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Creating a good fantasy rotation is all about having depth and balance between good ratios, but also great strikeout rates. This is where the hard part comes on draft day. Drafting one of the top 25 starting pitchers is easy as we discussed last time, but the following pitchers have question marks in their game or have issues staying healthy. You don’t need to spend a high round pick on a pitcher to begin your fantasy rotation because there aren’t as many workhorses as there used to be. With the 10-day disabled list, we see teams cycling their second through fifth starters through there for extra rest or nuisance injuries, such as blisters. So depth is always important and you will need plenty of arms to keep your rotation afloat throughout the season.
The following rankings were done based on standard 5×5 head to head leagues.
26) Jake Arrieta- Arrieta was sitting in limbo for a while this off-season, but he finally found a home with the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though he signed a 3-year deal with the Phillies, there should be a lot of concern with Jake this year. He throws across his body due to his mechanics, which makes it tough to have the same release point every time. As we saw in the 2nd half of 2017, it is easy for his body to get out of sync and cause control issues. Not only that, but Arrieta has lost 2 mph off his fastball over the last two years. Even with the deception and movement that Arrieta usually provides, the move to Philadelphia isn’t going to help his home run rate, which inflated from 0.73 HR/9 in 2016 to 1.23 HR/9 in 2017. Citizens Bank Park was the best home run ball park in 2017, so beware the change in scenery for Arrieta.
27) David Price- 2017 was a very up and down year for David Price. His 2017 debut didn’t come until May 29th and his first 5 starts weren’t pretty as he posted a 5.14 ERA while giving up more than two home runs per nine innings. He cleaned up his issues after that as he returned to form with his 2.84 ERA and over 9 K/9 from late June until July 22nd. However, the same forearm issue that kept him out of the Opening Day rotation arose again and shelved him until September. He finished out the season as a reliever and looked crisp. There is clearly some injury risk with Price in 2018, but he says he is healthy and that the elbow feels better than last year. If Price can stay healthy this year, he could easily provide top-12 pitcher value.
28) Michael Fulmer- The Detroit Tigers are in the middle of a rebuild, but don’t let that scare you away from Michael Fulmer. The 25-year-old has some concern about the elbow after the nerve surgery he had, but Fulmer is an efficient pitcher that doesn’t walk a lot of batters. He has a great four-pitch mix (sinker, fastball, slider, changeup) that allows him to fool his opponents, yet it hasn’t shown much in the majors. Even in a year where Fulmer had injury issues, his worst pitch of the main four was his four-seam fastball which was hit for a .757 OPS. While Fulmer has averaged less than 7 K/9 during his time in the majors, his pitch mix still shows some better strikeout upside and is worth his ADP of 170.
29) Jeff Samardzija- The Shark had a very odd year as he posted a 4.42 ERA while maintaining a K:BB rate of 6.41. His FIP and xFIP were 3.61 and 3.60 and he could easily bring his ERA down to that level thanks to the improved Giants defense. Samardzija had an issue with allowing home runs, especially on his sinker and splitter. His sinker didn’t sink as much as it should have last year and remained up in the zone at times. Shark is a lock for 200 innings and close to 200 strikeouts and I expect the ERA to drop back down to the 3.65 range in 2018, making him a valuable piece of that Giants rotation.
30) Chase Anderson- Anderson has never posted an ERA below 4.00, but he did just that in 2017 as he put everything together for the first time. After having a rough start to the season in his first nine starts, he finished the season with a 1.94 ERA and almost a strikeout rate just below 9.00 in 16 starts. Anderson missed nearly 2 months thanks to an oblique injury, but the fact that he was able to hit the disabled list and come back just as strong should be a vote of confidence for the 30-year-old. Don’t expect the same type of ERA performance in 2018, but if he can maintain a 3.40 ERA he will be well worth his ADP of 98 as the 46th pitcher off the board.
31) Alex Wood- Wood was another pitcher who had the best year of his career and he didn’t even start the season in the Dodgers rotation. The 2.72 ERA looks great on paper, but I wouldn’t buy completely into it as he had a left on base percentage of 80.1% and a BABIP of .276. The BABIP was helped by getting ground balls from over half the batters he faced, but it is hard to expect him to keep that up once again in 2018. Even in the great year, the second half has to raise a red flag as he averaged 6.78 K/9 compared to his 10.82 K/9 that he had in the first half. Wood did say he would pitch exclusively out of the stretch in 2018, but we don’t know if that will hurt or benefit the 27-year-old lefty. Even with the question marks, I still trust in the Dodgers coaches and Wood’s competitiveness for 2018.
32) Sonny Gray- Gray was dealt to the Yankees during the 2017 season and was crucial for them during their playoff run as they came up one win short of the World Series. As important as he was for them, Gray was also highly inconsistent. Once he got to New York, walks and the long ball became an issue for Sonny since his ground ball rate dropped by 10%. It is a fairly small sample size of 11 games, I don’t see a lot to love with Sonny in 2018. The AL East is always known for his offense and while he won’t have to face the Sanchez/Stanton/Judge combo, it doesn’t get much easier by facing the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles. I will have very few shares of Sonny this year.
33) Jose Berrios- 2017 was Berrios’ second year in the majors and he broke out in a big way. After amassing an ERA over 8.00 in 14 starts during the 2016 season, Berrios started 25 games for the Twins last year and finished the season with a 3.89 ERA. He cut his home run rate in half this past year and was a much more efficient pitcher by not walking batters at an absurd rate. His curveball became a crucial part of his arsenal as it produced a triple slash line of .224/.258/.311. The changeup is still a very average offering from Jose, but with how well his four-seamer improved, it isn’t as necessary to dominate opponents. Don’t be surprised if Berrios is crowned the Twins’ ace by the end of the season
34) Jameson Taillon- While the Pirates weren’t a big storyline this past season, Taillon found a way to make 25 starts in a season where he was overcoming testicular cancer. He did post a 4.44 ERA, but the peripherals all show he should have been better than that (3.48 FIP; 3.89 xFIP). The crazy thing is that Taillon was actually better after he missed most of May and part of June due to the surgery, even if the ERA doesn’t show that. The .369 BABIP after the surgery isn’t likely to remain that high with that good Pirates outfield. Jameson Taillon did struggle with lefties this past season when throwing his fastball and sinker, but he is only 26 and looks to be finally healthy. With a decent ground ball rate and an ability to put up a decent amount of strikeouts, Taillon could easily provide top-35 value with top-25 starter upside.
35) Marcus Stroman- Shoulder issues are not the way you want to start a brand new season. Unfortunately, that is how it is starting for the Blue Jays ace, Marcus Stroman. He will never be a strikeout artist, but is the perfect SP2/3 for a fantasy rotation. He has averaged a ground ball rate of 62% over the past 3 seasons and has thrown over 200 innings each of the past 2 seasons. The Blue Jays have already announced that he will not start Opening Day, but he could still pitch in the opening series against the Yankees. Stroman may come at a discount on draft day because of the shoulder concerns, but is still well worth it thanks to his high floor.
36) Gio Gonzalez- Talk about a lucky season. Not only did Gio Gonzalez put up a 2.96 ERA in 2017, but he also maintained a strand rate of 81.6% and BABIP of .258. He even had a higher walk rate than 2016. Regression is clearly in Gio’s future this year and won’t provide the same type of value he did last year. If Gonzalez had made a big difference in his opponent’s batted ball profile, I could believe his new performance level. However, dropping his hard contact percentage against by only 3% is not enough to sustain the crazy high level he pitched at last year.
37) Trevor Bauer- Is the Bauer we saw in the second half the one here to stay? I believe so. Bauer originally used an 87 mph cutter, but removed it from his arsenal and switched it to a slider. The slider averaged a speed of 84.4 mph and has some great downward movement that produced a swinging strike rate of 20.6%. This could end up being his best strikeout pitch and the final piece to the Bauer puzzle. We have seen plenty of pitchers break out at 27, such as Corey Kluber, and I am definitely buying into it after seeing how much he cut his walk rate in the second half as well.
38) Lance McCullers- McCullers has so much potential, but the back is preventing him from reaching it at this point. He carried over the hot streak from 2016 into the first half of this past season (3.05 ERA and 106 K over 91.1 IP), but he experienced lower back discomfort and it quickly derailed his season. McCullers only threw 27 innings in the second half with an 8.23 ERA while serving up an OPS of .900. He can be a dominant pitcher when healthy thanks to that big curveball as we saw in the playoffs, but the health seems to always be an issue. Lucky for Lance and his fantasy owners, the health issues don’t concern his elbow or shoulder. He is just one healthy season away from being a top-15 starter.
39) Jon Lester- For the first time in 6 seasons, Jon Lester failed to hit the 200 inning mark. It was a rough season for the lefty as he failed to live up to his previous two seasons with the Cubs. In 6 of his 32 starts last season, Lester allowed 5 earned runs or more while also going less than 6 innings in each of those starts. Only one of Lester’s pitches actually improved from 2016 to 2017 in terms of OPS allowed and that was his sinker. Lester lost two ticks on his fastball this past season, so I would be willing to let someone else take a risk on him this year.
40) Kyle Hendricks- Hendricks won’t ever be anything flashy, but he will always provide a solid floor for his fantasy owners. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will get the 3.03 ERA that Hendricks provided last year, especially with the lack of command that we were used to out of him. He also allowed 5% more hard contact than 2016. Without the dominating pitches that other pitchers have, Hendricks needs to be nearly perfect this year if owners want the same kind of production from last season.
41) Luke Weaver- I don’t understand the hype around Luke Weaver in redraft leagues. Weaver has somehow maintained a higher strikeout rate in 96 major league innings than he ever has in the minors. With an average swinging strike rate (9.7%) and contact rate (79%), it is amazing that he is able to amass the amount of strikeouts that he has so far. There is a lot to like with his 3.17 FIP and 2.93 xFIP, but beware the spike in Weaver’s price thanks to all the hype.
42) Johnny Cueto- Cueto fell off the face of the Earth last season as he completely lost any ability to control his pitches. I have to give him a lot of credit for pitching through the blisters he was constantly dealing with due to the new ball, but his owners didn’t know what to do with him. He was worth such a high pick last year that it was hard to outright cut him. Cueto’s changeup was a great pitch for him in 2016 (.540 OPS against), but it became one of his worst (.854 OPS). His sinker also became very hittable and if Cueto can’t get everything back under control, he won’t be worth it even if he gets to pitch in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.
43) Garrett Richards- Richards could easily jump into the top-20 starting pitchers once again if he could remain healthy. In only 62.1 innings over the past 2 seasons, Richards has racked up 61 strikeouts to only 22 walks. Richards has a good fastball-slider-curveball combo that allows him to fool batters at a decent amount, even with a mediocre changeup. In the seasons that Richards has been healthy, he usually lacks the control that people would love to see. There is a possibility that the six man rotation that the Angels are going to could keep him more healthy, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
44) Jordan Montgomery- I am one of Montgomery’s biggest fans after what he did last year. He averaged 5.1 innings per starts along with solid strikeout and walk rates. He had a small issue with home runs in his rookie year (1.22 HR/9), but that comes with the territory when you are in the AL East. The Yankees yanked on Montgomery’s chain most of the off-season by looking for another starter to slide into the 5th rotation spot, but he has officially been locked into the fifth starter spot for the beginning of the season. Out the 75 pitchers that threw for at least 150 innings last season, Montgomery ranked 15th in terms of swinging strike rate at 12.2% right behind Zack Greinke and Yu Darvish. There is no reason to believe that Montgomery won’t continue to grow during his 25-year-old season this year.
45) Jake Faria- Faria was definitely not the Rays’ starting pitcher that we expected to see debut in 2017, but he made a name for himself quickly in the majors. In his first 10 starts, Faria went at least 6 innings in all but 2 starts while putting up a sparkling 2.93 ERA and a 58:22 K:BB ratio. There was a stint on the disabled list that lasted a month due to an abdominal strain, but once he came back he didn’t look the same. Something that gets looked over often with Faria is how effective he was the third time through the order due to his ability to mix pitches. He faced 88 batters the third time through the order and while he had a 4.29 ERA in that situation, he only allowed a triple slash line of .228/.307/.325. Even though Faria was never a highly touted prospect, he has good secondary offerings that will play up even more once he learns how to use his fastball more effectively.
46) Rich Hill- Even at 38, Hill is a good bet to provide decent value at his ADP of 135. He has a huge curveball that continued to baffle opponents with the 12.2% swinging strike rate. Hill’s worst pitch this past season was the slider (.753 OPS allowed) that he only threw 4.4% of the time, compared to his fastball (54.3%) and curveball (37.5%). Hill knows how to rack up Ks with his two main pitches, but he hasn’t been able to crack more than 140 innings since 2007. If Hill can stay on the hill, then you have a great fantasy asset for his mid round price.
47) Ervin Santana- Santana was untouchable the first two months of the year as he dominated every batter and team that he faced. In that time, he collected 56 strikeouts in 77 innings while keeping his ERA at a pristine 1.75. As great as that sounds, he allowed 29 walks in that same time span. His start to the season is exactly why you cannot rely on a small sample size in just one season. Expecting him to keep his performance going would have been insanity as all of his peripherals pointed to a ton of luck as shown by his 5.01 FIP and 5.32 xFIP in May alone. For Santana though, luck has not been on his side to enter the 2018 season as he will miss most, if not all, of April due to an injury to his middle finger. He won’t be a fantasy ace as he doesn’t have the strikeout upside, but could provide your team with 180-200 innings with an ERA around 3.75.
48) Dylan Bundy- If Dylan Bundy was in any other division, I might feel better about him. However, being stuck in the AL East where has to face the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Smoak just isn’t ideal for him. He is a fly ball pitcher that has to rely on the ball not leaving the stadium. Last year, Bundy’s HR/FB rate was worse than league average at 11.5%, which was improved by 2% from 2016, but still not ideal in his division. He did improve his control as well last year by cutting his walk rate by 20%, but his fastball provided opponents with an .858 OPS and 141 wRC+. When he uses his fastball 53.7% of the time, he is asking for trouble. If Bundy were to uses his secondary offerings more, he might be able to drop his ERA below 4.00 for the first time in the majors.
49) Drew Pomeranz- I don’t want to jinx Pomeranz and finally say that he is healthy, but he has pitched 170 innings or more the past 2 seasons. When healthy, Pom has a great strikeout rate even though the walk rate is less than ideal. Of the 19 home runs Pomeranz served up, 14 of them came when Pomeranz through his fastball and that wasn’t even his biggest issue. The sinker, which he threw 8.9% of the time, was drilled for an 1.048 OPS by opponents. I wouldn’t expect him to be able to maintain his 3.32 ERA while having a WHIP above 1.30.
50) Taijuan Walker- The perpetually disappointing Taijuan Walker just snuck into our top 50 starting pitchers this year thanks to the news of the humidor coming to Chase Field. His home road splits were atrocious last year as he allowed 1.39 HR/9 at home versus 0.63 HR/9 away from Chase. On top of that, Walker gave up nearly 7% less hard contact away from Arizona. While fantasy owners may have grown frustrated with Taijuan, he still is only 25-years-old. We don’t know how much the humidor will affect power and BABIP, but we do know that it will make it easier for the Diamondbacks’ rotation to grip the ball and have more control with it. Walks became an issue for Walker last year and if the humidor is going to help as much as people project, Walker could easily become a top-30 pitcher with good to great ratios.
Honorable Mentions: Charlie Morton, Jon Gray, Aaron Sanchez, Kenta Maeda, Blake Snell
Thanks for reading the breakdown of the 26th through 50th ranked pitchers from our staff here at Six Man Rotation. We are nearly done with our rankings for 2018! In the next couple of days, the staff wide rankings for relief pitchers will be released. You can follow me on Twitter @DadSox and our fantasy baseball podcast @SixManRoto. I am always discussing fantasy baseball and taking questions for your fantasy teams!