Fantasy draft tiers: Starting pitcher
Pitching depth allows for wide array of strategies
There are many different philosophies when it comes to building a fantasy pitching staff. Many experts recommend passing on arms early, as some frontline starters are usually still available well after the premier hitting talent is gone.
However, owners who believe a rotation can be pieced together on the cheap should be careful not to stand by idly when aces begin dropping off the board.
Guys like Ryan Dempster and John Danks are solid, but No. 1 starters they are not.
With a combined five Cy Young Awards between them, all three members of this tier will carry handsome price tags on draft day. That's not to say it won't be a worthwhile investment; making an immediate move for Doc, the Freak or King Felix means an owner doesn't have to think about a second starter until the double-digit rounds.
Only a shortage of Cy Young hardware separates this group from the Tier 1 studs, though few would be surprised if that changes this season. Wainwright is the only National Leaguer to have won at least 19 games in each of the last two seasons. Johnson is one of the stingiest pitchers in the game. Kershaw was lights-out in 2010 and will be just 23 years old on Opening Day. Lee is the only one of the four with a Cy Young Award.
It's aces galore in this star-studded tier. Sabathia leads the Majors with 40 victories over the last two years. Lester and Verlander are locks for at least 200 strikeouts each. Greinke should have no issues transitioning to the NL with a Brewers club that should contend for a postseason berth. Liriano proved beyond a reasonable doubt that 2010 was merely the beginning of the next chapter of his career. Hamels looked ace-like in the second half of 2010. And who could possibly forget Ubaldo's historic first half last season?
Owners who don't like to chase arms early should circle the players in this tier with a sharpie, as they represent the last legitimate batch of frontline starters. Latos and Hanson offer the most upside but are no longer flying under the radar. Price is one of the brightest young starters in the game. Weaver could be the bargain of the bunch, while Gallardo carries the highest risk factor. Haren and Oswalt are the steady veterans of the crew.
Most of the hurlers in this group are No. 2 or 3 starters on their own teams, which is a good indicator of the role they should fulfill on most standard mixed-league staffs. Scherzer and Sanchez are sure to rack up the Ks, while Buchholz could churn out 15-plus wins again. Marcum's past success in the AL East makes him appealing in the NL Central, and Hudson is a big-time breakout candidate.
Lots of interesting names here. Garza proved his mettle in the AL East and thus appears poised to enjoy success in the markedly weaker NL Central. Morrow and Dempster are two of the more underrated strikeout pitchers in the game. Danks has won at least 12 games with an ERA under four in each of the last three seasons. Tim Hudson, despite past injury issues, should continue to thrive into his mid-30s.
Tier 7: Jhoulys Chacin, Ted Lilly, Phil Hughes, Trevor Cahill, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Hellickson, Ervin Santana, Ricky Romero, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Carlos Zambrano, Carl Pavano, Jaime Garcia, Edinson Volquez, Mike Minor
Striking a balance between proven veterans and younger arms with upside is necessary when constructing a rotation. A combination of both ensures a staff is capable of performing at a high level over the entirety of the season while minimizing the negative impact of any injuries. Since owners in standard mixed leagues will be combing through this tier for a third or fourth starter, those with veteran-laden rotations should look to add a young gun like Cahill, Bumgarner, Hellickson or Minor. Conversely, owners who have already invested in some young arms would be smart to make a play for someone who's been to a few rodeos. Lilly, Santana, Pavano and Zambrano fit the bill.
Tier 8: Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vazquez, Ian Kennedy, Jordan Zimmerman, Hiroki Kuroda, James Shields, John Lackey, Brett Myers, Edwin Jackson, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Brian Matusz, Kyle Drabek, Jair Jurrjens, Johnny Cueto, Derek Holland, A.J. Burnett, Travis Wood, Jon Niese
Most owners will have assembled the core of their rotation by this point, which means it's time to take some calculated risks. From injuries to off-years to poor luck, there are many variables that can affect a hurler's output on a season-to-season basis. Identifying the root of a disappointing campaign and correctly gauging what kind of carryover effect it will have on a pitcher's future performance can lead to lightning in a bottle. Of the pitchers in this tier, Vazquez, Shields, Lackey, Beckett and Burnett all underwhelmed to varying degrees in '10, but that doesn't necessarily close the book on their days as upper echelon performers. And then there's the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: What are the realistic expectations for Peavy and Webb?
It never hurts to have a deep stable of arms to choose from, particularly in head-to-head formats where matchups change on a weekly basis. This collection of hurlers is rife with mixed-league mainstays, all of whom are capable of rounding out rotations. More often than not, owners who make savvy late-round choices are the ones who end up in contention for a championship down the line.
There is certainly mixed-league caliber talent among this group of starters, but whether most of them are draft-worthy will hinge on roster size and league depth.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.