Not Your Grandfather’s Top 100 Starting Pitchers…
Starting pitchers: You can’t live with em, you can’t win your fantasy baseball league and then use the championship trophy to score babes without em. I know, you won’t be able to do that second part either way, but it’s called fantasy baseball for a reason.
Starting pitchers remind me of grandparents. Oh boy, where’s Donkey going with this one? Don’t worry Grey’s random italicized voice, I won’t get into my James Shields pants peeing analogy.
When they’re young, visits with gramps and granny are full of excitement and unexpected gifts; those times are as magical as a Walker Buehler vs. Jack Flaherty locker room sword fight. But as time passes, and our elders age, it’s not all ice cream, pizza and 13 strikeout gems. Hips are fractured and ulnar collateral ligaments are severed. The pizza and ice cream is replaced by prune juice and fruit cakes, with a side of 8 earned runs in 2/3rds of an inning. And of course there’s the erectile dysfunction, brought on by another Tyler Chatwood misfire.
In this biweekly top 100 starting pitchers column, I’ll track developments of decreased blood-flow, fractured hips and, most importantly, those mythical GILFs (Grandmothers I‘d Like to play Fantasy baseball with; what did you think it stood for?) as they rise across the fantasy pitching horizon. Here’s a little GILF tease along with my preseason top 100 to hold all you grandmother lovers over…
Mike Foltynewicz (#16) – Folty increased his slider usage from 22% in 2017 to 27% in 2018 with great success. Opposing batters hit only .107 against the slider, and the pitch registered a lofty 17.9% swinging strike rate. I don’t expect another 2.85 ERA season, but a line of 14-9/3.40/1.15/210 in 190 innings seems well within Folty’s reach.
Shane Bieber (#22) – The Biebs fan club is now accepting applications! I was drafting Bieber around pick 200 in early winter drafts, but his stock has risen all the way up to the 150 ADP area as of late February. I still love him at that price. The phenomenal control (4.7% BB rate!) and ability to induce whiffs with his elite slider (26.2% swinging strike rate!!!), gives Bieber upside few can match. If he can develop a third pitch, there could be multiple gold records in his future. For 2019 I give Biebs a line of 14-7/3.40/1.15/190 in 190 innings with room for more.
Yusei Kikuchi (#27) – You say Kikuchi, I say get on my fantasy team! Japanese pitchers are usually successful their first time through the league (see Dice-K, Darvish, Tanaka, Maeda, Ohtani). Heading into 2018, The Kooch was comfortably nestled between Ohtani and Mikolas as the second best pitcher in all of Japan. He suffered a “down” season last year with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP which, along with an expected innings limitation, has stifled his draft hype. I don’t expect that to last long, buy-in now before everyone notices just how good Kikuchi is this spring. I’ll project him for 12-6/3.50/1.15/150 in 160 innings and there’s plenty of upside from there.
Tyler Glasnow (#34) – Some pitchers succeed working with Ray Searage, others wish they’d develop early onset Alzheimer’s so they can forget they ever worked with him. Glasnow falls into the second bucket. No longer having to walk the plank in Pittsburgh, there’s now new hope for Glasnow to deliver on his immense potential. He cut down on the walks after arriving in Tampa last summer and if he can find the right pitch mix to complement his electric fastball, look out! I’m giving him a conservative line of 10-7/3.80/1.25/180 in 155 innings, but that’s only scratching the surface.
Jesus Luzardo (#53) – Looking for this year’s Walker Buehler or Jack Flaherty? Look no further (keep a close eye on #54 Forrest Whitley as well). Baby Jesus is an exciting lefty pitching prospect on the brink of the majors. Bob Melvin has already alluded multiple times to Luzardo having a chance to break camp with the major league squad. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but either way, he shouldn’t be kept down long. After completing this top 100, I went to see where Fantasy Master Lothario Albright ranked all of these GILFs. Most of these sexies were in shouting range of my ranking, but Luzardo was slotted in all the way down at #119, despite Grey stating he likes him. Did ESPN brainwash Grey the day he ranked Jesus? Consider Grey’s ranking Exhibit A as to the bargain bin price on Luzardo in many leagues. I’ll add a qualifier that you may need to adjust this ranking down (and Whitley) if your league has a short bench making it tough to stash prospects. Still, I have faith in Jesus to rise to the majors fast with a line of 8-5/3.35/1.25/135 in 130 electric innings, he’s a must own in any keeper format.
Ross Stripling (#55) – Chicken Strip was a stud in the first half last year, cutting down on his walk rate and increasing his strikeout rate. People are quick to forget the ace-like numbers (2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 108 Ks) Strip posted in 95 first half innings before the Dodgers limited him in the second half. This shouldn’t be a surprise for a 28 year old breakout pitcher who has never thrown 130 innings in his career. Grey has Stripling slotted at #80 in his starting pitcher rankings and he points to the lack of a rotation spot tempering his excitement. Grey also mentions a Kershaw injury opening a rotation spot at some point. We may have already reached those crossroads. The Dodgers also have the human blister, Rich Hill, in their rotation and they like to employ a 13 man rotation by exploiting the 10 day DL. All this is to say, I think Stripling will find his innings, one way or another. I’m projecting Strip for 9-6/3.55/1.15/130 in 130 innings.
Yonny Chirinos (#80) – Here’s a guy few fantasy baseballers are talking about. Maybe people are sleeping on Yonny because his dulcet musical notes put them to bed. Oh, that’s Yonni with an “i” you say? Then I have no idea why Yonny’s being drafted as the 161st pitcher off the board right now. He didn’t even make Grey’s overall top 500! Wait, am I the idiot? Yes, but that’s beside the point! When it comes to Chirinos, is it the Tampa opener that’s scaring people off? Yarbrough won 16 games last year with an opener. Chirinos is a mature GILF having thrown 168 minor league innings in 2017. He enjoyed success in his major league debut last year across 89 innings, he doesn’t walk many hitters (6.8% 2018 BB rate), he strikes out his fair share (20.3% 2018 K rate) and I hear he has perfect pitch on the cowbell. MORE COWBELL! I’m looking for Yonny C to take another step forward in 2019 and I’ll give him a line of 9-5/3.70/1.20/135 in 150 innings.
Brad Keller (#81) – I have to give a shout out to The Itch on this one. He’s driving the Brad Keller razzwagon, I’m just sipping prune juice in the passenger seat. Keller is 23 years old and hes now thrown 130+ innings four straight seasons between A-ball and the majors. He strung together a sneaky good 2018 season, especially in the 2nd half where he posted a 18.9% K rate and 7.3% BB rate on his way to a 3.04 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP (77 second half innings). Keller isn’t the most exciting name and won’t light the world on fire with strike outs, so take your particular league settings into account before pulling the trigger. I expect him to have a bit more value in 14 team leagues and deeper. A 2019 line of 10-8/3.75/1.25/125 in 165 innings seems well with in reach.
And that’s a wrap for Donkey’s preseason GILFs! Now for the highly anticipated top 100 starting pitchers. But first, a few notes about this list. This is my preseason top 100 for draft purposes, geared toward standard 5×5 leagues. Once the regular season is underway, this list will become more of a snapshot in time; effectively how I’m valuing starting pitchers for the month ahead. This means injured arms and prospects like Whitley, Luzardo and Paddack will be removed from the list, assuming they don’t break camp. Beware: It can be tough to stash these types of players in leagues with very limited bench spots, so be sure to adjust accordingly for your specific league settings. Anyway, here’s the list…
I’ll be back in a couple weeks with an update. Let’s hope there aren’t too many hip fractures or failed erections between now and then. The season is right around the corner, stay firm!
Find Donkey Teeth on Twitter @DonkeyTeeth87. Subscribe to his podcast with @DiktaSausagePod: Ditka, Sausage, and Fantasy Sports on Itunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
All ADP data courtesy of NFBC and all statistics courtesy of Fangraphs & Baseball Savant.