Update: The Top 100 Starting Pitchers have been released.
Tier 9: Shoot Your Shot (Continued)
61. Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers) – You’re a smart person and after reading the Top 60 article, you knew Urias was next. I thought I was going to be higher on Urias, but if you’ve been reading my rankings, you’ll get an aggressive scent of distaste for arms that I don’t expect to be in the rotation in April. I feel obligated to repeat this: these rankings are for your standard 12-teamer in H2H or Roto leagues. Drafting a pitcher now equates to owning them entering the season and it’s important to have arms that can produce from Day 1. Sure, if it were a week or two, that’s not much as we can look past that. With Urias, we may be waiting for a bit as he sits as the clear seventh option on the squad. The Dodgers are sure to limit his innings to a maximum of 150 at most, and I wouldn’t expect Urias to make an impact before the start of May at the earliest. All of that aside, I want to own Urias everywhere – yes, in that league too! – when he gets the green light because I see the stuff and command of a pitcher with Top 20 upside. He has all the tools – 93+ velocity from the left-side, stellar fastball command, a pair of strong breaking balls, and even a changeup as a fourth option. You’ll just have to wait and sit on your hands and that’s a whole lot of stupid. I will most likely draft the next couple names before Urias given the lack of waiting time (we’ll see with Luzardo), but I’ll still rank Urias this high as there is always the chance he gets an opportunity earlier than expected.
62. Jesus Luzardo (Oakland Athletics) – We had a lot of fun discussions in the Pitcher List Discord this off-season (you really need to join it if you haven’t yet. Seriously.) and I recall a question being asked: “With Sean Manaea out for the year in all likelihood, who is the ace in Oakland?” The answer became Luzardo, even without a single pitch in the majors to his name. He’s boasted an overall swinging-strike rate above 13% in each step of the minors, strikeout rates comfortably over 25%, and he could make an impact the moment he steps on the bump – and you can bet I’ll personally be writing his MLB Debut GIF Breakdown the night it happens. His repertoire is strong with three polished pitches – 93-95 heater, big hook, and an excellent changeup. The Athletics made it to the Wild Card Game last season and with the 5th playoff team up for grabs again in 2019, expect the A’s to be aggressive in promoting Luzardo quickly, which makes me believe he’ll be starting before the end of April. At the end of your drafts, you’ll want to go after Luzardo and see how the spring plays out.
63. Collin McHugh (Houston Astros) – I don’t think you’ll see many place Collin too favorably and while I was a little too aggressive in the first of our weekly live-streamed Mock Drafts, I’ll be considering McHugh in the final rounds this year. McHugh spent his 2018 season in the bullpen and while we can’t expect his 2 mph jump to stick as a starter (relievers can go max-effort all the time), I do believe that his new Brad Peacock slider and adapted curveball translate to more success in the rotation. His curveball jumped to a career-best 23% swinging-strike rate correlated with better placement at the bottom of the zone or just under it. In other words, McHugh is making his Statcast darling deuce more appealing to batters. This is a good thing. Meanwhile, his new slider – not the “cutter” of 2014, but rather a true sweeping pitch – was used as a strike-getter in 2019, yet came close to being a money pitch with its 14% swinging-strike rate. Pair that with two straight seasons of a four-seamer above the 10% swinging-strike mark and I’m on board with McHugh. He currently has the fourth spot in the Houston rotation and I see the potential for a major impact starter at a cheap price. You’re searching for the next Corbin/Bauer/Snell and there could be a touch of it here in McHugh.
64. Alex Wood (Cincinnati Reds) – When Wood was traded from the Dodgers to the Reds, I went to Twitter to express how Wood’s draft value improved heading to Cincy. Many didn’t agree. Finally, I get to go a little more into this…even though I didn’t properly gauge what the SP landscape was and “Mid 40s” turned to “early 60s.” There are three changes moving across the country: 1) Wood has a secure role and is cured of #Dodgeritis. 2) Wood is heading to a harder division and a hitter’s park. 3) Wood will have an incredibly long leash during games given the questionable Reds pen and his standing among the other arms in the staff. So while Wood will have a harder time, the fact that he could push 170 frames (if not more as this is his FA year and the Reds have zero reason to hold him back) itself makes me more favorable of Wood’s 2019 season. For the man himself, his fastball velocity decline is very concerning, especially when he pitched more out of the pen. If you recall 2017’s incredible first half, his added velocity was a major catalyst for his success, sitting around 92 mph instead of the 90 mph mark last year. However, Wood did adjust his approach to counter his declining heater, raising his curveball and changeup usage – pitches that surprisingly didn’t take massive steps backward despite their large usage bump. Well, kinda. His curveball was more of the same, but his changeup took a large hit, rising 80 points in BAA, dropping almost 9 points in O-Swing, and losing five points of swinging-strike rate. That’s not good at all. If I believed more in those two pitches, Wood would (I had to once, sorry) have risen to the Top 50. I’m hoping the pitch rebounds as he has a set role this year and we could see plenty of quality innings at a 24%+ strikeout rate for a very cheap price. Count me in.
65. Matt Boyd (Detroit Tigers) – I go back and forth about chasing Boyd. On one hand, the man has a better slider than you realize – 16% swinging strike rate, 48% zone rate, and 39% O-Swing…so close from being Money. It was in 2017, but its .480 BABIP drove a .372 BAA, which dropped to just .172 last year. It’s wonderful and a major reason why it’s possible Boyd could breakout in 2019. He also has a changeup that – guess what – was also a Money Pitch in 2017 but this time took a step back last year. So there’s room for Boyd to have two money pitches this season…it just comes down to his heater. The pitch ranged 90/91 mph in the first half, then took a step forward in the second half and jumped to 92+. Result was an increased K rate and overall effectiveness, though it came with some tough moments as he isn’t polished quite yet. Let’s say Boyd maintains that 92 mph heater throughout the year, gets his changeup back, and keeps his slider consistent. That should return a Top 30 arm. It’s a big ask, though, one that gives me PTSD of our Daniel Norris hype entering 2017 and I could see myself dropping Boyd early on, while keeping a watchful eye. I just realized that we’ll probably be going back and forth with Boyd all year. Ohhh boy, please understand during the roundups this year.
66. Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies) – Here’s a pitcher that I don’t expect to be drafted in 12-teamers, yet could be one of the more added pitchers during the first week of the season. Eickhoff is returning from multiple injuries and is finally healthy for the first time since 2016, enduring an injured 2017 and even pitching through injury in his 5.1 frames last season. A season included 3.1 frames of eight strikeouts against the Braves where he featured an elite spin-rate on his curveball, resulting in a ridiculous 58% CSW on his deuce (9 whiffs, six called strikes in 26 thrown!). Back when Eickhoff was healthy, he was more-or-less a Toby. I think with health and an improved curveball, Eickhoff can be better than that, pushing his strikeout rate well over the 20% of old. There is a massive conditional, though. Eickhoff isn’t currently locked in the Phillies rotation. There’s a good chance he can push out Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin, but monitor the situation through the spring if you’re having a later draft.
67. Matt Strahm (San Diego Padres) – San Diego, please tell me what I need to do to make you turn Strahm into a starter full-time. PLEASE. I’ve been waiting years for Strahm to get a proper shot in a rotation somewhere and now that the Padres could be going for it in 2019, this could be the year. For the uninitiated, I wrote about what Strahm could look like as a starter last season, highlighted his above-average velocity that he features up in the zone (12.3% swinging-strike rate on his four-seamer!) and variety of secondary pitches in a wicked slider, a solid changeup, and curveball he trusts for strikes. The package is there, all he needs is the chance to make it work. If Strahm leaves camp in the rotation, you can expect me to add him everywhere to see how it pans out. It could be nothing, but it could be a whole lot of something.
68. Reynaldo Lopez (Chicago White Sox) – Did you realize that Lopez finished the season with seven starts of 1.38 ERA ball in concert with a 0.92 WHIP, 27% K rate, and 8% walk rate at 6.5 IPS? The blueprint for success is there in Reynaldo as he has everything you want: A slider with a 17% swinging-strike rate that he also trusts to throw early in counts for strikes (46% zone rate and .194 BAA without a single HR allowed in 516 thrown!), a hard four-seamer that averaged 95/96 mph and can touch 99 mph as he constantly jams batters on both sides of the plate (just a .237 BAA in 1800+ thrown), and a developing changeup that I see pushing a 15% whiff rate in 2019. It was maddening owning Lopez last year as he would go from dominance – when he had both his slider and changeup working – to chaos when one or both secondary pitches eluded him. His fastball did allow 20 HRs last season, though it was more of a product of occasional distrust in his secondary pitches that forced him to rely too heavily on the heater. It’s going to be another season of letting Reynaldo fly deep into games in Chicago, presenting a higher IPS than most and development time on those secondary pitches. 2019 could be big for Lopez and I’d love to dive in like a tortilla chip in my guac. I make really good guac.
69. Merrill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I was really tempted to make this another tier drop, but think of this instead as an intermission. I could keep listing a ton of strong upside picks to make at this point of the draft – pitchers that will be ranked even in the 80s that I could see myself drafting alongside those in the 60s. It’s really that close. So consider from Kelly through Quintana as a break from the standard affair for those that need Quality Starts or “volume.” I’m not one to chase these pitchers, but I could see teams taking a lot of risks early and needing some backbone early on. This starts with Kelly, who is being completely forgotten about in drafts. I made a Discord statement about how he’s getting completely overlook in drafts thus far, pushing our very own Alex Fast to dive deeper and give everyone the full spotlight and you should read it. I’ll sum it up quickly, but still read it: Kelly could be a Toby with strikeout upside and slightly better ratio upside. That’s a wonderful thing for someone not getting drafted in most leagues – especially in QS leagues where he’ll have a wonderful leash in the Diamondbacks rotation. Don’t reach for Kelly, but keep tabs on how your draft is going and consider him if you wait on SP for a while or draft a decent amount of volatile arms. Yes, over the likes of other Tobys like those below.
70. Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants) – I think a lot of people are forgetting about Samardzija and are punishing him too much for a lost 2018 season where he never gave the proper amount of time to rest his inflamed shoulder. In other words, I think we can approach Samardzija with the same thoughts we had on him entering last year, with just a small touch of harshness given that he did just have shoulder problems. Fine. Last year the story was the increased strikeout rate mixed with throwing too many strikes that led to a 1.30 HR/9. Meanwhile, it was a 1.20 WHIP or better (1.14 WHIP average) in three of his previous four seasons. His 4.42 ERA spoke more to a Toby (think 3.70 ERA) and came with strikeout upside. These are good things! I’m not going to have as much positivity about the next five Toby arms so we might as well jump after the one that has the most realistic path to removing the Toby label.
71. Jake Arrieta (Philadelphia Phillies) – I spilled plenty of ink discussing Arrieta’s mechanics that make it awfully difficult to command his pitches consistently throughout a season. When it works, magical things can happen, but what we’re seeing is a pitcher lose more and more feel each year. It’s not good, at all. None of his pitches returned a swinging-strike rate above 14% last year and it’s incredibly worrisome. Now, he gets enough movement that it’s fathomable Arrieta figures it out and becomes a strong starter for a significant amount of time – it’s why I’m putting him #3 in this mini-tier. Still, a repeat of a 4.00 ERA and 1.20+ WHIP is very possible and that’s awfully scary.
72. Rick Porcello (Boston Red Sox) – Yeah, I don’t like The Thief. Y’all know this but I want to make something clear. I can imagine Porcello performing well for a limited time. After all, his first 16 starts last season returned nine wins, a 3.44 ERA, 23% K rate, and 1.10 WHIP. You felt like the smartest man in your league after drafting Porcello…then it went south. Waaaaaay south. While he kept up the strikeouts (24.4% mark!), a 5.18 ERA and 1.26 WHIP followed it killed you. Maybe Porcello can be a 3.70 ERA guy with a strikeout rate just under 25% and a 1.20 WHIP. I think that’s the reasonable ceiling, though, and while I get drafting him here, I can see it going poorly – and more important detrimental to your team as you don’t let go. Give me the lottery tickets that I’ll be able to decide earlier on instead, the guys I’ll cut before May hits than the one that will be mediocre across the whole year for me.
73. Dallas Keuchel (Free Agent) – In a massive down-year for Keuchel, it should be noted that he still returned a 3.74 ERA. That’s Toby levels but there’s a lot of work to be done if he’s going to repeat it. Primarily, he needs to find the feel of his slider once again. The pitch lost eight ticks on chase-rate while its swinging-strike rate fell from 18.7% to 11.7%. Yikes. The Keuchel of old played with the bottom of the strike zone and made batter’s lives strenuous trying to figure out if they should swing or not. This is how his standard strikezone plot should look. Last year, we got a whole lot of this. You don’t need me to tell you which is good and bad. Maybe Keuchel can figure out how to replicate his old trade again, but I’m willing to wager teams are also scared of the new Keuchel, explaining how he’s still on the market as of writing this article. I don’t see myself changing his rank based on his team assignment – it comes down to if Keuchel can get back to where he was or not – and I’ll be avoiding him in most drafts. The man is struggling and there’s a good chance he’s a boring Toby forever now.
74. Kevin Gausman (Atlanta Braves) – It’s wonderful that Gausman found his way out of Baltimore and into the NL Easy(er), and we saw a 2.87 ERA in those 10 National League starts, even including a bit of disruption in September. I’m a bit skeptical that 2019 will present a breakout for one major reason: where does Gausman improve? Clearly he needs to improve his sub 20% strikeout rate, but I’m not exactly sure how. He already featured his splitter over 30% of the time with the Braves – a pitch with a 20% swinging-strike rate – and it didn’t return a strikeout boost. He still has a terribly weak slider and I just don’t see the breaker taking a step forward in 2019 – it has never been good and there’s no indication that should change. Maybe Gausman can get a string of good fortune with his heater and becomes sturdy for a good while, but I see peaks and valleys, not a smooth plateau where we can observe everything and stand with satisfaction. I can see your standard Toby affair with brief moments of bliss. That’s just not for me in 12-teamers.
75. Jose Quintana (Chicago Cubs) – You know what’s also not for me? A pitcher who has back-to-back 4.00+ ERA seasons and a swinging-strike rate at 8.0%. I see a 21.4% strikeout rate from Quintana and think fine. The best case is a small uptick in strikeouts as he finds the movement on his curveball again (not sure how, but okay), settling at a 3.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Best case. Likely case would be another 4.00 ERA, a WHIP around 1.30, and strikeouts hovering 20%. That’s no fun and I have no interest chasing Quintana’s 2016 season.
76. Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals) – Wacha suffered an oblique injury, interrupting a solid 3.20 ERA and 1.23 WHIP season after just 84.1 frames and 15 starts. This sounds like a great sleeper! Ehhhh kinda. I’m all for taking a chance on Wacha improving – yes, improving – but last year was a bit of smoke and mirrors. He needed a .249 BABIP to get that ERA and it was his fourth straight year of a sub 20% swinging-strike rate, resulting in a 20% K rate and 4.60 SIERA. Ouch. On the plus side, his changeup was looking like the pitch of old (essentially a Money Pitch!)…but that’s it. His cutter is decent as a strike-getter but a 10.4% whiff rate is lacking, his four-seamer returned a poor 6.3% whiff rate as he doesn’t work up with heat and down with changeups like he should be. His last pitch is a curveball that has held a sub 9% whiff rate in each of the last three years. I just don’t see enough here for Wacha to take that leap we want him to, but at this point I’m okay chasing it. We’ll see what a healthy season returns.
77. Steven Matz (New York Mets) – You know what’s cool? Matz holding a 2.44 ERA and 29.5% strikeout rate in his final eight starts of the season. He needed a stupid 89.6% LOB rate and .202 BABIP to make it happen (3.52 SIERA), but those marks should be intriguing enough to take a chance on Matz on opening week. The biggest shift was the re-introduction of his slider, a pitch that was thrown just 6% of the time prior and jumped to 14% in this glorious stretch. Matz has expressed hesitation in the past to throw the slide piece, citing a correlation with its usage and pain in his elbow, though this seemed like an “ah, screw it” moment last season that could carry into 2019. So I expect a better Matz season, but one that will not last 30 starts again as he could have that aforementioned pain in his elbow. It’s worth it to roster Matz early, but once it starts to go south, find yourself another arm quickly.
78. Jon Gray (Colorado Rockies) – What a wild 2018 that was for Gray. There was the first half that came with a ridiculous 29% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate that led to a 3.14 FIP…but a 1.49 WHIP and 5.77 ERA. So he got demoted to the minors and came back strong – 3.17 ERA (hey, that was his FIP!) and 1.01 WHIP through his first ten starts back…but now a 4.52 FIP and 19.2% K rate. Gray is an enigma and among this sea of darts to throw – seriously, there are so many that I had to put Gray at the bottom of the Top 80 and I still feel weird leaving other arms off it! – and I just don’t want to deal with the volatility of Gray. This isn’t Marquez’s 2018 second half in waiting, this is me running out of Advil in waiting. Let someone else take this risk.
79. Zack Godley (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Zack, I was such a fan of yours. Missing bats at a 13.3% mark while inducing some of the worst contact in the majors had me all over you entering last year…and it fell apart. I learned a valuable lesson from this – don’t trust bad mechanics. I was so enamored by his numbers that I underestimated the impact of his mechanics to breed consistency. The biggest shift was Godley’s inability to find his cutter often. With his sinker darting out of the zone often, 2017 Godley was able to get strikes aplenty with a 45% zone rate and 13.1% swinging-strike rate and induce just a .238 BAA. He had confidence to feature it whenever he feel behind or use it to attack batters early. However, the pitch turned toxic last year, with a massive .346 BAA, dropping over four points each in swinging-strike rate and zone rate. Bleeeegh. Fortunately, his hook is still great, it just can’t be what it once was without that cutter to mix batters up. Now this year should be better for Godley who showed stretches of promise – like a seven-game stretch where he returned a 2.42 ERA, 22% K-BB rate, and 1.03 WHIP while upping his curveball usage and featuring a cutter that was average instead of terrible. But that was a pocket in the middle of the season and I just can’t buy into Godley being a consistent arm for you. Someone in your league will own him and have nice moments that you’ll be jealous of, but you’ll never get to a point of fully trusting Godley this year unlike some of the other lottery tickets to scratch off.
80. Nick Kingham (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Man, I really believed Kingham had it in him last year. He showed up with a fantastic slider and fastball that he controlled on both sides of the plate (even in the same at-bat!), dabbling with a no-hitter in seven frames. After that…it was hectic. He had his moments where his slider and changeup were able to shine – both pitches carried a 20%+ swinging strike rate last year – but his fastballs were just so inconsistent…especially that sinker that needs to burn in a fire. Seriously, Kingham should want nothing to do with a pitch that allowed a .381 BAA and 1.054 OPS across 200+ thrown. That returned a -8.9 pVal, an extraordinarily poor mark considering its limited usage. There’s also concern that the recent signing of Francisco Liriano means Kingham’s role as the team’s #5 is in jeopardy and that would make this rank moot. But it’s #80 and I’ll take the gamble here. Let’s say Kingham gets that rotation spot, abandons the horrific sinker, and regains a little bit of his four-seamer consistency. Now you have an arm with 12%+ swinging-strike rate upside (think 25% K rate) without damaging your ratios. That works for me this late in drafts.
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)