Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitcher
Opening day is right around the corner, so you know what that means -- it's draft season.
Season-long fantasy baseball Twitter is abuzz with nightly draft boards and threads, and perhaps you've already gotten in on the action or have a draft right around the corner.
I've been posting positional rankings for 12-team, standard-scoring roto leagues this month, with brief notes highlighting notable players and situations. These are by no means strict and rigid rankings, as roster construction should play a big role in who you draft, so I've also included tiers to show which players have comparable values.
Finally, let's take a look at starting pitchers.
|32||Lance McCullers Jr.||4|
Jacob deGrom is the consensus top dog this season, and you might even see him go first overall in some drafts. That may seem surprising at first glance, but with the starting pitching ranks looking that much shakier after last year's pandemic-shortened season, I can definitely see the appeal. Innings are at a premium these days, and few -- if any -- can bring you both elite volume and rate stats like deGrom can.
In fact, it's easy to poke holes in just about any hurler once you get out of that first tier. Trevor Bauer is typically the fourth pitcher off the board, but excluding last year's abridged campaign, he's produced an ERA below 4.00 just once in his career (2018). Max Scherzer is 36 years old and saw a down year by his standards in 2020. Walker Buehler has workload concerns, while teammate Clayton Kershaw seems like an annual risk at this point and is showing reduced velocity this spring.
The risks only grow as you go deeper into the draft, so despite it all, you'll probably still want to snag at least one pitcher in those first two tiers and perhaps even two. The "pocket aces" strategy of picking back-to-back aces with your first two picks is becoming more and more popular.
Speaking of risk, Stephen Strasburg is coming off hand surgery from August and is also dealing with a recent calf injury. None of that is great, and it's not like he has an iron man injury history to begin with. However, he's expected to be ready for opening day, and given some of the aforementioned red flags of those listed before him, I don't mind taking a chance on him as a guy with ace upside outside the top 60 picks.
The rest of tier three is mostly made up of high-floor guys like Jose Berrios and Kyle Hendricks, where we can feel fairly confident in the stats we're drafting. Zach Plesac is the exception after posting vast improvements across the board in 2020 with a 3.41 SIERA, 27.7% strikeout rate, and 2.9% walk rate -- but over only eight starts. The upside is there, but the small sample keeps him from being placed higher.
Sonny Gray is dealing with a back injury, putting him in a similar situation as Strasburg except he's expected to start the season on the injured list. It isn't considered to be a serious issue, although Gray also dealt with back issues in 2020. The injury pushes him down a bit more, but the ceiling he showed in 2019 makes him intriguing.
From tier four onward, it's about weighing risk versus reward, and it's probably in your best interest to find a balance between less exciting volume guys and pure upside.
Zac Gallen and Dinelson Lamet are two more injury concerns. Gallen was scratched with arm soreness on Monday, while Lamet is slowly recovering from an elbow issue that dates back to last season. Perhaps we get a positive update on Gallen later this week, but for the moment, I'm wary of selecting either player. However, if you're willing to roll the dice, this feels like the right area to take a shot.
Shohei Ohtani's ranking is entirely dependant on your league format, as he could be immensely valuable as a dual-eligible pitcher/hitter in leagues with daily lineups. But he could still be plenty good strictly as a pitcher, albeit one in an expected six-man rotation. In 2018, Ohtani produced a 3.65 SIERA, 29.9% strikeout rate, and 10.4% walk rate over 10 starts. If nothing else, he could be a fun player in both roles for DFS.
The Dodgers' rotation could be a headache this year because they're so deep. Julio Urias, David Price, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin are all being drafted despite concerns about their respective roles and innings. They could all be valuable on a per-inning basis, but barring injuries to this staff, the innings and starts will be spread out. This makes me less likely to consider Urias at his 120 ADP, but I don't mind snagging whoever drops from the other three, which is typically Gonsolin (ADP 250).
Freddy Peralta and Robbie Ray have been late risers in drafts. Peralta has impressed this spring (15 strikeouts over 8.1 innings) and still has a chance to earn a rotation spot. While Peralta hasn't enjoyed as much success as a starter, he's posted a 28.7% strikeout rate over 23 career starts, so there's potential upside if he can put it all together. Ray has performed well in spring training, too, and despite last year's poor results, there are reasons to be optimistic that he can bounce back.