Starting Pitchers Tiers 1 and 2: Being the Elite

I’ve done tiers for most of the hitting positions this year and have finally had the time to do so for the starting pitcher position.  Sorry to keep repeating myself, but tiers are far more important than rankings when evaluating players on draft day.  It’s also vitally important when contemplating trades.  Someone may be top 5 at a position but may not stand out from the 15th ranked player at that position.

In my analysis, I found that basically all infield positions are top heavy.  First base, second base, and third base have insane depth in regards to playable guys being fifteen or even twenty deep.  That said, you’re at a huge disadvantage if you’re starting Eric Hosmer against a team with Joey Votto.  Can the same be said for the starting pitchers? We shall see…

In this column, we’ll take a bit of a dive into what I consider the top two tiers. Check back later in the week for tiers 3 and 4.

Tier One

This is the super ace class. Feel free to place them in order of preference; you really can’t go wrong.

Corey Kluber: I’m in the minority for ranking Kluber number one.  This stems from the fact that he was the better pitcher last year and my buying the narrative of his historic second half.  The Cleveland pitching coach told Kluber to throw more breaking pitches and the results were impeccable.

Clayton Kershaw: He’s one of the best pitchers ever.  He’s not as young as he used to be and he has had injuries in three of the last four years now.  I also think the field has caught up to him a bit so he no longer belongs in a class unto himself and in my opinion is just a hair behind “Klubot.”  Kershaw is likely to be awesome, but the back worries me given the cost.

Chris Sale: This guy is “Mr. Strikeout.”  The average MPH and K rate both went way up in Boston.  So he really was pitching to contact in Chicago in 2016?  Weird, but cool.  I think he’s probably the safest of this group but may have the second lowest upside.  Again, we’re nitpicking.  These guys are all aces with a capital “A.”

Max Scherzer: He’s the man, and I love watching him pitch.  Scherzer is intense at an old school level.  He’s also the oldest of he group.  In addition to age and health, Scherzer is also the most fly ball prone of the group.  Because of that, he seems more prone to multi-HR games just due to natural homer to flyball variance.

Madison Bumgarner: The other big difference from other industry rankings and tiers is that I’m including Madison Bumgarner in this group.  Up until last year he was considered to be an unmatched beast in regards to his workloads and consistency.  Last year he had a non-baseball injury.  Kluber, Scherzer, and Kershaw all had injuries just last year.  I’m choosing not to let a dirt bike accident knock Bumgarner back into the second tier.


I rarely reach for any of these guys due to my affinity for having a squad that can mash.  That said, these guys can be incredible assets for any fantasy league.  This goes double for points leagues.

Tier Two

My second tier stands out from many of the other tiers I’ve seen in the industry.  The biggest difference is the size of this tier.  I have a lot more guys in this grouping than most other folks do – mostly due to the fact that I can see any one of them being the anchor for your staff. Again, feel free to shuffle to your own preference.

Stephen Strasburg: Not much to see or say here; Stras is amazing.  His control and command occasionally lead to implosions, but not very often.  His stuff and results are on par with the guys in the first tier.  Strasburg has only made 30 starts twice in his eight year career, though, and has only logged 200 innings once so far in his career.  The results are amazing, but he has a history of missing extended periods of time.

Jacob deGrom: I bought low on deGrom in-season in several leagues last year.  He pitched well below his peripherals for a big chunk of the season, but had an awesome finish that re-solidified him as an ace.  He’s in the top 10 on most industry rankings.  He had a 30% K rate in the second half to help put into perspective how tantalizing he can be.  There’s some minor injury rumblings coming out of Mets training camp, but nothing to make me worry just yet.  I love this guy and am happy for him to anchor my staff.

Yu Darvish: The poor World Series performance may have deflated his price.  I love that he landed with the Cubs.  He’s throwing as hard as he ever has and is as big of a K asset as there is in the MLB (27.3%).  He also gets to strikeout a bunch of pitchers this year, which is exciting.  He’s been fragile in the past, but he did pitch 186 innings last year – hat’s more than Strasburg.  He has also pitched more than 180 innings in three of his eight years in the majors – that’s including his down time from TJ.  I think Darvish actually has a good bit of upside and is coming 20-25 picks later than Strasburg, Thor, and Carrasco. I love that value and think he’s been more of a workhorse than people realize.

Luis Severino: I’m a Yankee fan and have been a bit of a wet blanket for fellow Yankee fans.  Most of my fellow fans are penciling in a 28th World Series Title.  I think that’s a bit presumptuous.  It’s a great team, but there are definitely some things to be wary of.  One of those things would be relying on a 24 year old ace that’s only done it once.  Severino was undrafted in many fantasy leagues last year.  There’s nothing in the numbers to doubt.  His stuff and metrics are unbelievable.  The run and bullpen support should be second to none.

I haven’t drafted much Severino in mocks or actual drafts.  Maybe that should change.  There doesn’t seem to be anything here that suggests anything other than more excellence, but he is a bit expensive for me at 32nd overall, which could be a value if he can repeat 2017.

Noah Syndergaard: I group Thor right with Severino.  They’re New York righties that throw flames.  I thought we were going to get a discount here after the torn lat last year, but that’s not happening.  He’s going at the same ADP as Severino listed above.  I tend to think Syndergaard will be great this year, but I’m not going to be spending a top 30ish pick to get him.

Zack Greinke: Greinke had one lousy year adjusting to the hitter’s haven that was Chase Field, but returned to ace-dom last year.  I expect more of the same with his incredible command and the addition of a humidor.  He’s coming in at an ADP of 43 in NFBC drafts.  He’s actually anchoring my NFBC rotation and I got him in the 6th.  That felt like stealing to me.

Justin Verlander:

He’s one of my all-time favorites.  He was on par with Kershaw a few years back when he was winning Cys and MVPs.  Verlander lost it for a few years after core surgery, but then found it again in the past few years.  He’s throwing harder than much younger men with a 95.6 MPH average.  He also dominated during his brief stint the champion Astros including a ridiculous postseason.  I expected more of a tax because of that playoff run than his current NFBC ADP of 39.  Still I prefer to draft Greinke, Darvish, and others after him at this point.

Verlander may have one or two more stud years in the chamber, but I can’t help but be a little worried about all those innings on his 35 year old arm.  Cliff Lee and the late Roy Halladay fell off shortly after dominance as well.

Carlos Carrasco: As recently as a year ago I was pumping up Carrasco.  He rewarded us with his career year.  This year I’ll be avoiding him.  I think he’ll still be very good.  Carrasco is just older than you think and his fastball stinks.  If you ever watch him pitch, he gets teed off on much more than your average stud pitcher.  He’s going to be 31 and I think he’s pretty safe to be a top 15 SP.  I sort of think 2017 was his career year, though, and won’t be spending the top 30ish pick that NFBC is saying it will take to nab him.

Chris Archer: Back to back years of a 4+ ERA has deflated his draft stock a little bit.  He’s still in most analyst’s top 15-20, but he is going 52nd in NFBC.  That’s a two round discount compared to Carrasco.  I consider Carrasco, Archer, and Carlos Martinez to be awfully similar when you look at the underlying stats.  Those advanced metrics say that Archer has been unlucky for two years now.  His ERA has been about half a point lower than his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA.  He has a 30% K rate and a 10% IFFB%.  That’s basically 40% automatic outs.

I think the Rays are better than people realize and his home park is great.  I still wish he had a better third pitch, but I think he’s pretty close to an ace.  I prefer Archer to Carrasco given the 20 pick difference. I’m pretty happy with him anchoring my staff.

Carlos Martinez: Car-Mart is the third of the trio that I consider a fantasy doppelgänger.  I really think Carrasco, Archer, and Martinez are all peas in a pod.  They all have ace-ish potential and similar underlying stats.  He’s also the youngest of the three and may well have the best stuff.  That’s more by eye than anything else.  Martinez also pitches in both the NL and a pitcher’s park.  He’s going right after Chris Archer at pick 53.  I may have to re-evaluate my rankings as I think I now prefer him to Archer by a hair.  I definitely prefer him to Carrasco when factoring in the 20 pick discount.

I don’t know if Car-Mart will ever turn into the second coming of Pedro Martinez like scouts hoped a few years back.  He only needs a little bit of growth to pass some of the guys in this tier though.  This tier is definitely bunchy.

James Paxton: I can see getting waxed for including Paxton in this tier.  It didn’t feel right to include him in the next one though.  Based on Paxton’s performance from both 2016 and 2017, he was an ace.  If he can pitch even 180 innings, he has a shot at being a top 5 pitcher.  Folks have called him a lefty Syndergaard and I suggested he might be a lefty Strasburg.  The stuff is incredible and he has a good offense, bullpen, and defense supporting him.  He’s going 75th in NFBC ADP.

I get there’s injury risk, but there’s risk on basically all of the pitchers.  Is his risk really that much greater than Thor, Strasburg, or even the top 4 guys? Getting someone with top 5 potential in the 6th or 7th round is amazing.  I love picking guys with skills where the only thing that’s been missing is the innings or playing time.  Maybe some of the other guys in this tier are safer than Paxton, but he’s one of the only ones in with enough potential to compete with the guys in the first tier.

Robbie Ray: This is a bit of an adjustment on my part.  I’ve been a bit of a Robbie Ray detractor over the last year or so.  With the addition of a humidor in Arizona I would move him up a few slots in my rankings.  The hard contact and bad walk rate do still scare me just a bit.  My only problem with Ray is his cost.  He’s going 44th in NFBC drafts, which is the same as Greinke and is before guys like Car-Mart, Archer, Darvish, and Paxton.


In points leagues, I want to try and get two to three arms from the top two tiers. In roto, I’m probably happy with one or two of them.  This is mostly because I feel more confident in my ability to stream in roto and to find value arms later in the draft that perform similarly to the top names.

I will be digging into the third and fourth tier over the next few days so be on the lookout for that. The third tier is where I’ll be grabbing a majority of arms for my fantasy staffs.  Pitching has been worse the last few years.  If you are someone who wants to prioritize pitching – I would definitely try to grab at least three of these top seventeen guys.


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Mike Sheehan

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Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.

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