2015 Starting Pitcher Tiers


Mar 15, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher

Clayton Kershaw

(22) pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Positional tiers allow drafters to not only get a better bearing on the position, but also can be utilized as a way to judge if you can either wait or have to pounce on a player you want.

Tier 1 – Kershawmania

Clayton Kershaw– There is not much to say here. The guy is a once in a lifetime talent we are lucky to see and he looks like the closest thing our generation will get to Sandy Koufax. He belongs in the first round and you should not shy away from the chance to get arguably the best fantasy player in baseball.

Tier 2 – High End #1’s

Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Stephen Strasburg

Scherzer’s move to the NL only boosts his value more. Look for him to lower his ERA and post a career high in K’s.

Hernandez is the true definition of what a pitcher should be. He has the talent and knowledge to pitch around his dip in velocity and continue to be dominant. Look for the usual (3.00/230 Ks).

Price led the league in Ks last season and really had some tough luck according to his peripherals (2.68 FIP). Look for him to rebound nicely and get his ERA back down close to 3 as the K’s will be there.

Kluber really came out of nowhere last season to have a career year and even win the Cy Young award. He will be a polarizing pick as many will be hesitant to jump on him, but you should not as there is nothing fluky about him or his peripheral stats.

Sale would be ranked ahead of Kluber if he was healthy going into the season. But, like every season, the injury bug has gotten him again. He can be Kershaw-Lite when he is on the field so do not be afraid to target him aggressively as the upside is hard to ignore.

Strasburg has been flirting with a true breakout for the last couple of years. He did post a career high in K’s last season as he is still tweaking his pitching approach to avoid his propensity to give up the long ball. You could argue that he has the most potential in this tier.

Tier 3 – Low End #1s

Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Jordan Zimmermann, Cole Hamels, Zack GreinkeAdam Wainwright, Jon Lester

Cueto’s fantasy value would always come down to his health.  He proved what he is capable if healthy enough to start 30+ games and would have won a Cy Young, if not for that Clayton guy. Cueto is an elite SP, so do not let lingering injury questions scare you away too far.

Bumgarner single-handedly won the Giants a World Series last season and that lasting image will fuel his stock in 2015. He is nothing but a workhorse and you could argue he belongs a tier higher. He is in this tier because the fact that he threw nearly 300 innings last season may come as a concern.

Zimmermann is often overlooked with all the marquee guys in the Nats rotation, but he is just as good if not better than any of them. The only thing holding him in this tier is the lack of elite K numbers.

Hamels’ value is largely killed by the team he plays for. The wins just have not been there and unfortunately that holds him back a tier. He still is a great option as he continually produces in every other category but wins.

Grienke displayed pinpoint control last season and parlayed that into another 200+ K effort. The only thing that may cause any concern is that he sometimes deals with nagging injuries during the season. That is nitpicking at this point, so target him aggressively to be the ace of your staff.

Wainwright will probably be a guy most owners shy away from as he battled elbow troubles last season. Do not be one of those people as he had surgery to clear all that up and looks like his usual self so far this spring, expect the usual season.

Lester had a sort of renaissance last season as he was able to reestablish himself after two shaky prior seasons. Be careful to not pay for his rebound though as it will be hard to repeat, but he should be solid and a move to the NL helps.

Tier 4 – Solid #2

Jeff Samardzija, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, Gio Gonzalez, James Shields

Samardzija should continue to produce as he makes the move to the White Sox. He tends to flirt with a high WHIP, so he may hit a few rough stretches in Cellular Field, but do not be afraid to invest as he is a solid buy.

Harvey has done nothing but impress this spring as he has shown no ill effects from his TJ surgery. I usually do not buy into spring stats, but he looks he is back to his 2013 form and that just screams that another top tier season is on the way.

Cole is another pitcher that has battled injury, thus limiting him from breaking out. If he can avoid injury all year and make 30 starts, I think he flirts with tier 2-3 status.

Gonzalez right now looks as though he is the number 5 starter for the Nats. That is ludicrous in itself, but for fantasy owners he remains a safe option as he has continues to put up solid stat lines every year.

Shields’ ranking in this tier may be a little high, but how can you measure a guy that has thrown over 200 innings the last 7 years? Moving to Petco only solidifies him as a guy to target and help anchor your team.

Tier 5 – Mid-Level #2s

Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, Garrett Richards, Jake Arrieta

Teheran is a guy that seems to outpitch his peripherals every season (2.89 ERA/ 3.49 FIP). Yet, he still posts great numbers in each category. The only question will be is this the year the peripherals catch up with him?

Gray really solidified himself as the anchor of the A’s staff and produced a breakout season. He should be able to maintain respectable stats, but he is another guy that seems to outpitch what the analytics predict.

Tanaka will be another guy drafters will stay away from, for a very viable reason. The small tear in the elbow just makes owners cringe, but I have to believe there was reason why doctors advised against going straight to surgery. This could be your chance to buy low on one of the top pitchers in baseball.

Richards would certainly be among the higher tiers if not for the knee injury. He seems to be progressing well and should only miss a few starts if any in April. Keep him in mind as owners foolishly pass on him over last season’s injury.

Arrieta finally produced like the player many hailed him as for the last couple of years. He has completely reworked his delivery, so I do not think his breakout was a fluke. His value is definitely on the rise.

Tier 6 – Better Suited #3s

Jacob deGrom, Anibal Sanchez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Carlos Carrasco, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn

deGrom burst on the scene and captured NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. He has a well versed arsenal and is a perfect candidate to keep building on his 2014 success and help stabilize your rotation.

Sanchez’s season will be defined by his health. If he stays on the field, he is downright unhittable, if not, it will just be another frustrating season. The potential is hard to ignore though.

Iwakuma seems to always battle nagging injuries that prevent him from joining the more elite tiers. I absolutely love the upside, but just be weary of the injury and age concern.

Carrasco has never lacked the talent, but it seemed as though he was never going to harness it for a season. He was arguably the best pitcher of the second half, so do not be afraid to try and pay for a possible breakout season.

Ross is one of the more exciting pitchers in this tier as he has the upside to entrench himself as a fantasy #1. He tends to still be overlooked, so keen owners need to target him while he still being slept on.

Cashner seems as though he should be striking nearly 200 people out every year, while also posting other great stats with the benefit of pitching in San Diego. But, due to his health and change of approach, he has become a more contact oriented pitcher. The talent is there for a breakout, but he still comes with some inflated expectations.

Archer seems as the only guy left standing in the Rays rotation as Cobb and Smyly have battled injuries this spring. He is a solid option that provides nice K and ERA/WHIP stats, which makes him a nice mid-rotation fantasy option.

Cobb was struck by forearm tendinitis last week and that has fantasy owners running in the opposite direction. Cobb claims that he is close to being pain free, so there may be a glimmer of hope after all. As your #3 option though, you really cannot go wrong here because his upside has him easily among the best fantasy pitchers in baseball.

Lynn has been steady over the last three seasons, but last season he seemed to put it together and finally found his ERA drop to a more valuable level. However, a 2.74 ERA is probably more of a mirage, and I do not expect it to get back there in 2015. But, there is value there with the solid K’s and durability.

Tier 7 – Low End #3s

Dallas Keuchel, Jered Weaver, Doug Fister, Collin McHugh, Michael Wacha, Jose Quintana

Keuchel came out of nowhere last season and established himself on all fantasy owners’ radar. He actually even posted an absurd 63.5% ground ball rate, which was the 12th highest of all time! He has changed his approach for the better, especially in the Astros’ bandbox, so even though the K numbers are not elite, he will post excellent stats across the board.

Weaver is the archetype of those pitchers who seem to outpitch there peripherals almost every season. His FIP and SIERA numbers point to an ERA in the 4’s, so Weaver must be doing something to offset this data. He is not the top 5 SP he once was, but he definitely is a solid piece.

Fister has found a nice niche in baseball as a true command specialist. He does not have overpowering stuff by any means, but he does just enough to post solid pitching stats. The only downside to Fister is that he posts anemic K numbers (98 K’s and a 5.4 K/9 in 2014).

McHugh is another Astro that was able to turn around his career last season as he had a career year. He does not overpower people with velocity but, his off speed stuff is just nasty. His peripherals show that his success is sustainable, so target him as a great rotation arm.

Wacha’s velocity was completely zapped last season as he battled a shoulder injury. If Wacha can get back to the same velocity prior to the injury, he could breakout this year. He could be one of the most electric arms in this tier.

Quintana is quietly one of the most consistent arms in baseball. Yet, he does not get the fantasy love he deserves. Target him in your draft, and reap the rewards of selecting a perfect mid rotation arm.

Tier 8 – Bottom of the Rotation Fillers

Francisco Liriano, Yordano Ventura, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Tillman, Shelby Miller

Liriano has been a fantasy enigma for a while now, and owning him is a roller coaster in itself. It all comes down to his command and if he can harness that, we have seen that the talent is legit. He is better suited as a fantasy 4 or 5, therefore minimizing the risk.

Ventura is one of the most electric arms in the game. He does have certain stretches where he struggles with command, thus raising his pitch count and knocking him out of games. He has the talent of a fantasy ace, but the value comes with having as a number 4 or 5.

Odorizzi is more of a sleeper going into 2015, but he should be on everyone’s radar. He has a good assortment of breaking pitches that offset the lack of fastball. He raised his K/9 last season and the upside is certainly there. His FIP suggests that he is better than his 4.13 ERA, so invest in the possible breakout to fill out your rotation.

Tillman is the head of the Orioles rotation and he has does a solid job in taking on their ace role. The peripherals say he should be more a 4.00 ERA pitcher, but he has stayed solidly in the mid 3’s. Target him as a rotation stabilizer.

Miller had a disastrous 2014 season, and it was capped off by being traded in the offseason. He has looked good in the spring and maybe the fresh start is all he needs. He is definitely worth a late round flier.

Verlander once reigned as the best pitcher in fantasy baseball. But, the last few years have seen him come crashing back to Earth and he finds himself in this tier. You draft him based off his reputation, and he can only go up from last season.

Dickey is another rotation stabilizer. He will always have a pretty decent ERA, even though the Rogers Centre does him no favors, but he still provides pretty decent stats across the board.

Pineda has some of the best stuff in baseball. But, that does not matter if he is not on the field. He battled injury and a suspension last season, so the risk is still relevant. The potential though is too enticing and I am one of the owners who will always find a spot for him on my team.

Kennedy has certainly found a nice home in San Diego and he parlayed that into a career season. He has great K potential and should find a way to lower his ERA as his FIP suggests some bad luck (3.63 ERA/3.21 FIP).

Hughes, like Kennedy, is another ex-Yankee farmhand who had found a nice life outside the confines of New York. Hughes displayed historically great command last season, and there is no reason he cannot sustain success.

Porcello is a solid, but boring rotation option that will provide you a decent ERA and average K output. He has good command so he should provide decent value at the back end of your rotation.

Shoemaker was another breakout that came out of nowhere and he provided owners with a much needed boost during the season. He slowed down towards the end of last season, and it is safe to say that he will not repeat 2014. But, he still should provide enough value for your number 4 or 5 spot.

Tier 9 – Upside #4 or 5’s

Drew Smyly, Kevin Gausman, Homer Bailey, Nathan Eovaldi, Brandon McCarthy, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Wily Peralta, Derek Holland, Kyle Hendricks

Smyly would have been ranked higher if not for being sidelined for most of the spring with tendinitis. He recently just started throwing off a mound, so he seems like he will not miss a lot of time. He was dominant after his trade to Tampa Bay last year, so if you have an open spot draft and stash him.

Gausman probably has the best pure stuff in the Orioles rotation. He is a guy that I am especially targeting as he has started to dial in his control and the strikeouts should follow. He is a perfect late rotation add, as the upside is intriguing.

Bailey not too long ago was coming off a career season and his value was at its highest. He remained decent during the year but his K numbers dropped and a forearm surgery followed in September. We all know what he brings to the table, so he may be a great buy-low candidate.

Eovaldi can have overpowering stuff at times, but too often or not last season hitters were squaring it up. He led the NL in hits against and he was traded to the Yankees in the offseason. Sounds not too promising doesn’t it? Well even though it may seem as a disaster in the making, I put faith in Larry Rothschild to get Eovaldi to develop a better secondary pitch and have a rebound season, just as in the case of Brandon McCarthy last season.

McCarthy basically turned his season around last year after the Yankees allowed him to pitch the way he wanted too. The Diamondbacks seemed to limit his arsenal, so this rediscovered confidence should translate well in his move to L.A. Shoulder concerns till linger though.

Walker is certainly a tantalizing talent. He has great pure stuff and he may finally get his chance this season. Target him late, because he could very well find himself having a breakout season.

Paxton, like Walker, is just waiting to have a healthy and complete season. He has a great assortment of pitches and he showed glimpses of dominance of last season. Make an effort to target him.

Peralta saw great strides in his command last season and he saw his ERA benefit drop as a result. He has electric stuff and if he can continue to develop his pitches and command, then he very well be a fantasy #2 or 3.

Holland was sidelined last season with a freak knee injury. He is another pitcher that can vault himself into the higher tiers if he can continue to harness his command. There is upside here, and at worst we know what his floor is.

Hendricks is a personal sleeper of mine that I find hard to believe is not getting talked about more. He showed great talent in his 13 starts last season and posted a solid 2.46 ERA and 5.3 K/9 line. I look for him to take another step forward as the peripherals say that is was not a fluke.