FanRag Sports Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017: Starting Pitchers Top-75

22 October 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) prior to the start of game action of game six of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Welcome to the FanRag Sports 2017 Fantasy Baseball Guide. Going until about a month before Opening Day, the FanRag fantasy baseball staff — comprised of Greg Jewett, Al Melchior, and Jim Finch — will be releasing it’s guide for the 2017 season. Every week will be devoted to a different position, and every day will be devoted to a different topic.

The schedule is below:

In addition, the day-to-day schedule will go as follows:

  • Monday: Rankings
  • Tuesday: Buyer Beware
  • Wednesday: Sleeper Pick
  • Thursday: Impact Rookies
  • Friday: Biggest Gamble Pick
  • Saturday: Top Draft Target
  • Sunday: Closing thoughts

All of the previous positions were done slideshow-style, but for pitchers, we’ll switch it up with a new post for each topic; don’t worry though, they’ll all be linked to in this post for easy browsing.

Now, on to the starting pitcher rankings:




1. Clayton Kershaw

Superman Clayton Kershaw finally met his kryptonite last year: back pain. Prior to 2016, Kershaw recorded at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. In spite of only pitching 149 innings last season, Kershaw still won 12 of his 21 starts with a 1.69 ERA and relief pitcher-esque 0.72 WHIP. Hard to believe he will only turn 29 in March. If healthy, this could be another strong season for Kershaw as he pursues a championship and remains a potential top-5 pick in fantasy drafts.

2. Madison Bumgarner

Regarded as one of the top hitting pitchers in the game, Madison Bumgarner throws baseballs with great proficiency as well. He’s eclipsed 200 innings every year since 2011 despite working overtime in playoff series. More important, Bumgarner’s strikeout percentage has increased in each of the last four years. His home park and ability to rack up innings makes Bumgarner a top-tier pitcher for fantasy.

3. Max Scherzer

While a finger injury clouds his fantasy status, Max Scherzer will be watched closely this spring. His knuckle issue dates back to last September. Scherzer’s strikeout percentage has been 30 percent or better with 276 strikeouts or more in back-to-back seasons with at least 228 innings pitched. Early reports suggest he is working on throwing a three-fingered fastball, changing his two-seam grip. Monitor this closely but any lingering issues with his injury could depress his ADP with drafts approaching.

4. Noah Syndergaard

If any pitcher could unseat a healthy Kershaw as the number-one fantasy pitcher this year, it could be Noah Syndergaard. Not only does he look like a norse god, Syndergaard showed up to camp with added muscle and motivated. Last year, he won 14 games with a 2.60 ERA and 2.29 FIP in 183.2 innings of work. His swinging-strike percentage rose to 14.2 percent; if he works more than 200 innings, 250 or more strikeouts should ensue.

5. Chris Sale

Moving to Boston did not increase the fantasy value of David Price, but Chris Sale will try to buck the trend. Sale traded strikeouts for contact last year, which resulted in a career-best 17 wins. It appears Sale can adapt to strong hitting surroundings, but will the strikeout rate return? Therein lies the question regarding his fantasy ceiling for 2017.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale throws the ball during baseball spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

6. Corey Kluber

Many discounted Madison Bumgarner after his heavy usage in the 2014 postseason, and now attention turns to Corey Kluber. Last year, Cleveland used him in 34.1 innings during their deep run in the playoffs. Kluber won 18 games last year with three straight seasons of 215 or more innings pitched and at least 227 strikeouts in each. With the longer spring training, monitor Kluber’s innings and if the team will try to rest him to start the season. Beyond stable skill set, just need to know the workload will remain the same.

T-7. Johnny Cueto

Moving to San Francisco suited Johnny Cueto well last year. He won 18 games in his debut with the team with a 2.79 ERA and comparable 2.96 FIP. His ground ball rate returned over 50 percent for the first time since 2013, and Cueto should be regarded as a solid number-one for fantasy who will need strikeout support to balance a team.

T-7. Jon Lester

Not only will Jon Lester lose his personal catcher, but regression could be afoot. David Ross retired with a championship but guided Lester to 19 wins last year with a 2.44 ERA. However, Lester benefited from a career-low .256 BABIP and fantasy owners need to take note of his 3.41 FIP as a guide for this year. Paul Sporer highlighted Lester’s ERA without Ross as his catcher is 3.71. Lester may be too talented to collapse, but paying for a repeat of last year will be risky business.

9. Yu Darvish

There may be no bigger boom-or-bust pick in the top tier of pitchers than Yu Darvish. He returned from Tommy John surgery in style last year, working 100.1 innings with 132 strikeouts featuring a career-best 24.3 strikeout-minus-walk percentage. This spring, Darvish wants to reintroduce his split-finger fastball to his repertoire. His split resulted in a 39.8 whiff-per-swing rate when deployed in the past. However, Darvish has surpassed 200 innings just once in the majors since his debut in 2013.

10. David Price

Seeing David Price stock dropping this year creates a unique buying opportunity. He won 17 games last year, but his ERA rose to 3.99. This can be attributed to a spike in home run-per-fly ball percentage along with a .310 BABIP. Focus on Price’s FIP of 3.60 and 11.9 swinging-strike percentage, which eclipsed his number from 2014 when he struck out 271. Bounce-back in the offing.

07 October 2016: Boston Red Sox Starting pitcher David Price (24) [7039] delivers a pitch to the plate during the fourth inning of the the American League Divisional Series Game 2 baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated Boston 6-0. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

11. Chris Archer

Speaking of bounce-backs, do not sleep on Chris Archer. Losing 19 games last year will depress a player’s value but hope lies in his second-half rebound. After the All-Star break, Archer worked 91.1 innings with a 130:19 K:BB rate, 3.25 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 1.01 WHIP. His strikeout-minus-walk percentage spiked to 22.9 percent as well. Home runs have affected, Archer but if the second half was real, Archer’s price creates profitability for the year ahead.

12. Jake Arrieta

This could be a pivotal year in determining Jake Arrieta’s value moving forward. Last year, some cracks in the armor surfaced with his strikeout percentage decreasing while his walk rate rose. Arrieta still won 18 games, but invest in his FIP of 3.52 rather than his 3.10 ERA from last year. This may not be the year to reach for Arrieta in drafts.

13. Jacob deGrom

Unfortunately, hair flow did not translate into health for Jacob deGrom. It’s documented he pitched through injury last year. During the first half, deGrom finished with a 2.61 ERA in 93 innings with a 91:22 K:BB rate. After the break, he only pitched 55 innings with a 3.76 ERA but still had a 3.49 FIP. With health, a return to his first-half and 2016 levels should occur, making him a pitcher with upside at his current fantasy ranking.

14. Stephen Strasburg

Boom-or-bust candidate number two, behold Stephen Strasburg. His delivery causes concern, along with continual soft tissue injuries. However, Strasburg struck out 183 in only 147.2 innings last year with a 3.60 ERA, 2.92 FIP and 15 wins. If he can reach 175 innings, 200 strikeouts will happen, but his spotty health record makes it a risky venture.

15. Justin Verlander

For those who kept the faith on Justin Verlander, congratulations. His velocity rose throughout the year and he recorded his most strikeouts (254) since 2011. During his injury-riddled 2015, Verlander learned to pitch with reduced velocity and returned to prominence last year. Adjust to his 3.48 FIP but more of the same could happen this year.

17 September 2016: Detroit Tigers Starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) [4956] delivers a pitch to the plate during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

16. Carlos Carrasco

Speculative drafters may still hone in on Carlos Carrasco. The fact that he’s surpassed 150 innings just once in the majors makes it difficult to pay full price on draft day. Carrasco won 11 games last year with a 3.32 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings pitched. Since his ceiling may be capped due to innings pitched, reaching for him diminishes any chance for profit.

17. Kyle Hendricks

With improved command along with his manager taking the reins off, Kyle Hendricks recorded a career-year in 2016. But a sage lesson for fantasy, do not pay for one. Although Hendricks finished with a 2.13 ERA, his FIP of 3.20 does not support it. Add in the 81.5 percent strand rate to his lack of strikeout ceiling and Hendricks can be viewed as solid, but not a fantasy anchor for 2017.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

It feels like each year, Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow could doom his season. However, Tanaka turned in 199.2 innings last year with a solid 3.07 ERA in a home park which favors hitters. Tanaka also won 14 games with a strong second-half ERA of 2.83 with a 72:14 K:BB ratio. Questions remain regarding his elbow, but Tanaka remains a solid number-two starter for fantasy purposes.

19. Carlos Martinez

Last year’s hyped starter seems to be flying a bit under the radar this year. Carlos Martinez turned in another solid campaign with 16 wins accompanied by a 3.04 ERA in 195.1 innings of work last year. His strikeout rate declined and he did finish with a lower total than the year prior. However, positive migration of his changeup whiff rates could mean 200 strikeouts may happen as soon as this year.

20. Kenta Maeda

Dodgers import Kenta Maeda did not disappoint last year. Early reports center on his weight gain to combat fatigue in the second half. Japanese pitchers need to adjust to the travel and length of the major league season. Maeda impressed in the first half with a 2.95 ERA in his 103.2 innings of work. His ERA jumped to 4.25 after the All-Star break in 72 innings. Use his 3.58 FIP last year as a baseline for this year. Like Martinez above, if Maeda completes 200 innings, 200 strikeouts enter the conversation.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda (18) pitches in the first inning during game five of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 20, 2016, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

21. Danny Duffy

Converted relief pitcher Danny Duffy not only impressed fantasy owners, but resulted in a contract with the Royals. Duffy threw 161.2 innings as a starter last year with 167 strikeouts, a 3.56 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. His improved changeup fueled his breakout. Time will tell if his ERA or 3.99 FIP holds for 2017.

22. Zack Greinke

Not much went right for Zack Greinke last year. He did win 13 games but his peripheral statistics cratered during his first year in Arizona. Greinke’s ERA ballooned to 4.37 with a 4.12 FIP. New catchers along with health should point to a rebound. Just adjust expectations for a 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for this year when targeting Greinke for fantasy.

23. Cole Hamels

Many will draft Cole Hamels based on his seven straight years of 200 or more innings pitched and 15 wins last year. Heed his 3.98 FIP from last season along with the increased walk percentages in each of the last three years before adding him in drafts.

24. Gerrit Cole

No pitcher’s outlook could change more this spring. Gerrit Cole seemed poised to break out last year but injuries befell him. Cole pitched 208 innings in 2015 but payed the price due to the jump in workload last year. Use his 3.33 FIP as a roadmap as a valuation of him and hope he can reach 175 or more innings this year. Upside agrees with Cole as a target, health remains a risk.

25. Dallas Keuchel

One year removed from winning the Cy Young, Dallas Keuchel would prefer to forget last season. His velocities bounced back near the end of the season but the damage was already done. Keuchel won 20 games in 2015 but finished with nine in 2016 with a 4.55 ERA and inflated BABIP. Hope lies with the uptick in velocity and 3.87 FIP. Keuchel does need volume to contribute in strikeouts so health will be a key.

Dallas Keuchel

(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

T-26. Marcus Stroman

Stroman’s line last year was partly due to some bad BABIP luck (.308), a lower-than-average strand rate (68.6), and an unlucky HR/FB ratio (16.5 percent – 20.3 on the road). He did a good job limiting free passes (2.38 BB/9), the fly ball rate was low (20.4 percent), and he led the league in ground ball percentage. We may not see a rise in strikeouts, but expect his ERA and WHIP to be closer to last year’s 3.41 xFIP.

T-26. Aaron Sanchez

Like teammate Marcus Stroman, Sanchez is a ground ball pitcher (54.4 percent) with a lower but acceptable strikeout rate. He did show some signs of regression in August and September, but that was expected given he threw a total of 102 innings in 2015. Expecting a repeat performance may be asking too much, but Sanchez should put up reliable SP3 numbers on the low-end.

28. Julio Teheran

Teheran doesn’t throw hard, his fly ball rate is too high, and the hard-contact rate could be lower. He counters this by limiting walks and keeping the contact rate low. Not the perfect solution, but it has worked for him in every year except 2015. It reasonable to expect a repeat, but as we saw in 2015, if the control is slightly off things can go south.

29. Jameson Taillon

It was impressive to see him go 165 innings after missing the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Even more impressive was the fact there was little change from month to month. The underlying metrics paint a positive picture, and most projections have him coming close to his 2016 line. Currently his ADP is 10 spots lower than his ranking.

30. Jose Quintana

Every year somebody points to something in Quintana’s underling metrics and tries to discount him, and every year he proves us all wrong. Sometimes you just have to ignore the warning signs and accept a player is better than you think. The WHIP will return to the normal 1.20 range, but there is no reason to expect any change in Quintana’s numbers. He just costs a little more these days.

August 4, 2016: Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana (62) looks for the pitch sign during a regular season game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers played at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

31. Felix Hernandez

The King has looked rather human the past two seasons. Walks and contact are up, strikeouts are down, the velocity and usage on his fastball has decreased, and last year his curveball lost its effectiveness. He is still a decent pitcher, but unless he reinvents himself, we should expect the 2006-2008 version of Hernandez moving forward.

32. Danny Salazar

The heir of Slytherin was having a career-year before elbow issues derailed his efforts and he was eventually shut down. Salazar has a ground ball tilt, limits the number of free passes, keeps the contact to a minimum, and strikes out everything in his path. He does have issues with the long ball so the ERA will remain in the 3.50 range. I can live with that.

33. Michael Fulmer

He was a little better than advertised, giving a somewhat false hope for 2017. Expect the ERA to regress some to around 3.50, but his strikeouts and low walk rate should help keep the WHIP in check. He didn’t struggle until September (probably due to the increased innings) meaning he made it through the league a second time unscathed. Fulmer will be good, just not 2016 good.

34. Rich Hill

Hill is sort of an enigma. He hadn’t done anything of relevance in his career until the last few years, and now all of the sudden he’s a star. His numbers are deserving of being ranked inside the top-30, but his age an injury potential have him discounted, and rightfully so. If you draft Hill, you are doing so knowing he will not hold up over a full season.

35. Rick Porcello

There are mixed feelings on Porcello. He is being drafted as a number one/two pitcher in some circles, while other leagues have let him slip almost to 150 overall. There was very little difference (number-wise) between his 2015 and 2016 season other than the strand rate and BABIP. Maybe he discovered a better command of his pitches, or he just had a career-year. You decide for yourself.

06 October 2016: Boston Red Sox Starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) [7065] on the mound during the second inning of the American League Divisional Series Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated Boston 5-4. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

36. Jonathan Gray

On one hand, Gray put up a strong strikeout rate, a 43 percent ground ball rate, and a top-10 contact rate in 2016. He was also better than his ERA indicates; the xFIP was a full point lower. The downside is he is a Colorado pitcher, and it will take years of solid numbers for any fantasy player to consider overlooking that fact. Gray has the pedigree to succeed and is one of several Rockies pitchers to consider this year.

37. James Paxton

Like a number of pitchers on this list, Paxton was the victim of a bad BABIP and a poor contact rate. The addition of Jean Segura should hold with the latter. The walk rate was down, the K/9 was up to 8.70, the contact rate sat in elite territory, and he reined in the home runs and fly balls some. Paxton’s numbers will be much better in 2017, and a full-fledged breakout is not out of the question.

T-38. Kevin Gausman

There were only a few minor differences in Gausman’s batted-ball profile and plate discipline numbers. Unlike 2015, the results finally showed up in his ERA. Adding to his value is his home/road splits; Gausman has been a machine at home, more so the past two years. If you play the road matchups with caution you have a solid number-four pitcher to complement your aces.

T-38. John Lackey

Most times, when a pitcher hits 38 years of age we shy away from them, but Lackey’s ranking and ADP say owners and experts alike are not giving up. Last year the walk rate inched up, he gave up a few more fly balls and line drives, and received some BABIP love. However, the strikeouts increased and he produced a career-best contact rate. Expect some regression, but an overall solid performance.

40. Lance McCullers

Between the sore shoulder and sprained elbow we got a taste of what McCullers can do. The 11.78 K/9 was impressive, but the 5.00 BB/9 leaves a lot to be desired. He escaped any walk damage due to his extreme ground ball ways combined with a low fly ball and hard-hit rate. As long as there are no health issues this spring, you may want to reach a little early for the Astros future ace.

(Icon Sportswire)

41. Sean Manaea

This one is a wild card. Manaea pitched a total of 68 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before being thrown into the fire. While the overall results were promising, and the underlying metrics were solid, we are talking about an inexperienced kid who doubled his innings count from the previous season that the entire league got a look at last year. Expect some struggles the second time around.

42. Tanner Roark

When it comes to limiting hard contact and giving up soft contact, nobody does a better job than Roark. He has also improved his ground ball rate each year, and last year we saw a K/9 over 7.00. The xFIP and SIERA say the ERA is unsustainable, but they said the same thing in 2014. Maybe Roark is one of those guys that can out-pitch his metrics. Draft him with cautions optimism.

43. Jake Odorizzi

Outside of the ERA, 2015 and 2016 were basic carbon copies of each other. Odorizzi tinkered with his arsenal again, bringing back the slider to give him a fifth weapon to keep batters guessing. The fly ball rate is scary, and one of these years he will pay for it. Odorizzi doesn’t do any one thing special, but he does just enough across the board to deliver a solid (boring) stat-line.

44. Sonny Gray

Part of Gray’s demise can be attributed to a slightly higher BABIP and league-worst strand rate. The BABIP helps explain the increased walks and contact, but not the increase in hard contact. I’m willing to give him a partial mulligan as his xFIP was close to 4.00, and with a little luck he could finish with an ERA around 3.50, but don’t be surprised if he pulls a Julio Teheran and bounces back completely.

45. Aaron Nola

His final line doesn’t look like much at first glance, until you factor in the bad BABIP and horrendous strand rate. He also posted a K/9 of 9.81. Nola’s ground ball/soft contact profile plays well in Citizens Bank Park. Expect an ERA closer to 3.00 this time around, and don’t be surprised if Nola finishes as a top-25 pitcher. There’s sleeper potential here based on his current 210 ADP.

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) winds up to pitch during the MLB game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

T-46. Jeff Samardzija

That 2014 season is looking more and more like an outlier. He did finish strong, but it’s hard to overlook the mess he made over the summer months.  The contact rate is on a four-year rise, and the soft and hard contact rates are trending in the wrong direction. You’ll get 200+ innings with double-digit wins, an acceptable WHIP, and a few stretches with ace-like numbers. There will also be months where he is no better than a replacement-level pitcher.

T-46. Matt Shoemaker

Limited walks, solid control, limiting contact, and a better-than-average strikeout rate are some of the positive attributes for Shoemaker. Problem is, all that goes right out the window when he pitches on the road (4.74 ERA, 6.68 K/9). Shoemaker is a decent buy as long as you stick to home starts and limit the road exposure.

48. Drew Pomeranz

The jury is out on Pomeranz. He put up his best years in Oakland and in the first half last year in San Diego. Outside of that he hasn’t been good, and his 4.59 second-half ERA and 6.43 ERA at Fenway doesn’t support his case. The strikeouts have always been there which is nice. And he added a cutter last year, giving him a four pitch mix; maybe that can improve things.

49. Matt Harvey

It has been said that Harvey should be ready to go Opening Day. History has shown us that the type of surgery he had has not been kind to pitchers in the past. Fantasy owners should be optimistic as Harvey’s surgery wasn’t as invasive as others, but until we see him pitch and see how his arm holds up, there really is no way of knowing what you’ll have if you draft him.

T-50. Steven Matz

Matz enters 2017 as the embodiment of a high-risk, high-reward pitcher. The risk is almost entirely related to his health status, as he missed the final quarter of 2016 with a tight left shoulder and had offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. The reward is in his proven ability to throw strikes, freeze batters and get ground balls in bulk. Matz is reportedly in great health this spring, and his potential to help in all non-save categories makes him worth the gamble.

October 31, 2015: New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) [7334] delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of Game 4 of the 2015 World Series between the .vis. and the New York Mets at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

T-50. Robbie Ray

Ray is a singularly difficult pitcher to evaluate. His 11.3 K/9 ratio from last year makes him an attractive pick, especially since his 4.90 ERA will keep his price down. Then there are the reasons for that near-5.00 ERA: the high walk (3.7 BB/9) and home run rates (1.2 HR/9), the propensity to allow hard contact (36.6 percent rate) and difficulty in stranding runners (69 percent). All of these, except for the home run rate, were in line with his previous norms. There is little risk, however, to drafting him outside of the top-50 starting pitchers.

52. Carlos Rodon

Rodon’s sophomore season was one of incremental change. After throwing 60 percent of his pitches for strikes over his first nine starts, he increased that rate to 64 percent over his remaining 19 outings. Then in his final 11 starts, he figured out how to keep the ball in the park, allowing just six home runs over 66.2 innings. Those starts produced a 3.11 ERA that the lefty very well could sustain throughout the 2017 season, while also recording at least a strikeout per inning.

T-53. J.A. Happ

Happ wasn’t able to replicate his high strikeout rate from his late-2015 stint with the Pirates, but he found another avenue to success. In his 2016 return engagement with the Blue Jays, Happ employed his sinker more often, and of all his offerings, that was the pitch that was most likely to induce a swing but least likely to cause a whiff. The Blue Jays’ strong infield defense helped him to hold opponents to a .194 batting average on grounders. Which version of Happ will show up in 2017? Regardless of the answer, Happ has been finding ways to succeed in different situations.

T-53. Julio Urias

If not for being subjected to an innings limit, Urias would likely be much higher on this list. He had few problems with major league hitters, posting a 3.39 ERA and 9.8 K/9, even though he didn’t turn 20 until last August. Just imagine what Urias will accomplish if he shaves down a 3.6 BB/9 and 27 percent line drive rate. He will be worth rostering, even if he will not offer much in some weeks due to workload restrictions.

55. Garrett Richards

Owners who draft Richards will be taking a risk, and not only because the Angels ace is coming back from a torn elbow ligament that was not surgically repaired. Richards will have his workload managed, and it remains to be seen how deep he will be able to go in games. After receiving stem cell therapy, Richards was able to pitch in instructional league last fall and has reportedly been pitching without pain this spring. Though limited pitch counts may impede his strikeout total, Richards could still help with ERA and wins.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Starting pitcher Garrett Richards (43) [5654] delivers a pitch to the plate during the second inning of the game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. The game is being delayed by rain with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning. Photographer: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

(Icon Sportswire)

T-56. Jared Eickhoff

Eickhoff was a steady presence in the Phillies’ rotation last season, making 33 starts and throwing 197.1 innings in his first full season. His sharp control and slight fly ball tendencies helped him to keep his WHIP down to a svelte 1.16. Though he compiled a 3.32 ERA at Citizens Bank Park, the 19 home runs he allowed there in 108.1 innings serve as a sign that he might be best used as a streaming option for weeks when the Phillies are playing in less cozy confines.

T-56. Adam Wainwright

Wainwright’s return to the Cardinals’ rotation after missing most of 2015 with a torn Achilles did not go especially well. He did make 33 starts while going 13-9, but his 22 home runs allowed and 31.2 percent hard-contact rate were career-highs. Wainwright also threw strikes at his lowest rate since 2008. If he can throw strikes and limit hard contact once again, the 35-year-old could be a bargain.

T-56. Vince Velasquez

A promising start to Velasquez’s first full season in the majors got overshadowed by the difficulties he encountered from mid-May until he was shut down in early September due to an innings limit. Velasquez struck out 93 batters over his final 82.2 innings, but he registered a 5.12 ERA over that span. Over the course of the season, his slider, changeup and curveball were all pounded for slugging percentages above .500, so Velasquez will have to improve his secondary pitches if he is to succeed.

T-59. Joe Ross

Ross was shaping into a reliable fantasy option early last season, as he had a 2.37 ERA through his first 10 starts. Then, in the month prior to going on the disabled list for shoulder inflammation, he allowed line drives at an alarming 33 percent rate. Like Velasquez, Ross may have been hurt by a limited arsenal; 91 percent of his pitches were either sinkers or sliders. Perhaps his efforts to improve his changeup can take him to the next level in 2017.

T-59. Anthony DeSclafani

DeSclafani’s season started more than two months late due to an oblique strain, but almost instantly, he proved himself to be a workhorse. Only four of DeSclafani’s 20 starts lasted fewer than six innings. His efficiency could make him particularly valuable in points leagues or any format that rewards quality starts. The odds are against him, however, to repeat a 78 percent strand rate and, in turn, a sub-3.30 ERA.

28 SEPTEMBER 2016: Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (28) delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals at Bush Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire)

61. Matt Moore

Moore’s first full season back from Tommy John surgery was both a triumph and a frustration. The lefty saw his average fastball velocity rise slightly, and he nearly got his K/9 ratio back to pre-surgery levels. In his 21 starts with the Rays, Moore even showed improved control, walking 2.8 batters per nine innings, After his trade to the Giants, he improved his strikeout and home run rates, but his BB/9 shot back up into the familiar territory above 4.0. The temporary improvement in control is encouraging, but owners can’t bank on Moore delivering that again in 2017.

62. Marco Estrada

As he has done over the course of his career, Estrada did a great job of getting batters to pop up his fastballs, but this time around, he also induced called strikes with his primary pitch at a much higher rate. That meant that, in addition to getting opponents to make frequent outs on balls in play, Estrada got 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. With back-to-back seasons with a sub-3.50 ERA and sub-1.15 WHIP, he is reliable enough to draft in standard mixed leagues, even if he is still a little too homer-prone.

63. Michael Pineda

On the surface, Pineda seems to have much in common with Robbie Ray in that he gets plenty of strikeouts (including a 10.6 K/9 last season) but doesn’t have a low ERA to show for it. Yet Pineda doesn’t allow as much hard contact as his Diamondbacks counterpart, and he has better control. At age 28, time may be running out for Pineda to have his breakout season, but given that his underlying peripherals are solid, it’s too soon to give up on him.

T-64. Jharel Cotton

Cotton boosted his stock dramatically with a brilliant five-start debut with the Athletics late last season. Much of his success – particularly his 1.2 BB/9 – came from getting batters to chase changeups outside of the strike zone. That, along with a 14 percent line drive rate, were instrumental to Cotton’s 2.15 ERA, but it may not be wise to assume he will be able to achieve either feat over a whole season. He is a good late-round target, but carries too much risk to be worth reaching for any earlier.

T-64. Taijuan Walker

After a season marred by foot issues and home runs galore, Walker was given a change of scenery, getting traded to the Diamondbacks in the Jean Segura trade. The 24-year-old has shown the ability to miss bats and throw strikes, and having had surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle this offseason, maybe Walker can be more effective and consistent. Moving to Chase Field won’t make it easy for Walker to improve on his 1.5 HR/9 from the last two seasons in Seattle.

Arizona Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker throws during spring training baseball workouts, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

66. Collin McHugh

After doing a superb job of limiting extra-base hits the previous two seasons, McHugh got hit around in 2016. On his normally-reliable curveball, which yielded an .089 Iso and six home runs between 2014 and 2015, opponents posted a .149 Iso with seven home runs last season. If McHugh can limit extra-base hits once again, he can be an efficient innings-eater who can rack up wins.

67. Alex Cobb

On average, Cobb is currently being taken outside the top-300 overall in NFBC drafts, reflecting some wariness after a bumpy late-season return from Tommy John surgery. One has to wonder if he would be getting more consideration if his final two starts went better. Cobb compiled a 3.06 ERA in his first three of five starts, but he allowed 15 earned runs over 4.1 innings in his last two outings. Investing in a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery is always risky, but Cobb should have much more to offer than his final 2016 stat line (1-2, 8.59 ERA, 1.77 WHIP) would suggest.

68. Ivan Nova

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has been credited with reviving the careers of several pitches, and Nova is his latest success story. He compiled a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts with Pittsburgh after leaving the Yankees with a 4.90 ERA. Some of that improvement can probably be chalked up to leaving the American League East (and Yankee Stadium in particular), but it seems like more than coincidence that Nova threw 48.1 percent of his pitches in the strike zone with the Pirates after pitching in the zone 41.6 percent of the time with the Yankees. Even if Nova continues to be one of the majors’ better control pitchers, his relative lack of strikeouts limits his value.

69. Drew Smyly

Of pitchers who threw at least 170 innings last season, only Jered Weaver had a lower ground ball rate than Smyly. Predictably, the Rays lefty had big problems with the long ball, allowing 32 of them in 175.1 innings. That played a significant role in Smyly’s 4.88 ERA, but so did the .294 batting average he allowed on ground balls. Sadly, that was not far out of line with the .283 average on grounders allowed by the Rays’ staff, but Smyly should get a much bigger assist from the Mariners’ infield defense.

T-70. Daniel Norris

Last season was a trying one for Norris, who not only dealt with recovery from thyroid cancer but back and oblique injuries as well. Yet despite his health issues and getting shuttled between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo, Norris made major strides when he did take the mound for the Tigers. He left behind the control issues that plagued him for much of his professional career, increasing his strikes-thrown rate from his rookie season mark of 60 percent to 64 percent. Norris also struck out 71 batters in 69.2 innings. If he can stay healthy and keep the ball in the park, he will be an absolute steal.

August 30, 2016: Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (44) pitches during a regular season game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers played at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

T-70. Blake Snell

Snell was one of the most anticipated prospect call-ups last season, and he showed he could strike out major league hitters with a 9.9 K/9. He also proved to be adept at avoiding pulled fly balls, which helped him to hold opponents to a .098 Iso. If Snell can cut back his astronomical 5.2 BB/9, the Rays could have themselves another ace. As it stands, Snell is too hazardous to your WHIP to be drafted any earlier than the late rounds.

72. Zach Davies

Davies doesn’t throw hard and may not be much better than a 4.00 ERA pitcher over the long haul, but he does have some late-round appeal. He could be the new Bronson Arroyo, pitching with command and efficiency while racking up innings and potentially lowering your staff’s WHIP.

73. Ian Kennedy

Kennedy is yet another starter who has strikeout-per-inning stuff but allows too many homers. He has been an extreme fly ball pitcher his entire career, but at least last season, Kennedy benefitted from an .057 BABIP on flies. That will be harder to achieve with Jarrod Dyson no longer roaming the Royals’ outfield.

74. Francisco Liriano

Liriano’s largely successful tenure with the Pirates ended on a down note, as his control issues re-emerged with a vengeance. Dealt to the Blue Jays at the Aug. 1 deadline, Liriano rediscovered the strike zone, throwing 64 percent of his pitches for strikes, but he coughed up seven home runs in 49.1 innings. Even at his best, Liriano has been inefficient, and owners should not count on more than 170 innings from him.

75. Hasashi Iwakuma

The 3.88 ERA Iwakuma compiled from July forward last year masks the improvement he made from the early portion of the season. After allowing 17 homers in the first three months, he cut that number down to 11 for the final three months. If not for the .282 batting average he allowed on ground balls during that span, he could have shaved his 1.33 WHIP substantially. There is no reason to think that Iwakuma’s high WHIP was all of his own doing.

Also receiving votes: Tyler Anderson, Robert Gsellman, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Wacha, Mike Foltynewicz, Adam Conley, Gio Gonzalez, Luis Severino, Brandon Finnegan, Patrick Corbin, Dylan Bundy, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn 

Write-ups: 1-25 — Greg Jewett; 26-50 — Jim Finch; 51-75 — Al Melchior

To Top