For my first post about fantasy baseball I will be previewing who I believe to be the top 10 starting pitchers in fantasy baseball going into the 2020 Major League Baseball season. While you could just look at the top 10 scorers from 2019 and just assume they will be the top 10 it’s a little more complex than that. For those that don’t know how fantasy baseball and the scoring system works I will try to explain how it works. In simple terms fantasy baseball essentially places a premium on innings pitched, era, and strikeouts. In this day and age virtually any high end pitcher has to be able to dominate a lineup while limiting balls being put in play and being an overpowering strikeout pitcher. The top 10 scoring fantasy starting pitchers in 2019 were Justin Verlander (765 points), Gerrit Cole (741), Zach Greinke (615.5), Stephen Strasburg (610.5), Shane Bieber (599.5), Jacob Degrom (585.5), Charlie Morton (554), Patrick Corbin (545), Jack Flaherty (544.5), and Clayton Kershaw (534.5).
Whether it be injuries or other factors such as age my rankings will look different than these because it’s under the assumption that I’m ranking every pitcher as if he will be healthy for the 2020 season. I like to look at upside and how dominant a pitcher is when he is on the mound and healthy and there are some outside the top 10 from last year I like more than some ranked inside the top 10. The stat I really like is a pitcher’s k/9 which is the number of strikeouts a pitcher averages per 9 innings because it’s an accurate representation of how dominant a pitcher can be, but it’s not the only important stat as innings pitched and era are also important. What you want is a combination of the 3 where a pitcher excels in all 3 areas and is at an age where there are no signs of slowing down. As much as I like the k/9 stat it can’t be the only thing you look at, as in 2019 Robbie Ray was 5th in baseball with a k/9 of 12.13 but had an era of 4.34 and his BB/9 was 4.34 which is rather high and prevents him from pitching deep into games. BB/9 is how many walks a pitcher gives on average in 9 innings and the top pitchers limit walks and pitch deep into games and is what sets them apart from the rest. I will analyze my top 10 below and write about each pitcher, but my top 10 starting pitchers going into 2020 assuming full health goes Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jacob Degrom, Mike Clevinger, Chris Sale, Walker Beuhler, Shane Bieber, Blake Snell, and Aaron Nola.
- Gerrit Cole: The choice for number 1 is an easy one, as Cole checks all the boxes of an elite ace in fantasy baseball. He took the next step in 2019 of pitching deeper into games without sacrificing strikeouts. While his teammate Justin Verlander edged him out in points in 2019, there was no pitcher more dominant as Cole as his k/9 in 212 innings was an absurd 13.82 as he led all of baseball in that category and had a 2.50 era to go along with the innings and strikeouts. He also ranked 4th in baseball in innings pitched and also excelled in that area. He had 26 quality starts (QS) out of 33 total starts and tied for first in baseball in that statistic. A quality start is classified as going 6 innings or more with 3 or fewer earned runs. As Cole is only 29 years old and has never had a major injury he’s the easy choice for number 1 for all these reasons. In fantasy baseball how good a pitcher’s offense and team as a whole is matters as you get 7 points for a win and -5 for a loss, and Cole’s record in 2019 was 20-5 which is very good, and in going from the Astros to the Yankees you can again anticipate him winning a lot of games.
- Justin Verlander: Even at age 37 Verlander has to be ranked number 2, as he’s shown no signs of slowing down and actually had his best pitching season ever in 2019 and it defies logic for him to be even better now. The age is a concern but it can’t be a knock on him or held against him until he shows signs of slowing down, but going into 2020 that still has not been shown to be the case. Last season he led all of baseball in innings pitched with 223 and had a record of 21-6 with 26 quality starts in 34 games started. He tied with Cole for the lead in quality starts last year, and his k/9 was 6th in baseball at 12.11 which is elite, as anything above 9 is good and he’s well above that number. Just like Cole, Verlander racked up wins pitching for a good team and is an innings eater who you can count on to dominate any lineup and had an era of 2.58. You really can’t go wrong in drafting Cole or Verlander as your fantasy ace, as they both pitched on another level than anyone else in baseball a year ago.
- Max Scherzer: Even with his injury problems in 2019 I had to put Scherzer here as he still performed at an elite level whenever he was on the mound in 2019. He missed roughly 6 starts in 2019 and is really the only reason why he wasn’t in the top 10 after last season. He still managed to throw 172 innings last season with an era of 2.92 and a k/9 that ranked 3rd in baseball at 12.69. He is the upside choice here and why I rank him ahead of degrom. He scored 491.5 points and had 17 quality starts in 27 starts total. He had some starts shortened by injuries and contributes to the low quality start total, as he dealt with a back injury in the 2nd half last year. If you project what his total would have been over 34 starts Scherzer was on pace to score 618 points, which would have been good for 3rd in baseball only behind the 2 pitchers I have him ranked behind. When you consider he only had a record of 11-7 it’s a pretty remarkable point total, and you can anticipate a better record for him this season. Before last season Scherzer was the perennial number 1 ranked starting pitcher and even as he is goes into his age 36 season the upside here is huge and is still worth the investment.
- Jacob Degrom: The next pitcher in my rankings has to be Degrom, who has been a model of consistency the last few years of providing quality innings and dominance for a Mets team that quite frankly isn’t very good and contributes to his low win totals every year. While he is pretty much every bit of the 3 pitchers above, you have to factor in a low win total as it’s been the case in each of the past 2 seasons. Degrom has won the last 2 NL Cy Young awards that goes out to the best pitcher in the National League. A season ago he had a record of 11-8 and had an era of 2.43 in 2014 innings with a k/9 of 11.25, good for 11th among all starting pitchers. While the k rate isn’t quite as high as the 3 above, Degrom can be counted on for a very low era as demonstrated in the last 2 seasons, when he had a ridiculous era of 1.70 in 2018 which led all qualified starting pitchers and 2.43 in 2019, good for 2nd in all of baseball. He had 23 quality starts out of 32 starts, good for 6th in baseball. At age 31 Degrom is a safe choice and you know exactly what you get. These 4 pitchers I’ve ranked first have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are widely viewed as being in a tier of their own, and if you get any one of these 4 on your team you are in good shape going into the season.
- Mike Clevinger: This may be a pick that comes as a surprise to some, but I rank him 5th as the upside pick and it gets more difficult to rank these pitchers after the top 4, but Clevinger is my choice as the 5th best pitcher in fantasy baseball going into 2020. As his season last year was shortened by injuries, Clevinger proved he was a different kind of pitcher in 2019 compared to 2018, as he became more of a power pitcher who dominated linups as he started throwing harder and took a step towards being an elite ace. He even had a nice season in 2018, but what excites people is what they saw from him when he was healthy last year. He only had 126 innings but in those innings he had an era of 2.71 and a k/9 of 12.11, which was 7th in baseball and just behind Justin Verlander. He had a nice record of 13-4 with 13 quality starts in 23 starts, and had a dominant 16 start stretch in the 2nd half in which he went 11-2 with an era of 2.30 in 101 innings pitched with a k/9 of 11.42. His 101 innings pitched in the 2nd half was 2nd in all of baseball as he proved he could be a workhorse who pitched deep into games without sacrificing strikeouts. If you were to project his stats last year over 34 starts he would have scored 646 fantasy points, which would have been the 3rd best among all starting pitchers, behind only Cole and Verlander. Now Clevinger still has to prove he can be this power pitcher and also stay healthy for an entire season, but when he is on the mound he proved last year he can be an elite ace and his ceiling can potentially be very high if he puts it all together for a full season.
I’ve given my top 5 and analyzed my reasoning for ranking these pitchers where I did, and I will get to my rankings of 6-10 and give my analysis in my next post so stay on the lookout for that! If you have any questions or comments about fantasy baseball and how it works feel free to ask me in the comment section.