It’s time for the next round of rankings as we take a look at the Top 40 Starting Pitchers for 2016. We’ll be rounding out the Top 100 by Friday, and don’t forget to check out yesterday’s Top 20 Starting Pitchers for 2016 if you haven’t read it already. Let’s get to it. Update: Here are the Top 60, Top 80, and Top 100 rankings as well.
TIER 3: The Fall (Continued)
21. Cole Hamels (Texas Rangers) – I think Hamels is getting a bit ignored this year just because he’s not very exciting. That boring southpaw had a high 9.11 K/9 last season with an above-average 2.63 BB/9, and bumped his groundball rate to 47.7% while featuring a career high 13.3% whiff rate – the 6th highest mark in the bigs. So why after a season where his ERA and DIPS numbers hovered around 3.50 should we expect any better? Well, he still induced a fantastic 21.6% soft contact, and had a 12.0% HR/FB rate, his highest mark since 2010. That number should come down a few ticks as he finally gets to play for a competitive team once again. I believe that with a proper spring training with the team, Hamels will enjoy being the ace of a competitive club and we’ll see something closer to a 3.10 ERA over 210+ innings of goodness. Sounds about right at this point in the draft.
22. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals) – The biggest question for Wainwright isn’t regarding his health. Nay, the major obstacle in his way back to the Top 15 is reclaiming a 8+ K/9 as starter in 2016. His time on the hill in 2014 was a bit lacking in the strikeout department, as put up a measly 7.10 K/9 – even Jered Weaver had a better rate that year. The rest of Waino’s resume is all excellent: a steady sub 2.00 BB/9, near 50% career GB rate, on a winning franchise like the Cardinals, had five straight seasons of 198+ IP, holds a career 7.5% HR/FB, and has impressive dance moves. You can’t go wrong adding Wainwright to your staff as he certainly won’t crash and fall off the face of the earth ala Tim Lincecum, though if you want a guy that could propel you to the top, there are other options instead.
23. Danny Salazar (Cleveland Indians) – I want to believe the Salazar hype. For reals, the guy can put on a clinic as he’s exhibited 9.50+ K/9 rates in all three years in the bigs. He even improved his walk rate to 2.58 BB/9, which is fine. Not amazing, but puts him in talks of knocking on the elite door. Can I come in fellas? I brought herbal tea! So what’s the problem? Well, a few things. For starters, he can’t keep the ball in the park and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. He holds a 11.7% HR/FB rate and with his flyball tendencies, that comes to a 1.12 HR/9 for his career. Yikes. Maybe it’s bad luck? Ehhh, I don’t really believe that either. His career hard hit rate is 29.5% (double Yikes) paired with a low 16.2% soft hit rate (triple Yikes). The root of his issues lies in his repertoire. While his Changeup is baller as Jason Williams in his prime, his other two pitches are far behind. His Slider isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t do enough to be considered a solid 3rd offering, and has registered negative Runs Above Value marks in each of the last two seasons. Then there is his Fastball, which allowed a .214 ISO last season and had a wRC+ of 127. Jose Abreu had a wRC+ of 129 last year just to give you an idea of what we’re working with here. For the most frequently thrown pitch in your repertoire, Salazar has a lot of work left to do and I’m staying away in 2016. The upside is there, but I don’t believe we’ll see it fully realized in 2016, let alone ever.
24. Michael Pineda (New York Yankees) – Let’s get the annoying stuff out of the way early. Yes, I know his career high innings total is 171 IP in 2011 and it’s a risk to expect 190+ in 2016. I also know he had a ghastly 4.37 ERA last year with a 29.7% hard hit rate. But he also held a 2.95 xFIP and 3.09 SIERA, a luscious 1.18 BB/9 and a solid 8.74 K/9. His LOB rate was abnormally low at 68.6% with a .332 BABIP and a poor 14.7% HR/FB. The question is how much to attribute those numbers to his hard hit rate, and how much to luck. I initially wanted to put faith in Pineda this season, but the batted ball profile makes me reconsider a major swing of the luck in the other direction. I think there’s a lot of upside and value to be had given that some will look at 2015 and simply refuse to draft Pineda, though I wouldn’t bank him on sealing a Top 20 spot by the end of the year.
25. Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) – The things I like about CMart: His 9.22 K/9, his 54.5% GB rate, a 21.6% whiff rate on his Changeup, and the .079 ISO allowed on his Slider. Things I don’t like: His consistently high walk right that sits easily above 3.00 per 9, a questionable 3.50 SIERA, his low IPS that barely reaches above 6.00, and the Dutch. Nah, I’m just kidding, his SIERA was 3.44. Carlos is still a youngin’ and could take further strides in 2016 if his continues to improve his command while keeping the same strikeout and groundball rates. I’m not buying that we’ll see a dramatic shift in his walk rates, which means we won’t see CMart getting a chance on the red carpet that is the Top 20 this year. But he had the PERFECT outfit!
26. Raisel Iglesias (Cincinnati Reds) – Every year there are a handful of players that get labeled with the “Sleeper” tag in the early stages of Fantasy Baseball’s return, creating jolt in the player’s stock that no longer matches the value writers touted. Iglesias was one of the first slapped with the dreaded tag and it’s really annoying. But hey, they were kinda right. I tried finding some dirt on the kid and the worst I’ve got is that he only pitch 124.1 innings last season, which indicates some sort of innings limit this year (160 innings or so?). In regards to VPR, he had six excellent starts to his name with five poor in sixteen games started, and he featured eight games with at least a 1.40 WHIP. He’s definitely a bit volatile and that may upset you through the year. In addition, he didn’t last very long in the games he started, featuring an IPS of just 5.77. It may be possible to attribute that to his poor 70.6% LOB rate, piling up the pitches in games where better luck would have let him survive longer (remember, only 16 games started). He also has trouble with his splits, as lefties are batting over 100 points better than right-handers…okay so that’s actually a bit of dirt. Now let’s brush that off his shoulder because he completely dominates RHB to the tune of 11.95 K/9 and just a .251 OBP. Oh yeah, there’s the big plus of the Cuban import. He can strike out guys really well. Best of all, it comes without a crippling walk rate like Tyson Ross or Francisco Liriano. Thank the heavens cause that is super annoying. So that sleeper tag may not be justified anymore from the over abundance of the term, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value to be had.
27. Steven Matz (New York Mets) – There isn’t much to discuss about Matz, except that he had the 3rd hardest Fastball among lefty starters last season, paired with a wipeout Curveball and solid Changeup as well, which across the board registered positive Runs Above Average marks in his very limited 35.2 IP for the Mets. Though the NL champs won’t say it now, I can’t imagine Matz getting more than ~180 innings or so after tossing just 141.0 frames across all leagues last year. Still, in his time on the hill, Matz will be a great addition to your staff, and I see him going over a K per inning with a respectable ERA and manageable walk rate, which is a lot better than what I can say for the guys under Matz. Open your arms and welcome…Steven to your team.
28. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers) – I’m willing to toss out the first handful of starts from Verlander last season and look at his numbers from July 24th onward, in which he performed to the tune of a 8.24 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 2.27 ERA and a beautiful 0.95 WHIP. It’s not pure vintage Verlander, but hot dang you’ll take a full season of that, especially consider he hasn’t had a BB/9 under 2.80 since 2013. Furthermore, across all of 2015, his Fastball velocity improved from 2014, and his hard hit rate was a tiny 22.7%. Look, I’m not going to tell you that MVP Verlander is back and you should go crazy. What I’m saying is there are a lot of people that are counting him out and he’s finally 100% healthy entering camp for the first time in years. He clearly has stuff still in the tank (he topped out at 99.97 MPH last year!) and this could be year of the Tiger.
29. Sonny Gray (Oakland Athletics) – I’ve seen Gray being ranked inside the Top 20 a bunch now and I simply don’t understand it. He now has two seasons of mediocre strikeout rates hangin’ around 20% like the Counting Crows, while his walk habits are still far from elite above 7%. Then his 2.73 ERA – which was easily the most redeeming element of his season as he struck out just 169 batters in 208 innings – looks wretched under the hood with a 3.45 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, and 3.80 SIERA. Holy fluke Batman! The only change in his approach was a higher dependency on his Slider over his Curveball – a good move considering his Slider had a 23.4% whiff rate in 2015 vs. his Curveball’s 8.2% – and he still found a way to lower his strikeout rate. I don’t really see a magical season in the works for Gray and while his groundball rate should keep his head above water, it could be a rocky forecast for owners expecting a Sonny delight.
30. Johnny Cueto (San Francisco Giants) – Cueto had a 3.30 FIP and 3.21 xFIP while featuring a great walk rate and pitches in run-suppressing park. Oh my bad, that was in 2014. Yeah, he had those numbers when his ERA was 2.25, which means his 3.44 ERA in 2015 wasn’t all too surprising. On top of that, his strikeout rate also dropped back to traditional sub 7.50 K/9 rates, and now you’re left wondering why you ever thought he was a Top 25 guy. Sure, San Francisco will treat him decently well, but I don’t see a single reason why I should expect Cueto to hint at his outlier career year. WARNING: BAD PUN INCOMING. Drafting Cueto in the first eight rounds of the draft would be a dreadful mistake.
TIER 4: Finger-Lickin’ Good
31. Patrick Corbin (Arizona Diamondbacks) – This new tier focuses on guys that aren’t as dependable as the previous tier, but their upside is just too tasty for their draft value that I’m looking to snag at least two of these players in all drafts. Anyway, I’m trying to find guys to slot higher than the other expected disappointments, but everyone has their own issues that makes me look to the next person like I’m a emotional stable human looking for a relationship. Hopefully that analogy didn’t hit you too hard as we have fantasy business to discuss, and next up is Patty Corbs who is someone to consider if you want decent upside from your #3/#4. He came back from TJS in a good way, raising both his Fastball velocity and strikeout numbers, while holding an elite walk rate and a beautiful 37.5% O-Swing. What I don’t like is a whopping 30.8% hard hit rate (35.1% in 2013!) that explains his poor .327 BABIP and miniscule 2.7% IFFB rate. Match that with Chase Field as your home and suddenly I’m worried he’ll hold an ERA above 3.50. A proper pre-season workout may get Corby Patty into a better groove than last year, and that batted ball profile could improve despite career numbers, but don’t be blind of the risk if you go after him in drafts.
32. Drew Smyly (Tampa Bay Rays) – I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard more about Smyly after he featured an unreal 10.40 K/9 in his 66.2 innings of work in 2015. Thing is though, despite carrying what would have been the sixth best K rate in the bigs, his whiff rate was hovering around the 20th or so, which makes me wonder how he was so effective sending batters back to dugout. Further inspection, he doesn’t have that one killer “strikeout pitch” that most of the big names have: Kershaw’s hook, Sale’s Slider, etc. However, he gets a near 10% whiff rate on just his Fastball, which means batters are having trouble with the heater and are doing their damage with his secondary pitches. His Cutter is the most volatile of the bunch, as it holds his highest whiff rate of 15.7%, but also a staggering .450 allowed ISO, with batters slashing .350/.391/.800 against it. Despite throwing the pitch just 11.8% of the time, batters’ dominance against it helps explain Smyly’s hard hit rate of 31.6%. So what does it all mean? Well, I have a feeling given the sample size and whiff rates that we’ll see a drop in strikeout rate (around high 8s, maybe a bit over 9.00), but Smyly will figure out his Cutter one way or another – removing it or fine tuning it – and I see a low 3s ERA with a walk rate that will make you happy. Now doesn’t that sound nice?
33. Jaime Garcia ( St. Louis Cardinals) – There are really three things to understand about Garcia: 1) He doesn’t strike out a whole lot of batters 2) He will generally have a low WHIP and ERA 3) He gets injured faster than Slipping Jimmy. Garcia isn’t going to help you much in the K department – he only had 97 strikeouts in 129.2 innings last season – but he generated grounders at a beautiful 61.2% GB rate in 2015. His WHIP will be great and his ERA could easily be under 3.00, I would be simply shocked if we saw more than 150 innings worth of it this year, which means you’re looking at about 120-130 Ks if we’re lucky. Garcia is fun to have but you’ll need a bit more meat on the bone to rock him as a dependable #4.
34. Luis Severino (New York Yankees) – The next four guys are all entering their sophomore year in the bigs and present different levels of upside, each with their opportunities to be a major force on your staff or crumble at your feet. I like Severino the most since his floor is the highest. He had a near 51% groundball rate with an excellent 95.3 MPH heater, pounds the zone with strikes and could develop his Slider and Changeup further to elevate his 8.09 K/9 closer to his minor leagues numbers. But his 3.18 BB/9! Ahhhh pipe down, given his minor league rates, I expect him to improve over the cross of the season and you’ll be super happy to have drafted him before pick 200.
35. Joe Ross (Washington Nationals) – Those who followed Pitcher List last season know that I’m a Chandler – I constantly make bad jokes and I’m super tight with Ross. The Better Bro doesn’t have the control issues that plague his west coast doppelganger, while holding a similarly effective Slider and Fastball. I see youthful Joe as a second chance at getting the formula right. Tyson is just too flawed with his walk rate but Joe? Now, he’s got a shot. He’ll be inside the Nationals’ rotation from day one, and a season of a near 9.00 K/9 rate with a 2.50 BB/9 as he induces 50% grounders in the NL Easy makes me salivate like Sandoval’s dog. He had about 150 innings last year, so he may be shut down a week or two early come September, but hey, you need to get to September to care about September, amiright?
36. Lance McCullers (Houston Astros) – If you’re looking for the most K upside from the group, that fellow would be McCullers with the best hook this side of Antarctica. Which Side is that? North. Good one. Seriously though, it’s a devastating pitch, accruing a Pitch Value of 17.6 in just 125.2 innings – the 2nd highest mark of any starter’s bender in the majors. The problem is that his Fastball needs work. It has great velocity near 95 MPH, but he’s inconsistent and walks too many batters. Even his 8.3% rate last season was an improvement from his minor league numbers that were all easily in double digits. I see him regressing a little – not to Tyson levels, don’t be hasty – but it’s not ridiculous to imagine him taking a step forward and being a major difference maker on your team.
37. Eduardo Rodriguez (Boston Red Sox) – Jeez, what’s up with all of the Eduardo Rodriguez hate? One fellow CBS Sports ranked him as the 91st SP, placing guys like , I don’t know Tanner Roark well higher and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Okay, it makes a little sense as someone unaware of Erod’s 94 MPH heater or Changeup that earned 4.6 Runs Above Average in 121.2 innings, or that he was tipping pitches for a a handful of starts. Fortunately, I didn’t just look at his disappointing ERA and DIPS numbers from last year and can tell you first hand that you’ll want to be that guy who grabs Eduardo before pick 200 and rides one of the more exciting pitching prospects around. His Slider was the major cause of his struggles, though I’m willing to chalk it up more to tipping as opposed to the pitch’s general ineffectiveness. I would much rather have someone like Eduardo than a schmo like Edinson Volquez who has very limited upside and will most likely be waiver fodder through the season. Believe in the E.
38. Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees) – Okay, so we know he has some issues staying on the field, but despite all of it he still gave owners 154 innings last year with an acceptable 8.12 K/9 and fantastic 1.58 BB/9. His 3.51 ERA (3.29 xFIP) was inflated by a gross 16.9% HR/FB rate that you have to expect to fall in 2016. I totally understand why owners don’t want to touch him. His future seems ominous and you want to head into the season with the ideal that your staff stays intact through the season. I get it. Don’t let that dream get in the way of getting some solid value while he’s healthy.
39. Jose Quintana (Chicago White Sox) – I would be surprised if I found myself drafting Quintana this year simply because he’s just not the kind of pitcher I go for, making him the odd-man out in this tier but whatevs, I do what I want. I like going for broke, chasing guys with major upside that could eclipse their value by season’s end, helping me leap ahead of other managers who don’t have players that exceed draft value. Now, don’t get me wrong, Quintana is a worthy addition to any squad. He’ll hover around 8 K/9 with a great walk rate, and should have a sub 3.50 ERA to boot. But that’s about it. I would be shocked if he went about 8.50 K/9 and/or had a sub 3.00 ERA, but you’re paying for a high floor, and consistency makes people keep their hair on their head. If stability is what you need, by all means go for Jose. You do you.
40. Hisashi Iwakuma (Seattle Mariners) – So have we all just decided to ignore Iwakuma for 2016? Sure he’s getting up their age wise, but he was looking like a boss in the second half. If we knock his three starts before injury and the first one back from the DL (seriously, don’t start pitchers in their first game back from the DL unless they are a stud), Iwakuma’s other 16 starts shows a guy who should not be slipping past pick #150 in drafts: a 8.06 K/9, 1.50 BB/9, 2.82 ERA/2.95 FIP/3.11 xFIP with a 52.1% GB rate and just 24.4% hard contact. Now that’s some serious value as your #4/#5 starter. The biggest risk is whatever the Dodgers saw in the physical that stopped them from signing him in December, but then again, Seattle still signed him. I’d run with him while he’s healthy and if he happens to break down at some point, that’s okay. He didn’t cost all too much anyway.