We face the same dilemma every year when it comes to drafting pitchers. We have to determine if any should go in the first round, how many ace-caliber pitchers we need to own and identify which late-round pitchers have upside to jump up into the Top 30.
Before getting into the late-round pitchers, let’s take a look at the early Top 40 at the position, which makes up my top eight tiers at pitcher.
As always, we are using a 5×5 structure for the framework.
Yes, he’s still by himself in a tier. But the gap is narrowing. Yes, he had an injury for the second-straight season, but we actually saw Clayton Kershaw at his best in 2016 when he was healthy. He had a career-best 1.69 ERA in 149 innings and had a 0.725 WHIP. He’s worth a first-round pick and worthy of being by himself in a tier.
Besides a few blowups – five earned runs or more in four games – Max Scherzer was as elite as they come. He gives up too many home runs still, but you can live with it … For as good as he is, Madison Bumgarner still doesn’t get enough attention as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Somehow he’s only 27 years old. His numbers are consistent year in and year out. His walk rate went up to 2.14 last year, but he’s been at 2.77 before and has been fine … I might be the high guy on Corey Kluber this year, and that’s fine. His 2016 numbers were similar to his 2015, except that he pitched closer to his FIP in 2016 than he did in 2015 … Chris Sale rounds out the second tier, in what is a clear Top 5 this year. I have concerns about a lefty going to Fenway Park, but having competent catchers behind the plate and a potent offense will only help him.
This is where it gets tough. Who is the sixth-best pitcher for Fantasy? Ask 10 different experts, and you may get 10 different answers. For me, it’s Noah Syndergaard, who we still haven’t seen reach his peak level. Scary, right? What’s more scary is that by average velocity, he threw the hardest fastball (97.9 mph), slider (90.8 mph) and changeup (89.7 mph) in baseball last year. A 90 mph changeup? It’s not even fair. Neither is Thor … Speaking of velocity, the big concern I have with Jake Arrieta was that his velocity dipped across the board last year, except on his fastball. However his movement across the board stayed relatively the same. We can call it an off year, even with a 3.10 ERA, which is really, really good. But like his teammates, he’s helped out by the elite defense behind him, posting a .241 BABIP, which was the third-best in baseball … We wrote Justin Verlander off too soon, it appears. He’s found his way back to being an elite pitcher after the triceps and core injury … He can’t throw to first base, but that’s fine. An elite defense behind him and keeping the ball down is a recipe for success for Jon Lester … This is Yu Darvish’s breakout year. Buy him now in dynasty. Reach for him in your drafts. He’s going to lead baseball in strikeouts this year.
This begins part of the draft where you really hope you have a No. 1 pitcher already. These guys are great for your second pitcher, but I really don’t want to count on them as my ace. That includes Stephen Strasburg, who is as sure of a bet as there is to land on the disabled list as some point. But when he’s on, boy is he ever on … Remember when we said Bumgarner was only 27? Jacob deGrom is already 28. Are we jumping ship already? I’m not panicking on him, but he did have a career-high in ERA, FIP, xFIP, HR/FB, strand rate, BABIP, home run rate and a career-low in strikeouts per nine … We continue to underrate Johnny Cueto each year. We had reason to heading into 2016, after his poor stint in Kansas City. Don’t make that mistake again this year … Cole Hamels adjusted well to the American League in his first full season there. He’s the most consistent starter in this tier … David Price is a reason I’m concerned with Chris Sale. He allowed the seventh-highest hard hit rate (34.8 percent) in baseball last year, and the eighth-highest pull rate (44.1 percent), which is a recipe for disaster as a lefty pitching in Fenway Park.
He was pretty bad for the first half of the year, but in the arbitrary second half last year, Chris Archer put it together. He needs to continue to utilize his slider in 2017, which produced a 50.2 percent groundball rate, a .198 batting average against and a 36.2 strikeout rate last year … High on Danny Duffy? Maybe, but I’m buying into the strikeout potential here … Every year is the year of Carlos Carrasco. Every year is the year that he underperforms for one reason or another. He’s going to be 30 when the season starts … Zack Greinke was due to regress from his outstanding 2015 season. He’s also due to regress from his miserable 2016 season … This all depends on where Matt Harvey is in Spring Training. Right now, it sounds like he’s on track for an Opening Day return. People are going to want to fade Harvey this year. Take advantage of it … We’re at the point now where we are comfortable with Masahiro Tanaka and his elbow, right?
His defense and his ability now to allow Barrels are outstanding, but while Kyle Hendricks underperformed his peripherals in 2015, he outperformed them in a big way last year. The two seasons were actually very similar. Look for them to meet in the middle this year … Gerrit Cole isn’t an ace. He’s not a real-life ace. He’s not a Fantasy ace. He’s a low-variance pitcher who is a good back-end No. 2 but ideally a No. 3 for your staff … You know what you’re getting each year from Jose Quintana. Last year, he just got luckier in the wins category … I still have this fear with Carlos Martinez and his shoulder … Maybe the Dodgers will allow Kenta Maeda to throw more innings this year. He pitched seven innings just twice in 32 outings … Aaron Sanchez is the real deal. You’ve seen an innings increase, too. If anyone can jump into the Top 10 this year, Sanchez is the guy to do it … The Atlanta Braves might not be too bad this year. They’ll hover between 70 and 80 wins, which should provide a bump in the seven wins that Julio Teheran recorded last year.
If Dallas Keuchel can revert back to the type of pitcher that works on painting the corners, you could see a resurgence, especially with Brian McCann’s framing behind the plate … We know Rick Porcello will regress, but how much will he? He’s similar to Quintana, but he’ll likely go ahead of him in most drafts based on his Cy Young campaign … There’s still something left in Felix Hernandez’ arm. He’s no longer a Top 10 arm, but he’ll still be useful … Go to the ballpark, throw a quality start, record a win and go home. A day in the life of John Lackey every fifth day … Injury concerns are the reason that Danny Salazar is this low. I love the raw skills … Rich Hill showed that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. He also showed that if you’re banking on more than 130 innings from him, you’re a risky, risky Fantasy player.
The end of the year wasn’t great for Michael Fulmer, but he was a rookie, so a wall was expected to be hit. After 159 innings last year, 190 seems like a lock this year if you apply the 20 percent expected innings increase … Another lefty in Fenway, another bad outlook. Drew Pomeranz won’t be as good as he was in San Diego last year, but he won’t be as bad as his initial stop in Fenway, either … According to Joshua Howsam of Baseball Prospectus Toronto, Marcus Stroman was the only pitcher with a break distance of six inches-plus between each of the four-seam, sinker and cutter. His height and lack of punchouts have me concerned, but I can see a big step forward for him this year … I’m going to own a lot of Anthony DeSclafani this year as a breakout candidate. He pitched above his peripherals in 2016, but a big step forward will happen in 2017 … The Kevin Gausman upside is all we hear about. He could be their best pitcher this year, but we know how Buck Showalter is when it comes to using his best pitcher … Like the rest of the Mets, there are injury concerns with Steven Matz. The upside, though, is out of this world and he could be a Top 20 pitcher.