Another day, another set of rankings coming out as we continue unveiling the Top 100 Starting Pitchers for 2016. We’ve already gone over the Top 20, Top 40, and Top 60, and here we have The Top 80 Starting Pitchers for 2016. You know the drill, and we start off today by continuing the super-sized Tier 5. Update: Here is also the Top 100.
TIER 5: Too Many Balls and Too Many Drawls (Continued)
61. Collin McHugh (Houston Astros) – I’ll be the first person to remind you that I really liked McHugh entering last season. I’m not going to hide it, but I can tell you why he wasn’t nearly as effective as I expected. His Slider – not his Curveball – that carried him through 2014 started, well, sucking. The pitch lost some of its drop, while moving horizontally less. Essentially, the pitch turned into more of a duck than in 2015, and it burned McHugh in a big way. Whiff rate down from 12.5% to 8.3%, hitters batted .317 instead of .206, held a .357 wOBA up from .246…You get the idea. As McHugh throws the pitch more than his Fastball, it means a big deal and any expectancy for a rebound relies heavily on Collin recovering his slide piece. Even if he improves it a little, he could hint at a 8+ K/9 with a sub 2.50 BB/9 and the DIPS will follow suit. I don’t expect a 2014 resurgence, but I have to imagine McHugh will be hard at work to at least take a small step forward with his go-to pitch in 2016, which means at least a minor rebound from 2015 is in order. That itself should warrant a spot right around #60.
62. Shelby Miller (Arizona Diamondbacks) – This shouldn’t come to much of a surprise since Miller’s fortuitous 2015 is well documented by now, as he sported an 3.02 ERA that was over a full point higher than his 4.07 xFIP due to a super small 6.7% HR/FB. Bad news for Miller is that he’s heading to Chase Field, which is one of the supreme HR parks in the majors. Now let’s make one thing clear. Shelby’s 2015 success wasn’t purely luck. Nay, he shifted his focus from his Curveball to his Cutter, jumping from a 6.1% usage rate to a whopping 21.7% mark. The result was a major RAA shift from a poor -3.2 in 2014 to 14.3 in 2015. You can’t ignore that, and paired with great contact rates of 21.3% soft contact and 26.7% hard contact, Miller doesn’t seem to be on track to fall completely off the deep end. Just don’t expect a Top 40 season.
63. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I was tempted to put Maeda in the Top 60, but in the end we really just don’t know what to expect from him. Kuroda’s name has popped up as a comparison as the Japanese import should hold a low walk rate and a decent 7.50 K/9 or so in the majors. I can see him being a stable floor guy for the season, or he could totally implode, seriously we don’t know at this point. However, past #60 you’re fishing for some stability, and Maeda could be what you’re looking for, featuring a low 90s heater/Slider combo with a touch of a newly developed Changeup. That sounds better than the known warts of other guys below him.
64. Kevin Gausman (Baltimore Orioles) – There’s a lot I can say about Gausman, and most of it isn’t what you want to hear. Nick, are you hating on nearly every pitcher this season? Kinda, yeah. There are so many mediocre pitchers in the middle of it all that I really just don’t like. I’ll be targeting a lot of the young guns mentioned in the Top 40, and we’ll get to some fun and exciting options in a moment. For now I need to explain why Gausman isn’t destined for greatness. Gausman has three pitches to his name: A 95+ MPH heater, a Forkball/Splitter that Pitchf/x can’t make up its mind on, and a weak Slider. None of these pitches registered positive values last year, as Gausman allowed ISO numbers of at least .188 for each pitch. His Fastball is straight as an arrow, the Split is his best pitch and helps him get a 8+ K/9, but isn’t consistent enough since it’s one of the hardest pitches in baseball to command, and his Slider is severely lacking. We’re talking a 7.4% whiff rate on Gausman’s breaking ball. Gaus’ best asset is his low walk rate, but it’s not enough for me to believe in his repertoire to take the next step and produce an ERA I’m proud of.
65. Ian Kennedy (Kansas City Royals) – Ugh, I don’t like Kennedy, but his K/BB numbers and 3.70 xFIP are forcing me to begrudgingly stick him here because who else is going to give you a 9+ K rate while hovering around 3.00 BB/9? I don’t trust his ERA to be serviceable even in Kauffman Stadium, and holy bejesus I hate his 35.2% hard hit rate from last season, but Ks are Ks, especially when he’ll get more Wins and there’s a chance his WHIP could be sub 1.30 this season. Now get away from me Ian, you smell like disappointment.
66. Scott Kazmir (Los Angeles Dodgers) – After writing that Kennedy blurbI’ve realized I should probably not submit giant walls of text for every pitcher. You guys are busy, you just want it straight! Alright, Kazmir’s best years are behind him, and his 4.14 xFIP from last year with a 2.90 BB/9 should tell you that his near 7.50 K/9 won’t be enough for you be satisfied spending your draft pick on the latest lefty to join the Dodgers. How’s that?
67. Nathan Eovaldi (New York Yankees) – Nah screw it, there’s just too much to talk about! Those still waiting on a breakout year from Eovaldi are going to have to keep waiting. I know how fast his Fastball goes (96.6 MPH!). I know he just added a Splitter that means his 52.3% GB rate is here to stay. I know he had a 3.42 FIP (3.81 xFIP…). I also know that Eovaldi gets little deception on his heater, and despite his elite velocity and added Split his whiff rate was just 8.7% last season. I wish so badly he makes that step and becomes a serious asset in fantasy leagues – believe me, I love my Yankees. I really just don’t believe that time will come from Eovaldi, and for those who quote an improved 2nd half think again. His walk rate rose to 3.67 BB/9 and he still had a 3.74 xFIP. Yeeaaah.
68. Mike Fiers (Houston Astros) – I will not be drafting Fiers. He’s a flyball pitcher who is more often bad than good, walks too many batters and held a whopping 33.5% hard hit rate. So why was he ranked as high as #35 by experts? Because he can strike out guys well, and will most likely have a K rate above 9.00 in 2016. It’s all thanks to his Changeup, that registered a 16.6% whiff rate and 41.5% O-swing, but the fun stops there. His Fastball struggles to top 90 MPH, and his Curveball/Cutter both registered negative RAA values in 2015. I can understand going with Fiers for the occasional stream to pad your Ks (even though he struck out four or fewer batters ten times…) or if you really need more punchouts in your staff, but I don’t see the major upside swing that others are preaching.
TIER 6: The Fun Stuff
69. Nathan Karns (Seattle Mariners) – Finally we start getting to guys that I could see myself targeting in drafts and/or swiping up during Spring Training because hot damn that was a giant tier. Keep this quiet guys, but if you throw out Karns’ first four starts of the year last season – his introduction to the majors – Karns held a 9.12 K/9 and a 3.06 BB/9 with a 3.36 ERA. Now I’m not saying he’s prime for a breakout as DIPS hated him (3.67 xFIP, 3.71 SIERA) and his Fastball needs a lot of work as it’s easily his worst pitch. But he’ll keep his strikeout rate with a filthy Curveball, and it’s not out of the question for him to take a step forward inside SafeCo and outside of the AL Beast. The biggest issue is that he’s fighting for the final rotation spot with Mr. Paxton, though Karns should have the advantage after being acquired via trade. I see some serious deeper league sleeper value when he’s ranked outside the Top 100 SP in most places.
70. Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies) – He’s just like Karns with a little less K upside but more promise with his command. They both hold a great hook with a questionable Fastball, and even though Eickhoff gets the NL Easy, I’d rather go for the guy who can take a bigger step forward in 2016. Not to mention, it seems like Eickhoff is getting that early sleeper tag, which means you’ll be drafting Karns rounds after Eickhoff. It’s unfortunate since I wanted so badly to say “Eickhoff is like the Staten Island Ferry. Everybody gets Jerad and it’s free”, but Eickhoff has jumped up to the #76th overall SP and that joke referencing – do forgive me – the one line I remember from Jersey Shore is not nearly as good. #fantasybaseballwriterproblems.
71. Tyler Duffey (Minnesota Twins) – Looking for the perfect sleeper in deeper leagues who no one seems to have any idea about? The Duff Man is your man, man. Don’t worry about his 3.10 BB/9, it’s inflated by a pair of poor outings earlier in the season, and he featured an excellent 63.9% First Strike rate. He has major strikeout ability with a nasty deuce that will keep the Ks alive, and his September was bliss featuring a 2.18 FIP, 8.63 K/9 and 1.67 BB/9 over five starts. I understand the small sample here, but small be sample be damned! His minor league numbers indicate the upside is real and I believe it. Just be aware that the Twins rotation is currently a bit cramped and there’s a chance he doesn’t make the rotation (silly, I know). At the end of the day though, Duffey simply has the tools to be effective at end of your rotation who is going for the price of zilch.
72. Vincent Velasquez (Philadelphia Phillies) – I did a GIF Breakdown of Velasquez last season, and what I saw was a young flamethrower who didn’t have full command with his Fastball or Changeup, but had a fine lookin’ breaking pitch with strikeout ability. As he transitioned to the pen, he started using his Curve/Change less in favor of a Slider that got the job done: 23.1% whiff rate, .118 average, and not a single allowed extra-base hit. He was traded to the Phillies in the Ken Giles deal, and the fifth spot in the rotation is his to lose. Velasquez and his heater in the NL Easy is a tantalizing idea, and could be a mega sleeper target for deeper leagues, and even for those in 12 teamers. Sure, he has his flaws, but we’re talking a guy with 9+ K/9 potential and could drop his BB/9 around 3.00 as a post-draft pickup.
73. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) – When I originally saw that Ray was ranked at 122 on Fantasy Pros I assumed I had overlooked a chance that Robbie would be out of the opening day rotation. Nope, people are just overlooking a 24-year-old who has had great strikeout rates through the minors and backed it up with a solid 8.45 K/9 last season. He features a 93.3 MPH Fastball that he can dial up to 96, a decent Change, and a Slider that generated 18.1% whiffs last season. It’s certainly possible he takes a step further and pushes a K per inning in his first full season in Arizona. The biggest question is a walk rate that has always been heavily over 3.00, though if he brings his 3.45 BB/9 down at all to, say, 3.10, that’s some incredible value at the end of deep league drafts.
74. Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins) – So here’s the part where you look at the options at SP and realize there’s no one you’d bank on staying on your team for an extended period of time. In fact, you’re better off just streaming and/or going with the hot hand. Since it’s pure upside time, here are all the minor league lottery tickets that could make major impacts like the Syndergaards, Stromans, and Matzs (is that the correct plural of Matz?) of yesteryear. Berrios is my favorite pick of the lot simply because he’s the most big-league ready. If he makes it on the rotation out of camp (very slim chance), you’ll see him jumping up near #50 in a heartbeat, he’s that good. Innings won’t be much of an issue after 165+ frames last season, and his K/BB rates are Top 20 worthy. If you’re in a shallower league and want an upside stash near the end of the draft, make Berrios sit at the top of your list.
75. Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays) – WHAT’S THAT SNELL? It’s a guy who could hold the highest upside of the lot with a fantastic Fastball/Changeup combo that has provided elite strikeout numbers as he tackled A, AA, and AAA last season. The Rays are a bit stuffed in their rotation at the moment, but if someone goes down or Erasmo can’t hold replicate the sub 4.00 ERA stretch he had last summer, you may be seeing Snell up first and making owners cry tears of joy. He does have a questionable walk rate, however, and it may come to bite him in his first few starts in the bigs. Nevertheless, I would be shocked if he weren’t in the Top 50 entering 2017, and could easily be Top 30.
76. Tyler Glasnow (Pittsburgh Pirates) – If you haven’t gotten the jist yet, the critical thing here is to pay attention to Spring Training to gauge the security of starters inside each team’s staff. If Erasmo goes down, look to grab Snell. If there’s a slot in the Twins, jump on Berrios, etc. Glasnow only has to take down the oh-so-mighty Ryan Vogelsong after flashing elite stuff in through minor league teams in 2015. He may possess the best strikeout potential of the bunch. His 6′ 8″ frame allows him to easily hurl 95+ Fastballs, and he features an truly impressive Curveball with mature command. He’s not as far developed as Berrios and struggled a bit more than Snell at the end of last season, yet he could be winning you your league come September – he’s that good.
77. Lucas Giolito (Washington Nationals) – If you haven’t gotten the jist yet, the critical thing here is to pay attention to Spring Training to gauge the security of starters inside each team’s staff. Giolito has a chance to break camp with the Nationals given Tanner Roark is currently slated as the #5 starter who excites me like a work phone call at 5:55pm. There is some worry with Giolito as he struggled in AA last season, but his raw stuff is simply too good to ignore with an over-powering heater and knockout Curveball. He doesn’t possess meticulous command, though he’s developing his Changeup and he’ll present ace-like stuff to fantasy owners…at some point. At the end of the day, he has serious K upside without poor control issues ala Carlos Rodon, and you’ll want to have him stashed on your team when the callup is made this season.
78. Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers) – The previous four mentioned names are all better bets to get their chance in the first two months and there is a slight drop off for 2016 starting with Urias. It would be a bit shocking to see Urias arrive early in the season as the Dodgers already have a good amount of SP depth on their squad and Urias is still technically a teenager. When the time comes, however, it should be a pretty sight and you don’t want to be on the outside looking in, especially since you would look like a bit of a creeper, you creep. I would be surprised if it came before the second half though, which makes him a tougher stash to…swallow?
79. Jose De Leon (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I would not be surprised if we saw the Lion of LA hit the bigs before Urias simply because he’s four years older. Jose came out of nowhere in 2014 and had more strikeouts than my friend at the bar (his game is terrible)while showing respectable command. He’s not someone I’d be chasing in drafts, though know his name and if he gets the call, be ready to snatch him.
80. John Lamb (Cincinnati Reds) – There was a moment I was debating if I wanted Lamb in the Top 60, and then the news came out that he had surgery on his back and won’t be returning until the end of April. Womp womp. It really is too bad, since everyone is forgetting about Lamb. Seriously, he’s not even ranked on Fantasy Pros (well, not until I’m up there next week), and he is the exact sleeper type deeper leagues are looking for. As he played in AA, AAA, and the majors last season, Lamb was consistent with his strikeout numbers, featuring a 9.78 K/9 across the three leagues, and if we knock out a horrid six walk outing in the bigs, Lamb had a 2.62 BB/9 across his nine starts. His atrocious 5.80 ERA was a product of getting his feet wet and some truly poor luck, as he held a 3.73 xfip and 3.56 SIERA. The southpaw features a Cutter that can be absolutely debilitating for RHB, and a well commanded Fastball that perfectly sets up the pitch. The biggest question mark is his Changeup, which flashed upside with a 22.7% whiff rate, but it was inconsistent start-to-start as we saw in last year’s GIF Breakdown. If he refines it this season, which is certainly plausible for a 25 year-old kid, you could see a major breakout for the biggest piece of the Cueto trade. Ita shame he’ll be out for the first month of the year and without a proper Spring Training though, and I wouldn’t aim to take him in drafts. Maybe snag him for the DL spot a week before he returns. I stuck him at the end of the Top 80 though, since I think that when he returns he will perform better than your options below him by a good amount. Give me that value instead of pushing schmos day-and-night.