Best NL Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitchers for 2013
The following is a list of the top National League fantasy baseball starting pitchers for the 2013 season. The rankings are based on personal opinion formed while watching a tremendous number of National League baseball games. They will be updated as the off season progresses, trades are made, free agents are signed, and spring training rolls around.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the clear number one starting pitcher in the NL this season. The only concern is the hip injury that limited him toward the end of last season. Pay close attention in spring training for any hint of issues with the hip. If there are any signs that the problem persists then drop him in the rankings a few notches. Last year in 33 starts he went 14-9 with a league-leading 2.53 ERA, 229 strike outs in 227 2/3 innings, and a league-leading 1.023 WHIP. Kershaw will be 25 at the start of the 2013 season, which is right in his prime as a pitcher. If the hip checks out fine we could be in store for a quite a year, something like 250 innings and 270 strike outs. It will be fun to watch and even better if you can get him in your head-to-head league.
2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
If the Nationals' management decides to free the innings limit shackle from Strasburg's golden arm then we could be in store for one of the best seasons by a starter in some time. However, I still think they will impose an innings limit on the 24 year old in 2013, just not as strict as last season, but enough of one that his numbers will be slightly suppressed. In 2012 he went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.155 WHIP, and fanned 197 in 159 1/3 innings. I can't see the Nationals allowing him to go over 200 innings this season after the way they handled him last year. Consequently, I doubt we will see one of those monster Verlander or Halladay seasons of 250 innings and close to 300 strike outs. We'll most likely have to wait another year for that level of output. He still will have a fine season, something like 20-8 with 230 strike outs and a 1.10 WHIP, which places him second on the list of NL starters.
3. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Hamels had a career season in his contract year. Will there be a let down now that he signed the long term deal? That is the risk you will have to take. I'm also not sure why he doesn't win more games. Over his six full seasons he has averaged only 14 years a season, and that was while pitching for a pretty potent offense. Hamels will be 29 at the start of the 2013 season so he is old enough that we shouldn't see a great spike in performance and also young enough that he is still reliable and shouldn't break down physically. Consequently, his average numbers over the past six seasons provide a good indication of what you should expect this season: 14-9, 3.26 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 207 innings, and 194 strike outs. Take it to the bank.
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
The next big thing in the NL starting pitcher ranks. Bumgarner is ranked ahead of his more seasoned teamate matt Cain because he is younger and on the way up in his career trajectory while Cain may have peaked. The 23 year old from Hickory, North Carolina has been getting better every season. Has pitched over 200 innings that past two years, so his arm is ready to go to the next level. I think we are looking at 18 wins, 230 innings, 210 strike outs, and a 1.10 WHIP. He will be a work horse in 2013 for the Giants.
5. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Sometimes even the most bullet-proof pitchers take a sharp decline after their peak (anyone remember Brandon Webb?), especially those that have been worked like rented mules for several years in a row. Cain has averaged 220 innings pitched the last five seasons plus he has had two lengthy post-season runs. So, I'm worried about this accumulated wear and tear on his arm and that's why he's not higher on the list. He's still only 28 years old, so he could have another good year or two left, but just be cautious. He had his best overall season in 2012 when he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 193 strike outs in 219 1/3 innings. Here's hoping for more of this in 2013.
6. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greinke is more suited to a number two role and because of this he may have found a perfect home behind Clayton Kershaw in Dodgers' starting rotation. Overall in 2012 pitched for the Brewers and Angels and went 15-5 in 34 starts with a 3.48 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, and 200 strike outs in 212 1/3 innings. The numbers are solid so you must wonder why I think he's more of a number two. Well, it has to do with his dramatic inconsistency. When he's on, he's great, but when he's not he can throw some real clunkers that can kill you in head-to-head leagues. For example, there was the start in April against the Cubs where he gave up 8 runs and 9 hits in 3 2/3 innings, the loss against Arizona in May when he was touched up for 7 runs and 10 hits in 2 1/3 innings, and the outing in August against the Rays when he gave up 6 runs, 4 walks, and 7 hits. So, you get the point. He's great for Rotisserie leagues, but he can cost you a few wins in head-to-head.
7. Matt Latos, Cincinnati Reds
The mercurial Latos had a rocky start to 2012 but settled down nicely as the season progressed. In his first 14 starts he went 5-2 (luckily) with a 5.20 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. However, in his last 19 games he found his groove and went 9-2 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 115 strike outs in 129 2/3 innings. It's easy to forget that he is only 25 since he's been around for a few seasons now, so he is still learning his craft. 2013 may be the season he finally puts it all together and goes something like 20-10 with 200 strike outs.
8. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Wainwright was not completely the same after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2012. Another year removed from his surgery he should be poised to return to his former high level of performance. During the 2009-2010 stretch the 31 year old right hander had 39 wins, a 2.53 ERA, and averaged 232 innings and 212 strike outs per season with a 1.13 WHIP. He should be ready to go in 2013.
9. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Cueto made a leap last season for the Reds having his breakout season by going 19-9 in 33 starts with a 2.78 ERA, 1.171 WHIP, and 170 strike outs in 217 innings. He pitches in a tough park, but he will be only 27 when the season starts so he is in his prime as a pitcher. Hopefully, the back injury that took him out of the NLDS is behind him.
10. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves
Medlen had a Maddux-like run at the end of 2012 with his incredible change-up baffling one batter after another (except for Donavan Solano who tagged him for two homers in the same game on September 25th). From August 16th to September 30th, over the course of nine starts, Medlen went 9-0 with a 0.81 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 68 strike outs in 67 innings, and 2 complete games. What an amazing run. He should start 2013 in the Braves' rotation and while I don't expect him to go 30-0 because I think the league is due to make an adjustment, I think he will have a very good year, something like 15-6 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His reliever eligibility also makes him worth his weight in gold in head-to-head leagues and pushes him up a few notches in the rankings.
11. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
The 34 year old Lee had one of the oddest seasons in recent memory in 2012. For someone that pitched as well as he did to only go 6-9 is mind-boggling. Overall he started 30 games, had 21 quality starts, pitched 211 innings, struck out 207 batters with a 3.16 ERA, and 1.114 WHIP. Hopefully, his win totals will rebound to normal in 2013, but he is at an age where pitchers decline quickly. As a result, he's only ranked ninth on the list.
12. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Few realized that Zimmerman was also on a leash last season like his more heralded teammate Stephen Strasburg. He rarely pitched past the sixth inning as the Nationals brass tried to limit his innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. The 26 year old went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA, 153 strike outs in 195 2/3 innings, with a 1.170 WHIP, and 24 quality starts. He will be a workhorse this year as the number two starter for the Nationals and should reach 230 innings and close to 200 strike outs.
13. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
I've come to the conclusion after having Gallardo on my team the last two seasons that he is a solid number two fantasy starting pitcher, but falls just a little short of being a number one. This is based on his inconsistency and also his style of pitching where he seemingly goes to a full count on every batter. This leads to high pitch counts, walks, and a WHIP that is higher than it should be for someone with his stuff. If you own him on your fantasy team it's uncomfortable to watch his starts. In spite of it all he still managed to have a decent season going 16-9 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.304 WHIP, striking out 204 batters in 204 innings and accumulating 25 quality starts. I think you can expect similar numbers from him this season, just don't expect it to be a pleasant ride.
14. Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals
In spite of all the doubters and haters Lohse just keeps putting together great seasons for the Cardinals. 2012 was no exception as he went 16-3, with a 2.86 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, and struck out 143 batters in 211 innings of work. As evidenced by the strike out total and rate (6.1 SO/9) he will not reward you with high strike out totals, but his consistency from start to start is something that is very desirable, especially in head-to-head leagues where one bad start can kill you. He is a free agent, but hopefully the Cardinals will come to their senses and sign the 34 year old for a couple more years.
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