(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
We featured the Top 20 Starting Pitchers for 2018 on Tuesday and the Top 40 Starting Pitchers for 2018 on Wednesday, now it’s time for the Top 60 Starting Pitchers in Fantasy Baseball as some “missing” names finally show up. Let’s dive into it all.
Tier 5: Hey This Ain’t So Bad (Cont’d)
41. Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) – Some people love Stroman, I sure did entering 2016 believing that his two-seamer would carry its elite horizontal and vertical movement from 2015 into 2016…and it didn’t. Now after boasting a 3.07 ERA in 2017, surely he figured it out, right? Well, no. I made that setup way too obvious, but what isn’t obvious is how Stroman’s 2017 FIP was worse than his 2016’s version, despite holding a horrendous 4.37 ERA. Oh, and 2017 had the worse WHIP at 1.31. This isn’t to say that there weren’t changes that I didn’t like from Stroman last season. Stroman more than doubled his slider usage from 15.8% to 24.4% leading to an excellent 10.8 pVal, he increased the favoritism of his two-seamer over his four-seamer as the riding heater allowed just 9.0% flyballs in 1753 thrown, and his overall whiff rate rose to a respectable 10.0% mark. It’s just not enough. He’s not boasting a 20% K rate yet, his walk rate was comfortably over 7%, and relying so heavily on grounders with the poor infield defense of the Jays will make his WHIP mediocre as long as he doesn’t maintain an elite walk rate. When that comes with a pedestrian K rate, it’s hard for me to get excited at being a Stroman owner, as it means I’m praying he keeps an ERA under 3.50. That’s not the kind of
pray play I like making.
42. Danny Duffy (Kansas City Royals) – It was #VelocityWatch2017 for Duffy, and while it wasn’t so drastic, Duffy was sitting around 93-94 in the opening two months before sitting 92-93 in July and beyond. These are important numbers as Duffy had averaged 95.5mph with his heater in 2016, in what was considered his breakout season. Without the same velocity, Duffy was only able to produce a 3.81 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 21.4% K Rate, far from the sterling 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 25.7% K rate from ’16. This is without mentioning that Duffy missed time with an oblique strain and an elbow strain, though apparently he’s “feeling great” akin to the “best shape of my life” tales you hear in the upcoming weeks. I’m not completely writing out a successful Duffy season, but I’m sure not paying for one, especially when health has been a factor for Duffy across his entire career.
43. Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs) – Hendricks had back-to-back seasons of 2.13 ERA and 3.03 ERA and you’re sticking him outside the Top 40?! Are you mad?! Yes, I am! You won’t find your own apartment! Touché, thanks for letting me stay here. I know Hendricks was plenty valuable last year and the year before, but I really just don’t like banking on him to do it again. His 1.19 WHIP in 2017 along with 3.88 FIP/4.08 SIERA suggest tougher days are ahead, his walk rate rose to 7.0% – not bad at all, but for a command guy it’s a little unsettling – his IPS sat right around 5.8, and I just hate the idea of trusting a guy that has such a small margin of error. He found a way to still be successful in the majors despite lowering his already AOL 56k two-seamer from 88.2mph in 2016 to 86.0mph last season and I feel uneasy spinning that wheel a second time. Keep in mind, his four-seamer, changeup, and curveball all took dramatic steps back in 2017, with his sinker acting as the only pitch that pulled him out of the water – a pitch that held batters to just a .597 OPS over 938 thrown. I just don’t buy that success repeating while his changeup lost 1.5 inches of vertical drop and a curveball that held a 15.2% O-Swing, 4.5% whiff rate, and 36.7% zone rate with a .438 BAA. I don’t think he has any more dricks up his sleeve. Okay, I deserve to stay after that terrible joke. Fine, ONE WEEK.
44. Johnny Cueto (San Francisco Giants) – I often like throwing out previous seasons from players – Aaron Sanchez I’m looking at you – and many are doing that to Cueto’s 2017. It’s completely understandable as he battled blisters the entire season, making a convincing explanation for his ghastly 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. You could say they made his changeup allow 10 HRs in 2017 after allowing just 1 the previous season despite throwing more slow balls. Or how his slider’s zone rate dropped considerably from 49.3% to 40.0% without a large enough O-Swing increase to justify it (only 0.3 points?! That doesn’t even cover my Costco membership!). And then there were his heaters that held a combined 20.7 pVal in 2016 and dropped to just -1.4 last season. His four-seamer was a decent whiff pitch and dropped to just 6.9%, while his sinker couldn’t find the plate, and when it was, batters held a .364 batting average. Wait, this doesn’t sound like you’re blaming the blisters entirely. Exactly. If I were to be placing Cueto comfortably inside the Top 40, I’d be assuming A) the blister problem won’t come back and B) That it would magically fix the problems across each of these pitches. I’m not saying it can’t happen – he’s in the Top 45 after all – but that’s an awful lot to bank on.
45. Jon Gray (Colorado Rockies) – There are a lot of things you could say about Jonny Gray. He’s better at home than away! A 3.18 FIP! A .336 BABIP that should regress! I dislike all of this. That 3.18 FIP? I believe his 4.20 bbFIP more. The .336 BABIP? That’s actually better than his xBABIP of .348. And the home/road splits? He only pitched eight games at home last season, hardly enough for me to put stock in it. But I can’t deny that I find Gray’s 24.3% K rate believable…well kinda. His 8.8% whiff rate was super disappointing after a marvelous 12.1% mark in 2016 – I’m looking at you four-seamer (6.6% down to 4.2%) and slider (24.5% to 16.7%) for the reduced clip. Speaking of that slider, batters also chased it out of the zone at a dramatically reduced rate from 49.4% to 40.3%, and the pitch saw a ten point increase in contact rate. It’s not always a bad thing for this to happen – he did increase its zone rate over four points to help lower his walk rate to an excellent 6.5% mark – but if I’m going to take the chance on a starter in Coors, I definitely need to see a high strikeout total. I don’t want a pitcher that’s allowing more contact when his xBABIP was above .340! It shouldn’t be a shock that it resulted in a 1.30 WHIP that feels dirty to own through a full year…which Gray didn’t have at just 110.1 IP (stupid stress fracture in his foot). It comes together as a pitcher that I’d consider plenty more if he didn’t call Colorado his home, but the circumstances have me not buying the upside people are seeing: 3.18 FIP with a 26.0% K rate and 6.5% BB rate. Yeaaaaaah that’s not happening, just like me going to prom with Carrol. It just wasn’t in the cards.
46. Jake Faria (Tampa Bay Rays) – From Faria to JorMont is a mini-tier of guys that I’ll be targetting plenty in drafts. If I’ve already grabbed a few safe arms, I may take the risk in Clevinger/JorMont over Faria (if they are locks for the rotation out of camp, I prefer them both over Faria), but if I took a few gambles (ala Paxton, Richards, etc.), I’ll be looking at Faria for a little more stability. Yes, the injury risk is there given he missed time with an abdominal strain in the second half, but Faria’s repertoire speaks well above this #47 ranking. He sports a pair of secondary pitches from the jack-of-all-trades offering in his slider that can steal strikes and miss bats to a split-changeup that earned a whopping 23.8% whiff rate in 2017. His fastball can feature cut action that confounds hitters, while also exhibits exceptional rise that is amplified by its 7-9 vertical inches of differentiation with the rest of his arsenal. Don’t forget, Faria was cruising out of the gate with a 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP across his first seven MLB starts. Obviously that’s not what you should expect, but at this point I’d love to take the chance at a healthy Faria for what looks to be about a 180 IP season, which could return Top 30 SP production.
47. Mike Clevinger (Cleveland Indians) – This is a tough ranking for me as I vehemently believe the Indians should slot Clevinger as their #5 starter, but for whatever reason there is still confusion as to Clev’s role as we enter the spring. Here’s the thing about Clevinger: he follows the same exact mold of Kluber/Carrasco/Salazar where his secondary pitches are super legit and his fastball is what’s holding him back. I’m not sure if the Indians scouting team follow this philosophy or if the water hates pitches above 95mph because they teased it as a child, but Clevinger’s profile will surprise many. Each of his changeup, slider, and curveball – making up a little under half of his total pitches thrown last year – held a whiff rate of at least 19.0%. His slider and curveball both exceed 20% and what the hell Clev, why aren’t you an ace?! The problem is his four-seamer that failed to exceed a zone rate above 50% last year. It’s not like you need to have a 50% zone rate with your fastball, but when you throw the pitch over 50% of the time (unlike Tanaka, for example), you dang well better have a better zone rate or you’ll go home with the same monstrosity that is a 12% walk rate like you had last season. Something needs to change here – throw fewer fastballs and favor one of your breaking pitches over the plate more often, or learn to give in with your heater and trust the process – the point is that legit #3 SP talent is here. If you didn’t realize, even with that 12.0% BB rate, Clev still held a manageable 1.25 WHIP and solid 3.11 ERA across 121.2 IP last season with a blissful 27.3% K rate. Now I don’t expect the same result if he doesn’t make a change – that 3.11 ERA came with a poor 4.22 bbFIP while inducing a low 19.9% PH rate – though betting on a step forward seems like a rational thing to do at his low price. I know I’m a bit aggressive with this ranking given the whole “is he really the #5?” situation, but don’t forget, Cleveland pitchers hit the DL like they just opened a 5-day option. Just don’t be dumb Cleveland like me wearing spandex to a “bikers” party. DON’T BE DUMB.
48. Jordan Montgomery (New York Yankees) – Like Clevinger, there is concern baked into this ranking as The Bear doesn’t have a firm spot in the rotation yet. I hate it and want a full season of JorMont but I’m not going to sit here like that possibility doesn’t exist. Regardless, I love what I saw in Montgomery last season and I think having a comfortable job in the rotation will turn him into a sturdy #4 for your squad. Montgomery held a 12.2% whiff rate across 155.1 innings in 2017, which should dictate a K rate around 25.0% as opposed to the 22.2% mark we saw last year. His curveball and slider both have 18%+ whiff rates with O-Swings north of 40%, and allowed just 13 XBH across the near 1,000 pitches between them. He abandoned his changeup a bit in the second half, though expect the pitch to return as a dependable strike offering to play off his heaters. He really does need that pitch to return, since neither his sinker nor four-seamer found the zone over 50% of the time – easily the biggest knock on JorMont. It’s not out of the question he changes his approach to pump fastballs for strikes more often and having a pair of excellent breaking balls in his arsenal to surprise hitters at any moment may help him get away with sneaking easier to hit four-seamers and sinkers. Regardless of the approach for 2018, trust the stuff JorMont and deceptive delivery brings to the table. He’ll figure it out as long as he gets time on the bump.
49. Dylan Bundy (Baltimore Orioles) – Bundy’s 2017 took us on a ride. The Love Tunnel? …no. First, he overperformed by a longshot, producing a 2.93 ERA despite a 4.96 SIERA in his first 12 starts, which made it super easy to argue against him + his fastball velocity was all over the place + there were legitimate durability questions. He regressed, we felt all was right in the world for the wrong reasons, but then August happened. A seven-start run blew us away where he held a 2.74 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 31.7% K rate, 6.0% BB rate and 3.14 SIERA. It was unreal, but it seemed real. Bundy had been using his Slider that got us oh-so-hyped under 20% prior, but suddenly it exploded to 27.3%, reducing his changeup and curveball usage along the way, and it made everything better. His fastball ran into less trouble as batters had to deal with the slide piece, his overall whiff rate jumped to 15.4% as batters chased pitches off the plate over ten points more. Contact rate dropped ten points to sub 70% overall. These were good times and a marvelous way to end the year save for one bomb in his final start of the season that I’m going to ignore. Sorry, he just clearly wasn’t himself that day as he hurt his hamstring and the Orioles shut him down after. Now, I’m not saying that this seven-start run is something you should buy into for all of 2018 – it’s obviously a small sample and a 15.4% whiff rate is just not sustainable. What I will say is that many will see an ERA well over 4.00 will send many far away and I think that’s not fair. This is the tier containing many guys with decent floors and solid ceilings, and seeing Bundy excel by making a small adjustment calls for your consideration.
50. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers) – If Maeda were locked in the Dodgers rotation for the entirety of 2018, he would be much closer to #30. And even though Dave Roberts has come out to say that he is expected to start next season, this is Dave Roberts, master of headaches and breaker of promises. Maeda made three relief appearances and twenty-five starts, but the question has to be asked: What are we getting even if Maeda starts? He had a minuscule 5.2 IPS in those outings while providing a 4.35 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 24.8% K rate, and 6.3%. Those are solid save for the ERA (15.2% HR/FB will do that to ya), but just over five innings a game is going to hurt. Well, no. It won’t hurt, but just keep in mind that a 24.8% K rate at a near 5.0 IPS isn’t as good as a 23% K rate with 6 IPS. Still, I think I’d test the waters with Maeda. He has solid command and a slider that misses bats effectively, and while there will be a headache involved, I’d take my chances that Maeda finally sticks for a season, especially if Darvish isn’t returning.
51. Danny Salazar (Cleveland Indians) – Salazar is coming off as headache of a season as you’ll find – which says a lot since it feels like every year from Salazar is exactly that. He spent time on the DL, time in the pen, time in the minors, and time taking up the penalty box on your bench to make sure he thinks about the damage his 5.50 ERA did to your team through the first ten starts of the season. All the great work Alex Wood has done, for naught! But here’s the thing, when Salazar returned in the second half, he was electric, spinning five starts tallying 46 strikeouts and just 5 ER across 32.1 frames. Absurd! There was talk of him favoring four-seamers up in the zone, and now he’s a new man and EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL! Naaaah, he got lit up for 6 ER after, then didn’t return for another 15 days as he hit the pen. Yep, that’s what’s it’s like owning Salazar and I want no part of it. Well, at least not now when the season starts, maybe when someone else drops him and I’ll ride it for about two or three starts before getting clotheslined and laying on the ground wondering how I could let this happen. That’s not the life I want to live for a full year. The 33.0% K rate is tempting – they warned me Satan would be attractive – but it comes with a terrible price. David from 2016?! No, a stressful season that’ll most likely end up with a 3.90 ERA and 1.30+ WHIP. There’s value there, you’ll just have to work for it.
52. Charlie Morton (Houston Astros) – Here’s something I don’t quite understand. We’re discounting guys like Richards, McCullers, Wood, etc. but for Morton’s value isn’t taking much of a beating. The fella hasn’t hit 160 innings since 2011 and even then it was 171.2 frames. And this isn’t a scenario where Morton is so good that we can overlook the fact we’ll be lucky to get 25 starts from him again in 2018, he still held an 8.1% walk rate and a 3.62 ERA in that time. Don’t get me wrong, I was a big fan of Morton last year for the price of free as he displayed added velocity (95.0mph after ~92mph prior to 2016!) paired with a Curveball that suddenly had the highest whiff rate of his career (17.7%) and its highest zone rate since 2012 (41.5%). The pair drove the spike in his K rate to 26.4%. That’s great! Wonderful! Superb! And I’d love to own Morton…but I can’t favor him over guys that could produce the same levels and survive past 160 frames. That just doesn’t seem right, not to mention that you’d be paying for a career year instead of a price that works in the price of a possible regression.
53. Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) – I was amped for Manaea entering 2017, labeling him as a “Spare Tire” along with Bundy as part of a group of late picks that can bring plenty of upside. Manaea hinted at that potential – 11.3% overall whiff rate – but a 20.3% K rate and 8.0% walk rate led to a 4.37 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. It was a sad year, plagued with a shoulder strain and an illness that induced a loss of 20 pounds, and you can’t but get the feeling there is much more left in the future for Manaea. Now, I want to make clear that I have slightly regretted my high ranking of Manaea from last season. I have talked about not favoring pitchers with deliveries that force them to come across the ball (those mechanics make for a tougher road to consistent command), but for some reason I elected not to apply that concern to Manaea despite his wild west slinging release. BUT NOT THIS YEAR. Now, I’m seeing him near #60 in ADP, and I think that’s a bit harsh. Yes, he had a poor season in 2017 and I’m not too sold on his path to stardom, but he still has a three-pitch repertoire that can work effectively if he’s featuring a clean bill of health. His changeup left him in ’17 after a resounding rookie season and I’ll be looking at that pitch specifically in April, hoping he has a feel out of the gate. Meanwhile, among this landscape of serviceable arms, I can see myself taking a chance on Manaea to take a step forward in the year ahead.
54. Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals) – I was disappointed to see Gio falter in his September last season as I already disliked him plenty and was hoping to keep his draft stock inflated for 2018. After his August 26th start, he held a 2.40 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 22.2% K rate, with owners everywhere praising him as one of the steals of 2017. And that’s 100% true! He was and everyone rejoiced. It was just too fortunate. Those numbers came with a 9.2% walk rate, 85.8% LOB rate, .242 BABIP, and 10.5% HR/FB, leading to a 4.43 SIERA – over a two-point difference from his 2.40 ERA. I don’t buy that Gio has suddenly become an elite contact manager. His fastball turned from a -8.5 pVal pitch to a whopping 11.8 mark as its HR/FB dropped from 17.2% to 7.0%, and its ISO falling over 110 points to go with it (as expected), while his changeup saw a 50+ point drop in BABIP that was matched in his BAA. What about their locations? Their pitch usage? Their velocities? Their movement? Same, same, same, and, yes, same. Well, that’s not true, Gio’s overall velocity dropped a tick across the board and he did favor changeups slightly more often (3 points more). Now he did increase his curveball about five points as well, but the only different result was its HR/FB also falling from 22.2% to 7.1%. Really, the whole situation displays an arm that had a really unlucky season in 2016, then the pendulum swung back in the other direction plenty farther than it should have. The year ahead should be one that warrants a roster spot for Gio, but any hopes of him being a #3 or above seem silly to me. As a #5? Sure I’ll take it.
55. Patrick Corbin (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I’ve had a troubling relationship with Corbin over the years, from trusting him in 2016 after a solid return from TJS the previous year to shocking myself in endorsing him in 2017. Did you realize that across Corbin’s final 19 starts in 2017, he had only five starts above 2 ER? And two of them were 3 ER! That stretch beginning on June 16th tallied up to a 3.21 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23.4% K rate, and 7.7% BB rate and 6.2 IPS – not studly, but certainly plenty better than any of us expected. What happened was he began throwing more sliders – seven points more to a whopping 40% usage rate – over four-seamers and sinkers, which is a pretty good idea when you get a 21.4% whiff rate and 45.6% O-Swing with a .187 BAA across 1172 thrown. The troubling part is its low 31.8% zone rate, which means Corbin needs to be more comfortable with one of his fastballs (probably his sinker) so he can setup a better 1-2 combo and keep his walk rate closer to 7.0%. And of course, having a third option like a changeup that he can throw over the plate for strikes would be great…which he didn’t come anywhere close to in 2017 with its 25.5% zone rate. That’s really really bad for a pitch that carried a 7.1% whiff rate. So while I want to like Corbin more as he turns into a sinker/slider arm, I need to see a better third option and more confidence with sinkers inside the zone for me to get really on board. It’s possible he gets there and at this point I’m all for taking that chance, but this could get ugly early, especially if that humidor is forcing me to put on my safari getup at start searching for it. And for the record, yes I do actually own one and I look fabulous.
56. Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays) – You’re going to see some hype surrounding Snell this March and it’s rooted in his final 10 starts of 2017, where he held a 2.84 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 24.6% K rate, and 8.0% BB rate. That’s impressive and normally I’m all over seeing stretches like this to end seasons…but I have some hesitation with Snell. I actually wrote about him early in this run, with the focus on a questionable fastball/changeup foundation to set up his much better breaking balls. His fastball command is far from polished and I don’t think that changed much during this run. I was hoping to see that he had bumped his breaking ball usage (slider and curveball, which he often splits time between and average over 20% whiffs), but sadly, it was nearly identical to his 23% overall usage prior. I’d be much more encouraged if Snell elected to through breaking stuff at least over 30% of the time – if not more! – but that will also require him to throw at least one of them for a strike over 30% of the time…At the same time, the Snell’s fastball was far and away his best pitch over this run with a 6.0+ pVal, I’m just a bit skeptical he finally figured out how to nibble properly with his heat. I’d gladly take a flier at this point over the Toby pitchers available, but don’t hold too tightly at the start of the year.
57. Kevin Gausman (Baltimore Orioles) – I know, I know, I know. He’s inconsistent and produced a 4.68 ERA with a 1.49 WHIP that killed your 2017 season. But did you realize he was so much better in his final 14 starts of the year? He held a 2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26.1% K rate, 7.7% BB rate, and a 6.0+ IPS across 86.2 IP and that’s…kinda amazing. Everything improved across the board and a big change was attacking with his four-seamer more often. He relied less on nibbling the arm-side corner and attacked the zone plenty more. It’s a major change, as it allows his splitter and slider to be more effective not only as chase pitches once people expect another fastball over the plate, but also to get batters on their heels quicker. I feel the need to clarify that last statement as his F-Strike rate barely changed. Gausman would rebound faster when missing 0-0 instead of continuing his nibbling approach and I’m willing to believe that change in approach reflected in the numbers showing batters acting more aggressively at the plate and making less overall contact. This doesn’t mean I think Gausman will be this productive for a full year – 3.74 FIP over that stretch, keep in mind – but there’s more value here than I think people are giving him credit. I’d much rather roll with this and hope he can pull off a 3.50 ERA season with a good amount of strikeouts than an “innings eater” type. I just can’t believe he’ll be as bad as his first 20 starts of the year ever again.
58. Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox) – You wanna know one of the best things to hear about Giolito? This news blurb that states “Giolito acknowledged finding a comfortable mental focus while at Triple-A Charlotte last season, and then carried that change to the majors.” Yes, Alex “Think” Fast is here for those that listen to the podcast, and seeing Giolito has come into his own in stress-free Chicago after getting rushed in Washington is definitely encouraging. Pair that with adjustments made after his MLB debut (the backfoot line and slider usage were there in his following starts!), I’m incredibly intrigued by Giolito this year. He had that September success without the help of his most famous pitch – a massive curveball that is bound to be an effective weapon…at some point. He really struggled to get it over the plate last season and he had to shelve it often. I think it’s an inevitable tweak for him to incorporate into his repertoire constantly, and what you have left is a pitcher that can work backward with his slider, a solid fastball/changeup combination and a curveball that will displace batters. A 25% K rate ceiling there, though for this season, I’d be glad with a 23% mark with upside to pair it with a sub 7.0% walk rate. He’s currently going well past the 200 pick and I’d love to take my chances there.
59. Dinelson Lamet (San Diego Padres) – He held a 28.7% K rate in 2017 across 114.1 IP. That’s why you’re here, Lamet. No, I’m not confident that he’ll be able to make his fastball better or ever be able to harness the power of his split-change on a consistent basis, but when your slider is this good and you showcase that much strikeout potential in over 110 frames, you deserve to be in the Top 60. I legit don’t have faith that he’ll take the next step forward, but the clear upside if he somehow figures out makes it worth it. I can blather on and on about how his heater allowed a 19.1% HR/FB rate, .923 OPS, and .292 ISO across 1020 thrown or how he plain stopped throwing his changeup because it was so wild, but with a slider that holds a 40%+ zone rate and 18%+ whiff rate while inducing just a .099 ISO, you have to consider the chance he makes an adjustment elsewhere to elevate that pitch further. I don’t love doing it – y’all know this isn’t my style – but it is what it is. Let’s dance.
60. Drew Pomeranz (Boston Red Sox) – This might seem low for a guy that held a 3.32 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and 23.5% K rate across 32 starts last season. That’s because it came with a 1.35 WHIP (buoyed by a 9.3% BB rate), and a sub 5.5 IPS. Bleeeeegh. He doesn’t last long into games because of his walk issues – four-seamer dropped under 50% zone rate after a near 55% mark in 2016 – and he stopped using his cutter, which was an effective pitch to jam inside to right-handers and get lefties chasing off the outside corner. His curveball is still phenomenal and the more he favors it the better, but I don’t see The Dirty Cheerleader earning his title a whole lot in the season ahead. Too many walks, too few innings to express that K upside, and an ERA that is destined to rise.