The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Dynasty Starting Pitchers, Nos. 1-20
Congratulations on surviving another off-season. Now that the new year is upon us, it’s time to spend the next month traveling across the positional landscape, labeling players with numbers that correspond to their value. It’s the very definition of freedom. A ton of hard work was put into these rankings, and will continue to be put in as we bring you just an ungodly amount of information over the next month. We hope you enjoy the product we’ve created, and if you’d like to show appreciation for that work you can do so through this link, or via the donate button on in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. All donations are truly appreciated.
Starting pitcher is simultaneously the most fun and second-worst position to rank (nothing is worse than relievers). It’s phenomenally deep, especially with baseball’s offensive decline, and there’s just so many names that it’s more than a little intimidating. That said, debating the various qualities from pitcher to pitcher is a lot of fun… but then deciding who goes where and why is a bit of a headache. Let’s get to em!
1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 27 , Previous Rank: 1)
Kershaw won 21 of his 27 starts, posted the highest strikeout rate of his career, lowest walk rate of his career and lowest ERA of his career, on his way to winning his first National League MVP Award to go along with his third consecutive Cy Young Award in 2014. Despite missing the first five weeks of the regular season after returning from Australia with an upper back injury, Kershaw also posted the best FIP (1.81) of his career, and pitched longer into games (7.35 innings per start) than he had previously. Other than his awful seventh inning postseason showings, there’s not a nit to pick about the best pitcher in the game, who happens to pitch in one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks.
2) Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 3)
Pitching on an improved Mariners team in 2014 helped King Felix win 15 games, his highest total since 2009, and also helped post the lowest ERA of his career, 2.14 – down almost a run from his 3.07 career number. A full season low of .258 BABIP against helped his cause, but 2014 also was the first year that Hernandez inched his walk rate below two per nine innings, finishing at 1.75 BB/9. Hernandez did so while striking out 27.2 percent of the hitters he faced, a new career high, adding up to a 0.92 WHIP, also a career best. Hernandez now has over 2,000 major league innings on his arm, but the King is showing encouraging signs of becoming more efficient, instead of signs of slowing down.
3) Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 6)
When adjusting for pitching in the launching pad of US Cellular Field in Chicago, Sale arguably had the best season of any pitcher on a rate basis in 2014. Sale overcame a left elbow strain in early April to pitch 176 innings, posting a career best ERA of 2.17 and FIP 2.57, and a 30.4 percent strikeout rate, best in the American League, which was up from 26.1 percent in 2013. Health has always been the question with Sale, and he made adjustments in 2014 with a nod to putting less stress on his arm. Sale reduced his slider usage by 10 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, utilizing his change up almost 10 percent more, all while posting the best swing and miss rates of his career.
4) Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 2)
Darvish did not survive the injury bug that ravished through the Rangers, making 22 starts and pitching 144.1 innings in 2014 before being shut down in September with right elbow inflammation. The injury is not expected to cause Darvish to miss any time in 2015, and his results in 2014 were very similar to his stellar 2013 numbers. He kept his strikeout rate above thirty percent, and lowered his walk rate to eight percent, the best number of his major league career. Darvish also posted the best FIP of his career, a sparkling 2.84 total that mirrored his 2.83 ERA of 2013.
5) Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 4)
The Nationals took the training wheels off Strasburg in 2014 and allowed him to pass the precious 200 inning mark for the first time in his career and his arm is reportedly still attached after throwing a career high 215 frames. Strasburg has been remarkably consistent since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, putting together his third consecutive season of an ERA between 3 and 3.16 in 2014, while maintaining a K/9 number above 9 (finishing at 10.13) as he has every year of his big league career. Strasburg has received criticism for ‘not taking the next step forward’ in his career to this point, but this may be what he is – a reliable strikeout machine pitching on one of the best teams in baseball, and that has plenty of value, despite not putting up the best numbers in the history of baseball, as some predicted upon his arrival.
6) Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 5)
Fernandez’s 2014 season was cut short in May, succumbing to the Tommy John epidemic, and is not expected to return until around the all-star break in 2015. Before the injury, Fernandez’s age 21 season was on its way equaling his historic age 20 season of 2013, showing an improved strikeout rate of 34.2 percent to go along with a decrease in walks allowed to 2.26 per nine innings, down from 3.02 per nine in 2013. Pitching in one of the majors’ lowest run scoring environments should help Fernandez in his return from Tommy John and the surgery does little to dim his long term value.
7) David Price, Detroit Tigers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 7)
After years of speculation, Price finally found his way out of Tampa in July and posted similar results in Detroit, finishing sixth in the American League Cy Young balloting. Price tossed a career high 248 innings in 2014, striking out batters at a higher rate than any point in his career (26.9 percent) and overcame a .306 BABIP (career high against) to post the best FIP of his career, finishing at 2.78. A free agent of the end of 2015, Price’s new ballpark may adjust his long term value, however he did not see his fastball velocity decline noticeably in 2014, stabilizing at an average of 93.3, after peaking at 95.5 in 2012.
8) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 9)
Scherzer signed for the next seven years in Washington during the offseason and that means an uptick in value for his owners now that he will be pitching in the National League on the one of the majors most loaded rosters. Scherzer’s peripheral numbers in 2014 were almost identical to his Cy Young winning 2013 season, pitching his fifth year of 185 innings or more, establishing a new high-water mark of 220.
9) Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 8)
The 2014 World Series MVP enjoyed the best year of his career statistically, throwing a career high 217 regular season innings, adding 52 2/3 remarkable postseason innings. Bumgarner struck out batters at the highest rate of his career, while walking batters at the lowest, all while keeping his ERA under three for the second consecutive year. The Giants would be wise to monitor his workload in 2015, as he is coming off his fourth consecutive year of over 200 innings before the age of 25. Bumgarner has the body to maintain a big workload, but his reliance on throwing his dynamite slider, which he throws almost 35 percent of the time, may catch up with him sooner than later.
10. Matt Harvey, New York Mets (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 14)
Harvey missed the 2014 season as he recovered from Tommy John, but it tells you what you need to know about how great his first year and a half in the big leagues was that he’s still ranked in the top ten. The former seventh overall pick in 2010 should be ready for Spring Training, but could be under innings limits for the foreseeable future, so adjust your counting stat expectations accordingly. If Harvey’s 2015 mirrors his 2013 season (2.27 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 27.7 K%, 6.16 K/BB rate) he could vault his way into the top five of this list next winter.
11) Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 13)
On the surface it was another similar year for Greinke as he won a good amount of games with a good ERA. But in 2014 his walk rate continued to decline, meanwhile his strikeout rate spiked back up to its highest rate since 2011. There has been some volatility in Greinke’s strikeout numbers, but he should be in the 7.5-8.5/9 rate going forward. His future in Los Angeles is not set with his opt out, but in 2015 he should continue to put up a good amount of wins.
12) Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 122)
While not the sleeper he was a year ago, if Kluber repeats his 2014 season, then he will continue to be a good value. There shouldn’t be huge regression for Kluber who has now done this for over a year and a half, but a few less strikeouts and maybe a few less wins and he is more ordinary than extraordinary. The big knock here is that Kluber is already 28, which makes him more of a win now veteran than a young building block.
13) Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 31 Previous Rank: 17)
Now on the wrong side of 30, Hamels just keeps getting better. He set the lowest ERA of his career and continues to maintain good ratios, but the most impressive fact was that his pitches all gained a mph, as his fastball averaged a career high 92.3. If you exclude his April starts, which were mostly rehab, his 2014 was 194 innings, 2.23 ERA, 53 walks, and 190 strikeouts. He was even better from June to the end of the year when he posted a 1.91 ERA. The wins may not be there, but ignore the rest at our own peril.
14) Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 15)
The strikeouts finally ticked up for Zimmermann in 2014, as his 8.2/9 mark was the best since his rookie year in 2009. Most analysis on Zimmermann is nitpicking, as he showed elite control and outright dominance for what is now a third straight year. The one thing that keeps his value down some is that he only pitched 199.2 innings over his 32 starts. This does leave some value on the table when compared against the innings totals of some of his peers.
15) Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 10)
Wainwright’s 2.38 ERA was the lowest of his career, but it hid some slippage for the elite right hander. His strikeout rate dropped from 8.16 to 7.10, and his walk rate climbed from 1.30 to 1.98. In addition to the numbers slipped, Wainwright’s average velocity dropped from 91.1 to 90.2. Despite the chinks in the armors, it is hard to drop a guy with 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA too much, especially with his track record.
16) Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 36)
Lester is coming off a career year and is moving to the NL and good ball pait is all looking up for the former Boston ace. His wins could slip by one or two in 2015 if the Cubs young hitters slip, but he should make up for it with an increased strikeout rate. The one big concern is that his fastball velocity slipped in 2014, but for now he is compensated by removing his changeup in favor of the increased usage of both his sider and cutter. Like many older pitchers on this list, he is more of a short term play.
17) Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 12)
Cole continues to get better, though his walk rate did tick up in 2014. The reasons for the slip in rankings are that Cole’s ERA continues to not match the stuff or the other numbers and he missed time due to injury. The injuries are not a lasting concern, but unlike the guys around him, he has not proven he can handle a 200 inning year. However, it would be harder to build a pitcher with better raw stuff then Cole and he could be in the Top 5 a year from now with a strong season.
18) Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 37)
Cueto did not just come back from a lost 2013 season, he actually missed more bats in 2014, and lead the league in innings pitched with 243.2. Over the past 4 years Cueto has a 2.48 ERA over 677.1 innings, so you can bank the ERA for now. His strikeout rate has gone up every year for the past 4 years, but he is coming to need to prove that the 8.9 is more real than his 7.4 career mark. The one knock on Cueto going forward is whether his wins will be there going forward while the Reds retool.
19) Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 35)
Gray moes up despite the slip in numbers due to another year of proving he is a major league pitcher. The hope is that the walk rate and strikeout rates return closer to their 2013 levels. However, at minimum Gray is a 25 year old pitcher who gets to pitch half his games in Oakland (plus trips to Seattle and Los Angeles). Gray doesn’t have the upside of some of the other young pitchers, but he should be a solid Top 25 SP for many years.
20) Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 34)
Tanaka’s numbers suggest a pitcher who should be in the Top 10, but the Tommy John Grim Reaper looms. On one hand Tanaka could not need surgery and be fine and you get a top pitcher. The other alternative is that you lose him for a year and a half during his prime. Otherwise there is nothing to suggest that a healthy Tanaka cannot repeat his numbers.
Commentary by JJ Jansons and Matt Winkleman