2014 Outlook: The American League's reigning Cy Young award winner, Scherzer wasn't mere traditionalist's choice; in addition to his 21 wins he was a standout in many sabermetric/next-level departments: He finished seventh in the majors in FIP (2.74), second in strikeout rate (28.7 percent), third in swing-and-miss rate (27.9 percent), third in WHIP (0.97) and fifth in weighted on-base average allowed (.257). This transformation, which began approximately the midway point of 2012, was a product of both increased fastball velocity and reliance plus effectiveness of a curveball, which he used particularly to neutralize left-handed hitters. Scherzer is now a four-pitch pitcher with command that ranks among the game's elite, and he's playing for a new deal in 2015. Even if the 21 wins aren't repeated -- experienced owners know how fluky that department -- he could easily repeat as one of the 10 best pitchers in fantasy.
2014 Outlook: After a four-year span (2009-12) as arguably fantasy baseball's most consistently productive starting pitcher -- he finished ninth (2009), 10th (2010), first (2011) and second (2012) at the position on our Player Rater -- Verlander endured a tumultuous past calendar year. His velocity was down for much of the early stages of 2013, his statistics suffering for it, and his critics asked whether the 180 starts, 1,243⅔ innings or 20,264 pitches thrown from 2009-12 (playoffs included) -- all major league highs -- might have come back to haunt him. Verlander rebounded late in the season, however, culminating in an October during which he had a 0.39 ERA in his three playoff starts while regaining some of that lost velocity. But he then succumbed to core-muscle repair surgery in January, again casting his 2014 value into doubt. All indications are that Verlander should be ready by Opening Day, if not shortly thereafter, but his spring progress is critical to determining the extent of his bounce-back potential. Stephania Bell: Verlander underwent core muscle repair surgery in January and a month later is throwing off a mound without issue. He continued his strong spring and has been named the Opening Day starter for the Tigers.
2014 Outlook: Overshadowed by Max Scherzer on his own team and largely overlooked in the American League Cy Young balloting (he finished fourth), Sanchez nevertheless enjoyed one of the most underrated 2013 campaigns of anyone. He led the American League in ERA (2.57), had the third-best strikeout rate (27.1 percent) and made a remarkable comeback from a shoulder issue that cost him a 10-day absence, as well as a 20-day DL stint midseason, to post a 2.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in his final 16 starts. Sanchez, who has both an elbow and a shoulder surgery on his pro resume, actually improved his velocity following his absence, quashing questions about his long-term health. He continues to make small gains in skills each season and again will be backed by one of the game's most productive lineups, meaning his career-best 14 wins of 2013 is repeatable. Sanchez might not seem a top-shelf fantasy starter by reputation, but the numbers support his candidacy.
2014 Outlook: After a season as one of the game's more reliable left-handed setup men, Smyly returns to the rotation in 2014 following the trade of Doug Fister. It won't be Smyly's first stint as a starter; he posted a 3.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 22.3 percent strikeout rate in his 17 starts in 2012, and in two years he has accrued enough experience to prove he has the stuff to return to his original role. In terms of pitch selection, little should change this year, as the most significant difference in 2012-13 was his changeup, used 6.4 percent of the time as a starter (1.6 percent in relief), but that's a secondary pitch designed to help keep his righty/lefty splits balanced. After throwing only 76 innings last season, Smyly might face some sort of workload cap -- and fatigue late in the year could be a factor -- but he has a bright future that always appeared more so in a starting role. He's talented enough to warrant a mixed league pick, but he's certainly an AL-only breakout candidate.
2014 Outlook: Before the Doug Fister trade this winter, Porcello might have been the most likely Detroit Tigers candidate to be traded or, worse, demoted to the bullpen to clear a spot for Drew Smyly. Sure, a deal might have been beneficial for Porcello, especially one to a National League team in a spacious ballpark, but his skills have taken small steps forward in each of his big league seasons and he's still only 25 years old. That said, Porcello has a history of matchup susceptibility, struggling against left-handed hitters (.307/.358/.461 career rates) and loaded lineups, meaning he's a smart pitcher to lock into the streamer's class rather than draft into a regular spot. Speculate if you wish, but don't get too cozy.