It's 'bout that time, eh chaps? The Winter Meetings have come and gone. With it, some of the biggest offseason dominoes have already fallen. The 2017 fantasy baseball draft board is beginning to come into focus. Now it's time to delve into player rankings. We'll continue with our 2017 starting pitcher fantasy baseball rankings for December.
This first round of rankings features picks from Kyle Bishop, Nick Mariano, Bill Dubiel, and Brad Johnson. I know I've had my initial lists in place since mid-October, and my colleagues here weren't too far behind me.
This year, we'll begin by presenting our rankings then share a few thoughts round table style.
Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitcher
|95||12||Jose De Leon||89||89.00|
|109||13||Rubby de la Rosa||98||98.00|
Are there any picks you want to defend?
Brad: Bill matched my aggressive ranking for Sanchez, but we should acknowledge there's irrationality at play. If Sanchez merely repeats his breakout 2016 season, he won't justify such an early pick. I think he's got a second breakout waiting - the result of better using his newly polished command. It's exceedingly rare for pitchers to break out multiple years in a row. When it happens, you're looking at someone like Verlander or Scherzer. In other words, I see top non-Kershaw potential in Sanchez, hence the bullish ranking.
Frankly, I haven't analyzed King Felix's 2016 season since sometime around the All Star break. I applied some simple regression to derive his ranking. Based on my colleague's placement, I assume I need to take a closer look. Similarly, I went a little overboard on the stay away from Tillman brigade.
None of my fellows ranked Montgomery. I'm really excited to see him in the rotation.
Kyle: We all know that pitchers can be extraordinary volatile fantasy assets, and 2016 was a pretty stark reminder of that. He's never been the sexiest option, but Lester is one of the safest SP investments you can make. He's fallen short of 200 innings just once in the last nine years. Since 2014, he's eighth in wins, third in ERA, eighth in strikeouts, and 12th in WHIP. There's a lot to be said for that kind of consistency, especially if you're like me and love speculating on high-variance upside arms later in the draft.
DeSclafani looked to have figured something out as the 2015 season ended. Unfortunately, he missed his scheduling Opening Day start last year (and then 10 or so more after that) with a strained oblique. When he came back, though, he picked up right where he left off - and validated the faith of a certain rakishly handsome writer. Nick shares my optimism, though his Disco fever isn't quite as severe.
Bill: Aaron Sanchez has already been addressed, so I'll refrain from diving into that (Brad sums up my thoughts pretty well). I'm willing to bet my ranking of Stephen Strasburg is highest of the group because I foolishly believe he has another 30-start season in him. The per-game numbers are astonishing, and my ranking reflects my feeling that we may not have seen the best Stras has to offer. If he can rein in the control even a little bit (2.7 BB/9 in 2016) and stay relatively healthy, Strasburg has top-five potential. I'll likely come to my senses at some point before Spring Training, but right now I'm going to hope against hope that the phenom can reach the peak of his talents for a full season.
I'm highest on Steven Wright, and perhaps stupidly so. We all know how volatile knuckleheads can be, but the dude should still win games and stay healthy. There's something to be said for consistency in starting pitchers.
Nick: Looks like I should stand up for my Verlander at #7 pick, as I wholly buy into the revamped JV that we saw for much of 2016. His 12% swinging-strike rate was the highest of his career, and the 19.7% soft-contact rate was his best mark since his incredible 2011 campaign. It's hard to get excited about an age-34 season, I know, but that's also not old enough for me to knock him down after a great season. I'll take him over the snakebitten Strasburg and Darvish.
I also think Miguel Gonzalez should be ranked by everyone, but I'm the only one with a value for the guy. He made 23 starts in 2016 (plus a relief appearance), one of which was shortened due to an injury. He only gave up more than three earned runs in a start four times out of those other 22 starts. 15 of them were quality starts. His newfound confidence in his cutter resulted in some sneaky-good stats, and losing Eaton's defense won't knock him off of my board. Those in deep leagues shouldn't leave him off of their draft sheets.
Which picks by others look overly bullish/pessimistic?
Brad: I thought I was being bullish placing Salazar 32. Turns out I'm the least bullish. Bill tabbed him as the 24th pitcher which is probably going a little too far. If he didn't have the elbow scare looming over his head, I'd feel differently. I'll also say this, beware Duffy and Roark. They're both talented pitchers, but you're making a mistake if you buy their 2016 performances.
I had the most bearish ranking of Matz even though I like him. The obvious concern is health. The whole Mets rotation is going to be interesting. The top five of Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler all dealt with some kind of health scare in 2016. Meanwhile, Lugo and Gsellman are legit, fantasy-quality starting pitchers even though they have considerably less sex appeal. They're blocked for now...
Kyle: I'm a longtime Strasburg proponent, but it's tough to ignore the fact that he's managed to pitch 160 innings just twice in his career, and hasn't posted an ERA under 3.00 since his rookie season. Love the talent...it just feels like there's always something that gets in the way of the monster year he should have had by now. Last year looked like it was finally happening, and then his surgically repaired elbow started barking. That issue is concerning enough that I can't join my colleagues in ranking him as a top 10 option.
Not one, but two of my cohorts have Aaron Sanchez ranked 12th. Brad and Bill see elite potential. I see a guy whose skill set, peripherals, and Statcast data simply don't support that assertion. As Brad already admitted, they've ranked him as though further gains are coming when it's not even certain that he can replicate his 2016 results.
Bill: King Felix's 2016 was anything but regal. The former Cy Young Award-winner posted one of his worst seasons ever, setting career highs in HR/9, BB/9 and FIP while setting a career low in K/9. He also failed to make 30 starts for the first time since his rookie season (2005). I feel as though Kyle and Nick need to cut Hernandez a little more slack though (I don't believe any extensive research on Kyle's part will improve his ranking). He is still just 30 years old, and at 100% health I think he's still a top-30 option in the MLB. He's participating in winter ball in Venezuela as we speak, trying to work out some of the kinks from the last two sub-par seasons. I certainly can see where my colleagues are coming from (the peripherals and his velocity charts are troubling), but I have faith that the former ace can figure things out and return to some level of prominence.
Zack Greinke sports a similar profile--perennial All Star-caliber pitcher coming off a strikingly unproductive season. Kyle appears to believe that Greinke can turn things around. I disagree at this point, and think Greinke's days of top-20 potential are done. I reserve the right to change my mind, but at this point I can think of at least 25 pitchers I'd rather have in 2017.
Nick: I'm also the high man on Manaea at #40, though Kyle isn't far behind at #42. But Brad and Bill don't even have him in their top 50. It appears the young southpaw figured it out on July 10 against Houston, which led to Manaea's final 14 appearances of 2016 yielding a lovely 2.44 ERA and a 75:17 K:BB ratio over 84 2/3 innings. I'll bite here, given that solid finish heading into his sophomore season. Yeah, the wins in Oakland likely won't pour in, but the pitcher-friendly home park is a nice counterweight.
Hellickson must have accidentally bumped into Kyle one day, forcing him to drop his pizza and fueling a hatred that resulted in a #75 ranking. The rest of us have him inside the top 50. I know Hellboy hasn't inspired confidence over the years, but he made marked improvements with his location in 2016 that resulted in a 4.9% rise in soft contact and a wild 8.6% drop in hard contact off of his pitches. Mix that with a modest step forward in swinging-strike rate (10.3% to 10.8%), and I see sustainable growth. Robbie Ray and Matt Shoemaker also appear to have helped in the ruining of Kyle's pizza, but I'll wait for the crime lab's report before opening a formal investigation.