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1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD.
Stat categories in which he tied or set career bests in 2014: Wins, complete games, shutouts, ERA, WHIP. Only his 239 strikeouts, most since 2011's career-high 248, didn't make that cut. The thing is: He'll do it all over again. Interesting 2014 stat: 27 games started, fewest since his rookie year, due to early injury.
2. Felix Hernandez, SEA.
King Felix's story is almost as good: Career-best strikeouts, ERA, WHIP in 2014, and 15 wins was second-highest. SEA offense is improving, so he may get that 20-win season. Interesting 2014 stat: Zero CGs/shutouts second straight year after 16/6 from 2010-2012.
3. Chris Sale, WHITE SOX.
The foot injury gives slight pause, though it really shouldn't. He may miss a start, even two, but has a better chance than ever with an improved lineup and closer supporting him to reach 20 wins. Interesting 2014 stat: 2.17 ERA third overall in MLB.
4. Max Scherzer, WAS.
Workhorse now anchoring the best starting rotation in MLB, and his numbers of the last two years prove he can do it: 39 wins, 492 strikeouts in 434 IP. Will NL game result in fewer IPs? Interesting 2014 stat: 3.15 ERA up from 2.90 in 2013.
5. Stephen Strasburg, WAS.
Second reason why WAS has the best staff in the bigs. 242 strikeouts (tied for NL best) was a career high we all knew he'd get if he could stay healthy enough to notch 200 IPs. Interesting 2014 stat: .245 batting average against was a career high.
6. Madison Bumgarner, SF.
I've always worried that the Giants weak lineup cuts into his win potential, but since he collected 18 wins last year and they won another World Series, I should quit worrying. Interesting 2014 stat: 219 strikeouts, like 18 wins, was a career high.
7. David Price, DET.
271 strikeouts led all of MLB. 15 wins is nice, too, but he was only 4-4 after getting shipped from middling TAM to a better team and park in DET. Interesting 2014 stat: Massive 248 IP also a league high and career high, the kind that might concern some.
8. Corey Kluber, CLE.
AL Cy Young over Felix, Sale, Scherzer, Price - that's how brilliant he was. 18 wins, 269 strikeouts. ERA of 2.44 and WHIP of 1.09 push his value out of the top five, and he's not entirely a proven quantity, but hard to pass up. Interesting 2014 stat: Just 51 walks/235 IP.
9. Adam Wainwright, STL.
20 wins, career-low 2.38 ERA/1.03 WHIP in 2014, but no Cy with Kershaw around. 179 strikeouts make him borderline top 10, though he's consistent fantasy value who likely will be a Cy candidate again. Interesting 2014 stat: 5 CGs second straight year.
10. Jon Lester, CUBS.
This off-season prize had 16 wins and 220 strikeouts between BOS and OAK last year, but will be challenged to repeat those number with a team that may still be on the wrong side of .500. Interesting 2014 stat: Only 48 walks in 219 IP.
11. Johnny Cueto, CIN.
The other hard-luck 20-game winner in the NL last year is probably undervalued here. 242 strikeouts tied for league best, 0.96 WHIP was Kershaw-like. Stats will be hard to repeat with his middling team. Interesting 2014 stats: 2.25 ERA/ .194 BAA both career bests.
12. Zack Greinke, LAD.
Ranked higher elsewhere, but always seems to me to be inconsistent and a slight disappointment - maybe because he never smiles? Yet, his 17 wins were a career high, so maybe I should shut up. Interesting 2014 stat: 207 strikeouts most since 2009 Cy Young year.
13. Cole Hamels, PHI.
Could be a slight bargain here if he gets traded, but Philly's screwy front office won't make you any promises about that. Blame his 9-9 2014 record on his lousy team because his 2.46 ERA was a career best. Interesting 2014 stat: Nine HRs allowed also career low.
14. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS.
No. 3 starter for WAS would be No. 1 elsewhere. Slid from 19 wins in 2013 to 14 in 2014, but was better in almost all other respects. 182 strikeouts, 2.66 ERA, 1.07 WHIP all career bests. Interesting 2014 stat: Zero hits allowed Sept. 28 vs MIA.
15. Matt Harvey, NYM.
Some risk, potentially high reward betting on a guy who hasn't pitched since late 2013 due to injury, but 2012 stats like 191 strikeouts in 178 IP are pretty tantalizing. Interesting 2014 stat: Uh . . .
16. Julio Teheran, ATL.
14 wins each of the past two seasons and strikeouts, ERA and WHIP improved 2013 to 2014. May not get much run support, but with a 2.89 ERA he may not need it. Interesting 2014 stat: four complete games.
17. James Shields, SD.
Eight straight seasons with double-digit wins, and while he left behind the AL champs, he moved to a pitchers' park and a vastly improved team. Interesting 2014 stat: 180 strikeouts his lowest since 2009.
18. Jacob deGrom, NYM.
I don't see the NL Rookie of the Year in a lot of top 20s, but his numbers of 140 IP, nine wins, 144 strikeouts, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP suggest at the very least a 200-strikeout pitcher over a full season. Interesting 2014 stat: Four games of 10 or more strikeouts.
19. Jeff Samardzija, WHITE SOX.
202 strikeouts last year, 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP make you overlook seven wins for the bad Cubs and late-season struggling A's. The Cell is HR-friendly as ever, but he should get run support. Interesting 2014 stat: 0.99 WHIP after move to AL.
20. Jake Arrieta, CUBS.
Could very well be better than Lester based on his hot stretches last year - or he could collapse in a heap with his latest injury. 156 IP does not a full season make, but the 10 wins, 167 strikeouts and 2.53 ERA he managed is enticing. Interesting 2014 stat: 0.99 WHIP.
Sleeper: Michael Pineda, NYY.
Took a long road back to the majors, but was lights-out good in the final month of 2014, with five wins and a 1.89 ERA. Not really a strikeout pitcher, but if the Yankees are contenders, I could picture him with 15 wins and 2.50 ERA.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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