We made it folks. On Sunday, the news flashed a Chicago forecast without a temperature below 40 degrees on it. March brings warmer air, a clock change, a celebration with green, the anniversary of millions of vasectomies, and opening day baseball. With that last one in mind, I released my top 100 starting pitcher rankings. Rankings bring out a special brand of emotions among fantasy baseball addicts. I’m here to explain as many of my disputed rankings as possible before opening day. I am nothing if not transparent. I’ve detailed six pitchers below that I am significantly higher, or lower, than the market on. In addition, I have linked to every article with a blurb about pitchers in the top 100 that I have written and paraphrased my commentary from a Reddit thread. In the weeks leading up to opening day I will release my top 10 pitching values to complete the finding aces series, a revised version of the top 100, and further commentary on major discrepancies. Feel free to let me know where you would like to see more detailed analysis. I owe a few frequent commenters player blurbs and I haven’t forgotten, just give me a couple of weeks, looking at you Magoo.
Players I’m Higher On
Matthew Boyd – Am I the lone soul that already believes Boyd has broken out? Boyd has made 30+ starts for four years in a row, increased his K/9 every season, while maintaining a 2.75 BB/9. In the last two seasons, Boyd has an average xBA of .221, placing him in the top 15 of all MLB pitchers in both seasons. The strikeout rate spiked at 11.56 in 2019 by leaning on his slider. He strikes people out. He doesn’t offer free passes. He doesn’t give up many hits. Any normalization in HR rate, in a non-homer friendly ballpark, will lead to an SP3 season. I can only hope that Boyd gets traded for the win upside needed to become a true ace, but for now I see a projection of 190/10/220/3.9/1.17.
Caleb Smith – A very similar pitcher to Boyd, without the innings longevity record, or the minimal walk rate. He doesn’t give up a lot of contact, with an .230 xba or lower the last two years. Smith has an issue with the gopher ball. However, there isn’t enough discussion about the effects of Smith’s IL stint in 2019. In the starts for Smith prior to going on the IL (June 7), he was averaging 92.4 MPH on his fastball. His fastball had a 4.1 pVAL, and his slider held a 5.0 pVAL. Smith was issuing free passes at a rate of 2.72 BB/9. After the IL stint, his fastball velocity dipped to 91.3 MPH with a 2.2 pVAL. His slider effectiveness plummeted to a -7.4 pVAL. He walked batters at a 4.12 BB/9 rate. His post IL ERA spiked due to the change in walk rate, less horizontal movement on his slider, and more grooved pitches leading to a higher home run rate. Smith shares the same issue as Boyd playing for a poor team, but now healthy I see 170/8/190/4.05/1.20 in his 2020 campaign.
Dallas Keuchel – Conversely from the two blurbs above, there isn’t much to glorify about on Keuchel. His stats, splits, peripherals, and statcast data are all just average. Nevertheless, Keuchel throws a ton of volume. He has maintained either a sub-4.00 ERA, or peripherals that show a deserved sub-4 ERA each season since 2014. The White Sox are a sneaky team in a division with a couple of suspect offenses. Keuchel won’t win you your league on his own, but an SP7 who can provide 190/14/160/4/1.30 is useful. If you’ve taken several mid-round upside pitchers and need a floor at the end of your draft Keuchel is your guy.
Players I’m Lower On
Jesus Luzardo – The A’s say that Luzardo does not have an innings limit. This is a lie. He has never thrown more than 110 innings in a professional year. He is coming off a year plagued by a bad shoulder. He is being drafted in the 10th round. Luzardo’s velocity numbers and secondary stats from 2019 are quite deceptive as he threw all innings out of the bullpen. His fastball averaged 97 MPH which is incredible but will not continue as a starter. The sharpness of the secondary offerings will likely sink as well with longer appearances. The A’s are going to have a decision on their hands early in the season; transition Luzardo to the bullpen, skip a significant number of starts, or use him and lose him. The latter is the least likely decision an MLB team will deploy. Though, I would argue it would be the most effective, but my opinion in the matter holds zero weight. All these options hurt fantasy owners. Recall that Chris Paddack was a fringe SP2 in 2019 on the Razzball player rate in per game value, and a SP3 in full season value. This was in 140 innings, 30 more than Luzardo has ever thrown. Paddack walks less players, and Luzardo’s strikeout rate will likely regress towards Paddacks as a starter. Luzardo drafters are picking him at his peak value with a significant amount of downside risk. Drafters can deploy the exact same statistics in A.J. Puk 10 rounds later.
Madison Bumgarner – Barmgarner has outperformed his xBA and xSLG for 5 consecutive years. The gap between the expected statistics and real statistics has widened as time has worn on. There is a simple explanation for this “luck”: Oracle Park, where home runs go to die. Bumgarner did not move to a hitter’s park, with Chase Field deploying a humidor, but there remains a substantial gap in yearly home run rate between the two parks. Bumgarner continues to have a useful three pitch mix, but the effectiveness of his most important pitch, his cutter, decreased heavily in 2019. The year over year batting average against for the pitch increased from 0.214 in 2018 to 0.260 in 2019. The slugging percentage against followed with a spike from 0.364 to 0.455. It isn’t all bad with Bumgarner. He will provide volume, but the expected decrease in his ERA and WHIP could be a detriment on owner’s ratios. 200/12/180/4.3/1.25 is a realistic outcome in line with most projection systems.
Sean Manaea – Of all the pitchers I have more than 10 rankings below their ADP, Manaea is the pitcher I’m most confident in my ranking. Manaea has never thrown more than 160 innings in an MLB season, and is coming off major shoulder surgery. His peripherals have never shown an expected ERA under 4. Drafters are investing in Manaea based on a 5-start streak, in which he broke the 8 K/9 barrier for the first time in his career. In those starts he faced the Yankees (good), Tigers (bad), Rangers twice (bad), and the Mariners (bad)! In those same starts, Manaea averaged only 90 MPH on his fastball! Please stop drafting Sean Manaea! There is a realistic chance he isn’t even in the rotation by June. His projection in 160 IP can’t realistically be more than 10/140/4/1.2. Look at Kuechel! Look at Manaea! 8 rounds separate them! You can find Sean Manaea on the waiver wire.
Players Discussed Previously
Players I Discussed on Reddit
Mike Clevinger – If people think he can replicate what he did in 125 IP last year, and backfill the starts at the beginning of the year by all means they should take Clevinger. In Clevinger’s favor it is significantly easier to backfill starts knowing a player is sidelined on draft day. In my opinion, history shows he will have at least one additional IL stint during the year. This thought coupled with my belief he will not repeat his 2019 outputs in 125 innings led to a significantly lower ranking than the market. He pitched 6 games in 2019 against teams with winning records…6/21 against winning teams… I dont think he will ever get a schedule to skew as such ever again. Prior to 2019, his metrics show a 3.5-4 ERA pitcher with a 1.15-1.25 WHIP and 9.5-10 K/9. Even if he gets to 170 IP and regresses to those metrics, he is a 13/190/3.5/1.15 at maximum. Did Clevinger make a jump at age 28, or was he schedule aided? I don’t know, but I won’t find out on my team.
Zac Gallen – I don’t see what everyone else is seeing. He didn’t have a huge prospect pedigree. He was a 3.5-4 ERA/FIP/xFIP pitcher in the minors. He had great success in 2019, but a 4+ SIERA. My projection has Gallen ending up around 160/10/170/4/1.25. I expect that to be almost identical to Kenta Maeda. He certainly has the upside to make me look bad.
Luis Castillo – Strong year over year innings growth. Castillo likely will break the 200 IP mark in a healthy 2020. The team is significantly better, and offenses in division getting worse. The swinging strike rate is up. The strikeout rate is up. His walk rate followed that trend, but Castillo has shown an ability to have a sub 2.5 BB/9 before. If he matches his previous years walk rate the whip will sneak under 1.10. He generated a higher whiff percentage on slider than ever before but had higher slugging percentage than ever before. To me, this means the raw components of a plus third pitch are present, he just needs to make less mistakes with the pitch. Castillo is unique. He will likely never be a sub-3 ERA pitching at GABP, but I see 200 IP/15/220/3.4/1.10 with a chance for more if the third pitch develops further.
Stephen Strasburg – Last time Strasburg went over 200 IP in a single season (2014 – 215 IP) he hit the DL twice the following season with two seperate issues in addition to a spring training ankle injury. He threw 120 innings that season. In 2019, he threw 245 innings. I can’t swallow that pill. If he beats me, he beats me.