2014 Outlook: Gray was a sensation during a 10-start big league stint for the Oakland Athletics during the final two months-plus last season, and before you discount his numbers by comparing them to his less eye-popping Double- and Triple-A stats, consider this: He spent almost his entire minor league career in extremely hitter-friendly environments. Gray's raw stuff is that of a top-to-mid-rotation starter -- his curveball was outstanding, resulting in 48 of his 79 K's -- and all of his command numbers were spot on to those he exhibited in the minors. He'll have a spot in the A's rotation from the start of 2014, and he'll again call a pitching-friendly venue his home -- for a team that has a good track record of developing young pitchers. And considering he totaled 182 1/3 innings between the minors and majors last year, Gray shouldn't face any conservative workload cap. He's an intriguing bargain bet among middle-round options and a building block for dynasty/keeper owners.
2014 Outlook: Injuries ruined Cueto's 2013 campaign; three times during the year he exited one of his starts early and eventually landed on the disabled list, and that pattern threatens to drop him into the risk/reward class in fantasy. He's one of the most talented pitchers in the game when he's healthy -- he has a 2.61 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over the past three seasons -- but he has made just 68 starts during that time, compared to approximately 100 for a healthy full-timer. In Cueto's defense, he would be an outstanding bargain candidate if we had a guarantee of his health, as he lacks the expected wide home/road split of many Reds pitchers, with a 2.16 ERA and 72.4 quality-start percentage in his home games from 2011-13, compared to 2.98 and 66.7 in his road contests. It's an owner's classic dilemma: How lucky do you feel?
Stephania Bell: Three DL stints in 2013 and mechanical adjustments were all part of Cueto's attempt to get past a significant lat strain. He says he's fine now -- and will continue with a modified delivery -- but until he endures the season, questions exist.
2014 Outlook: Wow. A career-best season in terms of ERA (3.24), quality starts (23) and quality start percentage (71.9) wasn't enough to land Santana a long-term deal before spring training started? Don't take the delay as anything more than teams being hesitant to forfeit a draft pick. Santana was at the top of his game last season, ranking 34th among starting pitchers on our Player Rater. On the strength of his slider, he has managed a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past six seasons, and in 2013, he balanced his home/road splits, something he had trouble doing during the earlier stages of his career. His new team will have much to say about his fantasy value -- he's not the kind of pitcher who wants to pick a bandbox ballpark as his home -- but there's every reason to think he'll be a back-of-your-staff mixed league type wherever he winds up.
2014 Outlook: Peavy is a great example of why inducing groundballs should not automatically be thought of as a skill. If you limit walks and strike out at least the league average, then the damage inflicted by a gopher ball is minimal. And since a fly ball pitcher generally sports a low WHIP, fantasy-wise, a potentially bloated ERA doesn't hurt so much. The key is keeping the ball in the yard, and in albeit a small sample, Peavy was able to do just that after being dealt to Boston. And since Fenway Park is fairly resistant to homers, there's a good chance Peavy will carry that into 2014. Now the question is health. Peavy is at minimum a spot-starter in most fantasy rotations, just be ready to fill his spot elsewhere in the event of injury.
2014 Outlook: Give Masterson credit for his solid 2013 season: Despite facing a greater number of left-handed batters -- that historically has been his weaker side to face -- he was considerably more successful against them, with their .698 OPS against him marking a career low. Skills-wise, Masterson's fastball-slider-sinker combo hasn't been as effective against lefties over the course of his career, but greater reliance on his slider made much of the difference. That bodes well for his 2014 campaign, which happens to be a contract year for him, though bear in mind that he has a history of being closer to a matchups than every-start type. In fact, of his 10 worst starts, going by Bill James' Game Score, four were against top-six offenses (using wOBA), and two others were at hitting-friendly venues Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards. You'll want to mix and match if you're afforded the luxury, but Masterson is worth the look in AL-only leagues or as you fill out a mixed-league staff.
2014 Outlook: Straily's peripherals are OK, nothing great. In fact they basically define league average. But so long as your league uses more than half the available players, he has a place on a roster. Then it becomes a matter of upside and growth and that's where the glass is half full. His floor is high, aided by a favorable park, with another level or two before he reaches the ceiling. Therefore, there's decent upside without the risk of Straily killing your ratios.
2014 Outlook: More often than not, parsing stats is more narrative than tangible cause and effect, but Liriano's home numbers last season are too extreme to ignore. He sported a home ERA of 1.47 as compared to 4.33 on the road. The thing is, his strikeout and walk rates in and out of PNC Park were similar, with the small increase in road walks nowhere near enough to account for the huge ERA gap. The reason for that was extreme good fortune as demonstrated by a .231 BABIP and 3.7 percent home run/fly ball rate at home, both significantly below league average. Some correction at home has to be anticipated, which puts him with a line better than his road numbers, but considerably worse than 2013 as a whole.
2014 Outlook: It took three winter months for us to get definitive word that Burnett planned to return for a 16th major league season in 2014 -- he was long rumored to be considering retirement -- and another couple weeks after that for him to choose his 2014 team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Under the tutelage of Ray Searage in Pittsburgh, Burnett enjoyed his best single-year strikeout rate (26.1 percent) in 2013, and he had a 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in his two years as a Pirate, reviving a career that previously was slipping away from him. In Philadelphia, Burnett moves to a more hitting-friendly environment, and one that might not result in the kind of win potential he enjoyed in Pittsburgh. He's a capable matchups candidate in mixed leagues, and a middle-of-your-staff option in NL-only.
2014 Outlook: Buchholz is one of the bigger wild cards on the board. Of utmost importance is his health. Buchholz was hobbled in mid-June with shoulder and neck woes, and despite making it back in September and the postseason, he was far from 100 percent. Even though the early word is that he's fully healthy, Buchholz's history suggests that we temper expectations in terms of innings. Before hitting the disabled list, Buchholz was enjoying a stellar season featuring an increase in strikeouts and marked decrease in homers allowed. Some of the reduction in homers was better pitching, some has to be considered a sample size blip since he was unlikely to carry a five-percent home run per fly ball rate the whole season. So aside from keeping his games started in perspective, a staunch ERA correction should be anticipated. Buchholz is best picked when you're drafting your match-up starters as that builds in an expectations hedge.
Stephania Bell: His was a tale of two seasons: a fantastic start through May followed by a labored stretch due to convergent neck and shoulder injuries. Reportedly fully recovered, Buchholz has a history that raises the questions as to whether he can endure an entire season.
2014 Outlook: Perhaps it's because he's a 30-year-old fly-ball pitcher in a hitters' park with a checkered injury history, but Estrada does not instill the giddiness in the fantasy community commensurate with a player of his skills. If these skills were present in a guy five years his junior, they'd garner more attention. Fly-ball pitchers have superior WHIPs and Estrada is no exception. The problem is homers and Miller Park doesn't help in that regard. On the other hand, ERA is fairly fickle so if you have a strong stomach, Estrada is an intriguing late-round gamble in mixed formats or a discounted option in NL-only.
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: After showing he can handle a 200-inning workload, Lynn seems likely to start the season in the Cardinals' rotation, though he could be pushed by Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez. While splits are often happenstance, it is quite encouraging that Lynn's best month was September, showing he didn't suffer from the late-season fatigue that plagued him the previous campaign. Lynn is best used as a streaming starter for home tilts, since his performance in very pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium has been much better than on the road (career 2.97 ERA, .628 OPS at home versus 4.58 ERA, .768 OPS away).
2014 Outlook: After missing 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Lackey surprised with a stellar campaign that could have been better, if not for a September ERA of 4.98 despite displaying the same skills as the first five months. Of particular note is the fact that Lackey set a career best in walk rate despite control usually being the last skill to come around after Tommy John surgery. The sole blemish was a high home run rate that could be an issue going forward if Lackey fails to maintain the control gains. In addition, Lackey's ERA was aided by a high left-on-base percentage. It appears as though Lackey is again a valuable fantasy asset, just don't expect a repeat of last season, as he was both good and lucky.
2014 Outlook: Tillman's first full season as a full-time starter is best termed as solid. His strikeout and walk rates were both a bit better than league average. Home runs, however, were a problem, as he served up the third most in the majors. As a fly-ball pitcher in Camden Yards, this will be a constant concern, putting his ERA at risk. Fortunately, fly-ball pitchers usually carry a low batting average on balls in play and, in fact, Tillman's .269 mark helped minimize the potential damage inflicted by so many long balls. Until he either shaves some free passes off his ledger or proves he owns such a low hit rate, Tillman is a risk.
2014 Outlook: For three full big league seasons, Nova's performance has wavered, as he occasionally outperformed his peripherals while at other times falling far short of any fantasy consideration. The reason is his stuff: His breaking pitches (curve and slider) are filthy, resulting in a .149 batting average allowed and 93 of his 116 K's in 2013 -- but he lacks elite polish on his other pitches. Nova did, however, improve his two-seamer to the point that he had seven wins, 11 quality starts and a 2.59 ERA in his final 15 games last year. Those will assure him a regular place in the New York Yankees' rotation, although his skill set still requires matchup consideration each and every time. He's a round-out-the-staff pitcher in mixed leagues or an AL-only mid-staff option.