To some, it might seem like this series has ground to a halt, but I'm almost done, with only three pieces to go. Today's the first half of the A.L. starting pitchers.
THE TOP 10
Justin Verlander $30, Jered Weaver $28, David Price $26, Dan Haren $25, Felix Hernandez $25, CC Sabathia $24, Jon Lester $22, Ricky Romero $21, James Shields $21, C.J. Wilson $20
With the exception of Romero, I wrote about these guys last month, and little has changed. I like the Haren and Sabathia prices and am a little wary of the Weaver and Price prices, but this list is a pretty standard, boilerplate list give or take a dollar or two here or there. Romero's peripherals have been very consistent the last three years...but that's the problem. There isn't a lot of evidence to suggest that a 2.92 ERA is going to be in the cards again in 2012. A 3.60 is probably more likely, which means that Romero clearly doesn't belong in this tier. I'd keep him below $20.
NOT QUITE ELITE
Yu Darvish $18, Brandon Morrow $18, Michael Pineda $18, Josh Beckett $17, Ubaldo Jimenez $17, Matt Moore $17
Taken as a group, these pitchers at these prices look like a Bermuda Triangle of risk where your season could go to die. I talked about Darvish in the article I linked to above. I'm a believer in a Morrow breakout, but even so this price takes on most of the risk while taking away most of the upside. The potential 200 Ks, though, make Morrow a nice play a few dollars cheaper even if the ERA/WHIP doesn't catch up. I don't like Pineda at all in Yankee Stadium this year. I wrote about the potential statistical impact of his transition here. A 4.30 ERA wouldn't surprise me.
Beckett seems nice at this price compared to these other arms. His reputation is that of an injury prone pitcher, but Beckett has thrown 174+ innings six of seven seasons since 2005. It also turns out that his 2010 xFIP was instructive and his '10 ERA was a fluke. I don't think Beckett's quite as good as he was last year, but a 3.40-3.50 ERA in '12 shouldn't be out of the question. U-Ball should be better this year, but the inconsistent velocity makes me nervous. Pay $14 or so just because of the Ks, but don't pay more than that expecting an automatic bounce back. Since 2008, Top 5 Baseball America pitching prospects have been Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Tommy Hanson, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Brian Matusz, and Julio Teheran. Only Hanson earned more in his rookie campaign than the $17 Moore got paid. Will Moore be great someday? Probably. But in a non-keeper league, don't pay for someday.
Max Scherzer $16, Derek Holland $15, Scott Baker $14, John Danks $14, Neftali Feliz $14, Jeremy Hellickson $14, Colby Lewis $14, Ervin Santana $14
At long last, Scherzer's reached the point where his price - although perhaps a little high - no longer falls into the overhyped category. He could easily repeat 2010's numbers, which was good for $18 in earnings that year. I like Holland a lot long-term, but he's still very young and there will probably be some growing pains. He's in a difficult park, which probably makes his ceiling more limited than it would be elsewhere. Baker could be a $20 pitcher in that park if he could get to 200 innings, but there's the rub: he usually misses time and has only cracked 30 starts once in his career. He seems safe at this price, though (I wrote this yesterday before today's news that Baker's elbow might be bothering him again). Split the difference between 2010 ($19) and 2011 ($8) and you have Danks' price. He seems a little expensive here, as I'd rather pay a little less for a guy with such uninspiring peripherals. The K/9 has been pretty consistent for Danks' entire career, and he's unlikely to earn more than he did in '10.
I like Feliz a lot, but I think there are going to be some growing pains as he transitions into the rotation. The innings cap also gives me pause at that $14 price. There's a groundswell of support for Hellickson repeating last year because his swinging strike rates and K/9 match up badly. There is absolutely no prior data from the last 10 years to prove that this will happen; every pitcher who has put up a high SwStr/low K/9 during that time failed to see his K/9 rise significantly in the next three years. Hellickson is young and should get better, but don't pay for a major breakout based on statistical proof that isn't there. Like Holland, pitching in Texas doesn't do Lewis any favors. He had a 5.54 ERA at home versus a 3.43 on the road. He could come closer to 2010, but the bet here might be a little high. Santana had quite the ERA improvement without any real improvement in his peripherals. This is a fair price, but he hasn't had quite the same K rates since his elbow injury in Spring Training 2009.
Doug Fister $13, Justin Masterson $13, Brandon McCarthy $13, Chris Sale $12
I like most of the pitchers in this tier. I've been wary of Fister all spring, but the more I look at his numbers from last year the more I realize I shouldn't be. He profiles very similarly to Brandon McCarthy, who is everyone's favorite breakout candidate this year. Fister might not do what he did last year, but he could easily fit in the $17-18 tier above. Masterson's walk rates aren't quite as impressive as Fister's, though some of that was due to a very high walk rate in September. He's one of those pitchers who isn’t as likely to regress as some think due to his stuff and pitch selection. McCarthy might not be Greg Maddux 2.0, but his super low walk totals and that great park he pitches in should keep him plenty valuable in 2012. Of these four pitchers, Sale is the one I like the least. It's not that I think he'll be bad, but rather that switching roles makes him a bit of an unknown quantity. This price is OK for a keeper, but in a one-and-done I'd temper my expectations.
Daniel Bard $11, Clay Buchholz $11, Hiroki Kuroda $10, Francisco Liriano $10.
Bard and Sale should have been lumped together. I like Bard (and, long germ, I like Bard even better than Sale), but the transition to the rotation means that he's going to have some bumpy moments as well. I have more questions about Buchholz's durability than I do about his ability. 180 innings from Buchholz would go a long way to stabilizing the Sox rotation...and he'd be a bargain at $11 if he pitches that many innings. With the exception of CC, I'm not a fan of any Yankees starters in Roto this year. Kuroda moves from Chavez Ravine to Yankee Stadium. He could put up the exact same peripherals and see his ERA climb by anywhere from 0.5 to 0.75 runs. Liriano is a spring training call. If his velocity and command are back, he could be the pitcher he was in 2010. This price was a good balance in a late February auction between the risk and the reward.