Pitching Preview for Week 1

by | Data Analyst
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The last time Fantasy owners had to set rotations, James Shields was a Ray, Josh Johnson was a Marlin and R.A. Dickey was a Met (and had yet to win a Cy Young Award). Many of the pitchers you trusted a year ago will likely be fixtures on your active roster again this season, but not only have some pitchers changed teams, but others have changed roles, and others still have emerged from the minors.

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This preview of the upcoming starting pitching options is aimed at helping you to sort through this new landscape of alternatives in weekly leagues, particularly in standard mixed leagues. Each week, I will rank the top 70 starters, so if you have a dilemma over which of two or three pitchers to use in the coming weeks, you can refer to this list to see which is ranked highest.

I will also be reviewing several of the two-start pitchers in more detail. Not every two-start option will be analyzed in greater depth, as those typically ranked in the upper echelons of the top 70 are must-starts that you need to keep active week after week. Also, low-end pitchers who are largely unowned in mixed leagues -- and should remain that way for the time being -- will not be covered here. Ricky Nolasco and Jhoulys Chacin, for example, have been omitted from this week's analyses, even though both are scheduled to make a pair of starts.

Each pitcher covered will also get one of the following ratings: solid standard mixed league start, marginal standard mixed league start, deeper mixed league start or AL-only/NL-only start. Those who receive the "marginal standard mixed league start" tag could be worth using in the coming week, but owners should check their available alternatives before getting them active. As teams trot out the top of their rotations for the beginning of opening week, most of this week's two-start pitchers are strong Fantasy options, so there is a larger proportion of "solid standard mixed league starts" than there will normally be. The lower portion of the top 70 is dominated by one-start pitchers, as are the ranks of pitchers who just missed the cut, so this is probably not going to be the week to scour the waiver wire for two-start options.

My Top 70 Starting Pitchers for Week 1
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2
1 Clayton Kershaw SF (Cain) PIT (Burnett)
2 Justin Verlander @MIN (Worley) NYY (Sabathia)
3 David Price BAL (Hammel) CLE (Masterson)
4 Stephen Strasburg MIA (Nolasco) @CIN (Cueto)
5 Felix Hernandez @OAK (Anderson) @CHW (Axelrod)
6 Cole Hamels @ATL (Hudson) KC (Shields)
7 Adam Wainwright @ARI (Kennedy) @SF (Cain)
8 CC Sabathia BOS (Jon Lester) @DET (Verlander)
9 Chris Sale KC (Shields) SEA (Iwakuma)
10 Yu Darvish @HOU (Harrell) LAA (Weaver)
11 Johnny Cueto LAA (Weaver) WAS (Strasburg)
12 Matt Cain @LAD (Kershaw) STL (Wainwright)
13 R.A. Dickey CLE (Masterson) BOS (Lester)
14 Jered Weaver @CIN (Cueto) @TEX (Darvish)
15 Gio Gonzalez MIA (Eovaldi) N/A
16 Cliff Lee @ATL (Medlen) N/A
17 Madison Bumgarner @LAD (Ryu) N/A
18 James Shields @CHW (Sale) @PHI (Hamels)
19 Yovani Gallardo COL (Chacin) ARI (Kennedy)
20 Ian Kennedy STL (Wainwright) @MIL (Gallardo)
21 Brett Anderson SEA (Hernandez) @HOU (Bedard)
22 Jeff Samardzija @PIT (Burnett) @ATL (Hudson)
23 Jake Peavy KC (Santana) N/A
24 Max Scherzer NYY (Phelps) N/A
25 Mat Latos LAA (Wilson) N/A
26 Jonathon Niese SD (Volquez) MIA (Slowey)
27 Zack Greinke PIT (Sanchez) N/A
28 Josh Johnson BOS (Doubront) N/A
29 Kris Medlen PHI (Lee) N/A
30 Matt Moore BAL (Gonzalez) N/A
31 Brandon Morrow CLE (Jimenez) N/A
32 A.J. Burnett CHC (Samardzija) @LAD (Kershaw)
33 Jason Hammel @TB (Price) MIN (Worley)
34 Jordan Zimmermann MIA (LeBlanc) N/A
35 Roy Halladay @ATL (Maholm) N/A
36 C.J. Wilson @CIN (Latos) N/A
37 Hisashi Iwakuma @OAK (Parker) @CHW (Sale)
38 Tim Hudson PHI (Hamels) CHC (Samardzija)
39 Jon Lester @NYY (Sabathia) @TOR (Dickey)
40 Doug Fister NYY (Nova) N/A
41 Hiroki Kuroda BOS (Buchholz) N/A
42 Andy Pettitte BOS (Dempster) N/A
43 Anibal Sanchez @MIN (Pelfrey) N/A
44 Jarrod Parker SEA (Iwakuma) @HOU (Norris)
45 Matt Harrison @HOU (Norris) LAA (Hanson)
46 Alexi Ogando @HOU (Humber) N/A
47 A.J. Griffin SEA (Maurer) N/A
48 Jaime Garcia @ARI (Cahill) N/A
49 Clay Buchholz @NYY (Kuroda) N/A
50 Dan Haren @CIN (Bailey) N/A
51 Lance Lynn @ARI (McCarthy) N/A
52 Marco Estrada COL (De La Rosa) N/A
53 Dan Straily @HOU (Peacock) N/A
54 Matt Harvey SD (Richard) N/A
55 Vance Worley DET (Verlander) @BAL (Hammel)
56 Mike Minor CHC (Feldman) N/A
57 Homer Bailey WAS (Haren) N/A
58 Alex Cobb CLE (McAllister) N/A
59 Shelby Miller @SF (Vogelsong) N/A
60 Brandon McCarthy STL (Lynn) N/A
61 Wade Miley @MIL (Lohse) N/A
62 Josh Beckett SF (Lincecum) N/A
63 Derek Holland LAA (Vargas) N/A
64 Trevor Cahill STL (Garcia) N/A
65 Ryan Vogelsong STL (Miller) N/A
66 Tommy Milone SEA (Saunders) N/A
67 Tim Lincecum @LAD (Beckett) N/A
68 Jeremy Hellickson BAL (Chen) N/A
69 Paul Maholm PHI (Halladay) N/A
70 Ryan Dempster @NYY (Pettitte) N/A

Two-Start Options to Consider

Jon Lester, Red Sox (@NYY, @TOR): Lester has had a great spring, but last season, he was a liability in most mixed leagues. With just one of these matchups, I could see sitting Lester in Week 1 if I had strong alternatives, as we need to see if he is really back from his subpar year. Still, he wasn't quite as bad as his 4.82 ERA made it appear, and we can feel secure that Lester is still good enough to use in a two-start week in just about any scenario.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs (@PIT, @ATL): After an effective first season in the Cubs' rotation, there shouldn't be much controversy about using Samardzija in a two-start week -- or in a one-start week, for that matter. Owners should rightfully have concerns about run support, as the Cubs' offense hasn't improved over the 2012 version that scored 3.2 runs per nine innings for Samardzija. That's really the only worry to have about him, but he can still offer enough with Ks, ERA and WHIP to keep in your lineup on a weekly basis.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jonathon Niese, Mets (SD, MIA): With a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Niese looked like a breakout pitcher last season, but the skills have been there for the last three years. Ever since becoming a staple of the Mets' rotation in 2010, Niese has recorded good strikeout and ground ball rates, and he has lowered his walk rate each of the last two seasons. The 2012 version of Niese was legitimate, and he is worth using in any two-start week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

A.J. Burnett, Pirates (CHC, @LAD): Burnett enjoyed a renaissance in his first year in Pittsburgh, as he threw strikes at the highest rate of his career and let his home park help him to avoid the long ball. Given the departure from Burnett's recent norms, owners should have some healthy skepticism about his chances for a repeat, but at least in Week 1, he should have a soft landing. Burnett's opening day start is at home against the Cubs, though his second start at the Dodgers could be dicey, it won't be enough to spoil his week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Tim Hudson, Braves (PHI, CHC): Though Hudson's velocity and already-modest strikeout rate dropped last season, his ability to avoid hard contact was still very much in evidence. As a one-start pitcher, Hudson will often be a borderline option in standard mixed leagues, but with two starts, he is an easy choice to start over one of your back-of-the-rotation types.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Matt Harrison, Rangers (@HOU, LAA): With a shrinking walk rate and a pitch-to-contact approach, Harrison has been an efficient pitcher since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. If he had Hudson's ground ball tendencies and a pitcher-friendlier home park, Harrison would be an automatic choice in a two-start week. However, Harrison may not measure up to your other options in some two-start weeks, but that's not the case in Week 1. His start at Houston alone should give him enough value to earn an active roster spot.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jarrod Parker, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): It would look like a dream week for Parker, who gets the lowly Astros along with a start against the Mariners at home, where he posted a 2.61 ERA last season. Parker relied on an 80 percent strand rate (according to FanGraphs.com) to keep his home ERA low, though, so he's not always going to be a slam dunk when he pitches at O.co Coliseum. However, most of your alternatives for filling out a back-end rotation spot this week are of the one-start variety, so you might as well roll with Parker this time.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Brett Anderson, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): With superb walk and ground ball rates, Anderson is a must-start in two-start weeks, just as long as he is healthy. He seems to have put the strained right trapezius muscle that limited him earlier in spring training behind him.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (@OAK, @CHW): As a dual-eligible SP/RP pitcher, Iwakuma can't sit on the bench in Head-to-Head leagues, but is he worth starting in Roto? He did thrive in the rotation last season with a 2.65 ERA over 16 starts, but a high strand rate helped to shrink that mark. Then again, he's still a worthy start even if his ERA goes into the mid-3.00s, and for this week, he should survive U.S. Cellular Field given his ground ball tendencies.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jason Hammel, Orioles (@TB, MIN): The Orioles may be a team without a true ace, but if Hammel can approach what he did last season, owners will be starting him most weeks. Hammel was generally consistent in his ability to get swings-and-misses and grounders before getting shelved by knee surgery. While it would have been more reassuring if Hammel could have put together a full season of strong stats, the possibility of a highly productive two-start week makes him sometime to get active for Week 1.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Edinson Volquez, Padres (NYM, @COL): Getting out of Cincinnati helped Volquez to lower his ERA...as long as he was pitching at PETCO Park. Away from San Diego, Volquez's high home run and walk rates left him with a 5.60 ERA. It remains to be seen how the fences coming in at PETCO will impact Volquez, but with a start at Coors Field, it's easy to avoid him in this two-start week.
My take: NL-only start.

Justin Masterson, Indians (@TOR, @TB): The walk and strand rate issues that had dogged Masterson for most of his career reemerged last season after he appeared to have taken a step forward in 2011. He's not a threat to be taken out of the park, but a high ground ball rate will only take Masterson so far. If he can revert to his '11 level of production, then owners can consider using Masterson in standard mixed leagues. For now, he can be ignored in those formats, even in two-start weeks.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

Vance Worley, Twins (DET, @BAL): What happened to Worley from July on last season, when his ERA mushroomed from 2.92 to 4.20 over the course of 11 starts? It could have been the bone spur in his elbow or batters finally figuring him out. Or just maybe it was a fluke. Worley compiled an outrageously-high .404 BABIP during that stretch. A reduced ground ball rate suggests that Worley may have lost some effectiveness, but with his elbow surgery well behind him, Worley should be a viable two-start option once again.
Rating: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Bud Norris, Astros (TEX, OAK): Norris is homer-prone and susceptible to wildness, but despite velocity that has been on the wane, he has been a reliable source of strikeouts. Worth owning in standard 15-team mixed leagues, Norris isn't someone you'd start every week, but with a pair of outings, he is worth a try.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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