Who’s ready for some tiers? National league pitchers have been hit particularly hard in the lead-up to the season, creating some interesting situations within the tiers. Where should you value Mike Minor now? What about Cole Hamels? A couple notes about tiers before we begin. You’ll notice this is the NL post, so you won’t see Justin Verlander ranked. Despite this, someone in the comments will say “where’s Justin Verlander, you idiot?” Don’t do this, don’t even do it ironically. The tiers should be viewed as tiers, not straight rankings. If I have Minor and Hamels in the same tier, but Minor is ranked higher in his tier, that doesn’t matter. Being in a tier means I perceive those players to have similar value. Finally, I’m going to rank players according to my favorite Game of Thrones characters (topical!). There will be no spoilers, I promise. On a final note, don’t even try to argue with the rankings of Game of Thrones characters. You will be wrong! Off we go.
Can’t go wrong with anyone here. Lee’s first start was somewhat worrisome, mostly due to the fact that he’s 35, but it’s one start. Let’s stay calm for now. Kershaw’s injury isn’t enough of an issue yet to drop him a tier.
We’re already starting to run into some issues here. Injuries thinned out this tier, as both Hamels and Minor may have started the year here if both were healthy. Cain might look like a question mark this high given his down 2013, but I feel like he has enough of a track record to suggest he’ll get back to his lower-than-normal home run rates. Latos is expected back this week, so no major concerns there.
The injured guys start to show up here. Zimermann won’t give you strikeouts like most players in this tier, but he’s pretty likely to give you 190+ innings with a solid ERA. Both Wacha and Cole could rise dramatically, but they settle in nicely here for now. Miller seems to be an afterthought following his disappearing act in the playoffs. Despite that, he has a better track record than both Wacha or Cole. Don’t underestimate him, basically.
Every single player in this tier is a threat to move up in May. Liriano, Ryu, Cashner, Cueto and Samardzija all looked great in their first starts of the year — first two for Ryu, but you get the point. With Cashner, I had some concerns about a low strikeout rate last year. If that jumps, the sky is the limit. With Liriano, it’s a question of consistency. I’m willing to buy his performance a little more since it looks like pitching coach Ray Searage has figured him out. Ryu is not only throwing a new curveball, but his velocity was up during Sunday’s start. That could point to a breakout. Cueto has injury concerns, but should be above-average when healthy. Samardzija entered the year as a strong bounce-back candidate, and looked the part Monday. Cingrani will pile up strikeouts, but we’ll see if his fastball reliance comes back on him this time around. Lynn doesn’t seem exciting, yet he continues to post solid numbers. Wood shot up dramatically during spring, mainly because his job is guaranteed all year. People worry about his health due to unusual mechanics, but he could breakout if healthy.
Jon Snow & Ghost
We’ve approached the tier where things start to get questionable. Based on what he did last year, Burnett’s ranking is far too low. While analysts were not happy he went to Philadelphia, there’s still a chance he retains the gains he showed in Pittsburgh. Fister is typically less of a question mark than most of these players, but various injuries have pushed back his debut. Estrada is a nice sleeper candidate, but the home run issues are still going to be present. Gallardo looked good in his first start of the year, but last season still scares me. Lincecum continues to be well liked by FIP despite a clear decline in skills. I’m scared, but would love to see a return to above-average numbers. I’m not big on either Wood or Leake. They lack upside, but are somehow more dependable than any other option here. Ditto for Lohse.
Jorge de la Rosa
There’s still some upside here, but not much. Kennedy could benefit from his new home park, but I would rather give it a few starts before I buy in. Feldman is solid, but offers little strikeout potential and plays for a terrible team. Eovaldi has a blazing fastball, and not much else yet. Chacin was great last season, but injuries have already pushed his debut. Hudson is more dependable than this, and could move up in May. Haren frightens me, but is pitching in a better park this season. Peralta is a candidate to take a step forward.
You’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Chatwood, Alvarez, Mejia and Delgado stand out as possible sleepers. The other guys need to show something in order to move up tiers.
*Please let me know if I missed anyone. I will add them as soon as possible.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.