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Best NL Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitchers for 2014
The following is a list of the top 15 fantasy baseball starting pitchers in the National League for the 2014 season. Starting pitchers are by far the most difficult to predict and rank for future performance. Look at Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, and Ian Kennedy for example. All were in my top ten last season and all three had possibly the worst seasons of their careers. This list is intended to be used as a cheat sheet for your fantasy baseball draft.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
I look at Kershaw's jaw-dropping numbers from 2013 and the first thought that pops into my head is how does someone with a sub-2.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP lose 9 games? The Claw has led the NL in ERA the past three season and 2013 was a career low for him. Overall he went 16-9 in 236 innings with a 1.83 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 27 quality starts, and a league leading 232 strike outs. Only 26 years old on opening day, he is in his prime and should be in line for another strong season. Estimated 2014 totals: 18-6, 2.46 ERA, 225 innings, 225 strike outs, 1.01 WHIP.
2. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Loos like Wainwright is all the way back from Tommy John surgery with his commanding 2013 performance. Overall he went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.068 WHIP, 219 strike outs, and 5 complete games. The only concern is his usage last year with his league leading 241 2/3 innings and deep post-season run and the lingering effects they may have on his readiness for 2014. Only 32 years old, he plays for a strong team and he should be the second pitcher drafted in your league. Estimated 2014 totals: 20-10, 2.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 212 strike outs.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Most thought he would do better in 2013. For whatever reason he seemed to under perform and had several odd outings where he just didn't seem to have it. Overall he went 8-9 in 183 innings with a 3.00 ERA, 1.049 WHIP, and 191 strike outs. He has a full season under his belt now after Tommy John surgery. Still only 25 years old, this may be the year he puts it all together. Estimated 2015 totals: 16-6, 2.60 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 210 innings, 225 strike outs.
Who is the best National League starting pitcher?
4. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Hamels had one of those years in 2013 when nothing seemed to go right from opening day. He ended up with the worst record of his career going 8-14, but his other statistics were right in line with career norms: 220 innings, 202 strike outs, 1.159 WHIP, 3.60 ERA, and 25 quality starts. The Phillies seem like a rudderless ship lately and the same happened to teammate Cliff Lee in 2012 when he went 6-9 in 30 starts in spite of a 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. I expect a bounce back season from Hamels in 2014 and he could be a bargain on draft day. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 3.20 ERA, 210 strike outs, and 1.12 WHIP.
5. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greinke appears most comfortable as a number two starter so he is in an ideal situation in Los Angeles. In 28 starts last season he went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA, 177 2/3 innings, 148 strike outs, and 1.114 WHIP. The DL stint for a broken collarbone during the Carlos Quentin bench clearing brawl knocked him out of 4 starts and kept him from having a truly great season. Only 30 years old and with an outstanding supporting cast, he should have another great season. Estimated 2014 totals: 17-6, 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 175 strike outs.
6. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
The 21 year old Cuban phenom proved to be the real deal in 2013 when he won the rookie of the year honors by going 12-6 in 172 2/3 innings with a 2.19 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and 187 strike outs (9.7 SO/9). The Marlins shut their ace down in September due to his inning total. Run support may be sparse, but he showed all signs of being a work-horse, front-line number one pitcher in 2013. It should be fun to watch him pitch the next ten years. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-5, 2.40 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 225 strike outs.
7. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner started out well as a rookie and has made steady improvement each season. He is often overshadowed by rival and fellow left handed starter Clayton Kershaw, but when their numbers are put side to side, Bumgarner compares very well. The Giants will also have their best hitting lineup in years with Posey, Pence, Belt, Morse, and Pagan, so run support should be solid. The 24 year old should put together another top campaign. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 2.60 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 210 strike outs.
2013 NL Strikeout Leaders
1. Clayton Kershaw, 232
2. Cliff Lee, 222
3. Adam Wainwright, 219
4. Jeff Samardzija, 214
5. A.J. Burnett, 209
6. Cole Hamels, 202
7. Madison Bumgarner, 199
7. Homer Bailey, 199
9. Lance Lynn, 198
10. Tim Lincecum, 193
8. Matt Latos, Cincinnati Reds
It is amazing how well Latos performs in the Great American bandbox. Remarkably consistent, he put together another solid season in 2913 going 14-7 in 210 2/4 innings with a 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 187 strike outs. Only 26 years years old, he may be ready for his career season. Estimated 2014 totals: 16-8, 3.20 ERA, 220 innings, 1.15 WHIP, 205 strike outs.
9. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
The remarkably steady Cain stumbled a bit in 2013 and had what was arguably the worst season of his career going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA, 1.156 WHIP, and only 158 strike outs. He has plenty of miles on his arm after pitching in six consecutive 200-plus inning seasons from 2007 to 2012. Still only 29 years old and with the best hitting roster in years for the Giants he should have a bounce back season. Estimated 2014 totals: 14-10, 3.25 ERA, 170 strike outs, 1.10 WHIP.
10. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Zimmermann quietly had one of the best seasons of any starter in the NL last season. While the spotlight and media attention was focused on his more famous teammate Stephen Strasburg, the 27 year old right hander went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, 161 strike outs in 213 1/3 innings, all career highs. Zimmermann should have another strong season. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 3.20 ERA, 165 strike outs, 1.10 WHIP.
11. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff had one of the more consistent seasons of his career in 2013 going 14-8 in 222 2/3 innings with a 2.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 222 strike outs. Age is a concern as we are acutely aware due to the recent falls of Roy Halladay and Brandon Webb. Top pitchers can fall off the shelf quickly and with little warning, especially ones in the mid-30's and Lee will be 35 on opening day with a birthday in August. He has also amassed eight 200-plus inning seasons in his career so caution is warranted. Estimated 2014 totals: 13-6, 3.10 ERA, 195 strike outs, 1.10 WHIP.
2013 NL Quality Start Leaders
1. Clayton Kershaw, 27
2. Adam Wainwright, 26
3. Cole Hamels, 25
4. Travis Wood, 24
4. Cliff Lee, 24
6. Patrick Corbin, 23
6. Mike Minor, 23
8. Six tied at 22
12. Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves
The 26 year old Minor finally put everything together in 2013 and assumed the mantle of Braves' best starter pitcher. He went 13-9 in 204 2/3 innings with a 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 181 strike outs. The left hander will be the Braves' number one this season especially with the departure of Tim Hudson to the Giants. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 190 strike outs.
13. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds
It's amazing that the Reds' starters seem to perform so well in their bandbox home ballpark. Bailey's performance jumped another level in 2013 when he threw his second no-hitter and posted career highs in numerous categories. The 27 year old went 11-12 in 209 innings with a 3.49 ERA, 1.124 WHIP, and 199 strike outs. Expect more steady improvement this season. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-8, 3.31 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 205 strike outs.
14. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Fell off slightly from a great 2012 season, but all in all had a solid season going 11-8 in 195 1/3 innings with a 3.36 ERA, 1.252 WHIP, and 192 strike outs. Only 28 years old he should have another solid season. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 190 strike outs.
2013 NL WHIP Leaders
1. Clayton Kershaw, 0.92
2. Matt Harvey, 0.93
3. Jose Fernandez, 0.98
4. Cliff Lee, 1.01
5, Madison Bumgarner, 1.03
6. Stephen Strasburg, 1.05
7. Adam Wainwright, 1.07
8. Jordan Zimmermann, 1.09
9. Mike Minor, 1.09
10, Zack Greinke, 1.11
15. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
First year South Korean pitcher Ryu had a remarkably consistent season for the Dodgers going 14-8 in 30 starts and 192 innings with a 3.00 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, and 154 strike outs. Expect more of the same from the 26 year old this year. Estimated 2014 totals: 15-10, 2.90 ERA, 190 innings, 160 strike outs.
Other starting pitchers to consider: Tony Cingrani, Gerrit Cole, Shelby Miller, Johnny Cueto, Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Alex Wood, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, Ian Kennedy, Ricky Nolasco, Julio Teheran