What’s up dynasty fam! Thanks for checking out my first starting pitcher rankings here at Pitcher List.
Starting pitcher valuations and rankings are arguably the most challenging lists each offseason. Mix together in-their-prime studs, aging veterans, breakout rookies, and the game’s future stars and you have yourself the ultimate dynasty rankings perfect storm.
Any number of factors can impact a pitcher’s ranking; new role or situation, changing teams, a new repertoire or pitch mix, or even new outfield wall dimensions. As dynasty managers, understanding that our rankings are ever-changing and each new piece of information or perspective we get on a player can allow us to gain an advantage over our league mates.
Remember, dynasty is a marathon compared to the sprint of a yearly league. That said, let’s get to the Dynasty Top-100 Starting Pitchers. Enjoy!
The article and rankings are organized as follow:
Sharing a handful of takeaways from this year’s rankings and research
Guidelines followed when compiling the rankings
The top-100 broken out by tier, with excerpts on a number of players
Full top-100 list is here, with an accompanying heat map identifying pitchers strengths and weaknesses
Crank the Volume
It’s no secret that the rise of analytics has fueled pitchers’ unquenchable thirst for higher spin rates, more movement, and increased velocity. There are consequences of chasing triple digits and strikeouts though, as starting pitchers are throwing less innings than ever.
Third trips through the lineup are now often turned over to high-impact relievers, who in turn are poaching the wins that previously went to their starting counterparts. This growing scarcity of volume has led starting pitching into a constant state of evolution, and as fantasy managers we need to adapt.
The number of qualified pitchers and innings per start (IPS) has been on a downward trajectory for the last decade. The total number of qualified pitchers in 2021 has decreased over 50% during this time and IPS has dipped nearly a full inning. Meanwhile, league-average strikeout rates are near an all-time high (23.2%).
A qualified starter must throw at least one inning for each game played by their team; i.e., a full season would require a starting pitcher to throw 162 innings.
Targeting volume alone is not the answer, as you might find yourself drifting off to Toby-land. Rather, we should look at pairing volume with the ability to get at least a league-average strikeout rate, which will maintain your ratios as well. The list of pitchers providing a premium source of innings volume and strikeouts continues to shrink in this ever-changing analytical era.
Below are a list of qualified pitchers to achieve 6.0+ IPS and an above league average strikeout rate, by year.
The goal is not to convince you that these names belong on the Top-100, that is quite clear. The moral of the story is that volume is quickly becoming a lost art form and the ability of your top starters to consistently work deep into games has never been more valuable.
The Old and the Beautiful
You’re surely well versed in the latest aging curve research and already factor that into your annual fantasy projections, so we will skip right to the part where that doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much anymore. This is not meant to challenge any aging curve analysis or theories, rather, a simple observation is that pitchers are performing at incredibly high levels during their peak years and sustaining that success well into their late-30s and beyond.
The historical approach to applying aging curves in fantasy was that players would peak between 26 to 29 years old, then beginning at age-30 would begin to enter the declining years of their career. However, in more recent seasons we are seeing peak performance occur at all different ages and prolonged success into the later years of a player’s career at a higher rate than ever before.
To test the waters, the below diagram plots the average FanGraphs WAR, by age, for starting pitchers logging at least 100 innings pitched in a season since 2010. Conclusions using the historical aging curve theories largely hold true, but starting pitchers appear to be aging more gracefully than in prior generations. Think of it as a flattening of the aging curve.
This all came together after the realization that 21 of the top-100 are age-30 or older. When projecting out for three to five seasons, including “older” pitchers warranted a sanity check. In summary, there were only a few instances where a player’s ranking was faded significantly due to age. For those pitchers in their low-to-mid 30’s, until we see otherwise, the expectation is that they can still perform at or near the highest level.
Toby’s Need Not Apply
So who is this mysterious Toby we speak of? If you’re a Pitcher List regular you need no introduction. But for those frantically googling, the official Pitcher List definition is; a middling pitcher who you can’t decide if they do enough to stay on your team and give you the itch to drop every single day. Named after Toby from The Office.
Said in the simplest manner, starting pitchers with extremely limited upside were left off of this list. There will always be opportunities to add Toby’s off the waiver wire and aside from rounding out the back-end of your fantasy rotation, there’s no reason to target them in your dynasty league.
Some pitchers you’ll find within top starting pitching lists elsewhere that you’ll find in the notable omissions below: Kyle Hendricks, Chris Paddack, Alex Cobb, Steven Matz, and Marco Gonzales.
2022 FanGraphs Steamer projections:
While each of the above pitchers could have a hot streak or reason to use as a matchup play, they just aren’t worth including on a list where you’re seeking upside.
- These rankings are built with the next three-to-five years in mind; projecting any further than that is irresponsible
- Standard categories were considered for a 12-team league with daily lineups and no contracts
- Tiering can be arbitrary at times, especially as you move further down the list, so tier size generally increases
Ok, let’s get to why you’re really here…
DYNASTY RANKINGS BY TIER
This year’s big three starting pitchers, each with their own argument to be placed atop this list. Cole is first due to his consistent volume, insanely high floor, and nearly spotless injury history. Though he missed some time last August due to COVID-19 he still had no trouble finishing the season as one of the top arms. Burnes is a popular #1 dynasty pick after winning the National League’s Cy Young award in 2021 and it’s hard to argue. With a repeat in 2022 and reaching 180+ innings, he’ll sit comfortably atop these rankings heading into 2023. Buehler sits third only due to a lower strikeout rate, though we are really splitting hairs.
Tier Target: Hard to pick between these three but Cole is the workhorse to target. His price tag is likely the lowest of the group, but his combination of history, floor, and upside is unmatched.
Post-sticky-stuff and COVID performance might cause you some heartburn. Fret not, Cole’s stats after returning were a casualty of some bad luck with a .341 BABIP against, but his average fastball velocity was 97.9 mph and his CSW% and K-BB% were only a tick below career norms, at 31.3% and 25.2%, respectively.
Fully healthy, expect to see Cole in Cy Young contention for the foreseeable future.
This tier might as well be named 1B to the big three’s 1A, and it would not be a surprise to see one of these SP be #1 overall next season. Woodruff has a case to be #2 in terms of floor behind Cole and @PitcherList darling Alcantara is an uptick in strikeouts away from being in Tier 1. Wheeler is a premium source of innings volume and strikeouts, having been the only starting pitcher to increase his IPS for three straight seasons. The added injury risk for Bieber and deGrom is now well-documented, proceed with caution.
Tier Target: Perhaps an unpopular pick considering he’s coming off a down year, but Bieber is a perfect dynasty target right now. Only 26 and one year removed from a Cy Young-winning season, due to his shoulder injury this past season he will warrant a hefty discount in trade negotiations relative to his ace-potential.
Bieber was a shell of his former self upon returning from the injured list near the end of last season, notably his fastball averaged just 91.2 mph (career average of 93.3 mph), with a CSW of only 27.4%. He’s one to watch in spring training to see if his velocity and command returns, but if it does, you will have missed the window to get that discount.
This is my favorite of all the tiers which includes a mix of upside, floor, newcomers, and seasoned-veterans, all of which have SP1 upside. Urías is coming off a huge season with career-highs across the board and the Dodgers kid-gloves are finally off. Nola had a rocky 2021 season but ran into a wall of bad luck headlined by a 66.8 LOB% and a mediocre .308 BABIP, both of which should correct.
Giolito is a pillar of consistency now and we should expect 170-180 innings with an ERA around 3.50 and 10+ K/9, which is plenty valuable. Fried had an incredible second half in 2021, any uptick in strikeouts and he’d be wildly underrated. Rogers’ first half was ace-caliber electric before dealing with some personal matters later in the season.
Scherzer continues to defy father-time and will be full steam ahead in 2022 while donning new colors. Flaherty has dealt with COVID-19 and injuries to his shoulder and oblique over the last two seasons, and his fantastic 2019 season isn’t a distant memory, yet. Manoah and his slider have rocketed up dynasty lists and if he can sustain the same level of performance over a full season he may move up even further.
Tier Target: Urías was extremely close to being in the tier above. Including the playoffs, he pitched 200.2 innings, with a 3.14 ERA, and 215 strikeouts. Only two other pitchers managed to meet those marks in 2021: Walker Buehler and Zack Wheeler. Of course, his lengthy injury history can’t be ignored but it’s not out of the question that Urías ends up being the Dodgers’ top starting pitcher in 2022 and beyond.
Berríos and Castillo are insanely close, both offer premium volume though the former outperformed the latter during the second half of 2021 and has a higher floor. Castillo’s history of slow starts and uncertainty around where he’ll call home was enough to bump Berríos ahead.
Another pair that are quite close or interchangeable are McClanahan and Peralta. No question about McClanahan’s talent, rather, we know the Rays are gonna Ray and that leaves some questions as to whether he will get the innings to substantiate an aggressive ranking. Similarly, Peralta piled up strikeouts during 2021 and emerged as a high-end starting pitcher despite his lack of history. His second-half splits took a step back (4.6 IPS, 3.69 ERA) and had he pitched enough to qualify his walk rate (9.7%) would have been the second-highest of the group.
One ranking that fluctuated a number of times is Logan Webb. He wasn’t on many fantasy rosters last April yet enters 2022 as the Giants defacto ace. His underlying metrics support his production and you’ll find him ranked higher elsewhere, but any regression to previous career walk rates and he could tumble down lists. Perhaps it’s intuition about his delivery and control, but another year to prove it will help his ranking here.
Gallen’s injury history is lengthy but he appears fully healthy heading into 2022. Gausman and Ray both had career years and decided to change uniforms. The AL East can be a gauntlet for pitchers during the grind of a full MLB season and though Ray’s 90% LOB rate is a call for regression, both should provide good volume and ratios.
Prospects have entered the chat. The next wave of flame-throwers Shane Baz and Grayson Rodriguez both feature upper 90’s fastballs and ungodly breaking balls, offering easy Sp1 upside. Each may start the season in the minors and will need some MLB seasoning before blossoming, but there’s a lot to like here.
Tier Target: Surrounded by a ton of talent above, is the still-23-year-old Ian Anderson. He features a four-pitch mix including a mid-90’s fastball and an elite curveball and changeup. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in the playoffs when he posted a 1.59 ERA over four starts with a 31.2% strikeout rate. Anderson’s Achilles heel is his command, as he’s logged a walk-rate near or above 10% throughout his time in the majors. That said, a step forward here and he’s a strong SP2 for years to come.
Despite a checkered past, Montas doesn’t get the love he deserves sometimes, especially following his lights-out second-half in 2021 where he averaged 6.1 IPS with 2.17 ERA and 102 strikeouts. Carlos Rodón has a pretty wide range of dynasty rankings thus far due to his inconsistency and injury history. Sure, there is upside for more but there’s a lot of baggage.
Lynn is a perfect example of a pitcher defying the aging curve as he continues to produce at a high level well into his mid-30’s now, even if the volume isn’t what it used to be. Logan Gilbert is another dynasty darling with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball that has led to an ascension through the ranks and will be given every opportunity to hold down a big league rotation spot beginning this season.
Last season, Darvish struck out 199 and had a 1.09 WHIP, yet it was a “down” season by his standards. Following an IL stint in August, he was plagued by the long ball, which inflated his ERA down the stretch. If he’s fully healthy we should expect him to flatten the aging curve a little further as well.
Tier Target: A pitcher gaining some helium this offseason is the former top prospect, Michael Kopech. After returning from a long absence due to Tommy John surgery he joined the White Sox in a bullpen role and flourished. The right-hander logged a 3.50 ERA over 69.1 innings, with 103 strikeouts, and most importantly appears fully healthy.
The White Sox still see Kopech as a starter long-term and currently, he’s penciled in as their #5. While his innings will still be limited in some capacity, Kopech has the opportunity to emerge as a high-end starting pitcher for dynasty purposes if all goes to plan, but it’s not without risk.
Kirby has all the makings of a frontline starter, including an upper-90’s fastball and elite command. The only reason he’s here instead of with Baz and Rodriguez is a little added risk due to injury history. Ashby is next in line at the Brewers star pitching factory. Shameless plug, check out my dynasty piece Breakouts and Breakdowns where Ashby was featured.
Ohtani (pitcher only) is incredible but his injury history can’t be ignored, we may have seen his best pitching season already. Skubal is destined to take a step forward if he can find a way to limit the long balls. Outside of serving up 35 dingers in 2021, he was pretty darn good. Patiño is another exciting young Rays arm with an electric fastball who could climb the ranks in short order but is expected to be on an innings limit, stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Once much higher up dynasty rankings, Clevinger and Kershaw are both heading into 2022 surrounded by uncertainty. Clevinger has been out since undergoing Tommy John surgery but according to reports is on track to be ready by opening day. Kershaw missed the later portion of last season with left forearm issues, was not made a qualifying offer by the Dodgers, and is currently in search of a new home. Both are a wait-and-see in dynasty formats.
Tier Target: Bursting onto the starting pitcher scene and becoming a household Pitcher List name after registering 32 whiffs in a single game, this tier’s target is Patrick Sandoval. The 25-year-old lefty features a mid-90s fastball, slider, and curve. But his bread and butter is his changeup, which by itself had a 35% CSW and 29% swinging-strike rate.
Surviving with a 9.9% walk rate is not ideal so a step forward with his fastball command could propel him up the ranks. Of note, Sandoval dealt with a back injury that sidelined him in August for the rest of the season which adds some uncertainty heading into 2022, though he is currently penciled in as the Angels #3 starter.
Manaea registered career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts while adding a few ticks to his fastball velocity. A mediocre walk rate may keep him from the top of the rotation, but he’s registered a mid-3’s FIP the last three seasons, so it’s not out of the cards.
Jack Leiter and Daniel Espino were aggressively ranked and both have frontline makeup and some of the highest upside in the minors. Leiter has yet to debut professionally, but scouts think he will make quick work of the minor league competition and could be one of the first from this year’s class to make it to the majors.
Houck teased his upside during 2021, showcasing an elite slider that registered an incredible 36.4% CSW, though, the Red Sox rarely let Houck go through the order a third time. Uncertainty exists around his role and whether it will be in the rotation or as a swingman.
Luzardo continues to flash ace every once in a while and the relocation didn’t help in the short-term. He has some giddy-up on his fastball but he excels with his secondaries. If Miami can harness his command there’s a lot to like here.
There are quite a few Cleveland names mixed into this tier that coincidently ended up near each other: Quantrill, Civale, and McKenzie. Quantrill transitioned from the bullpen and had an insanely good run in the second half, 1.94 ERA over 88.0 innings. He was helped by a .240 BABIP and 86.3% LOB during this time, and coupled with a mediocre 14.7% K-BB rate, paying for his second half is overpaying.
Civale is quite similar to Quantrill, with some superb stretches with batted ball luck on his side but a middling strikeout rate. McKenzie had a stellar stretch in the second half that will garner him some high expectations, but his command is mediocre and injury history can’t be ignored.
Tier Target: Speaking of Cleveland starters, you need to target Daniel Espino in all your leagues. The right-hander reached High-A in 2021, and over two levels had 152 strikeouts in just 91.2 innings. He features a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a plus-slider. His command is a work-in-progress and he’ll still need to make his way through the upper minors, but he has all the makings of an ace. Recommendations are normally to wait on pitchers who have only spent 10 games in High-A, but Espino is a major exception.
How on earth do you rank Verlander from a dynasty perspective? On one hand you have an aging-veteran coming off Tommy John surgery. On the other, you have a potential ace for the next couple years. We haven’t seen his progress, but his upside warrants a spot on this list, somewhere. Charlie Morton is similar to Verlander, yet completely opposite. Despite also being in his age-38 season, he’s been consistently on the field and pretty darn good while offering a more reliable but middle-of-the-rotation upside. The Braves and Astros are paying big bucks to have them on the hill this year.
Lauer was sneaky good in the second half and offers decent upside for a back-of-the-rotation type. DeSclafini and Wood both signed deals to return to the Giants, who have been working wonders with their starting pitchers. Plesac is trending hard toward Toby-territory but still has some upside if he can regain his 2020 strikeout rate.
Brash over Hancock, what? Perhaps says more about what Hancock isn’t doing than anything. Shameless plug number two, check out some additional thoughts on Brash and Taj Bradley in my article Dynasty Breakouts and Breakdowns.
Tier Target: My love for Matt Brash and Taj Bradley has been made clear. Aside from them, this tier’s target is Roansy Contreras. He made his major league debut this past September and did not disappoint, striking out four Cubs over three innings while surrendering zero runs.
Prior to his call-up, the right-hander was dominant at Double-A, with a 2.65 ERA over 54.1 innings with 76 strikeouts. He features a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a wipeout slider. Unlike many prospects, Contreras has polished command and a superb 29.4% K-BB rate. He dealt with some elbow soreness around mid-season which appears in the rear-view mirror and there isn’t much in the way in Pittsburgh’s current rotation. He’ll likely start the season in Triple-A for some additional seasoning, and if all goes well an early-season call-up, this time for good.
Parting thoughts: Casey Mize was hotly debated right up until finalizing this list. His prospect pedigree is off the charts, but he’s failed to perform at the big-league level and is dangerously close to Toby-land. Without some meaningful improvements in 2022, it might be time to move on.
(In no particular order) Casey Mize, Quinn Priester, Matt Manning, Landon Knack, Dinelson Lamet, Jackson Jobe, Jameson Taillon, Drey Jameson, Cole Winn, Nestor Cortes, Taijuan Walker, Matthew Liberatore, Yusei Kikuchi
Adam Wainwright (age), Sixto Sanchez (injury risk), Nate Pearson (injury risk, reliever), Kyle Hendricks (Toby), Chris Paddack (Toby), Alex Cobb (Toby), Stephen Strasburg (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), Steven Matz (Toby), Carlos Carrasco (injury risk), Marco Gonzales (Toby)
FULL TOP-100 WITH HEAT MAP
- You should be able to easily identify a starting pitcher’s strengths, weaknesses, and style; i.e. hard-throwing and high strikeouts compared to a control first pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls. Of course, your top tiers are generally a mix of both
- The data points listed below are 2021 stats achieved at the MLB level only
Understanding the Metrics
Below are brief definitions of the metrics used throughout the heat map, provided for your reference. Please check out the Pitcher List Glossary for details on all fantasy metrics.
IP: Innings Pitched. Used below to identify pitchers with the highest innings volume and as an indicator of sample size when analyzing the provided metrics. 180+ innings in a given season is considered good, with 200+ innings being excellent volume.
CSW: Called Strikes + Whiffs. A good determination of how dominant a pitcher performed. ~30% is good, 35-40% is excellent. 20-25% often comes with bad results.
K-BB%: Strikeout rate minus walk rate provides a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness. ~20% is good, and 25%+ considered excellent. League average is approximately 14%.
FBv: Average Fastball Velocity, league average was 93.5 mph in 2021.
GB%: Ground-ball rate represents the percentage of balls hit into the field of play that are characterized as ground balls. Pitchers with high ground-ball rates have a tendency to allow fewer home runs (which result from fly balls and line drives). Groundball pitchers generally have rates of 50% or higher.
Dynasty Top-100 Starting Pitcher Rankings with Heat Map
Hmm. Dynasty means full career. Guys like Scherzer should not be 50 spots ahead of Ohtani and Severino.
The heat map is brilliant. Ranger Suarez looks nice here…