Each week, the Assembly will put together their positional rankings for keeper/dynasty leagues. Players are ranked with the next five years of 5 x 5 category production in mind, so when you see Jose Fernandez ranked ahead of Johnny Cueto, that does not necessarily mean that we believe Fernandez will be the superior short-term option.
If you thought that OF and 1B were deep, then get a load of this list. We are only reporting the top 75 starting pitchers here, but there are well over 100 starters who can and should be owned in most dynasty formats. There are plenty of dynamic talents at near the top of the list and some high upside youngsters mixed with solid, useful veterans throughout. Some talented pitchers who missed the cut include Danny Duffy, Andrew Heaney, Daniel Norris, Mike Leake, C.J. Wilson, Chris Tillman, Henderson Alvarez, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Moore, Drew Pomeranz, Patrick Corbin, Kris Medlen, Jason Hammel, Yusmeiro Petit and many, many more. I told you starting pitching is deep.
Our 6 experts, with over 100 years combined fantasy baseball experience, each ranked the outfield position, and here are the results:
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jim: Some things just don’t need an explanation.
Kevin: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Until his arm flies off his body, he’s solid gold. With today’s SP-dominant market, you can’t play scared of big injuries to your ace. Grab an elite arm early, and if you make it Kershaw, you’ll be set for years to come in dynasty leagues.
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Ron: Hard to believe Hernandez is going to be 29 in April. Hernandez is a horse who has exceeded 230 IP in five of the past six seasons. In the last two years he’s seen his K/9 peak at 9.5/9.
Tommy: I am done doubting Felix. With a 56% ground ball rate, a 5.39 K/BB rate and the ability to pitch deep into games, he would be the top SP if Kershaw were human.
3. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Kevin: He’s an awkward, skinny man, but he gets the job done with 200 K and one of the best ERAs (3rd in MLB) and WHIPs (4th) you could ask for.
Paul: Second best swinging strike rate in baseball last year, Sale has passed Strasburg for me as far as elite upside and production.
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Kevin: It wouldn’t surprise me if he found another gear and increased his K/9 to compete with the best, but for now it’s around 9.0, and that’s still great when you throw in his good ERA and WHIP.
Ron: Back to back seasons with an ERA below 3.00 and a K/9 that has risen three years in a row to just over a K per inning go nicely with his innings total that reached a career high of 217.1 IP in 2014.
5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Jim: Would be a top 5 in most worlds, but there are some quality pitchers at the top to compete with. With the exception of Kershaw, the rest of the top 10 are almost interchangeable.
Kevin: He hasn’t yet reached the super-elite level and ousted Kershaw. Yet. He has a little bad luck in BABIP, and a touch of gopheritis. However, his BB/9 is at an elite level, as it his K/9, so if he gets just a little lucky in the future, he could be the #1 SP in any given year.
6. David Price, Detroit Tigers
Kevin: Last year I said Darvish would the my pick to break 300 K. In 2014 Price took a run at it, with 271 K. His ERA was high partly due to a career-high BABIP. If that comes back down a little, and he is more lucky in his wins and losses, he will continue to be a top-5 SP.
Will: Knocked down the list a bit because he is approaching 30 and, well, you know, the giant ERA that hovers in the 3.2s.
7. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers (Free Agent)
Jim: He won’t be 35 until 2019 so there is no fear of regression. That said, he will be solid the next few years but could lose some points in ERA and a few strikeouts after 2016.
Ron: With a K/9 of 10+ three years running, it’s hard not to like Scherzer. I get the vibe that people think he had a down year in 2014. I’ll take a few more 3.15 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 252 K down years if others want to pass on Scherzer. Barring something shocking, his landing spot in free agency may have little impact on this ranking. What we don’t want to see is a significant drop in his average fastball velocity which went down a half mph in 2014 by comparison to his 2013 Cy Young year.
8. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Kevin: He has amazing stuff, but I want to see him come back from TJS before I go all-in and take him as my #1 SP for a dynasty draft. If you already have him, great. If you are trading for him, don’t pay the highest price.
Tommy: There is always some risk with Tommy John comebacks, but seriously now. Before the injury, Fernandez was striking out 34.2% of the batters he faced with a ground ball rate approaching 50% and a BB/9 just over 2. Those are the type of silly numbers that can only be reached by elite closers and Kershaw.
9. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Tommy: Darvish is nearly unhittable when he is on, and the K rate is amazing. The issue is that when he is not on he gives up lots of hard contact, so his ERA and WHIP may not be quite what his owners expect given the price tag. Also, the injury risk here is very real since many of Yu’s offerings are highly stressful to his arm.
Will: Darvish has posted K/9 over 11 the past two season. He will probably continue to do that while posting an ERA right around three. Walks are a bit higher than I’d like, but they’re not much of a detractor.
10. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Jim: I’m not completely sold here as his 2014 numbers are way lower than anticipated. I can see an ERA at or slightly above 3.0 with close to 200 strikeouts, but expecting a repeat of his career year is just chasing dreams.
Kevin: My ranking him in the top-5 may seem like a reach, but I liked this kid going into 2014. The risk is obvious: less of a track record, and he’s already older than Kershaw and Bumgarner. But he had huge strikeout potential waiting to break out and finished second in Ks, just two behind Price. His ERA may be at or above 3.00 next year, but the power arm is legit. Invest now before his name becomes as valuable as his actual production.
11. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Kevin: He was amazing in 2014, but his health has only been good for two of the last four years, and he was a little lucky in BABIP and strand rate. That being said, he posted a career high K/9, so if he can come close to repeating that, he may have simply found a new level. There’s a bit more risk here than other top-10 SP, but he clearly has the ability to pitch like a top-3 guy.
Will: Cueto has consistently had an ERA quite lower than his SIERA and FIP, so at some point I think we can expect that ERA to actually balloon towards three. Yeah, I can deal with that.
12. Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Kevin: I grouped Harvey and Fernandez together. Both young guys with stellar ceilings, but both are coming back from surgery. Just remember that TJS recovery isn’t a guarantee, even if it’s more common.
Ron: Harvey should make it back slightly ahead of Jose Fernandez. As long as the velocity returns Harvey will be on his way to full domination once again. As the innings increase, 250 K seasons could be in his future.
13. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Paul: With a SwStr rate over 10% in 2014, Zimmermann took it up a level in 2014. Consistent performer; if he can keep the K rate up, he’s a fantasy ace.
Tommy: A high line drive rate is concerning, but with a spike in Zimmermann’s K rate to 22.8%, everything else paints the picture of a legitimate fantasy ace. Zimmermann pitches deep into games and is a legitimate threat to reach 20 wins along with impressive ratios for the contending Nationals.
14. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Kevin: I’m normally not one to discount a top player because of age, but with an offseason surgery and the number of innings he’s pitched, plus the fact that he’s on the wrong side of thirty, be aware that you shouldn’t pay as much for Waino as you would other top-10 SP options, even though he may pitch better than most of them.
Ron: The cutter has become Wainwright’s bread and butter pitch. Two things worry me about that. One, he lost 1.5 MPH on his cutter from 2013 to 2014 and he wasn’t throwing it hard to begin with. Second, the cutter is synonymous with a knife; as in a surgical knife. See what I did there? For a guy who’s already gone under the knife once and who finished the 2014 season with arm issues, I don’t like what the future has in store for Waino. He might fizzle out like Roy Halladay sooner than later.
15. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (likely to be traded)
Kevin: You didn’t forget about him, did you? He had a bad first half in 2013, and I feel like many gave up on him as an ace at that point. He’s still young enough to be the anchor to your pitching staff in dynasty leagues.
Will: Hamels is just darned decently consistently and that should continue for the foreseeable future.
16. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ron: His 2013 K/9 of 7.50 got a healthy bump all the way up to 9.21 in 2014. The most noticeable change could be seen in Greinke’s pitch arsenal where he mostly ditched the cutter and gave a healthy bump to the usage of his slider. Hopefully we get more of the same in the coming years.
Tommy: I have always been somewhat of a Greinke hater, but it is hard to argue with the numbers. His K rate rebounded back over 25% this year and he kept the BBs down. Any pitcher with a K/BB rate approaching 5 in Dodger stadium is going to be someone you want on your fantasy team.
17. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Jim: Opted not to have Tommy John surgery so his arm is in question short-term, but long-term he’s an ace capable of 200 K’s annually playing for a team that can get him wins.
Will: I’m sure Yankees fans are salivating at the thought of a full season of Tanaka. Hitters may start to figure him out a bit, but I don’t think you have to worry about him fading much.
18. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Tommy: Teheran is a solid all the way around. His fly ball tendencies will lead to the occasional HR, but a low BB rate and low BABIP will produce a strong WHIP. His K rate limits his upside, but you can do a lot worse with an SP2, and there is always a chance he gets better.
Will: I think Teheran may regress a little in 2015…ERA could hit three. Seriously, the kid’s only 23, I don’t even know that we’ve seen his best pitching yet.
19. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jim: Cole has all the makings of an ace. There are safer pitchers you can take, but not many with his pedigree and potential. I took a leap of faith ranking him at 11.
Paul: Really quite an impressive start for this top prospect with 21 W and 238 K and a 3.09 FIP in 41 starts to begin his career.
20. Jon Lester, Oakland Athletics (Free Agent)
Ron: Pre-2014, Lester looked to be spiraling downhill and fast. So was his 2014 built on contract year motivation or did he really figure something out that he can continue to apply going forward? His K/9 of 9.01 hadn’t been that high since 2010. His BB/9 of 1.97 hadn’t been that low since A-Ball. It isn’t at all shocking in a contract year to see that Lester mostly ditched his changeup in favor of throwing more cutters. The cutter is largely believed to be a pitch that leads to a greater frequency of arm injuries than a changeup. His changeup velocity wasn’t varied enough from his fastball velocity to be impactful, so something had to for lack of a better word; change! If ever there was a time to see if his arm could hold up to greater usage of a more strenuous pitch, 2014 was the time for Lester. My guess is we won’t ever see a season like 2014 again from Jon Lester, not even close.
Will: Lester had probably his best season in 2014, but I would expect more numbers like his previous seasons…decent enough Ks and an ERA in the mid-threes.
21. Jeff Samardzija, Oakland Athletics
Jim: Part of me looks at his numbers, team, home park and division and anticipates good things. The other part of me looks at Samardzija and see’s Francisco Liriano and is waiting for that other shoe to drop. I will personally ignore him everywhere, but don’t let me stop you from making him the number three guy on your team.
Paul: 200 + strikeouts for the second straight year, Don’t let the W/L records concern you. Ace potential is there.
22. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Jim: I have to admit I didn’t buy into Cobb coming into 2014 and I’m still hesitant on buying him, but I can’t deny what he has done so far. His minor league numbers suggest he can keep up the pace he set in 2014, and that makes him a very good number 3 for any team.
Kevin: If he doesn’t have a freak injury, he should put up his first full season in 2015, and you won’t be disappointed. His strikeouts fell just a little from his breakout 2013 season, but he improved his walk rate, and the K/9 was still above 8.0. Add in a big ground ball tilt, and I’m a happy camper.
23. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
Jim: Walks are still an issue, but he keeps the ball in the yard and has a favorable home and division. I can see the ERA settling in the 3.2 range with 170 strikeouts annually.
Paul: Ground ball specialist followed up his 2013 debut with a big year in 2014, accumulating 219 innings while posting a 3.08 ERA and 183 K.
24. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Paul: Everyone watched Ventura dominate in the World Series; this kid has an electric arm and his K rate is just going to climb as he matures.
Tommy: I like Ventura’s upside, but the numbers do not support fantasy acedom just yet. October heroes tend to be over-drafted the following season, and this is a prime example. Ventura is good, but he needs to learn to command his pitches more consistently before he is able to maximize his talents.
25. Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
Kevin: He’s got a three-year improving trend in GB%, K/9, and swinging strike percent. His slider is absolutely filthy. The issue is whether his arm can hold up while using the slider because he missed some time at the end of 2014, but it was also his first season of 30 GS, so I’d gamble on him repeating.
Ron: The stat that jumps out at me most is that Ross really generates a lot of ground balls. It’s hard to find too many non-elite pitchers with anything close to an 8.97 K/9 and a 2.58 GB/FB rate. He walks a few too many hitters still but with a GB% like his he often finds a way out of any jam he might get into with the free passes.