21 Feb 2017 Fantasy Baseball: SP Rankings (75-51)
By: Mike Stromme
No, the headline was not a typo… The NFL guy is talking baseball!
That’s right, SportsCrew! Mike Stromme, the man who gave takes that resembled a microwave burrito during the NFL season (hot on the outside, but sometimes cold in the middle), is breaking-down the top-75 starting pitchers going into the 2017 MLB campaign!
Now, before you go ahead and start Gronking your mobile device or throw a full bottle of pinot noir at your desktop; let me say that I have been an avid fantasy baseball enthusiast for the past TEN years now. That’s right, I’ve been breaking-down auction values, scouring Excel sheets and following all things fantasy baseball since that time Brittany Spears shaved her head. I know my baseball, no need to panic on that front.
Yes, talking NFL is a passion of mine; nothing beats a Sunday afternoon of wall-to-wall touchdowns. But, my first love is, and always will be: the diamond. It was my favourite sport to play as a kid, it’s my favourite in-stadium experience among the four professional North American sports and I will always, ALWAYS love the fictitious (and literal) grind that is the fantasy baseball season.
As us fantasy baseball devotees obviously know, the grind starts in February. Pitchers and catchers report around Valentine’s day, and so does draft prep. For me, nothing cures a Super Bowl hangover (both literal and figurative), better than pouring over SABRmetrics, Excel spreadsheets, scouting reports and way-too-early accounts from beat reporters in Arizona and Florida.
It’s that time of year, ladies and gents! Pitchers and catchers have reported, the unofficial beginning to spring has arrived! LETS PLAY (fantasy) BALL!
75) Joe Musgrove, Houston Astros
Now, this might be a little high in the eyes of some, but I really like this kid.
On the surface, his “career” numbers might not be idea, but this guy has tremendous strikeout potential. He’s one of those explosive, young pitchers that has movement on just about every pitch. If you don’t believe me, ask the Toronto Blue Jays. In his Major League debut, Musgrove was called-upon in an emergency relief situation to face one of the toughest RH hitting lineups in the league. Not only did he “hold his own” while being rushed into action, he baffled Blue Jay hitters for four and a third innings, striking out EIGHT! While allowing just one hit.
After his phenomenal Aug. 2 debut against the AL runners-up, Musgrove went on to have 7.44K/9. He finished the season with an ERA of 4.06 and a FIP that wasn’t too far off at 4.18. No, not tremendous numbers. But, I’m a big believer in his stuff. In regards to the Astros’ starting rotation he’s on the outside-looking-in as of right now. However, the names Charlie Morton and Mike Fiers don’t really leave much to be desired. Jump on the Musgrove train now, before it picks up enough steam to resemble the train chugging around Minute Maid Park.
74) Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
Another young, high-ceiling arm with big strikeout potential.
Very small sample-size at the Major League level, but 9.26K/9 in four career starts. No, not enough to sell me on the kid either… That is, until you look at his minor league numbers and realise that he’s had a K/9 ratio similar or better than that at every stop he’s had at the professional level since 2012.
He’s got a plus-fastball, a decent curve and okay command. A spot in the rotation isn’t necessarily guaranteed, but given the competition around him, I believe he has the talent to break camp with the team. However, we all know the politics surrounding young talent when it comes to MLB teams looking to prolong the arbitration years.
That being said, I’m a believer in the talent and a believer in Ray Searage. I can’t wait to see what this kid could possibly do over the course of a full season.
73) Mike Montgomery, Chicago Cubs
“It’s always a good sign when a player follows a coach to a new situation.”
I said this about Taylor Gabriel and Jaquizz Rodgers during the fantasy football season, and the saying is transferable to whichever sport you wish to discuss. In Tampa Bay, Mike Montgomery was one of those exciting, young pitchers in Durham, N.C. waiting for his chance to show the (sparsely-populated) Tropicana Field faithful what he could do. Montgomery, Wade Davis, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and David Price were all in the Tampa Bay minor league system under Joe Maddon’s regime.
After Maddon left, Montgomery was dealt to Seattle. While in the Pacific Northwest, he was mainly the back of the rotation/long relief/spot-start type of pitcher. That was, until Maddon and the Cubs picked him up at the deadline. He went to Chicago and well… Did essentially the same thing in Seattle…
However, during the Cubs’ historic World Series run last Oct., Maddon used Montgomery in quite a few high-leverage situations; he seems to trust his stuff. Going into 2017, Montgomery is the favourite to take the final spot in the rotation. His only competition: a retread in Brett Anderson, Aaron Brooks and Duane Underwood (who appears as if he’ll start the season in AA). The job is MikeMont’s to lose.
72) Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
If you’re looking to deploy some sort of LIMA-esque draft strategy, going heavy on the offense early and often, Ian Kennedy is not a bad pitcher to target later on in the draft.
You know what you’re getting from Kennedy, an ERA in the mid-to-high threes (maybe even fours) with a K/9 around 8.00-8.50. It also helps that he pitches in the Petco of the Midwest. You could do worse than Kennedy at this stage of the draft.
71) Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Damn, wasn’t this guy supposed to have multiple Cy Young awards by now?
The expectations for Dylan Bundy reached a Bryce Harper-level of fever pitch when he made his debut in 2012. This kid was supposed to be the latest of the greatest coming up through the minors.
Well, it’s 2017 now, and Bundy isn’t a top pitcher… Yet.
I still think this guy has some major upside, especially in the strikeout department. He’s battled a litany of injuries throughout the early stages of his career. But, he’s still only 25. 25-years-old coming off 109 2/3 Major League innings last season. The rust is off this guy, the talent’s still there, grab him while you can.
70) Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers
Four years of 32+ starts and a sub-3.70 ERA came to an end last season for Zimmermann as a Neck/Lat issues kept him sidelined for much of the second-half last year.
He did end-up finishing the season for the Tigers, and reports suggest that he’s “pain free” heading into this season.
Mind you, things could flare-up at a moment’s notice. But, I’ll gamble that against a respectable track record of consistency.
69) Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Again, another young arm that came up and produced a decent K/9 rate at the Major League level with a track record of striking batters out in the minor leagues. The only difference with Snell, is that he comes from a farm system that perpetually produces solid major league talent hand over fist. Snell’s going to be another good, young arm to watch on the Florida Gulf Coast.
68) Joe Ross, Washington Nationals
While Ross isn’t a lock for that final spot in the Nationals’ rotation, he’s the odds-on favourite.
Through essentially one full season of starts over two seasons, Ross has a 3.52 ERA, 8.03 K/9 and a BB/9 of 2.48. Oh, he was also lights-out for the Nationals in Sept., striking out 14 in his final 9 2/3 IP.
His only playoff start, Game 4 of the NLDS might not have been the prettiest, but It’s just one start. If Ross can hang around for a full season, fantasy owners will certainly be rewarded.
67) Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Iwakuma is a pitcher that you are either with, or against. A valid argument could be made for and against drafting him.
Some would argue that you’re getting a dependable, veteran SP that won’t burn you in WHIP, ERA and has a chance to retrieve a W or QS every time he takes to the mound.
Others will argue the fact that he’s now 35, his ERA has risen every year since his breakout season in 2013 and the incredible wear and tear pitchers from Japan face at an early age (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tomo Ohka, Heido Nomo).
Group me in with the former! I am, and always have been, a Iwakuma believer. He doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff, but he never did at the Major League level in the first place. What I said about Kennedy applies to Iwakuma, you’re getting dependability in a park that leans towards the pitcher’s advantage.
66) Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
Cobb had a tremendous 2014 campaign (2.87 ERA in 27 starts) before succumbing to the evils of Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2015 and made five dreadful starts in 2016.
Some pitchers can heal like Wolverine, some take their time coming back. Personally, I am willing to throw away his comeback attempt last season. He’s had an entire offseason to further recover from the surgery. Given that Cobb wasn’t a flamethrower to begin with, I am willing to bet that we’ll see Alex Cobb much closer to his 2014-self than many suspect.
It also doesn’t hurt that he’s on a one-year deal this season. He could find himself in a better spot come July if things go his way.
65) Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
It feels like Walker’s been around for years.
I feel like I’ve personally heard this guy’s name for the last five years or so, he clearly has a ton of talent. It’s just a matter of putting things together for a full season.
This offseason has been a busy one for Walker, after admitting that he played much of 2016 with bone spurs in his foot, he had them surgically removed. Shortly after the procedure, he was dealt to Arizona in a deal that say Jean Segura go the other way.
In a way, Taijuan Walker represents a metaphor for the Diamondback’s pitching staff as a whole: talented, but have
not put things together yet. They invested a great deal of cash and other assets into their staff last season, only to see the likes of Shelby Miller fall flat on his face, hell even Grienke wasn’t “Grienke”.
He’s still just 24, and has much to prove. The talent’s there, it’s just a matter of if he can put things together under a new smock.
64) Collin McHugh, Houston Astros
McHugh is a Jekyll/Hyde pitcher that someone in your league will drop at some point during the season. McHugh’s main weakness is: consistency.
Last season, Collin McHugh had three starts with 10 strikeouts! He also had five starts where he allowed 10 hits. If you decide to roster McHugh, you have to be more than willing to take the good with the bad. The good is more than enough for me to roster him, whether it’s through the draft, or off the scrap heap when an owner gets impatient with him after an underwhelming start.
63) Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Is Gio more of a name at this point in his career?
While I do believe that he can be an effective ML starter, I will point to one area of concern; his fastball velocity.
While there’s nothing in the box score to suggest a decline in his play, his average FB velocity last year was 91.0 MPH; the lowest average speed since 2008 (his rookie year).
I could be grasping at straws here, his 2016 struggles could be mental as far as we know. But, anytime a pitcher sees a drop in velocity later in their career alongside a bad year, it usually means bad news. If you’re drafting Gio, you’re either taking him for his upside (and by upside, I’m implying that his struggles last season were merely in his head). Or, you’re settling with the possibility that he could be a league-average starter who will give you innings from April-September.
Either way, good luck.
62) Anthony DeSclafani, Cincinnati Reds
DeSclafani, the sole Reds’ pitcher on this list, has proven to be a half-decent starter who won’t hurt your ERA or WHIP.
Through two full seasons as a starter, DeSclafani has had an xFIP of 3.97 and 3.99 respectively. So, I expect his 3.21 ERA from a year ago to rise a little bit. But, at least you know what you’re getting from him, an ERA that won’t kill you, around 7.45 K/9 and 6 innings per start. In 2016, DeSclafani pitched at least 6 innings in 80% of his starts. With a career ERA around 4.00, he gives fantasy owners a shot at a quality start every time he takes the mound.
61) Drew Pomeranz, Boston Red Sox
Pomeranz is a bit of a wild card.
The Red Sox gave-up a bounty in Anderson Espinoza to get this guy from the Padres at the deadline last season. In the end, he ended up being a lefty out of the pen come Fall.
We all saw the talent this guy showed off in San Diego last season, he had a 2.47 ERA over the first half of the season pitching in Petco. His second half ERA: 4.59.
It also might be a red flag that after the 28-year-old logged a career-high 174.1 IP (including playoffs) and dealt with elbow issues near the end of the year. There’s also talks that he could start the year off in the ‘Pen for Boston, so watch out for that as well.
But hey, there was a reason why the Indians drafted this guy 5th overall 2010 and then subsequently used him as a major trade piece to acquire the once-electric Ubaldo Jimenez, it’s the talent we all witnessed in the first half of last season.
I’m not saying “no”, I’m just saying “buyer beware”.
60) Jerad Eickhoff, Philadelphia Phillies
After being a relatively unknown commodity coming into 2016, Eickhoff had a strong sophomore season for the
Phillies in 2016.
Not only did he post a 3.65 ERA in just under 200 innings, he only got stronger as the season went along. The 26-year-old finished the second-half with an ERA of 3.46, a WHOPPING 1.04 WHIP and opposing hitters hit just 0.234 against him in the final 88.1 IP of the season.
Philly has a few arms that may prove to be better than the general public anticipated, Eickhoff is one of them.
59) Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels
Shoemaker might be more well-known for being struck in the head by a line-drive than any sort of fantasy production.
…By the way, he’s fine now. Thanks for asking.
Shoemaker has quietly been a subtly dependable fantasy option over the past three years. He owns a career 8.00 K/9, 3.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. 2016 was the first season that he didn’t spend any time in the bullpen, he started in all 27 of his appearances. If it weren’t for that freak accident, his counting stats probably would have looked a lot better than they finished.
He’s healthy, he’s not going to the bullpen anytime soon and I see no reason as to why Matt Shoemaker can’t take yet another step forward in 2017.
58) Drew Smyly, Seattle Mariners
Smyly has always had good stuff, but a problem with the home run ball. That problem reared its ugly head last season, and manifested into a less-than-stellar ERA of 4.88. Ouch…
Giving up the long-ball isn’t just a 2016 problem. Ever since he was dealt to the Rays, Smyly has had a double-digit HR/FB rate. With the Tigers in 2013, Smyly had a HR/FB rate of 5.3; that’s less than half his career number of 10.8.
Personally, I believe that getting out of the AL East will do wonders for Smyly. Not only does he get half of his starts at Safeco, he gets to pitch in Oakland and Anahiem as well. We all know what pitching on the Pacific coast in the evening can do to a flyball, look for Smyly’s ERA to improve in 2017.
57) Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays
This guy was absolutely lights-out during the Jays’ pennant race/playoff run in 2015. Estrada’s dominance continued through the early portion of 2016, earning him a spot on the American League All-Star team.
During the second half of 2015, Estrada had a pitching line of:
94.0 IP – 2.78 ERA – 5.94 K/9 – 0.91 WHIP
24.4 IP – 2.92 ERA – 9.12 K/9 – 1.34 WHIP
42.0 IP – 2.14 ERA – 7.07 K/9 – 0.83 WHIP
Sure the strikeouts are a little erratic. But for the most part, he was getting guys out and not allowing many on base. He was as steady as it came before a back injury derailed his season right around the All-Star break.
Estrada has declined to pitch for Mexico at the World Baseball Classic this March in order to rest his back. Not a good sign, but he did leave the door open for the possibility of pitching for the Mexicans if they were to move on in the tournament. He sat out most of 2016’s spring training for the same reason.
I like Estrada if he’s healthy. He appears to be prepping himself for the start of the season, which to me, is a good sign. I would draft this guy late, take a wait-and-see approach and then sell-high when that hot streak comes. Either way, Estrada has value and upside.
56) Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Much like Gio Gonzalez, Wainwright is more of a name at this stage of his career. There were times where he looked incredibly hit-able. His pitches don’t have nearly the movement they once did, and his patented curveball flattens out more often than it should.
That being said, he can still log innings; he’s a guy that’s been around the block. He still has the ability to give 6+ shutout innings, he can be a valued member of your pitching staff at times. Just don’t get too bent out of shape when a clunker comes along, he’s a far-cry from the top-tier starting pitcher he once was.
55) Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
This guy was an excellent surprise last season for those who were hurting for strikeouts. To me, Ray is the pitcher’s equivalent of Chris Carter, Jack Cust, Russell Branyan, Billy Hamilton, Juan Pierre ect.; a one-trick pony.
He’ll get you the strikeouts, what he did last year, he did for the majority of his minor league career. But, he will walk guys, give up hits and succomb to the long-ball. I would supplement this guy with some some strong relievers, or maybe employ starters with strong ratios if you plan on drafting him.
54) Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels
Richards is an injury risk, we all know this. However when he’s healthy, he’s among one of the better AL pitchers.
As recently as 2014, Richards had a sub-3.00 ERA, an 8.75 K/9 and 1.04 WHIP. He was in Cy Young contention before a torn ACL on a freak incident on a play where he was covering first base ended his campaign in Aug. of that year.
He tore the UCL in his pitching elbow last season, however he says he’s “100%” healthy and even through-off a mound this month. I expect the Angels to keep an eye on his innings this season, but if he can give fantasy owners 85% of his stellar 2014 campaign, he’ll prove to be a draft day steal.
53) Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
I feel like we’ve been waiting forever for this guy to break-out, even though it’s just been two seasons.
Rodon is still just 24, he has two big league seasons under his belt and has a serious track record of spectacular K/9 numbers in the minor leagues. We’ve seen glimpses of his strikeout prowess already, he struck out 10 Twins in his final start of the season, but I think this could be the year where he really hones in on his skill set at the Major League level. There might be a hint of post-hype sleeper with this guy, he’s still possesses some upside.
52) Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
In just his second year of pro ball, Nola pitched 111 innings for the big club in 2016. He, like many young pitchers, went through his bumps along the way. But at the end of the year, his overall numbers were de
111.0 IP – 4.78 ERA – 9.81 K/9 – 1.31 WHIP
Sure, the WHIP and ERA could come down. And I think they will, his FIP was a mere 3.08; an entire run lower than his ERA. If the ERA can normalise to just under 4.00, Nola could provide some major value.
Also, a little buyer beware, there were some reports of elbow soreness towards the end of 2016. But, he claims that it
was merely fatigue. Nonetheless, something to keep an eye on.
51) Sean Manaea, Oakland A’s
Manaea has the inherent advantage of pitching in Oakland, so there’s an advantage right there. It also turns out that he has an electric arm with an average max velocity of 96.1 on his fastball.
Listen, it’s never a bad thing to spot-start a pitcher in Oakland. It’s another thing to pass-up a talent like this guy, who pitches half his games in McAfee… or O.Co or Al Davis Memorial County Coliseum or whatever the hell they’re calling the home of the Raiders/A’s these days.
It also helps that Manaea has shown an outstanding track record of striking guys out in the minors as well. Health provided, this guy could be an incredible steal on draft day.