Rankings preview: Starting pitchers

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

It’s time to hit the mound and celebrate the top 60 pitchers of 2011. You might shuffle the order of the first several dozen entries, but there’s not much arguing about the top options.

60. John Lackey, Boston

Lackey’s introduction to Boston was a rough one. He posted his worst ERA (4.40) since 2004, and his WHIP topped 1.40 (1.42) for the first time since 2003. Lackey’s always pitched to contact and generated the big out to finish with double-digit wins and a solid ERA. That type of pitching and a pedestrian strikeout rate (6.53) doesn’t play in the AL East.

59. Jordan Zimmerman, Washington

Zimmerman appeared in seven games down the stretch in 2010 and pitched to a 4.94 ERA. He surrendered an alarming eight home runs in 31 innings pitched. Zimmerman struck out nearly one batter per inning in the minor leagues during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He’s an intriguing candidate for a breakthrough season on this retooled Washington squad.

58. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta

Jurrjens suffered through a disappointing, injury-riddled season in 2010. He struggled through five April starts before an extended run on the disabled list. He pitched to a solid 3.76 ERA in 12 starts between June 1 and August 31 before slumping in September. Jurrgens has great bounce-back potential and will be a value choice in the later rounds for fantasy owners this spring.

57. James Shields, Tampa Bay

Shields posted strong strikeout numbers last season, but everything else dropped off markedly. His hit rate soared to a frightening level (10.9 per nine IP), and he surrendered a career-worst 34 home runs. Shields does well to limit walks, or things would be much worse. Even with his high-strikeout rate, Shields doesn’t miss enough bats. Can he return to his 2008 heights?

56. Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels

Santana’s strikeout rate dropped precipitously from his 2008 season, but he won a career-best 17 games. He walked 2.95 batters per nine innings and served up a career-worst 27 home runs. Still, Santana earned a sub-4.00 ERA (3.92) in his career-high 222 2/3 innings pitched. The offense will be better, and I don’t suspect that Santana returns to his high-strikeout rate of years past. However, he will generate a mid-level ERA, and post a sizable win total while eating innings.

55. Jorge De La Rosa, Colorado

De La Rosa posted a solid, albeit unspectacular, follow-up to breakout 2009 season. He pitched to a solid 3.91 ERA in April starts before getting shut down because of a torn flexor band on his middle finger.

He still struck out batters at a high rate (nearly one per inning pitched), but his walk rate (4.1 per nine IP in 2010) serves to boost his WHIP. De La Rosa will bring strikeouts and wins to your bottom line. You just need to be built to withstand the drag on your ERA and WHIP totals.

54. Johan Santana, New York Mets

Santana has reportedly been cleared to start throwing, but has yet to do so. The Mets’ management is allowing Santana to push his rehabilitation effort along at his own pace. The earliest that Santana will return to the Mets is June, and that target is starting to shift back.

Santana pitched to a sub-3.00 for the sixth time in his career in 29 starts before shutting it down in early September.

53. Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox

In three years as a member of the Chicago rotation, Floyd has amassed a total of three wins in 94 starts while averaging 6.3 innings per outing. He does not produce strong strikeout numbers (has 7.2 strikeouts per nine IP in this three-year period), and his ERA and WHIP totals have risen in back-to-back years since his breakout 2008 campaign.

Floyd will eat enough innings to win games and thereby accrue a decent strikeout total overall. Unfortunately, the other peripheral numbers don’t offer fantasy owners much support.

52. Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers

Some owners will be put off by Kuroda’s record, but you need to go deeper. He posts a strong strikeout-to-walk rate (3.31) and allows less than one hit per inning pitched. Kuroda posted a career-best 3.39 ERA, bolstered by a tremendous run in his home park (3.10 in 17 starts). He’ll get better run support this season to support his tremendous peripherals (has 1.14 and 1.16 WHIP efforts in the past two seasons, respectively).

51. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis

Garcia pitched well for Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa in his return to the rotation. He won 13 of his 28 starts while posting a spectacular 2.70 ERA. Garcia reached those heights despite posting a sizable WHIP total (1.32). He allowed less than one hit per inning with a decent strikeout rate (7.3), but walked 3.5 batters per nine innings pitched. That’s a number that will need to drop, lest his ERA soar.
 

50. Edwin Jackson, Chicago White Sox

Credit Don Cooper for Jackson’s turnaround upon arriving Chicago. In 11 starts for the White Sox, Jackson pitched to a strong 3.24 ERA with a much improved 1.21 WHIP. Jackson also struck out more than four batters per each walk issued. Owners will be put off by his 1.49 career WHIP, but there’s potential for a value pick here. Jackson has won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons.

49. Brett Myers, Houston

Myers bounced between the rotation and bullpen for years before settling into the Houston rotation in 2010. He matched his career-high mark with 14 wins and completed a career-best 223 2/3 innings pitched. Myers struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings while striking out 2.73 batters per walk. Do you want more? Myers pitched to a spectacular 2.01 ERA in his 14 home dates.

48. Gio Gonzalez, Oakland

Gonzalez demonstrated flashes of great potential in 2010 en route to his 15-win season. He pitched to a strong 3.23 ERA, including a dominant 2.59 ERA following the All-Star break. He also increased his WHIP substantially after the break.

That’s the biggest question facing Gonzalez in 2011. Can Gonzalez post the wins and strong ERA numbers while walking batters at such a frightening pace? He walked 4.1 batters per nine innings. Unless that number drops, I fear that the rest of Gonzalez’s numbers will.

47. Ricky Romero, Toronto

Romero improved markedly in his second full season for the Blue Jays. His walk and hit rates decreased, thereby allowing Romero to reduce his ERA by over one-half of a run to 3.73. Opponents’ BAA dropped to .241. He’ll be even better in Year 3.

46. C.J. Wilson, Texas

The former Texas closer slid into the rotation in 2010 and raised a few eyebrows. Wilson won 15 games while pitching 204 innings. He allowed only 161 hits and struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings. Wilson did walk 4.1 batters per nine innings, but he allowed only 10 home runs despite the huge innings count.

45. Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers

Lilly won 10 games in 30 starts last season (recording his eighth straight season with a double-digit win total) while generating a solid 3.62 ERA. He struck out 166 batters and averaged 3.8 strikeouts per walk in his 193 2/3 innings. Lilly will enjoy improved run support in Los Angeles while pitching in a more advantageous home park.

44. Ricky Nolasco, Florida

The peripherals are solid, so why did Nolasco produce a robust 4.51 ERA? He won 14 of his 16 starts and struck out nearly one batter per inning (4.5 strikeouts per walk). Unfortunately, Nolasco surrendered 25 home runs, his third consecutive season in which he allowed 23 or more home runs. Nolasco’s a two-category contributor.

43. Josh Beckett, Boston

Beckett’s 2010 season was an unmitigated disaster. He was limited to 21 games because of a back injury and pitched terribly. Beckett struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and limited his walk total (2.6 strikeouts per walk), but that’s about the end of the positivity. He allowed more than one hit per inning and allowed 20 home runs in his 127 2/3 innings pitched. That’s a flashing red light emergency code in Boston. Can he bounce back?

42. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay

The 23-year-old prospect (turns age 24 in April) from Iowa appeared in 10 games for the Rays down the stretch and put owners in keeper leagues on notice. Hellickson struck out 33 batters against eight walks in 36 1/3 innings to generate a fantastic 1.10 WHIP. He did allow five home runs, but that hardly negates his strong introduction to Tampa.

41. Tim Hudson, Atlanta

Hudson returned to action following an injury-shortened 2009 season to post his best ERA and WHIP totals since 2003. His 17 wins also established his highest total since 2001. Hudson has won 11 or more games in each of his 11 complete major-league seasons. Hudson’s also pitched to an ERA of 3.53 or less in nine of those 11 seasons.
 

40. Trevor Cahill, Oakland

Cahill won 18 of his 30 starts in 2010 while generating a fabulous 2.97 ERA. He allowed only 7.1 hits and 2.9 walks per nine innings pitched. What makes his final 2010 stat line more impressive is the fact that Cahill only struck out 5.4 batters per nine innings.

That’s also why I’m reticent to slide him up the board any further at this time. Pitching to that level of contact, even with the spacious Oakland-Alameda County Stadium behind you is not advisable. I suspect that we witness a regression toward his 2009 season (4.63 ERA and 1.44 WHIP).

There’s most definitely upside. I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that Cahill turns age 23 on March 1.

39. Colby Lewis, Texas

What did we learn about Lewis in 2010? The imposing 6-foot-4 hurler possesses big-time strikeout punch (with 196 strikeouts in 201 innings pitched) and limited his free passes (with three strikeouts per walk issued). Lewis surrendered 21 home runs, so there’s some potential for disaster if he leaves his fastball up.

The most interesting part of his stat line is this. Lewis pitched to a fantastic 3.09 ERA in 23 night games. He was obliterated to the tune of a 5.50 ERA in nine-day starts, although owners actually produced a lower BAA (.221).

38. John Danks, Chicago White Sox

Danks has developed into a strong, consistent contributor for fantasy owners. In his past three seasons, Danks has posted 40 wins while averaging 202.8 innings pitched. He’s allowed less than one hit per inning pitched, while striking out 2.35 batters per walk issued during this period (3.61 ERA).

37. Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco

Sanchez won a career-high 13 games for the champion Giants last season. He struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings while allowing only 6.6 hits per nine innings. Unfortunately, Sanchez walked 4.5 batters per nine innings. That number leaves me reticent to anticipate a repeat of his 3.07 ERA. Sanchez’s home park helps, but those free passes come back on you eventually.

36. Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs

Garza’s numbers didn’t change much at all between 2009 and 2010, but he did register seven additional wins to establish a new career mark with 15. He struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings while surrendering less than a hit per inning pitched during this two-year period.

Garza achieved a career 3.97 ERA in five years between Tampa Bay and Minnesota, and he has an opportunity to obliterate that number upon coming to Chicago. His strikeout rate should surge in the National League, and I suspect those eye-popping and palpitation-inducing home run totals drop. Garza allowed 53 home runs in his final two years in Tampa Bay.

35. Javier Vazquez, Florida

Vazquez returns to the National League following his second failed tenure in New York. He pitched dominant 2.87 ERA and 1.03 WHIP totals with 15 wins in 32 starts. Vazquez struck out 238 batters in his 219 1/3 innings pitched (with 9.8 strikeouts per nine IP).

Vazquez has pitched at least 198 innings in 10 of the past 11 seasons. He’ll slide in your draft, but should produce strong numbers in a highly-advantageous home yard.

34. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees

Hughes joined the New York rotation full-time in 2010 and was one of the few bright spots. He won 18 games in 31 appearances (including 29 starts) with a respectable 4.19 ERA. Hughes struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings (and 2.5 per walk). The biggest issue facing Hughes is his propensity to keep the ball up in the zone. Hughes surrendered 25 home runs last season. If he can locate his pitches more consistently, Hughes should be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA this season.

33. Brett Anderson, Oakland

The 6-foot-4 lefty produced an impressive stat line for the A’s in 2010. He pitched to a strong 2.80 ERA in 19 starts and limited the number of home runs allowed (6). Most importantly, Anderson limits effectively limits his free passes (walks 1.76 per nine IP). Anderson struck out only six batters per nine innings, but his low-walk rate more than compensated.

32. Dan Hudson, Arizona

Hudson was battered in three starts for the White Sox, but found the mark upon arriving in Arizona. He positively dominated in his 11 starts for the Diamondbacks, producing a record of 7-1 with fantastic ERA (2.45), WHIP (1.00) and strikeout numbers (7.9 per nine IP). Taken further, Hudson struck out more than four batters per walk issued while allowing 5.76 hits per nine innings. Hudson will celebrate his 24th birthday in early March. His upside is immense.

31. Brandon Morrow, Toronto

Morrow ascended to the starting rotation following several seasons as a middle reliever and part-time closer. He demonstrated fantastic strikeout punch (10.95 per nine IP), although his walk rate was troubling (with 4.06 per nine IP). Morrow limited opponents to less than one hit per inning and allowed only 11 home runs in his 146 1/3 innings of work.

I’m encouraged by the fact that Morrow limited the number of big flyballs in the AL East and that he has the strikeout punch is there. Morrow has a ton of potential and may represent a bargain at this slot. I’ll leave him at No. 31 for now, but I suspect I’ll start pushing him up the board before we get to spring training.
 

30. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco

Bumgarner was impressive in his first extended major league action in 2010. He won seven of his 18 starts and earned a nice, even 3.00 ERA. Bumgarner struck out seven batters per nine innings pitched (with 3.31 strikeouts per walk).

Of course, Bumgarner’s season wasn’t without its issues. The 21-year-old lefty allowed 119 hits in his 111 innings pitched, a figure that offset his low-walk rate (2.11 per nine IP). Interestingly, Bumgarner struggled in his eight home starts (4.60 ERA). He decimated opponents to the tune of a 1.91 ERA with an accompanying 1.15 WHIP in 10 road starts.

29. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston

Rodriguez was given a big contract this offseason following another solid campaign for the Astros. He did regress somewhat from his 2009 breakthrough season, as both his ERA (3.60) and WHIP (1.29) rose in 2010. Rodriguez struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and 2.6 per walk issued. He allowed less than one hit per inning pitched and reduced his home run rate.

I’m most impressed that Rodriguez pitched to a strong 2.82 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP at Minute Maid Park. That stat line keeps me optimistic that Rodriguez takes the next step forward.

28. Clay Buchholz, Boston

Buchholz broke through in 2010 after two partial seasons. He won 17 of his 28 starts while surrendering only 7.4 hits per nine innings. Buchholz only struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings, so he lives dangerously by pitching to contact. I’ll take some solace in the fact that he allowed only nine home runs in his 173 2/3 innings pitched. His lack of strikeout punch leads me to believe that we’ll see a regression toward his career 3.68 ERA. I don’t believe it’ll sink quite that much, but an ERA in the low 3.00s is more likely than a repeat of his 2.33 performance from 2010.

27. Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs

Dempster has logged serious innings since being returned to the rotation in 2008. He’s pitched a total of 622 innings in the past three years while registering 43 wins and a composite 3.49 ERA (3.85 in 2010).

Dempster walks hitters at a dangerous rate and regularly surrenders a high number of home runs (with 61 in this three-year period). His career 1.45 WHIP (1.28 in the past three years) isn’t going to put you over. However, he eats innings, and will offer a big strikeout total and solid win and ERA totals.

26. Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

Billingsley has not been able to replicate his 2008 efforts, but he’s been a consistent contributor in Los Angeles overall. He earned 12 wins in 2010 with a solid, albeit unspectacular, 3.57 ERA (with an improvement of nearly one-half of a run over his 2009 efforts). Billingsley struck out eight batters per nine innings and 2.48 per walks issued.

Billingsley isn’t going to be a dominant pitcher given his sizable yearly WHIP (1.35 career mark). However, I am encouraged that he only surrendered eight home runs in 191 2/3 innings last season.

25. Max Scherzer, Detroit

The former first-round selection by the Diamondbacks posted an uneven first year in Detroit. He struggled to a dismal 4.61 ERA in the first half of the season with an equally dismal 1.37 WHIP. Scherzer didn’t win much in the second half (his six wins tied his first-half total), but he logged a 2.47 ERA and lowered his WHIP by 0.23. He lowered his hit rate and surrendered six fewer home runs.

24. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee

Marcum leaves Toronto to join the middle of the Brewers rotation. In two years as a full-on starter in Toronto, Marcum tallied 22 wins (56 starts) with a strong 3.53 ERA. He averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings (with 3.1 strikeouts per walk) while allowing eight hits per nine innings.

Marcum needs to keep the ball down to elevate his game to the next level. He allowed 45 home runs during his two-year period as a starter. Leaving the AL East should help his cause.

23. Matt Cain, San Francisco

Cain posted another strong season for the champion Giants in 2010. His ERA regressed marginally (increased 3.14 from 2.89), but reduced his WHIP (1.08) and won one fewer game (13). Cain isn’t overpowering, but he piles up innings (has at least 190 2/3 innings pitched in five consecutive years).

22. Roy Oswalt, Philadelphia

The 33-year old veteran experienced a career resurgence upon arriving in Philadelphia. Oswalt won in seven of his 13 appearances while pitching to a tiny 1.74 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP.

To put things in perspective, Oswalt had recorded a strong 3.42 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP (recording his best WHIP mark since his 2001 rookie year) in 20 starts for Houston. He won six games for the Astros before getting dealt to Philadelphia.

I don’t expect Oswalt to repeat his late-season dominance, but an ERA in in line with his career 3.18 mark would be just fine by most owners. Oswalt has pitched 181 1/3 or more innings in eight of 10 major league seasons. He’ll log a sizable innings count, generate wins, and help your ERA and WHIP totals.

21. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta

“Little” Tommy produced an uneven sophomore season. He won eight games in the first half while registering pedestrian 4.13 ERA and 1.37 WHIP totals. Hanson would win only two of 16 starts after the All-Star break, but he produced dominant ERA and WHIP numbers (2.51 and 0.98, respectively). Hanson finished the year with a solid 3.33 ERA overall.

In two seasons, Hanson has earned a composite 3.16 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP while averaging 2.8 strikeouts per walk.

20. Mat Latos, San Diego

Latos broke through in a big way last season. He pitched 31 games for the Padres and generated 14 wins and a 2.92 ERA (10th in the NL). He allowed 7.3 hits per nine innings while limiting his walks (2.44 per nine IP). Latos also struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings.

Latos took advantage of his spacious home park, producing a stellar 2.59 ERA at PETCO Park with a 1.08 WHIP. The 6-foot-6 Latos is a mighty imposing sight, and at age 23, he’s just getting started.

19. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Weaver may not have matched his win total of 2009 (declined from 16 to 13), but he posted his best overall season of his career. He produced new career marks in ERA (3.01) and strikeouts (233). Weaver averaged 4.3 strikeouts per walk and lowered his hit rate (with 7.5 hits per nine IP).

18. Francisco Liriano, Minnesota

Liriano struggled in his first full season following his Tommy John surgery in 2009. He didn’t rebound to his pre-injury self in 2010, but his strikeout punch certainly did. The 27-year-old lefty won 14 games and struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings pitched. Liriano lowered his walk rate markedly and surrendered 12 fewer home runs than he did in 2009. Now further removed from his injury, will we see the pre-injury form from 2006?

17. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis

Carpenter still produced a fantastic 2010 season, though his ballooned home run total served to boost his ERA by nearly a full run to 3.22. He struck out 2.84 batters per walk and allowed less than one hit per inning pitched. Carpenter is now two seasons removed from injury, so fantasy owners can shout the name more forcefully (and earlier) on draft day.

16. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia

Hamels produced a fantastic bounce-back season in 2010. He still allowed 26 home runs, but produced career-best totals in the strikeout (211) and ERA (3.06) categories. Hamels won 12 games, his fourth straight season with a double-digit win total.

Hamels has pitched at least 183 1/3 innings in four consecutive seasons with an ERA of 3.39 or lower in three of them. At age 27, Hamels is hitting his prime.

15. Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels

Haren joined the Angels at mid-season and pitched to a 2.87 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP. He struck out three batters per walk and allowed less than one hit per inning. He won five of his 14 starts for the Angels and dominated opposing batters at Angels Stadium. In nine starts there, Haren pitched to a spectacular 2.08 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP.

14. Josh Johnson, Florida

Johnson won four fewer games than he did in 2009, but he posted fantastic numbers overall. He lowered his ERA by nearly one full run (0.93) and registered a career-best 1.11 WHIP. Johnson struck out 3.9 batters per walk issued and just more than one batter per inning pitched.

How’s this for a split stat? Johnson earned a jaw-dropping 1.57 ERA in 15 home starts.

13. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee

Gallardo nearly replicated his 2009 totals in his second complete season in the rotation (he’d appeared in 24 games during the 2007 and 2008 seasons). He won one more game with a 0.11 rise in ERA and accompanying 0.06 increase in his WHIP. Gallardo also struck out 200 batters with his second straight season of at least 200 strikeouts.

Gallardo allowed nine fewer home runs in 2010, but the big knock on his stat sheet remains. He has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in the past two seasons. He’ll need to improve that mark to take the next step forward.

12. David Price, Tampa Bay

Price won 10 games in 23 starts for the Rays in 2009. He nearly doubled that total in 32 appearances last season (19 wins) while producing eye-popping numbers across the board. Price pitched to a strong 2.72 ERA, while striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings pitched against 7.3 hits per nine IP.

As good as Price was in 2010, there’s still room for improvement. He walked 3.4 batters per nine innings pitched. If he can reduce that number, Price may make the next step into superstardom.

11. Justin Verlander, Detroit

Verlander has won 17 or more games in four of his five complete major league seasons. In 2010, Verlander posted career-low ERA (3.37) and WHIP (1.16) numbers, and demonstrated that his high 2009 strikeout total was no fluke (with 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010).
 

10. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw is another example of a young pitcher with overpowering stuff. It’s overpowering when he finds the plate. In two years as a member of the Dodgers’ rotation, Kershaw has pitched to a spectacular 2.85 ERA with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Kershaw allowed 6.7 hits per nine innings in this two-year period, a fantastic feat. I suppose that he can be called “wildly effective,” as Kershaw has walked 4.12 batters per nine innings.

Kershaw will post spectacular numbers, and I expect to see him receive more consistent support from the offense. The wins will come to support the peripheral numbers.

9. Zach Greinke, Milwaukee

Following a dominant 2009 season, Greinke took a sizable step backward in his final season in Kansas City. Greinke’s ERA rose by two full runs (2.01, to be exact) and his hit and home run rates soared while his strikeout rate dipped markedly.

Greinke will be backed by a more potent lineup in Milwaukee, and facing opposing pitchers certainly won’t hurt the strikeout rate.

8. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

Sabathia won a career-best 21 games in 2010, a tremendous follow-up to his 19-win introduction to New York in 2009. Since joining the Yankees, Sabathia has pitched to a composite 3.27 ERA with 2.8 strikeouts per walk (and 7.6 strikeouts per nine IP). There’s no reason to be wary of a downturn in his production for 2011.

7. Jon Lester, Boston

Lester continued his growth for the Red Sox in 2010, producing career-best totals in the wins (19) and WHIP (1.20) categories. In three complete seasons in the rotation, Lester has amassed 50 wins with a composite 3.29 ERA, while striking out 8.72 batters per nine innings.

6. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado

The man who uses a single name to rival that of any number of pop stars now ranks among the game’s top pitchers despite his Denver home. In three years as a starter in Colorado, Jimenez has won a total of 46 games while posting a composite 3.43 ERA. Jimenez has averaged 8.23 strikeouts per nine innings against 7.5 hits per nine innings.

The biggest knock on Jimenez’s stat line is that his walk rate is staggering. He’s walked 4.0 batters per nine innings during the past three seasons (3.7 in 2010). The potential for disaster is always there given the high number of free passes, but Jimenez doesn’t surrender many home runs (with 10 last season).

5. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia

Lee returns to the Phillies following a 2010 season that saw him split time between Seattle and Texas. He pitched to a fantastic 2.34 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 13 starts for the Mariners before registered a more human-like 3.98 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 15 starts in Texas.

In 12 starts for the Phillies in 2009, Lee pitched to a 3.39 ERA with 7.4 strikeouts per walk. Lee struck out 10.3 batters per walk with an overall stellar 1.00 WHIP last season.

4. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis

Wainwright has established himself as one of the premier hurlers in the game. He’s posted 39 wins in the past two seasons while compiling 425 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA (with a 2.42 ERA in 2010). Wainwright averaged 3.8 strikeouts per walk last season and registered a career-best 1.05 WHIP.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle

Hernandez won 19 games in his dominant 2009 season. He was even better in 2010, though some fans and fantasy owners would fail to get past his total of 13 wins. Hernandez lowered his ERA to 2.27, improved his strikeout total and lowered his WHIP to a career-best 1.06. He’s pitched to sub-2.50 ERAs in back-to-back seasons.

Run support may still be sparse in 2011, but this team can’t perform as poorly as it did last season. Can it?

2. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

Lincecum had an “off” season for the Giants, as his hit, walk and home run rates all rose. His ERA climbed by nearly one full run and his strikeout rate dipped slightly. Still, Lincecum struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings and had 3.04 batters per walk issued. Lincecum won 16 games (one more than 2009).

I must add one note of concern. Lincecum’s second-half ERA was nearly two-thirds of a run higher than his first-half production.

1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia

Fantasy owners anticipated a monster season out of Halladay upon his arrival to the National League. He most certainly did not disappoint, as the 33-year-old righty nearly matched his career-best mark with a 2.44 ERA, 21 wins, 219 strikeouts and a ridiculous 1.04 WHIP. Halladay completed nine games and struck out 7.3 batters per walk. Halladay has pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA in three consecutive seasons.


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