Fantasy Baseball

Next Year’s Top Starting Pitchers – The Rule of 85%

Last year I looked at a new 90% rule to try to identify the top pitchers to draft heading into 2016. The idea was to target those pitchers who had the best K, GB, and BB rates over the previous season’s second half. After two previous years with success rates of 80% or higher, last year looked like an utter failure. Now, a lesser man would just forget last year’s post and try something new this year, but I am no such man. When I look closer at last year’s 25 names, 13 ended up as top 30 arms. 7 were injured (with 5 on their way to top 30 status), and 5 were just bad. I’m going to call this a 72% success rate but hope to identify what went wrong and how I can get better results for 2017. 

Here are the 5 failures:

Name W ERA IP K% BB% GB%
Raisel Iglesias 3 2.53 78.1 25.5 8.0 40.6
Felix Hernandez 11 3.82 153.1 18.6 9.9 50.2
Francisco Liriano 8 4.69 163 23 11.6 52
Jaime Garcia 10 4.67 171.2 20.2 7.7 56.7
Zack Greinke 13 4.37 158.2 20.1 6.2 45.9

I would be hard-pressed to call Raisel Iglesias’ season a failure; in fact he looks darn-right dominating coming out of the bullpen. That really leaves only 4 failures (make that a 76% success rate), but in a nutshell, what exactly went wrong with them?

Felix Hernandez saw his K rate plummet and his walk rate climb – always a dangerous combination. His groundball rate fell, and he gave up a HR every 8 innings, the highest rate of his career. 

Francisco Liriano does this thing where he walks a stupid amount of players every other year. He also gave up more fly balls, which resulted in the highest number of home runs he’s every given up in a season. 

Jaime Garcia upped his K rate and kept his walk and ground ball rates reasonably steady, but saw his fly ball rate and especially his HR/FB% go up, resulting in – you guessed it, the highest home run total allowed of his career. 

Zack Greinke moved to the desert and saw a small drop in his strikeout and ground ball rate, as well as a slight increase in his walk rate. He gave up more fly balls and had his highest HRA/IP since 2004. 

All four of these starting pitchers saw either a substantial drop in their GB percentage and/or a huge increase in their HR/FB%. What does this mean for 2017?  With the exception of Felix Hernandez, the K%-BB% of 2015 weren’t really poor indicators of future success, but the GB rate factor may have been over-valued. I’m going to tweak the formula (just ever so slightly) in the hopes of getting better results. I could just rest on my laurels and blame injuries, as they played a major role in last year’s suggestions not panning out. Had Strasburg, Keuchel, Carrasco, deGrom, and G.Cole had enough starts to get into the top 30, things could have turned out much better. The HR and ground ball rates seem much less predictive, and a small reduction in their weighted value may produce even better results for 2017. 

I’ve had to rename this the Rule of 85% as I only included a 90% weight on the GB%. I’m left with only 15 names with another 7 interesting names that came close. The list does not include Clayton Kershaw, Danny Salazar, Rich Hill, Lance McCullers, Julio Urias, or Andrew Triggs; all of whom would have made it but did not meet the innings requirement. For these 28 names, I’m looking for 22 to come in next year’s top 30 overall starters. Injuries are going to surely wreak havoc on my plans, but I’m aiming to get back to the 80% mark versus last year’s 78% (when I discount injuries). At the very least, hopefully there is a name or two here that will pique your interest and cause you to research them a little more. That’s the ultimate goal; finding someone you may have discounted but now realize they deserve your attention. Best of luck in 2017. 

2016 Second Half
Pitcher GB% K% K%-BB% Total
Chris Archer 50.2 28.1 23 96.3
Robbie Ray 47.7 30.8 21.6 95.3
Marcus Stroman 60.4 22.7 17 94.1
Francisco Liriano 55.8 26.4 17.1 93.7
Yu Darvish 39.3 32.1 25 92.5
Noah Syndergaard 49.3 27.9 20.1 92.4
Michael Pineda 48.1 27.7 19.7 90.7
James Paxton 46.9 24.4 21 87.6
Chris Sale 41.6 26.9 22.3 86.6
Carlos Carrasco 44.4 25.3 20.8 86.1
Jameson Taillon 52.7 21.1 17.1 85.6
Jon Lester 46.8 25.1 18.4 85.6
Justin Verlander 31.2 31.6 25.9 85.6
Cole Hamels 48.6 24.7 16.6 85.0
Kyle Hendricks 45.5 24.3 19.4 84.7

Pitchers that just missed the cutoff: Carlos Martinez, Sean Manaea, Wade Miley, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, Max Scherzer, and Carlos Rodon.

Players of Interest:

Robbie Ray: With the exception of Jose Fernandez (R.I.P), Ray led the majors in K/9 last season among qualified starters. Let that sink in a bit. If you’re back, here’s one more interesting tidbit: Ray had the largest difference in FIP-ERA of any qualified starter. The problem I see is an elevated HR/FB% and the 12th worst LOB% last year. Now, he pitched last year at just 24 years old, and I would like to think there is some growth still to come too. All signs point to a major breakout, but even a medium sized one would put Ray, with those strikeouts, among the 30 best SP for fantasy purposes. 

Marcus Stroman: While Aaron Sanchez will likely be the more popular pick heading into 2017, I’m going to sit back and wait for Stroman later in the draft. Stroman is another one who underproduced his FIP (3.71-4.37), and he had the 10th worst LOB% in the majors last year. He had a 60% ground ball rate and a 19.4% line drive rate, not allowing a huge margin of error for hitters to do damage. Somehow they did in 2016, with a 16.5% HR/FB rate. Any drop in this rate, with a normalized LOB%. and we should see a major difference in his final counting stats. He won’t have a 1.67 ERA like in 2015, but it’ll be closer to 3.40 than the 4.37 we saw in 2016. 

James Paxton: Paxton’s final 3.79 ERA looks pretty good, but that was 0.99 higher than his 2.80 FIP of 2016. Had he pitched enough innings to qualify, Paxton would have had the third worst LOB% among SP at 66.3%. Paxton really turned things on in the second half with a 24.4% K rate and only a 3.4% BB rate. An increase in velocity is the main reason for the improved performance, averaging 97 mph on his fastball. Like Raisel Iglesias last year, I suspect Paxton will be one of the more popular breakout picks for next year; this one should turn out better. 

Jameson Taillon: Had Taillon pitched enough innings last year, he would have ranked 3rd in baseball for BB/9 at 1.47. Not bad for a rookie pitcher, essentially two years removed from throwing a baseball. There should be some growth in his strikeout rate, and coupled with a 50% groundball rate, this is an elite arm ready to bust into the upper echelon of baseball’s starting pitchers. He throws in a great park and just got better as the year went on. I won’t give away where he’s ranked among our Top 75 Starting Pitchers for Dynasty Leagues, but I had him squarely in my top 20. 

Sean Manaea: If you missed it after an uninspiring first couple of months, Manaea’s last thirteen starts look like this: 

13 2.44 84.2 22.7 5.2 49.1 .215

Obviously we can’t discount 11 starts and only look at the last 13, but those were the types of numbers he was putting up through the minors as a top prospect. I think he’s going to be grossly overlooked heading into 2017, just not by me. I would target him heavily in all formats. As like the previous four he has the potential to breakout as an ace in 2017 and beyond. 


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By James Thomas

Part-time writer, full-time sports fan, and lifetime fantasy sports fanatic.