Evaluating pitchers is easily the hardest thing to do in fantasy baseball. So much of what pitchers do is dependent on those around them. As researchers, scouts, and statisticians put their heads together, the more they realize how much fielding impacts pitching and pitchers’ numbers. Throw in the fantasy element of relying on wins (and losses in some leagues) and you see how incredibly difficult it is to project success or failure.
Like with the hitters, we are taking the projections for the top 36 starters and ranking them against the median. In this case, the median was taken by plotting every AL starter projected to pitch 100 or more innings and taking the median of their numbers in each indivual statistic. We will include the four major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts) along with innings. Pitchers that meet the median will see their numbers labeled in green font. Players that fail to meet the median will see their numbers labeled in red font. We will include the National League numbers as a point of reference, but any actual comparisons will be coincidental.
AL Starters: 10 wins, 161 innings, 4.24 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 145 strikeouts
NL Starters: 9 wins, 156 innings, 4.00 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 143 strikeouts
Chris Archer— Tampa Bay Rays
PECOTA: 12/189/3.35/1.18/225 (+5)
3 Year: 10/202/3.53/1.22/219
Consider Archer exhibit one on the perils of predicting pitching performance. Last season was likely just like any other in terms of his actual performance. His ERA was a little higher, but that could be attributed to issues behind him. Still, he finished with a league worst 19 losses. In the old days, that would be considered a failure. Fans are more sophisticated now, but fantasy baseball has yet to catch up in that regard.
Carlos Carrasco— Cleveland Indians
PECOTA: 14/180/3.47/1.23/197 (+5)
3 Year: 11/155/3.16/1.07/169
More volume usually comes with higher numbers in the ERA and WHIP department. That’s just the way the world works, but seeing Carrasco’s numbers reveals the depth of starting pitching throughout the sport. Certainly, five category performers (or four in this instance) should raise your eyebrows some, but there are more of these guys available than you think.
Yu Darvish– Texas Rangers
PECOTA: 12/174/3.59/1.20/217 (+5)
3 Year: 10/152/3.10/1.16/197
Darvish is yet another five category performer. Half of the pitchers we will profile in the American League are five category performers. The key is to look at how far from the median these guys are in each category. I personally almost throw out wins as a general rule. We can look at the categories these guys have control over and start from there. Darvish is very valuable because of the strikeouts. Everything else is almost pure conjecture.
Danny Duffy— Kansas City Royals
PECOTA: 8/159/4.09/1.26/154 (+3)
3 Year: 9/155/3.38/1.21/134
Duffy is a borderline fantasy starter at this point. Much of this is not his fault. The Royals are in retooling mode for the timebeing. Their once vaunted bullpen is more or less mediocre and their lineup lacks some punch. Those two elements don’t bode well for fantasy wins. Every other element of Duffy’s game screams median at this point. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are too many guys available to prioritize his services.
Marco Estrada— Toronto Blue Jays
PECOTA: 10/165/5.33/1.38/148 (+3)
3 Year: 10/169/3.66/1.12/141
Someone once said that past is prologue. Based on past performance, we aren’t exactly sure what the folks at Baseball Prospectus are thinking. Actually, we do when we look beyond these numbers. His fielding independent pitching the past three seasons have been 4.88, 4.40, and 4.16. He led the league in hits allowed per nine innings the past two seasons despite some pretty pedestrian strikeout rates. In other words, he is a huge regression candidate.
Michael Fulmer— Detroit Tigers
PECOTA: 8/130/4.00/1.29/112 (+2)
3 Year: 11/159/3.06/1.12/132
You can’t very well leave the reigning Rookie of the Year off of the rankings altogether, but the projected numbers leave a lot to be desired. He did have a 3.76 FIP last season, so we can see the seeds for a so-called sophomore slump. The reality is probably closer to classic regression. That coupled with hitters making adjustments and you get a more or less average pitcher.
Kevin Gausman— Baltimore Orioles
PECOTA: 10/165/4.22/1.34/156 (+5)
3 Year: 7/135/3.81/1.27/122
There is mediocre and then there is fantasy mediocre. Gausman is essentially the median pitcher in the American League. However, that includes a universe of 71 starters projected to go 100 innings or more. Being average amongst that group means you are borderline draftable in standard 12 team leagues. We could expect him to be better than the projection, but even then you are talking about a guy that has little exciting to offer.
Sonny Gray— Oakland Athletics
PECOTA: 9/174/4.04/1.26/148 (+4)
3 Year: 11/178/3.83/1.25/149
There isn’t a lot to the imagination with these numbers from PECOTA. They are essentially identical to the three year numbers. The question for you is whether you get the healthy Gray or the banged and beat up Gray. Early spring results are not promising on that front, but he still has time to get ready for the season. It is also important to ask whether he will be in an A’s uniform once the season ends. A trade to a contender could make him a five category performer.
Cole Hamels— Texas Rangers
PECOTA: 13/194/3.70/1.28/200 (+5)
3 Year: 12/206/3.14/1.21/204
Hamels is not dominant in any single category. There are guys that have better ERAs and WHIPs. There are guys that strike out more guys. There are guys that win more games and pitch more innings. There are very few guys that do all of those things quite like Hamels. There is something to be said for the combination of good and durable. He may not quite be a SP1 in standard 12 player leagues, but he is one heck of a SP2.
J.A. Happ— Toronto Blue Jays
PECOTA: 10/165/4.46/1.40/147 (+3)
3 Year: 14/175/3.67/1.26/149
The PECOTA drop off is a bit hard to explain. Happ’s career FIP is 4.16, but he has been considerably better in the last three seasons. Admittedly, the 20 win season is probably a once in a lifetime kind of deal, but 12 wins and an ERA around 4.00 seems pretty reasonable. Still, he should probably be a SP5 or SP6 in your mixed league.
Felix Hernandez— Seattle Mariners
PECOTA: 13/196/3.85/1.27/196 (+5)
3 Year: 15/197/3.13/1.14/187
There are any number of theories behind pitching and they seem to divide themselves on generation. The old guys could supposedly pitch 300 innings a season until the cows came home, but that wasn’t exactly true. The truth is that some guys are gifted enough to pitch forever, but most guys have an internal pitch count somewhere in that arm. The rub is that you don’t know where it is until you hit that mark. Something says that King Felix might be getting close. Proceed with caution.
Hisashi Iwakuma— Seattle Mariners
PECOTA: 12/183/4.05/1.22/161 (+5)
3 Year: 13/169/3.73/1.15/137
There was that one day in high school when Sally came walking in. She looks really good and you think to yourself that you don’t remember looking that good before. Then, the next day comes and everything returns to normal. I guess we all have those days where we look better than others. Iwakuma is the same that way. You look up one day and you see 16 wins. You get excited and then you look at the other numbers. Somehow that dress she wore that one day can’t last forever.
Dallas Keuchel— Houston Astros
PECOTA: 15/186/3.55/1.22/170 (+5)
3 Year: 14/200/3.32/1.16/169
Keuchel’s hiccup in 2016 probably could have been predicted. When you combine to pitch more than 250 innings between the regular season and postseason you are probably due some arm trouble. Plus, Keuchel will probably never be that guy (the Cy Young version) ever again, but a return to the form he showed in 2014 is probably a good bet and would return the Astros to the playoffs in all likelihood.
Corey Kluber— Cleveland Indians
PECOTA: 15/194/3.43/1.23/217 (+5)
3 Year: 15/224/3.02/1.07/247
Kluber has a very solid claim on the top spot among AL starters. Of course, guys like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer can probably easily surpass anything the AL has to offer, but Kluber should not wait long to hear his name called. He is easily a top five starting pitcher in all of baseball and the Indians only got better in the offseason.
Francisco Liriano— Toronto Blue Jays
PECOTA: 10/168/4.22/1.43/177 (+4)
3 Year: 9/171/3.82/1.33/183
No is quite certain why things went wrong in Pittsburgh, but he did rebound nicely following his trade to the Blue Jays. Was 2016 a blip on the radar or is Liriano destined to be an up and down pitcher? No one is quite sure what the answer to that question is, so Liriano will be an intriguing risk/reward candidate on draft day. He could be a very interesting sleeper candidate.
Sean Manaea— Oakland Athletics
PECOTA: 7/127/3.97/1.29/111 (+2)
3 Year: 7/144/3.86/1.19/124
This one is a mystery to me. The rate statstics seem fine as they are reasonably close to what he did last season. He had a 4.08 FIP, so the spike in ERA and WHIP seems reasonable enough. He fails to reach the wins and strikeouts threshold almost exclusively because they expect him to pitch less. I’m not sure where that is coming from, but I’m sure they have a good reason for believing it. 200 innings is probably outrageously optimistic, but I could see him in the 160-170 inning category. Adjust accordingly.
Lance McCullers— Houston Astros
PECOTA: 11/148/3.46/1.34/170 (+4)
3 Year: 6/104/3.22/1.33/118
McCullers is what we would call a maximum effort guy. That’s not a good thing. It takes him 20 to 25 pitches to get out of innings even when he doesn’t give up runs. The next step in his maturation process will be becoming more efficient. That probably more than the health concerns will answer whether he will become a long-term solution. If so, he could add volume wins and strikeouts to those solid ERA numbers.
Collin McHugh— Houston Astros
PECOTA: 12/174/3.94/1.30/166 (+5)
3 year: 14/181/3.65/1.23/168
McHugh is a five category guy, but he is barely above the median in most of the categories. He doesn’t dominate in any single category. Unfortunately, no methadology for picking players is fool proof. Sometimes you just have to use some common sense. Like in the real sport, McHugh is no better than a third or fourth starter. You could probably stretch that out to SP4 or SP5 in a standard 12 team mixed league.