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Bold predictions for pitchers

7/27/2012

Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg will pitch in September and October. Let's get that out of the way up front. Entering the weekend the right-hander is the No. 10 pitcher on ESPN's Player Rater and one of the most coveted individuals in fantasy dynasty formats, a future Cy Young winner and strikeout machine, but it seems like all the talk about this fellow and the chances for success for his upstart team center around an innings limit that might or might not be followed closely.

On Thursday, we got bold in this space to discuss major league hitters. Today it's all about the pitchers, and Strasburg is certainly among the best in the biz. Fantasy owners should be aware of a potential adjustment in his schedule come September, especially in head-to-head formats with the fantasy playoffs going on, but I wouldn't actively trade the guy. Frankly, I wouldn't trade him at all. The Nationals won't be so bold as to restrict Strasburg because they know that, just like in our fantasy world, flags fly forever in the real world as well. Limits get broken all the time.

Strasburg will make his 21st start next week against the Philadelphia Phillies. He'll make 11 more regular season starts after that and then start Game 1 of his team's first playoff series in a generation against the wild-card-winning Cincinnati Reds come October. Enjoy the 18 wins, NL-leading 250 strikeouts (he outlasts Clayton Kershaw by two whiffs) and top-5 starting pitcher status on the Player Rater.

• It's tough to get bold about fantasy's top pitcher. Justin Verlander didn't fare so well on Thursday, but there are no worries. He'll end up the best and take AL Cy Young honors. The No. 2 guy for fantasy will be San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, though. Just look at their schedule! Other than two series at Coors Field, it's pretty sweet, and the Giants close at San Diego and Los Angeles. Even Barry Zito should be worth spot starting then!

• As for everyone's favorite erratic punching bag, right-hander Tim Lincecum will continue his pace to reach 200 strikeouts while falling short of double-digit wins. His final ERA will be 5.52. It's difficult to imagine, really, and further, to explain. At least he's not Ricky Romero.

New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has seen his ERA rise nearly a full run in five weeks. It will continue to rise, unfortunately, but he'll end up in the top 20 among starting pitchers with 18 wins, 210 strikeouts and a 3.45 ERA. Hey, nobody can complain about an April free-agent pickup doing that!

• Despite a rough outing against the Mets on Thursday, Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Wade Miley will finish the season as fantasy's top rookie starting pitcher, with 16 wins and a 3.33 ERA. Why not Yu Darvish, who will strike out 75 more hitters? The 100 walks will lead to a 1.40 WHIP. That's simply too high.

• Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cliff Lee has one win through 17 starts. Target him in trade, though, because the low win total is mostly bad luck. Lee makes 14 more starts and wins six of them. Still a disappointing season, but the 3.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 189 strikeouts he ends up with aren't irrelevant.

Ryan Dempster ends up with the Los Angeles Angels and sees his current 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP rise to 3.31 and 1.16 by October. At least he'll get to start a playoff game versus Detroit Tigers right-hander Zack Greinke. Unfortunately, back problems will prevent Roy Oswalt from appearing in October.

• Looking for bargains among the starting pitchers? Paul Maholm wins 16 games for the fourth-place Chicago Cubs. Oakland Athletics rookie Jarrod Parker finishes with a sub-3.00 ERA and 12 wins. Bullpen woes will prevent the Milwaukee Brewers' Mike Fiers from winning much, but his final ERA will rise from its current 1.96 to a still-strong 2.53. Jason Vargas remains a Mariner and awesome in home games. Danny Hultzen joins him for September and makes five decent starts. Jacob Turner makes his Miami Marlins debut the first week of September and wins four games that month.

• As for the relief pitchers, Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale ends up fantasy's top RP-eligible on the Player Rater. OK, that's cheating since he's a starter now, but facts are facts. Sale finishes with 16 wins but slows down statistically and misses the top 10 among starting pitchers.

• Among closers, Tampa Bay Rays reclamation project Fernando Rodney earns the top spot honor. No, I never expected that back in March. It's crazy, frankly. But Rodney is currently locked in a tight battle for fantasy supremacy -- his ERA is a differentiator -- with the more-heralded Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. And Kimbrel will be the only one of this group to save more than 10 games in 2013. (Chapman starts, Rodney falls apart.)

• Chapman will lead all relievers with 140 strikeouts. Last season, Kimbrel led relievers with 127 whiffs.

Joel Hanrahan of the Pittsburgh Pirates earns the most saves with 45. Last season, Hanrahan was one of eight pitchers to accrue 40 or more saves. This year, only five pitchers will do so.

• Five pitchers are currently tied for the league lead with six blown saves. Two of them, John Axford and Heath Bell, will regain the closer role and save 10 and eight more games, respectively. Hope you didn't invest in Francisco Rodriguez!

Boston Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey will post as many saves as Homer Bailey, Champ Bailey and Beetle Bailey. Keep Alfredo Aceves owned, in other words.

• The Houston Astros' leader in saves the rest of the season will be Francisco Cordero, with six. That will be six more than Chicago White Sox setup man Brett Myers, however. I think Myers will take the trade-off to be on a contender.

Have a great weekend and don't be afraid to be a little bold!