2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: AL Breakout Starting Pitchers

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Corey Kluber

Evaluating pitchers is much harder than evaluating position players. In many ways, the four main fantasy categories are completely inadequate in truly pinpointing quality in pitching. Sure, ERA and strikeouts are pretty good. WHIP is a little more elusive because of the fielding element. I think we would all agree that wins are a complete joke as a statistic. Yet, fantasy championships are won and lost based on these numbers alone.

Anyone that is a regular of this site knows we love to dig deeper into pitching performance, and we certainly will in the offseason, but for now let’s take a look at the top ten American League pitchers according to the traditional numbers. We will add one sabermetric number just for fun, but most of the analysis will be based on the common numbers.

The rankings are based on a Bill James statistic called pitching runs created. It is the statistic that most approximates runs created on the offensive end. Unfortunately, the lag time means I had to stop at this weekend’s games, so some pitchers may have made an additional start in the mean time. We can assume that these things will even out before the end of the season. Like with the position players, the breakout player is not necessarily the best pitcher, but the pitcher that surprised us the most during the season.

PRE

Wins

ERA

WHIP

SO

PR

Felix Hernandez

31

14

2.12

0.915

217

114

Corey Kluber

213

15

2.45

1.096

230

114

Max Scherzer

32

16

3.19

1.168

232

103

David Price

47

13

3.33

1.073

243

99

Chris Sale

39

12

1.99

0.920

192

96

Jon Lester

173

14

2.52

1.097

199

89

Rick Porcello

282

15

3.23

1.176

117

84

Jered Weaver

158

16

3.58

1.221

145

84

James Shields

91

14

3.13

1.177

161

82

Phil Hughes

283

15

3.55

1.146

165

82

King Felix may be the odds on favorite for the Cy Young award, but he hardly counts as a breakout candidate. Unlike many positions, breakout candidates are plenty among starting pitchers in both leagues. It seems like every team in the league has a breakout candidate. Pitching is deeper than ever, and it is high time that fantasy players begin to adjust to the changes in the game.

Breakout AL Pitcher of the Year: Corey Kluber– Cleveland Indians

A quick look at Kluber demonstrates what is happening around baseball. Kluber had the look of a second or third starter last season in Cleveland. He was 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 2013. Moreover, this came in his age 27 season, so there was little to indicate that he would become a darkhorse Cy Young candidate. With his start on Tuesday night, Kluber reclaimed the second spot in the league in strikeouts.

What is remarkable for Kluber is that he has obviously learned to be more of a pitcher. In the old days, it used to take pitchers and hitters several seasons to realize their full potential. The Mike Trouts of the world have spoiled us all, but the Klubers of the world are more plentiful than the Trouts. He teaches us that we always want to be on the look out for the next guy that is going to take a big step forward.

Runner Up: Phil Hughes– Minnesota Twins

I’m not quite sure what it is, but the history books are littered with players that have left the big lights of New York and experienced great success. Even when Hughes was winning 18 and 16 games, he was never quite this good. He’s already established career highs in innings and strikeouts and should set a career best mark in ERA and WHIP in seasons where he would qualify for an ERA title.

The bigger surprise is that he has somehow won 15 games with the Twins even though they are near the basement in the American League. Who knows what the future holds for Hughes. Predicting the future for pitchers is murky at best, but his 2.64 FIP indicates that the future may be even brighter for Hughes and the Twins.

Honorable Mention: Rick Porcello– Detroit Tigers

Who is the AL leader in shutouts? I imagine it would take most fans awhile until they guessed Porcello. Heck, he would probably be the second or third choice on the Tigers alone. Now that David Price is a Tiger it is easy to forget about Porcello, but he definitely gives the Tigers a four deep rotation for the playoffs. However, unlike the rest of the pitchers mentioned, Porcello’s future as a fantasy force may be limited. He has “only” 117 strikeouts as of this writing, so it is easy to see why he was overlooked on draft day.

Still, he is only 25 years old and he has three consecutive seasons with FIPs under four. Yet, only 2014 has resulted in an ERA under four. Each season he has gotten progressively better, so it is fair to assert that he has finally “gotten it” like Kluber. The difference is that Kluber can overpower hitters while Porcello never will. So, his high end fantasy value is never going to be elite. Last year, he went undrafted in a number of leagues and that should never happen again as long as he is healthy.

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