Fantasy baseball Pitching Report: Best pitchers of the first half
We're continuing our All-Star Week special here at SI.com, taking a look at the best fantasy starting pitchers from the season's first half. If you could build the perfect fantasy pitching staff, what would that look like? Let's get it started with the ideal seven-man rotation.
• Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers -- Baseball is an awfully tough game to predict, except when it isn't. A lot of people considered Kershaw the best pitcher on the planet heading into the season, and he has probably persuaded those who didn't believe. In 145.1 innings, Kershaw has a 1.98 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 139 strikeouts, and batters are hitting just .188/.241/.270 against him. Despite having just eight wins, he ranks as the top starting pitcher in standard 5x5 leagues. That makes him the ace of this team.
• Matt Harvey, New York Mets -- Kershaw may be the No. 1-ranked starter in fantasy leagues, but Harvey is starting the All-Star Game, and with good reason. He has 147 strikeouts in 130 innings, making him one of three starters getting double-digit strikeouts per nine innings (don't worry, we'll get to the other two). He has a 2.35 ERA, though his FIP is a touch better at 2.17. He's striking out more than five batters for every one he walks. Perhaps most impressive, on a team that has a winning percentage of .451, he's 7-2. He pitched too many innings last year to be eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award, but if you tell GMs they could start their team with any pitcher in the majors leagues, I'd bet a majority would pick him. He has taken the league by storm and has been one of the best stories of the first half.
• Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals -- No one should be surprised that Wainwright made his way into a column like this at midseason. He's one of the most consistent pitchers in the majors, plays for one of the best teams in the league and generally does everything you'd want out of a fantasy ace. But this year, at 31 years old, he might be having the best season of his career. Yes, he's striking out the fewest batters per nine innings he has since 2008. He also has a 12-5 record, 2.45 ERA, career-best 2.23 FIP and 1.01 WHIP. If that weren't enough, he has walked just 15 batters all season, and has a chance to set a record for K/BB ratio.
• Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers -- I think we're all comfortable with the fact that pitcher wins are a flawed stat, but they do still carry some meaning. Scherzer finally lost his first game of the year in his last start, finishing the first half with a 13-1 record. Of course, that's not all he has done. He has 152 strikeouts in 129.2 innings, which translates to 10.55 strikeouts per nine innings. He'll start for the AL in the All-Star Game, and is the current odds-on-favorite to take home the AL Cy Young Award.
• Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers -- The immortal Harry Doyle says in the movie Major League that you can tell how a season is going to go by the first batter's at-bat. Well, if you apply that to Darvish's first start of 2013, we shouldn't be surprised that he's in this rotation. He came within one out of throwing a perfect game on Opening Day, and hasn't looked back. Despite going on the DL a week before the All-Star Break, he leads the majors with 157 strikeouts, racking up all those whiffs in just 119.1 innings. He leads the majors with 11.84 strikeouts per nine innings. He has fanned at least 10 batters in six games this year, and has reached 14 strikeouts in a game three times. He won't end the 300-strikeout drought thanks to his DL stint, but he does have a chance to be the first starter to strike out at least 11 batters per nine innings since Kerry Wood posted 11.35 K/9 in 2003.
• Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners -- We knew Hernandez was entering his theoretical prime this season, but it was still a little hard to believe he might still be getting better. At age 27, he's having his best season to date, going 10-4 with a 2.53 ERA, 2.66 FIP and 140 strikeouts in 138.2 innings. His walk rate is way down to 4.7 percent, which would be a career best. If all that weren't enough, he's getting a bit unlucky this year. In a season when batting average is the lowest it has been at the All-Star Break since 1989, Hernandez' BABIP is .311. If that normalizes, he could be in for an even bigger second half.
• Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies -- The oldest member of our team at 34, Lee just keeps plugging right along. He has been the workhorse we've become accustomed to seeing, posting 125 strikeouts in 138.2 innings. It hasn't been a great year for the Phillies, but Lee is 10-3 and is on track to walk fewer than 1.5 batters per nine innings for the third time in four years. He was the last guy to make the rotation, narrowly edging Jordan Zimmermann and Chris Sale. While I'd choose Zimmermann for a real-life rotation, Lee gets the nod in fantasy thanks to having 30 more strikeouts. He edged Sale thanks to tossing 18.2 more innings.
Just missed the cut: Zimmermann, Nationals; Sale, White Sox; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
No pitching staff is complete without shutdown relievers in the bullpen. Here's the fantasy All-Star bullpen:
• Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates -- Grilli was likely one of the last closers taken in most drafts back in March. Since then, he's saved 29 games for the 56-37 Pirates while striking out 63 batters in 40.2 innings. He has allowed just nine runs, walked nine batters and surrendered two homers. Between him and setup man Mark Melancon, if you're losing to the Pirates after the seventh, you might as well head back to the clubhouse.
• Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves -- Kimbrel held the Best Closer Championship Belt heading into 2013, and nothing has happened thus far this year to change that. He has 26 saves and 54 strikeouts in 35.1 innings, and his 1.53 ERA is second among all closers (soon to be No. 1). He's not dominating to the same level he has in each of the last two seasons, but he's still the No. 3-ranked closer in 5x5 leagues. As for No. 1...
• Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers -- With Mariano Rivera on his farewell tour, he'll hand off the Oldie-but-Goodie baton to Nathan after the season. At age 38, Nathan is as good as he has ever been. He has saved 30 games in 31 opportunities, striking out 42 batters in 39.2 innings. He has a 1.36 ERA and 2.43 FIP. The ERA would be a career best, and the FIP would be his best since he saved 44 games with the Twins in 2006. He leads all closers in ERA and, despite not having incredibly gaudy strikeout numbers for a closer, is deservedly ranked as the top closer in fantasy leagues.