2015 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings: Splitting Hairs
Starting pitcher is the deepest fantasy baseball position out there. Due to this, one of the most common draft strategies is to wait until the middle rounds to start selecting them. While this is still a viable strategy, it also should be known that four of numberFire's top eight fantasy players for 2015 are starting pitchers. A deep position can still be top-heavy, and that's the case here -- acquiring one of the big dogs is an easy way to add 200 innings of silky pitching to those Roto totals, or a nice advantage to have going into head-to-head playoff matchups.
The 2015 numberFire baseball projections are based on a traditional 5x5 setup, with positional scarcity playing a factor as well.
With all of that said, let's took a look at the top-10 pitchers for 2015. There are a lot of familiar faces in this group, and you may find that the differences between many of the pitchers are minimal. To separate them, it's recommended to use the statistic you desire most as the tiebreaker. For me, it would be strikeouts, but it will depend on your preferences and/or team needs.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw shouldn't be a surprising name to see at the top spot, as he compiled a ridiculous 239 strikeouts, 1.77 earned run average (ERA), and 0.86 walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) last season. Wins are a highly team dependent stat, but given that Kershaw plays for a World Series contender, it's safe to assume he will win his fair share of games. At only 26 years old, the only thing that can derail Kershaw from his throne is injury.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
If anyone can take down Kershaw from the top spot, it's likely Max Scherzer. It's tough to imagine Scherzer improving, but with a switch to the National League and to a team with a better defense than Detroit, it's safe to expect a bump statistically. Scherzer will likely lack the control to catch Kershaw, but a potential 300 strikeout season could do the trick. Missing out on Kershaw isn't so bad if Scherzer is sitting there.
3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
King Felix has been so good for so long that it's almost become boring. That is, of course, until you watch Hernandez pitch a few innings to remind yourself of his legendary skill. Despite being in the league for 10 years, Felix is still only 28 years old. Sure, there's a lot of mileage on that arm, but we're not talking about a 30-plus-year-old pitcher just yet. Over those 10 years, Felix has averaged 219 strikeouts, a 3.07 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP. What else is there to say? Get Felix as your ace and rest easy.
4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale will reportedly miss very little, if any, of the regular season with a foot injury, so we're still comfortable ranking the lefty as the fourth best starting pitcher for 2015. Per FanGraphs, Sale has gotten better each year as a starter, as we saw him reach career highs with 10.76 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and 0.67 home runs per nine innings (HR/9). Combine that with outstanding control (2.02 walks per nine in 2014), and you get a true fantasy ace. Chris Sale has some similarities to Tim Lincecum in delivery and frame, which leads some to worry there will be similarities in fragility. While Sale has had some injuries of his own, he's only racked up 674.2 innings in his Major League career thus far. Until he racks up some more mileage, don't be scared about taking the plunge with Sale.
5. David Price, Detroit Tigers
David Price would likely be a bit higher in these rankings if he still pitched for the Rays, but alas, he does not. Price's move to Detroit saw a bump in BB/9 (1.2 to 1.7), ERA (3.11 to 3.59), and WHIP (1.05 to 1.15), while his K/9 decreased slightly (10 to 9.5). The sample size is certainly small, but it's clear that the defensive and ballpark changes will likely decrease Price's fantasy value. Additionally, these were not big decreases statistically, but when the top pitchers are so tightly ranked, any negative factor is magnified.
6. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Concerns about Adam Wainwright's age, injuries, and mileage are all valid. Even with all of those factors considered, Wainwright still compiled a 2.38 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 2014. He's never been a huge strikeout artist, so that's why he falls in the rankings, despite the ratios. For those of you with concerns about Wainwright, FantasyPros average draft position (ADP) data shows that Wainwright's ADP is 42.5. In fact, Wainwright's going later than a few pitchers ranked later in this list. There's a discount on Wainwright, if you can swallow the risk.
7. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner is currently riding the coattails of an epic postseason run to a 24.0 ADP, which is higher than David Price and Corey Kluber. While Bumgarner is a fine pitcher to add to your fantasy squad, last year was the first year he broke 200 strikeouts in a season. Last year's 2.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP are what carried this ace, and there's no reason to expect much regression there. The postseason innings and lower strikeout totals are what bump Bumgarner to seventh on the list.
8. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Johnny Cueto rebounded from an injury-riddled 2013 campaign to post career best season in 2014. While it's not safe to expect a repeat of Cueto's 8.94 K or 2.25 ERA, his other peripheral stats support that he is back to his old self. With a 34.3 ADP in this year's drafts, Cueto is great value after the top 7 pitchers.
9. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Now the second fiddle in a deep Nationals rotation, Stephen Strasburg comes in as our number-nine pitcher for 2015. Strasburg made fantastic strides in 2014, when he put up his first 200 inning season (215 innings pitched, to be exact). Strasburg hit a career low with 1.80 BB/9, a number that, if repeated, will allow him to put up elite ERA and WHIP due to his 10.34 career K/9. Add in the bonuses of a great defense and overall team, and Strasburg was an easy choice for the top 10.
10. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Closing out the top 10 is everyone's favorite 2014 breakout pitcher, Corey Kluber. Kluber stunned us all by winning the Cy Young off of an 18-win and 269-strikeout season last year. His ratios were also fantastic, as a 2.44 ERA and 1.09 WHIP were near the top of the leaderboards. What wasn't a surprise with Kluber, however, is that he broke out. The signs were there, as a five-plus career K-BB showed the ability to strike out hitters at high rate while still maintaining control. Don't expect a repeat of 2014, but the regression won't be as much as you think.