The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Dynasty Starting Pitchers, Nos. 61-80
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 kickoff our next grouping of starting pitchers off with a pitcher whose team was in contention in 2015 and probably should have placed him in the rotation at some point, followed by another pitcher whose team was in contention in 2015, and found himself in the rotation despite only making four starts above the High-A level:
61) Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 116)
One of the biggest knocks on Berrios heading into 2016 is that he’s a victim of the Minnesota Twins’ propensity to hold back their minor leaguers longer than most other teams. In 2015, the young righty showed he had nothing left to prove in the minors, finishing the season with a 2.87 ERA over 27 starts across the top two levels of the minors. He dominated Double-A and Triple-A hitters, striking out a batter-per-inning, while walking only two-per-nine. He kept batters off balance with a changeup that most scouts call his best current pitch, coupled with two solid offerings, his fastball and curve. With the Twins rotation currently full of question marks, there’s a good chance that Berrios forces their hand in the spring and claims a spot in the rotation. If everything falls right for him, there’s a ceiling of a front-end starter here.
62) Lance McCullers, Houston Astros (Age: 21, Previous Rank: NR)
One of 2015’s biggest surprises, McCullers made his big league debut despite having thrown just 32 innings above the High-A level. He quickly made a name for himself, flashing a 95 MPH fastball and finishing the first half of 2015 with 71 strikeouts in his first 64.1 big league innings.
The Astros looked to have their next ace, until McCullers got absolutely lit up in early August where he recorded just one out, while surrendering seven hits, one walk, and six earned runs. McCullers was optioned back to Double-A, and less than three weeks later he was back with the Astros. He entered 2015 coming off a very unsettling season in the California League, where his 5.2 BB/9 was actually lower than his ERA in nearly 100 innings. While his track record is spottier than one would hope, McCullers stands a good chance to move up these rankings by next year.
63) James Shields, San Diego Padres (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 24)
As Shields approached his mid-thirties, there were questions about how one of the most consistent pitchers in the majors would react as he aged. No one expected his 2015 season, as Shields’ season was sprinkled with career-highs, both good and bad. Shields finished the season with career-bests in K/9, BB/9, LOB percentage, and HR/FB rate. He also finished 2015 throwing the lowest total innings since his rookie year (still a solid 202 1/3). All of his wonky stats still produced a respectable 3.91 ERA, and a 3.70 xFIP. What’s to come in 2016, after all of the randomness of 2015, is really anyone’s guess.
64) Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 157)
Similar to the San Francisco Giants, Buchholz just doesn’t like odd years. For the past three, the righty hasn’t been able to surpass 115 innings, while tossing a minimum of 170 the past three even years. Unfortunately for Buchholz and his owners, he always does his best in injury-shortened years. In 2015, the 31-year-old had his highest strikeout per game rate since 2008, and his lowest walk rate in his career, finishing with an ERA of 3.26. The number one risk with Buchholz is going to be injury, but as he has shown in the three previous times he’s thrown over 115 innings–sometimes the more innings he throws, the worse he pitches.
65) Collin McHugh, Houston Astros (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 91)
McHugh followed up his breakout 2014 season with a bit of a letdown in his second season in Houston. After posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in his first campaign with the Astros, McHugh finished with a 3.89 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 2015. And despite throwing 49 innings more this past season, he only struck out 14 more hitters than in 2014. Playing for the surprising Astros, McHugh was able to help fantasy owners with 19 wins last year, something he could come close to in Houston in 2016 with similar rate stats. Even with a fastball that barely touches 90 MPH, he’s able to mix up his pitches enough to contribute in strikeouts. You could do a lot worse for an SP4 than McHugh.
66) Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 59)
Despite dealing with a tricep injury that delayed his season debut and led to a career-low in innings pitched, Verlander was able to put together a solid second-half of 2015, after putting behind a disastrous 2014 season. Verlander struggled out of the gate after coming off the DL, which wasn’t too surprising considering the injury he was dealing with. In the second-half, Verlander threw 103 innings with a 2.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He still has the stuff that could make him a viable starting pitcher in most leagues for the next few seasons, but with the righty approaching his mid-thirties and a few injuries added to his resume over the past few years, there’s definite risk here.
67) Anderson Espinoza, Boston Red Sox (Age: 18, Previous Rank: NR)
The hype is at an all-time high right now for the Red Sox prospect, and for good reason. Espinoza dominated the lower minors, finishing the season with a 1.23 ERA and a .193 BAA. He already has a feel for his three plus pitches, and projects out to handle a starters workload, as he ages and grows into his body. The young righty will probably start the season at Low-A Greenville, where he threw a start last season six months prior to his 18th birthday. There’s significant risk when dealing with a pitcher who can’t even vote yet, but Espinoza’s ceiling is that of a potential ace, which could make him worth the wait.
68) Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 39)
With Iwakuma turning 35 just over a week into the season, the likelihood of injury is only going to get more and more pronounced. Iwakuma finished with near identical stats over the last two years, but due to injuries he threw nearly 50 innings less in 2015. He also had an eventful offseason, with a failed physical voiding out an agreed upon three-year-deal with the Dodgers. When he is healthy, Iwakuma has provided an excellent WHIP, a good ERA, and enough strikeouts to provide a benefit for fantasy owners.
69) Wei-Yin Chen, Miami Marlins (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 124)
For the third straight season, Chen was able to lower his ERA and WHIP, posting career-highs in both categories in 2015. The right-hander was awarded for his standout season, earning a 5-year, $80 million deal from the Miami Marlins, a favorable move for his wallet, and his home park. Chen doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, but he avoids walks and has shown some durability, by starting over 30 games in three of his four major league seasons. If Chen can figure out right-handed hitters a bit more, he may be in line for a big season in South Florida.
70) Derek Holland, Texas Rangers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 61)
After Holland’s breakout 2013 season, the sky seemed to be the limit for the Rangers lefty. That was until injuries intervened. An unfortunate offseason run-in with his dog led to microfracture surgery and a mostly missed 2014, then a shoulder injury scrapped most of his 2015 season. The injuries, and the concurrent rust caused by them, led Holland to a 4.91 ERA in 2015, and a lower-than-usual strikeout rate both of the last two years. His health coming into the 2016 season will be the main thing to keep an eye on, as Holland is still on the right side of 30, making a rebound possible, as long as he’s more careful around his dog Wrigley.
71) Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 23)
Heading into 2014, Sanchez looked to have finally shaken off the injury concerns that plagued him during his first few major league seasons. He was coming off of his fourth straight season with at least 180 innings, and had just posted a career-high in ERA and strikeouts per game. Since that career-best season however, Sanchez has dealt with finger, pectoral, and most recently shoulder injuries, culminating in an ineffective 2015 season, which saw his ERA creep all of the way up to 4.99. Along with injuries, the longball was the culprit for Sanchez’s tough season, as he allowed 29 home runs in just 157 innings last year, and ended the season with a 16 percent HR:FB ratio. Sanchez’s shoulder showed no structural damage, so a healthy offseason and a closer to league average HR:FB ratio could mean Sanchez is in for a bounce back season.
72) Jose De Leon, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR)
Based on numbers alone, De Leon fits into the second tier of pitching prospects after Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias. De Leon isn’t young for a prospect, but we continue to see how little age matters while valuing pitching prospects (Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber come to mind). The Dodgers’ right-hander doesn’t have the pedigree of the other premier pitching prospects, but sixteen starts in Double-A with a K/9 rate over 12 is just as exciting as it sounds.
73) Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 71)
The second-overall pick of the 2010 MLB draft, Taillon hasn’t registered a pro inning outside of instructs since 2013. However, his pedigree is as thorough as his injury history, making him a solid buy-low opportunity. Taillon was on the brink of the big leagues back in 2013–throwing 147 impressive innings split between Double-A and Triple-A–before missing 2014 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and 2015 after suffering a hernia. Taillon enters 2016 free of any ailments, and should be able to contribute at the major league level sometime this summer.
74) Joe Ross, Washington Nationals (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 163)
The second member of the Ross family to grace these rankings, Joe leans on a 92-95 MPH sinker and a downright filthy slider, which he throws multiple variations of. Sometimes it’s tight, with very little horizontal movement–acting more like a changeup or a splitter. Sometimes it slides right off the table, making very good right-handed hitters look foolish. Ross has the nasty stuff, first-round pedigree, and big league bloodlines to make for a very good pitcher, but one should always be hesitant to invest too much in a pitcher who throws sliders over 30 percent of the time.
75) Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 25)
Gonzalez is a good case of how quickly a pitcher’s dynasty value can decline. Upon arriving in the nation’s capital in 2012, Gonzalez was regarded as a pitcher on the brink of becoming an ace. His command issues have never been resolved, resulting in an everlasting ceiling as a number-three starter. His BABIP was sky-high in each half of 2015, causing his WHIP to balloon from 1.20 to 1.42 year-over-year, and there’s a decent chance we never see it come back down to Earth. If he can return to his 2014 performance, the time to buy would be right meow.
76) Daniel Norris, Detroit Tigers (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 82)
Norris certainly isn’t flashy–on the field, or off the field–with his fastball topping out around the same speed as the Volkswagen van he calls home. Beware of small samples, but Norris’ numbers were much better after being traded from Toronto to Detroit. His combined 7.6 percent walk rate last year was the second-lowest at any stop in his professional career, which bodes well for his development. Certain pitchers make up for their lack of stuff with a ‘bulldog’ mentality on the mound, and Norris has had to overcome issues bigger than baseball.
77) Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 42)
Cashner has thrown at least 175 innings in two of the last three seasons, but owners would’ve been better off cashing in on the 6-foot-5 inch righty last winter. He posted sparkling WHIP totals of 1.13 in both 2013 and 2014, but the rate jumped to a brutal 1.44 mark in 2015. Cashner may throw 95 MPH, but he generates a vanilla swinging-strike rate, resulting in a replaceable strikeout total. Between his age and injury history, it would be wise to gauge your league to see how much residual value his name still holds.
78) Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 47)
Moore still hasn’t celebrated his 27th birthday, yet he’s already being used as a cautionary tale for the next wave of Rays’ pitching prospects. The “can’t miss” lefty actually had a better minor league track record than his contemporaries, but Moore’s never been able to hone his command; with a career walk rate of nearly 11 percent in over 400 career innings. There’s still some upside left in the tank though, and it was reassuring to see him post a reasonable walk rate in his MLB return.
79) Mike Leake, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 104)
Leake is a sinker-baller joining an organization with a history for developing pitchers of all kinds, but particularly so with groundball pitchers. He probably won’t strike out more than 150 batters, but he has added value in leagues counting for wins, as the Cardinals project as one of the best teams in baseball once again, and his numbers should improve in moving out of Great American Ballpark.
80) Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 73)
After signing a head-scratching extension, the New Jersey native provided a negative return for the Red Sox and fantasy owners alike. While the underlying numbers don’t look too bad–7.8 K/9, 3.92 K/BB, 3.72 xFIP–Porcello finished the season with an ERA north of five. He seemed to get into a bit of a groove in the second half, but Porcello’s upside is limited in the AL East.
Commentary by Jesse Meehan and Matt Pullman