The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Dynasty League Starting Pitchers, Nos. 21-40
From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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Now the next 20 best starting pitchers in dynasty leagues, starting with the third Detroit Tiger on the list thus far, so it’s not unreasonable that he’s a little overlooked:
21) Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 48)
Sanchez has transformed himself from late bloomer with risk to one of the better pitchers in the league, putting together an excellent four-year stretch in which he’s never had an ERA over 4.00, never posted a FIP over 3.53 and seems to be improving despite a move to the American League. While expecting more seasons like his incredible 2013 campaign may lead to disappointment, Sanchez is an excellent choice as a No. 3 fantasy starter who should nab you 15-plus wins and 180-plus strikeouts with an ERA of 3.50 or better for the next few years. There’s little reason to distrust him at this point.
22) Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 10)
Moore misses a lot of bats, striking out nearly a batter per inning during his 300-plus MLB innings to date. Unfortunately the command problems that plagued him in the minors have yet to subside, and Moore’s high walk rates lead to elevated WHIP totals that do serious damage to his overall value. The upside still exists for Moore to be a top-10 fantasy stalwart, but it’s concerning that a team with a history of excellent pitcher development still can’t get Moore to throw the ball over the plate. Moore is still just 24 and so has time to refine his approach, but as it stands right now, he’s not yet an elite option.
23) Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 14)
Another lefty with strikeout stuff who’s struggled with command during his career, Gonzalez has taken a big step forward the past two years, improving his walk rates while piling up the strikeouts. He’s a bit homer-prone, and his 2013 season may be a better example of his true talent than his standout 2012, but he’s a pitcher who’ll be in high demand come draft day nonetheless. It’s fitting that Gonzalez ranks so close to Moore, as his 2012 campaign represents the type of year we hope Moore can recreate frequently.
24) Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 37)
Walker is either the best or second-best pitching prospect in the minors by most standards, and it’s not hard to fall in love with his athleticism, plus-plus fastball/cutter combo and potential for a good change-up. Most have Walker’s ceiling pegged as a No. 2 starter, and that’s indeed where he’s likely to spend the bulk of his career, but I’d expect the talented right-hander to perform as a mid-rotation option for next season and as a true ace in the prime of his career. It’s a very enticing package and most of his starts will come in favorable ballparks, making Walker a legitimate potential top-20 fantasy SP option down the line.
25) Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 54)
If you don’t think Walker is the best pitching prospect in the minors, you likely think it’s Bradley, who’s flown through the minor leagues and is now poised to make an impact on the Diamondbacks rotation this season. With even better swing-and-miss stuff than Walker, Bradley seems a near-lock to strike out a batter per inning in his prime, but his tendency to give up walks may limit his WHIP from entering the elite range. Like Walker, that makes him a more probable top-20 than top-10 fantasy arm, which is still very much a compliment. In the near term, Bradley’s home ballpark hurt him a bit, but at least he’ll play on a competitive ball club, which should let him grab some wins.
26) Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 56)
Minor is a great example of a player who’s gone on to be a much better major leaguer than he was a prospect, as the uptick in velocity he experienced after being drafted has indeed proven to be sustainable. While he’s unlikely to be a true strikeout monster, Minor took a step forward with his command last season, limiting his BB/9 to 2.02 and subsequently lowering his WHIP to a strong 1.09. This is a bit of an aggressive ranking for Minor, since I think 2013 largely represents his ceiling, but there’s no reason he can’t stay at this level for a few more years. He’s a solid, safe SP3 for 2014.
27) Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 40)
It took longer than Reds fans would’ve liked, but Bailey has finally morphed into the type of front-line starting pitcher so many projected he would be as a prospect. Bailey followed up his best-ever 2012 campaign with an even stronger one in 2013, striking out nearly a batter per inning, limiting homers in a tough ballpark and notching an ERA below 3.50 for the first time. Bailey falls short of classifying as an elite talent but he’s clearly blossomed into a better pitcher, and I’d be comfortable with him as an SP3 both in 2014 and for a few years moving forward. Should he find himself in a more favorable situation post-2104, all the better.
28) Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 85)
Teheran was viewed as one of the best prospects in the game prior to a 2012 season but found himself down the ranks in many Top 100 lists prior to 2013 after a rough campaign. He’s becoming an excellent case study in why you shouldn’t fall victim to prospect fatigue, as Teheran put together a terrific rookie season last year in 185 MLB IP. With his strong strikeout rate and above average command, Teheran is showcasing the No. 2 SP upside so many believed in when he was a prospect, and there’s no reason to expect him to slow down. I’m all in on Teheran, and expect him to notch 15-plus wins and a sub-3.50 ERA once again.
29) Zack Wheeler, New York Mets (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 31)
Is Wheeler underrated, overrated or evaluated properly? It’s a difficult question with an answer that tends to fluctuate depending on which prism through which you view him. The comparisons to Matt Harvey are unfair, and Wheeler will never be able to live up to such hype. The comparisons to Noah Syndergaard are more apt, but may undersell his strikeout potential. Wheeler is his own pitcher – someone who should wrack up Ks but struggle with BB and WHIP – and that makes him a potential strong but flawed fantasy contributor. This ranking overstates his 2014 impact while ever so slightly discrediting his long-term upside.
30) James Shields, Kansas City Royals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 27)
And now for something completely different! While the names immediately above Shields comprise mostly of high-upside starters who constitute more dream than reality at the moment, “Big Game James” is an entirely different best. He’s a boring, consistent starter with moderate upside but considerable floor, and while his odds of finishing as a top-20 option are slim, so are his odds of finishing outside the top-40. At 32 we need to start keeping an eye out for regression, and Shields’ strikeouts did drop last season, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt once more. He’ll represent good value in most drafts in a year in which pitching is going late.
31) Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 76)
Over 129.2 professional innings last season, Gausman posted a 9.09 K/9 with a 1.87 BB/9. In case you didn’t know, that’s really good. With Bundy having TJ surgery in June, Gausman is now at the top of a very short list for one of the last rotation spots in Baltimore. If he doesn’t break camp in the majors, he should be up fairly quickly and could provide around 150 IP this season. I have very high hopes for him, as should you.
32) Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 24)
As mentioned previously, Bundy had TJ surgery in June 2013 and won’t be playing in 2014, but that does not affect his long term value one bit. It is very possible that his value is at its lowest point right now, because once he comes back healthy he can provide top 20 caliber numbers on a regular basis. If you don’t own him right now, I’d suggest going out and trying to buy low on him as soon as this sentence is finished.
33) Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 22)
Weaver has only provided 200K in a season once, 2010. However he has consistently posted near a 7.5 K/9 and a 3.1 BB/9 for the better part of his career, combine that with an ERA of 2.83 since 2009 and you have a quality SP2 in most leagues. He’s entering his age 31 season and has been declining a bit each of the last two seasons, but I believe there is more in the tank.
34) Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
I’ve been hearing comparisons to Yu Darvish, Dice-K, Hiroki Kuroda and many others. The fact remains, that there is a very small population of fantasy baseball writers and managers that have any chance of knowing what to expect from him. What I can tell you is that he needs to keep his fastball down in the zone, because there is not much movement on it. If he can control that and mix in his game changing splitter and solid average slider, he should turn out to be a high end #3 pitcher, with a slightly higher ceiling.
35) Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics (Age: 24, Previous Rank: NR)
For those that read the SP rankings last year, you might have noticed that Sonny Gray fell through the cracks and wasn’t mentioned. It was an error that might have made you miss out on grabbing him in your drafts. I am here to tell you that you should not miss him in drafts this year. He had a 9.6 K/9 and a 3.1 BB/9 split across AAA and MLB last season. I feel very strongly that Gray will emerge as the A’s #1 pitcher by mid-season.
36) Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 43)
Lester had the worst full season of his career in 2012 and was ranked accordingly. This past season his numbers started to regress back toward the mean and could signify another top 20 year on the horizon. Even if he doesn’t reach that level, he still provides 200 IP. 175K, 3.50ish ERA and roughly 15 W. I’ll gladly take that from the 36th ranked pitcher on this list.
37) Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 18)
I for one, had Cueto in multiple leagues in 2013. He was coming off of a breakout season that resulted in his name showing up in Cy Young and MVP voting. He has been remarkably healthy over the previous 5 seasons, starting an average of 30 games per season. If I was ranking my come back SP list, I would be torn between having Cueto ranked #1 and saying “don’t call it a comeback!”
38) Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 77)
If you were asked to name the top 3 starting pitchers in Tampa Bay, I’m betting that you’d say Price, Moore and Archer before you name Cobb. I strongly disagree. I believe that list is more like #1 Price, #2 Moore, #2B Cobb and #3 Archer. He had the best season of his young career and it could be only the tip of the iceberg. In each of the last three seasons, his GB% has stayed within the 54-58% mark, his LD% has lived in the 19-21% range and his FB% has been stable within the 22-26% mark. All of that combined with a steadily increasing K/9 mark, tells a good tale. The only real outlier that I could find was his spike in HR/FB, which had gone up to 14.8% last year from 7.0% in 2011.
39) Doug Fister, Washington Nationals (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 47)
Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals this winter and is projected to slot into the #4 spot behind Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann. I have many reasons why I really like that he landed in Washington. One of them is that he has a very potent offense supporting him, another is that it will be his first time pitching for a National League team. I think that a higher K/9, a lower ERA/WHIP and more Wins are a more than reasonable assumption with his move to the NL.
40) Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 79)
Syndergaard started 11 games for the Mets AA affiliate and posted a 3.24 FIP, 11.5 K/9 and a 1.07 WHIP. It is scary to think what the Mets rotation will look like in 2 years with a healthy Harvey, Wheeler and Syndergaard…I really hope they don’t screw this up. Syndergaard has been a personal favorite since he was drafted in the 1st round three years ago, and I still can’t understand how Toronto could trade him…oh wait, that’s you screw it up. Guess I answered my own question.
Commentary by Ben Carsley and Andy Barnes.