2018 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitchers 1-12
Evaluating and ranking starting pitchers is difficult at best. Unlike their position player counterparts, pitchers are extremely reliant on the fielders behind him, the hitters for run support, and the bullpen to preserve their leads. Wins haven’t had the stranglehold on the game that they had in the past, but many are still mesmerized by brilliant won-loss records. Talent evaluators know that wins are the last statistic you look at, but wins and WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) are based at least partially on the support of teammates.
That coupled with the advancement of daily fantasy sports makes evaluating those pitchers more difficult than many might think. Like with the position players, we will include total points (our own formula), the standard four categories, and a fifth category (quality starts). We will divide the universe into five articles with each article profiling a dozen pitchers. Twelve teams tends to be the average in fantasy leagues and those twelve teams will employ five pitchers a piece on average.
Total points = (2) Innings + Strikeouts + (3) Wins – Walks – Hits – ER – (3) Losses
Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Aggregate: 17 Wins, 1.95 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 229 SO, 23 QS 4 Category: 1
Per 162: 17 Wins, 2.36 ERA, 1.002 WHIP, 248 SO, 24 QS 5 Category: 2
Steamer: 16 Wins, 2.76 ERA, 1.019 WHIP, 240 SO, — DRS: -2
Kershaw is a sure fire Hall of Famer. The only question is whether he will go down as Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson. The only thing that has ever gotten in his way has been health. He has missed significant chunks of three of the last four seasons. Otherwise, he would likely have at least one more Cy Young award to his name. Steamer is projecting a step backwards, but even then he will still be the best in baseball.
Max Scherzer—Washington Nationals
Aggregate: 18 Wins, 2.86 ERA, 0.987 WHIP, 264 SO, 24 QS 4 Category: 2
Per 162: 16 Wins, 3.30 ERA, 1.119 WHIP, 243 SO, 21 QS 5 Category: 1
Steamer: 15 Wins, 3.39 ERA, 1.091 WHIP, 257 SO, —- DRS: -1
Attendance is still part of the grade, so some would be defensible in selecting Scherzer as the first pitcher off the board. He has three Cy Youngs and also has punched his ticket for the Hall of Fame. Interestingly enough, his per 162 numbers are worse because they chronicle his entire career instead of just the past five seasons. Clearly he has taken a step forward since moving to Washington.
Chris Sale—Boston Red Sox
Aggregate: 14 Wins, 2.98 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, 250 SO, 23 QS 4 Category: 3
Per 162: 14 Wins, 2.98 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 240 SO, 20 QS 5 Category: 3
Steamer: 15 Wins, 3.18 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 242 SO, —– DRS: +2
Unlike the others, Sale began his career in the bullpen, so the per 162 game data lags a little. Sale was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the AL last year but faded down the stretch and in the playoffs. That leaves some to want to back off of Sale for this season. That might be, but he hasn’t had any problems yet in his career.
Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians
Aggregate: 15 Wins, 3.03 ERA, 1.067 WHIP, 228 SO. 20 QS 4 Category: 4
Per 162: 16 Wins, 3.13 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, 247 SO, 22 QS 5 Category: 4
Steamer: 14 Wins, 3.28 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, 224 SO, —- DRS: -1
Kluber is a great example of why wins are highly deceiving. His 2014 season was legitimately better than his others, but the distance between them was not nearly as much as the won-loss records would have you believe. A 9-16 record looks like an awful season, but it was really just bad luck. Invest in the other three categories and you will usually come out ahead. Add in that fifth category and you definitely will come out ahead.
Madison Bumgarner—San Francisco Giants
Aggregate: 14 Wins, 2.95 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 201 SO, 20 QS 4 Category: 5
Per 162: 15 Wins, 3.01 ERA, 1.097 WHIP, 217 SO, 23 QS 5 Category: 5
Steamer: 13 Wins, 3.69 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, 198 SO, —– DRS: +2
Bumgarner is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 14 postseason starts and 16 total postseason games. It is easy to see why some fantasy players might overvalue him with a record like that. His 2017 season will likely drop him to where he should be. The fifth spot is based primarily on past performance. Steamer points to some regression which could drop him to the bottom of the top ten or even lower. That being said, the Giants should be better offensively and defensively next season, so there is hope for improvement in these numbers.
Zack Greinke—Arizona Diamondbacks
Aggregate: 16 Wins, 2.91 ERA, 1.091 WHIP, 181 SO, 21 QS 4 Category: 6
Per 162: 15 Wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 189 SO, 22 QS 5 Category: 6
Steamer: 13 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.212 WHIP, 195 SO, —– DRS: +4
The Dbacks are actively shopping Greinke and there have been no takers. That says more about the pitching market than anything about Greinke. He is a legitimate ace, but pitchers almost always fail to live up their hefty price whether in real baseball or fantasy baseball. From here it can be difficult to discern the difference between the very good and the pretty good. There is a difference, but the differences between very good and merely good position players might be greater.
Stephen Strasburg—Washington Nationals
Aggregate: 13 Wins, 3.14 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, 195 SO, 18 QS 4 Category: 7
Per 162: 16 Wins, 3.07 ERA, 1.081 WHIP, 238 SO, 22 QS 5 Category: 11
Steamer: 14 Wins, 3.44 ERA, 1.154 WHIP, 216 SO, —– DRS: 0
The Nationals have had two of the top five starters in the National League for the past several seasons but have never advanced to the World Series. That would have been unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago, but it goes to show that the importance of starting pitchers is not what it used to be. Still, Steamer’s projections demonstrate that he Is closer to his peak than the pitchers immediately before in the rankings.
David Price—Boston Red Sox
Aggregate: 13 Wins, 3.28 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, 190 SO, 19 QS 4 Category: 11
Per 162: 16 Wins, 3.27 ERA, 1.144 WHIP, 216 SO, 21 QS 5 Category: 12
Steamer: 13 Wins, 3.81 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 181 SO, —– DRS: +1
One of the biases that is difficult to overcome is the recency bias. In the case of Price that would be his performance in the playoffs last season. He didn’t make it back from injury in time to reinsert himself in the playoff rotation, but he was healthy enough to be a key reliever in the ALDS. He pitched in two of the four games and hurled six and two thirds scoreless innings. That’s enough to make us believe he is back.
Carlos Carrasco—Cleveland Indians
Aggregate: 13 Wins, 3.20 ERA, 1.075 WHIP, 183 SO, 14 QS 4 Category: 10
Per 162: 13 Wins, 3.78 ERA, 1.197 WHIP, 193 SO, 20 QS 5 Category: 14
Steamer: 13 Wins, 3.48 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 191 SO, —— DRS: +3
Carrasco has only been a full-time for only three seasons. So we could almost ignore his 2014 numbers and focus on 2015 through 2017. If we do that then he averages 305 points per season and over ten points per game. In that prism his ninth place ranking makes a lot more sense. Add to that a ton of support from a great bullpen and a nice lineup and his overall profile plays up. This doesn’t even mention the fact that he is coming off a great season.
Jacob deGrom—New York Mets
Aggregate: 11 Wins, 2.95 ERA, 1.127 WHIP, 183 SO, 19 QS 4 Category: 13
Per 162: 14 Wins, 2.98 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 232 SO, 22 QS 5 Category: 13
Steamer: 13 Wins, 3.47 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 226 SO, —– DRS: -2
The Mets are an interesting study in the development of young pitching. In three different decades (1980s, 2000s, 2010s) they have developed a group of young pitchers that were supposed to dominate the game. Each time, only one pitcher has emerged from that group to come close to expectations. deGrom is that guy from the current group. As long as he is healthy is a solid top ten option.
Jake Arrieta—Free Agent
Aggregate: 14 Wins, 3.14 ERA, 1.097 WHIP, 163 SO, 17 QS 4 Category: 12
Per 162: 15 Wins, 3.57 ERA, 1.169 WHIP, 188 SO, 21 QS 5 Category: 16
Steamer: 11 Wins, 4.20 ERA, 1.316 WHIP, 157 SO, —– DRS: -2
Arrieta’s 2017 season didn’t do him any favors. Take away his 2013 campaign and he easily would be a top five or six pitcher according to the numbers, but that belies the evidence of rot that every team undoubtedly notices. This is keeping him from getting that five or six year deal most big time hurlers covet. Still, he is a decent bet for one more season of all-star quality performance depending on who signs him.
Justin Verlander—Houston Astros
Aggregate: 13 Wins, 3.56 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 192 SO, 21 QS 4 Category: 17
Per 162: 17 Wins, 3.46 ERA, 1.184 WHIP, 213 SO, 23 QS 5 Category: 15
Steamer: 14 Wins, 3.95 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 229 SO, —– DRS: 0
When evaluating pitchers in an analytical sense we try to distill out the costs and benefits of the team the pitcher pitches on. In other words, Verlander shouldn’t get any extra credit for pitching on the best team in baseball. Yet, in fantasy terms we have to consider these things. Steamer obviously isn’t considering that. All things considered, he should be better than that and that is why he winds up making the first cut of starting pitchers.