Yesterday Yahoo released their starting pitcher preseason ranks. Mr. Funston tabbed Jon Lester as his 11th best starting pitcher. That's right, 11th! Meaning there are 10 pitchers that are superior to Lester.
Now I know it is common for experts to undervalue pitchers, claiming that there are soooo many, and I will admit that I easily overvalue Lester - I have him as my #1 or #2 starter entering this season, I'm extremely bullish on him.
Here's the line I'm thinking for Lester for 2011 season - his age 27 season:
20w, 240k, 2.80, and 1.15
Honestly, I feel as though 20w might be a couple low, but it's tough to project more then 20 wins for any pitchers under any circumstances.
Now, the argument for why I see an improvement. First, the defensive squad behind Lester is arguably the best in baseball. While he pitches in a hitter friendly environment, his ground ball tendencies, that got even better in 2010, should negate the environment. This should then help decrease his ERA and WHIP.
Second, the wins. This Red Sox team is loaded, as I previously mentioned, in a defensive perspective, as well as it's bullpen (at least the top half), and the hitters. Speaking of the hitters, if Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury return to the form of 2009, this is going to be a devastatingly strong lineup. In other words, stay away from pitchers from the AL East this year.
Worst case scenario is that Lester puts up the numbers he did in 2011. While the ERA and WHIP were not the strongest of the top 10 pitchers, he easily made up for that with strikeouts and wins.
Let's look at Funston's top 10 and their 2010 numbers:
- Roy Halladay
- Tim Lincecum
- Adam Wainwright
- Felix Hernandez
- Clayton Kershaw
- Cliff Lee
- Josh Johnson
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Tommy Hanson
- Zach Grienke
Josh Johnson is coming off of a season where his ERA and WHIP were incredible, neither of which are sustainable given his left on base percentage (LOB%). Further, we're talking about a guy that is fresh off of an end-of-season stint on the disabled list due to his shoulder flaring up and tightness in his back. Both of which are terrible signs for a starting pitcher that has only once logged over 200 innings and never put up 200 strikeouts. Add to the fact that the Marlins are a middling at best squad, and it's easy to think that Lester and Johnson could have similar rate stats with Lester logging an additional 40 strikeouts and 8 wins.
Next, Ubaldo Jimenez. I love the pitcher in real life and his stuff is unreal. However, he's yet to harness his control and until he does so, it's tough to rate him above Lester simply because of another unsustainable ERA. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Funston traded for Jimenez the first week in June - where his from that point out ERA was approaching 5.00. I would expect Lester to have Jimenez is all four starting pitcher categories.
Now we come up to the biggest head scratcher. It's obvious to me that Funston made this selection based on Tommy Hanson's second half, completely ignoring the fact that aside from a nice walk rate, Hanson did nothing to deserve the numbers he put up. If those second half numbers are extrapolated over the course of a full season, we're essentially looking at Kevin Slowey. That's right, Brandon Funston feels Slowey is a top 10 pitcher.
I like Hanson, but I don't see his second half numbers as a sign of things to come nor do I see him as the next Slowey. He's still got a lot of upside, but it's not enough to peg him as a better starter than Lester for this season.
Lastly, Funston picked Zach Greinke over Lester. We can easily conclude that based on the teams around these respective pitchers, Lester will chalk up more wins. Yes, I understand Greinke is moving to the National League and that two years ago he put up monster numbers, but to simply assume that his one monster season is the norm is a mistake.
Managing a fantasy baseball team is about understanding expectations. I agree that Joey Gathright should have become the next Juan Pierre, but it didn't happen. It is out of the question that any of these pitchers, or even another five not mentioned here jump over Lester this season? Certainly, but when we are looking at a pitcher with a clean bill of health that has dropped in 225 strikeouts for two straight seasons, pitches for a phenomenal team in all aspects of the game, and has strong groundball and control numbers, why take the risk on these others with question marks. These others that have to show a semblance of certainty.
So Brandon Funston, I'm asking you to explain yourself here. Fill us in as to why you would let Jon Lester be, in a 10 team league, someone #2 pitcher.