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2020 Offseason Starting Pitcher Rankings (Part 1) - Fantasy Baseball Mixed Leagues


It's never too early to start looking ahead to the next baseball season, so here we deliver our 2020 rankings to those of you looking to scratch your fantasy itch. Today we are bringing you part one of our 2020 starting pitcher rankings and analysis - you can read part two here. We know you're ready for the MLB season to begin and there's no better place to get a head start than right here. RotoBaller has got you covered with updated rankings all season long. We've assembled a collection of stout minds, including the #1 ranked expert from 2018, Nick Mariano, to help you get a jump start on your competition for the upcoming season.

With the Winter Meetings over and free-agency starting to materialize, there will be plenty of movement with these rankings before the draft season gets into full swing. Be sure to check in frequently during the offseason as we'll have updated rankings as soon as big names begin to change places.

After a record-setting year for offense and a sense among the industry that 2020 likely won't be dramatically different, being able to navigate the ever-murkier waters of starting pitching will continue to be of prime importance. Looking at last year's earnings at the position, stark tiers quickly reveal themselves, with two players earning over $40, followed by five players who earned over $20, and 13 who earned over $10. That's only 20 pitchers total who earned double-digit dollars in 12-team leagues, followed by a big mess of players who didn't. Now that's what I call murky.

Editor's Note: Get our 2020 MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our draft kit, premium rankings, player projections and outlooks, our top sleepers, dynasty and prospect rankings, 20 preseason and in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research and tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Starting Pitcher Ranks - 5x5 Mixed (December)

In case you missed it, our very own "Big Pick Nick" Mariano was named the #1 overall most accurate industry expert ranker for the 2018 season.

Ranking Tier Player Position Nick Nick G Riley
1 1 Gerrit Cole SP 8 7 11
2 1 Justin Verlander SP 12 10 15
3 1 Jacob deGrom SP 15 13 10
4 2 Max Scherzer SP 14 18 19
5 2 Walker Buehler SP 25 21 24
6 2 Jack Flaherty SP 28 24 31
7 2 Shane Bieber SP 27 31 36
8 2 Mike Clevinger SP 39 25 33
9 2 Blake Snell SP 40 26 41
10 2 Stephen Strasburg SP 29 36 46
11 2 Chris Sale SP 34 49 37
12 2 Clayton Kershaw SP 43 41 49
13 3 Charlie Morton SP 58 45 65
14 3 Patrick Corbin SP 62 64 57
15 3 Luis Severino SP 50 67 69
16 3 Zack Greinke SP 53 83 52
17 3 Aaron Nola SP 56 48 87
18 3 Luis Castillo SP 47 59 91
19 3 Yu Darvish SP 72 61 64
20 3 Hyun-Jin Ryu SP 76 77 54
21 3 Tyler Glasnow SP 84 74 66
22 3 Lucas Giolito SP 59 99 72
23 3 James Paxton SP 91 70 70
24 4 Shohei Ohtani DH/SP 74 68 100
25 4 Chris Paddack SP 95 95 73
26 4 Corey Kluber SP 64 126 77
27 4 Noah Syndergaard SP 78 110 94
28 4 Jose Berrios SP 83 118 99
29 4 Brandon Woodruff SP 116 102 103
30 4 Mike Soroka SP 119 133 79
31 4 Carlos Carrasco SP 131 106 112
32 4 Dinelson Lamet SP 154 91 118
33 5 Trevor Bauer SP 132 144 114
34 5 Zac Gallen SP 122 146 123
35 5 Sonny Gray SP 139 159 96
36 5 Madison Bumgarner SP 137 165 119
37 5 Frankie Montas SP/RP 158 124 145
38 5 David Price SP 134 172 132
39 5 Max Fried SP 155 128 159
40 5 Lance Lynn SP 128 136 186
41 5 Eduardo Rodriguez SP 126 162 188
42 5 Masahiro Tanaka SP 152 175 163
43 5 Jesus Luzardo SP 165 153 173
44 5 Robbie Ray SP 167 194 138
45 5 Zack Wheeler SP 168 201 134
46 6 Mike Minor SP 157 206 157
47 6 Carlos Martinez SP/RP 188 196 150
48 6 Kyle Hendricks SP 161 198 179
49 6 Matthew Boyd SP 171 178 194
50 6 Caleb Smith SP 176 184 183
51 6 Domingo German SP 187 190 167
52 6 Sean Manaea SP 166 182 198
53 6 Marcus Stroman SP 169 227 169
54 6 Luke Weaver SP 179 223 174
55 6 Julio Urias SP/RP 184 187 210
56 6 Andrew Heaney SP 189 155 240
57 6 German Marquez SP 191 217 189
58 6 Mike Foltynewicz SP 210 243 175
59 7 Dustin May SP 221 211 212
60 7 Lance McCullers Jr. SP 213 208 251
61 7 Kenta Maeda SP/RP 235 234 206
62 7 Cole Hamels SP 229 277 170
63 7 Ryan Yarbrough SP 231 203 258
64 7 Jose Urquidy SP 211 246 264
65 7 Miles Mikolas SP 263 260 199
66 7 Jake Odorizzi SP 223 267 235
67 7 Brendan McKay SP 247 238 243
68 7 Dallas Keuchel SP 245 282 217
69 8 Seth Lugo SP/RP 254 241 296
70 8 Dylan Cease SP 240 #N/A 304
71 8 Dakota Hudson SP 297 #N/A 250
72 8 Griffin Canning SP 246 262 318
73 8 Michael Kopech SP 268 250 313
74 8 Joey Lucchesi SP 294 292 255
75 8 Mike Fiers SP 269 271 311
76 8 John Means SP 360 294 204
77 8 Jon Gray SP 282 #N/A 294
78 8 Joe Musgrove SP 327 #N/A 252
79 8 A.J. Puk SP 334 #N/A 249
80 8 Yonny Chirinos SP 367 284 227
81 9 Zach Plesac SP 293 297 298
82 9 Garrett Richards SP 298 299 #N/A
83 9 Jose Quintana SP 228 296 372
84 9 Steven Matz SP 258 264 376
85 9 Mitch Keller SP 283 291 324
86 9 Ross Stripling SP/RP 295 276 335
87 9 Chris Archer SP 276 279 353
88 9 Rich Hill SP 296 269 347
89 9 Anibal Sanchez SP 277 289 348
90 9 Diego Castillo RP/SP 308 #N/A #N/A
91 9 Reynaldo Lopez SP 312 #N/A 309
92 9 Nate Pearson SP 373 256 #N/A
93 10 Chad Green SP/RP 322 288 352
94 10 Homer Bailey SP 326 #N/A #N/A
95 10 Jon Lester SP 375 #N/A 281
96 10 Brent Honeywell Jr. SP #N/A #N/A 331
97 10 Adrian Houser SP 356 #N/A 308
98 10 Nathan Eovaldi SP/RP 447 #N/A 224
99 10 Pablo Lopez SP 355 #N/A 320
100 10 Sandy Alcantara SP 380 #N/A 305
101 10 Casey Mize SP 350 #N/A 340
102 10 MacKenzie Gore SP 392 #N/A 299
103 10 Jordan Lyles SP 390 #N/A 303
104 10 Jeff Samardzija SP 412 #N/A 286
105 10 Ian Anderson SP 353 #N/A #N/A
106 10 Anthony DeSclafani SP 389 #N/A 321
107 10 Wade Miley SP 381 #N/A 329
108 10 Johnny Cueto SP 357 #N/A #N/A
109 10 Forrest Whitley SP 358 #N/A #N/A
110 10 Tyler Mahle SP 362 #N/A #N/A
111 10 Merrill Kelly SP 370 #N/A 358
112 11 Cal Quantrill SP 371 #N/A #N/A
113 11 Alex Young SP 453 #N/A 289
114 11 Josh Lindblom SP 385 #N/A 364
115 11 Julio Teheran SP 384 #N/A 366
116 11 J.A. Happ SP 377 #N/A 375
117 11 Jordan Yamamoto SP 376 #N/A #N/A
118 11 Jakob Junis SP 383 #N/A #N/A
119 11 Matt Strahm RP/SP 428 #N/A 342
120 11 Aaron Civale SP 491 285 #N/A
121 11 Sixto Sanchez SP 391 #N/A #N/A
122 11 Michael Pineda SP 413 #N/A 370
123 11 Marco Gonzales SP 393 #N/A #N/A
124 11 Trevor Richards SP/RP 433 #N/A 360
125 11 Kyle Gibson SP 457 #N/A 337
126 11 Rick Porcello SP 399 #N/A #N/A
127 12 Alex Wood SP 401 #N/A #N/A
128 12 Freddy Peralta SP/RP 402 #N/A #N/A
129 12 Matt Manning SP 407 #N/A #N/A
130 12 Zach Eflin SP 490 #N/A 330
131 12 Deivi Garcia SP 410 #N/A #N/A
132 12 Drew Pomeranz SP/RP 415 #N/A #N/A
133 12 Randy Dobnak SP/RP 421 #N/A #N/A
134 12 Alex Reyes SP/RP 513 #N/A 336
135 12 Logan Webb SP 429 #N/A #N/A
136 12 Anthony Kay SP 430 #N/A #N/A
137 12 Tyler Beede SP 439 #N/A #N/A
138 12 Kolby Allard SP 441 #N/A #N/A
139 12 Brad Keller SP 444 #N/A #N/A
140 12 Brad Peacock RP/SP 445 #N/A #N/A
141 12 Adam Wainwright SP 452 #N/A #N/A
142 12 Chase Anderson SP 455 #N/A #N/A
143 12 Joe Ross SP 456 #N/A #N/A
144 12 Dylan Bundy SP 458 #N/A #N/A
145 13 Jose Urena SP 460 #N/A #N/A
146 13 Mike Montgomery SP/RP 463 #N/A #N/A
147 13 Jake Arrieta SP 464 #N/A #N/A
148 13 Drew Smyly SP 467 #N/A #N/A
149 13 Spencer Turnbull SP 471 #N/A #N/A
150 13 Collin McHugh SP/RP 473 #N/A #N/A
151 13 Andrew Cashner RP/SP 477 #N/A #N/A
152 13 Trevor Williams SP 478 #N/A #N/A
153 13 Chris Bassitt SP 481 #N/A #N/A
154 13 Vince Velasquez SP 483 #N/A #N/A
155 13 Michael Fulmer SP 484 #N/A #N/A
156 13 Jose Suarez SP 485 #N/A #N/A
157 13 Yusei Kikuchi SP 489 #N/A #N/A
158 13 Asher Wojciechowski SP/RP 495 #N/A #N/A
159 13 Martin Perez SP 499 #N/A #N/A
160 13 Eric Lauer SP 500 #N/A #N/A
161 13 Kevin Gausman SP 502 #N/A #N/A
162 13 Corbin Burnes SP/RP 503 #N/A #N/A
163 13 Tanner Roark SP 506 #N/A #N/A
164 13 Mike Leake SP 507 #N/A #N/A
165 13 Tony Gonsolin SP 508 #N/A #N/A
166 13 Taijuan Walker SP 510 #N/A #N/A
167 13 Elieser Hernandez SP/RP 515 #N/A #N/A
168 13 Gio Gonzalez SP 516 #N/A #N/A
169 13 Ivan Nova SP 517 #N/A #N/A
170 13 Zach Davies SP 519 #N/A #N/A

 

Tier One

Having just signed for $324 million, brand new Yankee Gerrit Cole finds himself at the top of our pitcher rankings after a dominant season for Houston. After breaking out for the Astros in 2018, Cole took another giant leap forward in 2019, with a 2.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over 212.1 innings, with 326 strikeouts. That was good for a second-place finish in the Cy Young award, earning $44.2 in 12-team leagues according to the Fangraphs auction calculator and Steamer doesn't expect much less from Cole in 2020, projecting him to be the top-earning pitcher in 2020. Just how dominant was Cole? Try a record-setting 33.9% K-BB% that was led by his four-seamer and its league-leading 43.8% K-rate, along with a cutter and curveball that both had strikeout rates around 38%. If you're going to risk taking a pitcher in the top-10, Cole has the skillset to justify the decision.

Then we have the "old" man that Cole is leaving behind in Houston, reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Entering his 15th season in the majors, it's hard to believe that Verlander will still just be 37 years old by the start of the season and is also somehow coming off of arguably the best year of his career. Verlander's final line in 2019 was eye-popping, finishing with a 2.58 ERA and an absolutely insane 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings, with 21 wins and 300 strikeouts. His 35.4% K-rate and 16.1% swinging-strike rate were both even higher than the career-high rates he posted in 2018, perhaps due to the continuing evolution of his pitch mix. Verlander's fastball velocity did drop by 0.5 mph compared to 2018 but he also went from throwing it 60% of the time to 51% in 2019, swapping its usage for 6% more sliders and 4% more curveballs. In addition to the increased usage, Verlander also starting throwing his curveball tighter while more than doubling the vertical movement of his slider. While he will almost certainly regress from 2019's numbers, I see little reason worry about a giant drop from Verlander, giving him one of the safest floors at the position.

You're really splitting hairs by saying that a reigning Cy Young winner was worse than the year before but these hairs are what matters when you're dealing with the level of pitching in the first tier. Jacob deGrom passed 200 innings for the third-straight year, with walk- and strikeout-rates that were near carbon-copies of his rates in 2018 but a 2.67 ERA that wasn't quite as spectacular as his 1.99 ERA the year prior, as well as a 0.97 WHIP up from a 0.91 WHIP. Looking at these changes through a fantasy lens, deGrom "only" earned $30.7 in 12-team leagues this season, after earning $39.1 in 2018 but Steamer likes his chances for a rebound in 2020, projecting him to pitch 204 innings and earn $38.4. However, looking at his 3.29 SIERA this past year and comparing his seasons from 2017-19, it seems to me that we're more likely to get a repeat of the deGrom in 2017 and 2019, rather than the one in 2018. Which is still (literally) Cy Young award-winning levels of great. Just not with the ceiling of the two pitchers I have ahead of him.

 

Tier Two

I have to imagine I'd have Max Scherzer neck-and-neck with Verlander, if not for the myriad of injuries that he suffered this past season. While not as dominant as the previous two years, Mad Max was still fantastic in 2019, finishing with a 2.92 ERA and a 35.1% K-rate. However, Scherzer hit the injured list multiple times for ailments in his back, shoulder, and neck, with his 172 innings pitched the lowest number he's posted since 2009. While his skills are obviously elite, Scherzer still draws a lot of his fantasy value from just how much of an innings-eater he's been, having pitched over 220 innings in four of the past five seasons prior to 2019, as well as over 200 innings in six-straight years. I'd love to believe that he'll return in 2020 and go right back to pitching 200 IP+ but the biggest predictor of injuries in the future are injuries in the past and Scherzer just had himself a whole plate of them.

Like I wasn't going to talk about Jack Flaherty... Captain Jack finished the season with a 2.75 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over 196.1 innings, going 11-8 with 231 strikeouts and finished fourth in the Cy Young race, but his final line doesn't give nearly enough justice to just how dominant Flaherty was for the last three months of the season. It might be cheating to pick arbitrary endpoints but with Flaherty, the changes in his results were so dramatic starting on July 7 that it's easy to take note of the date. In his first 17 starts and 90 innings, the Cardinals starter went 4-5 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.29 WHIP after carrying a premium price on draft day, with his 59 ADP in NFBC leagues sandwiching him right between Clayton Kershaw and Mike Clevinger. With his owners beginning to curse him as a bust, Flaherty then went full-on Lincoln Hawk in his last start before the All-Star break and never slowed his big rig down.

How big was that switch he flipped? In the two starts prior to July 7, Flaherty gave up 11 earned runs. Following those two starts, he only allowed a total of 11 earned runs the remainder of the season and allowed one run or fewer in 13 of his final 16 starts. In those 16 final starts and 106.1 innings, Flaherty posted a 0.96 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP, striking out batters out at a 33% clip. And while his 4.90 ERA was unsightly in the first half of 2019, he was still posting great strikeout-rates and had also seen a small velocity boost in his fastball versus 2018. In the second half, he not only saw more increases in his fastball velocity but also started throwing his nasty slider more, increasing its rate to almost 30%. There will surely be some regression in 2020, as Flaherty had a .196 BABIP over that stretch and a 95% strand-rate but I think we saw the ascension of a young ace in the second half of 2019, someone that's not yet top-tier but is only 24-years old and knocking on the door.

I have Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell directly behind Flaherty and really see the three pitchers as being near equals, in terms of both expected production and ceiling. It was a strange arc for Clevinger last year and it's easy to see how he dropped off the radar a bit after starting off the year on fire. Clevinger gave up just two hits total in his first two starts of the season, striking out 22 batters in 12 innings and flashing a fancy, new bump in his velocity. He then hit the shelf with a strained muscle in his upper back, didn't return until over two months later and promptly got rocked in his first two starts back, giving up a combined 12 earned runs in 6.1 innings. After that, however, Clevinger went right back to piling up stacks of fantasy cash, with his $16.50 earned in 12-team leagues making him the 15th-highest pitcher using the Fangraphs auction calculator, just behind the $16.80 of Walker Buehler. The difference is that Clevinger accomplished those numbers in 56 fewer innings, earning at a rate of $0.131/IP that only trailed Cole, Verlander, and Degrom among pitchers who reached at least 100 innings.

Perhaps I'm too high on Snell returning back to form in 2020, after a rollercoaster of poor performance and injury in 2019. First, the injury, with Snell missing almost two months in August and September after having arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove loose bodies. Prior to having surgery in late July, the reigning AL Cy Young winner was exactly putting up eye-popping numbers, posting a 4.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his first 101 innings of the year. He still was striking out fools with extreme prejudice, though, with his 12.1 K/9 actually a full-batter improvement over his 11.0 mark in 2018 and his 3.12 BB/9 is high but still slightly lower than last year.

So, what gives? If he's striking out more and walking less, how did a 1.89 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 2018 balloon to a 4.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 2019, prior to his injury? For one, there's a .339 BABIP this year that ran at .241 in 2018 and his 15.7% HR/FB was a big jump from the 11%-rate that he had in 2017-2018. And taking a look at Statcast, Snell's numbers seem a little rosier,  as his .205 xBA was in the top-9% of the league, with a .264 xwOBA in the top-8% and .327 xSLG that was top-7%.

Besides the batted-ball luck, it's not unreasonable to think that the loose bodies in his elbow may have been affecting Snell's performance over the course of the year, making me bullish for a comeback in 2020. Snell came back to make three very limited starts in late September - never facing more than 12 batters - before starting one game in the playoffs and working out of the bullpen in two more, allowing one run in 5.1 innings while striking out seven and walking none. I'm not ever going to bank on the sub-2.00 ERA that he put up in 2018 but if he's as healthy as he seemed in September/October and continues to post elite strikeout numbers, I'm comfortable projecting Snell right back in the mix of the best second-tier pitchers.

Let's move from an injured pitcher I'm confident in, to one I am much more trepidatious about, Boston starter Chris Sale. Say it with me again: The biggest predictor of future injuries is past injuries. Long before Sale made 30 or more starts in five of six years between 2012-2017, evaluators (and fantasy players) worried that his violent delivery might be better served in the bullpen*. Umm...not exactly. Sale has mostly been a bulwark of health but that changed in 2018, with Sale making 27 starts after dealing with left shoulder inflammation in August/September. He returned in 2019 and fell flat on his face, going 0-5 through his first six starts with a 6.30 ERA but then rebounded in May and June before starting to spiral at the end of the month. Three straight five-run outings, two okay starts, and then 14 total earned runs in back-to-back starts against the Yankees at the end of July.

Sale owners got a brief respite and stepped back from the ledge after he went eight shutout innings with 13 strikeouts in his next time out, and then continued to breathe easier with a three-run, 12 K performance in his next turn. Chris Sale is back, baby! Whew, that was a close one!  And then...? Simply the most terrifying thing you can see scroll across a bottom line:

"Chris Sale being shutdown with left elbow inflammation, will consult with Dr. James Andrews. No timetable for return."

Sale avoided Tommy John surgery and is currently back to throwing, claiming that he will be fully ready for spring training. Maybe he will and will return to his 200+ inning self in 2020, giving all the owners who took a chance on him in early drafts a rich reward. The closer we get to Opening Day, the more Sale will move up my rankings; but sitting here in December I consider it stretch to assume that he'll reach 30 starts.

My other question is, even if Sale returns to his innings-load of season's past, which Sale are we getting? While I have full confidence that the elite strikeout numbers aren't going anywhere (with Sale posting K-rates over 35% for three straight years) but he also gave up five earned runs or more in seven of his 25 starts in 2019, after having only one such game in 2018 and four in 2017. It also should be noted for those playing in head-to-head formats, that Sale has been pretty brutal for his owners in August/September over the last three seasons. This may not matter in roto as much, as banked stats are banked stats, but if you've had to count on Sale for your stretch run these past few years, then I expect you've cursed his name more than once. If I'm using a premium pick on a pitcher, I need a relative level of safety and Sale just isn't that for me anymore.

*Full disclosure author's note: I'm definitely not bitter that I turned down a trade in my home league for Sale in 2011, citing, "He'll end up in the bullpen, constantly hurt, or both." Sale's owner wanted Jered Weaver and Jeremy Hellickson. I'll just stop talking now.

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