Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitching Top 10: Part 2

Last week I gave my top 10 starting pitchers in fantasy and analyzed my top 5, and now I will analyze the rest of the players on my list and take a deeper look into why I rank players where I do. Now that all sports are cancelled for who knows how long it at least gives me more of a chance to focus on my blog in the meantime. So while it’s hard to say how long it will be until the baseball season starts, I plan on writing and posting on my blog each week. I want to provide consistency, so be on the lookout for a post towards the beginning of each week.

Getting back to baseball, in case you forgot my top 10 pitcher rankings, in order my rankings go Cole, Verlander, Scherzer, Degrom, Clevinger, Sale, Buehler, Bieber, Snell, Nola. After analyzing the rest of my list I will be going back to the top 10 scorers a season ago in fantasy baseball at starting pitching and explaining why some of those players aren’t on my list. Just to remind you again, the top 10 scoring starting pitchers in fantasy last year in order was Verlander, Cole, Grienke, Strasburg, Bieber, Degrom, Morton, Corbin, Flaherty, and Kershaw. You will notice about half of those names aren’t in my top 10 and shows that it’s not as simple as ranking pitchers in the order they finished in points last year. I will get to explaining why my rankings differ from how those players finished last year either at the end of this blog or next week, but first let’s get to 6-10 in my rankings!

6. Chris Sale: The most controversial player on my list would have to be Sale, as there appear to be so many variables and unknowns associated with him after a season that was confusing to any fantasy baseball owner in many ways. Even when you consider that, Sale still showed how dominant he can still be in a lot of starts even when he’s not throwing 99 mph with his fastball. For a lot of last year his fastball was topping out at 92 mph on average, but even in those starts there would be times he would randomly throw 98 and show that he still had that in him. I know this because I would actually watch his entire starts on television. Through all of last year I held to the belief that he was taking something off of his fastball on purpose, because leading up to the season all you heard from the Red Sox was that they didn’t want him to throw as hard in hopes of preventing injury. Without getting into it any baseball fan can see that the Red Sox truly botched the way they handled their ace last year after signing him to a new 5 year deal.

In 2018 Sale was throwing harder than he’d ever thrown in his career, and when he got injured towards the end of the Red Sox decided it was because he was throwing so hard. To come to that conclusion would be to ignore the past with Sale, who has on many occasions gotten injured down the stretch and faded at the end of the season. Also, if you think the Red Sox were smart for having Sale not throw as hard, his 2019 season still ended in injury proving that his prior injury in 2018 had nothing to do with how hard he was throwing. That is a long explanation, but it’s all relevant in my evaluation as despite all that he still was dominant. It’s interesting when you break up his season, as he started especially awful with a 4.67 ERA in April, but in May in June his ERA was a very good 2.82 and 2.73, and then in July in August it went back up to 5.86 and 5.40. He only made 8 starts over that stretch, and he really got into a groove in 11 May and June starts. If you include his last 2 April starts he had a 13 start stretch where he had a 2.81 ERA in 83 innings with an absurd 14.47 k/9 which is unheard of for a starting pitcher. He had 133 strikeouts in that span, or 10 strikeouts per start.

Considering he wasn’t throwing as hard and still was that dominant is impressive, and over the whole season he still had a 13.32 k/9 which trailed only Gerrit Cole. Sale is the definition of a high risk high reward pick, and imagine the pitcher he can still be if he starts throwing 98 again. Now there are very real injury concerns, but the purpose of my list is to have a top 10 assuming full health since it’s otherwise just a guessing game. With the injury concerns there is a discount, and Sale is still a player I want to buy into because of tremendous potential. Despite only making 25 starts and having a 4.40 ERA for the season, Sale was still 2nd in baseball behind only Cole with 15 starts where he had 10 strikeouts or more. He also set a record last year by striking out 17 in 7 innings, getting 17 out of 21 outs via the strikeout. That’s an incredible feat, and you will notice that in most strikeout measurements he only trailed Cole, widely regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in all of baseball. When Sale is on top of his game Cole is actually his most logical comparison, and when he’s on I still can’t say any other pitcher dominates a lineup quite like Sale whether he’s throwing as hard as he can or not. Color me intrigued!

7. Walker Buehler: The hardest two players for me to rank on this list were Buehler and Bieber, as either one is a great option and I go back and forth as to who I like more so it’s really about a toss up. I went with Beuhler because of upside as I believe he has the higher ceiling, and being a starter on the Dodgers only helps that. Like Sale, Buehler didn’t have much of a Spring training and it cost him dearly in the month of April. Hopefully managers learned their lesson that Spring Training is actually important for starting pitchers, as he had a 4.10 ERA in the month of April, had an ERA of of 2.88 over 24 starts and 153 innings. His ERA in that span was good for 10th in all of baseball among starting pitchers, and a k/9 of 11.24 that also ranks 10th among starting pitchers. He also had 2 complete games, showing he can go the distance in any start and take on an ace workload. In those 2 starts he had 15 and 16 strikeouts, showing his upside is as good as anyone’s. I expect Buehler to take the next step towards becoming a top of the line ace, and at his age it’s not crazy to think he’s gonna get even better.

8. Shane Bieber: In his first full season as a starter, Bieber had about as good of a season as you can ask for when you consider his age and experience. There is even more room to improve as more experience in this league will only help that. He more than proved he can take on an ace workload when he was 2nd in baseball behind Verlander in innings pitched with 214. Verlander has made himself known as a workhorse and Bieber only threw 9 less innings than him last year. He showed his potential by going deep into games without sacrificing strikeouts, and that’s not common for a pitcher in only his 2nd season to be doing. It shows how advanced he is among young pitchers, and his season compares well to Jacob Degrom, one of the best aces in the game. Bieber actually outscored him in fantasy last year, scoring 599.5 and finishing 5th in points scored among starting pitchers. He had 3 complete games last year including 2 shutouts, with one of those games being a complete game shutout where he struck out 15 and no walks. His ability to go deep into games and dominate a lineup is what I like the most, and already having that ability with his experience level is truly incredible. He finished 3rd in all of baseball with 259 strikeouts with a k/9 of 10.89, so he’s not sacrificing strikeouts at all in going deep into games. The offenses he pitches against in the AL Central are rather weak, and that only helps his potential. He and Clevinger together on the Indians have the potential to be the best 1-2 punch in baseball.

9. Blake Snell: While Snell struggled last year with an ERA of 4.29, he still showed signs of being an ace, and all you have to do is go back to 2018 to see the potential he has. A lot of data also proves that he was very unlucky last year, with an xFIP of 3.31 which is more what his ERA should have looked like. Most low ERA pitchers like Verlander and Degrom actually have an ERA lower than their xFIP, showing how unlucky Snell really was. Now that doesn’t change the fact he had a high ERA, but makes more sense why his ERA was so much higher than 2018, when he won the Cy Young and led the American League with a 1.89 ERA. That year his xFIP was 3.16, so it’s odd how he outperformed it by so much in 2018 but underperformed it in 2019. That proves that he’s not a 4 ERA pitcher or a sub-2 ERA pitcher but likely falls somewhere in the middle with a low 3’s ERA.

One knock against Snell is that the Rays handle his innings very carefully, as even in 2018 he only threw 180 innings, but that also proves how good he was on an inning for inning basis. He finished 6th in fantasy points wise for a starting pitcher with 616.5 fantasy points while finishing 30th in innings pitched, which is truly amazing. He was the only starting pitcher in the top 10 not to throw 200 innings, and all the players who scored more than him threw 212 innings or more. If you project 212 innings for Snell he would have been the highest scoring pitcher in fantasy in 2018, beating out Scherzer who had 220 innings. That is all projection as he obviously didn’t have those innings, but proves he was inning for inning the best pitcher in baseball that season and is why I’m still a huge fan. Even last year he was 4th in baseball among starters with a 12.36 k/9, showing that he was still dominant despite a high ERA. Most people downgrade Snell too far after last year and the innings restraint he appears to have, but I am not one of those people whose going to do that.

10. Aaron Nola: Nola rounds out my top 10, but that’s not to take away from how good he is because I’d love to have him on my fantasy team. Nola is a similar case to Snell, although it’s not as drastic when you compare his 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2018 he had a Cy Young type season just like Snell, so I will be looking at both seasons when I evaluate Nola as well. His k/9 is not as good as the other pitchers on this list, but was still a respectable 9.49 in 2018 and an even better 10.19 in 2019. As a whole Nola didn’t have as bad of a season as people tend to believe, as he still had an ERA of 3.87. Although not elite, it’s not like he was awful. He still is a workhorse as he’s thrown for more than 200 innings each of the last 2 seasons, finishing 5th in baseball in 2018 with 212.1 innings, and finishing 13th a season ago with 202.1 innings pitched. There are no workload concerns with Nola, and his 2.37 ERA in 2018 was good for 6th in baseball among starting pitchers. His 643 fantasy points that year was 5th in all of baseball, and ahead of Blake Snell.

Nola last season was good but not great, and those who drafted him had to be somewhat disappointed just because he was drafted in a range where he was expected to be great. His season last year was still respectable, and he’s another player who I believe is being downgraded too far. Just last season he was being drafted as a top of the line ace, and this year I love the discount you can get Nola at. When you dive deeper into his statistics from last season, you will see that in his first 5 starts he had an ERA of 6.84, and in his last 5 starts it was also at an alarming 6.51. While you can’t just throw that out the window, he had 24 starts between there with a 2.89 ERA, and everybody knows that’s closer to the ERA you can expect from him as an ERA over 6 was clearly an outlier. I’m not going to make any excuses for Nola, but a lot of elite pitchers struggled in April of last year as they were adjusting to the lower seams on the baseball. When looking at the 24 start stretch in the middle of the season, Nola was 4th in baseball with 149.2 innings and his 2.89 ERA in that span was 11th. Those rough stretches did still happen but should be taken into account with a grain of salt.

In conclusion, these are my favorite starting pitchers going into the 2020 season whenever it does start, and the one pitcher who just missed the cut on my list was Patrick Corbin. I wanted to mention him because he’s the one player I really hated leaving off my list, so he is definitively ranked 11th in my starting pitcher rankings. I want to add that as far as the best value of where they are going in drafts, I love the price that you can get Snell and Nola at, as they fall into at least round 3 as pitchers who I don’t like as much all go before them, and I will go into more detail about that in my post next week. This was a rather long post, but I appreciate those who stuck with it and read through until the end. I didn’t get to talk about the pitchers who ranked in the top 10 a year ago that I left off my list, so I’ll have to get to that when I post the next time so stay tuned for that. I really enjoy interacting with those who read my work, so if you are wanting advice or have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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