Just like every baseball season, last year certainly had some surprises. Some players had fantasy owners shaking their heads, screaming at their TVs, and looking skyward for answers. And yet others had owners grinning from ear to ear and telling their friends how smart they were drafting that guy when no one else had them in their sights. And this is no more evident than with starting pitchers.
Did that pitcher have a “career year”, or is this just the start of something special? Was 2012 the beginning of a downward spiral for that other pitcher who was cruising along for years, and struggled mightily putting up numbers last season? The excitement of drafting a player who had the best year of his career is only surpassed by the tremendous disappointment drafting a pitcher very early, only to see him hit a wall and cost your fantasy team wins.
Although there are many candidates, here are starting pitchers most likely to have a hard time matching last year’s numbers as well as those who will rebound from last season’s struggles to have great fantasy seasons.
Due for a Dip
- 1.R.A. Dickey (Toronto Blue Jays)
This guy was the “feel good” story of the 2012 season. He wrote a book based on some very troubling personal issues he faced as a child and then came out and pitched lights out for the New York Mets. His 20-6 record, 2.74 ERA, and almost a strikeout per inning were good enough to win him the NL Cy Young Award. Who saw that coming? The previous two years combined, his record was 19-22. And his 20 wins now make up 32.8% of his career wins (61). And it’s not like he’s a spring chicken.
R.A. is now 38 and moving to the daunting AL East where the hitting is fierce and the ballparks are small. Yes, knuckleballers can pitch into their 40s, but I don’t see R.A. Dickey coming anywhere near his numbers from last season, where he led most fantasy leagues in points for starting pitchers. He may post 12 or 13 wins, but his ERA will assuredly increase. Proceed with caution when drafting Dickey in 2013.
- 2.Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals)
Very much like Dickey, Gio Gonzalez enjoyed pitching in the NL East last season. Traded from the Oakland A’s in the off-season, Gonzalez joined the Nats' very deep pitching staff headed by Stephen Strasburg. Even though he pitched in Strasburg’s shadow all year, Gio put up some gaudy numbers and arguably had a better overall season than the ace. He had a 21-8 record with a 2.89 ERA and 207 Ks in 199 innings.
He finished third in the Cy Young race behind only Dickey and Clayton Kershaw. I’m certainly not saying he’s going to be terrible in 2013. But, he will not match those numbers. Also, he had the second best run support in the National League. I can see his win total dropping to 14 or 15, and his ERA taking a hit this upcoming season. The NL hitters have now seen him for an entire season and will hit him much harder than they did in 2012. Look at him as more of a #2 or #3 pitcher on your squad, as opposed to an ace.
- 3.Kris Medlen (Atlanta Braves)
Talk about coming out of nowhere?!?! Medlen began the 2012 season in the bullpen. He actually stayed there for four months and then made a spot start for the Braves out of necessity. Boy oh boy, did he make the most of it! In his 12 starts, Medlen posted a ridiculous 9-0 record and a 0.97 ERA. He averaged exactly one strikeout per inning and a 0.80 WHIP in his starts. Coming into last season, Medlen only made 18 career starts. He wasn’t terrible, but he also wasn’t good enough to crack the starting rotation. Well, now he is!
It’s a very safe bet to say that there is no way on earth he will match his 2012 numbers. But, fantasy owners everywhere are very excited to see how he performs in 2013. Considering he only made 12 starts last season, expect him to struggle to make a solid 33 starts. He is used to the bullpen and his arm has not been tested like it will be this year (see Lance Lynn). Medlen will win 12 games in 2013 and his ERA will triple, if not quadruple. The enthusiasm surrounding this young man is warranted, but Greg Maddux he is not.
Honorable Mention: Jake Peavy, Kyle Lohse, Matt Harrison
Will Bounce Back
- 1.Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies)
For a guy who had 65 wins in the previous four seasons (16.25 average), everyone predicted a big year for Lee in 2012. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, this did not happen. Lee finished with a very unimpressive 6-9 record. He didn’t even get his first win until July 4th! I’m not sure if the fireworks on the Philly skyline were for Independence Day or because Lee finally won a game! For a pitcher who had at least 12 wins in seven of his previous eight seasons, 2012 was a flop for Lee.
And it wasn’t all his fault. The Phillies offense was horrendous with key injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. With those two healthy entering the 2013 campaign, along with the additions of Michael Young and Ben Revere, the Phillies should score more runs for Lee, which means more wins for the lefty. Lee will win at least 15 games this season with an ERA around 3.00 and over 200 Ks. He will finish in the top ten for starting pitchers.
- 2.Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox)
This past season was pretty much a disaster in Boston! Bobby Valentine was not liked by his players and it showed on the field. Well, Bobby V was shown the door and John Farrell returns to Boston. Farrell was Lester’s old pitching coach, and Lester has gone on record giving Farrell much of the credit for his success. Lester was 9-14 last year with a 4.82 ERA. His strikeouts were down and he gave up a career-high 25 homeruns.
In the four seasons prior, Lester was 65-32 with an ERA of 3.33. The encouraging news is that Lester’s fastball lost no velocity. It seems like this guy has been in the league forever, but he’s only 29 years old. Chalk up 2012 as just a bump in the road for Lester. With Bobby V gone and Farrell back in the clubhouse, he’s guaranteed to recover nicely. Plus, the Red Sox offense will also put up more runs. It can only get better in Boston. Lester will post 15 or 16 wins in 2013, his ERA will drop considerably, and he will return to the dominant form he showed from 2008-2011.
- 3.Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays)
You can’t tell me this guy just completely lost it in 2012?!?! He averaged 14 wins a year for three seasons in Toronto. And then last year, he fell apart and never recovered. Toronto was thinking about putting Romero in the minor leagues at one point. Pitching is very mental, and if he gets his confidence back, he should have a huge bounce back year for the Blue Jays. Just like Lester, Romero finished the season with a paltry 9-14 record. His strikeouts were down; his walks were up; his hits allowed also increased. His ERA nearly doubled from 2.92 in 2011 to 5.77 in 2012. Romero was 8-4 at one point but had a terrible skid where he won only one of his final 14 starts.
He’s only 28 years old and is now the 4th or 5th starter on a team that now has a stout pitching rotation of Dickey, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, and Mark Buehrle. He should feel much less pressure and will be pitching against lower-end starters as opposed to the aces of other staffs as he did in past years. Expect Romero to have a very nice season where he wins 14 games and his ERA returns to a respectable 3.50. He’s the perfect low-risk, possible high-reward starting pitcher.
Honorable Mention: Josh Johnson, Josh Beckett, Tim Lincecum
Overall, unless you can get into a starting pitcher’s head, it’s very difficult to tell how he feels going into the 2013 season. For those who had phenomenal years, can they ride that momentum for another season? And for those who had terrible seasons, can they regain the confidence and “stuff” of previous seasons and return to prominence?
We shall see…..