By Jordan Branson, Michael Seff and RotoRob
Welcome to 2016, and with a new year comes a new RotoRob MLB Draft Kit! So while you wonder how Drew Storen will fare now that the Nats have finally set him free, let’s turn our attention to the mound and preview the top 145 starting pitchers for 2016.
We are in a new golden age of starting pitching where aces abound, and the young guns just keep popping up, it seems. The idea of using a top pick on a starting pitcher isn’t out of the question anymore. But if you don’t land a starter early, don’t sweat it — you can cobble together a fine rotation in the middle rounds if you do your homework.
Some questions heading into 2016: Can Chris Sale finally break through with that Cy Young season we’ve all been waiting on? Can Jose Fernandez stay healthy and will he remain a Marlin? Will Chris Archer avoid a late-season fade and evolve into a top 10 hurler? Does Corey Kluber have any upside left?
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (1): Kershaw’s health is a small worry now, but he managed to avoid major injury in 2015 en route to another campaign in which he was next to impossible to hit.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (3): Scherzer seemed to slow down in July, and August was a shitshow, but he rebounded with a solid September and matched his career high in starts while beating his personal best ERA and Ks despite the rough second half. He definitely benefits from pitching in a weak NL East, but did get burned in late-June coming within a strike of a perfect game.
3. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs (150): Arrieta was money in 2015, with 29 quality starts among the 33 times he took the mound. He’s put himself in any discussion among the most dependable starters in Fantasy baseball and with an improved Cubs offense, he could be even better next season.
4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (12): Sale’s career ERA is at 2.91, but against the Indians, it’s 3.68. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s some food for thought in DFS leagues.
5. David Price, Boston Red Sox (9): Price has always been a nice source of strikeouts (over 8.5/9 over his career), but he really shined after joining the Jays, whiffing over 10.5 per nine. So now he moves to the BoSox and Fenway Park, notoriously tough on lefties, right? Um, maybe not. Price is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts in Boston.
6. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (7): Not only has this dude proved time and time again that he can twirl a baseball with the best of them, he’s also a dangerous hitter. There’s not a better hitting pitcher in the game right now as evidenced by him bashing nine homers with an average north of .250 over the last two years combined. The heavy workload in recent years is a worry, but so far, it has not been a problem.
7. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (11): The sixth overall pick from 2002 has done quite well for himself and took his game to a whole new level in 2015. Beware of the fact that given his xFIP (3.22), expecting anywhere near a repeat of his ridiculous 1.66 ERA would be foolhardy, but we shouldn’t have to worry that his new home park will degrade his value.
8. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (10): Fernandez remains under the Marlins control for the next few years, but you can bet that won’t stop teams from sniffing around and making inquiries about a hurler who — if healthy — will likely be one of the best in the business. Miami keeps saying he’s not on the market, but the rumours persist. Last year, he made it back from Tommy John surgery and put up some nice value in a third of the season.
9. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (NR): A ninth round pick in 2010, DeGrom took a huge step forward in 2014, earning NL Rookie of the Year honours, and then spent last year proving that it was no fluke, being named an NL All-Star.
10. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (13): Strasburg struggled through his worst season yet (at least from a bottom line results perspective), and spent nearly a third of the season on the DL with a neck and then an oblique injury, but it was revealed that he was dealing with a benign growth on his back. Still, his hit rates were solid and after an ugly first half (5.16 ERA), he looked fantastic down the stretch (1.90 ERA). Forget about Strasburg’s mediocre (for him) ERA and focus on his FIP (2.81) and xFIP (2.69) when you’re bidding on this ace.
11. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (22): Cole finally turned all that potential into results last year. Yes, he was a tad fortuitous with his somewhat high strand rate (hence, an xFIP over half a run higher than his ERA), but this kid is the real deal.
12. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays (48): Archer took a major step forward in 2015, trimming his ERA and WHIP while shattering his career high in Ks and setting a new high water mark in wins. Archer’s dominance showed best in his WHIP, at one point second in the AL before he stumbled a bit in August and then crashed in September.
13. Matt Harvey, New York Mets (NR): Even in early March, Harvey was exciting us with his Spring Training performance. He quickly restored nearly all the value he had previous to Tommy John surgery.
14. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (NR): The man with the crazy beard proved last 2014 was no fluke by taking his game to the next level last year. Yes, you’re going to have to pay way more for him now, but yes, he’s worth it.
15. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics (44): Gray has always been stingy with the long ball, but was even better through the first two-thirds of last season with just nine blasts allowed through 161 2/3 IP. Unfortunately, he gave up another eight over his final 46 1/3 frames.
16. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (63): The Padres’ fourth rounder from 2007 sure was a late bloomer, but man, has he ever come into his own in recent seasons.
17. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (5): There aren’t many pitchers as elite as King Felix. Okay, so he wasn’t as dominant last year as he was in 2014, but he still finished third in the AL in wins.
18. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (NR): Converted back into a full-time starter last year, Carrasco enjoyed his finest season yet. Look past his middling ERA and focus on that xFIP of 2.66 when assessing his value for 2016.
19. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs (38): Lester continues to be a workhorse, topping 200 innings in seven of the past eight seasons, although his hit rate rose slightly last year. So far, the Cubs’ six-year, $155 million investment looks sound; check back in a couple of years and we may have an altered perspective.
20. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (NR): Syndergaard was brought up a quarter of the way into the season and then proceeded to prove he’s a dominant starter capable of pitching deep into games. The future is bright with this one.
Others to Consider
21. Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers (16): If Hamels gets more run support this year, he could flirt with his first 20-win season.
22. Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians (45): Salazar was much harder to hit last year, but the home runs were a bit more problematic. If he can nip that issue in the bud, we could be looking at a pitcher capable of an ERA in the very low 3.00 range.
23. Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants (74): Cueto broke through in 2010, and since then he’s consistently put up ERAs well below 3.00. He was again racking up the innings and the Ks for the Reds this year before getting dealt to KC. Moving to the AL for the first time was a bit of an adjustment for Cueto, but the good news is he’s back in the Senior Circuit — and in the best pitcher’s park in the majors, to boot!
24. Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres (68)
25. Michael Pineda, New York Yankees (NR): Pineda had an excellent start to the season, but then his old bugaboo — injuries — reared their head, sidelining him for almost a month because of a forearm strain. Upon his return, he did not look like the same pitcher. Pineda was healthier last year, but we’d like to see him get those innings closer to 200.
26. Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals (36): Armed with a very impressive arsenal of pitches, Wacha quietly enjoyed a very nice season. It was clear that he was a bit lucky to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA early on, but tougher times in June and July and then an ugly September balanced that out. Beware that his xFIP was half a run higher than his ERA.
27. Lance McCullers, Houston Astros (NR)
28. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals (4)
29. Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels (113)
30. Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals (125): We’ve been waiting for Martinez to get his chance to start for so long now, and his tremendous record and sweet ERA proved he was worth the wait.
31. Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers (14): Zimmermann is 11-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in his career against AL teams, so expect a seamless transition.
32. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays (NR)
33. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates (34)
34. Collin McHugh, Houston Astros (NR)
35. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (2)
36. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (30)
37. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (6)
38. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox (51)
39. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays (41)
40. Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners (19): There are health concerns here.
41. Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners (70)
42. Shelby Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks (28): The Braves were dead last in runs last year. Miller will finally get some real support going to the eighth-best offense in the majors.
43. Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays (80)
44. Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays (58)
45. Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
46. Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays (116)
47. Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks (59)
48. James Shields, San Diego Padres (24)
49. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (27)
50. John Lackey, Chicago Cubs (55)
51. Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles Dodgers (72)
52. Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants (39): For what it’s worth, Samardzija has had mixed results in his career against his new division rivals (4.91 vs. LAD and 4.66 vs. ARZ, but 2.76 vs. SD and 2.01 vs. COL).
53. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals (25)
54. Mike Fiers, Houston Astros (NR)
55. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs (NR)
56. Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee Brewers (NR)
57. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals (129)
58. Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians (NR)
59. Wei-Yin Chen, Free Agent (108)
60. Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs (NR)
61. Anthony DeSclafani, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
62. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox (NR)
63. Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers (91)
64. Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox (35)
65. Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres (40)
66. Mike Leake, St. Louis Cardinals (54)
67. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers (15)
68. Jerad Eickhoff, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
69. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals (96)
70. Edinson Volquez, Kansas City Royals (NR)
71. Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels (NR)
72. Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (NR)
73. Steven Matz, New York Mets (NR)
74. Derek Holland, Texas Rangers (83)
75. Erasmo Ramirez, Tampa Bay Rays (148)
76. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles (124)
77. Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins (NR)
78. Wade Miley, Seattle Mariners (94)
79. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
80. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (90)
81. James Paxton, Seattle Mariners (141)
82. Nate Karns, Seattle Mariners (NR)
83. Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins (33)
84. Chris Heston, San Francisco Giants (NR)
85. J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays (149)
86. Ian Kennedy, Free Agent (145)
87. Kris Medlen, Kansas City Royals (18)
88. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays (53)
89. Brandon Finnegan, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
90. Bartolo Colon, New York Mets (47)
91. Joe Kelly, Boston Red Sox (76)
92. Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins (99)
93. Ubaldo Jimenez, Baltimore Orioles (43)
94. Jake Peavy, San Francisco Giants (111)
95. Yovani Gallardo, Free Agent (87)
96. Brett Anderson, Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
97. Mark Buehrle, Free Agent (112): Leaning towards retirement?
98. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (29)
99. Hyun Jin-Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers (20)
100. Nathan Eovaldi, New York Yankees (106)
101. Daniel Norris, Detroit Tigers (NR)
102. Joe Ross, Washington Nationals (NR)
103. Luis Severino, New York Yankees (NR)
104. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants (17)
105. Jesse Hahn, Oakland Athletics (NR)
106. Vincent Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
107. Tommy Milone, Minnesota Twins (115)
108. Jesse Chavez, Toronto Blue Jays (NR)
109. Mike Montgomery, Seattle Mariners (NR)
110. C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels (42)
111. Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers (138)
112. Mike Bolsinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
113. Rubby De La Rosa, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
114. Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels (NR)
115. Jonathon Niese, Pittsburgh Pirates (79)
116. Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins (NR)
117. Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels (97)
118. Kendall Graveman, Oakland Athletics (NR)
119. Erik Johnson, Chicago White Sox (119)
120. Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
121. Alfredo Simon, Detroit Tigers (NR)
122. Miguel Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles (85)
123. Tom Koehler, Miami Marlins (NR)
124. Mike Pelfrey, Detroit Tigers (NR)
125. Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals (134)
126. Taylor Jungmann, Milwaukee Brewers (NR)
127. Henderson Alvarez, Oakland Athletics (98)
128. Zack Wheeler, New York Mets (89)
129. Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates (100)
130. Charlie Morton, Philadelphia Phillies (88)
131. Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles (49)
132. Doug Fister, Washington Nationals (57)
133. Jeremy Hellickson, Philadelphia Phillies (109)
134. Wily Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers (118)
135. Trevor May, Minnesota Twins (NR)
136. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (23)
137. Cody Anderson, Cleveland Indians (NR)
138. Marco Gonzales, St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
139. John Danks, Chicago White Sox (136)
140. Matt Wisler, Atlanta Braves (NR)
141. Ivan Nova, New York Yankees (64)
142. Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres (NR)
143. Justin Masterson, Boston Red Sox (31)
144. Scott Feldman, Houston Astros (67)
145. Jorge De La Rosa, Colorado Rockies (78)
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below what you think. Who’s too high? Too low? Missing?
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