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 continue our starting pitcher rankings, starting with another one of those pesky Cardinals aces.
21) Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 41)
After an extension, this man is rich! In other, more fantasy-related news, Martinez is checking a lot of the right boxes when it comes to dynasty development:
- Increased his innings four consecutive years
- Improved his WHIP four consecutive years
- Improved his walk rate three consecutive years
- Strong strikeout rates throughout his whole career
- 4th best groundball rate in baseball last season
Now he hasn’t turned into the strikeout machine we dreamt upon when we first saw his raw stuff and velocity, but let’s not freak out about overestimating a prospect… he’s pretty darn good. He also looks like one of those vague “pitchability” players right now, inducing good contact (16th lowest hard hit rate among qualified starters). Any small improvement in either contact rate or chase rates would vault his overall value into the borderline SP1/2 conversation. But don’t be greedy, be happy with this rotation stalwart going forward.
22) Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 18)
Old reliable, Cole Hamels is a 30+ start workhorse you can still build around. He had the 17th best strikeout rate in baseball and was a 200 IP arm for the 8th time in his career. It wasn’t all good news, though, as his walk rate went over three and his hard hit rate inflated past 30% for the first time in his career. Interestingly, he went from using a four-seam fastball as his primary pitch to a two-seamer, a new trend for him. It appears Hamels may be attempting to preemptively become better at working with contact before his velocity leaves him. Regardless, there is still a lot to like here, and a few more more SP2/3 seasons are likely going to be under his belt before he calls it quits.
23) Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 96)
As a member of the diehard Hendricks fan club member, I couldn’t have been happier with last year’s improvements. Hendricks took strong peripherals and turned them into strong results. His batted ball profile improved, he induced more swings at pitches out of the zone, and he also generated more swings and misses. Despite fringy velocity, Hendricks has been able to post excellent results thanks to incredible command, a wide variety of pitches, and elite defense behind him. So while his stuff isn’t going to blow your roof off, the results will. He was the 7th best pitcher on the player rater, I don’t anticipate him repeating that, but the guy is damn good, and if you have him, sit on him and enjoy the sweet bliss that is owning Hendricks.
24) Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 24, Previous Rank: NR)
Posting a 3.00 ERA as a 24-year-old sure does make you a shiny new toy in fantasy. Last year Sanchez came out as a ground ball inducing machine (5th highest rate in baseball), and he rode the hell out of that skill. While his hard, medium, and soft hit rates are all very average and hitters didn’t have a ton of trouble making contact, they pounded the ball into the ground and struggled to score runs. Sanchez’s pitches have interesting defining characteristics, as his four seamer and cutter generate below average contact, and his two seamer and change induce a lot of grounders. So, Sanchez can pitch to contact in the start of counts, and then go for strikeouts later in counts. That sounds like a pretty ideal way to pitch. Sanchez presents some risk, as he had a low BABIP last season and pitches to contact in a hitter-friendly park, but we at TDG personally believe he can have many strong seasons going forward.
25) Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 12)
From 2006-2015 Greinke was an absolute machine. For those 10 seasons, Greinke averaged a 3.04 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and a 1.149 WHIP. In 2016, well, to put it mildly, s*&t hit the fan. His K rate dropped to 7.60, the worst it has been since 2006, and his walk rate was highest since 2011. His hard hit rate also hasn’t been higher since 2007. The one sliver of hope we can cling to is Greinke’s track record of success, and a profile that should age well. Still, last season’s results were awfully…awful. He’s going to experiment with everything he can to find a way to return to success in Arizona, though, and given Greinke’s past, there’s a decent chance he can regain much of his lost value. If you own him, you’re likely praying that he turns it around soon, so he is presently a hold candidate since he the opportunity to return to his ace status is worth the potential bottom dropping out of his value.
26) Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 32)
Salazar teased in Salazar ways last year, but the hope remains strong. His strikeout rate peaked at 10.55, what would have been the 5th best rate in baseball, had he not only pitched 137 innings. His walk rate also ballooned to 4.13 BB/9, which would have been 5th worst in baseball. A forearm injury likely lead to worse control, which, with health, should improve next season, but health does present a big question mark. This ranking is a hedge more than it is an accurate depiction of his value for next season. In smaller spurts Salazar has shown his excellent stuff, but now we just need proof he can be a 30 start pitcher before we anoint him as someone worthy of being your ace.
27) Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 50)
Aaron Nola was a peripheral monster with low end results last year. The dumpster fire that the Phillies organization was led to him only having 6 wins, and his 4.78 ERA and 1.31 WHIP leave a lot to be desired. But behind the second curtain, Nola shows that it wasn’t all that bad. He had a strikeout, walk, and groundball rate that we all in the top-30, if you lower the minimum IP to 110. His FIP and xFIP were both 3.08, showing that he had the biggest negative gap between his ERA and FIP out of all pitchers with at least 110 IP. His 28.7% hard hit rate would have been the 12th lowest rate among qualified starters. Lastly, his contact that he gave up was below average both inside and outside of the strike zone. He went down with a UCL sprain, which is terrifying, but if you want to invest in what we in the biz call a “potential buy low opportunity”, this is it.
28) Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 31)
The time bomb that is a guy who has pitched with a UCL injury for 2 years continued to improve despite our fears of owning him. Tanaka’s strikeout rate went down and his walk rate went up (despite remaining microscopic), but his groundball rate improved. This is a result of him pitching away from a below-average fastball, instead using a sinker which has lead to improved run-prevention, but less whiffs. This is good news overall, but for fantasy removes some upside, making Tanaka more of a good pitcher than a potential ace. Should he remain healthy, this is a profile that should age very well, but the injury risk does hurt his value some.
29) Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 90)
Surprise, surprise, here we have our AL rookie of the year. Fulmer came out guns blazing in the first half, and limped home in the second half. This is likely due to the increased workload, as he jumped from 124 innings in 2015 to 159 frames last season. Still, if you enjoy pitchers developed by the Mets, Fulmer is your guy. He had the classic hard fastball and hard slider mix along with a two seamer and a change. The big projectable body and strong velocity is always nice to lean back on, and the above average chase and whiff rates are nice too. It’s early in his career, but Fulmer looks to have the pedigree of a middle-of-the-rotation arm for years to come.
30) Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: NR)
It doesn’t seem like people noticed, but Maeda was excellent last season for dynasty owners. His 9.17 K/9 put him between Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale. His 2.56 BB/9 was just below John Lackey and ahead of Dallas Keuchel. Drop stats like that in Dodger Stadium where offense goes to die, and you have yourself a very strong arm in your rotation. He only threw 175 IP, but he’s thrown 200 IP multiple times in Japan, so achieving that next season as a Dodger is a very reasonable goal for him.
31) Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (Age: 26; Previous Rank: 59)
Teheran bounced back from a rocky 2015 and catapulted himself back into the conversation of upper echelon young starters. By shaving nearly a walk and a half from his 2015 total and limiting the long ball, Teheran was able to reclaim an ERA in the low 3’s, a number much more in line with his career average. Teheran has been a rock in the Braves’ rotation since his call up, tossing at least 185 innings in every season of his career. After surviving another offseason of trade speculation, it’s easy to picture Teheran taking the ball on Opening Day for Atlanta for a long time.
32) Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox (Age: 28; Previous Rank: 80)
That’s 2016 AL Cy Young Winner Rick Porcello to you. Wait, what? The award capped a pretty incredible season for Porcello, in part because he really didn’t display different skills as a pitcher in 2016. Porcello managed to cut down on walks and homers in a career-best 223 innings pitched, but otherwise, his peripherals and profile remained pretty much the same. Sure, that’s a recipe for some regression, however the 2016 season proved that Porcello can be an elite pitcher when everything is right. He may turn that polarizing extension into a bargain after all.
33) Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 26; Previous Rank: 46)
Did we just witness the Kevin Gausman breakout we’ve been waiting on for years? Well, yes and no. Gausman tossed nearly 180 innings last season, which is a great sign and obviously a trend in the right direction. At the same time, Gausman’s underlying numbers (WHIP, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, GB%) did not really change, all being eerily similar to his career average. So did Gausman break out in 2016? Not really. Was Gausman already good to begin with? Yep.
34) Lance McCullers, Houston Astros (Age: 23; Previous Rank: 62)
It’s all about injuries with McCullers…well injuries and walks. He was filthy again last season, posting a 2.80 DRA and 75 cFIP. He even managed a 3.22 ERA with a .383 BABIP, which is a pretty impressive itself. That said, various injuries held McCullers to only 14 big league starts in 2016. If he can somehow find a way to stay healthy, McCullers is a top-shelf starter. If not, there’s a strong chance he ends up in the bullpen. Obviously, root for the former because the stuff is legit.
35) Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox (Age: 24; Previous Rank: 39)
Perhaps the most important step for Rodon in 2016 was his ability to cut back on free passes. He shaved nearly two walks per nine innings from his 2015 total, and while it wasn’t reflected in his ERA, it led to a quite solid 3.44 DRA which could be an indication of things to come. Rodon has ace-level stuff, pairing a fastball that has touched 99 mph with a wipeout slider, allowing him to strike out over a batter per inning thus far in his career. He’s putting the pieces together, and could jump up several spots by the time next year’s list rolls out.
36) Lucas Giolitio, Chicago White Sox (Age: 22; Previous Rank: 25)
For whatever reason, the bloom seems to have fallen off of the Lucas Giolito rose. In his first 21.3 innings with the Nationals, he surrendered seven homers and put up a 6.75 ERA while walking more batters than he struck out. All in all, not a great debut. That said, it’s really just 21 innings and Giolito was his usual, solid self before his callup. His spin rate was average at best and the velocity a bit lower than expected, which has hurt him in the eyes of scouts, but there’s still a potential fantasy monster here. He offers perhaps the highest upside at this stage of the list, and if the White Sox can help him get back to his 2015 mechanics, the sky is still the limit.
37) Matt Harvey, New York Mets (Age: 28; Previous Rank: 14)
I mean, who knows? When healthy, Harvey is a no doubt, top-of-the-rotation starter. However, after being shut down for the second time in four years to undergo season ending surgery (this time for thoracic outlet syndrome), it’s hard to confidently rely on the Dark Knight for a full season of work. The track record for pitchers coming back from TOS surgery isn’t great, but if Harvey can get even mostly back to full strength, he’s still an interesting option with a good amount of upside.
38) Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 24; Previous Rank: 44)
With Snell, what you see is what you get. You’re getting tons of strikeouts, and you’re getting more than your fair share of walks. In his short stint with the Rays last season, Snell fanned 98 hitters in 89 innings, but also surrendered 51 walks, which contributed to a rough 1.62 WHIP. There’s obviously still time for the young lefty to hone his command, as that is typically the final piece of the puzzle for young hurlers. There is unquestionably a lot to like about Snell moving forward.
39) Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 24; Previous Rank: 115)
Copy and paste everything from the McCullers section, and it applies to Velasquez. After coming to the Phillies from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, Velasquez has flashed the skills conducive to a front-line starter. However, injuries limited the right-hander to only 131 innings last season and left many to wonder whether his future role would be in the bullpen. For Velasquez to be successful as a starter he needs to be a little more 1st half Vince (3.32 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and a little less 2nd half Vince (5.33 ERA, 1.41 WHIP).
40) Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (Age: 29; Previous Rank: 11)
After winning the AL Cy Young in 2015, Keuchel took last season off. Metaphorically, of course. He battled injuries and poor performance, giving up more runs and home runs while pitching nearly 70 fewer innings. Despite his struggles, Keuchel still walked only 2.6 batters per nine innings and induced grounders at a gaudy rate of 58 percent of batted balls. Sure, Keuchel might not recapture the dominance of his 2015 campaign, but he’s still really good and at 29 years old, he should be good for awhile.
Commentary by Jack Cecil and Mark Barry