2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier Five by Mike Podhorzer November 17, 2011 We are getting near the end of the AL pitcher keeper rankings and this may or may not be the last tier. These are basically the last couple of guys I would truly be satisfied keeping on my team. Everyone else is just blah and no one really stands out from the crowd. To recap… Tier 1: Justin Verlander CC Sabathia Felix Hernandez Jon Lester Tier 2: Jered Weaver Dan Haren Josh Beckett David Price James Shields Tier 3: Michael Pineda Max Scherzer C.J. Wilson Brandon Morrow Tier 4: Matt Moore Ricky Romero Ubaldo Jimenez Gio Gonzalez Derek Holland And off we go… Tier 5: Jeremy Hellickson On the surface, Hellickson had a fantastic rookie season, posting a 2.95 ERA over 189 innings. The performance even resulted in Rookie of the Year honors. However, as has been discussed quite a bit over the past month, there are a lot of questions about Hell Boy next season. You are all well aware by now about the huge discrepancy between his xFIP/SIERA marks and his ERA. That would normally be a major for me, which is why many pitchers with strong ERAs this year won’t sniff these rankings. However, I am quite confident his skills will improve enough to the point that his ERA and ERA estimator metrics will converge. No, the strikeout rate is not going to jump near a batter per inning or above, where it sat during his minor league career. The change-up problem is very real and not going to go away overnight. However, his called strike percentage should still rise a bit next year and all he needs to do is keep his SwStk% stable to enjoy a K/9 surge. At the very least, I think his strikeout rate gets above 7.0, which will not only increase his fantasy value given his contributions in that category, but will push his xFIP/SIERA marks down to meet his ERA. I expect him to finish the year somewhere around a 3.75 ERA, which will allow him to maintain decent fantasy value, but this time backed up by his peripherals. Justin Masterson I was a big Masterson fan back in 2010, but the talk of him being unable to succeed versus lefties apparently subconsciously influenced my opinion. So naturally after I lose my optimism, he goes out and performs in 2011 like I expected in 2010. This time, he was much improved versus lefties, as he cut his walk rate in half, while maintaining the rest of his skill set against them. He also enjoyed better luck on balls in play and in stranding runners, and even managed to post a below average HR/FB ratio. His SwStk% and strikeout rate did decline, which is a concern, especially since he threw his fastball about 84% of the time. Whether his slider usage rebounds next year is anyone’s guess, but it does offer the potential for strikeout rate upside. In addition, since he remains a two-pitch pitcher, any talk of him developing a change-up could be huge news. Though this would likely knock his stellar ground ball rate down a notch, it would certainly increase his punch outs and lead to even greater fantasy value.