January 2011

2011 List of 12

Happy New Year!

I probably should’ve done this much sooner after the season ended, but no time like the present… without further delay, here is the 2011 List of 12!

2011 List of 12.xls

For those of you who don’t know what it is, or how we pick it, check out the posts from last year or 2009, which explain it pretty well. This year, we have 15 pitchers to choose from, in alphabetical order:

Blackburn, Nick
He posted two decent seasons in 2008 and 2009 but could not repeat the effort
again last year as his K/9 dropped to a pitiful 3.8. No matter how good his
ground ball rate, or how favorable his home ballpark, a starting pitcher simply
cannot earn fantasy value with so few strikeouts.

Cueto, Johnny
He faded badly after a great start in 2008, and didn’t appear to step forward
much in 2009. The strikeout rate dipped a little further in 2010, but he cut
the walks and got some better luck on the homer ratio, and voila, his ERA
dropped over three-quarters of a run. I’m not convinced he’ll be a stud, but he’s
growing into a solid mid-rotation starter.

Dickey, R.A.
One of the biggest surprises of 2010, Dickey finally qualified for his first
ERA title after spending parts of seven other seasons in the Majors.
Breakthrough or fluke? He kept the walks low, got plenty of grounders and wasn’t
hurt by the longball, though his strikeout rate was barely serviceable. The
same formula would make him a solid end-of-rotation risk in 2011, but he’s no
sure thing.

Feldman, Scott
Not dissimilar to Blackburn, with a few more strikeouts, but a few more walks,
fewer grounders and a much less forgiving home ballpark. Pitch or Ditch
material at best.

Gallardo, Yovani (below) –
Cons: Stalled around 185 innings for the second straight year, and still gives
up a few too many walks. Pros: Dominant strikeout rates coupled with major improvement
in command, and solid home run rates despite ordinary ground ball rates. With
health and better defensive support he could have a breakout season, and oh
yeah, he only turns 25 in February!

Gorzelanny, Tom

Posted an up-and-down season, including a stint in the bullpen, but finished
with his best season since his 2007 campaign in Pittsburgh. The walk rate
spiked 50% from 2009, but I’m expecting improvement there based on what he did
in 2007, 2009, and in the minors, and he’s not terribly homer-prone despite an
ordinary ground ball rate. A sneaky sleeper for 2011.

Hammel, Jason
– Maintained
solid strikeout rates all season, and was dominant in a five-start stretch
throughout late May and into June, but otherwise very ordinary. His K/BB rate is
encouraging, but the ground ball and homer rates hold him back. Still, a solid
mid-rotation starter whose strong strikeouts give him decent upside.

Johnson, Josh

Just missed this list last year, but earned a nod as a major breakout candidate,
and he did just that despite missing a few late-season starts. Even if he “slips”
back to his 2009 level, he’s entered the soft ace category and will move into the
elite with another season like 2010. Still, the disconnect between his ground
ball and homer rates, combined with the Marlins’ mediocre team defense, suggest
more of the former than the latter.

Jurrjens, Jair

He essentially repeated his 2009 season, minus the BABIP good luck and health. His
true level is probably an ERA in the upper 3’s, making him a useful
end-of-rotation option but not an ace by any measure.

Lannan, John

Pros: He’s from Long Beach, NY, not far from the home of our own Mike Siano. Cons: His
strikeout rate makes him the left-handed NL version of Nick Blackburn. Sorry, that’s
not intended as high praise.


Liriano, Francisco
(right) – Despite a 5.80 ERA in 2009, he carried a huge buzz into drafts last season
thanks to a monster winter league campaign, and didn’t disappoint. Most
importantly, he stayed healthy enough to make 31 starts, just missing 200
innings, and returned his walk and ground ball rates near the levels of his
2006 breakout. He turned 27 this winter and pitches in a very favorable home
park, so expect another big step towards stardom this year.

Marcum, Shaun – A
draft-day afterthought after missing all but five minor league starts in 2009
while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Marcum was one of the biggest
surprises of 2010, posting strong numbers while going wire-to-wire in the brutal
AL East. The only major flaw on his resume was a weak ground ball rate and a
correspondingly poor homer rate, but moving to the NL Central should help
address those concerns. At 29 he’s a little old to be considered a breakout candidate,
but if healthy he should easily match or could even improve upon his strong 2009

Matsuzaka, Daisuke
– Four full seasons and nearly 600 innings of gut-wrenching, nauseating roller
coaster rides prove he’s definitely not one for the squeamish. The strikeout rates make him awfully tempting, and with his
stuff, he could dominate if he ever decides to challenge hitters and throw more
strikes. But it’s best to not watch.

Pelfrey, Mike
Throw out a brutal seven-start summer stretch in which his strikeouts utterly evaporated, and Big Pelf acquitted himself nicely as a solid mid-rotation
starter in 2010. However, his overall numbers don’t show any real growth over the
last three seasons, so this is probably as good as it gets. Not that an ERA in
the high 3’s is bad, but he’s not someone to target.


Sanchez, Jonathan
(right) – Siano’s pet pitcher finally makes the list! He threw a no-hitter last
year and has dropped his ERA nearly two full runs over the past two seasons,
despite a dip in his groundball rates and no meaningful improvement in his walk
rates. With an improved offense and a strong defense behind him in a great pitchers’ park,
Sanchez should be at least be a solid #3 this season, but without cutting his
walk rate from the mid-4’s at least to the mid-3’s, he could see his ERA
stagnate in the mid 3’s.

So, to summarize, here’s how
I rank them for 2011:


1. Johnson,

2. Liriano,
(by a nose over Gallardo)

3. Gallardo,

4. Sanchez,

5. Cueto,
Johnny (edges out Marcum on youth and upside)

6. Marcum,

7. Hammel,

8. Jurrjens,

9. Gorzelanny,

10. Pelfrey, Mike

11. Matsuzaka, Daisuke

12. Dickey, R.A.

13. Lannan, John

14. Blackburn, Nick

Feldman, Scott


mentioned above, we pointed out Johnson last year as a top
“near-miss” from the list, and this year’s list of close calls is
particularly intriguing. While none of these five pitchers have the 500 career
innings we use for the List of 12 cutoff, all are close enough, and trending in
the right direction, to be excellent choices for this season: Dallas Braden (473.1
career IP), Clayton Kershaw (483.0), Hiroki Kuroda (497.0 IP),
Anibal Sanchez
(477.0) and C.J. Wilson (484.2).