Top 20 Starting Pitchers in Fantasy Baseball For 2018
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
What. Is. Happening. The floodgates are open as we begin our coverage of 2018 and beyond. As with every season, we launch with the Top 20 Starting Pitchers for fantasy baseballl for 2018. Strap in, I’ll be covering over 150 pitchers this week.
Tier 1: Four Score
1. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) – He’s the best pitcher on the planet. You know this, your father knows this, your battery mate from high school knows this, your barber knows it. His career ERA has gone down every year as it currently sits at 2.36. If someone tells you there is a better starter in baseball, it’s just wrong. However, you’re going to read your fair share of articles claiming Kershaw should be dethroned as the #1 SP in fantasy land and it all hinges on one point: Kershaw’s back forced him to the DL in two straight seasons, reducing him to 21 in ’16 and 27 starts last year. That’s not a bad argument, and I don’t entirely disagree with it. The point that is often left out is that none of Scherzer/Sale/Kluber made more than 32 starts last season. Injuries are commonplace, and outside of a few arms here and there and those part of the “Hertz Tier” where you’ll be thrilled to get 25 starts out of them (you’ll see it in the Top 40), I’m going to be lenient on docking points for “injury risks.” Everyone is an injury risk. If you take Scherzer over Kershaw, you’re not only banking that Kershaw gets hurt, but also that Scherzer doesn’t. That’s also ignoring the much better chance of Kershaw outperforming Scherzer across the innings he does pitch. I won’t own him – I’m taking hitters in the first three rounds because I believe I can get value later and through the year – but if your thing is to grab a starter early, then the first off the board should be TATIAGA: The Ace That Is Always Gonna Ace.
2. Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals) – With Kershaw at the top, the clear answer is Scherzer at #2. I’ll talk about the inconsistencies of Sale/Kluber in their blurbs and Scherzer’s track record makes this an easy call. Five straight seasons of 200+ IP in which he’s averaged a 2.87 ERA, 30.6% K rate, 6.1% BB rate, and a 0.99 WHIP. Averaged. You can talk about his .243 BABIP, 3.28 xFIP, and 80.7% LOB rate from 2017 and call for major regression, but that would be a lack of justice on par with what Hollywood is doing with the DC catalog. That .243 BABIP was supported by an xBABIP of .260, and xFIP is the 2004 Dave Roberts of stats – it needs to go. xFIP compares a pitcher to the league average, completely ignoring the fact that allowing or suppressing HRs can be influenced by the man throwing the ball. Want a better DIPS stat? For now, use bbFIP – which determines a pitcher’s expected ERA based on the actual batted balls in play they allowed – and that was a beautiful 2.53 in 2017. You know that feeling when you finally relax in a jacuzzi for the first time? I’m lucky I get that feeling from three numbers and mmmm it feels good. Just like grabbing Scherzer before Sale/Kluber and not having to worry about a difficult April or an ERA that mysteriously finds its way to 3.00 out of the blue. And I didn’t even mention the NL Easy! Don’t be wacks, grab Max. That’s a terrible catchphrase. YOU’RE A TERRIBLE CATCHPHRASE.
3. Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox) – Yes I’m going Sale over Kluber, and it’s a pretty easy case in my mind. I like the fact that Sale doesn’t stink the bed routinely for the first month of the season and that he figured out that possibly throwing his best pitch (the best pitch? Fine, his fastball was the real pVal breadwinner but…look at it…) last season over 30% of the time would render a bunch of success en route to a staggering 36.2% strikeout rate. Pair that with a walk rate that has hovered 5.0% for three straight years, a winning ball club in the Red Sox, and four out of five seasons tossing 200+ frames, I’m loving Sale once again. I won’t own him because, well you know, but it would be fun riding him during what could be the best season of his career. Yes, better than a 0.97 WHIP and 308 strikeout season. It’s amazing how believable that is.
4. Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians) – I’ll be honest, I’m a little annoyed Kluber won a Cy Young with 29 starts and Kershaw can’t get one in the NL with 27 with better numbers across the board, but I digress. Oh, and with six starts to open a season that rendered a 5.06 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a trio of Cleveland losses BUT I DIGRESS. Kluber then hit the DL and following his June 1st return he was as studly as we’ve seen anyone over 23 starts – 1.62 ERA (2.02 FIP), 0.76 WHIP, 36.2% K rate, 3.7% BB rate and just three starts over 2 ER (2x 3 and 4). Fiiiine. This does nothing for explaining my ranking though…or does it? Kinda? Maybe? The real point here is Kluber has a history of being inconsistent, and it stems from one fundamental problem: he has a terrible sinker. Like -6.8 pVal bad. His cutter and curveball make up for it…well his curveball mostly as it had an absurd 37.8 pVal last year, but it’s concerning when he has a pitch that is thrown over 40% of the time and can get wrecked so frequently. I’d rather put my faith in Sale and his repertoire that doesn’t have distinct flaws.
Tier 2: This will do
5. Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets) – I debated this one a lot. Like as much as I did about The Last Jedi (let’s be real, it wasn’t a good movie at all. “Now it was worth it”…OH COME ON) and I’ve finally come at peace with my decision. I mentioned in the Kershaw blurb that I’m going to be lenient on most pitchers with injury histories and Syndergaard is no exception. Yes, I had him initially at #10 back in October, and I just can’t do it. 200+ IP of Thor is a Top 3 starter, though even if we set a hopeful expectation of 180 innings, that still warrants him this #5 spot above the rest of the second tier. His ceiling still hasn’t been reached, and this is with a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 29.3% K rate, 5.8% BB rate in his back pocket. There are adjustments to be made – not throwing 100% with his heater on every pitch, relying less on overpowering with his fastball and favoring his excellent secondary offerings, and of course not trying to get ultra jacked in the off-season – and you should be excited about it. For reals. Yes, we are all concerned about Thor’s health, and it will come up at some point, but save for Bumgarner (who doesn’t have the same ceiling as Thor), are we confident any of the guys in this tier aren’t going to go through some injury questions this year? I joke about Nola day all the time, but let’s be honest. You want to own a pitcher that you get excited about every day he starts, a pitcher that you can exclaim “IT’S HAMMERTIME!” with your friends as you gear up for his start. Live a little and go get yourself an immortal man.
6. Luis Severino (New York Yankees) – It’s pretty remarkable to see Severino in the Top 10 after just one year ago he was in question for having any fantasy relevance following the atrocity that was 2016. Those worried about his innings, don’t. BOOM. Seriously, 191 frames last year as the Yankees threw caution to the wind, with about 150 in 2016, though that includes 11 games in relief…which is slightly different. Point is, consider Severino primed for a 200 frame season and that is a wonderful thing. Holding a 29.4% K rate with just a 6.5% walk rate is unreal, yet believable with his stellar slider (17.6% whiff rate, 44.4% O-Swing, and .086 ISO allowed in 1081 thrown) and a four-seamer that held a near 10% whiff rate and 57.8% zone rate. The real difference maker for Sevy wasn’t either of these pitches though, but his changeup that he was able to spot for strikes at a whopping 48.5% rate. It allowed him to dance in and out of the zone with his slide piece while not giving in with his fastball. I’m a believer in this three-pitch repertoire, making me trust Severino to provide the low ERA/WHIP of other 190+ IP options while carrying an elite K rate that will help him hint Top 5 value. Severino is the real deal, y’all.
7. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants) – 2017 was weird for Maddy. His infamous biking accident limited his season to just 17 starts where he showcased a low 22.4% K rate and a good but forgettable 3.32 ERA after four years of sub 3.00 marks. That’s not the Bumgarner we want in our lives. Now, I totally expect 200 innings once again from the starting pitcher equivalent of an Airedale Terrier, but it doesn’t come with the same strikeout ceiling nor the tantalizing sub 2.50 ERA upside. But dependable high-quality innings are a wonderful thing and I’d have no problem placing Bumgarner as high as #5 above Thor and Sevy. I get it, like real estate in a swamp, a high floor has immense value. I think you’d be slightly overstating Syndergaard’s injury risk and underestimating his massive fantasy impact, while forgetting just how well-rounded Severino is but you’re not wrong. Just different. And not Belle different because that would imply good things and these, these are bad things. Wow, you’re such a talented writer. About time you recognized.
8. Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – Did you realize how good of a season Strasburg had in 2017? A 2.52 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 29.1% K rate with a 6.7% BB rate as he lowered his VH rate to 4.3% (just 2.9% against LHB after 5.2/5.5% in the previous two years) are all studly marks as he made tweaks to his repertoire. Changeup usage went up nearly six points (take that
democrats lefties!) as the pitch earned a fantastic 26.1% whiff rate with a 48.2% O-Swing. Batters held a .107 BAA and hit only two extra-base hits across 502 thrown. Simply lovely. He turned to his deuce nearly twice as often too, which was the consistent strike-getter he needed – .152 BAA with a 46.5% zone rate and low 61.0% contact rate as batters were reluctant to take a hack at a low 33.9% clip. Having these excellent secondary pitches to induce whiffs outside of the zone while also earning strikes when he needs it was everything he needed to produce the most successful pVal of his fastball’s career – and this is with its lowest usage rate of his career at 51.9%! It’s lovely to see a starter coming into his own, pitching to his arsenal’s strengths and deserving the results he gets. So why do you have him at #8 then? Well…I have to be a little strict since he has failed to eclipse 180 frames nor 30 starts in three straight seasons. I’d rather the upside of Thor and Severino or the stability of Bumgarner just a touch more, but you can’t be sad owning Strasburg unless you’re into that sort of thing. I dunno you do you I guess.
9. Jacob deGrom (New York Mets) – For those that have been following Pitcher List since its inception, you’ll know I’ve loved deGrom more than the consensus every season, the fantasy hipster, though I hate being the hipster. I’m not a hip at all – I can’t dunk despite being 6’4″ and, hell, I’m listening to a mix of stoner metal as I write this. But the time has come for deGrom to be a lover once loved, a dance once danced, a beer once beered. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to have deGrom for another year. He finally eclipsed 200 frames while raising his K rate to a career-high 28.9% thanks to an unreal four-seamer that held a 57.7% zone rate and a 15.6% whiff rate. In other words, his heater did a better job of missing bats than his slider or curveball. Absurd. At the same time, his walk rate climbed for the third season in a row to 7.1%, his ERA followed suit with a 3.53 mark driven by an obtuse 16.1% HR/FB rate…though his bbFIP rendered a remarkable 2.98 and his xHR of 23.5 is a significant distance from his 28 allowed. I’m still having the same difficult time that I had during the season deciding between Greinke and deGrom, and if I knew the humidor was arriving at the start of the season I’d likely have Greinke at #9 instead, but I just can’t do it. Still, considering deGrom is getting selected 10 spots ahead of Greinke anyway, I’m forced to sail abroad clutching Greinke as he leans back into the wind, shouting from afar that I’ll write once a week. We both know I won’t.
10. Zack Greinke (Arizona Diamondbacks) – The best SP target I’m seeing thus far is Greinke, who’s currently the #12 SP with a ~43 ADP in the NFBC ADP. Um, yes please, I’d gladly stock up on safe elite hitters for the first three rounds, then cozy up to Greinke, garbed in my camo slanket to match his stealthy value is in my mind a very slight tick above guys like Carrasco and Verlander who are being selected a round earlier. But why do I love Greinke so much? Because after a tumultuous 2016 season, he proved it a fluke, returning to his 32 starts, 200+ IP, sub 6% walk rate studliness. He had career highs in overall whiff rate (12.4%), contact rate (which dropped six points from 78.6% to 72.9%), and, unsurprisingly, strikeout rate at 26.8%. Now there are two areas of concern here that I will not shy away from. First, his velocity has trended down in three straight years from 92.5 –> 91.9 –> 90.6mph. That’s not good and I’m not going to tell you it’s insignificant. However, he’s made up for the velocity drop in an improved slider with career marks in whiff rate (25.5%) and O-Swing (51.6%!), paired with increased success from both his curveball and changeup. The other major hit has been Greinke’s inability to keep the ball in the park, featuring HR/9 rates well above the 1.00 mark (1.30 and 1.11) in both seasons in Arizona after averaging a 0.7 mark with the Dodgers. But has everyone forgotten that the Diamondbacks will have a humidor installed in 2018 and beyond? The effects could “cut HR totals in half” whenever that happens, but hyperbole aside, this will have an effect on Greinke’s allowed HR output whenever it arrives (my guess is around June) and that’s enough to get me to brush aside the gopherball problem. IN SUMMATION, increased whiff rates, a fine-tuned repertoire, history of 200+ innings, and fewer HRs allowed force me to give Greinke the nod inside the Top 10. Oh, and one more thing: Did you know that Greinke had a 2.87 ERA and 1.02 before his final two starts of the year? Stupid sexy Marlins. Hold on a second. What’s up? I could have sworn I just heard a phrase that won’t be uttered for another five years…
11. Carlos Carrasco (Cleveland Indians) – Yes, Cookie is outside of the Top 10 and I know some of you will take offense to that. The fella just had his first 200 IP season with a fantastic 28.3% K rate while keeping his walk rate under 6% for the fourth straight season leading to a 3.29 ERA and I can see that smug look of “pfft, I’m not reading any more of this TRASH.” It suits you. This may be a shock, but I actually really like Carrasco and have ever since he got his chance second chance as a starter back in 2014. The problem is that he has a track record of missing time and his four-seamer is still such a liability. A liability that led to six games with 5 ER or more last year, which is so bad, but when you’re picking among the elites, these things stick out. It’s hard to believe his ceiling is a 2.75 ERA season given his marks comfortably above 3.00 in each season he’s thrown at least 135 innings, while all of the Top 10 arms have already showcased that ability. If I’m still seeking a starter in the fourth and Carrasco is alone on the dance floor, by all means I’m swooping in. Just don’t be too eager of a pelican to get his dinner. This is your worst metaphor of 2018 and it’s not even March yet. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
Tier 3: The not-so-calm before the storm
12. Justin Verlander (Houston Astros) – I legit don’t know what to do here. In 2016, Verlander struggled through the first month of the year, found his cutter, then went on to produce a Cy Young worthy season in his final 28 starts. It all made sense and I was all in at this time last year believing that Jimmy V (why do I still call him that?) would pick up where he left off in September and be a stud for the full year. Except he didn’t. Well, he did, but it took him three months to get there. Three months of a 4.96 ERA, 21.1% K rate, 10.8% BB rate, and 1.52 WHIP across 17 starts of 5.76 IPS. THREE MONTHS! It was torturous. I felt delusional telling people that better days were coming. But they did in his final 16 outings: 1.92 ERA 30.8% K rate, 6.1% BB rate, 0.86 WHIP with a 6.75 IPS. So here’s the problem. Verlander was a stud across five months in 2016, then forced owners to wait until July 8th for him to wake up again in 2017. Are we going to have to endure a frigid spring to get a stud out of Verlander? How long will it be? But he fixed his slider! And I totally believe the Astros did. At the same time, he fixed his cutter in 2016 and that didn’t carry over into 2017. So here I am. Confused and typing away despite my hands emphatically in the air out of frustration. I’m sure his stock will be elevated by his playoff success as well – The Playoff Tax – and while I have nothing against owning him, his clear risk pushes him into the third tier behind more dependable names.
13. Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs) – I just mentioned The Playoff Tax and I’m glad to illuminate the other side of it with Darvish as his atrocious October has done wonders to lowering his 2018 stock. Nick, I’m pretty sure his 3.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP did that. Alright, that’s fair. I recognize and am scared of the floor like it’s lava, but let’s not forget the upside Darvish brings to the table via 30%+ K rates for three years prior and a walk rate that has been hovering 7.5% the last two seasons. I’m a little afraid of his consistent injuries (just 22 and 17 starts in ’14 and ’16), and slight concern that his walk rates could convert to 8.0%+ levels, but his ability to miss bats and talent to pull off a month of bliss you have to consider Darvish above other options below.
14. Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – If you are surprised to see me rank Aaron Nola above the consensus (NFBC @ 17, Fantasy Pros @ 18), we’re not friends. YET. Come hang in the comments or on the Pitcher List Community Slack channel and we’ll have a wonderful time. Speaking of experiences you’ll love to have, Nola is the ace ignored by too many and 2018 could easily be the year it all comes together. I could talk about 2017 as a whole where he held a 26.6% K rate and 3.54 ERA, but that doesn’t do him justice. There were tweaks and small injury hiccups in the first two months of the year and in his final 16 starts we saw who he truly is: 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP 28.7% K rate, 6.9% BB rate, 6.5 IPS, and I legit think there’s room to grow. I don’t see why Nola can’t take another step forward as he turns 25-years-old this summer while his elite command and poor contact is here to stay. The one problem, however, is how early I’d need to chase Nola to secure him on my team. It was only a matter of time until he escalated draft boards and I’m concerned I’ll have to overpay. It’s too bad, but don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing my Live Every Day Like It’s Nola Day shirt as I tune in for each of his starts like the fanboy I am.
15. Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) – I want to love CarMart more but I just don’t see him taking that step to jump into Top 10 territory. His walk rate has been stagnant above 8.0% for three straight years, his fastball took a step back last season as he couldn’t quite get it inside enough to silence right-handers (BAA on his sinker jumped from .262 to .346!), which was a major cause for his HR/FB inflation to 16.4% despite never exceeding 10.6% prior. You have to expect some regression there, which turns into another ~200 inning season, with a sub 1.20 WHIP and sub 3.50 ERA. Then there’s his slider that took another step forward, increasing its usage to about 27%, pushing his strikeout rate above 25% for the first time in his career…but also suffering with his changeup that made him struggle with left-handers. I don’t see it getting worse for his changeup, and with the extra sliders in the mix, I don’t see why CarMart can’t be stable arm for your squad. I just don’t foresee that true fantasy ace, but his floor is as solid as you’ll find as your #2 SP and that’s worth a pretty penny.
16. David Price (Boston Red Sox) – Oh Price. You were an ace, then not an ace, then an ace! Then you tortured us through 2017 battling injury this, injury that, even showing up as a reliever for five games. It was dumb, it was silly, and it’s behind us like a shadow. Wow, so deep. The good news here is how his horrendous season opens the door for a possible steal in your drafts. If he’s starting out of the gate, why can’t he go 200+ innings of sub 3.20 ERA? I was very tempted to slot Price as high as #15 this season simply because – and I know this is “Alex Think Fast” creeping in but deal with it – I can see Price finally getting settled in as a part of Boston, without the pressure of being their ace and with a clean bill of health. Yes, he had a 3.99 ERA/1.20 WHIP in his last full year (230 frames in 2016!), but his sinker improved last year (9.5% whiff rate) as he favored the pitch more often. The key will be getting back in form with his curveball and changeup, though that doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me. There’s an easy path to his upside and it all comes down his health, by far the biggest variable in these rankings as I feel like I mention it in half of these blurbs. If there’s no clear warning signs come March, I don’t see why we have to treat him like he’s plagued for life after just one – just one! – injury-riddled season. This might be the season that…Oh please don’t do it…Hey, it actually applies for once! Fiiiiine get it over with. Ahem. This might be the season that…the Price is finally right. I HATE YOU.
17. Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays) – I feel like I’m going through the motions with Archer, as he’s been slapped with the “not an ace, but maybe this year?” tag for three straight seasons. Thing is, I don’t think it’s just. IT’S UNJUST. You don’t see a pitcher in the Top 15 who can survive being a two-pitch pitcher – save for Corey Kluber whose inconsistent heater is saved by two of the best secondary pitches you’ll find. No, Archer isn’t completely gone the way of a Rich Hill, but the changeup he pulled down to just 8.0% usage in 2017 rendered a poor -3.1 pVal and it’s hard to see him not only taking strides with the pitch in 2018, but also upping its usage to properly complement his slider/fastball mix. That’s not to say that Archer won’t be a solid addition to your staff. His 29.2% strikeout rate was absurd, fuelled by his slider that gets near 20% whiffs and finds the zone 46.2% of the time. Not bad for a pitch with a near 45% usage rate and by “not bad” I mean one of the best sliders in the game. Meanwhile, he upped his fastball’s zone rate from a sub 50% mark to the highest of his career at 52.8%, helping him earn a respectable 7.0% walk rate. But a 4.07 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and an 8.64 H/9 were far from ideal, and his .325 BABIP was well deserved given his .321 xBABIP. The ERA will improve and I’d imagine his WHIP could be under 1.20 moving forward, but until he figures out his third pitch – maybe it isn’t even a changeup! – Archer simply can’t take the next step we want him to, while opening himself up to the poor ERA/WHIP floor he showcased last year.
Tier 4: The Sea Of Troubled Waters
18. James Paxton (Seattle Mariners) – Like Nola, Paxton has been sliding up the rankings each season, though the time has finally come where I don’t expect to own Paxton. It’s sad, it’s tragic, it’s just like when Little Foot’s mom died – I’ll have to rewind to previous years just to see him on my roster again. If Paxton falls far enough to say the 8th or 9th round, I’ll be pleased to own him, but to me there’s a gap between him and the other major names as Paxton is the first of many to have legit concerns about playing time. You know the situation, Paxton has yet to throw more than 140 innings at the major league level. Ever. But he had over 170 between the majors and minors in 2016! I know, I know. Freak injuries too, right? Yeah, it’s completely possible that Paxton survives a full season’s workload and hints at 200 frames, but let’s be real here, you have to take into account his inability to do so in four straight seasons, unlike nearly all the other “injury risks” you’ll see in these rankings. The flip side is simply how good of a pitcher he is. If he gets 200+ frames in a season, there’s contention as the #5 overall starter. Seriously. He commands upper 90s heat exceptionally well paired with a fantastic curveball/cutter combination that is incredibly hard for batters to discern out of his release. His 2017’s numbers of 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 28.3% K rate, and 6.7% BB rate were not anomalies, that’s what we actually expect from Big Maple. He’s that skilled. It’s too bad I can’t expect over 160 frames from him this year, but even those 160 are well worth your investment as a #2 SP. Just be a little more conservative with your #3 and #4 starters.
19. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Here’s something I didn’t expect to be saying. Robbie Ray is a Top 20 starter. I wasn’t sold at first and I’m not entirely sure that the newfound curveball is indeed the answer to Ray’s problems. Keep in mind, his walk rate rose to an atrocious 10.7% in 2017, his FIP was relatively identical to his 2016 mark (3.72 to ’16’s 3.76) despite a two point difference in ERA and his 84.5% LOB rate was laughably fortunate. However, I feel a bit guilty quoting his FIP as xStats shows plenty different – a bbFIP of just 3.08 in 2017, and while his .267 BABIP is lower than his xBABIP of .298, both numbers are a far cry from the .345 xBABIP from 2016. Point is, Ray definitely deserved to do better than his 2016 season despite what FIP will tell you, but not sub 3.00 ERA good. So what can we expect? First of all, that humidor is coming…at some point. This tweet by the Diamondbacks is all kinds of confusing, making me believe that it’ll arrive in the sometime after April (my guess is June, like I mentioned in Greinke blurb)…and force us fantasy owners to throw our hands in the air like we just doOO CARE AND THIS IS REALLY FRUSTRATING. Second, that walk rate is still super bad and not in the good Jonah Hill way, which is a product of having two breaking balls that each don’t find the zone more than 37% of the time. His four-seamer – while effective – just isn’t that sneaky strike getter that it needs to be. However, the strikeouts are obviously going to be there, and while I find it hard to believe another sub 1.20 WHIP is headed our way, it’s believable that his elite strikeout rate will keep his LOB above average, and the humidor arriving at some point will help limit the longballs to keep him in the game. I could rant much longer about this – you’re paying for a career year and he can only go down from here, the walks have to bite him at some point, that four-seamer is absurdly good with a .193 BAA – but we have things to do. I’m not targetting Ray and I don’t foresee it being much of a problem as there is bound to be someone in your league that will grab him in the Top 15 SP, but I’m not ignoring the fact that he is sure to help your team if he falls.
20. Luis Castillo (Cincinnati Reds) – Did you think I was going to see the err in my ways since ranking Castillo at #20 in October? THERE’S NO ERR, HERE OR THERE. Each season when beginning our influx of articles for the season ahead, I lead with a GIF Breakdown, and despite expressing already my love for Castillo back in late August, I had no choice but to break him down again in today’s article. No choice, I tell ya! I expect to be among the highest – if not the highest – on Castillo this year and I want to share with you why I believe so heavily in his ability. In the small sample of 89.1 IP, Castillo flat out dominated. A 3.12 ERA backed up by a 3.01 bbFIP (get out of here 3.72 FIP! You’re not welcome here), an elite 27.3% K rate, and an excellent 58.8% groundball rate. He even allowed under 30% hard contact to boot inducing an xBACON of just .303. You haven’t mentioned his walk rate yet. Yep, that wasn’t pretty at 8.9% but he allowed eight free passes in his first two starts, lowering the mark to a respectable 7.7% clip in the 13 outings thereafter. And why wouldn’t there be room to grow? As he settled into his role, Castillo began getting comfortable with a two-seamer, which gets over three inches more lateral movement than the standard two-seamer and held an average velocity of 98.7mph last year. Then there’s the 100.1mph max he hit with his four-seamer, the six-inch differentiation with his changeup and four-seamer that resulted in a 22.4% whiff rate on the change piece, plus a slider that induced 74.1% groundballs while allowing a .023 ISO and .093 BAAA across 224 thrown. He has the stuff of the elites, and while I see people taking safer arms that won’t be sniffing Top 10 upside, I will be aiming, no, demanding to own Castillo in all my leagues this year. He is as special of a talent as they come and as the Reds let him fly in 2018 (169.1 IP thrown across AAA + MLB in 2017), I’ll be holding on tight. These wings aren’t made of wax.