The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Dynasty Starting Pitchers, Nos. 1-20
It’s the time of the year where we offer congratulations to those of you brave dynasty league owners that survived the offseason. The greatness that 2016 will surely offer is upon us and that means we’ll be spending the next six weeks moving our way through the positional landscape, offering thoughts on the respective values of roughly 700 players throughout the process.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy the countless hours of hard work that went into these rankings and continue to support The Dynasty Guru by showing your appreciation through this link or via the splendid ‘donate’ button located on the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.
Players are ranked where they played 20 or more games at during the 2015 season at their highest position on the defensive spectrum, e.g. Chris Davis played 30 games in the outfield, meaning he’s an outfielder for our purposes. We can’t assume that a player will have eligibility at a position in the future (so no Hanley Ramirez at 1b for these rankings) or that a player will lose eligibility at a position in the future. This should clear things up for all non-Javier Baez/Jurickson Profar players, and we’ll do our best to explain where those players are ranked when the time comes. All DH types, such as Evan Gattis and David Ortiz, appear on the 1B rankings, as we will not be doing a UTIL rankings list.
We start our starting pitching rankings off with a pitcher so great that he once inspired a complete breakdown of his facial hair throughout his career:
1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 1)
The fact that Kershaw maintained his top spot in this list from last year doesn’t mean that he didn’t improve. He started 33 games for the fourth time in his career, and his 232.2 innings pitched coupled with his career-high strikeout rate made him just the 34th pitcher in MLB history to rack up 300 or more strikeouts in a season. He was the first pitcher to reach that mark since a couple guys named Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it in 2002. In fact, Kershaw’s 11.64 per game strikeout rate was second only to Pedro Martinez in his historic 1999 campaign as the highest in a 300-strikeout season. He also continued the trend from 2014 of inducing groundballs at a 50 percent clip, and while his HR:FB rate was abnormally high, his overall flyball rate has decreased every year since 2010. Entering his age-28 season, Kershaw is possibly at the pinnacle of his ability and has shown no signs of diminishing in the near future.
2) Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 6)
If there is one guy who could overtake Kershaw as he ages, it’s Fernandez. His stock took a little bit of a hit in 2014 after he underwent Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the majority of that season and nearly two-thirds of the 2015 season as well. He silenced all doubts pretty quickly upon his return, as he actually improved on his stellar rookie performance in many areas. Over eleven starts and 64.2 innings, Fernandez put up a 2.92 earned run average along with a 2.24 FIP and 79 strikeouts. His 10.99 per game strikeout rate was over a full strikeout more per inning than his 9.72 K/9 rate in 2013. More encouraging, he nearly halved his walk rate to an excellent 1.95 per game. The scary part is that he posted those numbers despite a very uncharacteristic .343 BABIP. The risk of re-injury is always lurking, but what pitcher isn’t an injury risk at this point? If Fernandez can stay healthy and maintain the performance he showed in 2015, not only will he challenge Kershaw for the top spot on this list, but he’ll also be a serious contender for the NL Cy Young. Entering his age-23 season, Fernandez is one of the most valuable commodities in dynasty leagues.
3) Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 3)
Sale had a career year in 2015–both good and bad. He posted career-high totals in starts (31), strikeout rate (32.1 percent), and strikeouts (274), to go with a career-low walk rate of 4.2 percent. However, he was bit hard by the longball again, as he gave up 23 home runs on the year, which also matched a career-high. His 3.41 earned run average–you guessed it, a career-high–was also due in large part to a massively unlucky .323 BABIP. His 2.73 FIP and 2.52 SIERRA bears this out. The ERA should come back down a bit in 2016 and with his massive strikeout potential, Sale is a great bounceback candidate.
4) Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 9)
Bumgarner is one of those guys who you always think has to be older than he is. It’s hard to believe that after six-plus seasons in the majors, and a few legendary playoff runs already under his belt, he is just now coming into his “prime” seasons. His strikeout and walk rates have consistently improved over the past three years, culminating in career-best marks for both (26.9 percent and 4.5 percent respectively) in 2015. He also has been a model of durability and consistency, topping 200 innings pitched and 30-plus starts for the fifth straight year. That’s a lot of mileage to be sure–but he has shown no signs of arm fatigue to this point. In fact, his fastball has actually gained velocity over the past couple seasons, and his size and efficient mechanics should mitigate any concerns of breaking down. “Mad Bum” has a shot at getting his 100th win before he turns 27 on August 1, which would set him up well to make a run at the rare 300 career-win plateau. The only thing that could make him more valuable in dynasty leagues is if he received credit for his prolific offense.
5) Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 17)
There has never been a question of whether Cole had the talent or stuff to be a frontline starter. That talent had just never translated into frontline starter numbers, but he finally put it together in 2015, starting 32 games and posting a 2.60 earned run average, while winning 19 games for the Pirates. He whiffed just under a batter per inning but more importantly he lowered his walk rate to 1.90 per game–after it had risen the previous season. He also reduced his home run per flyball ratio by nearly three percent from 2014 by keeping a greater number of pitches lower in the zone. This proven ability to make adjustments from year to year bodes well for Cole’s overall development and should ensure he remains effective throughout his career.
6) Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 27)
The near-polar opposite of the previous pitcher, Arrieta was a bit of late bloomer, waiting until his age-28 season to finally tap into his potential as a starter. He built on the strides he made in 2014, and put together a Cy Young worthy campaign in 2015. Starting 33 games for the first time in his career, Arrieta posted an incredible 1.77 earned run average, walked 1.89 per nine and struck out over a batter per inning en route to a 22-win season. His 56.2 groundball rate will most likely come down a smidge, but nothing else about his 2015 performance looks unsustainable or out of profile. Entering his age-30 season, some regression can be expected, but with just 795 career innings pitched, his arm has less mileage on it than most guys his age. While expecting a repeat of last season’s video game numbers may be a little lofty, Arrieta should still be an excellent option to front a dynasty league rotation.
7) Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 40)
DeGrom’s stellar 2015 leapfrogs him past all three of the Mets’ “Big Three” former pitching prospects. D’Artagnen is now leading the Musketeers. He proved his unexpected breakout 2014 season was no fluke by improving in almost every facet while starting 30 games. He lowered his walk rate to 1.79 per game in 2015, which was nearly a full batter per inning from the previous year. He induced more swings and misses and weaker contact as well. Although older than a typical second season phenom, deGrom is a very solid investment and should be pitching near the top of one of the best young rotations in baseball for years to come.
8) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 8)
Scherzer had arguably his best season to date–despite what his win-loss record says. His 2.79 ERA, 279 strikeouts, 3.8 percent walk rate, and 15.3 percent swinging strike rate were all career bests. However, you have to go back to 2010 to find a season where he was given worse run support than the Nationals’ offense provided last year. His arm has shown no signs of age as his velocity and effectiveness remained top notch. Even entering his age-31 season, he is still one of the best starting pitchers in the game, Washington’s hitters just need to take better advantage of it.
9) David Price, Boston Red Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 7)
Price’s tour of the American League East continues with his offseason signing by the Red Sox. Needless to say, he is very familiar with the division after spending time in both Tampa Bay and Toronto. His move Boston may have be the best possible landing spot for him, as in his 11 career starts at Fenway, Price has posted a 1.95 ERA while holding his opponents to just a .186 batting average and .550 OPS. As Price enters his thirties, he can still be counted on to provide impact numbers in wins, strikeouts and ERA, while starting around 30 games.
10) Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 2)
King Felix falls on this list, despite winning 18 games for a disappointing Mariners team in 2015. Two big reasons for this drop: his ballooning ERA and deflating strikeout rate. His 3.52 ERA last season was his highest since 2007, and a massive jump from his 2.14 mark in 2014. What’s worse, it could have been higher, according to his 3.72 FIP. He also served up a 15.3 percent HR:FB rate. Hernandez’s 8.52 K/9 and 191 strikeouts were his worst totals since 2011 and 2008 respectively. On a positive note, he continued to produce groundballs at a 56 percent clip for the second year in a row which shows he is able to adapt his profile as he ages.
11) Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 90)
The 2015 American League Cy Young winner built upon a solid 2014 campaign by improving his strikeout and walk rates, while inducing the third most soft contact among all qualified pitchers. He continued to be a groundball machine, which helped lower his ERA to 2.48, good for fifth-best in all of baseball. He may not have the raw stuff of some of the other pitchers in this range, and his only stand-out tool is a plus-plus beard, but he exhibits excellent fastball command and generates well above-average swinging-strike rates on his slider and changeup. He’s now logged two straight 200 plus innings, and there’s no reason to believe that he can’t continue to be a workhorse for many years to come.
12) Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 11)
The Rodney Dangerfield of this list, Greinke dropped a spot in the dynasty rankings after having a career year in which he posted a 1.66 ERA over 222 innings. Despite the Cy Young caliber season, the underlying numbers indicate that he is unlikely to sustain this level of excellence moving forward. Last year, batters posted a miniscule .229 BABIP against him, and those who did get on base were stranded almost 87 percent of the time, pointing to a forthcoming regression in his surface stats. His walk and strikeout rates have remained stable over the last several seasons, but now another year older and pitching in a much more hitter-friendly environment, we may have already witnessed the best Greinke has to offer. He still has the potential to finish as one of the top ten best pitchers in baseball, so as long as you don’t pay 2015 prices to acquire him, you likely won’t be disappointed.
13) Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 12)
Kluber was unable to duplicate his impressive 2014 Cy Young campaign in 2015, but by most measures he had a terrific year nonetheless. His swinging-strike and first-pitch strike rates remained elite, fueling the fifth-best K:BB percentage in the league. His HR:FB percentage and strand rates regressed to their 2013 levels, which likely contributed to his ERA increasing by over a run. His fastball velocity dipped from 93.2 MPH in 2014 to 92.8 MPH in 2015, and Kluber has reached an age where we can expect that trend to continue moving forward. However, his breaking pitches generate so many whiffs that it shouldn’t significantly impact his performance. Kluber hasn’t logged that many innings on his arm relative to other pitchers his age, so he will likely continue to post excellent seasons for the foreseeable future.
14) Matt Harvey, New York Mets (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 10)
The Dark Knight made his triumphant return to the rotation in 2015 after being sidelined for nearly a year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery. His production wasn’t too far off of his pre-injury levels, and a slight drop in his swinging-strike and strikeout rates can likely be attributed to a reduction in the use of his breaking pitches as he continued to work his way back from elbow surgery. Even with the slight downtick in strikeouts, his walk and groundball rates remained stellar, and I don’t think anyone is going to complain about a 2.71 ERA. The Mets deep postseason run led to an unusually high workload for a pitcher returning from injury, so it will be interesting to see how they handle him in 2016. Even if his innings are limited to some degree, he should still provide the strikeouts and ratios of an ace.
15) Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 19)
The diminutive Gray posted his second consecutive 200 inning season in 2015, establishing himself as the anchor of the Oakland staff. However, the rigors of the workload may have taken a toll on him over the second-half, as he battled through back and hip injuries. His numbers suffered as a result, as his strikeout rate collapsed, while his walk and hard contact rates increased. Simply put, he wasn’t fooling anybody. Still, he finished the season with a 2.73 ERA, which tells you just how good his first-half was, so if he can avoid the injury bug and maintain his performance for an entire season, he has the potential to post nearly 200 strikeouts with elite ratios.
16) Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 32)
Blazing fastball – check. Devastating curveball – check. Moxie – check. Long, flowing golden locks – check. Noah Syndergaard is having a prettay, prettay, prettay good life. After dominating the Pacific Coast League to begin the 2015 season, the former top prospect got the call to the bigs in early May, and proceeded to strike out 166 batters on his way to a 3.24 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He had some ups and downs in his debut season, and only posted 14 quality starts in 24 starting appearances–but that’s nitpicking. He demonstrated excellent command, and a 12.2 percent swinging-strike rate and 46.5 percent groundball rate hint at bigger things in the future. At 23-years-old, he is just beginning to scratch the surface, and he should be a staple in dynasty league rotations for many years to come.
17) Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 5)
After throwing a career-high 215 innings in 2014, Strasburg broke down in 2015, throwing just 127 ⅓ frames after hitting the disabled list in May. He had a horrific 5.16 ERA over the season’s first half, as hitters teed off to the tune of a .781 OPS against the former number-one overall pick. Things went much more smoothly in the second-half, as Strasburg rebounded nicely in putting up a 1.90 ERA and striking out 12.5 hitters per game (and lowering his walk rate to 1.1 per nine) after the All-Star break, limiting opponents to a .512 OPS. In what could be his last season in Washington, Strasburg will likely have to prove that he can once again reach the 200-inning plateau in order to score a massive payday as a free agent at the end of the season, although his dynasty value could dip a bit if an American League team steps up to meet Scott Boras’ demands.
18) Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 13)
Like the unreasonable owner in your league who expects you to give him all of your best prospects for an old, expensive vet, Ruben Amaro Jr. spent the past two years sitting at his computer all day making ridiculous trade offers when he should have been working. Well, someone finally bit, and Cole Hamels’ time in baseball purgatory was finally over. Upon his arrival in Texas, his surface stats remained relatively unchanged. However, he experienced a dip in his strikeout rate, and batters in the American League made more hard contact against his pitches, resulting in an increase in his WHIP. Fantasy owners can expect his ERA to rise now that he won’t be facing the opposing pitcher each time through the order, but he should remain a solid contributor to your fantasy staff.
19) Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 43)
Archer eclipsed the 200 inning mark for the first time in his major league career on his way to striking out 252 batters, which was good for fourth-best in the game behind Kershaw, Scherzer, and Sale. The huge growth in his strikeout rate resulted from an increase in his slider usage–a pitch that induced swinging strikes at a 20 percent clip. While he’s only logged 564 innings in his major league career, you have to be at least a little concerned about the long term health of a pitcher who throws a slider almost 40 percent of the time. He has the skills to eventually become a top ten pitcher, as long as he stays on the mound. Dynasty league owners looking to acquire Archer will want to price him accordingly.
20) Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 18)
Cueto was well on his way to having another exceptional season when he was traded to Kansas City at the deadline. The American League did not treat him very well, as all of his numbers took a turn for the worse. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and abnormally low BAPIP all regressed, which led to more baserunners and runs, which not surprisingly resulted in his ERA rising to 4.34 and his WHIP ballooning to 1.43. In other words, he sucked. He signed with the Giants this offseason, which was a welcome development considering his aforementioned struggles with the American League. Even if he doesn’t rediscover the skills that made him one of the best pitchers in the game in 2014, AT&T Park should mask some of his shortcomings and allow him to continue to provide top-20 level production.
Commentary by Travis Johnson and Eric Erhardt