(WTNH)–As fantasy baseball season approaches, we’re ranking the top guys in the major leagues at each position. Up first, it’s the pitchers. Check out our rankings below.
He’s the Sandy Koufax or Pedro Martinez of our era, the unquestioned No. 1 until someone else proves otherwise. Kershaw has been durable (seven straight seasons of 170-plus innings) and consistent (seven straight years of sub-3.00 ERA’s). He’s also posted ERA’s of 1.83, 1.77 and 2.13 in three straight seasons. Although he only won 16 games last year, he also put up a career-high in strikeouts (301) against just 42 walks. There’s not much to worry about in taking Kershaw.
MadBum continued on his annoying 2014 World Series roll last year, ranking as one of the best pitchers in the game. If you’re in a keeper league, you might consider taking him first, as he’s only 26 and has put together three straight sub-3.00 ERA seasons and racked up a career-high 234 K’s last year. He could be in line for a big year wins-wise as well, as a lot of people are picking the Giants to win the West.
If you’re looking for strikeouts, this is your guy. Scherzer has finished in the top three in that category every year since 2011, and has the most K’s of any pitcher in that span. He only won 14 games with the struggling Nats last season, but that could change depending on your opinion of Dusty Baker.
Yeah, you could get burned if Arrieta turns out to be a one-year wonder, but this dude was so filthy last year that there’s almost no way he reverts back to pre-Joe Maddon form. Right? Arrieta had one of the best second halves in the history of baseball last season (no joke), and beat out a historically-good Zack Greinke for the Cy Young award. Wrigley Field is a tough place to pitch, but Arrieta keeps the ball down, and doesn’t walk anybody (48 BB last year). We’re betting on this guy.
DeGrom announced his presence as the best pitcher on the best staff in baseball last year, cruising through the second half and beating both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to push the Mets to the NLCS. This kid has the makeup to become one of the best pitchers in the game, and that’s why his stock is on the rise in 2016. Maybe his strikeout numbers aren’t as high as some other guys, but pitching for the defending N.L. champs, he’s got a chance to win 20 games this year.
It’s always a risk drafting a high-priced free agent who’s moved on to a new team, but by now, Greinke knows the drill. He’s been great in each of his four major league stops (Kansas City, Milwaukee, L.A. Angels, L.A. Dodgers), and he’s coming off of an historic 2015 season in which he put up a 1.66 ERA. His win total might dip in Arizona, and he’s not a huge strikeout guy, but we’ll bet on Greinke keeping up his brilliance before we’d double down on Corey Kluber or David Price.
Not sure why, but this just feels like it’s going to be Matt Harvey’s year. He dealt with so much turmoil last season, from the innings limit fiasco to trade rumors, to Terry Collins leaving him in in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the World Series. It just feels like he’s going to come back with a Cy Young-worthy campaign that blows everyone away and makes him the biggest star in New York once again. Maybe that won’t happen, but even if it doesn’t, you’re going to get consistency from this kid, who’s still only 26 years old.
We’re betting on a bounce-back year for Sale, too, who finished with a career-high 3.41 ERA on a dismal White Sox team last season. It seemed like Sale was bored last year, but he still punched out a ridiculous 270 batters. He’s the Randy Johnson of this era–the guy nobody in the league wants to face. We’re not betting against that guy.
The defending A.L. Cy Young award winner hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, as he carried his dominance into the postseason in two shut-down starts against the Yankees and Royals. He ended the Yankees’ season with six shutout innings at Yankee Stadium, then gave up one run in seven strong against Kansas City as the ‘Stros took a 2-1 lead on the Royals in the ALDS. All of that to say–this kid isn’t a fluke. He’s a great bet to continue as one of the game’s best pitchers.
Cole is one of the best–and most underrated–young pitchers in the game, and he had a career season for the Pirates last year, winning 19 games and striking out 202 batters in 208 innings. The 25-year-old should be ranked even higher in keeper leagues, as he’s got the potential to be great for a long time.
You know Price’s numbers are going to go up pitching in Fenway Park–that’s just the way it is, especially considering the fact that he’s a lefty. Still, Price is like the Chris Paul of major league baseball–he’s always consistent, clearly one of the game’s best players, and even though he hasn’t done much in the postseason, you know what you’re going to get out of him during the regular year. This guy loves to win, and he’s a consummate pro.
His numbers were all over the place last season, and the ERA (3.49) was more than a full run higher than his 2014 output, when he won the Cy Young award. We’re not sure what to think of Kluber–or the Indians, for that matter–going forward, as he only has that one great season under his belt. He did strike out 245 batters last year, and his WHIP is tremendous, though.
Archer came on strong last season, emerging as one of the best pitchers in the game and earning his first All-Star nod. We think that confidence will spill over into this season, as Archer solidifies himself as the unquestioned ace of this staff. He’s only getting better.
Felix is one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, and every year, he’s a threat to lead the league in ERA. Last season, he posted 18 wins on a 76-86 squad. His ERA was high for him, at 3.53, but he did come in at 2.14 in 2014, so it’s not like he’s been showing signs of decline. We could definitely see this being a bounce-back season in which he puts himself in the thick of Cy Young conversation once again.
OK, so the strikeout numbers won’t blow you away, but again, we’re looking for safe bets, consistency here. Gray has been lights-out from the minute he stepped on a major league mound, pitching to a 2.88 career ERA in 491 career innings. If you’re in a keeper league, he might be a top-10 pitcher, as he’s only 26. The only concern might be if Billy Beane decides to trade him for some 21-year-old prospect who will be equally good in three years. (That’s a joke. Kind of).
Well, for one thing, you know you’re going to get wins with Wacha. The Cardinals keep cranking out 100-win squads even though most casual baseball fans probably can’t name five guys on the team. And we saw how special this kid can be in 2014–when he came up and nearly no-hit the Pirates in the playoffs. Wacha has terrific stuff, and even though he struggled a little bit last season, we expect a bounce-back campaign and a sub-3.00 ERA this year.
Moving to spacious AT&T Park could mean a career year for Cueto, whose numbers dipped last season, especially after moving to Kansas City. Cueto had a 4.17 ERA with the Royals, but he came through when it mattered most–tossing a complete-game 2-hitter in Game 2 of the World Series. That performance shows there’s nothing to worry about with the 30-year-old, who should return to ace form in the N.L.
There are a lot of reasons to believe in the 23-year-old Syndergaard this season, as he gets ready to take on a larger workload. His strikeout numbers could be off the charts, as he fanned 166 batters in just 150 innings last season. You should also expect more wins, and a low walk rate.
Stroman emerged as the Blue Jays’ real ace in the postseason, as manager John Gibbons tabbed the 24-year-old to pitch in Game 5 of the division series against the Rangers instead of David Price. It may have been crazy, but it worked out, as Stroman went six innings and gave up just three runs as Toronto advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1993.
The big concern with Fernandez is injury, as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. If completely healthy and able to pitch the entire season, Fernandez is one of the best pitchers in the game. But as with any pitcher who’s been through Tommy John, there’s the fear that he’ll never regain the form he had when he was at his best. Taking Fernandez is a gamble–but one that could pay off big-time.
21. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
ERA was at a career high (3.41) last year, and could be distracted by questions about his long-term future in Washington.
22. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
He’s always solid (11-12, 3.34 ERA, 207 K’s in 2015), and should be better in year two at Wrigley.
23. Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers
He struggled a little bit after moving to the A.L. (3.66 ERA with Texas), but we’re betting he’s solid in 2016. Stuck out 215 batters last season, as well.
24. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
His elbow injury has been described as ‘a ticking time bomb,’ but when he pitches, he’s one of the absolute best in the game.
25. Jordan Zimmerman, Detroit Tigers
Have to figure a new team will energize Zimmerman, who struggled
26. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
A lot of upside with him, but hasn’t shown the consistency year-to-year.
27. Garrett Richards, L.A. Angels
Was terrific in 2014 (13-4, 2.61 ERA) but struggled last season (15-12, 3.65). Has potential, though.
28. Shelby Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs bet big on Miller; trading the No. 1 overall pick for him. He should respond with a nice year.
29. Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
Like his teammate Carrasco, has shown a lot of potential, but has been up-and-down (14-10, 3.45 in ’15).
30. Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Had a fantastic 2015, but injuries (14-7, 3.01 ERA, 184 K’s), but injury is the question.
31. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
One of the game’s best pitchers when healthy, but battled injury bug last season.
32. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Has been tremendously consistent for the Buccos, though you wonder when he’ll decline.
33. Adam Wainright, St. Louis Cardinals
Injuries are always the question with Wainright, not performance. Made only 4 starts last year.
34. Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays
Again, injury concerns cast shadow over this season, but he was lights-out with Tampa Bay when healthy.
35. Lance McCullers, Houston Astros
Had a quitely solid season in ’15, pitching to a 3.22 ERA. One of the more underrated buys.
36. James Shields, San Diego Padres
We think he’ll bounce back with a big year after disappointing ’15, especially in that ballpark.
37. Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Tossed a no-hitter to go with 3.54 ERA, 111 K’s in 2015. Should be even better this year.
38. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
We love his stuff, if he can get his emotions (and pitches) under control.
39. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Not sure what to think about Verlander. Is he done being dominant? At least he’ll strike people out.
40. Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
One of the up-and-coming guys in the game, pitching in one of the friendliest parks.
41. Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants
We think he’ll find a way to be effective again, especially under Bruce Bochy and in San Francisco.
42. Steven Matz, New York Mets
Could argue that he should be higher. Pitched to a 2.27 ERA last year in 35 innings.
43. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Had a down year (3.79 ERA) in 2015, but could be in line for a bounce-back.
44. Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays
Underrated innings-eater who has a chance to develop into a terrific starter. Only 25 years old.
45. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
We think he’ll bounce back from a tough 2015 (4.04 ERA), as he one of the game’s most underrated pitchers in 2013 and ’14 (3.20, 2.89 ERA’s, respectively).
46. Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox
Showed tremendous promise at times in Boston, could be a breakout star next season.
47. Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
One of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but he struggled mightily (4.56) in rookie year.
48. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
He was one of the game’s top prospects just a few years ago, but struggled recently. We think he bounces back.
49. Scott Kazmir, L.A. Dodgers
Always consistent, worth a late-round pick, especially in L.A., where he could rack up wins.
50. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Rodon struggled early on with Chicago, but figured it out down the stretch. He’s a candidate for a breakout season.