2017 Rankings: Top 80 Starting Pitchers For Fantasy Baseball
3/13 update: I have since updated these rankings on March 13th. Check out those rankings here.
Next up is the Top 80 starters after we went over the Top 20, Top 40, and Top 60 to start the week. We’re still going through upside targets before hitting on pitchers who are questionably beneficial this season. Let’s get to it!
Tier 6: The Nikes (Continued)
61. Joe Musgrove (Houston Astros) – I really want to fall in love with Musgrove, but I just can’t get over his lack of full repertoire like seeing Liam McPoyle in WestWorld. He’s great in it, BUT YOU’RE STILL MCPOYLE. Musgrove is a One-Seam pitcher that mixes in an often beautiful Slider, but I’m not convinced he has the command of his Changeup to make a major stamp in the realm of starters. Speaking of which, he’s currently slated to be outside of the Astros’ rotation with…ahem…Charlie Morton taking the fifth spot, which seems more outrageous than these amazing sales. I’m assuming Musgrove does get that job at some point, even if isn’t straight out of camp, but it does knock him a bit down the rankings as you may be sitting on him for a little bit. When he does come up, he could be a sneaky add for a good amount of Ks – think 8 K/9 or so, with a great walk rate below 2.50 BB/9. Another Flier I’d love to take.
62. Zack Wheeler (New York Mets) – Now it’s getting to the point that we might as well be gunning for upside guys since we’re looking at closing out pitching staffs and waiver wire options. Wheeler is as high upside as you’ll find, considering his potential of a strikeout per inning with a 50%+ GB rate and a sub 3.50 ERA in the NL Easy. Sure, the innings aren’t going to be there and the walk rate may be questionable, but of course there have to be some warts here. If Wheeler has that fifth spot out of the Spring Training, I’m buying and will be taking him as a flier in all my leagues – there’s really no reason not to. If his status is uncertain during your draft, I’m still buying. His price is so cheap that you have nothing to lose here. Plus, you get to name your fantasy team Wheelin’ and Dealin’. Who doesn’t want that?
63. Michael Pineda (New York Yankees) – Yeeeeeep, I’m sure not buying the sleeper hype on Pineda either. After being a major fan in February 2016 for all the reasons people love him this year, I’m throwing in the towel. If there is something I’ve learned that needed beating me with a hammer to learn it, it’s that there are some pitchers that will defy DIPS – on both ends of the spectrum. Pineda has been the darling of sabremetrics supporters as his K/BB rates scream ace while showing a 3.30 xFIP and 3.40 SIERA. Just like with Ray, if only he could shrink his hard contact and limit his HRs allowed. That’s quite an IF as the reason for the dingers – 13.7% HR/FB in 2015, 17.0% in 2016 – isn’t due to bad luck but rather two problems with Pineda: 1) Again, like Ray, he’s a essentially a two-pitch pitcher and 2) He refuses to walk batters. To that latter point, look at this heatmap of Pineda’s pitches when behind in the count and compare it to when he’s even or ahead. It’s staggering how much Pineda doesn’t trust himself when behind and batters clearly tee-off of the knowledge – across 2015 and 2016, Pineda used his Heater nearly 67% of the time when behind and it led to a staggering .376 BAA for the pitch in those circumstances. That’s super high. You guys get the point, Pineda makes himself hittable and while he could make an adjustment this year, this fantasy of Pineda making that alteration and keeping the other peripheral numbers just doesn’t add up to me. This is ignoring the fact that he plays in the AL Beast where HRs are frequent and that despite his 10.61 K/9, he still averaged just 5.5 innings per game, shrinking his potential strikeout output. I think the upside here is a Top 40 guy, not the Top 25 stud we want him to be, which is great, but that’s if he makes a change. If we don’t see that, he’s going to be hurting plenty of teams.
64. Dylan Bundy (Baltimore Orioles) – Boy did I have a crush on Bundy last year. When he hit the rotation and his Fastball command was working…Mmmmmm it was beautiful. His Changeup was slaying batters like Bob Gibson with a grudge and his hook was inducing 62.5% infield fly-balls. WHAT. The problem was that I believed too much in Bundy’s Fastball command, which ended up with a heatmap looking like this by season’s end. That’s not good. At all. Trust me, I’m fully aware of what we’re dealing with if he can consistently command his heater – especially paired with a Changeup that missed bats at a staggering 20.8% rate and had a 45.9% O-Swing. The upside is a workhorse that gives you a 9.00 K/9 with a sub 3.00 BB/9 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. That’s the ceiling, though you can’t expect that this year. Bundy only logged 109.2 innings in 2016 as he danced between starter and reliever and he’s been plagued with injuries including Tommy John and shoulder problems. To expect this year to be THE YEAR is asking too much. Would I consider him at the end of my staff in a 12-teamer? Absolutely take that flier. Just be ready to move on if it’s not looking pretty early.
65. Anthony DeSclafani (Cincinnati Reds) – I originally had Tony Disco slightly lower near the likes of Tillman, but it’s hard to deny that his lack of walks and general approach speaks a little more towards a higher ceiling for the soon-to-be 27 year old. There’s still work to be done dismantling left-handed batters, but if he can work that Changeup on the outside corner this year, I could see him being a Top 50 easily, maybe even Top 40 upside. What we’re most likely going to get is someone with a middling strikeout rate near 7.50 with a 3.60 ERA and low walk rate that keeps his WHIP from getting out of control. That’s Top 70 right there.
66. Taijuan Walker (Arizona Diamondbacks) – This is going to be quick. Walker’s biggest problem was his HR/FB rate (17.6%!) despite calling Safeco his home field. Now he’s going to be calling Chase Field his home and that’s very tough to endorse. Upside wise, there’s hope he can further develop his breaking pitches to be neutralizers and he will have the ocassional start that makes you feel amazing for owning him (like the last two to end last season), but it’s difficult to believe Walker will be a steady producer as there will be more pain than pleasure. Just how it is.
67. Drew Pomeranz (Boston Red Sox) – What a season it was for Pomeranz who was such a fun time in the first half that I gave him the nickname of The Dirty Cheerleader. His Curveball was one of the best in the game, propelling him to a studly 10.15 K/9 and 2.47 ERA through his first 17 starts in San Diego. However, Pom Pom was sent to Boston and it didn’t turn out so well. In his final 13 starts to the year, he struck out at least seven just three times with just a 5.18 IPS and a horrific 4.59 ERA. It was a product of a few issues: 1) His Curveball lost vertical movement 2) He was nursing elbow problems that the Padres hid 3) He tossed 170.2 innings, which was by far the most in his career and 4) I’d even make the case that the extra media attention + stress of earning a spot in the rotation affected his ability to produce on the field. Now entering 2017, it’s not certain that he’ll even earn a spot in the rotation and it’s hard to invest in a guy who already looks to be a headache. This is all without mentioning his 3.43 BB/9 last season and identical 3.80 SIERA/FIP. This is yet another play that is rolling the dice, and if you’re looking for K production deeper in your draft, The Dirty Cheerleader might slide enough to fit your fancy.
68. J.A. Happ (Toronto Blue Jays) – I’m amazed at how deep I need to dive to convince Happ is not worth his price. I’m seeing him inside the Top 50 for multiple rankings and it’s awfully generous. First we have to acknowledge his 20 wins from last year, which is a product of a 6.9 RPG and we all know that’s going to dwindle, especially with Encarnacion leaving and whatnot. Then we have to acknowledge the atrocious 4.18 xFIP and 4.28 SIERA with middling Soft/Hard contact rates. That sub 3.20 ERA just isn’t going to stick. Sooo what redeeming qualities does Happ have? Strikeouts? Nah, he’s been sub 8.00 K/9 every year since 2012. And with that FIP getting expressed more, expect that 1.17 WHIP to rise as well. It’s all going in the wrong direction like UK drivers and I want no part of it. He barely averaged six innings per start! Yeesh, JA Rule? More like JA Fool, am I right? HA Ha ha…
69. Daniel Norris (Detroit Tigers) – Here’s a fun one. At quick glance, you’re probably shocked more people aren’t talking more about Norris. Well, I’m legit shocked – the dude held a 3.42 ERA, 9.22 K/9, and a 2.77 BB/9 in 13 starts and barring injury he gets a spot in the roster for the full season. There obviously need to be drawbacks here or he wouldn’t be so ignored – xFIP and SIERA have him close to a 4.00 ERA pitcher, his 1.40 WHIP and near 5.5 IPS leave a lot to be desired, and his 80.7% LOB rate from last year has to diminish – but there’s a real chance that you’ll get a bunch of quality innings with six strikeouts per start at the back end of your 12-teamer staff with Norris for the price of zilch. That’s my kind of value.
70. Alex Cobb (Tampa Bay Rays) – Let’s imagine for a minute that Cobb was entering 2017 fresh off his 2014 season. We’d be expecting something like a 55%+ GB rate, 8.00+ K/9, a 2.50 BB/9, and a 3.00 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP. Now obviously the TJS in 2015 and lack of fun stuff in his super brief six starts last season make 2014 seem so far away, but he’s still under 30 and has had plenty of time to get back into the groove for 2017, including a proper spring training this time around. I’m going for that inside the Top 80 easily while others are drafting Pandas.
71. Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays) – Here’s something interesting I dug up about Snell. In his final three games on 2016, the kid thew nearly near 3 times more Sliders than Curveballs while the pitches couldn’t be farther apart in effectiveness – pitch values of -4.3 for Sliders, 4.8 for Curveballs last year. I’m actually happy about this, since his Slider had a whopping 22.8% whiff rate last year and I think Snell was taking the extra time to work on his bender ahead of Spring Training. That would mean his K rate would stay afloat at its glorious 9.00+ per nine, with the hope that his walk rate will dwindle to tolerable levels, say 3.00 BB/9? That in turn would bring down the ERA, increase the IPS, and voila! You have yourself a bonafide Top 40 pitcher with upside for a little more. Problem is that walk rate may still be an issue as Snell struggles to spot corners with his heater, elevating it way too much in the zone. He could theoretically get away with this more often if he could locate his Changeup down in the zone, but that sure didn’t work well either. The kid is young and he had flashes of good control/command in the minors, but more displays of wild character that hints a walk rate near 4.00 BB/9 could be back again. Obviously there are risks at this point in your draft just keep in mind of the possible upside hidden away in Snell.
72. Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins) – Let’s be real here, Berrios’ 2016 was almost as disappointing as discovering his name is pronounced buh-ree-ohs instead of berry-ohs. Now, I certainly trust Wheeler and Cobb more than I do Berrios, but I think it would be unwise to think Berrios “simply doesn’t have it” as his rookie year took such a nosedive. I gave a detailed report on his stuff in my GIF Breakdown of his MLB debut last year (which is now gone from the internet for stupid reasons) and while he didn’t take the necessary strides to have success with said stuff in 2016, the door is still very much open for Berrios to make the jump in 2017. In fact, his stuff is good enough that the path to Top 50 is much easier than nearly everyone else past #60. Don’t forget that his minor league track record displayed a pitcher with 9.00 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9 upside, while the kid isn’t turning 23-years-old until the end of May. Don’t draft him expecting the world from the get-go, but it’s certainly possible he’s universally owned by his 23rd birthday and stays that way through 2017, making him a fun flier to take at the end of drafts.
73. Matt Moore (San Francisco Giants) – This may seem surprising, but should it really? He’s currently favored as a Top 50 SP but I really just don’t see why. Is it his strikeout potential? Okay fine, he had a pair of 11 K games against the Rockies and Diamondbacks in September turning into a 9.09 K/9 as a Giant across 12 starts. Woop de do. During those same starts he still had a debilitating 4.21 BB/9 that led to a poor 1.33 WHIP and 4.08 ERA. That hurts your team a lot more than it helps to the point that I’d rather start no one than Moore. Do I believe he’ll suddenly have a resurgence across a full season in the NL West? Slightly since the AL Beast is stupid as a
Robbie Ray, but he has to face the Dodgers and go to Chase Field and Coors Field and that’s not happy happy joy joy either. It just seems silly to think his control problems will be fixed while he’ll still be so inconsistent that you’ll hate owning him. He hasn’t had an xFIP under 4.30 since 2011. Okay, he’s still young in that he turns 28 in June, so there’s still time to put it all together, but I’m not buying it. There’s simply too much data to show that it ain’t gonna work out like me and my first girlfriend. But we have so much fun together! Yeah, but you like Bulbasaur and I love Charmander. I just don’t see this working.
74. Jason Hammel (Kansas City Royals) – Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not expecting the world from Hammel, but something like a 7.50 – 8.0 K/9 with a decent walk rate and a 3.60 ERA seem possible. It isn’t something I love and it could be much worse, but he really shouldn’t go undrafted, and I’d be fine with him at the end of my staff in a 12 teamer as long as I have him on a short leash. Let’s move on. Wow, that was super boring Nick. Yeah? Well YOU’RE BORING. Oh. Okay.
75. Mike Foltynewicz (Atlanta Braves) – I saw Folty pitch in 2015 and I was enamored. He looked like a Thor-lite, with a Fastball hinting at triple digits with a huge hook to boot. It hasn’t been anywhere near what we’ve wanted since but there is hope ahead. Hope! Now, 2016 was still a disappointment – 4.08 ERA and all – but he made great strides with his Changeup, changing his grip from four-seam to two-seam, which gained nearly three inches of horizontal movement and boosting its whiff rate to a fantastic 22.0% mark. Pair that with an improving Slider and a hook that has increased its zone rate each year (up to 43.0% now) and Folty is trending in the right direction where a breakout is possible at age 25. He doesn’t have the knockout breaking ball that would make me believe his impact will be immense, but I can see Folty staying off the waiver wire through the 2017 season.
Tier 7: Am I Helping? Please Tell Me I’m Helping
76. Chris Tillman (Baltimore Orioles) – You may have noticed the previous tier was upside heavy as it’s getting to the point in your draft where you start to question if the pitchers you draft are even worth owning. Are they going to hurt you more than help? So after all the upside choices are gone we get to the lameos. And that starts with my favorite pitcher ever. NOT. Whaaaaat’s happening Tillman. Yeah, I know we haven’t been as tight as you see me and your teammate Gausman, but come on! A 4.23 FIP and 4.54 xFIP? 3.45 BB/9? Your highest K/9 in three years and it was 7.33 K/9? Sub 6 IPS? This isn’t screaming “OH I’VE BEEN SUCH AN IDIOT” like you’re making this out to be. I can see people drafting Tillman and hoping for another 16 Win season – his first above 13 since 2013 and second in his career – but I’d much rather fill his spot with an influx of upside pitchers until one sticks. Sounds a lot better than 180+ innings of a 1.30+ WHIP and 3.70 ERA with minimal strikeout production.
77. Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals) – Gio has some skills: He’s going to average over 5 Ks per start, his walk rate is going to be questionable around 3.00 or higher, and he’s going to perform worse than his DIPS indicate. Wait a second, aren’t those last two bad skills? Did I say these were all good skills? Gio has had left on base rates of 71.0%, 72.1%, and 67.6% in the last three seasons with BABIPs around .300 and they aren’t making me reconsider his ERA and FIP not getting along. His whiff rate has also been trending down since 2014 and I’d be awfully shocked if I own Gio this season. He’s another one of the YKWYGG fellas, you know, Yick-Wiggs that are going to get overdrafted because of “stability”. Stability schwability, you don’t win your leagues with a pair of pitchers that give you 180 innings of mediocrity. You use those spots to chase upside and stream. No thanks Gio, I’ll look elsewhere.
78. Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants) – And then there is Loose Lips, owner of the most ridiculous nickname on the site that made total sense in my head three years ago and I’m loyal to my previous self for silly reasons so here we are. People believed Samardzija was due for a major rebound after moving from Chi-Town to San-Fran and maybe hyphenated city nicknames just aren’t his thing – it was more of the same, save for a better ERA…that was still 3.81. Sure, the 1.20 WHIP wasn’t the destructive force of eating a burger with the stomach flu, but owning Jeff was still a painful tirade. It’s not far-fetched that he bumps his K rate a little more, but it’s very hard to bank on a decent ERA that will make you a happy owner the whole year. If he gets hot, he has the name value and I’d be selling ASAP, but this is all a stupid hypothetical cause y’all know I ain’t touching Loose Lips. As if.
79. Ian Kennedy (Kansas City Royals) – I might be a little harsh on Kennedy as his strikeout production is above average – 8.46 K/9 last year after a pair of 9+ seasons – but boy does his ERA/WHIP scare me. Even in HR suppressing Kauffman Stadium the fella held a 12.8% HR/FB rate (and this is as a flyball pitcher!), with his FIP hanging out a point higher than his ERA at 4.67. Don’t expect the WHIP to stick below 1.30 as his 2.68 BABIP was his best since 2010 after ~.300 for the past four seasons, while his walk rate is going to hover around 3.00 BB/9 again. Wins aren’t aplenty in KC either and it all adds up to a desperate add if you really need that strikeout help deep in the draft. I for one won’t be touching him.
80. Jeremy Hellickson (Philadelphia Phillies) – For those that have followed my SP Roundup through the previous seasons, you’ll know that I refer to Jeremy over here as The Devil. The guy would flirt with studliness at times, say 8 Ks, 5 baserunners, and 0 ER in 7 innings, so you pick him up and in his next start he burns your village down with a line of 5.1 innings, 11 baserunners, 5 Ks and 6 ER. If you think I made that up, that actually happened last year and he did it oh so often, with nearly 30% of his starts featuring 4 ER or more. He’s a temptress and while his Changeup is oh-so-good since he repeats the same arm delivery + spin, its success is due to batters salivating at his Fastball. I don’t see Hellickson putting it all together without a better heater and that’s just not going to happen. So then we’ve got 190 innings or so of 3.80 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with just under 5 Ks per start as he pitches for a losing squad. Ehhhhhhhhhhhh. Never have I felt so Canadian.