A starting pitcher is easy to find. Ace starting pitchers are a little tougher to find. However, finding a diamond in the rough is possible with this group.
I love pitchers, and starting pitchers to be more specific. Much like a quarterback in football, a starting pitcher is the anchor and has to control the game. They need to pitch with extreme precision, and one small mistake could flip the game upside down. The top-10 pitchers are the most dominant, the second 10 are just a hair below that. This group has some solid options with some sleepers packed in.
Every team has five, some have six, starting pitchers in their rotation. Five times 30 equals 150 starters to choose from. Obviously, some are not worth owning in standard leagues. In standard ESPN leagues, there are nine pitching spots. It’s up to the owner to decide on the mix of starter and relief pitchers. I expect most owners to draft four to five starting pitchers, so that’s how I settled at ranking the top-50 starting pitchers.
I use a couple of different of criteria when developing my rankings. I look at their 2015 performance, where they finished on the Player Rater, their career performance and if this past season was an outlier, their surroundings (lineup support) and where I think they project this season. Some of it may be subjective, especially the projections, but I try to keep it in line with other fantasy sites.
The stats I use for pitchers are wins (which are hard to predict), ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and walks. I know there are leagues, including mine, that use quality starts instead of wins, and every league should. Quality starts are a better predictor of a pitcher’s skill as it does not rely on the team’s offense to score enough runs to win. I will try to keep wins for the majority that use ESPN standard five categories.
Here are the starting pitchers I rank 50 to 21 for the 2016 season. As with my outfield rankings, I will comment on two or three per tier, but also link to articles on pitchers we’ve previously written about.
50. Yordano Ventura
48. Kyle Hendricks: The Chicago Cubs offense isn’t the only location for young players. Hendricks made his debut on July 10, 2014. In 13 starts, he had a 2.46 ERA, 1.083 WHIP and 47 strikeouts. He made 32 starts last season, and saw a jump in most of his stats. He finished with a 3.95 ERA, 1.161 WHIP and 167 strikeouts. He made some big improvements from his rookie to his sophomore seasons.
His K/9 went up, but so did his BB/9. Hendricks was able to lower his fly ball and raise his ground ball rates. He is solidified in the Cubs rotation, even with the addition of John Lackey. I expect his final 2016 numbers to fall in between his 2014 and 2015 numbers. Something like a 3.55 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 140 strikeouts and 10-7 record is very likely.
47. Gio Gonzalez
45. Mike Fiers: Fiers burst through the walls in his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 127.2 innings (23 games), he went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.261 WHIP and 135 strikeouts. The Brewers are in a rebuilding stage as they traded Fiers to the Houston Astros during the 2015 season. Between the two teams, Fiers had a 3.69 ERA, 1.253 WHIP, 7-10 record and 180 strikeouts.
He looked good in the short time with the Astros. He threw a no-hitter in his fourth start with the team. He will likely see an increase in his ratio stats and decline in strikeouts as a result of facing a designated hitter in the American League. Also, pitching in Minute Maid Park could do some damage to his stats. I would take a flier on Fiers in the final portion of your draft as an SP5.
43. John Lackey: New team, same division. Nice late-round pick as a SP4 in standard leagues.
42. Jaime Garcia
40. Raisel Iglesias: The Cincinnati Reds experimented a lot with rookie pitchers last season, with Iglesias being one of them. He pitched in 29 innings with Triple-A Louisville and 95 innings with the Reds. In his 18 major-league games, he had a 4.15 ERA, 1.143 WHIP and 104 strikeouts.
Iglesias had a 47.2 ground ball and 31.9 fly ball rate with a 13.9 HR/FB ratio. He allowed 1.04 HR/9 and 7.6 H/9. He did have 9.8 K/9. He was getting opposing batters to swing at 34.2 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. He throws mostly fastballs, 58 percent, but mixes it with a slider and change up.
The high strikeout totals give fantasy owners something to hope for, but the wonky velocity and frequent home runs may turn away owners. I would draft him as an SP4, but hope for the SP1 breakout season.
39. Hisashi Iwakuma: After the Los Angeles Dodgers had an issue with the results of his physical, Iwakuma re-signed with the Seattle Mariners. And I don’t blame them. He has made fewer than 30 starts in each of the last two seasons. In 20 starts last year, he had a 3.54 ERA, 1.064 WHIP, 111 strikeouts and 9-5 record. He matched his K/9, but his BB/9 went up by 0.2.
For someone who was once thought of as an ace, Iwakuma’s ceiling is a No. 3 starting pitcher in 2016. His ERA is nothing to be excited about. If he was able to join the Dodgers, if value would have been a lot higher. He’s been an injury risk in recent years, so you can’t project him to pitch over 200 innings.
I see him making 28 starts, 170 innings, with a 3.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 140 strikeouts.
35. Michael Wacha
33. Jose Quintana
30. Cole Hamels
27. Garrett Richards: After flirting with the rotation, Richards had his breakout season in 2014. In 26 starts, he had a 13-4 record with a 2.61 ERA, 1.038 WHIP and 164 strikeouts. He had good command of his fastball and mixed in some of his off-speed stuff. Last year, however, saw a bit of a decline.
In 32 starts, he went 15-12 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.240 WHIP and 176 strikeouts. He caused more ground balls, 54.9 percent, but his HR/FB ratio went up almost nine percent. He threw fewer fastballs, but the ones he did throw were left over the plate. His zone percentage went up over one percent.
There is a big difference between the pitcher we saw in 2014 and the one in 2015. If he can settle back down and have the command he did in 2014, then he’s a top-20 guy. Until then, he’s a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
25. Danny Salazar
24. Marcus Stroman: He had a good 2014, but nothing spectacular, 3.65 ERA, 1.171 WHIP and 111 strikeouts in 26 games. Last season was tragically shortened by a torn ACL. He was able to return in September and made four starts. He went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA, 0.963 WHIP and 18 strikeouts.
It’s hard to judge what kind of pitcher he actually was from just 27 innings of work. But, let’s try. He pitched against three American League East teams in his four starts. He had a 64.1 ground ball and 17.9 fly ball rates. He has an arsenal of five pitches and used them all effectively. Stroman forced hitters to pull the ball 52.6 percent of the time.
If he’s able to avoid any injuries, I think Stroman will finish in the top 15. If he makes 30 starts, I could see him pitching to a tune of 3.18 ERA, 1.20 WHIP with 165 strikeouts and a 14-9 record as the Blue Jays’ No. 1 pitcher.
22. Carlos Martinez
What a group, huh? There is some great starting pitching value to be had throughout the draft. If you miss out on some of the top names, you could build a serviceable staff with a lot of names from this list.
Some of the pitchers from this group I’m keeping an eye on in Spring Training and throughout the season are Samardzija, Verlander and the two New York Yankees pitchers. Samardzija is going back to the National League, where he has his most success. In a pitcher-friendly division, he should be an SP2 by season’s end.
As I previously wrote, this could be Verlander’s last chance to be fantasy relevant. While he obviously doesn’t care about that, he does care about pitching. He looked good in the second half of last season. If he could carry that over into 2016, he’ll be a steal for whomever drafts him.
And the Yankees pitchers, Tanaka and Pineda. There was so much hype surrounding these two. Unfortunately, it hasn’t translated to much. Injuries, pine tar and the American League East have roughed these two up. Even as a Yankees fan, I’m avoiding them in my drafts, but someone has to pitch well for this team, right?
It’s hard to fit every starting pitcher in this group. There are some that just missed the cut, but are still worth drafting. Who do you think I forgot? Is there someone I under or overrated? Let me know in the comments.
The starting pitchers ranked 11 to 20 will be posted later in the week. There shouldn’t be any big surprises.