- Johan Santana—NYM — Since 2004, no one has been as dominating as Santana, as he won two Cy Young awards in that time. From ’04 to ’06 he averaged 18 wins, 230 innings, and almost 250 strikeouts to only 48 walks. He stumbled a bit last season (a season most other pitchers would take in a heartbeat), but between moving to the NL, and getting on a team that actually scores some runs, 2008 could be a HUGE year for Santana. It is possible for him to hit 20 wins for the second time in his career, and approaching 300 strikeouts is within reach. Only two concerns come with Johan. One is he has logged so many innings over the past four years, it is possible an injury could pop up. Second, the Mets have had a knack for getting great new players who seems to under perform once they hit Flushing. I don’t see either happening, Santana is a no brainer as the first pitcher off the board.
- Jake Peavy—SD — Peavy won the pitcher’s triple crown last year, as he led the National League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Peavy has a dominating fastball and a slider that often has some unhittable break on it. Being in San Diego is both a blessing and a curse. His home ballpark is very spacious, keeping many balls in the yard. The curse comes from the Padres offense. Many times Peavy will end up with a loss or no decision simply because the Pads couldn’t score. Peavy only gave up more than three runs five times last season as he mowed down NL hitters. His is just one year removed from a sub-.500 record and 4.00+ ERA season, however, I believe it was just a blip on his career. Although he usually doesn’t excel in the wins category, Peavy is superb in all others and should be the second pitcher taken.
- Brandon Webb—ARI — The 2006 NL Cy Young award winner had another successful season in ’07. In fact, Webb was even better, as he collected three more wins, 16 more K’s, and his ERA dropped. Webb goes deep into games, and his 3.01 ERA was second behind Peavy. He neared 200 strikeouts, while keeping his home runs (12) down with quite possibly the best sinker in the MLB. Well in his prime, and with a young, improving team, Webb’s numbers should remain among the NLs elite. It isn’t unrealistic to expect 17 wins, 185 K’s, with a 3.10 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
- C.C. Sabathia—CLE — The ’07 AL Cy Young winner had a spectacular season, making it two straight among the majors’ best. He was second in wins with 19, and struck out over 200 batters to only 37 walks. Although his weight has always been a concern (290 pounds), Sabathia has turned himself into an ace in Cleveland, and he won’t turn 28 until July. He topped 15 wins for the first time since he was a rookie, and now that the Indians appear to be contenders into the future, Sabathia’s win totals should remain high.
- Josh Beckett—BOS — After struggling mightily in his first year in Boston, it appears Beckett has the American League figured out. Beckett powered the Red Sox to their first division title in quite a while, and then was nearly perfect in leading them through the playoffs. Continuing his career on a championship caliber team can only help Beckett’s numbers stay at an elite level. Don’t expect him to win 20 games again, but 17 wins, 180 K’s, 3.20 ERA, and a 1.20 WHIP keeps Beckett as one of the top pitchers in fantasy
The Next Five
Rising Star: Justin Verlander—DET - Maybe he has already risen, but Verlander is one of the more exciting pitchers in baseball. This highly touted prospect has not disappointed fans in Motown, to the tune of a 35-15 record in his two seasons. He reached much higher strike out total in 2007, along the lines as what was expected from a guy that routinely hits 100 on the radar gun. Verlander showed that he arrived last season, when he pitched a no hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers. Verlander could be a 20 game winner this season if things break well for him, and he will be spoken about as one of the elite by the end of this year.
Falling Stock: Barry Zito—SF — The Cy Young award he received in 2002 seems a long way away. Zito has never been able to recapture the magic from that 23-5 season. Outside of his contract year (how convenient!), Zito has been a .500 pitcher. After signing a 7 year/$126 million contract Zito went out and had his worst season as a pro. Zito’s strikeouts have dropped, his ERA has risen, and quite frankly, his team stinks. Stay away from Zito, his best days are in the rear view mirror.
Make or Break Year: Dontrelle Willis—DET — Once thought to be one of the bright young arms in the majors, the shine on Willis has started to fade. If you really look at Dontrelle’s career, he’s only had two good seasons. Outside of his rookie year and 2005, Willis has been rather ordinary. He always goes out every five days and gives you plenty of innings, but has been prone to the long ball, and the long inning. On the plus side, Willis is finally out of Florida and on a team that actually wins games (and has more than 50 people in the stands). Dontrelle needs to prove this year that his 5.17 ERA and inflated 1.60 WHIP were the exception, not the rule to his career. However, I am starting to doubt that.
Risky Pick: Rich Harden—OAK — When Harden has been on the mound, he has been dynamic. However, that has been his problem. Harden has only been on the mound 16 times in two years, and unfortunately can’t seem to stay healthy. It has gotten to the point where Harden needs to put a good, long stretch of good health to get back on fantasy owners good side. In the last round or two he is still worth a flyer, there are reports he has been throwing this week and feels “great.” We’ll see how long that lasts.
Top Prospect: Yovani Gallardo—MIL — Gallardo was one of the best prospects to come out of Milwaukee since Ben Sheets, and barring a few horrendous games in August, Gallardo did not disappoint. His strikeout rate was slightly below what he had in the minors, but how do you keep up 110 K’s in just 77 innings? Many expect the Brewers to compete for the division crown, and if they do Gallardo has to be a big part of it.
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