We’re back for more starting pitchers today after going through the Top 20 Starting Pitchers on Monday, and the Top 40 Starting Pitchers yesterday. As we roll through the Top 60, we have one giant tier that stretches into tomorrow’s rankings. There are a few players to highlight, but you should have a good amount of your staff already in place as you search for higher upside targets. Let’s see who those guys are today. Update: Here are the Top 80 and Top 100 rankings as well.
TIER 5: Too Many Balls And Too Many Drawls
41. Jake Odorizzi (Tampa Bay Rays) – This tier is all about guys who have upside but walk too many people, or have a decent floor but are too boring for me to chase (yes, drawls actually is a word), and let me tell ya, this tier is yooooge. And despite its massive, err, size, I’m essentially skipping this tier. Give me the high upside guys that come much cheaper inside of these meh choices. Anyway, you guys may think I’m a little bonkers putting Odorizzi outside the Top 40, but I just couldn’t do it cap’n. I wanted to make the argument that he simply wasn’t the same after his oblique injury last year, and a 100% healthy season would be top notch…until I saw he had just a 7.40 K/9 before going down with injury. But what if he gets his 2014 K rate and matches it with his 2015 walk rate? Dude, it doesn’t work like that. The lower walk rate is due to changing his Slider to a Cutter, as hitters simply weren’t chasing the slide piece out of the zone. However, that comes with fewer whiffs, and voila! Fewer Ks. Speaking of which, Odorizzi really needs another pitch. His Fastball is solid and Split-Change is easily his best putaway pitch, but his Cutter is lacking and without a proper breaking ball, he’s not going to take that step everyone wants him to take like a 14 month kid in a Yankees onesie. Maybe he can develop his Curveball, but it was atrocious last year, generating just 2 whiffs in 92 pitches. TWO. At the end of the day, I can see a season with decent Ks, not too many walks and a 3.50 ERA or so from Odorizzi with upside for more, but that’s about it. He could jump up quickly if I believe he has found a great third option, but until then, he’s sitting down here.
42. Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers) – What are we supposed to do with Yu? He’s currently slated to return in May, but does anyone actually believe that A) he’ll return spry and 100% when that time comes or B) he’ll remain injury-free the rest of the year? Let’s suppose he exercises the ideal of being the Darvish of old and glides through the 2016 season without issue, which is absurd but whatever hypotheticals are cool. What we’re getting is a Top 5 K rate with a Top 60 walk rate. Sure, he cut the walks down to 3.06 BB/9 in 2014, but I can’t believe he could improve on that in his return from TJS, especially with a career 3.60 BB/9 rate. If Darvish were fresh out of spring training, I most likely would have tacked him on at the end of the Top 20. Given that he’s missing at least 1/6 of the season and his knack for finding an injury problem, he’s earned a spot at just outside of the Top 40.
43. Francisco Liriano – (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Through his first 14 starts last year, Liriano was killing it. We’re talking a 10.70 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, and a 2.69 xFIP. It was glorious. Then he just had to raise his walk rate by a full point and it didn’t go nearly as well the rest of the season. There’s so much to enjoy with Liriano, whether it’s his GB rate, crazy good soft contact rate (Top 5!), and excellent strikeout numbers, it’s just too bad it gets ruined by the walk numbers. He’s very comparable to Ross, but since A) he plays for a winning team B) he goes deeper into games and C) has stretches where he doesn’t walk an atrocious amount of batters, I’d rather take the lefty from Pitty (do people even say that?).
44. Garrett Richards (Los Angeles Angels) – I’ll tell you what’s great about Richards. His approach of having a 95 MPH Cutter that bites in on lefties matched with a 95 MPH Four-Seamer that has some fade versus lefties is pretty dang amazing when he commands it effectively. He also limits hard contact 4th best in the majors at just 23.7%, which means it should come to little surprise his soft contact rate of 22.7% is 5th best. On that same note, he also holds a 53.1% career groundball rate, which is certainly elite. And now you’re waiting for the bad news since he’s sitting at #45 and not #25. His K rate dropped to an average 7.64 K/9, but the biggest issue is his wildness as he held a 3.30 BB/9. It’s disappointing, really. He simply can’t harness the raw stuff he has properly and it hurt him often in 2015, leading to a 3.94 SIERA and 3.80 xFIP. Ouch. Drafting Richards means you’re investing in Garrett finally putting it together and hinting at the unfortunately shortened 2014 season where he walk fewer batters, strikeouts were aplenty, and looked like a star in the making. I’m not saying he won’t get back there with a proper spring training and a full season’s experience, I’m saying that I wouldn’t reach for that upside. I see Ross and Richards as two sides of the same coin, though I like Di–Richards more since I can imagine him pulling a Dokken and breaking the chains of 2015 more than Ross suddenly curing his infatuation with walks like a single man on an 80s dating game.
45. Tyson Ross (San Diego Padres) – There are some super polarizing pitchers this season and Ross may be the prime example. I completely understand those who are screaming from their mountains these four facts: A 9.73 K/9! 61.5% GB rate! Petco Field! A 2.98 FIP/3.15 xFIP! I mean, let’s be honest you’re already questioning my ranking after reading those numbers. Let’s dive in, though. First of all, when Ross isn’t at home, he needs to go to Coors and Chase Field, while facing the excellent offenses of the Dodgers and Giants in the AL West, so that’s not much of a plus. His FIP/xFIP are solid, but a 3.35 SIERA shows that there are a few more things at play here. The big number that everyone is ignoring like he’s a megastar who gets a free pass (ha!) is Tyson’s walk rate. It’s not very good and by that I mean it’s hideous. Seriously his 3.86 BB/9 was the second worst in the majors and that takes a major toll on Ross’ performances. He threw 7.0 innings or more just six times last season as his IPS sat under six innings per start. Walking batters doesn’t just increase your WHIP directly, but makes you throw more pitches –> limits your innings –> even worse WHIP rate. It’s a bad formula that resulted in Ross throwing just eight games under a 1.17 WHIP last season, and a boatload eighteen games with at least a 1.40 WHIP. When I’m going for pitchers to add to my staff, I’m looking for guys that can produce across the board on a given night. If he’s not performing, I’ll go with another guy. Ross will frustrate you endlessly, but his Ks will make you endure it all and be generally displeased with your life choices. Don’t do that to yourself.
46. Carlos Rodon (Chicago White Sox) – What’s a tier featuring guys that have enormous walk rates without the highest walk rate in the majors? That’s right, Rodon’s ghastly 4.59 BB/9 led all starters with at least 110 innings under their belt. Jeeez that’s horrible. When your walk rate can be confused for Jered Weaver’s ERA, you have a problem. He would be ranked lower, but I would be surprised if Rodon doesn’t take a step forward in his first full season in Chicaaaaago, which means a K rate north of 9.00 with his Sale-esque Slider, and in the meantime reducing his walks to some degree. If it’s around 3.00 per 9, then we’re in business. His second half did see a change (down to 3.70 BB/9), so I’m telling you there’s a chance. Not one that I’d bet on – remember he had a 1.44 WHIP last year and a 4.03 xFIP – but it’s possible he returns good value, “possible” being the key word.
47. James Shields (San Diego Padres) – So it’s a huge tier, but note that there is a small drop after Rodon. Still within the same tier, but not enough of a drop to make a big announcement and all. Raise your hand if you actually believe Shields’ 2015 career high strikeout rate in his 33-year-old season is going to repeat itself in 2016. Sure, his sudden jump from a 7.14 K/9 to 9.61 K/9 could be explained by an increased usage of his Curveball, which generated a 43.3% O-Swing and 19.5% whiff rate, but it’s all top-heavy. He had a good initial seven weeks of the season, then in his final 24 games he only posted a 8.63 K/9. It’s not bad, but it shows how his strikeout numbers were inflated by a handful of flukey starts. I haven’t even begun to talk about his 3.60 BB/9 and 3.73 SIERA, and I think I don’t really need to. Shields is going to drive you mad on a losing team. There be a month of bliss here and there, but for a guy that is chilling in the Top 40 of the ECR it’s simply unacceptable. Don’t put yourself through such torture.
48. Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – Okay, so I said in the Odorizzi bit that I didn’t want anyone in this tier, but Nola is the one exception. I want Nola in all leagues and so should you. He doesn’t possess the sexy upside of the five sophomores in the Top 40, but he is more mature than the bunch, with a solid repertoire built on a strong Fastball/Changeup foundation. I went into detail in my Breakdown of his debut last season, and the assessment I made then is how I still feel today: He’s going to have a low walk rate (2.20 BB/9 in 77.2 IP last year) and stable floor at the cost of a not-so amazing K rate. I could see him pushing 8.00+ K/9 this year and a ~3.30 ERA, which is absolute gold for his going rate of #258 overall. GOLD JERRY! GOLD!
49. Taijuan Walker (Seattle Mariners) – I have to hand it to Walker. I didn’t expect him to keep his walk rate down all season, but lo and behold, he held a sub 2.25 BB/9 in both the first and second halves. This paired with an 8+ K/9 have some experts excited for a potential breakout in 2016, but sadly I’m not going to be attending that party. It comes down to a few factors. First, Walker is essentially a two-pitch pitcher with his 94.3 MPH Fastball that he can’t seem to keep down in the zone, and a Split-Change that works when it’s low and doesn’t at all when it’s up. When your secondary pitch is a Split-Change – especially when Fastball command isn’t your strong suit – it’s tough to believe in consistency through each start, which leads to point number two. Walkers’s 3.69 SIERA looks to be an indication that he was unlucky last year (he held a 4.56 ERA and 3.82 xFIP), and people see an opportunity for Walker to make a big difference this season. However, his .291 BABIP was actually low in my mind given the high 30.2% Hard contact rate he allowed. I’ll certainly agree that his 67.8% LOB rate will improve, but he clearly isn’t commanding the ball like a proper stud, and I don’t want to invest in it suddenly coming together for Walker.
50. Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs) – I have a tough time grasping that Hendricks had a 3.25 xFIP last season with a solid 16.8% K-BB% and a 51.3% GB rate, but hey, he did it across 180 innings. Wait, 180 innings? Didn’t he get 32 starts? Hooo boy, that’s a low IPS of 5.63 (ranked 163rd overall with just 87.3 pitches per start…). Anyway, that’s not why I’m a sliiiightly down on Hendricks, though that isn’t a stat working in his favor. Nah, it’s the fact that his Fastball averaged a mere 88.3 MPH last season. Yeah, I know finesse pitchers are a thing and they can be effective, but that was the 6th slowest Fastball among all starters with 150 innings or more, joining names like Colby Lewis and Dan Haren. Still, he’s found a way to strikeout batters through the minors, and I don’t see why he can’t sit at the very least between 7.50-8.00 K/9 in 2016. He’ll bring that superb walk rate as well, it just comes down to being able to stay in the game and maintaining a decent ERA. He was a bit unlucky, especially for a groundball pitcher with his 70% LOB rate, and he also allowed a 12.6% HR/FB, which means I can see that ERA falling from 3.95 to 3.50 or so. He’s sounding a bit like Aaron Nola, just with a little more risk and that ain’t so bad at all.
51. Yordano Ventura (Kansas City Royals) – As a former pitcher and general lover of nasty baseball stuff, it’s hard for me not to fawn over the upside of Ventura. His Curveball is the fastest in the majors according to Pitch Info (Pitch f/x says CMart’s Slider is Curve, so psssssh that), which was averaging 85 MPH in the finals months and topping out at 89 MPH. That’s crazy. Seriously, crazy. So why don’t I love Ventura? Because, and I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s the one situation where I actually believe it – Ventura lacks mental fortitude. I seriously felt dirty typing that out. He’s a complete headcase as evidenced by his actions on the mound that have gotten him suspended, and he doesn’t have that gritty focus to consistently be an effective pitcher even inside the same game. He’ll go innings of pure dominance then all of sudden whoops! There’s three runs on the board. My bad! It drives owners up the wall, and it’s not worth your time. Don’t get suckered in guys, his 3.20 BB/9 isn’t going to take a nosedive, and he’ll have at least a 3.50 ERA, if not back over 4.00 again. The kid had just a 14.7% soft contact rate, after all. Enjoy watching him pitch – I always do – just don’t bet on his success.
52. Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals) – I’ve seen people on the Wacha bandwagon, but I don’t see it. I know he had a poor September, but he was only good for a little more than two months of the season and I wouldn’t put my faith in those sporadic moments of success. His best pitch in previous years was a sturdy Changeup that perfectly mimicked his Fastball, but in 2015 it became a negative asset, leading to him throwing less frequently. The only pitch really working for him is his Fastball these days, which could explain his very small drop in strikeouts from 21% to 20%, and there isn’t all too much to get excited about. His grounders are fine, his walks are fine, and DIPS really doesn’t like him. Wacha must have said something to SIERA’s mother, since we’re staring at a 4.03 SIERA in 2015 with little pointing to a major improvement for the season ahead. I’d rather go for bigger upside or a more dependable floor instead.
53. Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers) – Entering last season, many took JZ’s 2014 to be the new standard – myself somewhat included – and in retrospect it appears to have been more of a peak rather than a plateau for the new Tiger. We saw his K/BB numbers fall back to career rates, his HR/FB that was traditionally good normalize to league average, and his xFIP/SIERA agree around 3.82. Now, the 2015 Nationals were an underperforming team all around, and invading Detroit may do Zim some good. Problem is, Jordan has always been a guy where you sacrifice K totals for a consistently low WHIP/ERA, and he completely ignored his part of the bargain last season. It’s not a lock that it comes back in 2016, which has me favoring higher upside pitchers.
54. Jason Hammel (Chicago Cubs) – Hammel was on an absolute tear in the first half of the season. We’re talking 9.12 K/9, 1.58 BB/9 and a 3.14 FIP through his first 16 games. Those are Top 20 numbers if you can believe it coming from Jason freakin’ Hammel. Then there was an injury scare with his hamstring, and he was never the same after, maintaining the Ks, but raising his walk rate to near 3.00 as his ERA skyrocketed to 5.03 (4.49 FIP, 3.79 xFIP) in the remaining 15 starts. He only posted 68 innings across those outings as well (4.53 IPS!), further fuelling the fury of Hammel owners everywhere. So what are we supposed to do with him in 2015? Well, Hammel actually has a history of falling apart in the second half, featuring a 4.31 ERA and 7.32 K/9 post-ASB in 2014. I can’t say I’m not a little swayed to endorse Hammel early, then try to trade him off as he’s cruising in June. Whatever your plan, his upside is too much to ignore at this point, second half be damned.
55. John Lackey (Chicago Cubs) – I’m not saying I dislike Lackey…okay I am going to say that. His 2.77 ERA was the most redeeming quality of his 2015 season, and it was a full point lower than his 3.77 xFIP. His K rate could fall to about 7.00 per 9 and I’m struggling to find things that are better than an evening stream with Lackey. It’s not like he should project more than 13 Wins on the Cubs, after all, he earned those 13 Wins last season on the 100 Win Cardinals. Sure, the WHIP won’t be so bad as he keeps a low walk rate, but I don’t want to endure that 30.1% Hard contact rate when the balls don’t bounce his way.
56. Clay Buchholz (Boston Red Sox) – Hoooo boy, Clay. People will try to tell you they have Bucky figured out, but not even Clay himself understands. He has solid Top 30 upside in him, but he has battled injuries including a strained elbow last season, and even when he was on the hill he would make owners pace every night like it’s 1986. Look, his walk rate was consistently great, he was striking out batters at a 22.8% clip, and he had a .329 BABIP, which is a decent share of bad luck. I’ll end this quick. I won’t be taking Clay because I don’t trust he can put it all together and be a dependable asset. He’s just too all over the place. If you want to roll the dice and take the bad with the good, go for it. That injury and volatility risk will always be there so just don’t put all of your Clay in one pot.
57. Wei-Yin Chen (Miami Marlins) – If you’re still looking for that boring producer who doesn’t really hurt you, but you’ll never throw a party in his name, Chen is your man. He signed with the Marlins, which means he gets the NL Easy, but now will get fewer wins. You win some, you lose some. Chen also got a little lucky in 2015 with a 80.5% LOB rate, but his 21.9% soft contact rate means that you may be seeing him beat his peripherals again in 2016 – and pray that it happens because that 3.34 ERA was much lower than his 416 FIP/4.01 xFIP. Anyway, Chen will hold back on the walks, making a sub 1.30 WHIP very doable, and he’ll give you 6 Ks on a given night. I’ve always considered him an above-average starter, but not someone I coast with through the year.
58. Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals) – Ehhhh, we’re already at Gio? I don’t like Gio, even if he switched to a Two-Seamer that helped him generate 53.8% grounders last season. The same pitch elevated his walk rate to 3.54 per 9, and he had a mundane 18.8% soft contact rate. The Ks will probably stick around the 22%+ range and he’ll get some Wins on the Nats, but there’s nothing else to get excited about. You’re really going to hate the WHIP like a Volkswagen bug on your 16th birthday, I guarantee it.
59. Rick Porcello (Boston Red Sox) – I just spent 20 minutes trying to dig up why Porcello succeeded when he came back from the DL last season (8.95 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 2.96 FIP & xFIP, 51.2% GB rate), but I have little to show for it. He says he hit the bottom of the zone more as he focused on his Sinker, but the numbers show he didn’t really use it all too much more. His Change did have a slightly higher whiff rate though, and his Curveball seemed to have a little more break a slightly lower velocity, but it is enough for me to scream “XXXXTREME SLEEPER” ? You just did Nick. It’s right there. Well, yes it is…but…that wasn’t…whatever. The answer is no, sadly, as it’s too small of a sample to believe it will stick for the year. Is it possible that he’s hit the perfect stride and will be a sub 3.50 ERA pitch with an 8+ K rate, 50% GB rate and near 2.00 BB walk rate? Sure, and I’ll be watching him early out of camp, but I’m not banking it like Duncan off the block.
60. Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants) – We meet again, Samardzija. You have deceived owners for far too long and justice is being served. I don’t care if you’re going to San Francisco with one of the best Park Factors in the majors. You stopped using your Two-Seamer, which caused a 10% drop in groundballs, and your Splitter’s whiff rate was nearly cut in half from 21.8% to 12.6% as you tried to throw it for strikes. Don’t you realize what you’re doing to your strikeout rate? Will someone please think of the Ks?! I don’t see the man who I fell in love with in 2014, the man with a solid 18.1% K-BB% and a 50%+ GB rate. That man is dead. No, please Nick. I can change! I just don’t want to look at you anymore, get out of my life!