Top 70 starters for Week 23

In last week's top 70, I compared the year-to-date performances of several top pitchers to what they accomplished a year ago. This week, I'm sticking with the theme, but instead of focusing on stable stats like strikeout, walk and ground ball rates, the emphasis will be on those stats that have a lot of random fluctuation from one year to the next.

Every pitcher on this week's top 70 is worth starting in a standard mixed league, at least for Fantasy Week 23 (Sept. 3-9). But while each of these starters is worth using, some may be better than their current Fantasy stats would lead you to believe, while others are borderline options who may have the outward appearance of being more reliable. In making year-to-year comparisons with four "unstable" stats -- batting average on balls in play (BABIP), strand rate, home runs per nine innings (HR/9) and line drive rate -- we can get more insight as to which pitchers have stats that are legit and which may be currently under- or over-performing.

The aim of this week's list, as always, is to provide recommendations on which pitchers to start for the coming week, but especially for those pitchers who are targets of the longer-term statistical analysis, there will also be some food for thought to fuel your upcoming keeper decisions.

Starting Rotation breakdown for Fantasy Week 23
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2 Stat of note
1 Johnny Cueto PHI (Cloyd) HOU (Keuchel) Strand rate: 79 percent in 2012, 80 percent in 2011
Cueto's ultra-low ERAs may look too good to be true, but back-to-back years with high strand rates show that Cueto can be trusted to maintain this level of performance.
2 CC Sabathia @TB (Shields) @BAL (Saunders) .332 road BABIP
Sabathia's ERA is more than a run lower at home (2.78) than on the road (3.97), but at least some of his road struggles are due to apparent BABIP fluctuations, so improvement could be imminent.
3 Clayton Kershaw SD (Stults) N/A 2.52 ERA vs. SD
The Padres may no longer be the doormats of the NL West, but Kershaw is enjoying a nice run of his own, so he could continue his mastery of his division rivals.
4 Felix Hernandez OAK (Griffin) N/A 3.10 ERA vs. OAK
The A's are more potent offensively than they were last year, but they haven't posed a problem for Hernandez, as he has held them to two runs or fewer in three of four starts.
5 Cole Hamels COL (Chatwood) N/A Line drive rate: 20 percent in 2012, 14 percent in 2011
Hamels' WHIP is no longer getting the benefit of a line drive rate that was too low to sustain, but a rebounding strikeout rate has helped him to keep his ERA just under 3.00.
6 Justin Verlander @LAA (Weaver) N/A BABIP: .273 in 2012, .238 in 2011
Verlander isn't having as dominant a season as he did last year, but even with some expected BABIP regression, he still ranks among the top four starters in Fantasy.
7 Stephen Strasburg MIA (Buehrle) N/A Opponents' .180 Avg vs. righties
Lefties have found Strasburg to be surprisingly hittable, but the Marlins' two biggest power threats -- Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Ruggiano -- could have frustrating outings.
8 David Price TEX (Darvish) N/A Strand rate: 81 percent in 2012, 72 percent in 2011
Price has made some real improvements in his ground ball rate, but unless he can replicate this year's high strand rate, he's due for a slight downturn.
9 Zack Greinke @OAK (Parker) N/A 20 Ks over last 20 2/3 innings
Greinke is still not getting many swings-and-misses, but his strikeout rate and results in general have been better, now that he is settling in with the Angels.
10 Matt Cain LAD (Capuano) N/A HR/9: 0.9 in 2012, 0.4 in 2011
With improved strikeout and walk rates, Cain should be having a career year, but his ERA is just six points lower than last year's. If he bounces back from a career-high home run-to-flyball ratio, Cain has a shot at being the most valuable pitcher in Fantasy in 2013.
11 Adam Wainwright NYM (Dickey) N/A 2 BBs or fewer in 11 of last 13 starts
Few starters have had more consistent command than Wainwright over the last two-and-a-half months, and it's played a big role in his resurgence.
12 Jered Weaver DET (Verlander) N/A Line drive rate: 17 percent in 2012, 16 percent in 2011
A consistent aversion to line drives is just one reason why Weaver can be trusted as a Fantasy ace, even if he's just an average strikeout pitcher.
13 Gio Gonzalez CHC (Volstad) N/A HR/9: 0.4 in 2012, 0.8 in 2011
Gonzalez hasn't made any strides in his ground ball rate, so it's a little hard to buy into the drop in his home run rate. Though he is still a must-start, owners should think twice before viewing him as an ace.
14 R.A. Dickey @STL (Wainwright) N/A Opponents' .244 OBP vs. righties
Even if the Cardinals can set the table against Dickey, the righty-heavy middle of the order will have a hard time driving in runs.
15 Chris Sale KC (Mendoza) N/A 11 percent swinging strike rate, last six starts
Owners concerned that Sale might break down after so many innings can be encouraged by the fact that he has actually increased his whiff rate over the past month.
16 Cliff Lee COL (Francis) N/A Opponents' .271 OBP, last 11 starts
Lee continues to allow home runs at a high rate, but he has been allowing so few baserunners, that he has been able to compile a 2.84 ERA since the beginning of July.
17 Jake Peavy MIN (Duensing) N/A Line drive rate: 18 percent in 2012, 22 percent in 2011
An elevated liner rate was responsible for some of Peavy's poor Fantasy numbers in 2011, but with a more normal rate, we now see what he is capable of.
18 Roy Halladay @CIN (Leake) N/A HR/9: 0.9 in 2012, 0.4 in 2011
Home run rates might be variable, but ground ball rates are much less so, and Halladay's has slipped precipitously. Though he still possesses sharp control, this trend may mean the end of his days as an elite starter.
19 Clay Buchholz @SEA (Vargas) TOR (Happ) At least 7 IP in seven of last eight starts
Buchholz has gotten better as the season has worn on, and lately, he has been a reliable workhorse.
20 Kris Medlen COL (Chatwood) @NYM (Hefner) .286 BABIP as starter
Medlen's 0.66 ERA in six starts seems too good to be real, but it's no BABIP fluke. Credit his pinpoint accuracy and strong ground ball tendencies for his success.
21 Madison Bumgarner ARI (Cahill) N/A BABIP: .268 in 2012, .331 in 2011
Bumgarner's skill stats have stagnated this year, so the drop in his WHIP from 1.21 to 1.04 has more to do with apparent luck on balls in play than with his progression as a pitcher.
22 Ryan Vogelsong ARI (Kennedy) N/A HR/9: 0.8 in 2011 and 2012
Giants' starters generally don't give up many homers, and Vogelsong is no exception. He has even avoided them in his road starts (0.8 road HR/9) this season.
23 James Shields NYY (Sabathia) TEX (Harrison) .147 Isolated Power at home
Shields has been more prone to give up hits when pitching at Tropicana Field, but he's been far less prone to give up extra bases at his home park.
24 Jon Lester @SEA (Beavan) N/A 56 percent ground ball rate in Aug. (per FanGraphs)
August was Lester's best month so far, and he not only rediscovered the swinging strike, but he limited extra-base hits by inducing grounders at a higher rate.
25 C.J. Wilson @OAK (Milone) DET (Sanchez) Strand rate: 72 percent in 2012, 77 percent in 2011
You can blame Wilson's elevated walk rate for his troubles this season, but a low strand rate -- particularly over the last two months -- is what has really put a damper on his Fantasy value. That makes him a strong bounceback candidate rest-of-season and beyond.
26 Josh Johnson MIL (Estrada) N/A 2.90 home ERA
Johnson has been volatile at times, but most of his poor performances have come away from Marlins Park. That won't be an issue in Week 23.
27 Brett Anderson @SEA (Iwakuma) N/A 74 percent ground ball rate
Anderson's ground ball rate is the crazy kind of number you could only see after just two starts, but it shows that he's not rusty after such a long layoff.
28 Brandon Morrow BAL (Gonzalez) N/A 15 percent swinging strike rate, last two starts
Morrow has looked sharp since coming off the disabled list, and he is fanning batters at a much higher rate than he did before he injured his oblique.
29 Yu Darvish @KC (Chen) @TB (Price) 8 BBs over last 20 2/3 innings
Darvish is still not throwing strikes at a high rate, but over his last three starts, he has managed to keep his walks at a reasonable level.
30 Max Scherzer @LAA (Santana) N/A 1.03 ERA over last five starts
Scherzer's meltdowns are getting fewer and farther between, and with him pitching at a high level since mid-June, it's finally safe to say he is in the midst of a breakout.
31 Jeff Samardzija @WAS (Detwiler) @PIT (McDonald) Four quality starts in last six tries in road games
Samardzija has not always been reliable away from Wrigley Field, but he has been better of late, especially in pitcher-friendly venues. At minimum, his visit to PNC Park should be a fruitful one for owners this week.
32 Mike Fiers @MIA (Nolasco) @STL (Westbrook) 64 percent strikes thrown, last two starts
After uncharacteristically struggling with command over a pair of mid-August starts, Fiers has returned to form in his two most recent outings.
33 Mat Latos PHI (Kendrick) N/A Line drive rate: 19 percent in 2012, 15 percent in 2011
The move to Cincinnati has been bad for Latos' homer rate, but according to, Great American Ball Park is also a tougher place than PETCO Park to prevent line drives. That will make it hard for Latos to match his track record as a Padre.
34 Jason Vargas BOS (Buchholz) OAK (Milone) Opponents' .313 SLG at home
Vargas' owners probably don't need a reminder of his prowess at Safeco Field, but here's one anyway. He's a good start in just about any week with a home start, and this time gets two of them.
35 Hiroki Kuroda @TB (Moore) N/A Line drive rate: 15 percent in 2012, 17 percent in 2011
Kuroda has kept his liner rate at or below 17 percent for four years running, and that has helped him to post low ERAs and WHIPs without the benefit of a high strikeout rate.
36 Anibal Sanchez CLE (Kluber) @LAA (Wilson) BABIP: .327 in 2012, .317 in 2011
Last season's high BABIP appeared to be the product of a slightly elevated line drive rate, but with a normal frequency of liners this season, Sanchez looks like he has been a little unlucky.
37 Francisco Liriano KC (Hochevar) N/A 38 Ks in 35 2/3 innings with CHW
Liriano has not been going as deep into games since coming to the White Sox, but he hasn't slowed down his feverish strikeout pace.
38 Ryan Dempster @KC (Teaford) N/A 2 ER or fewer in four of six starts with TEX
The early concerns about Dempster adjusting to the American League now look misplaced, as he has allowed only three earned runs over his last 20 innings.
39 Jonathon Niese ATL (Maholm) N/A BABIP: .281 in 2012, .345 in 2011
Last season, xFIP estimated that Niese should have had a 3.39 ERA, and with a more normal BABIP this season, he is approaching that mark with a 3.55 ERA. Owners can trust that more than last year's 4.40 ERA.
40 Brandon McCarthy LAA (Haren) N/A 76 percent quality start rate
Only McCarthy's walk rate stands out among his skill stats, but because he pitches efficiently and avoids extra-base hits, he is a strong bet to give owners a good outing almost every time he starts.
41 Matt Moore NYY (Kuroda) N/A Opponents' .304 SLG, last nine starts
The problems that Moore had with extra-base hits earlier in the year have evaporated, which is a big reason why he has not allowed more than three earned runs in any start since the All-Star break.
42 Matt Harrison @KC (Guthrie) @TB (Shields) Strand rate: 77 percent in 2012, 75 percent in 2011
Harrison did a poor job of stranding runners in his first three seasons, but has been better than average in back-to-back seasons now, so he seems to be setting a new norm.
43 Kyle Lohse MIL (Gallardo) N/A No home runs allowed in seven of last 10 starts
A pair of homers made for a short afternoon for Lohse against the Nationals on Saturday, but overall, he has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park.
44 A.J. Burnett CHC (Wood) N/A 12 percent swinging strike rate, last seven starts
Burnett has been doing a much better job of avoiding contact in recent starts, but because of a fluky-high BABIP, it hadn't shown until his solid performance against the Brewers on Saturday.
45 Yovani Gallardo @STL (Lohse) N/A 14 ER in 5 2/3 innings vs. STL
Gallardo has been superb lately, but he also hasn't faced the Cardinals since April. They've already shellacked him in two starts this year, so he gets a big downgrade for his third one.
46 Doug Fister CLE (Jimenez) N/A HR/9: 0.9 in 2012, 0.5 in 2011
With higher strikeout and ground ball rates, Fister is a better pitcher with the Tigers than he was with the Mariners. However, the move from Safeco Field has blunted some of that impact, as he has been more vulnerable to homers.
47 Jordan Zimmermann CHC (Germano) N/A Four straight sub-quality starts
For most of the season, Zimmermann had been one of Fantasy's most reliable producers, and for that reason, he still deserves to be started. With fewer strikeouts and grounders over the past month, he has become a riskier play.
48 Ross Detwiler CHC (Samardzija) MIA (Nolasco) 2.74 home ERA
Detwiler doesn't have Vargas' struggles away from home, but he's been more successful at Nationals Park than on the road. With a pair of favorable starts in D.C., it's as good a week as any to get Detwiler active.
49 Wade Miley @SD (Kelly) N/A 1.5 road BB/9
As good as Miley has been at avoiding walks, he has been even better in his starts away from Chase Field. It might just be coincidental, but in any event, there is no reason to sit Miley with an upcoming start at PETCO Park.
50 Shaun Marcum @MIA (Turner) @STL (Kelly) Line drive rate: 22 percent in 2012, 18 percent in 2011
Marcum has not been as helpful with WHIP as usual, but some of the increase is due to jumps in line drive and BABIP rates, and both could reverse at any time.
51 Dan Haren @OAK (McCarthy) N/A 10 Ks over last 12 2/3 innings
Haren's inconsistency makes him hard to trust, but he's on an upswing for now. He also has back-to-back starts with no homers after having allowed at least one in nine straight starts.
52 Ian Kennedy @SF (Vogelsong) N/A BABIP: .314 in 2012, .278 in 2011
Kennedy's home run rate has been alarming, but as a flyball pitcher, he should at least get the benefit of a below-average BABIP, but he has had no such luck this year.
53 Jaime Garcia NYM (Harvey) N/A Opponents' .278 Avg on grounders
The Cardinals' infield defense hasn't been the best, but Garcia's average on grounders is 45 points higher than the staff's as a whole. With better luck, he could see dramatic improvement in September.
54 Edwin Jackson CHC (Rusin) MIA (Turner) Line drive rate: 17 percent in 2012, 25 percent in 2011
Jackson has been a better strikeout pitcher this year, but that alone doesn't account for a 28-point drop in WHIP. The real Jackson is somewhere in the middle ground between this season and last.
55 Jose Quintana MIN (Diamond) KC (Chen) 2.64 home ERA
Quintana has probably overperformed in his home starts (.234 BABIP), but he is enough of a ground ball pitcher that he shouldn't get hurt too much in a pair of starts at U.S. Cellular Field.
56 Mike Minor COL (White) N/A 1.03 WHIP over last two starts
Minor's last two outings haven't gone as well as most of his other recent starts, but he has continued to prevent hits and walks at a good rate. With a decent matchup and some imminent improvement in his strand rate likely, it's a good week to start the lefty.
57 Phil Hughes @BAL (Tillman) N/A 14 percent popup rate
As homer-prone as Hughes is, Oriole Park at Camden Yards could be a dangerous place to pitch, but Hughes has neutralized the impact of the long ball by getting popups at an extraordinary rate.
58 Matt Harvey @STL (Garcia) N/A 14 percent swinging strike rate
Harvey is striking out batters at an even higher rate than he did in Triple-A, as batters have yet to figure out how to make contact against him.
59 Patrick Corbin @SF (Zito) @SD (Werner) 0.7 road HR/9
Corbin has been burned by the gopher ball at Chase Field, but it hasn't been an issue in other venues, and that bodes well for his upcoming starts at AT&T and PETCO Parks.
60 Scott Diamond @CHW (Quintana) CLE (Kluber) 4.3 road K/9
Diamond has been even more of a contact pitcher on the road than at home, so the White Sox could hit him hard, but he should do well enough against the Indians to be a worthwhile start this week.
61 Jeremy Hellickson TEX (Holland) N/A .227 BABIP over last four starts
Hellickson has approached last season's majors-leading .224 BABIP over a recent stretch, but it's not supported by favorable popup and line drive rates. He remains a lower-end option in standard mixed leagues.
62 Tommy Milone LAA (Wilson) @SEA (Vargas) Opponents' .293 SLG, last three starts
Milone has rebounded from a few bad starts, and while favorable venues have helped him out, he will pitch in a pair of pitcher-friendly parks this week.
63 Wandy Rodriguez HOU (Lyles) CHC (Rusin) HR/9: 0.9 in 2012, 1.2 in 2011
Most of the signs for Rodriguez have been negative, but an improved ground ball rate has led to sustainable improvement in his home run rate.
64 Tommy Hanson COL (Pomeranz) @NYM (Young) BABIP: .325 in 2012, .274 in 2011
Hanson had gotten himself into trouble with poor command this season, but owners shouldn't give up on him entirely, as he has been one of the bigger victims of BABIP fluctuation.
65 Bronson Arroyo HOU (Norris) N/A 62 percent quality start rate
Arroyo has been a far more reliable starter this year, and in rattling off four straight quality starts, he has posted a 2.86 ERA.
66 A.J. Griffin @SEA (Hernandez) N/A 10 ground balls induced vs. BOS on Sat.
In his return from the disabled list, Griffin did what he does best -- namely, throw strikes. Getting grounders at his highest rate of the season was just a nice bonus.
67 Tyler Skaggs @SD (Volquez) N/A 66 percent strikes thrown, last two starts
After walking five batters in his major league debut, Skaggs may have raised concerns about his control, but any worries were premature. He has spent plenty of time in the strike zone in his two starts since then.
68 Paul Maholm @NYM (Niese) N/A Line drive rate: 17 percent in 2012, 21 percent in 2011
Maholm's skill ratios have improved across the board, but not by enough to explain his recent improvement. Some line drive rate fluctuation has also played a role, so there is still some risk in starting the southpaw.
69 Jhoulys Chacin @ATL (Hudson) N/A 67 percent strikes thrown, last three starts
Though Chacin hasn't rung up many strikeouts since coming off the disabled list, the potential is there, especially since he has been pounding the strike zone since his return.
70 Derek Holland @TB (Hellickson) N/A Opponents' .235 OBP, last four starts
Holland's command wasn't bad earlier in the season, but he has cut back on walks lately, building on the progress he started last year.

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Data Analyst

Al Melchior has been playing Fantasy Baseball since 1994, getting his start in the Southern Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League (SMABL). He has been writing about Fantasy Baseball since 2000, getting... Full Bio

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