It’s day 3 of our 2017 Starting Pitcher rankings for Fantasy Baseball after going over the Top 20 and Top 40 and now we’re going through the Top 60. It gets a little trickier now as you need to balance upside and stability as you’re beginning to close out your pitching staff.
Tier 4: Trailer Parkour Boys
41. Garrett Richards (Los Angeles Angels) – New tier here of eight guys that are pretty dang risky, but come with a thrill that some people will enjoy chasing. Just like those fools climbing absurdly tall buildings without harnesses n stuff. Anyway, there is a reason I’ve called Richards a PEAS for a while and it is tempting to called him APPEASED but I’m not fully sold. The most obvious question mark is the fact that his 2016 was shortened by a UCL tear that somehow didn’t require TJS. He should be back as the opening day starter for the Halos, but the obvious concern is still there. But if we’re assuming a fully healthy Richards, what can we expect? I’d say about a 8.00+ K/9 with a walk rate hovering 3.20 BB/9 and an ERA around 3.40. That’s…fine? To be fair, there is plenty of room to grow – his Fastball is gorgeous and will be the catalyst for a 50%+ groundball year, mixing in Two-Seamers with a sweet Cutter. I mean, I love the idea of Richards – Cutters one way, Two-Seamers the other, with Sliders going down and the ocassional slow hook to mess around with batters. Oh, and then there’s his Changeup that I refuse to acknowledge since he only started throwing it last season and it did not look pretty. There’s big potential here if he harnesses his command of his heater, but you can’t expect that when he’s been away from the game this long and he doesn’t have a history that would indicate it was right around the corner. At the end of the day, Richards could be overlooked in your drafts – he deserves to be drafted in the top 175 – just don’t expect the impact size of Richards to be all that big. Was that a terrible joke? Yes. Yes it was.
42. John Lackey (Chicago Cubs) – Here’s some fun stuff. After a rating of -2.7 in 2015, Pitchf/x gave Lackey’s Cutter (well, it’s actually a Slider but whatever) a pVAL of 26.0 in 2016. Wat. So…maybe it had extra movement? Nope. Different location? Nope. Velocity?! Nah. This bothers me to say, but I can’t actually tell you why it was so good. Sure, it didn’t allow a single HR and its BABIP went from .383 to .189 (Cubs’ defense?), while slightly using it differently and getting a few more whiffs, but it really just doesn’t seem right to me. And that’s the sentiment I get about Lackey in general. He had one heck of a year for a 37 year old, boasting a career high 8.60 K/9 after sitting in the low 7s previous (still a career 7.23 mark!), with a stellar 1.06 WHIP and 3.35 ERA. It all just seems fishy. What a great year, but now he’s another year older and while I expect him to outperform his FIP once again given the Cubs defense, I can’t say that we’ll see the massively low .255 BABIP again despite a poor 34.4% hard contact – yet another career high. In the end, you’re probably going to have to pay for a career year from an old pitcher that had everything go his way, including a pitch that seemingly from the graces above turned into a money maker. I wouldn’t mind owning Lackey, I just don’t see it working out in the same way.
43. Carlos Rodon (Chicago White Sox) – 9.16 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. Right there is the reason why people adore the kid after he lowered his walk rate dramatically in 2016 while bumping up his strikeout rate. The impetus of his strikeouts is an unreal Slider that was in the Top 10 for all qualified starters at a 14.2 pVal. How can you not love that pitch? Problem is, his Fastball is the complete opposite of the spectrum, registering a horrific -17.5 pitch value according to Pitch Info. Jeeeeez that’s rough. For a pitch coming in over 93mph, registering a whiff rate near 6% doesn’t fit the bill, which may be a product of his inability to get into a groove with his Changeup, turning Rodon into a two-pitch pitcher. The keys to Rodon’s success are two-fold: get the Changeup working in the mix (just a 35.8% zone rate last year!) while also being able to throw his bender for a strike (38.9% zone rate). If he can iron out those kinks he can mask the fact he doesn’t command his Fastball well in the zone – currently sitting middle-and-away. Regardless, I expect his 2016 ERA of 4.04 to come down as his .330 BABIP diminishes (just 27.8% hard contact!) and HR/FB rate takes a small step back from 13.8%. The strikeout production mixed with the lower ERA makes me enticed in the early 40s.
44. Alex Reyes (St. Louis Cardinals) – On the topic of exciting young arms, Reyes is the latest hot schtuff that people see big things for. That hype train looks so fun! At every stop in the minors and majors he’s had a K/9 above 10.00 (save for handful of starts in 2015). He features a mid 90s Fastball that hits triple digits with a deadly hook and a Changeup that flashes plenty of potential. How can we not love this kid? Glad you asked. I. Glad I asked…myself. With all of those luscious Ks has come a troublesome walk rate that has never dissipated: we’re talking BB/9 marks well north of 4.00 and closer to 4.50. If you’re looking for red flags, that’s redder than the wine my ex-wife drank every day in our final weeks. Then there’s the matter of how many innings Reyes will get as a starter given that A) he’s not locked in for a rotation spot that will be fought between Michael Wacha and Luke Weaver. It’s expected for Reyes snatches it, but we need to be aware of the possibility he sticks to the bullpen with his power arm and walk issues and B) Reyes has never pitched more than 116 innings in a season, meaning a season of 180 innings might be a stretch. I know we want to be excited about Reyes’ potential, but those are some major roadblocks in his way to golden Fantasy upside that other young arms have clearer paths to achieve.
45. Vince Velasquez (Philadelphia Phillies) – Here’s an intriguing one. On one hand, you have a fantastic Fastball (12.2 pVAL) with Velasquez, which was able to absolutely dominate the weak Padres lineup multiple times. On the other hand, his secondary pitches need some major work – his Slider/Curveball/Changeup all registered grossly negative marks, making it tough for VV to survive deep into games. If he develops a consistent breaking ball, VV can certainly be fantasy beneficial, which would be a solid pick around #200 in your draft…but that’s a big IF. Meanwhile, the growing pains can be tough, featuring a 3.00+ BB/9, a super low 5.45 IPS and a worrisome 14.9% HR/FB that might stick around with his lack of solid breaking pitches. He’s an upside play if you need one if your draft, but don’t depend on him to be a sturdy guy through the year.
46. Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Urias was a hot topic in the preseason of pitching prospects in the pipeline, but the consensus was “he’s too young” leading to only the smallest of hypothetical fantasy impacts in 2016. Okay, so we dropped the ball on that one as the Dodgers couldn’t make up their minds and dealt with the highest amount of DL players of all time, forcing Urias into the spotlight for a grand total of 18 games and 15 starts. The takeaway was clear: Urias will be a stud when he becomes a regular on the hill. His hook is stellar, his Fastball command is elite, and his Slider/Changeup have potential to be excellent pieces that bolster a strong repertoire. He quickly became a strikeout threat, fanning 34 batters in an early five game stretch and there’s little reason to doubt that he’ll continue to improve in his first since without the teenager label. Jeez that’s absurd. The issue here is that the Dodgers babied the kid, allowing just an IPS of…oh boy…4.5. He didn’t even average a chance at earning a Win. The Dodgers are being mum about how many innings they want Urias to toss this year as well after his 122 total in 2016, and I wouldn’t expect more than 140 given the Dodgers’ love for protecting Urias from himself. You will want to be starting Urias in each of his outings (save for Coors), I just worry that the Wins won’t be there given the brief outings, while there won’t be enough of it to justify his currently high price tag. I hate when I have to make an assessment based on how an organization chooses to treat their own player, which means I’m forced to be the pessimist when selecting my team.
47. Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals) – There’s always hoopla about who the sleeper players are. Some tried to argue that sleepers don’t exist anymore in the “Information Age” i.e. the internet being a thing. (More like the “Misinformation Age” these days but I digress.) That’s a whole lot of rubbish since sleepers are simply guys that get overlooked for one reason or another and their price come draft day isn’t as high as what analysis tells us it should be. Lynn isn’t getting enough love as he returns from TJS and not stepping onto a field since 2015. Sure, we don’t know if he’s going to be close to the same guy out of the gate and you have to expect an innings tally under 190, but if I get 170 innings of 8.00 K/9, a 3.20 BB/9, and a 3.30 ERA, that’s two Fonzie thumbs up from me as my #3/4. Keep in mind, his hard contact was below 28.5% for three straight years before going under the knife. The upside isn’t Top 20, but it’s legit.
48. Jon Gray (Colorado Rockies) – I’ve been hearing a ton of buzz – once again – about Jonny Gray (Johnny Gray? That lack of H is making me feel dirty) and one point that keeps coming up is “He was better at home than on the road!” Totally true: 4.05 FIP on the road, 3.16 at home (or if you prefer, 4.91 ERA on the road, 4.30 at home.). The main point they leave out is the quality of opponents Gray faced at home: In 14 home starts, Gray faced PIT, NYM, CIN, SDP twice, ATL, and PHI. Half of his opponents were at the bottom of the offensive totem pole – in contrast, his 15 away games included BOS, STL, SFG twice, BAL, LAD, LAD twice, NYY. So let’s put that Home/Away/Coors effect splits aside for a moment and act like he’s just a normal guy living a normal life like that guy you know named Doug. What a normal guy. 9.91 K/9 was fantastic paired with an overall 12.1% whiff rate, a decent 30.5% hard hit rate, and…that’s it? Well alright, the walks weren’t terrible with a 3.16 BB/9 mark and his 66.4% LOB rate paired with a .308 BABIP should regress a bit to make his 3.60 overall FIP doable…it’s just tough for me to get on this train. I’m not saying ignore him and don’t take the gamble. There’s clearly opportunity here for Gray to turn into something excellent in Colorado. He simply has a lot of roadblocks – walk rate, Coors and, oh, an IPS well under 6 – without a clear path to overcoming them outside of hoping the luck works out in his favor. Not the ideal target in my mind.
49. Drew Smyly (Seattle Mariners) – It was a 2015 that gave us hope. A new one, maybe. 10.40 K/9 across 66.2 innings with a 3.47 xFIP and how could we not get on the bandwagon? Well Smyly was all kinds of painful in 2016, featuring a 4.88 ERA with FIP/xFIP hanging around 4.50 and a 1.27 WHIP. K-BB% was still good at 16.0%, but there is plenty to be desired. This can be described pretty easily: 2015 was Smyly’s ceiling with 2016 was his floor. He got super lucky with a 86.5% LOB rate in 2015, which plummeted nearly 20 points to 67.7% last year, even though he lowered his hard contact to sub 30% levels. Ouch. As he moves out of the AL Beast (thank the lord) to Seattle, I think there’s actually a decent amount to like and I was planning on labeling Smyly as a post-hype sleeper…except that he’s just about going inside the Top 60 in SP ADP despite the disappointing 2016. So much for that. I think people have it right for the most part – obviously with this ranking – though I think of the Rays crew from Last year not named Archer (Odorizzi, Smyly, Snell, Cobb), Smyly has the best shot of returning the most fantasy points. Might not value wise (as that’s dependent on the price paid), but I can easily see him holding the best season in a good park and easier schedule ahead.
50. Jharel Cotton (Oakland Athletics) – There’s a decent amount to like about Cotton. He doesn’t walk batters and his FB/CH combo is a great recipe for IFFB numbers in O.Co – he had a whopping 24.4% in 2016 and it’s not all surprising. There’s still work to be down with his Changeup, as it can fly out of his hand up-and-arm-side a little too often, but when they don’t slip out of his hand they are very often down in the zone, which is exactly where Changeups should be. The bigger question is if he can develop a great breaking ball – most likely his Curveball – that would be the difference maker to keep his strikeout rate above 7.50 or so. What I see is a guy who can go 7.50+ K/9 with a 2.50 BB/9 at a 1.20 WHIP and 3.50 ERA with upside to bring that ERA lower. He’s essentially a higher potential Marco Estrada, given he should also outperform the FIP/xFIP given the approach. That’s super great value for someone I can get past pick #200.
Tier 5: Balls of Yawn
51. Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies) – Now that a lot of the fun stuff is off the board we have to start looking at options that can be a little more dependable. First up is Eickhoff who was all sneaky n stuff last year. A 1.16 WHIP across 197.1 innings?! NOICE. Sure, the Ks didn’t show up as much like I wanted them to – 7.62 K/9 to be exact – and the 3.65 ERA leaves a bit to be desired, but he did a decent job of mitigating hard contact – 30.8% hard and 20.0% soft – for a guy many people ignored in the preseason. The main issue hold back Eickhoff is his poor heater, which registered a -7.5 pVal last year and doesn’t look to be much better moving forward. Good news is that his Curveball/Slider combo will keep the strikeouts somewhat alive – 17% whiff rate for his slide piece and 15.4% for his deuce – plus he does play in the NL Easy, albeit for one of the weaker offenses in the division. I don’t see major things for Eickhoff, but it’s possible we see a 8.00 K/9 with near 200 innings and a sub 1.20 WHIP again (sub 2.00 BB/9 in 2016!) mixed with a 3.50 ERA, which can be rather helpful through the year.
52. Tanner Roark (Washington Nationals) – Here’s something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. We’re able to recognize that Roark is a finesse pitcher – a 2.83 ERA despite a 3.79 FIP and 4.17 xFIP was benefited by his elite hard contact mitigation of just 24.3% – but he also had a poor 3.13 BB/9. So he’s wildly effective? Without a good strikeout rate? That does not sound like a repeatable skill to me and certainly not someone I want to buy into. Let’s assume that Roark has nearly the same strikeout and walk rates, we have to hope that his LOB rate of 79.5% sticks, as well as his ability to suppress HRs (9.4%) and maintain that studly hard/soft contact rates or else that sub 3.00 ERA because 3.60 or so with a 1.30+ WHIP. Does that sound like a guy you want to own? In other words, you’re paying for a career year in Roark and that rarely adds up to a good purchase in your draft.
53. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) – Jeez Lou-freakin’ EZ-bake oven 2016 was terrible for Felix. A 3.82 ERA that grossly beat out the DIPS numbers (4.63 FIP, 4.45 xFIP), the lowest K/9 by far of his career at 7.16 and a plump 3.82 BB/9. That sure is plump. Plump. There are some that will write off 2016 and think Felix is going to reclaim his elite self, but I’m not one of them. That will require the King to regain two inches of drop he lost from his 2015 Curveball, which had its lowest whiff rate in 2016 (11.3%) since 2011, while also finding the zone a super low 36.3% of the time – the first time he was under 43% with the deuce at a career 46.4% mark. He’s also lost a tick on his Fastball each year, dropping from 92.4 to 90.5 since 2014, meaning this trend is exactly what you don’t want on your squad. He’s current ADP has him being drafted as teams’ #3, which doesn’t seem right to me – especially coming off a BB/9 of 3.82. Yes, it’s that important to repeat a second time. And don’t forget last year’s 3.82 ERA that outperformed his 4.63 FIP and 4.45 xFIP. Also important to mention a second time. You’re essentially banking on a major rebound if you’re drafting him and I’d rather make a deposit elsewhere.
54. Jake Odorizzi (Tampa Bay Rays) – It’s pretty straightforward with Odorizzi these days after having essentially identical BABIP, GB Rates, K and BB rates in back-to-back years. And it’s…fine. 8.00 K/9, 2.50 BB/9, and peripherals indiciating a 3.50 ERA is in store. I can on board with that…kinda. I mean, there is certainly value in all of that, I’d just like it with a higher IPS (5.7 in 2016) and without the concern of battling the AL Beast so often. There are going to be those horrific games, but you’ll also be getting a solid share of 7+ K games. There aren’t many somewhat stable pitchers at this point, meaning if you need a higher floor, Odorizzi is your man.
55. Marco Estrada (Toronto Blue Jays) – I have a bit of a reputation for hating on Estrada. The dude has had a sub .240 BABIP in two straight seasons as he’s conquered his FIP consistently – 4.40 and 4.15 last two seasons despite two years of a sub 3.50 ERA. There’s a reason he should be slightly beating his FIP and holding a low BABIP – he’s an extreme flyball pitcher to the tune of 48.2% – but this is a little too generous, especially given his walk rate rose to an unacceptable 3.32 per nine last year. Now, I get that his strikeouts improved to nearly 8.50 per nine, but I see that dropping a bit this year while I can’t expect yet another repeat of near 3.30 ERA. I just can’t buy into a repeat performance in a HR-friendly park in the AL Beast. I’m not saying you can’t be effective like this, but a two-pitch pitcher that has been getting a bit lucky with a rising walk rate that can’t hit over 90mph doesn’t add up to year-to-year consistency in my book.
56. Sonny Gray (Oakland Athletics) – Let’s play a game. Since 2014, what was Sonny Gray’s highest K/9? What about his best FIP and xFIP? K/9: 7.52 in 2014. FIP: 3.45 in 2015. xFIP: 3.47 in 2014. These are not great. Rather it’s pretty middling and this isn’t mentioning that two of these three seasons Gray had a BB/9 above 3.00. Why are we chasing Gray, especially coming off a season where injuries were his M.O. and he failed to get any feel for his breaking balls? Gray’s upside isn’t nearly as high as people imagine it is and that’s if you get lucky. I’ll let someone else grab him rolling the dice for a Top 40 guy while I snatch someone like James Paxton who is currently going after Gray and has plenty more upside. Whoa, that was a quick one Nick! I think that’s a compliment, I’m just not used to that being one.
57. Dallas Keuchel (Houston Astros) – That 2015 sure was something, eh? Too bad he stopped getting all the calls on the edge that forced him to come closer to the middle of the plate and get hammered with his Fastball in 2016. And that right there is the crux of Keuchel. His strikeouts dipped with the change, his IPS dropped over half an inning, HR/FB soared above 16%, walks went up, and ERA ballooned to 4.55. Yikes. Alright, I don’t expect Keuchel to be a Panda. (Panda? I needed a new term for Waiver Wire Fodder, or WWF, and a Panda – i.e. Pablo Sandoval – is the prime example of someone not being rosterable. Also, Pandas are not intimidating at all.) I can see something like a 3.60 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP and about 160 Ks. I mean, that’s pretty close to Waiv- being a Panda. If you’re banking on Keuchel returning to form, I’d suggest noting that his Fastball used to register pVals of 21.2 and 17.5 in 2014 and 2015. In 2016? He lost near 2 inches of horizontal movement as the pitch dropped to -7.0. That’s going to be a tough road to recovery.
Tier 6: The Nikes
58. Matt Shoemaker (Los Angeles Angels) – Back to fun guys (mostly) that have a shimmer that makes them stand out despite some clear question marks. In other words, a lot of them have sneaky value making them…sneakers. You can write that angry email later, let’s just move on for now. First up is Shoemaker, and what are we supposed to do with Matty? On one hand he can go absolutely nuts for a good month, like his 55 Ks and 1.83 ERA across six starts from May to June, but then cool like whip in a can over a longer stretch, i.e. his final nine starts where he accrued only 33 Ks with a 3.50 ERA (4.53 xFIP!). The upside is clearly present, it’s just a question of what we’re going to get…and that’s most likely a see-sawing of hot and cold stretches. I’m alright with that, it just might be tough hanging on to him out of the gate since we really don’t know what we’ll be getting. Not the ideal when drafting pitchers, but you can’t deny his decent floor that puts him a bit higher than others with the sprinkle of awesomeness.
59. Joe Ross (Washington Nationals) – Serving yourself a cup of Joe last year started off pretty dang swell – the kid had a 2.37 ERA and 1.15 through his first 10 starts of the year – though the strikeouts weren’t quite there yet, sitting under 5 per start (including a game of 2 innings and 0 Ks as he left with a injury scare, but whatever). Ross’ success hinges mightily on figuring out his Sinker, which held a whiff rate under 4.5% for the second straight season. That’s discouraging, which may have been a product of the kid struggling to locate the pitch low in the zone – clearly where Sinkers should be hanging out and holding a party where they don’t invite Four-Seamers because they suck. Thing is, it’s totally plausible he figures out his command while integrating a Split-Change into the mix and suddenly he’s boasting an 8.50 K/9 given his Slider still held a 21%+ whiff rate because it is straight up sick nasty. Ross could be a guy you want to drop early in the season if it’s not going well – his 5.5 IPS won’t impress many – and he could also be a guy that you coast with as your #3 through the year. I like those odds at this point.
60. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I feel like this has been a long time coming. I’ve talked about Ray in Podcasts and even in blurbs inside the Top 40. And now he’s here in front of me and I’m tongue tied. Ummm, hi Robbie. Big fan…Really love watching you play. Why did I say those things?! I don’t mean any of it! Yep, Robbie is being loved all over the place and I need to douse this steam engine o’ hype that I’ve been seeing lately. Or not, because here I am ranking him nearly the same as the NFBC ADP…? WHAT IS HAPPENING. Alright, enough padding let’s get down to business, I’m not wearing this tie for nothing! Everyone likes citing Ray’s strikeout rates and I’m not going to lie, they are pretty as pie: 11.25 K/9 and a 28.1% K rate last season, which is dope as a dwarf. People also discuss his 3.45 xFIP and 3.59 SIERA, followed by “If he can lower those walks and HR rates, we have a stud pitcher on our hands.” Oh what a fun hypothetical! You know what makes hypotheticals better? If you can explain the discrepancies and make an argument as to why they would change in a future season. You see, with Ray and I can’t find a path to bonafide success. Let’s start with the first half of that hypothetical, his walk rate. In no stop along his journey to the bigs has Ray displayed great control (let alone command, but that’s another story), as he’s never featured a BB/9 below 3.26 at any level and his 3.57 BB/9 across 330 innings in the majors seems like it’s here to stay. What about his HR rate? Ray had a 15.5% HR/FB rate playing his home games in Chase Field…which isn’t too out of the question. Then he also allowed a staggering 36.6% Hard Contact rate. Then Ray’s third pitch is a poor Changeup that was trounced for a .395 ISO last year and a 48.3% LD Rate with just a 8.6% whiff rate. You see, Ray doesn’t have the adept repertoire of pitches that allows him to keep hitters off-balance. His Slider has a 20%+ whiff rate, which is incredibly legit and will keep the Ks alive, but also is prone to hangers as it rendered a whopping 26.5% HR/FB rate on its own. His most consistent pitch is a Four-Seam Fastball (his Two-Seam is HORRENDOUS), but he doesn’t even spot the edges with it and essentially hang outs in the middle of the zone. At the end of the day, I can imagine a small improvement here and there, but nothing of the sort that would have me chasing him close to my Top 40. You’re essentially hoping for something like 190 Ks, 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 10 Wins (lol Dbacks). That hurts your team. Seriously, 190 innings of that destroys your ERA/WHIP in a roto league, even if it means you get a 30 K boost. Just get a middle reliever and sit pretty with someone else. But fine. Here’s still here at #60 because I have to recognize that strikeout impact and theoretically he could grow as a pitcher, get the command on his heater, and find a Changeup he likes. I can’t sit here and not act like chasing that at this point isn’t the worst idea ever. So whatever, ENJOY YOUR RANKING RAY.
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