Starting Monday we will be rolling out our starting pitcher rankings, with Dynasty rankings on Monday and 2015 rankings Friday. Several sites have already posted their starting pitcher rankings, most of which can be found over at Fantasy Rundown. While looking over these lists (ours included), I can’t help but notice several names missing. Those names are the 2014 Tommy John Recipients. Sure, you’ll see Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez (who isn’t due back until June), but it’s those lesser names that are conspicuous by their absence.
I fully understand the trepidations when it comes to these players. For the most part, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery are notoriously slow starters. It sometimes takes months to work out the kinks and shake off the rust from a year-long layoff. There is also the limitations some clubs put on these players in the early months in an effort to slowly ease them back into things. That does not mean that we should ignore these players, it just means we should approach them with caution. There are still many months to go before pitchers and catchers report (and I’m counting the days) and anything can happen between now and then. Until we get to that long-awaited date, keep an eye on the following pitchers and insert them accordingly in your rankings based upon their individual progress. A few could pay dividends right out of the gate, some will take some time to become fantasy relevant and others can be ignored on draft day. Even if you don’t plan on drafting many (if any) of the players below, you should still keep their names tucked away.
Matt Harvey (Mets) – Harvey had his surgery in 2013 so he’s far ahead of the rest of the players on this list. While Harvey had every intention of being back on the field at the end of the 2014 season, the Mets brass were not about to rush him back for no good reason. As of now, all systems are go for Harvey to begin the year in the starting rotation. The Mets have stated that there may be some limitations as far as innings go and also could skip a few of his starts during the season as they expect to compete. Considering the expectations after his phenomenal 2013 season, 24 starts by Harvey could be worth more than 30+ starts of any pitcher outside the top 20. Harvey should rank in the 20 to 30 range for starting pitchers, but if he looks strong in spring, feel free to bump him up a few more spots.
Recommendation: Draft as usual with little fear.
Dylan Bundy (Orioles) – He almost made it back for the end of 2014, but a strained lat muscle put an end to those dreams. Bundy is one of the Orioles top pitching prospects and has the stuff to be a very good number 2 pitcher. Unfortunately Bundy only tossed 41 minor league innings in 2014 and totaled 105 innings in 2012. Odds are the Orioles start him off in the minors. If he pitches lights out in spring training there is a chance he joins the rotation, but he will more than likely be limited and could easily tire by the second half.
Recommendation: He’s worth a late round flyer if it looks like he will make the starting rotation, otherwise he should be ignored in all but the deepest of leagues and newly formed dynasty leagues.
Daniel Hudson (Diamondbacks) – The last time Hudson was relevant in fantasy was 2011 when he pitched his first full season for the Diamondbacks. He posted an ERA of 3.49 with 169 strikeouts and 16 wins in 222 innings. Tommy John took away his 2012 season; just when we thought we would be getting him back, Tommy John reared its ugly head and took him down for a second time. So what should we expect in 2015 after such a long layoff? Interesting question. The Diamondbacks are under new management so there are a number of spots in the starting rotation up for grabs, and judging by the past season Arizona is in need of pitching help. There will be some rust and rough outings in the beginning, and given the number of injuries in such a short time there could be limitations on starts and innings. There is also the possibility that Hudson starts the year in the bullpen.
Recommendation: Unless he looks really strong in spring training, ignore Hudson on draft day but keep an eye on him as he could make a decent add at some point.
Cory Luebke (Padres) – In 2011 Luebke post a 3.29 ERA with 154 strikeouts in 140 innings and the beginning of 2012 was even better. That was the last we saw of him as he’s undergone two Tommy John surgeries since. Just like Hudson above he showed a lot of promise, and his future and role with the team is yet to be determined. He began playing catch in August and still needs to build arm strength. There are plans for him to alter his mechanics to ease the stress on his elbow and shoulder. Even if all the off-season conditioning goes well, you’re looking at several years of rust on top of a new delivery and mound approach so there are questions on what he can bring to the table. Finally you’re looking at a limitation in innings and starts which decrease his fantasy value.
Recommendation: Ignore Luebke on draft day. He may gain some fantasy relevance at some point this season, but until then he’s just someone to add to your long list of pitchers to monitor.
Patrick Corbin (Diamondbacks) – It’s no wonder the Diamondbacks rotation was full of holes in 2014. Corbin’s season was over before the regular season even started which is a shame considering his 2013 breakout. He pitched 208 innings compiling a 3.41 ERA with 178 strikeouts and 14 wins. The ERA and strikeouts are close to what he produced during his time in the minors (in the PCL no less) so there was a good chance he could have repeated or improved upon that season. Kirk Gibson stated in August (before his departure) that he didn’t see Corbin being ready for the start of the 2015 season. This was based upon his opinion so take that with a grain of salt. From 2011 to 2013, Corbin threw 160, 186 and 208 innings so he has the stamina to pitch a full season upon his return, it all comes down to how far along he is with his rehab.
Recommendation: Corbin can be an ignore or a late round flyer depending on his progress. I would say ignore and monitor how he does over his first few starts, but if he looks good in spring he may be worth a risk depending on the size of your league and depth of your roster.
Jarrod Parker (Athletics) – Parker had a successful rookie campaign despite the lack of strikeouts. He took a step back in 2013 (as many sophomores do) and the strikeouts faded even more. We were all hoping he would bounce back in 2014, but you all know how that story ended. He was throwing in August, but the prognosis at that time was for Parker to be ready for the second half (maybe).
Recommendation: Ignore for 2015. Taking his sophomore slump into account, the diminished strikeout rate, Tommy John surgery, missing a years time and the fact that Oakland is full of starters, this one looks like a lost cause. The A’s are not going to push him given the talent currently under contract and in the minors and even when he is finally healthy, there may not be a spot for him in the rotation. Try again in 2016.
Kris Medlen (Braves) – There were high hopes here, in fantasy and real life. In 2013, Medlen finally established himself as a full-time starter and put bullpen life behind him. Now, with Tommy John surgery (his second), combined with the acquisition of Shelby Miller, the Braves may not need his services in the rotation (at least not to start). Medlen is arbitration eligible in 2015 so the Braves could retain him for cheap and afford them the option of using him out of the pen to start. He was throwing the ball in September and was on track to start the season in April or May.
Recommendation: This is a borderline ignore, but will be a deadline decision. It all depends on A) If the Braves sign someone for that fifth and final rotation spot B) Medlen’s progress this spring and C) Brandon Beachy’s recovery (see below). Regardless of what you do, keep the name tucked away as Medlen could sneak into the rotation at any time and could be someone to stream in for the occasional spot start if he starts the year in the pen.
Brandon Beachy (Braves) – Another member of the two-time Tommy John club. Beachy had a very successful minor league career, impressive debut with the Braves in 2011 and was on his way to a breakout season in 2012 before going down for the first time. When he returned in 2013 you could see the rust; apparently it wasn’t rust though, it was a precursor of things to come and another surgery was warranted. Beachy had his Tommy John surgery in April, but whether he is ready to start the season in 2015 remains to be seen. Like Medlen, Beachy is arbitration eligible so he could be brought back for cheap, and that could mean a spot in the bullpen upon his return or a trip to the minors (if he has any remaining options available). With the newly acquired Miller on board joining Teheran, Minor and Wood, potential 5th starter David Hale waiting in the wings and Medlen, Beachy could find himself on the outside looking in.
Recommendation: Ignore on draft day. There are too many pieces in play right now. I love Beachy’s arm and abilities, but the time off and lack of a rotation spot make him someone to pass on. Like Medlen, things can change as the season progresses so keep his name jotted down someplace, but remove him from your draft day depth charts.
A.J. Griffin (Athletics) – Last time we saw Peter’s illegitimate brother, he was leading the league in home runs allowed. As we all know, he never got a chance to redeem himself or prove he could keep the ball in the park. He should get that chance in 2015. Griffin didn’t have his surgery until the end of April so odds are he won’t be ready to start the season, but he should be ready by May. I don’t see the A’s signing a veteran arm to fill his spot in the rotation, and keeping Griffin in the minors seems silly as he doesn’t have anything to prove down there. There may be some rust the first month or two, but Griffin should be back to full health with no restrictions by mid-season.
Recommendation: Ignore on draft day, but he could make a decent DL stash in deeper or AL only leagues. Griffin should have some fantasy relevance in 2015, but it will not be immediate. Keep an eye on his progress and stash accordingly.
Ivan Nova (Yankees) – Nova quietly broke out in 2013 and was poised to take that next step had his arm not given out in April. He was in the process of lowering the walk total and his ability to keep the ball in the park. He needed that to lower in order to keep his ERA and WHIP at a respectable level because he’s not a strikeout pitcher. Playing for the Yankees, he is good for double-digit wins, so the combined package makes him a good pitcher to use in filling out your rotation. Just like Griffin above, Nova didn’t have his surgery until the end of April so he will miss the first month of the season. Given his track record and the Yankees need for starting pitchers, he’s guaranteed a spot in the rotation upon his return.
Recommendation: Nova deserves to be a late round pick to stash on your DL to start the season. He’s not the best arm, but he is a stable one and will be better than most of the arms usually streamed through rosters from the waiver wire.
Josh Johnson (free agents) – Prior to 2013, Johnson was a staple on fantasy teams and someone you looked forward to owning. In 2013, his value went right into the toilet and his supporters abandoned him like rats from a sinking ship. OK, his numbers were slipping in 2012, but there was still hope that he would rebound. Between the horrible 2013 season and lost 2014 season (his second Tommy John surgery by the way), Johnson’s value is at an all time low. He was playing catch in October and while this is a good sign, he will still probably miss the first month of the season and still needs to sign somewhere. Where he signs will determine some of his future value, the rest will be decided by which Johnson shows up in spring. He has the ability to be a quality pitcher, but there is an equal chance he will make you regret owning him.
Recommendation: Ignore on draft day. Given his value right now, I can’t see anyone giving Johnson a second (or even first look) on draft day. He’s someone to monitor in case he rediscovers his former self, but that’s about it. If someone else beats you to him, so be it.
Matt Moore (Rays) – Moore flew through the minors and showed he belonged in the Majors upon his arrival. After a strong rookie season and successful sophomore showing, Moore was poised for a breakout in 2014. Unfortunately that breakout lasted 2 starts. Damn you Tommy John (the surgery, not the man). His major league strikeout rate isn’t quite on par with his minor league average, but it’s close to 9.0 which nobody is going to complain about. Walks are still an issue (as are home runs to a lesser extent), but the low hit totals and high K rate balance things out. Moore can be a number 3/4 starting pitcher in fantasy and has the potential for more, but how long will it take him to get there and move up the rankings? He was throwing in September and is on track to return to the rotation sometime in May, but that could move a few weeks in either direction depending on how he progresses. Either way, there is tremendous upside here.
Recommendation: Moore deserves to be a late round pick and DL stash. We all anticipate the arrival of those highly touted rookies in May and June, Moore has just as much potential as any of those players and has an established ML track record to boot. Why wait and roll the dice on the unknown commodities when you can just take the proven product late and just wait. He will have some rust, but he is young enough that bouncing back should be somewhat easier than some of his older counterparts that undergo the same procedure. Don’t sleep on Moore.
Jose Fernandez (Marlins) – We started this list off strong with Matt Harvey, it’s only fitting that we go out the same way. No two players captivated the pitching world in 2013 like Harvey and Fernandez. While Fernandez’s ERA was slightly higher in 2014 (2.44), the rest of his numbers and underlying stats were improved and he was on his way to proving he belonged in the top 10 (ok, top 5) for starting pitchers. While Tommy John surgery has slowed his ascent to the upper echelon, it is inevitable. Fernandez began throwing in October and all reports are positive. A return somewhere around the all-star break is expected, but don’t be surprised if he returns earlier than expected.
Recommendation: Worthy of a mid round draft pick. While you will only get 2 or 3 months out of Fernandez, you will be getting him at a time when you need him most, your playoff run. There is a risk involved in drafting any pitcher coming off an injury, but Fernandez is an elite talent capable of making an impact on any fantasy roster. I am currently compiling our early 2015 SP rankings. While all of the rankings aren’t in, the ones that are in place Fernandez just outside the top 50 for starting pitchers so once you have your top 4, you should be considering Fernandez someone to stash.
There are a few hitters to remember like Matt Wieters and rookie Miguel Sano, but hitters follow a different timetable than pitchers so there should be no concern when it comes to these players. For those of you in leagues that count holds, Bruce Rondon could be in the Tigers bullpen at some point in 2015 and Luke Hochevar will be back to form a deadly closing combination with Greg Holland and Wade Davis. Also the Mets will have Bobby Parnell back so keep that in mind when considering closer options. The rest of the Tommy John candidates from 2014 like Bronson Arroyo, Tyler Skaggs and Nate Jones won’t be back until late in the season or 2016, we’ll revisit those names along with any new members of the Tommy John club next year.