The Dynasty Guru’s Top 200 Starting Pitchers, #1-20
It’s been a slow off-season. Like, a really slow off-season. With the hot stove frigid, fantasy baseball players haven’t had many ways to quench their thirst, unless they’ve thrown themselves head-first into football, basketball, or hockey. January and February can be some of the darkest months of the year (figuratively and literally), but fear not, restless readers. The Dynasty Guru is here to the rescue.
While you were celebrating the holidays and ushering in the New Year, our brave group of writers has been ranking, debating, re-ranking, re-debating, and re-re-ranking over 600 players for dynasty leagues. The fruits of our efforts will be filling January, February, and even some of March with the deepest, most thoroughly and painstakingly selected dynasty baseball rankings on the internet. We have top-50s, top-125s, top-200s, top-500s (of course!), and even ultra-deep prospect rankings.
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Without further ado, it’s time to continue our 2018 consensus rankings by looking at the league’s top-20 starting pitchers in dynasty leagues, kicking it off with, well, you know.
1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
Because you’re the best, around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down! Kershaw remains TDG’s top-ranked SP, donning the crown for the sixth consecutive year. Yet again, his stats were through-the-roof strong last season as his ERA (2.31) and WHIP (0.95) placed him second and third in the majors respectively. Maintaining elite command, Kershaw has delivered 10+ K/9s and fewer than 2.0 BB/9s outputs in each of the last four seasons. He’s also the best in the game at getting first-pitch strikes (69.4%).
However, there are some cracks starting to show in pitching’s statue of David. Kershaw has missed starts due to back issues in three of the last four years and saw a small dip in fastball velocity last season (92.7 vs. 94.0 from ’14-’16). He also gave up more than one homer per nine innings for the first time in his career. Regardless, Kershaw sits on the iron throne until age or injury usurps him. (Tom Werner)
2) Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 3)
Can we all stop saying that Sale’s pitching delivery is going to wreck his elbow? Plenty of pitchers with ideal throwing motions go under the knife, so can’t we just say all pitching styles strain the human body and just admire the results? The lefty slinger has notched 30 or more starts in four of the past five years and completed a season for the ages. Sale led the majors in strikeouts (308) and K-BB% (31.1%), both historically elite totals. The last starting pitchers to top his strikeout totals were Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (316) in 2002, and only Pedro Martinez’s 1999 campaign (33.4 K-BB%) bested Sale since 1960! He wasn’t just the K-ingpin last year, as Sale placed second in the AL in ERA (2.90) and finished fourth in MLB in WHIP (0.97). All the peripherals support Sale’s supremacy, as he placed first in FIP (2.45) and Z-Contact rate (79.2%), second in chase rate (36.2%), and fourth in first pitch strikes (66.8%) among qualified SPs. If anyone’s going to overthrow Kershaw, Sale’s your best bet. (Tom Werner)
3) Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 6)
Cy Young award winners don’t normally start the season with a 5.06 ERA through six starts, then hit the DL for a month. Corey Kluber isn’t your normal pitcher, however, throwing like a man possessed after his return from a back issue on June 1st. Let’s cut straight to the superlatives. Kluber led qualified SP in ERA (2.25), WHIP (0.87), complete games and shutouts (five and three), IP/start (7.02), soft contact rate (24.4%), and swinging strike rate (15.6%). Want more? Ok, he placed second in FIP (2.50) and K-BB (29.5%), as well as third in strikeouts (265) and chase rate (35.6%). Nobody can hit his curve, as batters whiffed on the pitch 28% of the time and netted a weak .260 OPS against it. What does it all mean, Basil? Klubot’s a rare workhorse who owns a phenomenal strikeout pitch and induces weak contact. Own him or he’ll own you. (Tom Werner)
4) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 5)
Winning his third Cy Young award, Scherzer enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. He earned personal bests in ERA (2.51), WHIP (0.90), and K/9 (12.02), each ranking among the league leaders. Scherzer scoffs at ground ball pitchers, as his 46.6% fly ball rate puts him third among qualified starters. He doesn’t get clobbered due to ingenious sequencing, pounding the upper zone with the rising fastball then putting hitters away with an elite slider and change. Fly balls are usually easy outs, keeping his WHIP low thanks to a .176 batting average against. Scherzer’s durability is also underrated, as he has tallied nine straight campaigns of 30 or more starts. He may be turning 34 during the season, but Mad Max is showing no signs of slowing down. (Tom Werner)
5) Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 2)
One of the rising stars in baseball, Snydergaard missed most of last season after partially tearing his right lat muscle in late April. He ended the season with 30.1 IP but was he usual imposing self on the mound, logging a 2.97 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and struck out 34 while walking just three batters. The epitome of a power pitcher, Snydergaard routinely touches 100 with his fastballs, also throwing a slider and changeup both in the low 90s. When hitters are geared up for his heat, he’ll drop a low-80s curve to keep hitters honest. Syndergaard also does a great job inducing ground balls, holding a career 49.8% ground ball rate. Given this ranking, we clearly aren’t concerned about his health long-term. Expect about 150 innings this year as Thor looks to rebuild and avenge his lost 2017. He has the repertoire and command of a true ace, so buy him off of any owners leery of his injury. (Tom Werner)
6) Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 13)
Like his Nationals teammate Scherzer, Strasburg arguably produced the best campaign of his highly anticipated career in 2017. The flamethrower recorded career bests with a 2.52 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while striking out 204 batters across 175.1 innings. He made good improvements last year, enhancing both his chase rate and contact rate by at least three percentage points each. The biggest knock on Strasburg is his knack for finding the disabled list, missing time for a variety of ailments over the past three seasons. His ratios have been fantastic through his career, owning marks of 10.5 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. If Strasburg can avoid the DL, he could easily jump into the top tier. But until that point, expect another excellent 180 innings out of him. (Tom Werner)
7) Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 4)
Dirt bikes can be a ton of fun to ride, less fun when you wreck. Just ask Bumgarner, who infamously sprained his AC joint in his throwing shoulder while biting the dust. The resulting injury caused him to miss over half of the season and ended his six-year run of pitching at least 200 innings each. While his overall numbers still look quite good (3.32 ERA and 1.09 WHIP across 111 IP), MadBum showed some worrisome signs upon his return from the DL. His 9.33 K/9 pre-injury dropped to 7.82 K/9 when he returned. That coincided with a notable drop in his fastball velocity, losing about 1.5 MPH from his early season readings. The good news is that his fastball velocity started ticking back up in his last couple starts, renewing faith for some owners. He’s been an ace for years and could get back to that status this year, but the risk has increased substantially. (Tom Werner)
8) Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 7)
For an ace, deGrom really flies under the radar. Overshadowed by great seasons from the elites and Thor’s injury narrative, deGrom quietly had another strong season in New York. Battling through a sluggish first half, he finished the 2017 season with a 3.53 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 239 strikeouts over 201.1 innings pitched. Struggling with command (3.08 BB/9) and home run issues (1.49 HR/9) early on, deGrom dramatically improved in both facets in the 2nd half (2.09 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9). One of the keys to that success was improved fastball location, routinely painting the outside corner with the pitch against righties. Due to that, his swinging strike rate on fastballs rose from 10.8% in ’16 up to 15.6% last year, which is huge. His FIP post-ASG dove down to 2.91, quite indicative of the level of pitcher he is. (Tom Werner)
9) Luis Severino, New York Yankees (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 121)
When you rise 121 spots in positional rankings, you’ve had yourself a pretty darn good season. Severino blew away everyone’s expectations en route to a 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 230 strikeouts across 193.1 innings. Severino made tremendous progress from 2016 to last year:
2016 – 8.37 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 45.1 GB%, 4.48 FIP
2017 – 10.71 K/9, 2.37 BB/9, 50.6 GB%, 3.07 FIP
Severino’s arsenal rounded into form last year. Already boasting an elite fastball (97.6 average velocity ranked first among SP) and strong slider, the enhanced usage of his changeup made all the difference. Severino threw the changeup twice as often and challenging hitters with it in the zone clearly paying off (Z-Contact dropped from 92.3% down to 79.4%). He also began locating his slider better, getting hitters to chase it off the plate 44.4% of the time. Outside of being eaten up by homers in Yankee Stadium (1.39 HR/9 at home, 0.56 HR/9 away), the strides Severino made last year are for real. Buy every share you can. (Tom Werner)
10) Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 21)
Armed with a blazing fastball (95.6 MPH avg), an effective slider, and proficient ground ball ability (career 53.6 GB%), C-Mart has the raw tools you’re looking for in a potential SP1. The reliever-turned-workhorse crossed the 200 IP threshold last season, notching a 3.64 ERA and 1.22 WHIP while striking out over one batter per inning. The last hurdle Martinez has to overcome to reach elite status is his command (3.12 BB/9 in ’17). He also got unlucky with homers (16.4 HR/FB%), inflating his ERA somewhat. Expect those homers to regress back to the mean. Even though Martinez has been in the league for five seasons, he’ll play the entirety of the 2018 season at 26 years of age. If Martinez can sharpen his command, he’ll become a true ace, but he’s still a very good pitcher with tons of innings left in his arm.
11) Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 27)
I was lucky enough to watch Nola pitch when he was at LSU. It was against Houston in game two of regionals. He dominated Houston, going 7.1 innings. striking out seven, giving up five baserunners and a run. The fastball sat 94-95 with movement and remarkable command, the breaking ball looked great, and he was locating a good changeup. I barely knew the first thing about scouting, but I knew that this guy’s ceiling wasn’t that of a mid-rotation starter.
Sure enough, Nola rocketed through the minors with ease and aside from a year in which every notable analytical pitching stat sees as a major aberration, he’s coasted through the bigs. He’s learned how to become a great strikeout pitcher without sacrificing any of the command. Barring health, this could be the year Nola vault’s himself into Cy Young contention. (Brady Childs)
12) Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 9)
Poor Carlos has been overshadowed by Corey Kluber for the entirety of his stretch as a starter. I’m sure he doesn’t mind. He signed a four year, $22MM extension with two club options in 2015 after shoving at the end of 2014 as a starter and hasn’t stopped since. Since he advanced to a full-time position in the Indians’ rotation, he’s 10th in baseball in K% (27.8%) and 7th in K-BB% (22.1%). Carrasco’s four-pitch mix doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and as a pitcher in a division where three teams look to be in the “rebuilding” process, he should be an elite performer in all starting categories. (Brady Childs)
13) Jose Quintana, Chicago Cubs (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 19)
Quintana has been one of baseball’s most consistent starters, notching 200 IP in four consecutive years, ERA’s in the mid-to-low 3’s, strikeouts hovering around 20%, and an underperforming win/loss record. Last season saw his profile change just a little bit. He set a career high in K% (26.2%), a career high in BB% (7.7%), and allowed the highest HR/9 of his career (1.10). He failed to reach 200 for the first time since his rookie season and posted the highest ERA of his career. You could call last year a bump in the road for Quintana, but he has an excellent track record of success that could be improved upon with a newfound ability to strike batters out. And now he has a competent offense behind him! If things break right, Quintana should give 200 innings, strike out 200 hitters, and post his usual mid-to-low 3’s ERA with room to negotiate lower. That’s a stud. (Brady Childs)
14) Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 17)
For the third consecutive season, Archer reached 200 innings, struck out well over 200 batters, and kept his BB% below league average. His stuff is electric, featuring a high 90’s fastball and power slider. Since 2015, his K% ranks 6th in baseball. The only reason Archer isn’t a top 10 lock is because his ERA has lagged well behind his peripherals over the past two seasons. In 2016, Archer posted a 98 ERA-. Contrast that against his 70 DRA-. Again, last year he posted a 96 ERA- and a 70 DRA-. There are guys in baseball that consistently underperform/overperform their peripheral stats, but it doesn’t make sense for Archer to be one of those guys. The stuff backs up the stats and he plays in a pitcher’s park in front of some outstanding defenders. The TDG consensus is that this can’t keep happening forever, and now’s the time to buy low (well, as low as you can). (Brady Childs)
15) Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 64)
It’s really funny in hindsight that Ray was traded twice for mediocre talent. Well, guess what, teams? You traded away an ace. I hope you feel good about yourselves.
A year after whiffing 28.1% of batters, Ray upstaged himself by striking out 32.8% in 2017. Sure, there were some walks, but when you’re striking out nearly a third of the guys that come up to face you, you can hide such flaws. He has youth on his side, making the sky the limit for young Robbie. Please stay healthy. (Brady Childs)
16) Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 14)
Forget about the World Series, Darvish is still a bad, bad man. He’s never struck out fewer than 27% of hitters, has toned the walks down as he’s progressed in his career, and has remained healthy since his Tommy John. Now calling the Second City home, Darvish can continue being one of the game’s most valuable fantasy assets. (Brady Childs)
17) Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 40)
Keuchel is the sneaky great fantasy asset: Strikeouts hover around average, but maintains a low ERA, WHIP, and wins a lot of games by virtue of pitching well and being on an awesome offense. In contrast to his teammate, Justin Verlander, Keuchel doesn’t throw 98. However, he did boast a ridiculous 66.8% GB rate last year. Keuchel’s sinker is as good of a worm killer as any in the game and as long as he can command that (and remain healthy), he should remain a solid SP2. (Brady Childs)
18) Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR): Here’s what we know about Ohtani: He wants at least 5 days rest between starts, he’ll be DH’ing in between, he has a (sorta) hurt elbow, he throws 100, he has a dynamite breaking ball, and he features a forkball that looked nasty in Japan but which some are doubtful will translate to MLB due to the larger sized ball.
Let’s run this down…
- The Angels have announced that they plan to use a six man rotation
- Ohtani could always hurt himself swinging, getting hit by a pitch, or by tearing his Achilles running out of the box. The likelihood of any of these things happening aren’t great enough to warrant dinging him down the list
- If you took an MRI of every professional pitcher’s UCL with 500+ professional innings on it, you’d find UCL damage on virtually every single one. This isn’t a big deal.
- The dude’s stuff is legit. An 8/7/5 pitch mix doesn’t come along often and when it does, you should salivate over it.
I don’t know if this will continue for several years. Him swinging the bat part-time throws a wrench into these things. Either way, the guy has the stuff to be an ace. Any offense he gives on the side should be extra. (Brady Childs)
#19 Justin Verlander, Houston Astros (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 20)
Yesterday, I was thinking about how dumb it was for the Tigers to sign this guy to an extension two years out for no discount whatsoever. I mean, it was still dumb, but it paid off. Verlander’s declined lasted precisely *one* season and has enjoyed a renaissance in his mid 30’s. Suddenly, Verlander looks like the world beater and Cy Young winner he was in the early aughts. His fastball has miraculously gained two MPH, he’s commanding it with authority, and the hard slider he features is a nasty wipeout pitch. I’m not aware of anyone who’s followed this kind of aging curve, but I do know that Verlander is an awesome pitcher, seemingly impervious to age. (Brady Childs)
#20 James Paxton, Seattle Mariners (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 49)
Paxton finally put it all together last year. The only problem was that he only put it together for 136 innings. Another problem is that 136 innings is the most he’s thrown since 2013 in Triple-A. Paxton has the stuff to be a worthy SP2, but the consistent injury problems make him a wild card. He’s totally acceptable to take a shot on, but relying on him to carry your staff is a fool’s errand. (Brady Childs)