We’re back for another set of 20 starting pitchers for 2020 fantasy baseball, and here’s where it starts to get interesting.
Here is the Top 20 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball article if you missed it earlier this week.
Tier 4: It’s Party Time (Continued)
21. Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – It’s easy to look at Nola and say, “Oh, 2018 was the outlier, he’s good but not great.” It really was an abnormal 0.97 WHIP among a sea of 1.20+ marks, and his 2.37 ERA definitely is an outlier. But that doesn’t mean he can’t a be a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP arm, you know.
His curveball is still fantastic, with three straight seasons of a 15+ pVAL, holding betters to a career .500 OPS and inducing chases galore while still catching the zone with it. His changeup is solid, but can still be better, dropping in zone rate without the whiffs to match it last season.
Then there’s his heater, a pitch that will likely undulate throughout the season based on his three-quarters arm slot. It helps him get a ton of called strikes, abusing its horizontal ride, but it also makes him prone to stretches of disaster, especially if his changeup isn’t getting nearly as many strikes as it used to.
A high pick spent on Nola is an investment in his command sticking through the year. That could happen and return a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, if not better. I’m leaning that Nola’s 2019 is the floor at this point, and even if we get 2017’s 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate at 200 frames, you won’t regret this pick.
Essentially, you’re getting the volume and strikeouts with ratios that are a tick better than most of the names below. You want stability? You got it. You want more of a fun ceiling with nearly the same floor? Go with Giolito.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 27% K rate in 200 IP.
22. Zack Wheeler (Philadelphia Phillies) – You want to chase the super fun times and take some risk? HERE’S YER BOY. I know last year I was all-in on Wheeler, and we didn’t get what we wanted, via a 3.96 ERA, 24% K rate and 1.26 WHIP. That WHIP is such a sore thumb given an excellent 6.0% walk rate, and it’s almost as if the Mets’ defense was terrible. Oh right, IT WAS. Not to say that the Phillies are a massive upgrade, but at least it’s not the Mets. There’s a phrase we say often.
But that’s actually not the real reason for my excitement, which is twofold. First is how he’s going to be paired with J.T. Realmuto behind the dish. I’m not referring to the framing numbers for Realmuto, I’m focused on where his targets are as a catcher. It drove me insane last year how multiple Mets arms were given little guidance by their backstops when delivering pitches, setting up thigh-high on the outside corner for heaters and sliders. So where did they put them? Thigh-high on the outside edge. This may be a shock to you, but that’s a terrible place to throw anything. Throw it intentionally up in the zone, or down-and-away if not off the plate.
And I think that explains a lot of why Wheeler has underperformed given his excellent stuff. He has a pair of fastballs that he actually does a good job of putting into the glove. His slider hasn’t quite taken the leap yet, but a renewed approach of heaters distinctly up and sliders off the edge — not taking the whole quadrant for heaven’s sake! — could turn the pitch into a legit threat. Mix in some well-placed curveballs that can act as a #2 pitch on a given day, and why not, let’s go after those split-changeups too. The tools are there with 96/97 mph heat and the approach with a proper backstop is all that’s left.
200 frames of legit acedom could be waiting, and I’m personally not sold the guys below him can put up the same numbers next year. I don’t see him getting worse than his time last year with the Mets, so that makes Wheeler a gamble worth taking.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 27% K rate in 190 IP.
23. Zack Greinke (Houston Astros) – I initially had Greinke as #20, but I just couldn’t do it. The floor is lower with Greinke, despite his recent success, and his strikeout rate has diminished steadily. In fact, just one season of his last five has come with a 24%+ mark, and that’s not what you want. Maybe the Astros fix him a bit, though you can’t turn 90 mph into something game-changing.
I should give a bit of credit to Greinke’s stability over the years, though. We all know about the massive disaster that was 2016, but it’s the sole blip across eight seasons. Eight! Greinke has held a sub-1.10 WHIP and 3.30 ERA in each of his last three years, and that’s definitely worth something. Maybe this is the year it falls apart, but honestly, I doubt that, and with wins at his back in Houston, this is a lovely safe pick as we begin to venture into the young talents of the game. Maybe it’s not for you, and that’s okay. You’ll be happy owning Greinke during the year.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 23% K rate in 190 IP
24. Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I could play it safe, but hey, three Zac(k)s in a row? WHO COULD SAY NO TO THAT?! But seriously, I’m telling you right now that if you’re risk-averse, just ignore me and go get the guys you want. One element about writing my own rankings is that I don’t have to always be conservative, and I get to run with my gut in where I see legit breakouts coming. And I see that in Gallen … to no one’s surprise.
I’ll have a massive breakdown on Gallen coming in the next few weeks, outlining all his pitches in-depth, with quotes from him as we talked about their development, moving to Arizona from Miami, and how his approach has changed through the years. Here’s what you need to know: 1) He’s accepting the Blake Snell Blueprint of high heaters and low secondary pitches now that he’s on the Diamondbacks. 2) His slider/cutter is a feel pitch and he’s working on its consistency. 3) He has no fear.
Gallen is an arm that will throw the right pitch in a given at-bat. He’s the anti-2018 Bieber, where he’ll nibble, throw a 3-2 changeup to chase the strikeout and have full confidence in his deep repertoire to pitch to philosophy instead of fear. Sure, it did create an 11% walk rate last season, but I expect that to fall to 8.0% or so with more time in the majors. Oh, and about that repertoire: Let’s add up all the factors like DMX.
Curveball? Strong offering with a 45% O-Swing and 37% zone rate. A cutter that’s really a slider? 16% SwStr rate with a 52% zone rate and 41% O-Swing. Um, yes please. He made some mistakes with it last year, and it does go in-and-out, but I’m banking on its overall performance to improve. Changeup? 21% SwStr rate and 45% O-Swing. This is a dope pitch. It’s always there to get strikes and dominate.
So he has Eduardo Rodriguez’s changeup, a slider and curveball that both induce chases and can be trusted for strikes, and a fastball that sits 93 mph and touches 96/97 with full intent to elevate. WHY DO YOU NOT WANT THIS.
Fine, the only concern is that he may not be in the rotation to start the season. And that’s just unreal. There are two spots open between Merrill Kelly, Mike Leake, and Gallen, and do you truly believe that the Diamondbacks would hold back Gallen, who tossed 170 innings last year? Really? It doesn’t add up. Yes, this ranking ignores that possibility, and I 100% get if you’re upset about that. I’m ranking this based on the expectation that he comes out of camp with it, and if you really want to bake in the chance he doesn’t, then slot him down to right after David Price. I’m not buying it, so I’m all-in here.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26% K rate in 180 IP
25. Chris Paddack (San Diego Padres) – Nick, why would you go with Gallen above Paddack when Paddack is so much more proven? Because his repertoire isn’t nearly as good. Boom, roasted, can we move onto the next guy? No? Fine.
I really just don’t buy Paddack’s shtick. I love that he goes up-and-in with heaters without fear, but to a .243 BABIP? And a 10% SwStr rate at 94 mph? I’m not sure I buy that, and this is going to sound crazy, and don’t overreact to it please, please, please, but it brings me a sense of Ervin Santana’s four-seamer performance during his odd 2016/2017 peak. NOT THE SAME, but similar in jamming batters with fastballs and getting the best end of the results, unlike Reynaldo Lopez, who mostly gets the poor end of it.
But it’s better than those two names and deserves success, setting up a good foundation for the rest … which is a split-change that is inconsistent and a curveball that isn’t fully developed. It showed in the second half, where just five of his final seventeen starts went six frames or more — possibly a product of the Padres being careful with Paddack (especially the last one, when he cruised through five frames!), but I think Paddack’s lack of a sturdy and consistent secondary pitch will hurt him.
I just don’t see his changeup returning a near 50% O-Swing with a 16.5% SwStr rate again, and that curveball needs to step up. I’d rather take a chance on Gallen’s more polished repertoire or Wheeler’s tool-set getting amplified with the Phillies than Paddack reinventing his approach, not to mention that his innings are sure to be capped again after tossing just 140 frames last year.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26% K rate in 170 IP
26. Tyler Glasnow (Tampa Bay Rays) – We’re not even at pitchers and catchers reporting and we’re already getting injury news. James Paxton has been moved out of this article with the news that he’ll be out roughly until June/July after getting a “microscopic lumbar discectomy,” and just a few hours ago, it came out that Glasnow “had a median nerve decompression procedure in his right wrist in November.” Oy! Stop bringing more haze into the haze: We’re just one more away from summoning the ghost-but-still-living-and-playing-but-he’s-on-the-Orioles-so-did-you-really-know-that? Austin. Why is their any clout on Glasnow’s 2020 season? Well, the guy only had eight true starts last year before getting shut down for the better part of the season, then came back in “ramp up” mode for the playoffs. It wasn’t fun, at all.
But what was fun were the eight starts we had out of the gate — 1.86 ERA, 30% strikeout rate and a 0.91 WHIP rooted in a silly 5% walk rate — and I have a distinct memory of Glasnow giving us all a special feeling as he overwhelmed in Chicago on a dreary afternoon. His stuff was on full display that day, with curveballs that went, as Vin Scully would call them, “nose to toes,” while he peppered 97+ mph fastballs with cut action that the ChiSox had no idea what to do with.
And that’s what you’re chasing. A two-pitch pitcher with a pair of options that can just dominate and make boots quiver. When he’s on, it speaks to a Top 10 arm with the strikeout volume and likely low ratios. It comes with two major concerns, though. I have to knock him down due to health (it already was a question after pitching only 60.2 IP last year, and now there’s news of more this offseason), which, oddly enough, a good amount of arms in this tier don’t suffer from the same concerns. Then there’s the question of consistency. It was such a small sample of dominance last year, and these two pitches, well, they can be unreal, but overall, they don’t speak to it. In 2019, his curveball failed to hit a 40% mark in either O-Swing or zone rate. That’s not good, and neither is the 91% Z-Contact. Still, batters couldn’t get any lift on the pitch (9% FB rate!), which meant he allowed plenty of singles (near .400 BABIP!) but just a .026 ISO. Fine, I’ll take that.
His heater was much better last year, as he leaned heavily on throwing the pitch upstairs. We like that, especially at his velocity. It didn’t come with the SwStr rate you’d want though, with a surprising sub-10% rate. Maybe the changeup that showed its face for two starts before the injury returns to create a more balanced approach, but I don’t think it’s that great of a pitch. Glasnow isn’t a command pitcher, and this changeup requires a lot more feel than Glasnow has.
I find it all not to be what I expected, and it makes me want to look elsewhere instead. I know the electric stuff is more than exciting, and I’m really rooting for him to put it together. I just have this bad feeling it’ll fizzle out and he’ll be good, but not great.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 29% K rate in 160 IP
27. Madison Bumgarner (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Okay, let’s bring back the stability. I found myself buying more and more into Bumgarner when I wrote about him for the Diamondbacks SP profiles (still less than Gallen, though!), as it became apparent that too many dingers ruined everything last year. That happens, I get it, and maybe it sticks around again. But the point is that his decline wasn’t a product of degradation in his skill set. It won’t get worse than a 3.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 24% strikeout rate in 208 IP. It’ll likely just be better, via fewer earned runs.
So that’s stability. No excitement of a legit 30% strikeout threat, but you’ll get the workhorse you want on a decent club, with likely a better ERA season than last year and a great WHIP. That’s really cool to have.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 24% K rate in 190 IP
28. Lance Lynn (Texas Rangers) – I’ve been amazed at how few people are buying into Lynn’s excellent 2019 season. Oh, a 3.65 ERA, well that was the peak and it’s just going to worse now! Is it? He improved based on a shift to more cutters and curveballs, and his heater was deservedly one of the better fastballs in the game, at a whopping 14% SwStr rate and 64% zone rate. He threw that pitch over 1,800 times. That’s insane.
His cutter didn’t allow one home run on 553 thrown. Sure, that’ll likely change, but that’s obviously a pitch that’s doing something right. His curveball turned into a solid strikeout offering at a 42% strikeout rate, and it adds up to a guy that’s like Brandon Woodruff but will give you more innings. Normally when you get volume and a sturdy ratio, it comes with a dip in strikeouts, but Lynn held a 28% strikeout rate last year. The only wonder is if his 1.22 WHIP will rise next year, and that may be the case if his sub-7% walk rate changes. It’s the only thing holding me back. But hey, a new ballpark that favors pitchers more could help and this is the kind of arm that will bring you more value than the price tag.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 26% K rate in 200 IP
29. Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets) – You know I’m not a fan of Syndergaard. I just hinted at him during the Wheeler blurb, and instead of pitching for nearly any other club, Syndergaard is still a Met and will continue to disappoint as one. His BABIP is always well over .300 because he doesn’t spot corners, work batters, or make batters overthink themselves in the box (and that Mets defense, oof). He’s not going to have the elite strikeout rate because he doesn’t have an attack mode and nibble the edges or off them. His extension has gotten worse since the 2016 glory days, his SwStr rate was the lowest its ever been last year at 12.5%, and I don’t see the signs for improvement.
I’ve learned to not invest in Syndergaard to fix his approach, as he’s displayed his stubbornness after refusing to get an MRI. He even attempted to go more four-seamers than sinkers last year, and quickly axed the plan as the season went on.
I really hope I’m wrong. His slider/curveball/changeup are all filthy, and he’s still wowing us with velocity. He’s pitching like a PEAS, though, and the path to his ceiling is filled with too many hurdles that I don’t think he wants to jump over.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
30. Frankie Montas (Oakland Athletics) – Man, I really wish Montas stopped throwing sinkers. Well, he did last year, dropping the pitch about 16 points as he introduced a splitter and we all celebrated, but an 18% four-seamer rate isn’t enough. Please, stop. Your sinker returned a 131 wRC+ and .823 OPS while holding a sub-30% O-Swing and just a 6% SwStr rate. Ugh. Sure, he found the zone a ton with it, but your four-seamer is just chilling there, waiting to be called in with its 9% SwStr and .260 BAA. Not to mention it’ll set up your splitter and slider better, especially when you chuck the ball at a ridiculous 97 mph.
Sorry, I actually liked Montas across his small 96 IP frame last year, especially when he showed confidence in his slider once again by throwing it over 40% of the time in the zone and pairing it with a legit whiff pitch (finally!) in a splitter. The joke is I hate splitters, and it’s totally true … when it’s a #2 pitch. When it’s saved to just earn strikeouts? Well, then I’m on board, and it returned a 38% strikeout rate with a 46% O-Swing and 21% SwStr rate. That’s lovely. Yes, I’d like it if his slider could also miss bats constantly and not at its current-sub 15% SwStr clip, but this splitter is enough for now for me to feel confident owning Montas for a full year.
I think we would have seen some sort of step back last season if we saw a full second half from him (no, I don’t believe his steroid usage is the reason for his success, the new splitter is!), but a step back from a 2.63 ERA can fall to 3.50 and we’d be super happy with that.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
31. Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds) – Okay, I ranked Bauer around #40 in October, and I understand if people aren’t happy to see that I’ve moved him back up again. It’s another case of “you do you,” where you could chase the upside here or get a stable pitcher among the ones above. I don’t think Bauer is his 2018 self. I don’t think he is his 2019 self either, when he was the ultimate Cherry Bomb. His repertoire acted completely different last year, but the real problem was the four-seamer and one thing.
The pitch went from four (!) home runs allowed to twenty. That’ll do it.
Oddly enough, heaters were generally a better pitch, just with more mistakes that were hammered out of the park for an 18% HR/FB rate. His slider and curveball did well, but took a dip as Bauer felt he had to do more with them, and his whole mojo was ruined.
At the same time, in this darkest Bauer hour, he gave you 213 innings of a 1.25 WHIP and a 28% strikeout rate (253 Ks! That’s more than Strasburg, Scherzer, and Flaherty) and there’s something to be said about his volume. Bauer is going to still have those seven-inning gems of games, but maybe there will be fewer of the extremely bad days. And if those come down, well, then a 3.60 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and a 28% K rate across 200+ frames is well within his grasp … and that’s wild.
So I like him more now. I didn’t want to deal with the headache in October, but I’m more removed from the season, and after digging deeper into Bauer, I buy that he’ll hold an ERA comfortably under 4.00 with a solid WHIP and well over 200 strikeouts. That’s production.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 29% K rate in 190 IP
32. Sonny Gray (Cincinnati Reds) – I’m not a big fan of Gray. I see his 3.97 SIERA over a full point higher than his 2.87 ERA last year and nod in agreement — his .255 BABIP was a product of his slider and curveball well overperforming (both came with sub-.200 BABIPs on them. Sub .200!), while his four-seamer is still … bad. There’s a reason it held a wRC+ of 168 that was better than its 171 mark in 2018, and I really don’t think his sinker can perform to a .208 BAA and 9.6 pVAL when it held just a 24% O-Swing and sub-50% zone rate.
In essence, he was getting more outs and strikes with his slider and curveball than ever before, and I find it hard to think it’s going to stick for another year.
All that said, I can’t ignore that moving to Cincy helped Gray get back into his approach of old with his breakers, especially with his curveball as a zone pitch and less of chase pitch. So I’m expecting him to pitch the same, just for things to normalize a bit more, and that still returns a productive starter. Just likely under 180 innings, as he hasn’t hit that mark since 2015.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 25% K rate in 170 IP
33. Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers) – Woodruff has a really good four-seamer. Or at least he did over 115 innings and 19 starts before he was injured in his 20th, and I’m not going to count his two shortened starts because that’s just not right. But we’re talking a 15.6 pVAL in those games, even with a productive 8.5 mark on his sinker as well, and it’s lovely. It’s the most important foundation for a pitcher who wants to be elite. Problem is, that’s all he really has. His slider was better than I expected it to be last year, but it’s still just a #3 pitch that is trying to be a #2. It gets strikes in the zone, but held a sub-30% O-Swing and just a 13% SwStr rate. That’s not what you want.
Can we trust his fastball to carry him through the year, averaging 96/97 mph with success? Maybe. I think there’s a good chance he’ll be productive this season. I also think we can’t bank on more than 180 frames, given the lack of volume last year and really ever in his career, as he hasn’t once gone over 130 innings.
But those should be of quality. His 3.62 ERA would need his slider or changeup to really step in as a #2 pitch to convince me of a 3.30 ERA or so, but even another 3.60 mark seems reasonable with his .320 BABIP last season and 12% HR/FB rate, while the WHIP can stick around a 1.10-1.15 range, and the strikeouts should be above 25%. That’s all wonderful and helpful, but the volume is in question. And hey, maybe the smallish sample last year was a blip and not strong enough to buy into. There are too many questions to answer, so he’s outside the Top 30. Give me Lynn instead.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 25% K rate in 170 IP
Tier 5: The Cliff Before The Cliff
Here you’ll find the arms that are still solid and better than the massive risks and upside chases in Tier 6, but lack the overwhelming ceilings or elite floors of the arms above.
34. Mike Soroka (Atlanta Braves) – I really like Soroka as a real-life pitcher. I love that he’s a fastball-focused command arm who truly makes batters crumble in the box by manipulating movement and placing pitches where he wants. Here’s a perfect example, where he even toyed with Cabrera’s expectation for his two-seamer movement, and let it ride horizontally instead of sink. Mmmmm.
Thing is, his approach isn’t conducive to strikeouts, nor does he wield the secondary pitches to suggest otherwise. Do I think Soroka can take his slider and develop it further? Honestly, of all the young arms, Soroka is the guy I’d expect most to improve, given his incredible command of fastballs and often-quoted veteran wisdom. But he needs to get there with his slider and changeup, the latter of which holds an excellent 22% SwStr rate, but just a 24% strikeout rate. There’s room for growth there, just not at an elite mark.
We’re hoping to see a 25% strikeout rate someday from Soroka, but that’s too optimistic for 2020. We should also mention that his shoulder was apparently “done” in the 2018-2019 off-season, then he came back for 175 IP last year. Is that still a factor? I hope not, but he gets pushed back to here with the low strikeout rate and likely fewer innings than others.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.40 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 22% K rate in 175 IP
35. Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins) – You may be upset by this ranking. His curveball is so gorgeous, though! He’s an excellent #2! Is it? Is he? Berrios is exciting and frustrating, and as a whole very boring. The last three seasons have returned ERA marks of: 3.89, 3.84, 3.68. Boring. His WHIP has averaged about a 1.20 mark. Boring. Strikeouts? About 23%. BORING.
We like to think his curveball is this incredible hook, but in fact, last year was the first time since 2016 the deuce earned a 40%+ clip on either his O-Swing or Zone rate, and the mark that broke it was a 41% zone rate this year. Wait Nick, that’s good! It came with a 12% SwStr rate. Oh.
In fact, Berrios’ SwStr rate fell to under 11%. No wonder the strikeouts aren’t there, and I don’t buy they will be there until Berrios takes a giant leap forward with his breaker or changeup. Maybe he does and we’ll all rejoice. I’d rather let the other guy take that chance, but if he’s here at #35? Sure, why not. It’s not like he’ll hurt my team with a 3.65 ERA and 24% K rate.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 24% K rate in 195 IP
36. David Price (Boston Red Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers?) – I’m writing this as suddenly the Dodgers/Sawx/Twins trade is in flux, and while moving to LA does help Price slightly, I don’t really think it changes a whole lot outside of allowing him to not face the Yankees.
We don’t know quite what to expect. Health has been a major factor for Price over the last three years, even with a 176 IP season in the middle. I think about Price, and I see that season as the true man we can expect — a mid-3’s ERA with a 1.15-1.20 WHIP and a strikeout rate hovering around 25%. That’s the man he is, and he was even better for half of 2019. Across his first 17 starts, it was a 3.16 ERA, 28% strikeout rate, 1.15 WHIP and a sub-7% walk rate. Then a stumble, then a wrist injury, then a season cut short.
The talent is still there with a cutter he sneaks back over the plate against right-handers, an incredible changeup that easily qualifies as a Money Pitch, and a four-seamer he throws more often than his sinker, as the straight heater returned a near 12% SwStr rate last season.
It’s risky to bank on a clean bill of health, but his skill-set is still there, and Price will be thrown out there for 100+ pitches every day he can.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 25% K rate in 170 IP
37. Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) – What a ridiculous year for CarMart last season. He was hurt, then returned mid-season … in relief, earning 24 saves. Huh. The Cardinals have made it clear they want Martinez to start again this season, and I’m all on board for him at the current discount. Since 2015, the worst ERA returned by CarMart was 3.64. I know there is a ton of doubt given the amount of games he’s pitched in relief across 2018 and 2019, but with health on his side and a clear role out of the gate, I’m loving the idea of 190 IP and a mid-3’s ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and 24% strikeout rate. SIGN ME UP.
And what if, bear with me here, CarMart continues to develop his new cutter from 2018, pulling back on his sinker for more four-seamers, and allowing his changeup to be a strikeout pitch on top of the money offering that is his slider (50% zone rate, 42% O-Swing and 19% SwStr rate! CHA-CHING!)? That’s a stupid long sentence. YOU’RE A STUPID LONG SENTENCE. But seriously, there’s tinkering to be done here, and I think there is a chance we see prime CarMart on the hill every five days this season for the Cardinals. Don’t go head over heels for him, but as we near the cliff of questions, I’m leading with Martinez.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24% K rate in 180 IP
38. Max Fried (Atlanta Braves) – There’s a lot of love out there for Fried right now and I get it — I was one of those fans last season. His introduced a really good slider suddenly last season (41% O-Swing and 42% zone rate with a good-but-not-great 15% SwStr rate) and it unfortunately came at a time when he lost his curveball and fastball command. There were times when it all clicked, but too many bumps in the road along the way.
Now we could see a season of his repertoire fulling gelling together … or it could be more of the same. I’m not against drafting Fried, I’m just hesitant to buy into his curveball finding its groove for the entire year while his four-seamer — despite elevating a good amount — returned a sub-9% SwStr rate. It’s not the blueprint of a Gallen or Wheeler that speaks to immediate development. Something has to improve.
I hope he gets there though, and he deserves a roll of the die above the guys in the 40s. This could be a really fun summer for the Braves rotation.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.75 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
39. Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs) – You want boring and not nearly as exciting? You get Hendricks. I’ve been seeing comparisons of Hendricks to Soroka, and I completely understand why, as they are both generally low-strikeout guys who focus on ratios. You want to know why Soroka is going higher? Because he has legit room to grow to escape a 20% strikeout rate and will likely get more innings. Hendricks failed to go a full six frames in over half his starts last season, and it makes me wonder if he’ll reach 180 frames again in his career. (Maybe it changes with Maddon gone?)
His strikeout rate has hovered near 20% for a few years now, as the SwStr rate sits right above 10%. Maybe it stays the same, maybe it gets worse. I’m leaning that we’ll see a fine season from Hendricks, just not one that can make a large impact.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 20% K Rate in 170 IP
Tier 6: This is the Cliff
I’ll be completely honest, this is a sharp cliff. There isn’t another strong 180+ IP arm that isn’t a borderline Toby at this point, or if he comes with strikeouts, the floors are crazy. We’re going to see arms I’ll be targeting everywhere that could make leaps into the tier above, but we just don’t know what to make of it right now.
40. Jesus Luzardo (Oakland Athletics) – So I’m going with Luzardo here. The perfect package of excitement and the unknown, and if you’re looking for “the next Chris Paddack,” Luzardo is easily the best bet. The quick comparison: He’ll likely be limited to 140 innings or so, as he threw just 55 across the minors and majors last season, but hey, maybe there’s a chance he squeaks above 150?
I almost put Shohei Ohtani here instead, but I see him for roughly 120 frames, and the difference of 20 frames and Ohtani’s production are awfully close. Really, really close. I find that I’ll get more excited about owning Luzardo with his pair of excellent secondary pitches (changeup and curveball) while pumping 95/96 mph from the left side. That just sounds like the most fun, and I get to experience it for longer.
He’s the kind of pitcher you say to yourself, “man, I wish I owned him,” like what made people trade deGrom for Paddack last May. Considering the lack of stable options at this point, I’m going to have a good time with Luzardo instead of the headache of someone like Eduardo Rodriguez.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 27% K rate in 140 IP
Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)