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RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Starting Pitchers

We've saved the best and--by far--the longest for last, so brace yourself and get ready to enjoy. As always, these rankings come as a product of the whole RotoAuthority team. In case you missed out on our previous rankings, there's still plenty of time to catch up:

OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond BaseShortstopCloserMiddle and Corner Infield

That last link will also link you to the spreadsheet version of our rankings for quick reference. And if you arent' feeling patient, here is  Download RA Starter Rankings. Or you can just scroll up and download it when you finish reading. Anyway, enough delay. On to the tiers.

Tier 1: Clayton Kershaw

1. Clayton Kershaw

Yeah, we named the whole tier after him. He does it all, and he's done it consistently, and he is the only pitcher you should consider with your first round pick.

 Tier 2: Yu Know Who (2nd-4th Rounds)

2. Yu Darvish

3. Adam Wainwright

4. Stephen Strasburg

5. Felix Hernandez

6. Cliff Lee

7. Max Scherzer

8. Justin Verlander

9. Chris Sale

10. Madison Bumgarner

11. Jose Fernandez

I can't honestly include anyone else in consideration for Darvish's spot behind Kershaw--the strikeouts are just too good, as is his offense. Wainwright is probably the better pitcher, and playing for the Cardinals makes him an easy second choice. Don't let either pitcher escape the second round.

Strasburg, Scherzer, Verlander, and Bumgarner all have an advantage over the rest of this tier by playing for good or decent offensive teams. (Don't believe me on the Giants? Check it out.) If you weight wins a little more, they'll all be on top. Verlander's track record makes him too good to pass up, despite last year's "struggles." Hernandez and Lee provide excellence you can depend on, while Sale and Fernandez may have the highest upside--but the most injury risk and the worst supporting cast.

Depending on how fast your league is to grab starters, these guys might all be gone by the second, or they might last till the fourth. After that, they become excellent value in nearly every format.

Tier 3: Almost Aces

12. David Price

13. Anibal Sanchez

14. Matt Cain

15. Zack Greinke

16. James Shields

17. Gio Gonzalez

Price and Greinke miss the top tier thanks to falling strikeout rates--which raise red flags for other performance falls. Sanchez was so dominant last year (and supported by peripherals), but he'll have to do it again to move up a tier. With his years of excellence, Cain deserves a mulligan for April 2013. Give him that, regress his HR/FB luck, and he's the same old awesome for a low price. You better bet he'll be on a lot of my teams this year. Shields is consistently very good, with a lower ceiling than other elite pitchers, but a higher floor. A great choice to pair with a riskier ace like Fernandez or Verlander. Gonzalez has a big strikeout advantage...but probably won't help you in WHIP. He's a great choice for anyone emphasizing the counting categories as strategy.

Tier 4: The Safety Net and an Injury Interlude

18. Homer Bailey

19. Doug Fister

20. Jordan Zimmermann

21. Jered Weaver

22. Mike Minor

23. Hisashi Iwakuma

24. Cole Hamels

25. Hyun-jin Ryu

26. Mat Latos

Bailey really broke out and I toyed with putting him a tier above, but I'd want more consistent health before I took him over anyone above. I expect Fister to surpass Zimmermann in strikeout rate and, therefore, fantasy value this year--but they should end up pretty similar. Weaver is a consistent overperformer of FIP, and a great source of WHIP. Good to pair with Gonzalez. Ryu already seems like a "consistently very good but never great" type...but he's only been in the MLB for a year and is younger than I am. (Which isn't saying as much as it used to....) With the exception of one really bad HR/FB rate, Latos has delivered four strong seasons in a row.

Minor and Iwakuma would be Tier 3 pitchers if not for their injuries. The lowered ranking is less about missing a couple April starts, and more about the possibility that two weeks turns to a month, to two months, to out for the season...yes, I get paranoid about players who are already injured. Speaking of which, Hamels would be a Tier 2 guy, easily, but his injury looks likely to keep him out at a month or so, with the dreaded "no timetable" phrase floating around. Ugh.

Tier 4 pitchers might last from the 4th through 7th rounds--when you should draft starters is very dependent on the market that develops in individual leagues on draft day.

Tier 5: Take a Risk

27. Gerrit Cole

28. A.J. Burnett

29. Shelby Miller

30. Masahiro Tanaka

31. Alex Cobb

32. Julio Teheran

33. Michael Wacha

34. Francisco Liriano

35. Danny Salazar

36. Jon Lester

37. Hiroki Kuroda

Most staffs should be drafting their third starter in this tier, and there are plenty of enticing options. Young guns like Cole, Miller, Wacha, Cobb, and Teheran offer tons of upside--as well as question marks. Will Cole bump his strikeouts as a sophomore? Why were the Cards so down on Miller late last year? And such.

How excited should you be about Tanaka? Well, his ceiling is probably as a Tier 2 or 3 pitcher and his floor...is still better than Kei Igawa. The only reason I'm not drafting him is that hype has super-inflated his price (check out the difference between his Yahoo! dollar value and average cost to see what I mean). Stay away in public leagues, but reaction to his hype could actually make him a value play for very competitive leagues.

Burnett is so old that...that he posted a 9.85 K/9 last year. I'll buy. Liriano is the most inconsistent player ever. True story. I'll roll the dice for the strikeouts, though. Salazar owes the Cleveland Propaganda Machine a big thank-you...wait, Cleveland doesn't have a propaganda machine? Then why is he not a sleeper? It's not fair, but you'll have to pay full price to get the phenom and his potential.

Lester and Kuroda are available for the risk-averse. Or better yet, pair them with any pitcher from this tier.

Tier 6: Now It's Real

38. Jeff Samardzija

39. Andrew Cashner

40. Tony Cingrani

41. Sonny Gray

42. Johnny Cueto

43. R.A. Dickey

44. CC Sabathia

45. Ervin Santana

46. Matt Garza

47. Patrick Corbin

48. Justin Masterson

49. Matt Moore

50. Dan Haren

51. Marco Estrada

52. C.J. Wilson

53. Lance Lynn

54. Tim Lincecum

Picking starters just stopped being easy. The difference between each slot on the rankings are small, and the margins of error in predictions are large. There are still intriguing options, but all come with downsides.

You can get anything you want in this tier. Strikeout pitchers with too many walks? Samardzija, Wilson, Masterson, and Lynn. Or Moore and Lincecum as the extreme examples. Cueto is hoping to make a full-season return from injury. One-time aces Sabathia and Haren have value to rebuild for contending squads. What will Dickey's knuckler do this year? Corbin already did his regression in last year's second half--and he was still good. Garza's health keeps him underrated, even when on the field. If Estrada's HR/FB rate normalizes, he could be very, very good...but he's never done that over a full season. Cingrani and Gray put up eye-popping numbers in limited time--how much can they sustain for the season? If Cashner adds strikeouts, he could rocket up the rankings by the end of the year. If not, he'll still be a dependably good sort of guy.

Tier 7: The Last Shallow Leaguers

55. Rick Porcello

56. Scott Kazmir

57. Corey Kluber

59. Ian Kennedy

59. Tim Hudson

60. Clay Buchholz

61. John Lackey

62. Bartolo Colon

63. Chris Archer

64. Ubaldo Jimenez

65. Jake Peavy

66. A.J. Griffin

67. Dan Straily

68. Kyle Lohse

69. Yovani Gallardo

70. Chris Tillman

71. Jonathon Niese

These pitchers are probably the last ones you'll need in very shallow leagues, though some will want to reach for one or two more, I suppose.

Porcello's strikeout rate made a big jump; if he can sustain it, he'll be a great value. It's worth remembering that he's still kind of young. Is Kazmir's return from the dead real? His peripherals say so, and his ERA ought to improve in Oakland. Kluber looked very interesting in limited time last year, with a nifty K/BB ratio. Kennedy is a great bounce-back candidate with San Diego. Hudson, Colon, and Lohse are good WHIP helpers. If Buchholz and Lackey can prove that last year's return to greatness was real, the Red Sox and fantasy owners will be very, very happy. Archer walks too many people, but has talent. So did Gallardo once, but who knows what's happening to his career after last year's debacle. Peavy is already injured...as usual. Griffin, Straily, and Tillman all benefited from a bit of apparent luck in the ERA-FIP department and may need luck again to be particularly relevant. Niese appeared to overcome injury at the end of the year and could be great value as a forgotten man.

Tier 8: All About Upside

72. Josh Johnson

73. Alex Wood

74. Tyson Ross

75. Ivan Nova

76. Taijuan Walker

77. Jose Quintana

78. Wade Miley

79. Drew Smyly

80. Zack Wheeler

Johnson was basically baseball's worst pitcher last year...but San Diego and talent are a great combination to resurrect a career. Wood was very good in his brief stint as a starter last year; the Braves will be counting on him. Ross was very impressive in a mixed role last year. Nova didn't manage a full season, but did pitch well for the Yanks. Walker would be higher, but he's facing an injury. Keep an eye on the prospect. Quintana was quietly very solid, but has a low ceiling. Miley lost a lot of control in his sophomore season; he'll be value if he gets it back. Smyly is an interesting converted reliever. Wheeler didn't impress as a rookie, but has the talent to improve.

Dry Your Tiers: Deep League Flyers

At some point, tiers and rankings cease to be useful. You're either looking for help in particular categories, or following particular strategies based on your risk/reward needs. So here are some different categories of potentially useful pitchers for deep leagues.

Prospects: Yordano Ventura, Kevin Gausman, Brett Oberholtzer, Tyler Skaggs, James Paxton, Archie Bradley, Jameson Taillon, Noah Syndergaard

Low-Upside Reliables: Trevor Cahill, Wei-Yin Chen, Bruce Chen, Jason Vargas, Mark Buehrle, Henderson Alvarez, Miguel Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ricky Nolasco, Jhoulys Chacin, Charlie Morton, Roberto Hernandez, Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy, John Danks, Ross Detwiler, Freddy Garcia

Back From Injury: Scott Baker, Michael Pineda, Alexi Ogando, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Morrow, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Jaime Garcia, Brandon Beachy, Jenrry Mejia, Johan Santana, Shaun Marcum

Lucky Last Year: Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Travis Wood

Rebound Candidates: Phil Hughes, Josh Beckett, Ryan Vogelsong

Strikeout Sources: Hector Santiago, Felix Doubront, Bud Norris, Brad Peacock, Felipe Paulino, Edinson Volquez

Injury Stash: Derek Holland, Jarrod Parker, Jeremy Hellickson, Gavin Floyd

Got Some Upside: Jake Arrieta, Wily Peralta, Martin Perez, Dillon Gee, Eric Stults, Erasmo Ramirez, Zach McAllister, Tommy Milone, Nathan Eovaldi, Erik Johnson, Randall Delgado, Trevor Bauer

 Note: At publishing time, it appears that Brandon Beachy has a strong likelihood of needing Tommy John surgery. If that isn't necessary, keep tabs on his injury, but there isn't any way of knowing now when to draft him in that case.

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