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2019 Starting Pitcher - Early Fantasy Baseball Tiered Rankings


We continue our fantasy baseball tiered rankings analysis with the second base position. The sun is still rising on 2019, but RotoBaller writers JB Branson, Pierre Camus, Chris Zolli and myself are here with our initial pre-draft rankings to give you a sense of player values as early as possible. As the offseason progresses, these rankings are sure to change quite a bit over the coming weeks. We'll be updating our rankings regularly, so be sure to keep checking in on our fantasy baseball rankings dashboard for the most updated lists.

First, you'll find a table with our ranks of over 200 arms, followed by tier-by-tier analysis from yours truly. Starting pitching runs deep, but you’ll need one or two aces to anchor your staff in this era of fewer arms hitting 200 innings and qualifying for wins, let alone quality starts. Buckle up, there’s a lot to discuss -- you’ll find over 3,000 words of analysis here.

In case you missed it, you can also read about our shortstop, second base, first base and catcher ranks. Without any more delay, let's take a peek at the 2019 starting pitcher rankings for January.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!

 

2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitcher (January)

Rank Tier Player Position Nick Pierre JB Chris
1 1 Max Scherzer SP 9 12 14 8
2 1 Chris Sale SP 13 11 13 11
3 1 Corey Kluber SP 20 15 21 14
4 1 Jacob deGrom SP 14 22 15 27
5 2 Aaron Nola SP 22 34 22 24
6 2 Clayton Kershaw SP 28 28 29 22
7 2 Gerrit Cole SP 27 25 28 30
8 2 Justin Verlander SP 21 36 27 38
9 2 Blake Snell SP 34 40 23 29
10 2 Noah Syndergaard SP 44 33 43 33
11 2 Luis Severino SP 40 31 45 43
12 2 Trevor Bauer SP 36 53 34 48
13 2 Carlos Carrasco SP 41 49 47 50
14 3 Walker Buehler SP 56 56 42 63
15 3 Stephen Strasburg SP 61 46 54 57
16 3 Zack Greinke SP 64 48 55 69
17 3 James Paxton SP 54 72 59 52
18 3 Michael Clevinger SP 60 63 58 74
19 4 Jack Flaherty SP 97 77 77 64
20 4 Jose Berrios SP 98 57 76 89
21 4 Patrick Corbin SP 55 115 52 101
22 4 Michael Foltynewicz SP 83 66 91 87
23 4 Jameson Taillon SP 74 84 78 103
24 4 Miles Mikolas SP 80 60 102 109
25 4 David Price SP 73 94 81 105
26 4 Madison Bumgarner SP 134 71 86 77
27 4 German Marquez SP 70 113 95 106
28 4 Zack Wheeler SP 75 128 87 112
29 4 Masahiro Tanaka SP 77 85 135 110
30 5 Luis Castillo SP 124 104 162 126
31 5 Charlie Morton SP 159 135 101 123
32 5 Robbie Ray SP 145 97 146 140
33 5 Carlos Martinez SP 146 114 132 139
34 5 J.A. Happ SP 108 139 139 146
35 5 Kyle Hendricks SP 129 131 153 132
36 5 Kyle Freeland SP 125 182 128 114
37 5 Nick Pivetta SP 148 102 163 147
38 5 Yu Darvish SP 141 111 156 162
39 5 Chris Archer SP 160 118 148 149
40 5 Eduardo Rodriguez SP 165 138 159 151
41 6 Jonathan Gray SP 164 130 180 174
42 6 Nathan Eovaldi SP 151 183 150 167
43 6 Cole Hamels SP 168 121 223 158
44 6 Rich Hill SP 154 151 189 187
45 6 Rick Porcello SP 191 169 154 169
46 6 Hyun-Jin Ryu SP 171 144 226 177
47 6 Jose Quintana SP 183 148 204 193
48 6 Shane Bieber SP 228 143 191 170
49 6 Ross Stripling SP 132 214 199 192
50 6 Dallas Keuchel SP 207 171 176 186
51 6 Jon Lester SP 153 161 202 253
52 6 Sean Newcomb SP 255 142 197 180
53 6 Josh James SP 187 208 182 199
54 6 Tyler Glasnow SP 184 196 206 191
55 6 Andrew Heaney SP 225 192 194 173
56 7 Alex Wood SP 237 189 184 207
57 7 Zack Godley SP 239 132 224 230
58 7 Kevin Gausman SP 226 126 244 246
59 7 Kenta Maeda SP 210 149 245 238
60 7 Alexander Reyes SP/RP 208 227 236 172
61 7 Jake Arrieta SP 247 159 232 208
62 7 Tyler Skaggs SP 182 191 247 257
63 7 Joey Lucchesi SP 263 134 253 299
64 7 Michael Fulmer SP 221 224 242 269
65 7 Steven Matz SP 299 167 271 261
66 7 Mike Soroka SP 236 223 281 287
67 8 Dereck Rodriguez SP 241 286 250 251
68 8 Jimmy Nelson SP 291 269 282 231
69 8 Carlos Rodon SP 282 270 284 250
70 8 Trevor Williams SP 292 294 269 233
71 8 Joe Musgrove SP 266 321 266 252
72 8 Matt Boyd SP 250 306 262 290
73 8 Freddy Peralta SP 310 202 325 281
74 8 Chase Anderson SP 227 265 290 356
75 8 Dylan Bundy SP 343 231 307 276
76 8 Marco Gonzales SP 317 302 274 267
77 8 Marcus Stroman SP 362 178 328 300
78 9 Julio Urias SP 288 234 288 369
79 9 Jesus Luzardo SP 313 261 280 333
80 9 Reynaldo Lopez SP 280 285 401 227
81 9 Yusei Kikuchi SP 300 276 416 218
82 9 Jhoulys Chacin SP 259 414 326 219
83 9 Kyle Gibson SP 281 312 332 297
84 9 Luke Weaver SP 358 155 434 310
85 9 Michael Wacha SP 384 239 388 256
86 9 Vincent Velasquez SP 341 220 294 419
87 10 Julio Teheran SP 385 240 297 378
88 10 Danny Duffy SP 359 243 364 338
89 10 Jeff Samardzija SP 368 248 365 346
90 10 Tanner Roark SP 401 256 311 402
91 10 Collin McHugh SP 169 476 272 457
92 10 Dinelson Lamet SP 321 244 366 448
93 10 Lance Lynn SP 396 253 327 412
94 10 Anibal Sanchez SP 283 381 417 315
95 10 Jake Odorizzi SP 412 331 347 322
96 10 Mike Minor SP 289 420 275 430
97 10 Jake Junis SP 402 273 316 426
98 10 Touki Toussaint SP 348 385 412 285
99 10 Danny Salazar SP 414 308 397 340
100 11 Taijuan Walker SP 453 264 390 359
101 11 Forrest Whitley SP 331 378 363 396
102 11 Gio Gonzalez SP 444 263 394 376
103 11 Lucas Giolito SP 369 278 450 386
104 11 Jordan Montgomery SP 410 309 368 399
105 11 Brent Honeywell SP 451 376 318 349
106 11 Zach Eflin SP 452 #N/A 354 317
107 11 Ryan Yarbrough SP 449 465 304 305
108 11 Framber Valdez SP 383 #N/A #N/A #N/A
109 11 Seth Lugo SP/RP 307 426 317 483
110 11 Jose Urena SP 370 454 315 398
111 11 Mike Fiers SP 365 451 438 304
112 11 CC Sabathia SP 308 480 337 434
113 11 Sonny Gray SP 363 432 436 329
114 11 Trevor Cahill SP 386 356 437 388
115 11 Sandy Alcantara SP 361 450 289 471
116 11 Diego Castillo RP/SP 395 #N/A #N/A #N/A
117 11 Wily Peralta SP/RP 429 498 338 319
118 11 Alex Cobb SP 431 330 414 423
119 12 Brad Keller SP/RP 360 485 320 467
120 12 Luiz Gohara SP 475 334 431 393
121 12 Wade Miley SP #N/A #N/A #N/A 413
122 12 Aaron Sanchez SP 577 325 410 344
123 12 Tyler Anderson SP 434 428 389 420
124 12 Trevor Richards SP 371 437 358 512
125 12 Caleb Smith SP 373 491 349 473
126 12 Michael Pineda SP 485 413 361 438
127 12 Jacob Faria SP 614 236 484 365
128 12 Wade LeBlanc RP/SP 442 #N/A 408 #N/A
129 12 Ivan Nova SP 408 463 403 435
130 12 Chris Devenski SP/RP 448 467 335 477
131 12 Derek Holland SP 298 520 448 463
132 12 Jeremy Hellickson SP 415 #N/A 517 366
133 12 A.J. Puk SP 519 320 #N/A 462
134 12 Drew Pomeranz SP #N/A #N/A 470 411
135 12 Corbin Burnes SP/RP 380 #N/A 399 549
136 12 Felix Hernandez SP 432 384 451 517
137 13 Mike Leake SP 459 469 452 415
138 13 Tyler Chatwood SP #N/A #N/A 464 445
139 13 Anthony DeSclafani SP 496 509 413 425
140 13 Dan Straily SP 445 479 #N/A #N/A
141 13 Wei-Yin Chen SP 388 474 507 482
142 13 Marco Estrada SP 586 326 485 459
143 13 Clay Buchholz SP 404 #N/A 482 509
144 13 Brandon Woodruff SP 387 488 509 481
145 13 Ervin Santana SP 624 323 491 429
146 13 Matt Harvey SP 484 504 #N/A 417
147 13 Matt Shoemaker SP 466 470 516 424
148 13 Joe Ross SP 481 568 353 480
149 13 Max Fried SP 515 522 #N/A 391
150 13 Chris Stratton SP 471 500 457 #N/A
151 13 Amir Garrett SP 549 383 480 493
152 13 Pablo Lopez SP 378 565 462 501
153 13 Nick Kingham SP 439 496 463 520
154 13 Domingo German SP 591 388 #N/A 461
155 13 Daniel Mengden SP 534 455 #N/A 453
156 13 Robert Gsellman SP/RP 509 443 458 523
157 13 Felix Pena RP/SP 441 #N/A 492 521
158 13 Fernando Romero SP 493 #N/A 478 #N/A
159 13 Tyson Ross SP 558 484 #N/A 416
160 13 Adam Wainwright SP 454 468 500 524
161 13 Jason Vargas SP 417 566 499 502
162 14 Mitch Keller SP #N/A 460 #N/A 540
163 14 Jharel Cotton SP 565 448 #N/A #N/A
164 14 Adam Conley SP/RP 483 569 #N/A 475
165 14 Justus Sheffield SP 601 493 475 468
166 14 Zach Davies SP 554 557 #N/A 427
167 14 Thomas Pannone SP 516 #N/A #N/A #N/A
168 14 Junior Guerra SP 584 #N/A #N/A 450
169 14 Dylan Floro SP/RP 518 #N/A #N/A #N/A
170 14 Matt Moore SP 551 574 #N/A 432
171 14 Yonny Chirinos SP 511 519 511 536
172 14 Mike Montgomery SP/RP 531 525 #N/A 505
173 14 Steven Wright SP 521 #N/A 512 541
174 14 Jerad Eickhoff SP 525 521 515 543
175 14 Jaime Barria SP 529 524 #N/A #N/A
176 14 Brandon Finnegan SP 535 527 #N/A #N/A
177 14 Francis Martes SP 581 563 #N/A 451
178 14 Daniel Norris SP 546 535 #N/A #N/A
179 14 Drew Smyly SP 522 571 #N/A #N/A
180 14 Andrew Suarez SP 526 572 #N/A #N/A
181 14 Dylan Covey SP 574 537 #N/A #N/A
182 14 Ian Kennedy SP 539 573 #N/A #N/A
183 14 Nick Tropeano SP 575 541 #N/A #N/A
184 14 Jonathan Loaisiga SP 560 #N/A #N/A #N/A
185 14 Jordan Zimmermann SP 563 #N/A #N/A #N/A
186 14 Tyler Mahle SP 585 543 #N/A #N/A
187 14 Hunter Greene SP #N/A 598 #N/A 534
188 14 Bartolo Colon SP 566 #N/A #N/A #N/A
189 14 John Gant SP 582 560 #N/A #N/A
190 14 Ryan Borucki SP 573 #N/A #N/A #N/A
191 14 Luis Perdomo SP 608 548 #N/A #N/A
192 14 J.C. Ramirez SP 619 550 #N/A #N/A
193 14 Andrew Triggs SP #N/A 585 #N/A #N/A
194 14 Joe Biagini SP/RP 596 576 #N/A #N/A
195 14 Dillon Peters SP #N/A 586 #N/A #N/A
196 14 Robert Stephenson SP 606 577 #N/A #N/A
197 14 Daniel Poncedeleon SP 593 #N/A #N/A #N/A
198 14 Brendan McKay SP/1B #N/A 596 #N/A #N/A
199 14 Merrill Kelly SP 597 #N/A #N/A #N/A
200 14 MacKenzie Gore SP #N/A 599 #N/A #N/A
201 14 Adalberto Mejia SP 617 #N/A #N/A #N/A
202 14 Sean Reid-Foley SP 620 #N/A #N/A #N/A
203 14 Brock Stewart SP 627 #N/A #N/A #N/A

 

Rankings Analysis - Top Tiers

Tier One

I won’t waste your time splitting hairs at the top. You’re not questioning any of these arms leading your rotation. Corey Kluber will rise in my rankings as Opening Day nears and the possibility of his being traded wanes. I’d love him no matter where he went, but being on Cleveland and looking down at a rebuilding AL Central makes 20 wins a real possibility. Caesars recently released their 2019 MLB season win totals for prop bettors and Cleveland’s 91.5 mark makes them one of five teams checking in above 90. The Astros (97.5), Red Sox (95.5), Dodgers (95) and Yankees (94.5) being the others.

Tier Two

Aaron Nola breaking out in 2018 deserves extra props because he not only beat opponents, but he beat his own terrible defense. The same defense that hamstrung Philadelphia’s other young arms (that we’ll get to), so I’m a big Nola believer in ‘19 now that Jean Segura is at short and Rhys Hoskins is back at first and out of the outfield.

We must continue to respect what a healthy Clayton Kershaw can do, but he hasn’t topped 175 innings since 2015 and that’s baked into his draft stock. We’ll also need to see him regain the whiffs, as the 23.9% strikeout rate was the lowest he’s posted since his 2008 rookie campaign. From 2014-17, Kershaw put up swinging-strike rates north of 14%, but that fell to 11% in ‘18. The southpaw will be 31 and has to show he still belongs at the top of pitching boards -- I doubt I’ll have any shares in ‘19.

As you can see, I’m the high man on both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, as well as Carlos Carrasco and I’m second on Trevor Bauer. Targeting Houston’s spin-rate happy rotation is wise, as both Verlander and Cole were inside the top-five in K-BB rate. Verlander’s 30.4% made him the only starter with more than 50 innings to top 30% aside from Chris Sale (32.9%), while Cole checked into fifth place with 26.5%. Mix in that Houston wins a ton of ballgames and you’ve got a recipe for 5x5 fantasy glory here.

We talked about Cleveland’s envious position in their division and Bauer’s insanely-deep arsenal finally clicked in ‘18, but Carrasco continues to be overlooked despite turning in a career-best 231 strikeouts and 24% K-BB rate that yielded a 2.94 FIP, 2.90 xFIP and 3.03 SIERA -- his best peripherals since his 2015 breakout. You should be happy with him as your ace and thrilled if he’s your SP2.

Tier Three

While some folks will happily pay the October tax for Walker Buehler, but he’s being aggressively drafted -- too aggressive for me. His NFBC ADP sits at 38.58, making him the No. 12 SP, slightly ahead of Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard. A veteran like Zack Greinke is going 20-25 picks later and likely represents greater value. Count me as a believer in Bronx Big Maple, whose 25.7% K-BB rate was sixth on that list, though I’d be hopeful that he learns to attack up in the zone more to mitigate the 41.1% fly-ball rate and 1.29 HR/9, which could sting in Yankee Stadium. But you can count me out on Stephen Strasburg -- he's reached 175 innings once in the last four seasons and I'm concerned about his mechanics holding up at this point.

 

Rankings Analysis - Middle Tiers

Tier Four

The fourth tier is a gorgeous one, housing 11 pitchers with 10 of them in my personal top 100 and eight of them in the composite top 100. It also brings up arms that have some wide ranges between us, as Patrick Corbin, Madison Bumgarner, Masahiro Tanaka and Zack Wheeler have min-max spreads near 60.

Let’s once again go to the K-BB% well with Corbin, whose 24.8% mark was seventh in the MLB (again, out of SP’s with >50 IP) with a 2.61 xFIP, which was third only to Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom. He now heads to the NL East in a Nationals uniform, meaning he’ll see less of Coors Field and more of the Marlins, so I have a hard time downgrading him.

I’m the clear outlier with Bumgarner, as he was showing warning signs heading into 2018 and subsequently crashed underneath the hood. His 3.26 ERA/1.24 WHIP offer encouragement, but his 4.32 xFIP and 4.42 SIERA highlight an ugly 19.8% strikeout rate -- his lowest mark since his rookie year in 2010 -- and his fantasy value only goes further south when you consider the rebuilding Giants have notched him 10 wins in his last two years (240 ⅔ IP). His 44.5% hard-hit rate in the second half was only “beaten” by Dan Straily (50.3%, yikes), which is terrifying for an arm who isn’t balancing hard contact with big whiffs. No thanks.

Tanaka falls on the other side of the wins equation with his pinstripes. He still offers roughly a strikeout per inning and that 14.1% swinging-strike rate underscores his dastardly splitter, while the lowly 5.5% walk rate shows that he still has stupendous control (which helped anchor the 1.13 WHIP). The Yankees signing of DJ LeMahieu should improve the defense behind him as he looks to conquer the longball.

Wheeler’s season-long line is strong on its own, with his 3.31 ERA/1.12 WHIP and 24.1% strikeout rate (179 in 182 ⅓ IP), but those who rostered him know that belittles his insane second half. Before being shut down due to an innings limit in mid-September, Wheeler posted an incredible 1.68 ERA with a 73:15 K:BB ratio and a cold .174/.237/.253 triple slash allowed in 75 frames. He started attacking the zone more and batters simply failed in response, earning the .229 BABIP with a 21.1% hard-hit rate that trailed only Syndergaard (20.8%) as his pop-up rate soared to 16.7% (fifth-best by an SP in the second half).

Tier Five

It’s clear that JB, Chris and I are in relative agreement on Robbie Ray, while Pierre is going to score his services on all of his teams. The 165 strikeouts in 123 ⅔ innings showed the swing-and-miss stuff is still extremely present, but the control woes manifested and then some in a 13.3% walk rate that paced all starters (>100 IP). To orient you, Francisco Liriano’s 12.5% was second. I respect those who believe in his finding the zone again, but I won’t bank on it. I’d prefer drafting Yu Darvish and hoping for good health rather than Ray manufacturing control.

I believe that the writer in rotation on these positions should address where they’re an outlier, so let’s talk about J.A. Happ. While his 3.65 ERA was his highest mark since ‘14, his 3.64 SIERA was the lowest of his career alongside a career-high 26.3% strikeout rate. He’s on a team that just won 100 games and has an elite bullpen, all of which make me bullish on Happ.

On the flipside is Charlie Morton, who leaves Houston having enhanced his fastball and embracing his curveball (especially using it to mitigate lefties) to become an alleged traditional starter for Tampa Bay. The Rays have tons of pitchers and no allegiance to an SP needing to go six innings, which hamstrings Morton’s potential wins but also could help keep him healthy. He’s dealt with injuries to his oblique, shoulder, hip, elbow and hamstring. Morton is young in terms of fantasy relevance, but you must remember that he’s 35 years old and the risk is real.

Tier Six

Let’s once again turn to the K-BB% leaderboard to explain why I have Ross Stripling the highest among this term and certainly among our staff. Stripling’s 23.5% was ninth, nestled between Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. The other 14 names within the top 15 in K-BB% are all being drafted inside the top-60 picks per NFBC ADP, whereas Stripling’s ADP is 215.84! His .324 BABIP was the highest among those 15 and the 2.86 xFIP sits in fourth place, so don’t tell me he just got lucky. I’m not asking you buy into him as a top-15 pitcher, but it’s silly to me that someone could flash those skills while pitching for a strong team in LA and be ignored.

Where one arm is raised, another falls. I promise I’m not just a sabermetrics slave, but Sean Newcomb does not strike me as a reliable pitcher. He enters his third big-league season having put up walk rates of 12.5% and 11.6%, but saw his swinging-strike rate fall to 10% from 11.1% as he struck out fewer than a batter per inning (160 in 164 IP). You simply cannot walk that many batters without generating a ton of outs that don’t go into play and potentially advance a runner (a la Robbie Ray) and expect to succeed. It’s not like he was losing batters that he’d gotten ahead of either, as his 54% first-strike rate was only “worsted” by Gio Gonzalez’s 53.8%.

Tier Seven

Everyone else is putting Alex Wood in/near their top 200, but I’m worried about his performance, durability and the new home. In order, his 3.72 xFIP and 3.90 SIERA were good-not-great as his swinging-strike rate lost a percentage point and his hard-hit rate jumped by over 10 percentage points. He only pitched 151 ⅔ innings in ‘18 and has averaged 121 innings over his last three seasons. Finally, Dodger Stadium was ranked 26th per ESPN Park Factors for offenses, whereas Great American Ball Park was tied for fourth.

I also feel that Jake Arrieta is getting by on some name brand, but he was fortunate to be decent in ‘17 and declined further in ‘18. While he regained a groundball rate north of 50%, his swinging-strike rate that once sat between 10.4-11.1% in 2014-16 fell to 7.8% in ‘18 after slipping to 8.7% in ‘17. He somehow posted an 8.71 K/9 and 23.1% strikeout rate in ‘17, but that plummeted to 7.19 and 19.1% last season while his 3.96 ERA held a 4.26 FIP, 4.08 xFIP and 4.29 SIERA. You can blame some of the surface on Philly’s defense, but the sabers and lack of whiffs are on him.

 

Rankings Analysis - Lower Tiers

Tier Eight

I see some sleeper articles propped up Trevor Williams thanks to his 3.11 ERA/1.18 WHIP 2018 season that ended with a 1.38 ERA through the second half. Even during that insane time, his 12.3% K-BB rate was just okay and a 90.8% strand rate (built on a low 0.38 HR/9 rate) hid a 4.19 xFIP. With no real strikeout upside to speak of and still needing to conquer lefties -- he only posted a 4.89 K/9 with a 4.40 FIP/5.16 xFIP against them -- I can think of better late-round fliers to take.

I need to examine Milwaukee’s pitchers more heading into 2019, but I’m fairly sure I’ve got Chase Anderson too high. I will say his 86.2 MPH average exit velocity ranked 23rd out of 169 pitchers with 250 batted-ball results in ‘18 and helps explain the lowly .239 BABIP, but a meager 9.2% whiff rate and the 1.71 HR/9 mark are to be feared. As for Freddy Peralta, his thrilling starts and 96 strikeouts in 78 ⅓ IP make for intrigue, but a 12.5% walk rate that’s backed up by a track record of poor control in the Minors means he needs to earn my trust.

Tier Nine

Only two pitchers are inside anyone’s top 200 in this tier, and they’re both Pierre’s. Mr. Camus has Marcus Stroman at 178 and Luke Weaver at 155. Stroman battled through finger issues and tons of bad luck to post a 5.54 ERA/1.48 WHIP despite a 3.91 FIP/3.84 xFIP/4.04 SIERA. Still, walks were up and whiffs were down, though he still posted a groundball rate above 60% -- his fourth straight season surpassing that mark. That said, he hasn’t posted a WHIP below 1.29 or a strikeout rate above 20% in three seasons, so count me out.

My bearishness on Weaver comes from the horrid 2018 with sabers around 4.50 and the 4.95 ERA with a K-BB% that nearly halved itself, from 21.8% in ‘17 to 11% in ‘18. Pierre must believe in the 2017 Weaver that looked so promising for St. Louis, and I’ll admit that the suddenly pitcher-friendly Chase Park is enticing, but I don’t see it under the hood. Even when he posted beautiful strikeout rates around 27-28% in ‘16 and ‘17, his swinging-strike rate never cracked 10%. The rule of thumb is to double SwStr% to get a ballpark K rate, meaning 2018’s 19.9% mark was close to expectations.

The Oakland A’s don’t have many pitchers locked into place for 2019, with Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton battling back from injuries, but if Jesus Lazardo makes a start then you need him on your squad. At 20 years old, Luzardo quickly went from High-A to Double-A and finished ‘18 at Triple-A with a picturesque 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 129-to-30 K:BB ratio in 109 ⅓ IP thanks to his fastball-curve-changeup arsenal. To be fair, he gave up 13 runs in his 16 Triple-A frames, but age-20 in the PCL with a silly .469 BABIP makes for easy forgiveness. If he carries over his 14% whiff rate from the Minors to O.co then he may just set our world on fire.

Tier 10

This tier has a clear standout for me, as Houston will reportedly shift Collin McHugh back into their rotation after a successful bullpen showing in ‘18. We’ve learned that the Astros are capable of essentially giving its pitcher a super-soldier serum and it isn’t like we didn’t see McHugh dominate already. Operating out of the bullpen, McHugh posted a 1.99 ERA (2.62 SIERA) and 0.91 WHIP with 94 K’s in 72 ⅓ IP. Plus, he was a solid starter in 2014, 2015 and 2017, so I don’t see the trepidation here.

If you can’t get McHugh, then how about Anibal Sanchez? You know, the pitcher whose 29.8% soft-contact rate in the second half paced all starters with at least 50 innings on the books. The guy who just signed a two-year deal with the Nationals, who stand as one of the only teams trying to get better for 2019 in a division where every other team had a wRC+ value below 98, including the Marlins second-worst 83 wRC+. Yeah, that Anibal Sanchez.

Tier 11

This tier brings on plenty of reclamation projects and immeasurable hope. Can Danny Salazar stay healthy and regain his elite strikeout potential? Will Taijuan Walker and Jordan Montgomery recover well enough from their TJ surgeries to deliver late in 2019? Do the Yankees find a suitable trade offer for Sonny Gray and get him out of the Bronx? How will the Angels manage Trevor Cahill’s workload in an effort to keep his pre-injury form on the bump?

If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m a big fan of pitchers that are supported by teams who win a lot of games and have above-average bullpens. It only helps when their average exit velocity allowed is near the bottom of the charts, such as CC Sabathia’s. His 25.1% soft-contact rate was fifth out of SPs with >100 IPs. The others were Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Anibal. Retirement may be coming soon for Carsten Charles, but that day is not today.

Another name to (currently) be interested in is Framber Valdez, who is slated to open the season in Houston’s rotation unless they sign another starter. I don’t think they want Valdez in their Opening Day rotation, if we’re being honest, but this is the hand we’re dealing with right now. Valdez entered pro ball at 21 years old in 2015 and heads into his age-25 campaign having posted a 2.19 ERA/1.24 WHIP with 34 K’s in his first 37 big-league innings. While the sabermetrics don’t buy in (4.50 SIERA), he struck out 120 in 94 ⅓ IP at Double-A to kick off ‘18 with a 2.53 xFIP underneath a 4.10 ERA. If any team can unlock raw talent and strikeout potential, it’s Houston. You don’t let anyone in that rotation go undrafted, that’s just unwise.

Tiers 12, 13 and 14

In case you couldn’t tell, Tier 12 boils down to a pair of exciting Marlins for myself and JB. Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith are worth speculation. Richards ended his rookie season with two scoreless quality starts to cap off a 13-outing run with 77 punchouts and a 3.75 ERA in 69 ⅔ IP (despite an ugly 1 ⅓ IP, 6 ER day). Meanwhile, Smith caused a stir by striking out 69 in 56 pre-injury innings with a 3.51 ERA/1.15 WHIP for Miami, but a serious lat injury required surgery in June and ended his season. His fastball and slider are both above-average and worth eyeing.

I’ll note that Derek Holland is the lowest overall ranked pitcher that one of us has in our top-300, as I loved what he did once adjusting to the first-base side of the rubber in 2018. Of course, giving up spacious AT&T Park is a drawback and where he lands will affect his stock. After a June 15 loss to the Dodgers, Holland had a 4.48 ERA/4.61 FIP/4.71 xFIP with a 20.9% strikeout rate (8.8% SwStr). He then moved on the rubber before a June 20 victory over the Marlins sparked a 2.91 ERA/3.33 FIP/3.60 xFIP with a 24.9% strikeout rate (11.2% SwStr). His first-strike rate rose by four percentage points, his O-Swing by nine while his Z-Swing sunk by six. If he keeps some of those gains then I’ll be very interested in ‘19.

Pierre would like to draw your attention to Jacob Faria, while I don’t want any piece of him. The nearly 400-pick split might be the widest we’ve got here. The six-foot-four righty boasts a stellar changeup and entered 2018 having posted a 3.43 ERA/1.18 WHIP across 86 ⅔ IP as a rookie, but sophomore stumbled with a 5.40 ERA/1.43 WHIP in 65 frames. A nasty oblique injury ate up two months and he returned as a swingman “opener”, tossing three innings or so at a time. This is the role I anticipate he holds in ‘19 as well alongside Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos, with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow serving as the only traditional starters.

Another pair worth eyeing is the Brew Crew’s Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, who could pay immense dividends if either is handed a rotation job throughout 2019. For now, it looks like Woodruff should get the first crack at it after going 3-0 in 42 ⅓ IP (four starts) with a 3.30 FIP/3.36 xFIP/3.26 SIERA and a strong 47 strikeouts. Mix in Yasmani Grandal’s exemplary pitch-framing talents behind the dish and I’m in for a flier on Woodruff.

It looks as though JB is a Joe Ross believer, and I get it. Ross turns 26 in May and isn’t far removed from his 2015-16 with a 3.52 ERA/1.22 WHIP thanks to his fastball and slider. Again, pitching for Washington is a strong position, but he missed a big chunk of 2017-18 due to TJ surgery and was tagged with an ugly 5.02 ERA in 90 frames when on the bump. He must reel in the longball and ideally hone a third pitch to blossom, but a healthy offseason may yield dividends.

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