10 National League starting pitchers to target for 2014.
Pitching hasn't always been a strong point in the N.L. Central, but in 2014 there are finally some studs worth talking about, especially in Missouri.
1. Adam Wainwright, STL: There was a lot of speculation as to how the Cardinals ace would recover from Tommy John surgery back in 2011, and the numbers were not great in the first half of 2012 (not like the Wainwright of old). His 14-13 record piled with a 3.94 ERA to finish 2012 were certainly not the usual numbers we see from Wainwright, but if 2013 was any indication, he's back. The Cardinals right-hander turned in an NL Cy Young caliber season going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, notching career highs in innings pitched (241 2/3) and strikeouts (219). Count on Wainwright to continue the dominance he showed throughout October in the playoffs as well, as he is back to being a dependable fantasy ace.
2. Mat Latos, CIN: Latos is just 25, and it is all up hill from here. Since coming over to Cincinnati from San Diego, Latos has made the necessary adjustments in the smaller confines of Great American Ballpark. He has induced more ground balls and he allowed 11 fewer home runs in 2013 (14) than in 2012. The young right-hander has steadily thrown more innings each year since 2010 (184 2/3), marking a career high in 2013 with 210 2/3. His strikeout numbers have been steady over the past four seasons, averaging 186 over that span. His 14 wins in 2013 matched his totals from 2010 and 2012 and his 3.16 ERA was his lowest since 2010. Latos has all the makings to be the Reds ace of the future and look for his innings to continue to increase as well as his win totals going forward.
3. Johnny Cueto, CIN: It was a difficult year for Cueto who landed on the disabled list in three separate occasions with a lat strain in 2013. Although he managed just 60 2/3 innings pitched in the regular season, Cueto finished with a 5-2 record and 2.82 ERA. Over that span, he held opposing hitters to just a .209 average along with 51 strikeouts. Cueto is the Reds ace, but will be pushed by the young Latos as the season goes along in 2014. He has battled injuries in two of the past three seasons, so it is a bit of a concern and definitely something to monitor.
4. Wandy Rodriguez, PIT: After being one of the lone bright spots on a struggling Houston Astros team for the past five seasons, Rodriguez was dealt to Pittsburgh in 2012 and given a fresh start. He was off to a solid start in 2013, until he suffered arthritis in his left (throwing) elbow and stiffness in his forearm. The Bucs decided to shutdown Rodriguez in September after he tried to pitch a simulated game. In his 62 2/3 innings pitched last season, the lefty was pretty solid, going 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA while holding hitters to a .240 average with 46 strikeouts. The one thing fantasy owners will want to keep an eye on his Rodriguez's decline in strikeout rate the past three seasons, his fastball has been consistent, but his changeup and curve have been less effective and probably the reason for less strikeouts.
5. Lance Lynn, STL: When Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter went down with a right shoulder injury in March 2012, Lynn stepped in and more than filled the void. He won 11 games in 17 first-half starts in 2012 with a 3.41 ERA en route to an All-Star appearance. Despite fatigue that may have played a factor in the later months of 2012, Lynn looked sharp again in 2013. He finished the year 15-10 with a 3.97 ERA, while striking out 198 batters over 201 2/3 innings pitched. The one knock on Lynn is that he struggles against left handed hitters, but if he can make better use of his changeup then he could find himself in the discussion with the elite fantasy starters.
6. Francisco Liriano, PIT: Now, I know what you're thinking...how can I trust this guy? Well, many fantasy owners have been waiting for Liriano to return to his old form of 2006 and 2010...well, it finally happened in 2013. Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and although he only pitched 161 innings, his strikeout rate was right on par as he fanned 163 batters. Another promising stat is the fact that Liriano surrendered just nine home runs all season and held hitters to a .224 average. The one thing to be careful with here is the lefty's dominance at home in Pittsburgh all season where he was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA holding hitters to just a 1.74 average – he was 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA allowing hitters a .261 average on the road.
7. Homer Bailey, CIN: Bailey had a solid 2013. Don't let his 11-12 record fool you as he notched career highs in almost every statistical category – ERA (3.49), innings pitched (209), strikeouts (199), opponents batting average (.234) and WHIP (1.12). The one thing that has haunted Bailey throughout his career so far is that he is a fly ball pitcher, pitching in a home run friendly Great American Ballpark. But, he surrendered just 20 home runs in 2013, down from 26 in 2012. If he can continue to keep the ball in the yard a little better, then Bailey could be a late sleeper as a solid back-end starter in your draft.
8. Shelby Miller, STL: With Chris Carpenter missing the entire season and Jaime Garcia shutting down early in 2013, opportunity knocked for Miller and he took full advantage in his first full season as a starter. Miller is a candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year Award after finishing with a 15-9 record piled with a 3.06 ERA and striking out 169 batters over 173 1/3 innings pitched. The 2009 first-rounder has great strikeout power and has the stuff to be a future ace in the league and depending on Carpenter's future he could have a permanent spot in the rotation for years to come.
9. Yovani Gallardo, MIL: If there was ever a bounce back candidate in the NL Central for 2014, look no further than Milwaukee Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo. It was a disappointing 2013 season for the 27-year-old who finished the year 12-10 with a 4.18 ERA (career high) and opposing batters were hitting .261 off the right-hander for the year (career high). Gallardo's strikeout numbers were considerably down in 2013, compared to having at least 200 each year from 2009-2012. Gallardo finished the season strong through August and September going 4-1 with a sub-3.00 ERA, so look for the Brewers ace to build off that and turn the corner back to his old form in 2014.
10. Michael Wacha, STL: It's hard to ignore Wacha's dominance throughout the 2013 postseason and what's more incredible is his age. At just 22, Wacha was called back-up from the minors in August and he certainly didn't disappoint going 3-1 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 51 batters over 47 innings pitched. He found himself full circle in the Cardinals rotation throughout October, posting playoff numbers of 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA with 33 punch outs over 30 2/3 innings pitched and holding hitters to a dismal .151 average. The future looks very bright for Wacha and Cardinals fans have a lot of young pitching talent to look forward to and so to do fantasy owners.
Previously on 7th Inning Stretch by Jamie Zadow: