2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier One

As you have no doubt noticed, being the regular reader of RotoGraphs that you are, we have been rolling out position by position keeper rankings all week, beginning with the top tier. The biggest question I had was how exactly I was going to handle these rankings. Given the numerous format and rule differences from league to league, I thought it would be unwise to make any reference to draft cost. We simply cannot assume a player’s cost from 2011 drafts, yet cost is one of the main factors you must consider when making keeper decisions. So, cost will be ignored in my tiers, and the job is up to you to compare projected value with the keeper cost.

My methodology for these rankings is pretty simple. As usual, I put little weight on ERA and wins this year, preferring instead to look at SIERA across multiple seasons, among various other metrics and factors. In fact, the only reason I decided to glance at the end of season player values was to include this number for informational purposes and context. Given that these are keeper rankings, I will differentiate them from our pre-season rankings by giving younger pitchers a slight bump in value, while older pitchers will experience a slight reduction.

One final note: these rankings are preliminary and quite unscientific. When I eventually get around to developing my own 2012 projections and calculating each player’s dollar value, my pre-season rankings may look different and for some players, dramatically so. Now finally, please enjoy your tier one 2012 AL starting pitcher keeper rankings.

Justin Verlander– $40

I caved. For those who followed my in-season rankings this year, you may remember how stubborn I was about moving Verlander from the second tier to the first. Eventually I did and the momentum has continued. While I am not sure he is the best pitcher in the AL, I think he may be the best fantasy pitcher. He has led the AL in SIERA from 2009-2011, ranked second, just 0.01 behind Felix Hernandez, from 2010-2011 and then led in 2011. However, that SIERA mark is being deflated a bit by the 2.0 BB/9 he posted this year which I don’t think is sustainable. That said, he has recorded at least 219 strikeouts each of the last three seasons, has become a major workhorse and pitches in front of a good offense sure to give him run support. Unfortunately, I truly believe he will be overvalued in next year’s drafts, even if he does deserve to be the highest paid AL starting pitcher, but you could still take a loss if you pay too much, so don’t go overboard.

CC Sabathia– $21

I really considered making Sabathia number one, but his strikeout disadvantage was what convinced me to rank him below Verlander. Sabathia has displayed an excellent set of skills during his career, inducing grounders at an above average clip, punching out batters and always showing very good control. With the high-powered Yankees offense behind him, wins have never been a problem and that has helped him to consistently be a four-category contributor. According to SIERA and xFIP, Sabathia actually had his best season in 2011. He appears to be as safe as it gets for a starting pitcher investment.

Felix Hernandez– $15

This is the man I think may be a better pitcher than Verlander, as he does the whole gobs of strikeouts and limited number of walks thing, but combines that with ground ball rates annually above 50%. Of course, we all know what kills his fantasy value- the putrid Mariners offense. That doesn’t look like it is going to change anytime soon, so his fantasy value is going to be held down a bit because of it. The strange thing about Felix though is that most would agree that the quality of his stuff is top notch. Yet, his SwStk% in 2011 was just 8.8%, barely above the 8.6% league average. He has typically posted higher rates during previous seasons, but still not at the levels you might expect given his repertoire. At age 25, maybe he still has not fully learned how to pitch and additional upside could actually be hiding? That would be quite fun to watch.

Jon Lester– $12

Yes, he was a bit of a disappointment this season, but even in a slightly down year he managed to post a 3.47 ERA/3.59 SIERA along with 182 strikeouts. His overall fantasy value was also down as he missed about three weeks in July due to a strained lat muscle. He has displayed skills somewhat similar to Felix and Sabathia, but trading control for some additional strikeouts, while they all have been inducing grounders at a 50%+ rate. Playing for the Red Sox will ensure he continues to receive strong run support, so you may have fewer days cursing your pitcher’s offense for once again failing to score any runs.

**Although these pitchers are also ranked within this tier, they are extremely close. I would bet that my projected dollar values will have them within just a couple of bucks of each other. Therefore, try to avoid debating the exact rankings within the tier, as I would have no problem with someone thinking the order should be rearranged in some other way.

We hoped you liked reading 2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier One by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Mike: How would you rank these guys for 2012 only?