It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
The Dynasty Guru’s hard-working staff has spent countless hours crafting these rankings, and we hope you enjoy and continue to support our efforts 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.
You can view our rankings for previous positions, and the dates future rankings will come out, by clicking the link to TDG’s 2017 Consensus Dynasty Baseball Rankings splash page. With that, let’s begin our starting pitcher rankings, starting with a no-doubt #1 pick.
1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 1)
Over the course of the last 100 years, 585 starting pitchers have thrown at least 1500 innings. Clayton Kershaw has career FIP lower than every single one of them. What about his ERA? That’s the only thing that matters in our fantasy baseball world, right? Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA than all of them but one. In his worst full season in the majors, he finished with an ERA under 3.00. His 2016 was cut short, so you may not have noticed, but he was headed for his best season yet. Here are the highlights: lowest ERA of his career, lowest FIP of his career, lowest WHIP of his career, lowest walk rate of his career, and highest K%-BB% of his career. He appears to be some sort of pitching demi-god that combines Dellin Betances swinging strike rate with prime Cliff Lee’s command. He’s moved on from the “best pitcher in baseball” discussion and into the “best pitcher to ever live” discussion.
2) Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 16)
I still can’t believe this guy is real. Last year, he led all qualified starting pitchers in FIP, finished third in ERA and K%-BB%, ran a near elite 51.2% ground ball rate and did the bulk of it at 23 years old. He averaged 98.5 mph with his sinker, over a full tick harder than the gold standard that is Zach Britton. His slider averaged 91.5 mph; he throws his slider on average harder than Felix Hernandez throws his fastball. This may not come as a surprise, but his changeup velocity also leads MLB starting pitchers at 90.4 mph. 2016 looks like the floor for a healthy Syndergaard. Unfortunately, the defense behind him is a bad joke and that is going to lead to more batted balls going for hits than normal and an ERA that will be a tick higher than he probably deserves. The Kershaw vs Syndergaard debate could be the Trout vs Harper debate of pitchers for the rest of this decade and into the next, as long as they can stay healthy.
3) Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 3)
It’s hard to say the guy ranked #3 overall is underrated, but it kind of feels that way. He’s one of two pitchers to record over 500 strikeouts the last two years and his ERA is 3.37 over that span. He appeared to intentionally pitch to more contact in 2016 and still finished with the sixth best K%-BB% among qualified starters. The move to Boston will be beneficial in several ways. The improved defense should help suppress his BABIP against and the offense and bullpen should almost guarantee win totals in the 18-23 range. Last year in the second half alone, Sale tossed six quality starts that did not result in a win. In those six starts, he averaged eight innings pitched, a 2.62 ERA with a 10.68 K/9 and a 1.31 BB/9. Sale is my contrarian pick to finish as the #1 starting pitcher in ESPN’s 2017 player rater.
4) Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 4)
In the last six seasons, only three pitchers have thrown more innings or collected more strikeouts than Bumgarner. He’s 27 years old. Last year, he threw a career high 226.2 innings and paired that with a career low 2.74 ERA. Bumgarner is basically a mortal lock for 200+ innings, 200+ strikeouts and a sub-3.20 ERA. I wouldn’t argue against ranking him #2 on this list.
5) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 8)
Traditional wisdom tells us starting pitchers don’t improve after turning 30 years old, but Scherzer has defied those odds. After his career year in 2015, finishing as the 4th ranked starting pitcher in ESPN’s player rater, we assumed some sort of decrease in production was coming, as evidence by his #8 ranking before 2016. That didn’t happen. Not only did he finish as the #1 starting pitcher in 2016, he matched his career high innings total and set a career high in strikeouts and strikeout percentage. He also became only the third player ever to strike out 20 batters in a game. He finished with his highest average fastball velocity and his lowest opponent’s batting average against. He’s going to remain in the top-10 on this list for the foreseeable future.
6) Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 13)
Three consecutive seasons of 215+ innings pitched, 227+ strikeouts and ERAs under 3.50 has launched Kluber up our list. He features elite command and the single best breaking ball in the league. That combo will keep him rolling for the next few years even if the fastball continues to lose a little of it’s luster. He’s as safe a bet as any to finish in the top-10 every year for the next four years.
7) Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 7)
After a career-high in innings pitched and a deep playoff run in 2015, there were reasons to be concerned about how strong deGrom would be last year. His rate stats were great and he appeared to be plenty effective. His 3.04 ERA would have ranked in the top 10 in MLB had he pitched enough innings to qualify. There are, however, major reasons for concern. He lost nearly two full mph off his fastball in 2016 and started to move away from it a bit leading to a dip in control. He also lost two full percentage points off his swinging strike rate and underwent surgery on the ulner nerve issue in his throwing elbow. There are reports that he’s ready to go and has thrown off a mound. The risk is very real here but if the deGrom owner in your league is nervous, now is the time to make your move.
8) Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 6)
If it’s possible to throw 197+ innings, strike out 190 batters, win 18 games with a 3.10 ERA and be disappointing, that’s what happened to Arrieta in 2016. That’s how high the bar was set the year before. His strikeout percentage dropped, his walk percentage nearly doubled and his fastball lost a little zip from the previous year. All of that could be attributed to the massive workload from the year before. The stuff is still there and with 2017 representing his “walk year”, I anticipate a huge year that resembles something closer to what we expected 2016 to look like.
9) Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 21)
For three years running, Carrasco has been absolutely dominant when on the mound. In those three years, among starters who have pitched 450 or more innings, Carrasco ranks 3rd in swinging strike rate, 6th in K%-BB%, 9th in FIP and 10th in groundball percentage. If he stays healthy enough to pitch 200 innings in 2017, he could jump into our top-5. There is a Carrasco owner out there who is frustrated with him. I urge you to quickly determine if that person is in your league.
10) David Price, Boston Red Sox (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 9)
Price was solid in 2016. He tossed 230 innings, struck out 228 batters and maintained his plus command. His ERA was predictably higher than his peripherals as his new home park rewards right-handed pull power and I assume he is working diligently to find a way to combat this. You can bet on 200+ innings and 200+ strikeouts moving forward but understand the risk will always be there for an inning-ending deep fly ball to just clear the monster and destroy your ERA in any given start. Price has some work to do to remain in this top-10 moving forward but I am more confident than it sounds that he’ll be great in the future.
11) Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 20)
The fresh air of the Bay Area was all Cueto needed to get his value back to where his supporters all knew it should be. After a brutal second half from Cueto following his trade to the Royals in 2015, many skeptics thought we were seeing the first real signs of decline. AT&T Park plus a move the NL cures all ills and Cueto posted much more Cueto-like 2.79 ERA and second best K-BB rate of his career at 17.4 percent. He is back as a reliable ace and now with three straight seasons of 200+ IP any old lingering concerns about being injury prone can be put to rest. His pitch mix stayed pretty much the same last year relying slightly more on his change-up and slightly less on his curveball. I would expect that the home park and the Giants second ranked defense in all of baseball will help him continue to succeed for years to come.
12) Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 23)
Jon Lester is really good. He also seems to be getting better as he ages. Consider this: Lester has had two three-year stretches where he has earned more than 14 fWAR during his career. The first came during his age 24-26 campaigns during 2008-2010 when he was setting records in Boston for most strikeouts by a lefty in a single season in franchise history (broken last year by Price). The second such stretch came during 2014-2016 when he was in his 30’s, over that span he was worth even more, 15.1 fWAR. The move to the National League coupled with the best control and command of his career have this durable lefty looking mighty safe over the remainder of his contract. Don’t hesitate to buy because the skills are intact and that league leading Cubs defense sure can make up for a lot of minor regression issues.
13) Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 17)
For the last two seasons, Strasburg has failed to hit 150 IP, a big problem for owners relying on him for ace production. On the plus side, his 2.86 DRA from the past two years ranks among the top-12 marks in all of baseball (min 120 IP). When he’s healthy he’s one of the best, but unfortunately he’s hardly healthy. The former TJ victim is trying to avoid further injury in 2017 by throwing the slider less. He threw the pitch 17.2 percent of the time last year generating a 12 percent whiff rate on the pitch. It is unknown what pitch he will substitute for it instead; his change-up and sinker would be a good bet since they are highly effective, but he may also rely more on the curve. In what will be his age-28-season next year Strasburg will be entering his pitching prime. Should he show the ability to stay healthy, he will only climb this list and reward his owners and the Washington Nationals for their patience with him. Of all the players on this list, though, he may be the most risky.
14) Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 22)
For the last two seasons, Darvish has failed to hit 150 IP, a big problem for owners relying on him for ace production…..oh wait, am I having déjà vu? Nope, Darvish is pretty much the same risky ace as Strasburg, except he is two-years older and might have an even more deadly repertoire when healthy. If he had qualified, his DRA of 2.56 last season would have ranked third among pitchers with at least 120 IP. After dealing with neck and back injuries over the last few seasons, Darvish was healthy from the second half forward, even pitching in a playoff game. Darvish’s strikeout stuff remains intact and his control has improved every year in the states. If he can remain healthy and pitch in 200+ innings, then we are talking about a top-five pitcher. If not, it will be high time for him to shoot down this list next season.
15) Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 33)
Urias is the younger and first of a few uber talented kids to appear on this list. Not yet drinking age, Urias has shown himself to be deadly effective over his first 77 IP in the major leagues. The southpaw primarily relies on a four-seam fastball, curve, change-up, and slider. His change-up is a truly devastating offering which produces whiffs aplenty and many a ground ball. His control and command could use some work but he is remarkably advanced for such a young age. 140-150 innings will likely be his cap next season after 122 across Triple-A and the majors last year, but he should be without limits by 2018. Going forward Urias has the look of a true number one lefty who will have the advantage of pitching behind and learning from Clayton Kershaw: the greatest lefty of his generation. The future is bright for Urias and now is the time to invest.
16) Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 49)
As Adam Wainwright fades from the spotlight, the Cardinals have a new homegrown ace ready to replace him. If you’re a fan of another team in the division, it just doesn’t seem fair. Chris Carpenter, Waino, and now Reyes. Some teams can’t even develop one pitcher of this caliber, yet the Cardinals never stop developing these guys. The newest version, Reyes, might have better stuff than both of them. The fastball is electric; last season it averaged over 97 MPH and was coupled with an 88 MPH change-up. If that wasn’t enough he also throws a curveball, sinker, and devastating slider. The one knock on the youngster is that he can get wild. If he can find a way to cut down on that 12.2 percent walk rate then the sky is the limit. He is a wise investment in dynasty but not without his own risks. Consider 140 IP as a likely ceiling for him in 2017. (Ed. note: Alex Reyes’s possible season ending surgery was reported after the writing of this comment. He’d likely rank in the 35-45 range given this news. We’re sad now.)
17) Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 19)
Looking at all of the numbers outside of ERA, Archer’s 2015 and 2016 seasons look very similar. The biggest difference is that his HR/FB rate went from a respectable 10.4 percent to a ludicrous mark of 16.2 percent in just one year’s time. The biggest difference was in the performance of Archer’s four-seam offering. In 2015, the slugging percentage on the pitch was just .405 but in 2016 it jumped up to .527. There was slightly less arm-side run to his fastball and it was slightly lower in the zone than in 2016 with an average velocity of 95 rather than 96. The pitch was annihilated towards the bottom on the strike zone as a result. I am willing to look at this as something that needs a minor adjustment rather than a major overhaul. Look for Archer to regain his handle on his fastball and return to his dominant form. The variation isn’t enough to cause me real concern and it shouldn’t concern you either.
18) Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 5)
Starting with a rib injury and ended with elbow issues, 2016 was a year that Cole and his owners would like to forget. The good news is that he is fully on track for 2017 after having a regular off-season throwing program and will look to get back to his 2015 form. I would dive into his numbers from last season but I think that they are largely irrelevant. Look, the kid was hurt. What’s more important is whether he can regain the stuff that made him an ace in 2015, and if he can stay healthy over the course of a season. If you’re confident in that, then use this time to make an offer on a youngster who could have his best years ahead of him.
19) Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 47)
Why did it take Chicago going on a fire sale for all of us to realize how valuable this guy is? Quintana has had four straight years of 200+ innings following his rookie season in 2012. He has increased his innings total every season and posted a career best 3.20 ERA last year. As he enters his age-28 season, we fantasy owners are catching onto how valuable guys like this can be. Sure, he is limited, as he’s not going to strikeout 200+ batters a year, but he also won’t walk anyone and his 23 quality starts were the 6th best in baseball last season. He routinely pitches into the seventh inning or later and will most likely find a home on a contender soon via trade. While not sexy, you need guys like this as a bedrock to your team. For every Strasburg you need a Quintana to balance the risk.
20) Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 66)
I really, really hope that Kate Upton doesn’t read our site. If she does, we are all in deep trouble. We ranked Verlander 66th last year and all but danced on his grave as a fantasy relevant asset. All he did in reply was come out and put up his best overall season since 2012, the year after he won both the Cy Young and the MVP. In Kate’s defense, Verlander probably was screwed out of this year’s Cy Young since virtually all of the numbers backed him as the best starter in AL. He may not ever throw 98 again with regularity, but he knows how to pitch. Verlander used his slider more than ever last year and will continue to rely on excellent fastball location coupled with off-speed and breaking offerings to get the job done. I love him as a valuable addition to any contending fantasy team and I promise the future Mrs. Verlander that we will not doubt his abilities again.
Commentary by Frank Sides and Jake Devereaux