Much is known about the stud starting pitchers that carry fantasy baseball teams throughout the season. We’ve all seen how names like Sabathia, Verlander, Weaver, Price, and Halladay dominate on the mound and win games for owners. Can you imagine if you drafted these guys back when they were young and were able to keep them for years and years?
Let’s try and do this going forward with some younger starting pitchers. All of these players have had success at the big league level. But, there’s always a concern about drafting a pitcher who’s only had one or two years of tremendous achievement over a guy who’s been around for a decade and puts up big numbers every year.
It’s certainly a risk-reward scenario. If you’re risk averse, you will probably take the veteran who will give you what you expect, nothing more, nothing less. If you’re risk-seeking, you will take a chance and draft the kid whose future is still relatively unknown. He may struggle the next year or two, or he could blow the roof off and make you look like a genius. This is much more evident in a keeper league. Drafting those starting pitchers when they are young will reward you and your fantasy team for several years and win you championships!
Here’s a look at the top five starting pitchers who are 25 years of age or younger:
5. Matt Moore (Rays – 23 years old)
This kid entered the league in late 2011 and took MLB by storm. Three weeks after being promoted to the Rays from Triple-A, he made his post-season debut as a starter. He had a grand total of three games pitched and 9.1 innings thrown before they made him Game 1 starter of the ALDS versus the brutally tough offense of the Texas Rangers at their home park. Moore was exceptional, pitching seven innings, giving up two hits and no runs.
Coming into the 2012 season, people were crowning him AL Rookie of the Year before he threw his first pitch. In his first seven starts, his ERA was well over five and the hype seemed undeserving. He recovered nicely in the final 24 starts and finished the season very strong. His final line was 11-11, 3.81 ERA, and 175 K’s in 177 innings. He needs to get his walks down, but expect him to have a better 2013 and lead the Rays to some big wins.
4. Chris Sale (White Sox – 24 years old)
Sale is a long, lanky southpaw who had a fantastic year in 2012. He turns 24 right before opening day this season and the ChiSox fans are looking for big things from the 6’ 6” fireballer. The one concern is his fragility. His second half of the season was less impressive than the first half. The fact that he tripled his previous season’s innings probably had a lot to do with that. Also, the kid weighs 168 pounds soaked wet… and he’s 6’ 6”!!! Rumor out of Chicago is that he is putting on weight which will certainly help with his stability going forward.
He ended last year with a phenomenal 17-8 record and a 3.05 ERA. He had precisely one strikeout per inning and his WHIP was also very good at 1.14. For fantasy, he’s a no-brainer as a 2nd starter. Chicago flirted with putting Sale in the bullpen last year to save his arm for the future. That didn’t last long, and don’t expect them to do that again. Sale is a stud starting pitcher. If he can last the whole season, expect him to put up similar numbers as last year.
3. Madison Bumgarner (Giants – 23 years old)
Its seems like Bumgarner has been in the league forever, but he’s only 23 years old while entering his 5th year in the majors. Often overshadowed by two other starters on the Giants, namely Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Madison has a great chance at ultimately being better than both of them. Often snake-bitten by a lack of run support, he struggled to accumulate wins until last season.
He and Chris Sale had one big thing in common in 2012. They started very strong, and limped to the finish line. This often happens with young starting pitchers who aren’t used to pitching 33 or 34 games. That being said, Bumgarner finished with a 16-11 record and 3.37 ERA. He had 191 Kss in 208 innings and had an impressive WHIP of 1.11. So, why is he ranked higher than Sale? Simply, he’s been doing it longer. He’s a few months younger and has much more experience. Expect another fantastic year from this Giant ace.
2. Stephen Strasburg (Nationals – 24 years old)
Boy, this was tough to decide who was number one. You can almost call it 1a and 1b. The reason Strasburg ended up at #2 is because of the innings limit the Nationals put on him. Now, they are saying he will pitch 200 innings in 2013. Last year, they put a 160 innings limit on the young phenom one year removed from Tommy John Surgery. He ended up pitching 159 innings with a 15-6 record. He struck out 197 batters and had a 3.16 ERA.
The only righty on the list, Strasburg has more potential than any starting pitcher in the league. He has Justin Verlander stuff, but is six years younger. He pitches in a pitchers park and strikes out more than a batter per inning. He doesn’t walk many batters either. He is advanced beyond his age. Then, why the hang up? Why now draft him first overall? It all comes down to injury concerns coupled with the Nationals coddling him making sure their superstar pitcher doesn’t ruin his career with another arm injury. Overall, Strasburg is a #1 fantasy starter on a squad and will one day be the #1 fantasy starter in the league… maybe even this year.
1. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers – 25 years old)
How can you go wrong with this guy? He will begin the season as a 25-year-old ace with a Cy Young in his back pocket. He was 21-5 in 2011 when he won the award. Last year, Kershaw ended with a 14-9 mark and a 2.53 ERA. His win total would have been much better if it weren’t for several key injuries to the Dodgers and the lack of run support. He now has a career 61-37 record and an unreal 2.79 ERA. All of this was done before his 25th birthday. Oh, and over the past two years, he has struck out 477 batters in 461 innings and his WHIP was exactly 1.00, which is absurdly good.
He backed up winning the Cy Young with a 3rd place finish. He led the majors in ERA for the second consecutive year. He allowed fewer than seven hits per nine innings for the third year out of four. He certainly doesn’t walk many hitters either. And he averages more than a strikeout per inning. What more can you ask for in a starting pitcher? He’s also a work horse. Expect Kershaw to pitch upwards of 230 innings and be in the running for the Cy Young Award again. The Dodgers are seemingly healthy which should give him more wins also. Kershaw will threaten to hit 20 wins and may be the best pitcher in the entire league.
This was a difficult list to assemble. Other starting pitchers like Mat Latos, Jarrod Parker, and Mike Minor are also part of the “25 and under club.” But, the five mentioned above will assuredly keep improving and eventually bumping off the normal veteran starters you see atop the fantasy baseball rankings.
So again, will you play it safe and draft the veteran and pretty much know what you’re going to get? Or will you take a risk and draft the young kid who could make you a fantasy champ for years? I say move over Sabathia, Weaver, and Halladay and bring on Moore, Sale, and Strasburg!