We’re back for another set of 20 starting pitchers for 2020 fantasy baseball, and here’s where it starts to get interesting.
Here are the Top 20 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball, Top 40 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball, and Top 60 Starting Pitchers for 2020 Fantasy Baseball articles if you missed them earlier.
Tier 6: This is the Cliff (continued)
61. Lance McCullers Jr. (Houston Astros) – If I believed that McCullers was capable of going 140+ frames this year, he’d have been close to #50, but hearing news about a near 120 inning cap, I just can’t justify taking any earlier than this. I’m unsure quite how the Astros will use him — will it be consistent then a hard stop? A start skipped once every few weeks? — and I’m starting to lean the latter, as they will likely want his services in the playoffs.
So, imagine that headache. Yes, I do like his strikeout potential a ton and I consider a 180 IP McCullers a Top 40 arm. His changeup took a huge leap in 2018 and his knuckle-curve is stupid filthy. But is it worth the roster spot for the entire year, not knowing if you’re going to get innings this week or next? I hope we get some clarity. There’s some added value here for roto, but it’s still not as wonderful as it could be if his starts are sprinkled across the year instead of consistent until a screeching halt.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 27% K rate in 120 IP
62. James Paxton (New York Yankees) – Why can’t we just get a 180/200-inning season from Paxton? His stuff translates to a Top 10 arm with a devastating cutter, a fastball that he spots up-and-in to right-handers often, and a great curveball that can nip the bottom of the zone. The problem has been his inability to pitch for long enough to establish a strong rhythm across a full year, and now I can’t help but wonder if he’ll have the same turbulence even for the 100-120 frames we actually get this season.
I have no idea where to place him now, so here he is at the end of Tier 7 as we’re about to enter the section that still chases the peaks despite their risk instead of reluctantly grabbing Tobys. Paxton will help your team when he pitches this year. It is likely worth the roster/IL spot until that time, but that will hurt. And it’s up to you if you want to endure that headache.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 30% K rate in 100 IP
Tier 7: Never Settle
We’re at the point in the draft where you have a distinct choice. Did you take so much risk that you need volume ratios arms that will likely be slightly better than the mediocrity on the wire? Or are you willing to start the wonderful chase for legit production through upside plays before the season starts? I’m personally in the latter category and will be ranking them as such, but this tier is very much reliant on your needs as players will be ranked plenty lower than others who could easily be a better option based on roster construction. For example, Aaron Civale vs. Garrett Richards is a vastly different discussion as it about your situation instead of a hard rank. You do you.
63. Josh James (Houston Astros) – With every day, I feel like pushing James higher up the ranks. Do you remember October 2018 when I ranked James around #50? I was stoked for a proper year inside the rotation of the Astros until he had a quad injury in late February that took him out of the rotation battle. This year it’s a bit more of the same, but with even more opportunity. The top two spots are locked, but then it’s 120 innings of McCullers mixed with a likely hefty chunk to Urquidy, but then… who? Peacock is hurt and likely out of the conversation. Even Francis Martes just got a full-season suspension. Without an FA signing, James becomes the clear #5 option and we should be very excited.
I’ve been calling Urquidy a James-mini. MINI. James throws harder. He has a better changeup. He has a better slider. HE HAS A BETTER EVERYTHING. Why are you yelling? Because I’m excited and even typing this makes me question why I’ve passed on him in mocks thus far. Sure, we’re waiting for more confirmation before the hype engine starts, and he isn’t the arm that would be super-efficient to go 6+ frames often, but his career 36% strikeout rate (even with most of it in relief) will translate to the rotation. It was a 16% SwStr rate last year. He has three pitches and 97 mph velocity. This is a chance you want to take.
Innings wise, it may be tough to expect more than 160. Being in relief for nearly a full year translates to strong workload, and I wouldn’t worry about a 120-inning limit or so. This could be wonderful, and I’m very much game for this dart throw.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 29% K rate in 140 IP
64. Dylan Cease (Chicago White Sox) – At First Pitch Arizona last fall, I made an example of Cease as the poster child for why you need to watch starts. Sure, he had a great start, but look how he got his strikeouts! He’s all over the place! This holds true and I anticipate many thought I’d have Cease out of the Top 80 because of it. Honestly, I was tempted to, but here’s the thing. Cease’s command was horrific last year. He would fly open with his heater too often and held just a 43% zone rate with the pitch. That’s atrocious. It meant he needed to rely on his slider and curveball to get strikes and while they both hovered a 40% zone rate, they were all over the place.
But is that what he will be? I can’t ignore that his slider and curveball make me sound like Trinity as I whisper they move like they do, thinking of elite breakers in the game. And as a freshly turned 24-year-old who will likely be thrust right back into the rotation, we could see growth in command from last season’s rookie performance, especially with Yasmani Grandal now in the mix.
So, why not? Go for Cease at this point when the pool of upside arms has begun to dwindle rapidly and few come with the chance of 170+ IP volume.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 24% K rate in 150 IP
65. Garrett Richards (San Diego Padres) – I’m torn on Richards. On one hand, I’ve loved his stuff for years, and I haven’t seen him pitch proper since 2015, when he took a massive step back in production yet still gave us a 3.65 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. On the other, it’s been five years. He can’t stay healthy, with 2018’s 76 frames being his highest since 2015, and I wonder how high his ceiling truly is. The slider was phenomenal and throwing 95+ doesn’t hurt at all, but that’s about it, save for a huge curveball that doesn’t get utilized a whole lot.
His heaters are a bit of a mystery. They move a whole lot, but in this day of four-seamers staying true and up, Richards’ are highly inefficient. So while I want to take a gamble here, the more I consider Richards, the more I think “his fastball will be erratic, he doesn’t have a third option, his health is poor, and we have no idea how he’ll actually perform after so long.” Yeah, not really what we want. There’s certainly a chance it works, just make sure you’re drafting him where you can certainly afford an early drop in the year.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 24% K rate in 130 IP
66. Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees) – I’m still tempted to raise Tanaka higher ,as I feel he just isn’t as bad as last year’s 4.45 ERA, a mark that would sit under a 4.00 ERA if it weren’t for a 12-run disaster in Boston. I know, you can’t do that and it’s completely unfair, but it does put it into perspective. He was a sub-4 ERA pitcher in 30/31 starts. That counts for something… right?
The real discussion is about his splitter that completely disappeared for the majority of the season, torpedoing his SwStr from 14-15% to a sub 11% rate, tanking his strikeout rate from hinting 25% to sub 20%. That’s horrible. I don’t believe that will stick through another year and Tanaka isn’t a sub 20% strikeout arm now. It just doesn’t seem right.
Tanaka also had elbow surgery right after the postseason to remove bone spurs in his elbow that could have been part of the problem. What it doesn’t remove, though, is a terrible fastball that he throws over the plate like Kenta Maeda in a please-don’t-hit-me way. That’s not going to change, but, fortunately, his slider is great and if his splitter is close to its previous form, then we should be looking at a steal deep in drafts. If you have enough “screw it, I’ll chase ceiling” arms at this point, consider Tanaka, especially if you need some help out of the gate. Remember, lots of teams don’t let their fifth starter pitch in the first turn of the rotation given the lavish off-day schedule in March/April. Tanaka won’t get skipped, though, and maybe even help you seal that first week victory in H2H leagues.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 22% K rate in 170 IP
67. Sandy Alcantara (Miami Marlins) – Here’s a weird one. You have a pitcher who sits 96 mph constantly and actually decent command on his four-seamer/sinker combo, the latter of which he turned to more in August well over his four-seamer, leading to a 10-game run of a 2.73 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. I know, a sinker that I like, but you know why! It has a 32% O-Swing and 11% SwStr rate. That’s what you want to see on a sinker; it’s just so rare for an arm to consistently hit those spots right off the arm-side corner.
His secondary stuff is where I start to bring in some question. His changeup is actually a Money Pitch — 44% O-Swing, 41% Zone, 17% SwStr rates — but he makes too many mistakes with it and doesn’t turn to it a whole lot, maintaining a sub 15% usage rate. The focus was a slider that didn’t get a whole lotta
love whiffs but earned plenty of strikes with a 48% zone rate, allowing Alcantara to keep a sub 50% zone rate on sinkers and rely on its O-Swing. I wish this could improve upon its 14% SwStr, though.
Maybe his path to becoming more than his 3.80 ERA and 20% strikeout rate self is an increase in changeups over sliders, or possibly it’s a focus on sinkers and sliders with his breaker getting more whiffs. There’s a chance and that’s what this tier is all about. Meanwhile, it’s not the worst floor of the bunch either, so hey, why not have some cake and eat some too? That’s not how the phrase goes, that’s how a normal cake is. WHATEVER, I DO WHAT I WANT. Like taking Alcantara at the end of drafts and seeing how this plays out.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 21% K rate in 180 IP
68. Michael Kopech (Chicago White Sox) – I can see a case that Kopech is more alluring than McCullers, as, once he comes up to the majors, he’s likely to pitch to that hard stop. I expect a start in the minors followed by a quick entry into the rotation as soon as something goes awry. He’ll be capped for the year somewhere around 140/150 as he returns from Tommy John surgery, but the impact can be felt. It’s overpowering high 90s heat with a solid slider and changeup on top. I can imagine many dropping him as the news breaks he’s headed to Triple-A, then suddenly becomes the most added player everywhere once he gets the call… likely around the end of April, early May.
So, it’s up to you. I’m inclined to forgo Kopech completely in drafts as that April roster spot is stupidly valuable as you shuffle between possible breakout names. At the same time, maybe there isn’t another arm that can shift your team as much as Kopech and, hey, there’s always a chance the White Sox need him out of the gate following an impressive spring.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 27% K rate in 120 IP
69. A.J. Puk (Oakland Athletics) – I’m super excited to watch AJ this year. He’s a bit of an unknown, returning from TJS last year for just under 40 innings across the majors and minors and it makes for a bit of a shrug of what to expect. Throw in a likely innings caps and questionable role, and Puk could give us eighty frames mixed between the pen and rotation.
Or it could 120-140 innings on the bump and it could be wonderful. He’s a side-winding left who gets a ton of whiffs with his slider and hints at whiffs with his 97/98 mph heater (a velocity that’ll likely drop this year as he moves away from the pen and doesn’t have the same adrenaline of his first 11 MLB innings). He also featured a changeup that earned a whiff 5/19 times, but, hey, who knows if that’s a consistent weapon or not at this point.
That’s all I’ve got. It’s exciting, it’s also a massive shrug of wonder. I’m betting he misses the rotation out of the gate, but slides in at first notice, possibly bouncing between the majors and minors at times to stretch out or smooth out his workload through the year. That means it’s worth it to draft Puk in your final rounds, but just be ready to drop him if he’s not in the rotation to begin the year.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 27% K rate in 120 IP
70. Adrian Houser (Milwaukee Brewers) – A guy with a 25% strikeout rate, 1.24 WHIP, and 3.72 ERA across 111 innings should be getting your attention… right? We’re at that point and with that name showing up at #70, you really should consider Houser. No, I’m not encouraged by a sub 10% overall SwStr rate, but his four-seamer is kinda great. It held a 33% strikeout rate last season with an 11.6% SwStr rate… hey, wait a second. How often do you see a pitcher with an overall SwStr rate below his four-seamer’s clip? OK, fine, Odorizzi, and maybe Cole, but it’s shocking to say the least and highlights why people have stayed away.
It’s going to be a season of development. Houser’s curveball is just a strike-earner, not a whiff pitch (6.4% SwStr rate, blegh, but they only swing 31% of the time, so maybe that’s fine?), his slider actively hurt Houser as it lacked the bite to avoid a 1.072 OPS last season, and his changeup is bland as the word bland.
With his four-seamer, though is a lovely sinker that held a phenomenal 35% O-Swing and led to an 11.3 pVal. So you’re banking on his heater command sticking around and praying one of his secondary pitches takes a leap. That could happen, it could also mean a 20% strikeout rate with a 4.50 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. At least we’ll know early and who knows, maybe the Brewers let him go comfortably into the sixth and beyond as he finds the right pitch in the spring. Might as well give it a shot.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22% K rate in 160 IP
71. Dylan Bundy (Los Angeles Angels) – Hello, Bundy, my old friend. Yep, he’s the darkness for many, yet that was the Bundy of Baltimore. This is Los Angeles! The land of opportunities and better coaching and where the magic happens! Bundy has two excellent secondary pitches in a slider that returned a fantastic 22% SwStr last season and .152 BAA paired with a changeup at an 18% SwStr rate, 49% O-Swing, and 42% Zone rate. Two Money Pitches.
That fastball is atrocious, though, and I mean horrid. The worst. Burn it with fire. And yet, I think it could be better. With two fantastic secondary pitches, why not throw it at 40% instead of 50% of the time? Then batters can’t sit back and wait to tee off, maybe even pull it down to 35% and allow your decent curveball to steal some strikes as well. There’s a chance this works.
The Angels made a deal for Bundy and I have to imagine work with him to tweak the approach for success. This could be a strong strikeout arm at the cost of little, even with a chance of not killing your ratios. Crazy, I know, but we’re hanging in crazy town. You know what you signed up for.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 24% K rate in 170 IP
72. Tyler Beede (San Francisco Giants) – What’s the harm in chasing Beede? The man has three pitches that held a SwStr rate above a 16% clip last season and that’s really all I need to say. He introduced the slider last season and could refine it further, his heater sits 94/95 comfortably, he’s in a wonderful park in San Francisco, and will likely comfortably sit in the rotation through the year, carrying upside for 180 frames after pitching over 150 last season. This is exactly the arm you take now before he makes two strong starts and he’s the hottest pickup around the league.
There’s growth that’s needed, definitely, and we may never see it come to fruition (none of his secondary stuff hit a 40% Zone or O-Swing last year), but the floor here is a bad two starts for your squad, the ceiling is a strong #4/5 and you’ll know pretty soon how to feel. Just monitor the secondary pitches and see if he’s putting it together or not.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 150 IP
73. Joey Lucchesi (San Diego Padres) – There’s some hoopla about Lucchesi, and I’d be surprised if he found his way on any of my teams. I’m impressed that he’s yet to have a WHIP worse than 1.30 in a season, and his drop in strikeout rate last year to 23% was a bit expected as he failed to push his overall SwStr over the 11% clip. It’s a product of his repertoire — a “Churve” (curveball thrown with a changeup grip) that performed better last season, yet held sub 35% rates for both O-Swing and zone rate, mixed in with a decent sinker that I expect to take a bit of a step back from its 9.7 pVal last season. That number really surprises me, as it came with a 22% O-Swing (we want over 30%!) and sub 91 mph.
He has a “mystery pitch” that he’s working on that is almost certainly a slider (maybe a splitter or a proper changeup, but a slider makes the most sense), and I’m not going to jump in until I see it succeeding in action. Still, it’s likely a decent WHIP, a strikeout rate above 20%, and a chance for wins. That’s not what I want to chase at the end of my staff unless I’m taking a ton of risk early on.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 170 IP
74. Dallas Keuchel (Chicago White Sox) – If you want a high ceiling, Keuchel isn’t that. If you have a ton of risk, like chasing the Heaney, Bauer, Boyd, Darvish types, Keuchel should be considered. He’s had a 3.75 ERA or lower in each of his last three seasons and is now moving to Chicago with Grandal helping, i.e. one of the best catchers possible to help Keuchel do what he can do so well: steal strikes at the bottom of the zone.
I don’t see why Keuchel can’t go sub 4.00 ERA with an improved WHIP from his 1.30+ marks in the last two years and bring his H/9 under 9.00 once again. The strikeouts? Yeah, probably at 20% or lower. But the ratios should help over a whole lot of volume (last year’s mark was only due to a late signing!), and that’s what you could be looking for here.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 17% K rate in 180 IP
75. Yonny Chirinos (Tampa Bay Rays) – This was a struggle and the same goes for the Fratty Pirate next. Do I like Chirinos’ skill set? Sure, it’s solid. A great slider with a splitter as a third pitch to get whiffs are wonderful to see, and while he features a questionable sinker, it’s still good enough to return the blueprint for a solid starter. But it’s the Rays, and it gets really muddy. I haven’t coined the right term for these headache pitchers yet (Migraines? Tylenols?) but you really should consider how you’ll be treated as an owner going with Chirinos. Will he start this week? Is he trusted in their rotation-but-not-rotation? Is it an opener? Then how many innings will he go for? It’s maddening and that’s without even quantifying his actual performance on the field.
See, last year was weird. A 1.05 WHIP is not something I buy into with his .246 BABIP featuring a sinker that induced a 23% O-Swing (I need more chases off the plate to believe he deserved that BABIP), and his 3.85 ERA will likely climb a good amount. But the strikeouts will be over 20%, the WHIP will still be solid with his low walk rate, and he’ll help overall. Just how much and when? I’d rather cycle through arms that I can fully commit to instead of this dance.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP
76. Ryan Yarbrough (Tampa Bay Rays) – Take everything I said about Chirinos and add it to a pitcher that has a slighter worse skill set. Sorry Fratty Pirate, I just don’t buy that your 84 mph cutter with its 6.3% SwStr and 63% zone rate are that great, and your slider won’t hold a .094 BABIP again. Yarbrough had that incredible stretch in the middle of the summer, one that I can’t see repeating consistently over the course of 2020. There will likely be a time when we’ll be excited to own a share of Yarbrough, but it’ll be fleeting. Just like the joys of the pirate life.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 20% K rate in 140 IP
77. Marcus Stroman (New York Mets) – I used to love Stroman back when I thought groundball rates were the craze. They still are, but only when paired with an exceptional SwStr rate. Stroman doesn’t have that, hitting his career high last year with a 10.1% clip. Blegh.
What’s wild is that he has a legit Money Pitch in his slider — 16.5% SwStr and all — but his endless barrage of sinkers and cutters often induce balls in play before the two-strike moments, and then he doesn’t do an excellent job of closing the door. Meanwhile, his .307 BABIP isn’t going to better in Queens with the horrible Mets defense, ensuring that his WHIP stays at 1.30 or worse — in 11 starts for the Mets last year, just one came with a sub 1.15 WHIP. One!
With so many baserunners and few strikeouts, I expect his 3.22 ERA to come closer to his 4.41 SIERA and you’re left with the Toby of all Tobys.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20% K rate in 185 IP
78. Anthony DeSclafani (Cincinnati Reds) – I feel like we just saw a new Jerad Eickhoff season as Tony Disco went 3.89 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and 24% strikeout rate in 2019. How did he do it? A really good slider, decent fastball, and a curveball/split-changeup combination that never worked. Those that are wondering if there’s another level, I’d be shocked if I saw it. His sinker was better than expected, hitting a near 30% O-Swing, but his four-seamer is rather pedestrian, even with an elevation focus. His slider is good but not elite and that lack of third option makes me wonder what changes. What can he do more than he did last year?
There’s a chance he repeats for the same season again, but I’m thinking he takes a small step back across the board. That’s not enough of a ceiling to chase and the ratios are… fine. But, hey, that’s cheap somewhat solid strikeout production, right? There’s some value there so here you are, inside the Top 80.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 170 IP
Tier 8: The Final Drop
It’s getting to the point where we’re just looking for something. A couple shakes of the bottle hoping for one last moment of enjoyment as you’re done with a bottle of Coke. Maybe there’s more left here, maybe it’s enough to get you through the day. Take all of these with another grain of salt and hopefully a few will hit. There’s always a chance.
79. Zach Plesac (Cleveland Indians) – Plesac or Civale. Civale or Plesac. Civsac or Plesale. Many are taking Civale’s side as the better chase, but I think Plesac is your guy. They could easily end us with the same numbers, and turn into Tobys, but Plesac has the best pitch in his slider, which returned a fantastic 44.5% Zone rate and 17% SwStr clip. It’s as simple as that. Maybe his changeup takes a step forward as well, while his four-seamer can be completely fine as his slider works to push his strikeout rate above 20%.
I don’t see that kind of growth in Civale’s repertoire — I actually see a major regression especially in his sinker — so I’ll lean on Plesac. I don’t really want either, though.
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP
80. Aaron Civale (Cleveland Indians) – Is it bad that I see Civale as a Toby? I’ve seen comparisons to Civale as “the next Kluber,” and it’s hard to be that when you hold an 8.8% SwStr and 20% strikeout rate. Yes, he does feature a cutter and breaker as well and, hey, I like that cutter! Near 50% zone rate with a 40%+ O-Swing? That’s gold! But that slider is very middling with its 12% SwStr that needed a .143 BABIP in its small sample to get a positive pVal, and his sinker is the primary heater that held a sub 15% O-Swing. Yikes. You know that’s not the approach we’re looking for in the slightest.
It’s weird. I’m normally the guy that doesn’t look at ERA/SIERA splits and call it day, often suggesting to ignore it and look at the skills. However, here’s a case where everyone is overlooking the 4.74 SIERA completely, and that’s not right. Sure, he’s likely more of a 4.00 ERA guy, but his .250 BABIP and 0.62 HR/9 are not going to stick around at all.
I want to be wrong. Maybe both the cutter and slider really excel over a larger sample, but it’s very rare for someone nearly 60 innings deep to just from an 8.8% SwStr to something you care about. And that means you’re likely getting a Toby. Is that what you want? Is that what you want?!
Nick’s Reluctant Projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 20% K rate in 170 IP
Playing in a 7*7 dynasty league. Would you trade aquino for Caleb Smith?
no McKay Yet?
Hey, Nick! Love your stuff! Dynasty trade question? Snell is ranked #11 overall but you aren’t that high on him. Is Woodruff plus a 1st round pick (FYPD plus FA) enough of a return for Snell? Could land one of Noelvi, Vaughn, Adley, J-Rod, etc. with the pick. I am one of the very few in the league who actually values prospects before they hit the bigs. Any insight would be awesome. Thanks!!
Great stuff, as always. However, the tiers in your SP articles don’t match the tiers displayed on the front page.