We’ve gone through just about every position with our reboot of the rankings. PECOTA does pretty well with position player projections, but pitching is a more challenging group. There are so many moving parts that are beyond the pitcher’s control. We still have a few free agents left. Making predictions for them when they don’t have a team of fielders or home ballpark seems like a fool’s errand. We waited this long to make that list as short as possible.
We are looking at only the four major categories that govern the industry. Obviously, more goes into determining who is actually valuable and who isn’t. Baseball Propectus (the makers of PECOTA) have projected a lot more than the four major categories. Their annual publication is gold mine of information. This time (just for fun) we will be going through the rankings in reverse order. Maybe it will help build some suspense.
60. Mike Leake— Seattle Mariners
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 4.07 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 104 SO
There is a considerable faction of fantasy experts that will tell you it is far better to pick two good middle relievers in lieu of a fifth starter. I can’t say I disagree with them. Add two relievers together and you likely eclipse every one of these numbers. Of course, Leake could just as easily win 15 games and have an ERA in the low 3.00s. He pitches to contact, so he is at the mercy of batted ball luck.
59. Sean Manaea— Oakland Athletics
PECOTA: 9 Wins, 4.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 137 SO
Last year I had an angry A’s fan insist that Manaea was the best fantasy prospect on the A’s. This was when they were still employing Sonny Gray. Now, he might be right. Unfortunately, so much of a pitcher’s value is dependent on the team around him. The A’s have a shaky bullpen and shakier fielding. That has a way of diminishing value.
58. Zach Davies— Milwaukee Brewers
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 4.09 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 138 SO
Value can be accurately defined as the appreciable difference between one player and another. In some cases we compare it to the average and other cases to replacement level. In fantasy sports it is always to the next available player. How is Davies superior to Manaea? Well, he plays on a better team. Other than that I really can’t tell the difference.
57. Jordan Montgomery— New York Yankees
PECOTA: 11 Wins, 4.32 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 143 SO
Montgomery is better than Manaea and Leake solely because he is on a pennant contending team. The Yankees will score more runs and their bullpen might be the best in baseball. Those two factors equal more wins. I wish wins weren’t a major consideration in fantasy baseball. It’s quite possibly the most unfair statistic in the sport. Saves might be the only other contender, but that’s a different story for a different time.
56. J.A. Happ— Toronto Blue Jays
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 4.03 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 133 SO
Winning 20 games was probably the worst thing that could have happened to Happ in 2016. It created unfair expectations that were impossible for him to reach. Now that he has returned to Earth he is in a perfect position. Not much is expected again and that seems to be a place where he shines.
55. Cole Hamels— Texas Rangers
PECOTA: 12 Wins, 4.75 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 187 SO
Hamels tests the theory of multiple middle relievers as much if not more than any other pitcher. He strikes out a healthy number of hitters because he is durable and pitches deep into games. He gives up more than a healthy number of runs while he does it. So, are you better getting a guaranteed 180 to 200 innings or rolling the dice on two 70-90 inning relievers?
54. Marcus Stroman— Toronto Blue Jays
PECOTA: 11 Wins, 3.77 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 141 SO
Stroman might be worth more in real baseball than the fantasy kind. He seems to have more base runners than he should and doesn’t strike out as many batters as he should. Still, he gets outs and seems to get them on a consistent basis. Who knows? If he gets traded to a better team with better hitters and fielders maybe he becomes a little more valuable.
53. Felix Hernandez— Seattle Mariners
PECOTA: 11 Wins, 4.36 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 156 SO
King Felix is like the girl with runway model looks that grows up in the small town. If only he pitched somewhere else or if he had come of age a few seasons earlier when the Mariners were really good then he would be legend. As it stands, he is a borderline Hall of Famer that might not ever get to chance to show value in October. His window as a frontline starter is closing rapidly.
52. Michael Fulmer— Detroit Tigers
PECOTA: 10 Wuns, 4.04 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 146 SO
Fulmer is like an explorer standing in the wilderness. He is the lone competent pitcher on a staff stacked with expensive and mediocre veterans and kids that have no business being in the majors. He might get better than average run support, but I wouldn’t count on any bullpen support.
51. Kenta Maeda— Los Angeles Dodgers
PECOTA: 9 Wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 137 SO
The only thing standing between Maeda and top 40 status is Dave Roberts. He pulled him from the rotation last season and PECOTA is projecting it again. The Dodgers might be the deepest team in big league baseball. That’s ultimately a good thing, but bad on an individual basis. At least it is in fantasy terms.
50. Drew Pomeranz— Boston Red Sox
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 156 SO
As we saw with Davies, the appreciable difference between a pitcher like Pomeranz and the others has more to do with those around Pomeranz than Pomeranz himself. He has some nagging injuries from Spring Training that might affect him at the starting blocks. Keep in mind though, baseball is a marathon and not a sprint.
49. Michael Foltynewicz— Atlanta Braves
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 3.93 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 166 SO
The needle is pointed up for the prize of the Evan Gattis trade. He showed spurts of ace performance for a pitcher with frontline starter stuff. He still needs more support from his teammates before he takes the next step in terms of fantasy production. One more solid season could end up pushing him over the edge into the top 40.
48. Danny Salazar— Cleveland Indians
PECOTA: 9 Wins, 3.71 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 SO
The Indians are flirting with the notion of using Salazar in the bullpen. In that case, he would become the right-handed version of Andrew Miller. Oddly enough, throw in 10 to 15 starts and he becomes eligible as both a starter and a reliever. This is the old debate on whether 100 dominant innings are worth more than 160 solid innings. It’s a fascinating debate.
47. Tanner Roark— Washington Nationals
PECOTA: 12 Wins, 4.11 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 147 SO
How good is the Nationals bullpen? They certainly added more at the deadline last season than any other team and all three of those additions are back for more fun. The Nationals offense is also one of the more explosive in the game. Roark himself is about as good as most of the guys we have profiled so far, but we are seeing a common theme here.
46. Sonny Gray— New York Yankees
PECOTA: 13 Wins, 4.16 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 155 SO
As a groundball guy, Gray relies more heavily on the fielders behind him than most other pitchers. How good will the Yankees be with a relatively new infield? Everything would seem to point to Gray being better than this. The A’s were the worst fielding team in the American League and he still beat these numbers in Oakland. Then again, that’s a much better pitching environment.
45. Julio Teheran— Atlanta Braves
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 4.13 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 185 SO
Teheran has value because of his awesome durability. He is almost guaranteed to go 180 innings and if he gets some decent batted ball luck he could end up pitching like an ace. With bad batted ball luck he ends up looking rather ordinary really quickly. That makes him a decent value play here. Let’s hope we see the Teheran from a couple of seasons ago.
44. Charlie Morton— Houston Astros
PECOTA: 12 Wins, 3.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 150 SO
Morton has never lasted through an entire season 100 percent healthy. He likely won’t this season either. Still, he might be better in 25 starts than a lot of other pitchers in 30 starts. The Astros have more than enough starting pitchers, so it will be interesting to see how A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow negotiate this season.
43. Michael Wacha— St. Louis Cardinals
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 147 SO
Wacha came up looking like one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball. He regressed into a fourth or fifth starter. Last year he finally settled into the kind of middle of the rotation starter most teams would love to have. With the impending loss of Lance Lynn, he will get an opportunity to solidify himself as the Cardinals number two starter.
42. Jameson Taillon— Pittsburgh Pirates
PECOTA: 10 Wins, 3.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 153 SO
Cancer derailed his career for at least a season and he finally is ready to pick up where he left off. Unfortunately, the Pirates were gutted in order to save money. Otherwise, he would easily be a top 40 pitcher. He simply doesn’t have the talent around him to be a frontline fantasy starter. He deserves a lot better.
41. Garrett Richards— Los Angeles Angels
PECOTA: 11 Wins, 3.78 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 170 SO
Richards is a mixed bag. He has the talent to be a top 40 pitcher and the offense clearly would throw him over the threshold, but the Angels bullpen would turn the Dalia Lama into a chainsmoking nervous wreck that might drink you under the table. Couple that with his injury history and it just doesn’t make sense to put that much faith in him.