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Home runs saw a huge spike in 2017, leading to most pitchers have a bloated ERA and WHIP. It forced fantasy baseball owners to become irritated with some of their favorite pitchers as they weren’t getting the production they expected. If the ball continues to be juiced this year as it was last year, we don’t need to worry about our top pitchers production, but find the new area that would be considered league average. Last year we only saw 15 pitchers break the 200 inning mark, but 5 years ago 31 pitchers were able to hit that milestone.
Using the bullpen has become an art for most managers, so very rarely do we see these pitchers go 7 innings consistently. The workhorse is almost a thing of the past, so for your fantasy rotation you need to find pitchers that can have more quality innings than not. There is a balance between racking up the counting stats and having great ratios. I do not like investing a top 20 draft pick into a pitcher because of the high rate of injury compared to position players, but to each their own.
There were a lot of breakout names that were relatively unknown going into 2017 that have now made our top 25 starting pitchers rankings. Did we rank the possible Japanese 2-way superstar in the top 25? How did Tanaka’s stock fair after his awkward season? How many Diamondback pitchers made the list with the addition of the humidor? Read below and tell us what you think.
The following rankings were done based on standard 5×5 head to head leagues.
While you read, listen to the newest episode of Six Man Roto where the guys discuss the top 25 starting pitchers off the board with their first guest, Andy Singleton of Fantrax!
1) Clayton Kershaw- As always, Clayton Kershaw appears at the top of a starting pitcher ranking article. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because of the fact that when he is healthy, he is damn near untouchable. However, the once strong back of Kershaw has become a chronic issue for the Dodgers’ ace. Kershaw has not thrown more than 200 innings since 2015 and while the back has looked healthy in Spring Training, backs are very finicky. Kershaw is fun to own, but beware the chronic back issue when setting up your pitching staff.
2) Max Scherzer- Scherzer is like a fine wine. He just gets better with age. Even though the walk numbers have trended upwards over the past 3 years, so have his strikeouts. With the entire league focusing on launch angle and hitting home runs, most people have seen their home run rates rise. The opposite is the case for Scherzer as he was one of the few pitchers to improve his home runs per nine (HR/9) stat from 2016 to 2017. There is a lot to love with Max and being in the NL East with the Mets, Marlins, and Braves that much better for fantasy purposes
3) Chris Sale- In Sale’s first season as part of the Red Sox rotation, he put up his first 300 strikeout season. Sale looked like he was on his way to his first ever Cy Young award until he had his yearly meltdown in September. Over his career, Sale has repeatedly had weak finishes to the year as showcased by his 3.78 ERA and opposing weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .325. No other month has a wOBA above .285 for the lefty. Whether it is a mental block or physical wear down that causes this meltdown, Sale is still a great pitcher to have year in and year out.
4) Corey Kluber- The 2017 AL Cy Young winner was a beast for fantasy even after compiling a 5.06 ERA in the first 6 starts of the year. Kluber then hit the disabled list in early May due to a lower back strain. Everything came together after that for the Indians ace as he put together his best season yet in the majors. With a 2.25 ERA and 0.87 WHIP to end the 2017 season, Kluber is primed to have a wonderful season with a strong supporting cast around him in Cleveland.
5) Noah Syndergaard- 2017 was cut short for Thor thanks to a lat tear at the end of April that shelved him for four and a half months. Syndergaard was able to throw 3 innings (in 2 appearances) before last year came to a close, which was a positive sign for the Mets and fantasy owners. In those 3 innings, Thor struck out two and walked one. He could easily end up with an ERA under 3 with over 220 strikeouts this season if he can stay healthy, but I still have concerns about him staying healthy under the Mets’ training staff.
6) Madison Bumgarner- Bumgarner was also struck by the injury bug in 2017, but that was of his own accord. Thanks to a dirt bike accident, the Giants ace was forced to sit on the disabled list from mid-April until early July. Bumgarner was much less effective than his normal self once he returned, so he does carry some risk. It is hard to tell whether or not the injury caused some irreparable damage to his shoulder in terms of pitching, but he has the potential to return to his ace-like self. Bumgarner allowed more contact last year than any other year since 2012 while also seeing his lowest swinging strike rate since 2012 at 10.2%. If you grab Bumgarner as your SP1, make sure to pair him with a solid second starter to mitigate some risk.
7) Stephen Strasburg- Strasburg is another cog in that nasty Nats rotation that just knows how to shut down opposing offenses. Unfortunately, the DC franchise has not had the luck of keeping him on the field for 200 innings in one season. In his 8 seasons in the bigs, Strasburg has only thrown for 200 innings one time. With a 10.54 K/9 in his career, Stras is clearly an SP1 heading in to 2018, but the inability to pile up the innings is always a concern as they are little nagging things that pile up.
8) Luis Severino- Severino was a tough watch in 2016 due to an inability to fool opposing hitters, but last year was a completely different story. Severino was a part of that surprising Yankees team and there is no reason to think he is going to regress. Not only did he drop his walks per nine innings below 2.5, he jumped his swining strike right from 9.2% all the way to 13% in 2017. Severino pairs a 97 mph fastball with a devastating 88 mph sliders that fooled hitters all year. Severino has clearly bought into the new Yankees way of pitching. Even though the Yankees have some of the hardest throwers, they threw the least amount of fastballs of any team. They are forcing hitters to try and hit breaking balls, which not everyone can do well. I am all in on Severino this year.
9) Jacob deGrom- Even though deGrom is approaching 30-years-old, he is turning into more of an ace than the Mets ever expected. For the first time in his career, deGrom finally had a K/9 above 10. His walk rate and home runs allowed did jump up, but it isn’t anything a fantasy owner should be alarmed about with the juiced ball in play. The volume won’t always be there as 2017 was the only time in his major league career that he has crossed the 200 inning mark, but you will get quality innings out of him in nearly every start.
10) Zack Greinke- The righty bounced back in a big way in 2017 as he amassed 215 strikeouts and a 3.20 ERA in 202 innings. Unfortunately, not everything is right with Zack. He lost velocity during 2017 on his fastball and his slider and has only reached mid-80s in his spring training starts this year. The humidor will obviously help stave off any effects of aging and velocity loss for 2018, but the long term value is definitely in question as of now.
11) Carlos Carrasco- Carrasco hit the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career as one of only 15 pitchers to do so last year. There is some concern here as his fastball and sinker were hit hard this past season. These two pitches were crushed for a 1.038 and .916 OPS respectively. His secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) are what allow him to remain an effective starter with a strikeout rate close to 10 batters per nine. Health permitting, Carrasco is in line to provide top 10 SP value.
12) Justin Verlander- 2017 was full of ups and downs for the 35-year-old. The league thought he could be finished after getting shelled in two of his first four starts. He found his groove after that and put up a 3.49 ERA until he was dealt to Houston at the end of August. During his 5 season starts with Houston, Verlander was untouchable as he averaged 11.38 K/9 and 1.32 BB/9 with a 1.06 ERA. Don’t expect an ERA below 2 for Justin, but the Astros offense will provide him plenty of run support to be as aggressive as he wants in the strike zone.
13) Aaron Nola- A lot of people are sleeping on Nola this year because he is a part of the Phillies rotation. However, his production wasn’t far off from Luis Severino in 2017 as he averaged one less strikeout per nine innings while having a similar ground ball and home run rate. Nola is going 30 picks later and could easily be the ace of your fantasy staff if you miss out on the other top arms.
14) Carlos Martinez- Martinez has been one of the more durable arms over the past 3 years as he has averaged 193 innings per year. The walks are always the Cardinals biggest weakness, but the long ball became an issue in 2017 as it did for most pitchers. Martinez struggled to produce ground balls at the same rate as he did in 2016 as his changeup and slider were much less effective. Those same pitches saw the biggest home run spike from 2016 as well. If Marinez can find a way to get his secondary offerings to be more effective, we could see him return to his 3.04 ERA of 2016.
15) Robbie Ray- Ray took such a big leap in 2017. He dropped his ERA two whole points, as he ended 2017 with a 2.89 ERA. His peripherals point to some regression this upcoming year as he stranded base runners 84.5% of the time compared to his career number of 73.6%. There was a lot of luck when it came to his fly ball rate since it jumped up 8%, but his home run rate saw no change either. The humidor is coming to Chase Field this year, which will benefit Ray since he was terrible at home, but regression is still going to hit the young lefty. The strikeouts will always be there for him, so even if he ended with an ERA around 3.60, I wouldn’t be upset since he will push 210-220 strikeouts for the third year in a row.
16) Chris Archer- For the third year in a row, Archer topped 200 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays even with the rumors swirling of him possibly getting traded. He remains a solid pitcher, even though he hasn’t finished below a 4.00 ERA each of the last two years. The home runs have been an issue for Archer the past two years as he is a two pitch pitcher (four-seamer and slider). This causes issues with his third time through an opponent’s batting order as the opponent’s wOBA jumps all the way up to .364, compared to the .294 and .258 wOBA he holds opponent’s to in the first and second times through the order respectively. He is similar to Robbie Ray in that he will get you a ton of strikeouts, but the home runs and bad supporting cast drops his fantasy value.
17) Yu Darvish- Everyone remembers Darvish’s meltdown in the World Series as the Astros lit him up. Whether it was the new ball or him tipping his pitches, he didn’t look great on the biggest stage. That being said, Darvish is still a guy I am betting on for the fantasy season. His velocity was up last year as it was his first full season back from Tommy John and I am confident that velocity will remain a part of his arsenal. Darvish has one of the largest arsenals in all of baseball, which benefits him in case he doesn’t have the feel for a specific pitch in any given start. That being said, the Cubs are one of the best analytical teams in baseball and they will find an effective way for him to use that arsenal while also correcting any tipping issues he might have had. While some may have lost faith in Yu, him remaining in the NL only added to his value (especially at his current ADP of 51.07).
18) James Paxton- The Big Maple has to be one of my favorite nicknames in the entire baseball world. Although, as luck would have it for Mariners fans, he has yet to figure out a way to stay on the baseball field for an entire season. He set career highs in games started (24), innings pitched (136.0), and ERA (2.98), but the Mariners rotation needs him for more than 70% of the season. His strikeout rate jumped last year thanks to his curveball and cutter, which elicited a ISO (or isolated power) of .090 and .041 respectively. If Paxton can find a way to throw for 175 or more innings, he could easily jump into the top 10 pitchers for 2018.
19) Gerrit Cole- Everyone dreams of Cole repeating his 2015 performance when he pitched 208 innings to the tune of a 2.60 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. However, he has yet to reach that potential since then, but may just have his chance in Houston. Cole has the skill set to become a top 12 pitcher in the league. He has a fastball that sits in the high-90’s and can touch 100 mph along with a plus slider and above average curveball, which can keep batters off balance. In 2017 though, his curveball took a step back from 2016 (.041 ISO versus .146 ISO) while his changeup (.222 ISO versus .202 ISO) took a step forward in effectiveness against hitters. With how much the Astros love their pitchers to throw curveballs, Cole is in the perfect organization to get the most out of his this season.
20) Dallas Keuchel- Keuchel is another pitcher on this list that everyone wants to see him repeat his 2015 season performance. Dallas will never be a huge strikeout pitcher, but he is an effective starter nonetheless due to his heavy sinker that induced a ground ball 77.7% of the time in 2017. That same sinker only allowed 8 home runs and a .224 batting average this past season. If Keuchel can remain healthy once again, fantasy owners could easily see a sub-3.00 ERA stud with a great defense behind him to handle all the ground balls he will induce from opponents.
21) Jose Quintana- The Cubs acquired Jose Quintana from the White Sox before the 2017 deadline to bolster their rotation for the next few years. Even though Quintana struggled out the gate in 2017 to the tune of an ERA over 5, the Cubs had faith he would return to his former self. He did just that after getting traded as he finished out the rest of the season with a 3.74 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Quintana never has and never will have overpowering stuff, but he has always flashed ace upside because of his ability to work the zone, as shown by his 67.1% first strike percentage (which ranked 3rd only behind Clayton Kershaw and Rick Porcello). With him now settled into his new organization and trade talks gone, Quintana is primed for a huge season with the Cubs.
22) Zack Godley- Godley is another piece of a very underrated Diamondbacks rotation. With a 55% ground ball rate and strikeout rate close to 10 batters per 9, the other Zack in Arizona was easily a top 20 pitcher in 2017. His 3.37 ERA looks for real as pointed out by his FIP and xFIP of 3.41 and 3.32. The humidor is going to do wonders for Godley as he already limited opponents to 0.87 home runs per 9 innings. Godley uses more movement than velocity to fool hitters as shown by the mix of his cutter, curveball, and sinker. There is a little concern about Godley since he posted a 4.01 ERA in the second half of the season, but it was his first full season in the majors. His home road splits aren’t anything to worry about either as he posted a 3.45 ERA in Arizona and 3.29 ERA elsewhere. Godley likely isn’t the 2.58 ERA pitcher we saw in the first half, but he is also better than the 4.01 ERA we saw in the second half.
23) Luis Castillo- There is a lot of hype surrounding the 25-year-old Reds starter. He averages 97 mph on his fastball and then follows that up with a that kills hitters on both sides of the plate plus a slider that elicited a .093 batting average and .023 ISO. There is a ton of potential for Castillo to become an ace for the Reds, but all of his numbers only came in 89 innings this past season. The Great American Ballpark clearly causes him some issues as he allows 1.40 HR/9 at home compared to 0.81 HR/9 on the road, even though he had a higher ground ball rate at home. The 58.8% ground ball rate is great for today’s game and if you want a piece of Castillo, you will have to pay heavily in drafts thank to his ADP of 89.72.
24) Shohei Ohtani- Even though this last off-season was slow in terms of breaking news, Ohtani was discussed everywhere. The potential 2-way superstar is only 23-years-old and has a ton of hype entering the 2018 season. While we don’t know how the bat will play in the majors just yet, we do know he can pitch as shown by his 2.52 ERA in 5 season in Japan. I am skeptical about buying into Ohtani this year because while he has a good four-pitch mix, the time as a designated hitter could affect his mound performance. He is being taken within the top 70 picks, but remember there will be an adjustment period for the young talent.
25) Masahiro Tanaka- The 29-year-old Tanaka had a season for the ages, but not in the good way. In the first half of 2017, Tanaka posted a 12.32 ERA during day games and 3.90 ERA in night games. While the numbers flipped in the second half (1.00 ERA for day games and 5.29 ERA for nights), it clearly wasn’t as dramatic thanks to a drop in home run rate. He served up 23 long balls in the first half (2.03 HR/9) with only 12 dingers in the second half (1.41 HR/9). Tanaka’s cutter and sinker graded out as his worst pitches with a 1.252 and 1.071 OPS allowed to opponents. When Tanaka worked waist high and above with these pitches, they got crushed. If he can work those pitches down in the zone, then he could easily keep his ERA below 3.50 this year.
Thanks for reading out breakdown of our top 25 starting pitchers! There is a lot to work with when forming the front part of your pitching staff, but depth is always necessary. We will be digging into the next 25 starting pitchers this week so keep an eye out for those. You can follow me on Twitter @DadSox and our fantasy baseball podcast on Twitter @SixManRoto. Here at Six Man Rotation, we always love feedback and questions from our readers. Don’t be afraid to ask!