2012 AL Starting Pitching Keeper Rankings: Tier Two by Mike Podhorzer October 27, 2011 Welcome back to the second tier edition of the 2012 American League starting pitcher keeper rankings. To avoid any confusion in the comments (and boy has this series caused massive bewilderment): -These are American League pitchers only. No, I did not forgot to rank Roy Halladay in the first or second tier. -The dollar values listed are what the pitcher earned in 2011, not my projected 2012 value. -Rankings are solely based on my projection for next season (this is not a ranking of what already happened in 2011), with some small extra weight given to future seasons beyond next to factor in the keeper aspect. -Rankings are unscientific with no math behind them. Once I project every player and calculate resulting dollar values, these rankings will change, and some players may rise or fall significantly. Now that we are on the same boat, here is a look back at tier one, which includes: Justin Verlander CC Sabathia Felix Hernandez Jon Lester Tier Two Jered Weaver– $29 A career year for the good J. Weaver, he has now seen his ERA decline for three straight years by an average of 0.64 per season. That is pretty darn impressive. Unfortunately, the surface ERA is really where all the fun ends. After an exciting strikeout rate spike last season, his K/9 fell back to where it sat in 2006 and 2008-2009. His SwStk% did exactly the same thing, making his 2010 season look like the outlier, unlikely to be enjoyed again. While he has outperformed his SIERA in five of his six seasons, he has never outperformed it by the degree he did this year. Given his extreme FB%, it is clear he has the ability to post well below average BABIPs, but a .250 mark is simply not sustainable. In addition, his HR/FB was at a career low of just 6.3%, which will rise next season. That said, he does possess excellent control and posts a pretty good strikeout rate, so he does deserve to be considered one of the best pitchers in the AL. However, looking at that $29 value he earned, there is little doubt he will be overvalued in nearly all fantasy leagues next year. Dan Haren– $23 In his first full season back in the AL, Haren was fantastic again and alleviated the concerns of those who merely looked at his 3.91 ERA last year and drafted him accordingly. Predictably though, his strikeout rate dropped right back to where it was before it spiked upon his move to the NL, which is one of the primary reasons he is a notch below Weaver. His pinpoint control has been just amazing and his F-Strike% has never been lower than 63.8% over the past four seasons. He is one of the safest pitching investments out there. Josh Beckett– $19 I have always been a big Beckett fan and drafted him many times over the years. Naturally, this was one year I did not. Beckett’s ERA has really been on a roller coaster ride as injury issues and bad luck have truly conspired against him. This year, though, he finally benefited from some good fortune, while displaying skills as good as ever. Most exciting is that although his K% was right in line with what he has done historically, his SwStk% was at its highest mark since 2005, back when he was still with the Marlins. That, along with a ridiculously BABIP that is going to jump and give him more strikeout opportunities, suggest his K/9 could get back above 8.5 in 2012. Health will always be a question mark, but with his skill profile and a murderer’s row of an offense supporting him, he needs to be in this tier. David Price– $16 I was on the “David Price was lucky in 2010 and will be overvalued in 2011″ bandwagon this preseason, and I ended up being somewhat right. Last year, Price did benefit from excellent luck, but instead of sitting back and watching his ERA jump, Price actually improved his skills this season. This time though, the pendulum swung the other way and his SIERA was actually lower than his ERA. Interestingly, although his K% did increase, his SwStk% declined, amazingly to just below the league average. Does anyone believe that a pitcher with Price’s stuff induced swinging strikes at a below average rate? It’s quite a surprise. The drop in walk rate also appears a little flukey. I think next season his strikeout and walk rate will settle in between his 2010 levels, and given neutral luck, will cause his ERA to actually remain relatively stable. James Shields– $27 Shields should be Exhibit #1 when explaining the utility of looking beyond ERA when evaluating pitchers. Amazingly, despite posting an ERA a whopping 2.36 runs below his 2010 mark, his skills were actually quite similar, as his SIERA marks only differed by 0.28 runs. While last year his K/9 was certainly inflated because of his .341 BABIP, this year his strikeout rate was completely legitimate. In fact, if anything it was understated as Shields actually benefited from a low BABIP for a change. Knowing quite well that the fastball is his worst pitch, Shields changed his pitch mix this year, throwing his curve ball significantly more and his nasty change-up slightly more. These changes led to a career best SwStk%. The only red flag is a BB/9 and BB% trending in the wrong direction. Always possessing excellent control, and with this year being no different, his B/9 and BB% have now increased for four straight years. This is quite surprising though since his F-Strike% has remained stable in the last three seasons. For 2012, I think he will reverse the rising walk rate trend, while his K/9 remains above 8.0, and may even tick slightly higher than his 2011 mark.