The current environment of Major League Baseball is enjoying a pitching renaissance. Our 2015 Starting Pitcher rankings prove that out.
Fast forward, Draft Day is coming and Spring Training games are in full throttle mode. A month after my initial rankings the Starting Pitcher Market is ever evolving as injuries take their toll.
In this era of the pitcher, a prevalent mantra consistently preached within the Fantasy Baseball industry is wait on starting pitching. I have consistently argued against such logic.
Yes, the starting pitching talent pool is deep, but elite starting pitching remains a rare commodity.
The starting pitching market can be summed up in one word — volatile. And security comes with a premium price tag.
An often overlooked and under-appreciated statistic is Innings Pitched and the value it holds when creating your rotation. I am not suggesting to disregard hitters, but to keep an emphasis on pitching throughout auctions and drafts.
2014 IP >=200, ERA <= 3.30, WHIP <= 1.20 & SO >= 200 (Baseball-Reference Play Index)
*Only 10 starting pitchers qualified under this critera
2014 IP >=162, ERA <= 3.74, WHIP <= 1.28 & SO >= 162 (Baseball-Reference Play Index)
*Only 29 starting pitchers qualified under this critera
2015 Starting Pitcher Rankings
Tier No. 1: In A Class By Himself
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Gold Standard in the Starting Pitching Market raised the bar in 2014.
2011-2014 72-26 2.11 ERA 172 ERA+ 2.41 FIP 0.95 WHIP 9.5 K/9 & 4.74 K/BB
#Dodgers Clayton Kershaw has a 1.81 FIP in 2014. The lowest FIP by a qualified LHP since Eddie Plank (1.72) & Rube Waddell (1.51) in 1908.
— Ace of MLB Stats (@AceballStats) February 11, 2015
Tier No. 2: Fantasy Elite
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
The term “Blue Chip” epitomizes King Felix’s Value. All Hail the King!
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
CTM Baseball’s 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner — the wait is over!
#Nationals Stephen Strasburg faced 868 batters in 2014. He got ahead 0-2 against 201 of them, none of whom were able to work a walk.
— Ace of MLB Stats (@AceballStats) February 17, 2015
4. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Even in this era of the pitcher, the names of starting pitchers who can attain the stats that Max offers remain scarce.
All of these Aces recorded 200+ Innings Pitched and 200+ Strikeouts in 2014 with Sale (174.0 IP/208 K) being the exception to the rule.
*Over the last two years, only three starting pitchers have registered 200+ Innings Pitched and 200+ strikeouts in consecutive seasons: Felix Hernandez, Jeff Samardzija and Max Scherzer.
5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
The perennial Cy Young Award candidate will always have that ticking time bomb stigma associated with him. The risk averse will steer clear of this uber-talented starting pitcher, but is that a shrewd decision?
*Sale’s foot injury is not considered serious and should only miss one or two game starts, so a slight fall in the rankings is necessary.
Tier No. 3: The Fantastic Four
6. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner remains one of the consummate and most secure investments in the Starting Pitcher market for 2015 and beyond.
— FantasyGameday.net (@Fantasy_Gameday) February 18, 2015
7. David Price, Detroit Tigers
What makes Price one of the prominent starting pitchers in the game?
5-year averages (2010-2014): 31 GS, 15-9 record, 216 IP, 3.08 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 207 Ks
8. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
What makes Hamels one of the prominent starting pitchers in the game?
5-year averages (2010-2014): 32 GS, 12-10 record, 213 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 204 Ks
9. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greinke has won over 50 percent of his game starts since joining the Dodgers.
- 60 GS, 380 IP, 32-12 record 2.68 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
Chavez Ravine Numbers: 29 GS, 192.1 IP, 18-4 record, 2.34 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 195 Ks, 9.12 K/9
Vs. NL West (2013-2014)
- 2013: 76.1 IP, 6-1 record, 2.24 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 67 Ks
- 2014: 98.1 IP, 12-0 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 100 Ks
This group is consistently solid year in and year out with Bumgarner, Price and Hamels all owning four-year (2011-2014) averages with 200+ IP and 200+ K, while Greinke’s average over that time span is 191 IP & 189 K.
Tier No. 4: The Exacta
10. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
A healthy Cueto showcased his abilities in 2014. Johnny has consistently outpitched his peripherals, and even with some pull back in 2015, he has ascended to Ace status. The Predator just celebrated his 29th birthday as he enters his walk year.
Prior to last season, Cueto’s three-year average was (2011-2013): 23 GS, 145 IP, 2.61 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
11. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Last year was the breakout season that turned into a Cy Young Award-winning campaign. The goal is to keep things in perspective because it is easy to get inebriated off the Kluber Kool-Aid. In retrospect, 2014 was a season for the ages, but still, it was just one season. And with great expectations come great responsibilities.
Tier No.5: Hello, Harvey
12. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
A solid starting pitcher prior to last season, but an increase in strikeouts propelled him into the conversation and on the cusp of Fantasy Ace status. The prerequisite for retaining this status in 2015 is preserving and establishing a foundation for the gains made in the strikeout category.
13. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
Timing is everything — and free agency could not have come at a better time for Big Jon.
- (July 3, 2013 to September 24, 2014) 48 GS, 325.1 IP, 2.60 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 3.34 xFIP, 1.22 WHIP, 23.2 K%
(Our Dan Domenick plans to avoid Lester in drafts this year, however.
14.Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Harvey has exhibited dominance in his brief career but is returning from TJS and I’m of the belief that an innings cap will be imposed circa 160 IP with 170 IP max. The Dark Knight is recommended when constructing your 2015 pitching portfolio, but as a complimentary piece versus a rotation anchor.
“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.”
– Lt. James Gordon
Tier No. 6: Fantasy Aces-in-Waiting
15. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
|2015 Starting Pitcher Rankings|
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Cobb was on the cusp of Ace status, but there is still work to be done.
First, he needs to take the bump every fifth day, and increasing his Innings Pitched total is must.
Secondly, he has to continue with his trademark elite ground-ball percentage.
Lastly, an uptick in K-rate would be the final element for achieving Ace status.
16. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2014 season did not go according to plan for Cole, but his 2015 forecast remains bullish! Cole closed out 2014 with a great late-season run:
- 8 GS, 52.1 IP, 4-1 record, 3.44 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 2.75 xFIP, 29.1 K%
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) January 1, 2015
17. Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox
Samardzija made the transformation in 2014 but is he underrated & underappreciated for 2015?
If you are still skeptical of the Shark, I implore you to revisit his case file.
2014 [MARCH 31st – SEPTEMBER 27th] SHARKNADO
OAK: 16 GS 5-6 111.2 IP 3.14 ERA 3.30 FIP 2.92 SIERA 0.93 WHIP 23.0 K% 20.2 K-BB% 47.9 GB%
CHC: 17 GS 2-7 108.o IP 2.83 ERA 3.10 FIP 3.22 SIERA 1.20 WHIP 22.9 K% 16.0 K-BB% 52.5 GB%
18. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
Arrieta pitched like a Jedi Knight in 2014 for the team on the North Side of Chicago.
Jake made 25 GS for the Cubs and 19 resulted in 2 ER or less. Also of note is that in 3 of the other 6 GS Arrieta allowed 3 ER plus 4 ER once and suffered only two disastrous outings [@ Colorado 9 ER & @ Cincinnati 6 ER] on the season.
The waiting is the hardest part.
— Tommy Petty & The Heartbreakers
This is just the first part of our 2015 Starting Pitcher rankings, Check out Part 2 for pitchers 19 thru 36.
Zack Greinke Photo Credit: Keith Allison