5 Hurlers who will be MLB’s Pitching Fantasy Stats Leaders in 2014


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Pitchers are tricky in fantasy baseball. On the one hand, they provide limited value because of their limited playing time. On the other hand, how many fantasy baseball champions have won with a bad pitching staff. Today, Michael Dixon looks at the 5 Hurlers who will be MLB’s Pitching Fantasy Stats Leaders in 2014.

Previous Countdown Pieces: 14131211109876, 5 (hitters).

Writing about sleepers and busts can get a little boring sometimes. There are times when it’s nice to write about why the guys expected to do well will do well.

We went over the hitters earlier today and now, we do the same with pitchers.

As was the case with the hitters, the only rule is that there are no repeats. Unlike with the hitters, the only guy who’d probably be a favorite in more than one category is Clayton Kershaw. Still, if we’re going over five categories, it makes sense to go over five pitchers, right? Let’s do it.

  • Strikeouts: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

This one is really not that difficult. Yu Darvish has been a high K guy not only in his first two MLB seasons, but throughout his career in Japan. So, he’s already on a shortlist.

Additionally, in a hitter’s park like Texas, you have to rely on yourself to get the out, as batted balls are far more likely to hurt than they would be in a place like Oakland.

I do expect a big of a regression from last year’s total of 277, but Darvish won the 2013 strikeout crown with plenty of room to spare. Look for a repeat of that in 2014.

Predicted 2014 Total: 265

  • Wins: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

How do you predict wins? It’s obviously not easy, as so many factors are beyond the starting pitcher’s control. But if we’re trying to figure out who’s going to lead the league, there are a few factors that give some guys an edge. So, what gives Justin Verlander his edge?

— He’s a good pitcher: You may not think a pitcher’s W-L record is a great indicator of his skill but believe it or not, a good W-L record doesn’t hurt a pitcher’s value. Actually, generally speaking, pitchers who win a lot of of games are good pitchers. If they’re getting knocked around the park, they’re not going to be in the game long enough to get a win, regardless of their offense. Granted, 2013 wasn’t a great year for Verlander, but he did finish it in a strong way and has been one of the best in the game for a long time.

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— His team supports him: We’ll see how they do with the loss of Prince Fielder, but with Miguel Cabrera still anchoring the order, the Tigers still look to be one of the best offensive teams in the league. If Justin Verlander goes out and meets the bare minimum standards for a quality start (6 innings, 3 ER’s or fewer), he’ll be in position to win plenty of games.

— The bullpen isn’t great: Believe it or not, this is a good thing. The Tigers do have a strong new closer in Joe Nathan, but they don’t have a great bridge from the starters to Nathan. So, why can’t Verlander be his own bridge, going seven or eight innings I can’t think of a good reason. The deeper he goes, the better chance the Tigers have of pulling out close games, which means more wins for the starter. In this case, Verlander.

The reason Clayton Kershaw isn’t in this spot is because the Dodgers bullpen is too good. They have a reason to pull him out of close games, especially if his spot in the order comes up. Hey, there’s another thing working for Verlander, he doesn’t bat.

The one thing that gives me pause here is his off-season injury, but it appears as though Verlander is on track to be ready for the start of the season.

Predicted 2014 Total: 20

  • Saves: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Much like wins, saves are hard to project as they rely a lot on factors outside of the pitcher’s control. Will the team score the runs needed to put them in position to win, but also keep the game close enough where the closer can still get a save. It’s difficult, no doubt.

Well, predicting a final number is difficult. Predicting the man who will lead the league in saves? Not quite as tough. Craig Kimbrel will be 26 this season and has been the best closer in the game for each of the last three years. The Braves also look to win plenty of games, so he’ll have plenty of chances.

Anyone can lead this, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that anyone other than Kimbrel belongs in this spot.

Pedicted 2014 Total: 45

  • ERA: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

What’s the job of a starting pitcher? Most simply put, his job is to keep opposing hitters from scoring. Since Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, he’d seem like a natural for this spot, wouldn’t he? Oh, there’s more!

  1. Kershaw also gets to pitch at Dodger Stadium in roughly half of his starts. That park is never a bad place for pitchers.
  2. He also gets to pitch in the National League West, a division not known for its great offenses.
  3. He’s also only 26 (sorry, NL hitters), has had an ERA of 2.43 over the last five years, posted an ERA of t 2.91 or less in each of those years, and has led the league in ERA in each of the last three seasons.

There are plenty of great pitchers in this game, but this one is pretty simple. Let’s not over-think it.

Pedicted 2014 Total: 2.39

  • WHIP: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

Without the “No repeat” rule, I could certainly make a strong argument for Kershaw here, but I’m not sure that Cliff Lee wouldn’t get this spot anyway.

His BB/9 rate since 2008 is a sick 1.3. That’s sick for a few reasons.

  1. The number is just phenomenal.
  2. Guys around that total generally surrender a lot of hits because they challenge the strike zone with stuff that’s often not great. that’s not even close to a problem with Lee, who’s also averaged a strikeout an inning over the last three years.

At some point, Lee — who will be 36 in August — will begin to show some signs of regression, but that hasn’t even come close to showing yet. In addition to Kershaw, I also thought about going with Jose Fernandez here, but the veteran ace gets the nod.

Pedicted 2014 Total: 0.98

See Also: Which five hitters will top the five fantasy categories at season’s end?