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Fantasy Fix: The Top 20 Starters & Relievers

I'm wrapping up my 2013 fantasy baseball draft guide with what I think are the two most predictable categories.

There is not much to debate about starting pitcher rankings until you get well into the second ten, where you could argue Chris Sale should be much lower, and Jered Weaver much higher. Essentially, you could draft any of the top 10 pitchers and claim to have an ace.

The relief pitchers are, as usual, a mixed bag of wunderkinds with power arms and cagey veterans who keep hitters guessing. I wouldn't be surprised to see old Mo Rivera land atop this heap one last time by the end of the season, but his retirement reminds us they don't make closers like him anymore, who can be counted on year-in and year-out.

Starting Pitchers

1. Clayton Kershaw. Verlander was a bit better in 2012, but Kershaw will be hard to beat with a jacked-up offense creating leads for him.

2. Justin Verlander. With a six-season streak of 200-plus innings and his manager's trust to finish close games, he's the closest thing to a sure thing among starters.

3. Stephen Strasburg. When the kid gloves were on, he won 15 games and struck out 197 in just 159 innings. What will he do when he's unleashed for a full season?

4. David Price. 20 wins, 205 strikeouts and a 2.56 ERA in 2012 is only good for fourth on this list, but he doesn't get too many complete game opportunities.

5. Felix Hernandez. His five shutouts last year look like a number out of the pitcher-dominant 1970s, and a better lineup should help him win more than the 13 games for once.

6. Cole Hamels. The real star of the Philly rotation is coming off a breakout year, and could push for 20 wins and 230 strikeouts.

7. Matt Cain. Usually won't bring in the gaudy strikeout numbers, but if your league counts WHIP, there is almost no one better - his 1.04 last year was NL best.

8. Adam Wainwright. Despite a 14-13 record and 3.94 ERA last year, he's surging up the draft board as he distances himself from injury and looks more like the 20-game winner of 2010.

9. Cliff Lee. His 6-9 record last year was viewed as ridiculously bad luck, and his post-All-Star break numbers, including 5 wins, a 2.45, 109 strikeouts and just 8 walks - are closer to the truth.

10. Yu Darvish. Gradually found his way last year, and the Rangers' power lineup saved him from disaster more than once. His most interesting number: 221 strikeouts in just 191 innings.

11. Chris Sale. Showed up a legion of doubters last year. Will need help to get 17 wins again, but should easily top his 192 strikeouts of a year ago.

12. Zack Greinke. Couldn't be in a better situation, and spring injury scare seems to have passed. If Dodgers are as good as they appear, he and Kershaw could compete for Cy Young votes.

13. Gio Gonzalez. 21 wins seems like it's worth a higher spot; my only explanation is that the Nats have an unbelievably good bullpen they won't hesitate to use.

14. Madison Bumgarner. Another great WHIP (1.11) from another SF pitcher. Bumgarner getting ranked this high on his 16 wins last year and likelihood his best year still lies ahead.

15. Jered Weaver. Low ranking for a 20-game winner with an MLB-leading 1.02 WHIP among starters, but achilles is strikeouts - 142 in 189 innings.

16. CC Sabathia. Extremely durable, but 15 wins last year were his fewest since 2006; you have to wonder how much help he'll get from a decimated Yankees lineup.

17. Mat Latos. Could be in line for a 18-20 wins, and could move up the rankings if he gets on a 200-plus strikeouts pace.

18. R.A. Dickey. Last year's Cy Young is with a better team now, but I can't buy that a knuckleballer can repeat a 20-win, 230-strikeout season at age 38.

19. Johnny Cueto. A quiet 19 wins last year and and he's only 27.

20. Max Scherzer. Seemed to turn the corner on an inconsistent career last year, exploding for 231 strikeouts.


Alex Cobb: An increasingly popular sleeper draft pick, so don't wait too long. He managed 11 wins over 136 innings last year, and has been a standout this spring.

Jeff Samardzija: Not really a sleeper after last year, but could manage 13 or 14 wins and 200 strikeouts if the Cubs manage to win more than 70 games.

Julio Teheran: The biggest pitching star of spring training - I know, the second part mitigates the first part - has 35 strikeouts in 26 innings, and seems ready to stick in the majors.

Relief Pitchers

1. Craig Kimbrel. Widely doubted after a huge 2011, 42 saves and a 1.01 ERA last year spoke volumes.

2. Aroldis Chapman. Keeps flirting with the starting rotation, but returning to the role in which he can truly dominate.

3. Kris Medlen. SP/RP eligibility and an incredible second half last year make him a great choice if you want more wins and strikeouts, but don't want to compete on saves.

4. Fernando Rodney. Slight injury concern, but a filthy 0.60 ERA made 2012 his breakout year.

5. Jonathan Papelbon. Always have found him inconsistent, but 38 saves, 92 strikeouts in 70 innings, and a 2.44 ERA for a team that underwhelmed suggests 2013 could be very good.

6. Mariano Rivera. The Sandman should deliver a routinely amazing final season, though don't be surprised if injury recovery slows him until June or so.

7. Rafael Soriano. Former Yankee comes to the NL to be the leader of a deep bullpen for a team that should hand him plenty of leads.

8. Joe Nathan. Once the top AL closer for the Twins, a nice comeback season last year suggests he could hit 40 saves again.

9. J.J. Putz. Faltered last year with 32 saves, 13 fewer than in 2011, but seemed to get better as the year went along, going from May 22 to September without a blown save.

10. Jason Motte. Looks like he may open on the DL, so I have moved him down a couple levels from where I had him ranked earlier, but with a 0.92 WHIP, he's becoming a great closer.

11. Sergio Romo. The Giants have multiple closer options, but Romo the righty should get the most opportunities, and has a ratio of more than six strikeouts to every walk.

12. Jim Johnson 51 saves last year was the most in the majors, which of course means we can't trust him this year. Also doesn't have the strikeout stuff to be higher on the list.

13. Huston Street. Injuries are always a concern, but finished strong in 2012 and should get a lot of chances in one of the great pitchers' parks.

14. Greg Holland. Limited audition last year with 14 saves, but 91 strikeouts in 67 innings is what we like to see from a closer.

15. Tom Wilhelmson. Upstart with 29 saves last year for a team that should be better this year.

16. Chris Perez. Runs into trouble now and then, and runs off at the mouth, but still managed 39 saves last year for a team that is steadily improving.

17. Marco Estrada. Another SP/RP option who could prove to be the Kris Medlen of 2013.

18. Glen Perkins. Hung around the Twins long enough to become closer, and did well, with 11 of his 16 saves last year coming in the second half.

19. Joel Hanrahan. A little off last year after his dominant 2011, but 36 saves and a 2.72 ERA is not exactly disappointing.

20. Addison Reed. Never would have suggested this a year ago, and could still be way off, but the closer role is such a gamble, he's worth taking a flyer on. I feel like his chances are good to improve on 29 saves last year.


Jason Grilli: Is this the year the Bucs get back to winning? The prospects are good, which means Grilli should have a big workload.

Carlos Marmol: Don't laugh - okay, go ahead and laugh. But there is so little pressure on him now, he could become a dominant closer again, which also could mean seeing him traded to a team that hands him leads more often.


Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.

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