Pitchers are the most volatile commodities in fantasy sports.
They get hurt in droves. Their records slide for reasons having nothing to do with how well they throw. They're arbitrarily moved into and out of the precious closer role.
It's all enough to drive us nuts.
That said, I enjoy researching pitchers more than any other aspect of fantasy preparation. It's fun precisely because there are so many ways in which a pitcher's won-lost record and ERA do not reflect his performance. This leaves plenty of room to predict shocking comebacks and jarring collapses. So without further ado, here are some early thoughts on pitchers for 2008.
I still get the sense that we take Erik Bedard for granted because the Orioles are lousy and he hasn't made it through a full season. But he was as dominant as anybody in baseball last year, so don't be afraid to pay him like an ace.
If you want an interesting sleeper candidate from nearby, check out the Washington Nationals' Jason Bergmann. His strikeout rate and solid command say he could be an above-average starter, and he should be cheap.
I know many owners are frustrated with the Detroit Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman, but 5.01 ERA or not, he combines a power arm and good control. Watch for any reports of elbow soreness, but otherwise, stick with him.
Among closers in waiting, I still like Jonathan Broxton of the Los Angeles Dodgers the best. He's a huge guy with dominating stuff who improved his control last year. That's the perfect closer package, and the strikeouts mean he has value even if he remains stuck in middle relief.
A $1 Fausto Carmona was the jewel of my fantasy year in 2007. But don't overbid for him this spring. He doesn't help with strikeouts, and as a ground-ball pitcher he relies heavily on luck and good defense.
You can have Joba Chamberlain and all his hype. I'll take the Milwaukee Brewers' Yovani Gallardo, who has piled up strikeouts at every level and pitched extremely well in 110 1/3 major league innings last year. Think 15 wins, a 3.50 ERA and 200 strikeouts.
Many view the Kansas City Royals' Zack Greinke as a fallen phenom. But check out his dominant second-half numbers from last season. Looks like he might still have some phenomenal stuff in him.
Don't take this cautionary note as a suggestion to avoid Toronto's Roy Halladay. It's just that he's less dominant and less precise than he was at his peak. So he might be a very good workhorse rather than a real ace going forward.
Dan Haren is a terrific pitcher, but he's moving from an Oakland park that suppressed homers to an Arizona home that favors them. Temper your expectations a bit.
The Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez did not become Dwight Gooden after his brilliant start against the Boston Red Sox last season. He is, however, a ground-ball pitcher with an excellent strikeout rate and good control. That means he's a major breakout waiting to happen.
Don't get overly jolly about Francisco Liriano's return from elbow surgery. He probably won't be as good as new until 2009.
I get the sense that Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka was perceived as a disappointment last year. And if you were expecting a Japanese Pedro Martinez, I guess he was. Savvy fantasy owners will take advantage and realize that a workhorse starter who can give you 15 to 18 wins, 200 strikeouts and a 1.300 WHIP is plenty valuable. And Dice-K might be better than that after an adjustment year.
Toronto's Dustin McGowan is another power ground-ball pitcher waiting to bust out in Carmona-like fashion.
I wouldn't spend more than a $1 or $2 on Mark Prior, but if he's ever going to have another good year, San Diego might be the place. Just saying.
The Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields is not a sleeper. He's just an outstanding pitcher. Same goes for Pittsburgh's Ian Snell.