2010 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Starting Pitchers

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Sometimes it’s difficult to evaluate what kind of production a player will have when he changes teams over the offseason. This is especially true when it comes to starting pitching, because not only can an unfamiliar ballpark play a role in how a starter fairs, but also what kind of offensive production he can expect from his new lineup and whether or not he’ll have a good spot in the rotation.

Below are eight starting pitchers that either changed teams at the tale end of the 2009 season or will be playing for a completely different club in 2010. We’ve outlined some factors that the pitchers will be facing in their new situation and try to project how they’ll fair in 2010. Some players (like Roy Halladay for example) can be counted on to be great no matter what team they wind up on. But what about guys like Jake Peavy (who will now have to pitch in the AL for a full season for the first time in his career) or Max Scherzer (a strikeout pitcher that is moving to a tougher AL after playing the past couple seasons in Arizona)?

Let’s take a look.

Roy Halladay, Phillies
You’re going to draft Halladay for the same reasons the Phillies parted with multiple players (including Cliff Lee and a couple of key prospects) in order to acquire him from the Blue Jays last winter: he’s outstanding. Halladay finished with 47 complete games last season and 14 shutouts, while also ranking 11th in innings pitched. Now that he’s playing in the NL on a team with a potent offense, he should have no problem winning 17-plus games and notching another 200 strikeouts. The only knock against Halladay’s new home is that the Phillies play in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But we’re thinking the veteran pitcher will adjust fine to his new digs.

Cliff Lee, Mariners
Lee felt he was shafted when the Phillies unloaded him in order to acquire Halladay last winter, but he should love his new surroundings. He’s walked fewer than two batters per nine innings in each of the past two seasons and will now have the luxury of having a solid defensive outfield at his back. He’s used to pitching in the AL from his days in Cleveland, so the league change won’t hurt him one bit. Lee is a top-notch fantasy starter.

Javier Vazquez, Yankees
The last time Vazquez was in pinstripes he finished with a 4.91 ERA and a horrendous showing in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox in 2004. But Vazquez has been solid since then and is coming off a year in which he racked up 15 wins, 238 strikeouts, a 2.87 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. Don’t overvalue him on draft day because pitching in Yankee Stadium will surely cause his ERA to travel north of 3.00, but don’t undervalue him because he’s pitched well over the past couple years and will get plenty of offensive help from the Bombers’ stacked lineup.

John Lackey, Red Sox
There are two concerns about Lackey and one doesn’t really have anything to do with him moving to Boston. Over the last two seasons, arm issues have limited him early in the year and have prevented him from making 30 starts. But considering the Red Sox gave him a lucrative deal during the offseason, it appears that they aren’t concerned with his arm and neither should fantasy owners. Another potential concern is that he’s moving to a division where pitchers had a 4.83 ERA facing AL East clubs last year (compared to 4.22 against other teams), but Lackey remains a candidate to win 15-plus games this year and finish with an ERA around 3.60. He should also benefit from Boston’s solid offensive production and defense. (The addition of Mike Cameron boosts the club’s defense in the outfield.)

Jake Peavy, White Sox
Proceed with major caution. Not only has Peavy had injury issues over the past two seasons, but he’s also moving to the American League where hitters are tougher and to the homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field will be a stark different from playing in the spacious Petco Park for so many years. We’re not suggesting that Peavy won’t be solid this season; on the contrary, we believe he’ll wind up right around 15 wins if he stays healthy. But don’t overvalue him on draft day – especially considering his ERA is likely to suffer a spike given his new surroundings.

Max Scherzer, Tigers
Scherzer still has plenty of upside and given his penchant for striking hitters out, he’ll be valuable to many owners on draft day. But there were some in the Diamondbacks’ organization that felt he would continue to be a pitcher that can’t work deep into games and would only be a five-inning starter. Moving to the AL doesn’t bode well for his fantasy production, but he could be a pitcher that is eventually worth the risk in the later rounds.

Edwin Jackson, Diamondbacks
Here’s the good news: Jackson had an outstanding first half last year, compiling a 2.52 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Here’s the bad: he fell apart in the second half of the season, racking up a 5.07 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. Moving to the NL will certainly help his value (he’ll get to face the Giants and Padres’ weak offenses a couple times a year), but his overall production will likely fall right in between his first half success last year and his second half failures. You might be better off having some other owner draft him and then scooping him up later if he becomes available on the waiver wire.

Rich Harden, Rangers
Buyer Beware on Harden: just because you’ll likely get him in the later rounds and will love his strikeout numbers, doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a bargain. His home run rate doubled last year and with it came a spike in his ERA. His move to the American League doesn’t help much and neither does pitching in a homer-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Harden certainly isn’t a bad third or fourth starter, but just be aware that he’s always an injury waiting to happen and with the move to Texas, he might be worth a pass.

Below is our official ranking of starting pitchers.

1. Tim Lincecum, SF
2. Roy Halladay, PHI
3. Felix Hernandez, SEA
4. Zach Greinke, KC
5. CC Sabathia, NYY
6. Dan Haren, ARI
7. Justin Verlander, DET
8. Cliff Lee, SEA
9. Jon Lester, BOS
10. Adam Wainwright, STL
11. Johan Santana, NYM
12. Chris Carpenter, STL
13. Yovani Gallardo, MIL
14. Matt Cain, SF
15. Josh Beckett, BOS
16. Javier Vazquez, NYY
17. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
18. Tommy Hanson, ATL
19. Josh Johnson, FLA
20. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL
21. John Lackey, BOS
22. Cole Hamels, PHI
23. Ricky Nolasco, FLA
24. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU
25. Chad Billingsley, LAD
26. Jake Peavy, CHW
27. Jair Jurrjens, ATL
28. Scott Baker, MIN
29. A.J. Burnett, NYY
30. Jered Weaver, LAA
31. Matt Garza, TB
32. John Danks, CHW
33. Roy Oswalt, HOU
34. Brandon Webb, ARI
35. Brett Anderson, OAK
36. Tim Hudson, ATL
37. David Price, TB
38. Max Scherzer, DET
39. Scott Kazmir, LAA
40. Edwin Jackson, ARI
41. J.A. Happ, PHI
42. Clay Buchholz, BOS
43. Rick Porcello, DET
44. Gavin Floyd, CHW
45. Jorge De La Rosa, COL
46. Ryan Dempster, CHC
47. Rich Harden, TEX
48. Mark Buehrle, CHW
49. Ervin Santana, LAA
50. Jonathan Sanchez, SF
51. Brian Matusz, BAL
52. Jeff Niemann, TB
53. Ted Lilly, CHC
54. James Shields, TB
55. Wade Davis, TB

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