a blemish or two, might have qualified as fantasy "aces." Owners who pass on the elite tier of starting pitchers might be smart to pluck two names from this group, and target sleepers later to round out the staff. So what's so wrong with them, anyway? Let's take a look:

Yovani Gallardo: A budding superstar, a possible future "elite," and might get there this season … but it's tough to ignore last year's 4.56 second-half ERA.
Javier Vazquez: Last year's No. 4 starting pitcher had a 4.91 ERA the last time he wore pinstripes, and Yankee Stadium can be a homer-friendly environment.
Josh Johnson: Last year was his full season as a true elite starter, and it included a 92 1/3-inning spike, which is a lot for a pitcher with his health track record.
Josh Beckett: Life in the hitting-rich American League is tough, not to mention he has 12 career disabled-list stints on his résumé.
Matt Cain: Even in a standout 2009, he could win only 14 games, and his 2008 beckons as the possible downside of getting so little run support.
Wandy Rodriguez: Everything in his profile hints he's trending upward, but he's also now 31. Might his 2009 have represented his peak?
John Lackey: The Boston Red Sox will support him, but it can't be ignored that he has spent each of the past two Opening Days on the disabled list.
Scott Baker: He's a fly-ball pitcher and we have no idea how the Minnesota Twins' new Target Field is going to play in its inaugural season.

Where's The Ceiling? The Breakouts

Always the most exciting picks of the starting-pitching group, these are the pitchers whose ADPs might fluctuate the most depending upon your league's drafting tendencies, as well as the pitchers' own spring performances. Grabbing a few could be as successful a strategy as placing the fate of your staff in the hands of one ace; it could also prove no more worthwhile than picking cheaper options and exploiting matchups. Let's break them down into three types:

Up-And-Coming Aces

Tommy Hanson: Last year's phenom made an almost-instant transition to the majors, and might very well be the Atlanta Braves' ace by season's end.
Clayton Kershaw: Opponents batted .200 against him last season, lowest among qualified starters … but he won only eight of his 30 starts.
Brett Anderson: He had a 3.03 ERA and 8.73 strikeouts per nine innings after July 1 last season, yet enters the season only 22 years old.
Max Scherzer: His 9.19 K's per nine last season ranked fourth among qualified starters age 25 or younger.
David Price: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft's stuff is filthy; he just needs to figure out how to command it at the big league level.

Per-Start (i.e., Elite, But Brittle) Standouts

Brandon Webb: Put aside his injury-marred 2009 for a second; he averaged 18 wins, a 3.23 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 182 K's the previous four seasons, and barely wavered from any of those numbers in any individual year.
Tim Hudson: He's only seven starts removed from Tommy John surgery, yes, but before that operation he hadn't missed an appearance since 2005.
Rich Harden: Just look at his numbers when healthy the past two seasons, a 3.05 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 10.96 strikeouts per nine innings.
Ben Sheets: Reports on his recovery from elbow surgery have been positive this winter, and he's only two years removed from a 3.09 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

Already Good, Might Get Better

Ricky Nolasco: His 5.06 full-season ERA masks the fact that he had a 3.82 ERA from June 1 on last season. He was also about as unlucky as a pitcher could be.
Ubaldo Jimenez: People don't think of him as a trusted fantasy option because he's a Rockies pitcher, but he did crack the top 20 starters on the 2009 Player Rater.
Cole Hamels: He looked like a bust only in comparison to his remarkable 2008 postseason run, but all his command numbers in 2009 were almost spot on to 2008's. With a little more luck, he might yet rebound with ace statistics.
Matt Garza: He kicked up his strikeout rate without sacrificing much in terms of ERA and WHIP last season, and might yet take another step forward in 2010.

Snapshot

Mid-round sleeper: Brett Anderson
Late-round sleeper: Jonathan Sanchez
Prospect: Brian Matusz
Top-10 player I wouldn't draft: Adam Wainwright
Player to trade at the All-Star break: Dan Haren
Player to trade for at the ASB: CC Sabathia
Home hero: Wandy Rodriguez
Road warrior: John Danks
Player I like but can't explain why: Matt Garza
Player I don't like but can't explain why: Josh Johnson

Where's The Basement?

In this group you'll find a barrage of names you know, often ones who were standouts as recently as last season. For one reason or another, however, each has a significant downside present, certainly more so than the group that occupies "Tier 1A" in "The Elite" section. Let's break them down by category:

Health Risks

Jake Peavy: He has DL stints in each of the past two seasons and scouts have historically raised questions about the strain his delivery has on his elbow.
Roy Oswalt: Back problems cut short his 2009 and could threaten to hold him short of the 30-start plateau for the first time since 2003.
Ted Lilly: November shoulder surgery makes him a 50/50 bet to be ready by Opening Day; the smart play is to assume he'll miss a month's action.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: He never seemed to recover after having to get in gear early for last year's World Baseball Classic. Will that have any long-term effects?
Kevin Slowey: He had two permanent screws implanted into his right wrist in August, and remember, he's a pitcher who relies on his location.
Erik Bedard: August shoulder surgery makes him a lock to begin the year on the DL, and some believe he might not make it back much before the All-Star break.

Hard To Repeat

J.A. Happ: His strand rate (85.2 percent) was highest among qualified starters last season. It's foolish to expect that much good luck in back-to-back seasons.
Joel Pineiro: One can only wonder how much of his bounce-back 2009 was a product of Dave Duncan's tutelage. Now in L.A., Pineiro might revert to his former self.
Edwin Jackson: He'll have to adjust to a whole new set of hitters in the National League, but the other issue is that his second-half ERA soared to 5.07.

Just Something Unsettling

Chad Billingsley: His second-half ERA was an unsightly 5.20, which has us wondering whether there was an underlying physical problem.
Carlos Zambrano: Though he's now in his prime years -- he's 28 -- all of his peripheral numbers inexplicably show a pitcher who is trending downward.
Scott Kazmir: He has averaged 4.05 walks per nine and 5.78 innings per start in his career, and has shown little sign of improving his command in recent years.

Steady As She Goes

Most winning fantasy staffs need one or two "innings eaters," though our definition of that varies from the real game. On the diamond, an innings eater might be a pitcher capable of handling 30-plus starts or 200-plus innings, even if his ERA ranges as high as 5. In fantasy, however, the true "innings eater" is one who typically spends every week in the mid-to-back spots of your active staff, and while he's not the kind who will frequently offer you three-hit shutouts, he's also not one who will blow up your staff ERA/WHIP with an untimely stinker.

Fifteen pitchers from this range in our rankings fit the criteria of a "fantasy innings eater," and Jair Jurrjens had the best ERA in 2007-09 combined of the bunch; his 3.21 ranked 11th among starters with 300-plus innings during that time span. The rest of the group had ERAs that ranged anywhere from 3.50 (Ryan Dempster) to 4.26 (Bronson Arroyo) -- in other words good, but not great.

These nine pitchers had 2007-09 combined ERAs less than 4: Jurrjens (3.21), Dempster (3.50), Hiroki Kuroda (3.74), Mark Buehrle (3.75), James Shields (3.85), Derek Lowe (3.91), Randy Wolf (3.94), A.J. Burnett (3.97) and Jered Weaver (3.99).

These six had ERAs greater than 4 during that span: John Danks (4.06), Gavin Floyd (4.14), Aaron Harang (4.20), Joe Blanton (4.22), Andy Pettitte (4.25) and Arroyo (4.26). Interestingly enough, Harang was the only one of the six who failed to finish among the top 50 starters on the 2009 Player Rater, which demonstrates how clearly these pitchers have value, even in mixed formats. Incidentally, why didn't Harang make it? His season was cut short by an emergency appendectomy, hardly the kind of operation that portends future arm problems.

Where's The Ceiling? The Sleepers

So many different types of players can be classified as sleepers -- as you'll see with the categories listed below -- but the most successful fantasy teams tend to hit it big with two or three of these as late-round selections. It's a risky venture to build an entire staff around sleepers, but given the choice, wouldn't you rather have the upside play versus the middle-of-the-road, ho-hum, final-round veteran (and by that, we mean beneath the value class of the above group)?

Power Arms: These pitchers demonstrated during their big league stints that they can rack up the strikeouts, averaging more than one per inning.

Jorge De La Rosa (9.39 K's per 9), Phil Hughes (10.05) and Jonathan Sanchez (9.75)

Good Job, Kid: These pitchers showed at times in 2009, especially late in the year, that life in the major leagues was A-OK with them.

Rick Porcello
Denny Medley/US PresswireRick Porcello showed promise as rookie but needs to improve his strikeout rate.

Clay Buchholz (3.72 ERA in his final 12 starts), Wade Davis (3.72 ERA in six big league starts), Bud Norris (1.57 in his final four), Rick Porcello (3.07 ERA in his final 13) and Brian Matusz (4.63 ERA in eight big league starts)

The Comeback Kids: These pitchers have at times throughout their careers -- either majors or minors -- flashed ace potential, yet for one reason or another struggled for large stretches of time in 2009. Might they rebound, given a more favorable set of circumstances or a clean slate in 2010?

Johnny Cueto (had a 2.17 ERA in his first 13 starts of 2009), Francisco Liriano (strong showing in Dominican Winter League), Brad Penny (the Dave Duncan factor might help), Ervin Santana (3.09 ERA after Aug. 1 last year)

There's Still Hope: Another set of future-ace hopefuls, these pitchers have yet to fully realize their immense potential at the major league level. It's not unthinkable, however, that each might take a big step forward this season.

Homer Bailey (5.45 career major league ERA, 3.61 in his minor league career), Trevor Cahill (4.63 and 2.68), Joba Chamberlain (3.61 and 2.45), Derek Holland (6.12 and 2.68), Mat Latos (4.62 and 2.49), Brandon Morrow (3.96 and 3.45) and Chris Tillman (5.40 and 3.79)

Streaming Specials

No matter your opinion of the "streaming starters" strategy -- one that dictates that you sign a bunch of starting pitchers scheduled to pitch on a given date, only to replace them with a fresh set slated to work the following day (and so on) -- it's a tried-and-true one in many daily formats. Success in those formats often requires knowledge of individual pitchers' matchups tendencies, and the lists below highlight some of the 2009 season's most attractive options.

Home Cookin': Pitchers who tend to perform at their best in home games; statistics are from 2009 unless otherwise noted.

Brad Bergesen: 7 wins, 2.68 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 11 starts
John Maine: 6 wins, 1.98 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in 7 starts
Jon Garland: Moving to Petco Park; 4.12 ERA in 4 career starts there
Ross Ohlendorf: 8 wins, 2.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 16 starts
Mike Pelfrey: 6 wins, 3.72 ERA, 1.35 WHIP in 17 starts
Chris Young: 2.93 career ERA at Petco (4.38 everywhere else)

Road Warriors: Pitchers who typically perform better on the road, primarily because their home ballparks are hitter-friendly venues. Again, statistics are from 2009 unless otherwise noted.

Scott Feldman: 12 wins, 3.56 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 18 games (17 starts)
Jason Hammel: 7 wins, 3.13 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 18 games (15 starts)
J.A. Happ: 7 wins, 1.99 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 18 games (13 starts)

Bullying The Bad: Pitchers who capitalized upon facing the seven worst American League, or eight worst National League, offenses (as judged by runs per game) in 2009. Statistics are against offenses from those groups only last season, and these pitchers might be worth a try facing particularly bad opponents.

Kevin Correia: 5 wins, 2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 14 starts
Doug Davis: 9 wins, 2.93 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in 18 starts
Zach Duke: 4 wins, 3.61 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 14 starts
Kevin Millwood: 4 wins, 3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 13 starts
Jeff Niemann: 8 wins, 3.29 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 17 starts
Carl Pavano: 11 wins, 4.24 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 19 starts

The Do-Not-Draft List

No matter how important you deem wins and strikeouts, the "counting numbers" of the primary rotisserie pitching categories, at some point the damage a pitcher can do to your team's ERA and WHIP more than offsets any advantage in the former two. Fantasy owners need try to avoid this group of pitchers at all costs, or suffer the consequences of a one-point showing in both ratio categories.

Fausto Carmona: In two years since his breakout 2007, he has ERAs of 5.44 and 6.32 and has had trouble staying healthy.
Jeremy Guthrie: His 5.04 ERA in 2009 was fifth-worst among qualified starters.
Manny Parra: His 5.17 ERA from 2007 to 2009 is ninth-worst among pitchers with 300-plus innings during that span.
Oliver Perez: Rave about his 3.56 ERA of 2007 all you want; he also has turned in ERAs of 5.85, 6.55 and 6.82 in three of the past five seasons.
Joe Saunders: His 16 wins in 2009 came with a 4.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, both of those worse than the major league average. Plus, the Los Angeles Angels are weaker offensively, which might mean diminished run support and fewer wins.
Ian Snell: Had a sub-1.40 WHIP precisely once in his first five big league seasons (1.33 in 2007); his 2008-09 combined WHIP was an unsightly 1.68.
Jeff Suppan: He finished one out short of qualifying for the ERA title in 2009, but his 1.69 WHIP would have been easily the worst of any pitcher who did.

Bottom Line

I've always found it a useful exercise to break down starting pitchers into my own set of value tiers, before determining my comfort level with the individual groupings. That might be a wise endeavor for you, too, as you might not be bowled over by the top 10 names on our list, but see multiple pitchers you like in the Nos. 11-20 range. Knowing that might help you determine a plan of attack -- you might want to grab two pitchers in the fifth-to-eighth rounds, then target approximately one sleeper every other round after the 10th to fill out your staff. Or, perhaps, you prefer to take two aces early, and worry about the rest later.

Whatever your preference, rankings might not take on any greater importance than at this particular position, so make sure you carefully rank your starters. Having that as a starting point for your strategy might make all the difference, as opposed to -- in today's ever-changing game -- regurgitating the same ol' strategy: "Spend exactly 30 percent to the penny of your auction dollars on pitching and make sure you never pick a pitcher before the fifth round."

That might have worked for you in, say, 2003. Now? No promises …

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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