No one knows.
Did pitchers show gains in velocity because they felt they could let it rip in the shorter season? Did those who lost velocity do so because they didn’t have time to properly ramp up? Did starting pitchers sport new usage rates because they didn’t need to rely on their third pitches as often? Did starting pitchers need to rely on secondary/tertiary pitches more because they faced the same opponents so frequently? Will younger pitchers have their innings capped? Will veterans return to normal workloads?
No one knows.
The usual statistical safety nets that we can so frequently depend on have broken and we find ourselves plummeting into the unfamiliar. As a result, different analysts are going to approach their Top 100s in different ways and, to be honest, I’m all for that. We may be lost but at least we’re all lost together.
So here’s how I tried to make my way through it.
Due to the varying IP samples that we got, I felt that it was more important than ever to do a deep dive into as many starting pitchers as possible. That meant less of a reliance on ERA indicators and more of a reliance on what I felt the upside/downside of a pitchers individual arsenal was; I took the Eno route and focused more on “stuff”, however one defines that. For virtually every pitcher my process was the same:
- Were there major changes in usage%?
- Were there major changes in velocity?
- Did large changes in SwSt / K% / FIP correspond with any changes in utilization?
- Are those changes sustainable or were they fueled by the short season?
The answers to all of those questions comes with a lot of subjectivity but none more so than question four. All I could do was give my best guess and I’m happy to discuss with anyone how I got to the conclusions I did.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s rankings but I have a feeling I may be a bit higher on plus command pitchers like Kyle Hendricks. There are a few reasons behind that. First, I think those pitchers are perpetually undervalued with owners often choosing those with higher K% upsides but lower floors. Second, I think these pitchers can be wonderful fenceposts for a fantasy squad, allowing owners to take bigger risks later on. Lastly, I felt that, in my rankings last year, I struggled with where to put the non-flashy types. I too frequently opted to drop them in rankings because they didn’t seem high-impact enough. This year, I thought it better to pepper them in a bit higher with the hopes that they may lead people to not fill their staffs solely with high upside pitchers. Marco Gonzales can be your friend.
Quick note: As of my writing this, the MLBPA has rejected the offer of a shortened season so these projections were made under the assumption that we would see a full 162 games. In the event we do see a shortened season, I would give slight boosts to Mike Soroka, Chris Sale, Luis Severino, and Noah Syndergaard. I feel everyone would see a small dip in IP totals making that kind of moot and that the doubleheader situation contains too many unknowns to take it too seriously.
If a number below is highlighted in gray it indicates a new tier.
Question about the rankings? Curious as to why particular pitchers were left of? Reach out to me on twitter or in the comments and I’m happy to discuss!
This is my first foray into tiers so I thought I’d provide some nuance into how I broke them up.
Tier 1 (deGrom – Cole): Take your pick between any of these SPs, I think you’ll be fine with whichever you choose.
Tier 2 (Darvish – Bauer): These SPs all have ace potential but have a bit more question marks than the tier one pitchers.
Tier 3 (Kershaw – Gray): More pitchers with ace potential but with slightly lower floors than the previous tier. Can make an argument Bauer should be in this tier, too.
Tier 4 (Morton – McCullers): I wanted to make this a little mini tier as they’re all injury concerns in various ways but all have plenty of upside.
Tier 5 (Fried – Greinke): This is where risk is given a bit more weight. All of these SPs have more prominent question marks than other tiers but not necessarily the lowest floors.
Tier 6 (Paddack – Plesac): This is where we transition to SPs with a wider margin between their floors and ceilings. Patrick Corbin could return ace potential or he could not get his velocity back and be a low-to-mid 4 ERA pitcher. Kevin Gausman could prove that the FF/FS changes were legit or he could regress to what we saw in his best years in Baltimore.
Tier 7 (Kluber – Urias): A majority of these SPs have IP question marks attached to them but, given a clean bill of health, have a lot of potential. Then there’s Marquez who has the highest IP floor but perhaps one of the lower ERA floors along with Mahle.
Tier 8 (Stroman – Keuchel): This is a hodgepodge of tiers linked together by upside but for various reasons. We have command upside SPs like Stroman/Bassitt, and we have stuff upside in Taillon/Keller.
Tier 9 (Sale – Happ): Start off with the TJS trio and then move into SPs with pretty big question marks attached to their names plus more command SPs peppered in (Davies, Happ and Odorizzi).
Tier 10 (Pearson – Canning): Mostly high upside young SPs who come with a lot of IP concerns.
Tier 11 (Manaea – Lorenzen): Late round fliers that certainly have their warts but have interesting pieces in their arsenal that may lead them to taking the next step.
But There’s Just… One Oriole?
I want to dedicated a section to some of the people that just missed the cut and give you a quick glimpse into why.
Robbie Ray: I found it difficult to find a spot for him considering how terrifying that floor is. I imagine he’ll be on the wire at the beginning of the year so he’s someone to keep track of.
Adbert Alzolay: I was choosing between Alzolay and Lorenzen for the final spot in the top 100. Both have great stuff, both have command issues that worry me. Lorenzen has more polish but I’m still concerned about the innings.
Dean Kremer: I think the FB/CB combination has a lot of potential but I wonder if he has a reliable offering for strikeouts. However, I don’t necessarily believe it’s worth finding out the answer to that question when he likely gets BOS/NYY to start the year. If he’s available on the waiver wire, which I think he will be, I’ll be watching those first two starts and hopefully picking him up for a SEA/TEX start.
Keegan Akin: I’m still excited by Keegan Akin’s arsenal—the fact that he can have the results he had with that fastball is awesome to me—but over the course of a full season we’re still looking at a sub/near 20% K rate with a high 4 ERA. Also, just like Kremer, I’d be very wary of starting Akin against BOS or NYY to start the year.
Kris Bubic: Bubic was in my top 100 until about 12 hours before publication (at around pick 99). There just seem to be a lot of red flags: the FB frequently being over the heart of the plate, the lack of separation between the heater and change, the fact that he didn’t really face many left handed hitters last year and got hit pretty hard when he did and the fact that he jumped from the low minors to MLB. Risk seems to outweigh the rewards.
Tanner Houck: There was only room for one BOS pitcher with a really good SL (aside Sale of course) and while Garrett Richards comes with plenty of injury concerns, I worry we’re going to see more of a low-5 ERA from Houck.
Tejay Antone: I think he’s likely to end up in the bullpen but he’d likely find a spot in the top 100 if CIN committed to him in the rotation.
Adrian Morejon: The upside is there but I think you’re better spending a draft pick on a pitcher with a clearer path to innings. Obviously there are plenty of injury concerns with Darvish, Snell, Musgrove, and Lamet and a Paddack bounce back isn’t 100% guaranteed but, while I think Morejon will be first in line to get innings, MacKenzie Gore or Michel Baez will likely take a few opportunities from him.
Tarik Skubal/Casey Mize: As of now, both are going to be competing for a job out of spring training. Whoever wins the job will likely be at the backend of what is likely to be a six man rotation. That means fewer innings, and more opportunity to wreck your fantasy squad. I’ll re-evaluate come spring training if one clearly wins a job.
David Peterson: I went back and forth between putting Kwang Hyun Kim 98th and David Peterson 98th but ultimately decided that the spot should go to Kim (EDIT: Then I ultimately replaced Kim with Garrett Richards and moving other things around). I think both will have mid to high 4 ERA’s. I think both will have like 20% K rates and both could theoretically end up being long relief. At the end of the day however, I think Kim’s IP ceiling is a bit higher, especially with Seth Lugo in the wings, the recent trade for Jordan Yamamoto and Noah Syndergaard returning before the All-Star break.
Kwang Hyun Kim: Remember when I said that spot should ultimately go to Kim? After even more thinking, I decided that Garrett Richards had the higher upside. I don’t really trust Kim’s arsenal to put up the same numbers that it did in 2020, plus there’s the concern he’s moved back to long relief at some point. I’ll Richard’s strikeout upside and theoretically similar ERA floor.
Domingo German: There is so much risk when it comes to virtually every starting pitcher. When it comes to German however you need to take the risk of every SP plus add to it that he hasn’t pitched since 2019, then add that he wasn’t able to use the team facility during his suspension. That’s just a lot of risk to take on when there are other interesting SPs with less risk.
Josh Fleming: I think there’s a really interesting pitch mix there but not quite sure he’s worth what will likely be TB’s most recent pitcher experiment. Will he come with an opener? Will his starts be more than 4 IP. Definitely something to keep track of as the season unfolds but until then I find it difficult to put him in the top 100.
Danny Duffy: I think the ceiling is still a high 4 ERA guy with a low 20 K% and, while there are other SPs on the backend of the top 100 with similar projections, I think I prefer their upside more than Duffy’s.
Chris Flexen: I thought it was a bit too on brand to put a guy who dominated the KBO on the top 100. Honestly though, he was close to being on there as I think SEA will be able to turn him into an effective MLB pitcher. I’m curious to see if the increased CB usage was because of the KBO and I also am a little afraid of his injury history and propensity to give up the long ball.
Deivi Garcia: Just not sure of the innings. As of now, he’s beginning the year out of the rotation. Then Severino is going to return somewhere around the All-Star Break. In the meantime there’s also Clarke Schmidt and Michael King.
Luke Weaver: I still think there’s a path for success but Weaver’s first two starts are against San Diego and Cincinnati.
Jaime Barria: Another guy who I think has really interesting upside but I wonder about the innings from him. Someone that I think may be a valuable stream but don’t know if he’s worth the top 300 draft pick because of the uncertainty.
I’ll spare you the write ups of all other pitchers I considered. To reiterate: if you have questions please feel free to reach out!
Photos Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)