(Photograph by Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)
We’ve unveiled the Top 20 Starting Pitchers, the Top 40 Starting Pitchers, the Top 60 Starting Pitchers, and now it’s time for the Top 80 Starting Pitchers in Fantasy Baseball for 2018. Another 3,500+ word article awaits. Let’s do it.
Tier 5: Hey This Ain’t So Bad (Cont’D)
61. Aaron Sanchez (Toronto Blue Jays) – We just don’t know what to do with Sanchez, do we? I think we’re willing to throw away 2017 for the most part, a season riddled with blister problems creating eight disjointed starts as he never got into any sort of groove through the year. I was excited to see how he would develop, using his two-seamer to set the tone for more grounders and continue bringing down his walk rate – he brought it down from 11.6% to 8.0% in 2016 and 7.5% seemed so attainable! – while he polished his changeup/curveball combination. With such a clunky season, I question if he’ll be able to get back on track in 2018 to work on his repertoire and take steps forward. That is assuming, of course, that his blister problems of the past are behind him…and that’s a massive assumption. I’m sure the spring will bring news for Sanchez one way or another to shift his ADP even more (“he’s feeling great and ready to erase 2017!” “Sanchez is still having some blister problems…”), but unless I can get him way back in the draft, I think I’ll let someone else roll the die.
Tier 6: Little Engines That Could. Maybe.
62. Lance Lynn (Free Agent) – Here’s a tier of guys that I’d consider taking if I felt I took too many risks so far in drafts. Yes, there are cases where I’d skip this tier and pull from Tier 8 instead, and that’s just how life works. Understand your draft and go after the guys that fit your team’s mold. Let’s get on with and as I detail why I think Lynn isn’t going to be close to the same guy from last year. His 3.43 ERA and 1.23 WHIP came with a 10.1% walk rate and high 1.30 HR/9, two numbers that rarely speak to a sub 3.50 ERA let alone sub 4.00. His 7.29 H/9 was the lowest of his career by a mile (8.19 career mark) save for his 34.9 IP his rookie season and needed a sub .250 BABIP in order to produce that low ERA. His strikeout rate fell under 20% with batters chasing off the plate less than ever, meaning even the innings he does get doesn’t return a solid strikeout investment. It’s all pointing to some serious regression, with a 4.00 ERA & 1.30 WHIP very fathomable for the year ahead, regardless where he lands. Sure, it could be better, but why chase Lynn above all the guys in the higher tier when in the heavy majority of 12-teamers I can take the same risk with someone off the wire? It’s not for me.
63. Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals) – Ugh, I hate this. The fella held ERAs of 1.92, 2.45 and 2.25, with a 58% groundball rate and a “revamped curveball” that helped him render a 22% K-BB% rate in the NPB off in Japan. This isn’t the same pitcher you saw with the Rangers way back when. Those numbers sound amazing…but all the other Japanese imports – Darvish, Tanaka, Maeda – have had the same if not more success in the league before coming over to the states. It doesn’t mean Mikolas is bad, but let’s keep ourselves in check for what to expect. So why do I hate this? Because I can’t properly scout him like I do everyone else. I can’t give you guys an in-depth look like normal and it bothers me. I feel so vulnerable. Considering we’re right at the part where players become questionably waiver wire material, this is where I’d target Mikolas because why not? Even if he turns into a slightly-less Maeda, he has a starting job and that would definitely warrant a spot at the backend of your staff.
64. Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals) – I put off writing about Wacha for a bit because I can’t make up my dang mind. On one hand, he hasn’t posted a 10%+ whiff rate since 2014 (even that was 10.2%!) as his fastball/changeup combo isn’t nearly as effective as it was in years prior, and while I like that his curveball took a step forward last season, his cutter still has ways to go as well. However, he’s still just 26-years-old and his fastball velocity jumped last year from 93.8mph to 95.6 – that’s fantastic. I don’t see Wacha falling off completely and it’s possible he takes another step further, which makes me favor him over others in this tier. We’re hitting that area where Tobys become Pandas and you might as well chase that velocity, but don’t get your hopes up.
65. J.A. Happ (Toronto Blue Jays) – Three straight seasons of sub 3.65 ERA should dictate a higher ranking, especially when 2017 came with the second best K rate of his career at 22.7%. The problem here was a H/9 near 9.00 that inflated his WHIP to 1.31 while boasting a meh 1.11 HR/9 as well. I don’t see either of those marks changing a whole lot in future seasons, with his 4.11 SIERA hinting at the floor, and his “ceiling” of 2016 looking more like an outlier than ever. There’s a good chance this turns into a meh 3.80+ ERA season with a near 1.30 WHIP and that’s…eh. I’d rather go for the guys in tier six instead. That’s it? Ja, that’s it.
66. Anthony DeSclafani (Cincinnati Reds) – Don’t you dare be forgetting about Tony Disco, who missed all of 2017 with a sprained UCL, a season after being limited to just 20 starts with an oblique strain. Sure, you can be cautious about his health, but this is the end of your draft! Just drop him if he’s injured, and if he’s not…well that’s the fun stuff. He had a 3.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 2016, fueled by a fantastic slider that induced just a .089 ISO with a solid 16.1% whiff rate. His sinker isn’t a major flaw like plenty of mediocre arms, and his curveball does a solid work of inducing grounders while playing off his heater. It doesn’t scream Top 40 upside, but a healthy Tony Disco should be worth a spot on your roster. He’s healthy for all we know, so don’t let him slip through the cracks like me walking home at 3:00 am in Bedstuy.
67. Taijuan Walker (Arizona Diamondbacks) – A 3.49 ERA in Chase Field is nothing to scoff at, but I’ll scoff all I damn like at a 1.33 WHIP hoisted by an 8.9% walk rate. SCOFFFFF. After a pair of sub 7.0% marks, Walker took a step back, rooted in his four-seamer’s zone rate from 58.5% to 53.9%. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it’s the cause of his walk problems, but throwing fewer strikes with his heater is likely correlated to his lower HR rate (1.81 HR/9 down to 0.97) despite heading to much more HR friendly stadium. The trick is to have secondary pitches to supplement throwing fewer fastballs for strikes…and I don’t love Walker’s repertoire. His splitter has potential, or should I say had as it lost over an inch of vertical drop this past year. His curveball is as mediocre as they come, and while his slider/cutter was used to find strikes outside of his heater, it’s far from having the bite and deception it needs to be an effective tool. I don’t see Walker lowering that walk rate right now without a rise of ERA as well, and keep in mind, Walker raised his hard-hit rate to a 33.0% peak with just 15.0% soft contact-induced. The best thing he has going for him is his young 25-year-old age that suggests he could be molded into something new faster than an aged vet, but I just don’t see Walker taking a step forward again this year.
Tier 7: New Hotness
68. Reynaldo Lopez (Chicago White Sox) – Finally back to the exciting stuff. I don’t think we have a solid sample yet to get a proper understanding of Lopez, but I like what I see so far. First, while his first two starts featured seven walks, Lopez had the same total for the final six of the season, focusing more on commanding his heater inside the zone. He did display a low whiff rate on his curveball (6.9%), but he showcased a 16.3% mark in 2016 across double the sample with the pitch, and I’m inclined to believe it will be a great strikeout offering for Lopez moving forward. I see a three-pitch repertoire with a solid heater to lean on, a changeup that can be mixed in effectively, and a curveball to put batters away. It’s not as refined as the Severino or Castillo mix, but I think it will make Lopez a good add, with a touch of strikeout upside as well.
69. Joe Musgrove (Pittsburgh Pirates) – There’s some hype surrounding Musgrove now that he’s been shipped off to Pittsburgh in the Gerrit Cole deal and I may be looking at him in the final rounds of my drafts. Drafting him? Probably, at the very least I’m definitely looking at him with shifty eyes as he forces a smile. I imagine some will turn away after 2017’s blegh numbers, but I think Musgrove could put it all together if given time inside the Pirates rotation from the start. He has secondary pitches that will miss bats – over 17% whiff rate from both his changeup/curveball – as well as a slider that works well to steal strikes and keep the ball on the ground. His heavily documented “one-seam fastball” has promise, especially if he can follow the Pirates’ philosophy of busting batters inside constantly. It just seems right. Yes, he’ll have to learn not to feature a 65.6% zone rate with his heater – we’ll take a 55-57% Joe, it’s okay – but with his solid arsenal, Musgrove could turn into a solid arm for your squad. I want to chase that upside at this point.
70. Brent Honeywell (Tampa Bay Rays) – Like Mikolas, I hate ranking players that I haven’t been able to get a proper eye-test on, but from what I’ve seen briefly and read online Honeywell seems destined to be a solid fantasy starter for years to come. A well-rounded repertoire with a bag of tricks and good velocity, excellent K/BB numbers, the whole schtick. The question, like many others, is when we’ll see it. I have him favored over Gohara here just because they both have the same question of what happens out of camp, but the nod here really goes to the guy that gets the job first. It’s possible the Rays trade Chris Archer or decide Matt Andriese doesn’t deserve your love (he kinda does! More on that in the Top 100) pushing Honeywell up to the bigs and making everyone crazier than Kevin Brown after a loss, it’s also possible they wait until May – or dare I say later – for Honeywell to make his debut. It’s up to you if you want to stash or chase out of the gate.
71. Luiz Gohara (Atlanta Braves) – There’s a decent amount of hype surrounding Gohara entering 2018, but keep in mind that it’s only as a late-round flier and not as a “will be a #5 for your team” hype. Not that he can’t get there, but don’t go nuts expecting him to return that value out of the gate if he has a spot in the rotation…which is still unclear if he’ll seize out of camp. Gohara sports an electric heater with an excellent slider that is sure to help him miss bats, though I wish I saw a little better command of his 97+ two-seamer. There’s room for growth in his changeup as well, and pitching in the NL Easy will certainly do him favors. He has the ability to take that step forward, but I’m not sure how long it will take for his heater command to arrive, as well as getting fully comfortable with his slow ball. Oh, and how his slider wasn’t exactly perfect either. It’s all ready for Gohara to pull it off, he just needs to do it. This makes sense, right? I hope this makes sense.
72. Joe Biagini (Toronto Blue Jays) – There are reasons not to like Biagini. He’s a groundball guy with a terrible infield defense behind him. He has a slider/cutter that is an atrocity yet he threw it 11.0% of the time in 2017. There isn’t any security that he will start for the Jays in 2018. He had some games where he simply looked lost on the field. All this is true. Yet, like a mother checking her baby’s diaper, you smell a but. Biagini has a three-pitch repertoire that given enough of a sample, I have to believe it will work. His four-seamer comes in at a cool 93.7mph, pounding the zone nearly 54% of the time and induced grounders at 57.0% rate across 1,000+ thrown. His curveball has massive drop, held a near 60% groundball rate because of it while also being a pitch Biagini could rely on for a strike over the plate. Meanwhile, he has a putaway pitch in a changeup that held a near 18% whiff rate and 44.4% O-Swing. IT’S ALL HERE. But Roster Resource currently has Ryan Borucki (You know, Ryan Borucki!) slotted as the #5 guy instead of Biagini. You know what really should happen? The Brewers snatch him from the Jays. DONE. Instead of beanbag chair managing, I’ll say this: Make sure you monitor Biagini’s status this spring. Seriously. I think he can be a legit arm in 12-teamers all over the place and we’ll be finding ten articles in one week (over/under 2.5 titled “Biagini in a Bottle” ?) when he breaks out.
73. Eduardo Rodriguez (Boston Red Sox) – It’s injured pitcher time as we have a mini tier starting at Rodriguez. In case it wasn’t obvious by now, Eduardo will be on the DL when the season starts, estimated to be back by mid-April, which translates to the early May in my book. Don’t forget, though, Edu was killing it early on, holding a 2.77 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 26.6% K rate through his first nine starts last year before a 7 ER outing that was clearly affected by his agonizing knee. I love the idea of betting on a healthy Rodriguez when he does return (even though he still needs to fix his control problem at 9.5% during the solid stretch + his slider is still meh), though it may be hard to hold tight while players get hurt through the entirety of April. I’ll look for him in final rounds and play it from there.
74. Jimmy Nelson (Milwaukee Brewers) – I absolutely adored Nelson in 2017. Following a rugged five starts and a rain delay, Nelson was stellar in his 23 remaining outings of the year, boasting a 3.19 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a 23.0% K-BB walk rate. That’s studly, especially for someone you were likely to snag off the waiver wire. His velocity was up slightly, he increased his curveball usage, and his whiff rate soared to 11.4% after just 7.4% the year before. The obvious problem here, like Eduardo is that Nelson isn’t expected back until “around June” after hurting his shoulder sliding back to first-base in early September (#AddTheDH) and even if we wait the expected three months or so, will he even be the same guy when he does return? I can’t tell you the answer there, what I can say is I’ll have Nelson as a DL stash as one of my last picks, then give him a quick hook early in the year if I need the space. Trust me, you’ll need to hoard waiver adds in April/May and you will have injured players that demand the DL slot. Make this draft pick with the understanding that you’ve already made the decision to cut him if needed.
75. Carlos Rodon (Chicago White Sox) – If Rodon was healthy and having a good ol’ Gil spring training, I’d probably have Rodon in the Top 50 or so. His slider is a phenomenal pitch and he’s shown ability increasing its swing % to get strikes with the pitch on and off the plate. But his shoulder surgery at the end of September has pushed him back more than expected, with the southpaw starting his throwing program late in January, slating him for a DL spot as we pass opening day. Between him and Jimmy Nelson, I’m favoring Nelson as a better DL stash – he’s the better pitcher after all – but I wouldn’t mind stashing Rodon at the end of the draft if he’s there. Sure, you’ll cut him loose the moment you need the spot, but with his strikeout ability and convincing upside to eventually produce a sub 3.60 ERA season, there’s no reason not to. But when I say keep a short leash, I mean it. Not only are you waiting for him to return, but then there’s DLH and how the ChiSox are going to be as cautious as possible.
76. Alex Reyes (St. Louis Cardinals) – We were so excited for Reyes in 2017 and this year…it’s a much different story. Obviously getting TJS is going to be a setback, but the fact that he’s not supposed to show up until May is doing him no favors. This isn’t a Darvish/JoFer scenario when you know you’re getting something back when he does return, either, as Reyes only has 46.0 IP of MLB ball under his belt. Yes, I’m excited to see his 100mph heat mixed with changeup he believes in and a heavy curveball once again (here’s to hoping he doesn’t lose velocity post surgery!), but don’t forget that he’s sported walk rates north of 11% in every step of his career and returning from surgery often equates to needing time to get the feel back for his pitches = worse command. And this is without mentioning the fact that the Cardinals might not even start him when he does return. The rotation currently has CarMart, Waino, Weaver, Wacha, Mikolas, and Flaherty, and the Cards have a history of putting young arms in the pen before giving them time in the rotation. That’s not good. I think Reyes could be a Top 50 SP entering drafts in 2019 (if not higher!), but for this year, there are simply too many areas to go wrong here to make it worthwhile to waste a bench spot for at least a month.
77. Robert Stephenson (Cincinnati Reds) – Here’s something you probably didn’t realize. In Stephenson’s nine starts to end the season, He held a 2.61 ERA and 23.8% strikeout rate. Okay, it came with a 1.30 WHIP because he couldn’t stop walking guys (13.1% walk rate?! Really?!), but there’s promise here. He increased his slider usage to about 30% in this time, which in turn gave him a fantastic 13.5% overall whiff rate as it held a 23.8% whiff rate for the year. His changeup also induced swings-and-misses 20.6% of the time across the entire season and what I see here is glimpses of…you won’t believe this…Robbie Ray. The major difference is the effectiveness of Stephenson’s four-seam fastball, a result of his inability to find the zone at just a 47.6% rate. However, and trust me, I know how much of an “IF” this is, if Stephenson can learn to be confident with his heater inside the strikezone close to 55% of the time, his secondary pitches pave the way for a legit Top 40 – if not higher – starter. And he’ll be turning 25-years-old this season with his first run at being a starter out of camp. That’s exactly the kind of buried treasure I want to chase at this point.
78. Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers) – It’s the tier of lottery ticket young arms that have potential but it’s hard to pin down which are the right ones to chase and while it could be Hader, it could also not be Hader. The fella was absurd as a reliever last year, boasting a 17.0% overall whiff rate as his four-seamer held an absurd 17.4% mark. And while his slider is a solid offering as well, his changeup is lacking in a major way. The Brewers may be forced to try him as a starter, in which I’d be excited to monitor him through the spring and April, though he could be destined for a relief role with his clear dominance last season. That would be disappointing, forcing me to look like this champ as I’m forced to block out the Haders. That’s the best you got? I sat here for five minutes forcing a Hader pun and…yes. That’s it. Stop being a player Hader. Like Josh! YES! LIKE JOSH.
79. Chris Stratton (San Francisco Giants) – I’ve talked a bit so far about arms that could gain so much value if they have a secure spot in the rotation heading into 2018 and it definitely applies to Stratton, who I think many have overlooked, especially since he could not only help in 15-teamers, but your 12-teamer too. There are some tweaks for Stratton to make with his approach, but it’s not out of the question he increases his curveball usage, a pitch that rendered a 14.0% whiff rate last season and showed signs of moving closer to a 17%+ clip. Just doing that could elevate him past a blanket “streamer” label. His heater was surprisingly effective despite mediocre velocity and movement numbers, which was a product of solid approach as I detailed in his GIF breakdown last season. Keep in mind, notice the times in that piece where he got lucky results from poorly located fastballs, which is obviously why Stratton is here near the #80 mark. I’m hoping he gets comfortable enough to feature those two options for a combined 80% of the time, then turns to his middling slider and changeup options less often, but it’s not even guaranteed major success will follow if he does tinker a bunch. I’m not buying into a Top 40 arm here, but I think he can be a stable arm for the backend of your squad for a price of free.
80. Walker Buehler (Los Angeles Dodgers) – This is a silly ranking – I know it’s a silly ranking – but it’s the tier of lottery tickets and Buehler should be involved. Dave Roberts said he wants to consider Buehler in the rotation out of the gate. The GM Zaidi says he doesn’t expect Buehler to be in the rotation to open 2018. Everything is stupid. I honestly don’t believe Buehler will break camp with the team, but this is essentially the last round of your drafts and you might as well have some fun. If Buehler somehow gets the time right away – hey, someone could get injured! Maybe he dominates in camp! – there’s a decent amount to like. He has an overpowering heater with a curveball that wasn’t all too impressive in his small sample last season, but apparently is much better than what we got a look at. Pair that with a history of excellent K/BB rates, and you might as well see what happens on the big stage. Not my favorite upside pick here, but this is a lottery, after all.