After each week of positional coverage, we will wrap things up here with our 2016 dynasty/keeper rankings. Players are ranked with the next five years of production in mind, so the higher ranked player may not be the best short-term solution over the next year or two.
Unlike years past, we are living in an age of pitching. No longer do you have to reach for an arm come draft day or trade away the farm to acquire an ace. Today, quality flamethrowers grow on trees – at least according to the urban dictionary. If you look at our rankings below, you’ll see names like Strasburg, King Felix and Zack Greinke ranked outside the top 10; that’s how elite the talent is right now. Players that would have been top 10 pitchers in say, 2011, are second tier guys now.
Once you venture outside the top 25, you get a wide assortment of steady inning-eaters, veterans, and young potentials who could find themselves in the top 25 in a year or so. The same can be said (to a lesser extent) to the players outside the top 50, and there are a good number of prospects that were not even ranked who will be making themselves known in the not so distant future. If you are in an existing dynasty league and do not own one of those top 25, you are behind the 8-ball, but you are not out of luck. If you are starting a new dynasty or keeper league, you have the opportunity to anchor your staff with several aces for years to come. Eventually things will reverse themselves and we’ll begin to see hitters catch up. Until that time, enjoy the arms.
Taking part in our dynasty rankings will be Paul Hartman, Kevin Jebens, Jim Finch, Will Emerson, Ron Vackar and Michael Zakhar. Our six experts each ranked their top 75 Starting Pitchers. Players marked N/R were not ranked inside the top 75 by that particular person, Here are the results along with last year’s rankings.
Just like every other position there is a clear-cut number one player here, and his name is Clayton Kershaw. Since his 2008 rookie season, Kershaw has yet to put up an ERA of 3.0 or higher or have a BAA higher than .214. He has six straight seasons of 200+ strikeouts; three straight seasons of a WHIP under 1.0 and six straight seasons of double-digit wins (two 20 win seasons). It’s hard to believe he will not turn 28 years old until March. If you’re in a dynasty league or just starting one up, there is no better player to anchor your staff around.
As for the remaining players, our panel shares their thoughts on each below.
2. Chris Sale – White Sox
- Ron: Do not be scared off by the 3.41 ERA and low win total (13) from 2015. Instead, turn your attention to Sale’s 2.52 SIERA and stop trying to predict wins for your pitchers. What it really boils down to for me is that Sale is the nastiest starting pitcher in the game outside of Clayton Kershaw. Sale will play the 2016 season at 27 years old, and health permitting he should approach 230+ K’s each year (274 K’s in 2015).
3. Madison Bumgarner – Giants
- Kevin: The extra workload from 2014’s playoff run didn’t even faze him. Higher LD% in 2015 offset by improved BB/9 and K/9 for third straight year. Bumgarner is elite, and he’s still in his mid-20’s. This is keeper league gold, and I’d overpay even in a pitching-rich environment. When we’re talking about consistently top performances, there’s Kershaw, and then there’s Bumgarner.
4. Jose Fernandez – Marlins
- Paul: Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Fernandez had 11 starts with a 29.8 % K rate with just a 5.3% walk rate and a 2.24 FIP. In 289 career innings, he has a 2.40 ERA while not allowing batters to hit .200 against him. Only two pitchers last year held batters to a lower average than Fernandez has done in his career; Kershaw and Arrieta. He’s a monster, and while there are the obvious post-Tommy John concerns, there are very few pitchers that I would rather have heading into the next 5-10 years.
5. Max Scherzer – Nationals
- Zak: Scherzer was as dominant as could be expected in his first year in the NL, but his accomplishments were overshadowed by the tremendous seasons put forth by Kershaw, Arrieta, and Greinke. He is money in the bank in strikeouts, can keep his WHIP under 1 with his improved control, and is durable and healthy. Scherzer is in his 30’s, but he doesn’t have the mileage on his arm that some others have so have no fear in dynasty.
6. Gerrit Cole – Pirates
- Jim: I was most aggressive last season ranking Cole #11, and everyone else is now catching up. He lost a few points in his K/9, but countered that by dropping his BB/9 under 2.0 and by keeping the ball in the park. He also cracked the 200 innings plateau which means more endurance for the future. The best part is he is only 25 years old so the best is yet to come. With the bats in Pittsburgh, Cole should be good for 15 wins each season, and he netted 25 quality starts in 2015 for those of you who have ditched wins. Unlike last year, there will be no buying low on Cole going forward.
7. David Price – Red Sox
- Will: Price will only be 30 on opening day and is coming off a season in which he posted the lowest ERA of his career. Over the last six seasons his highest, I repeat, highest ERA was 3.49, and over the last four seasons his highest FIP is 3.05. In fact Price has posted back to back seasons with a 2.78 FIP while striking out more than a batter an inning in both those seasons. Even with the move to Fenway, I can’t imagine him not being in the running for the Cy Young talk for several years to come.
8. Matt Harvey – Mets
- Ron: Coming off a major injury, Matt Harvey is like the anti-Stephen Strasburg. He wants the ball, regardless of what Scott Boras says. Matt Harvey wants to go nine innings every time out and he is ready to re-establish himself near the top of the starting pitcher pile. At just 27 years old, Harvey could be a top five option each of the next five years.
9. Jake Arrieta – Cubs
- Paul: It took an historic Cy Young season to break into the Top 10 starting pitchers for Dynasty Leagues, and Arrieta now ranks among the game’s very best pitchers. His underlying numbers show he may have been a little lucky last year with his ERA, but the foundation is there for long-term greatness. He strikes out more than a batter an inning while keeping the ball on the ground with a career 48% GB rate. He has excellent control and works deep into games. Arrieta is really the complete package, and whether or not his ERA is 1.77 or 2.77, he’s going to produce big time numbers.
10. Jacob deGrom – Mets
- Kevin: His BABIP and strand rate were league average, so there’s not much here to indicate much regression moving forward. His K/9 and swinging strike rate all went up in the second half. He had an elite BB/9 under 2.0, aided by a high first pitch strike rate. If deGrom was younger when he debuted we’d be talking about him like Harvey or Bumgarner. Even at 28 in 2016, there are plenty of good years left for keeper value.
11. Stephen Strasburg – Nationals
- Jim: The only thing holding Strasburg back is Strasburg. His BB/9 has been below 2.0 for the past two seasons, and his K/9 has been over 9.0 since his debut – reaching double digits in three of the past four seasons. While his ERA has never been below 3.0, his xFIP has been 2.81 or lower in three of the past four seasons. Minor injuries have played a part in his ascension to the top. The other thing is his inability to pitch on the road – 3.90 compared to a 3.07 home ERA. He’s only 27 and has his entire career in front of him – I just hope Dusty Baker doesn’t damage the goods.
12. Felix Hernandez – Mariners
- Zak: He has been so good for so long, but a bunch of signs we don’t like to see were there – strikeouts down, walks up, homers up. It’s possible he was pitching hurt and will benefit from rest, or maybe all those innings are catching up. I could see some improvement on 2015 in coming years, but I am not confident that he will touch the heights he reached in prior years.
13. Noah Syndergaard – Mets
- Will: What did the 23-year old do in his first real season in the majors? Oh, ya know, just strike out more than a batter an inning while posting a 5.35 K/BB ratio and turning batted balls into grounders at a 46% clip. I mentioned he was just 23, right?
14. Chris Archer – Rays
- Paul: Archer went from 10 wins and a 3.33 ERA in 2014 to 12 wins and a 3.23 ERA in 2015, but moved up 30 spots in our dynasty rankings. It must be the strikeouts, as he went from a 21.1% K rate to an elite 29% mark last year; that’s good enough for 5th best in the majors. With his improved arsenal I’m confident that the strikeout gains are for real, and anyone who can throw up 250 strikeouts in a season will always be a top fantasy option.
15. Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks
- Zak: In 2015, Greinke came out firing and never slowed down. We can’t expect a repeat of a sub 2.0 ERA, and based on all of our ranks we don’t. But Greinke has been a very good pitcher for a long time, just not a perennial Cy Young contender. I wouldn’t rush to sell him off, especially since he is staying in the NL West.
16. Corey Kluber – Indians
- Ron: The 2015 2.98 SIERA and a better K/BB rate than his Cy Young year of 2014 suggest Kluber was better than his 5×5 numbers suggest he was this past season. The fact he will be 30 years old this coming season keeps him outside of the top 10 looking forward.
17. Dallas Keuchel – Astros
- Kevin: In 2014 his high GB% and great BB/9 made him a reliable but unspectacular option. In 2015 he took his K/9 to a new level, and when combined with slight luck in BABIP and strand rate, he had a Cy Young season. I will pay extra for an extreme ground ball guy with a K/9 above 8.0. And if you think he can’t possibly repeat, it’s worth noting that his second half K/9 was even better than his season total. It wouldn’t surprise me if he repeated, and 2015 may not even be his career year.
18. Yu Darvish – Rangers
- Jim: Prior to his injury, Darvish was a strikeout machine with a career 11.22 K/9. Walks were an issue when he first came into the league, but they have steadily declined from 4.19 to 3.43 to 3.06 to 2.94. His fastball averaged in the 92 MPH range which isn’t bad, but it’s his wide assortment of pitchers in his arsenal that makes him dangerous. Surprisingly Darvish is a much better pitcher in Texas (3.02 ERA) than on the road (3.54). He will have some rust to shake off in 2016, but once he has done that I expect his numbers over the next five years to fall between what we saw in 2013 and 2014. If his current owner is nervous, buy now.
19. Cole Hamels – Rangers
- Will: Yes, I realize Hamels just posted his highest ERA since 2009, but Cole still had a K/9 over nine and a groundball rate near 50%. All signs point to an ERA in the mid-threes and that should continue for a few years now. Plus lots of Ks with not a ton of walks gives you a solid fantasy pitcher. Now that he is a bit more adjusted to his new digs and league, expect Hamels to be a solid SP2 for the foreseeable future.
20. Sonny Gray – A’s
- Jim: My ranking and opinion of Gray has not changed since last season. I was worried about his walk rate, but he did a nice job in 2015 of trimming that some. And while he posted an ERA under 3.0, there was a little BABIP luck going on there so expect him to give a few points back. Overall I’m going to stick with what I said last season “he keeps the ball in the yard, has a favorable home park and division, and I can see his ERA settling in the 3.2 range with 170+ strikeouts annually.
21. Michael Wacha – Cardinals
- Ron: Nothing about Michael Wacha screams elite pitcher to me except for the guy calling pitches behind the dish, and how much longer can we really count on Yadier Molina to lead the St. Louis pitching staff? Wacha’s 4.03 SIERA suggests his 3.38 ERA from this past season was a bit misleading. He is not an elite K guy either so what we got in 2014 was probably as good as can be expected without a major change to his pitch repertoire.
22. Jon Lester – Cubs
- Paul: I ranked Lester pretty aggressively, but he’s still young enough to give you 4-5 more very good seasons. The move to the NL certainly agreed with him as he put up his best K% since 2010. The impressive thing about Lester is the improvements he has made over the years with his control, going from good to outstanding. He’s in a great situation in Chicago and while the young arms ranked above him may get all of the attention, Lester should outproduce all of them relative to his draft cost.
23. Johnny Cueto – Giants
- Zak: He was a little up and down once he moved to Kansas City, but some of that can be attributed to bad luck on balls in play. (This is unusual for Cueto, who is a weak contact maestro.) In the postseason we saw some of the brilliance we are accustomed to so while Cueto doesn’t strike out enough to be an ace (and health will always be a concern), he is a fine second starter who should be solid for a few more years.
24. Jordan Zimmermann – Tigers
- Will: Last year was a bit bumpy for Zimm. Well, bumpy compared to expectations that is as he took a big step back from his “breakout” 2014 campaign. The drop in ground ball rate is my biggest concern as the K/9 in ’14 seemed like an anomaly for Zimm. Still on the good side of 30 and headed to a pitcher’s park, I like him to turn things around and, maybe not duplicate, but get back close to the 2014 numbers for the next few years.
24. Danny Salazar – Indians
- Kevin: He’s working his way up to 200 IP, and he improved both his K/9 and BB/9 in his first full season. Though his HR/FB% is slightly high, that’s certainly offset by his 95 mph fastball and ability to strike out batters when needed. What’s more, he increased his ground ball rate, so there are fewer fly balls to leave the park. This is an ace in the making, and 2016 may be your last chance to get him at a reasonable price.
- James Krueger featured Salazar in a recent article which you can Read Here.