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Early 2017 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings

Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings.

We led off with catchers before hitting first, second, and third base before going to shortstop, and after the infield was done we hit up the outfield. Now we're checking in on my top-25 for starting pitchers heading into 2017.

It felt really weird not including Jose Fernandez, but we do our best to remember his greatness and have to move on. For what it's worth, he'd be my #3.

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.


Early 2017 Rankings: Starting Pitchers

1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – As if. Kershaw’s 6.5 fWAR was tied for the best out of any pitcher with Thor, except Kershaw did it in only 149 innings and Thor needed 183 2/3 innings. He was just that dominant. For all starters with at least 140 innings logged, Kershaw's 2.41 SIERA easily beat JoFer's 2.81 in second place. His 2% walk rate paced the entire league, as did his stellar 29.6 K-BB%. It's great to see that he's back to normal after that back injury scare, and he should be the unquestioned King of the Mound in 2017.

2. Max Scherzer, WAS – Scherzer decimated hitters by allowing them to only register a .196 batting average against while striking out 31.5% of those who dared to step into the batter’s box. The craziest part might be that he doesn’t only rack up the whiffs, but he induced soft contact at a 22.2% clip – seventh best in the Majors out of qualified starters. That 1.22 HR/9 was his only real blemish, but luckily they always seemed to be solo shots since no one else could get on base.

3. Noah Syndergaard, NYM – The Norse God of thunder blew his opponents away with his filthy 100+ MPH fastball, a 91 MPH slider and a changeup that travels at a mere 90 MPH. He was one of only two qualified starters to finish the season with a sub-3 SIERA, and his 2.11 BB/9 only further illustrated how lethal his pitches could be. He isn’t just a hurler throwing heat, he’s got the ability to locate his fire and make hitters earn their way on base. He’s only recently turned 24. The sky is the limit, but one is also drafting a little risk with that elbow.

4. Madison Bumgarner, SF – Bumgarner, he of the insane postseason stats, also happened to be pretty good in the regular season as well. His K/9 crept up for a fourth-straight season in 2016 and this was also his third straight season of a sub-3 ERA, but his fielding-independent metrics were more mid-threes than threes (3.24 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, 3.36 SIERA). He's really not someone you worry about, but it'd be nice if he went back to 2015's 4.5% walk rate compared to this season's 5.9% mark. We're nitpicking a bit of course, this is a bona fide ace.

5. Chris Sale, CWS – Sale set out on a quest to be more efficient in 2016, working deeper into games with less of an emphasis on overpowering hitters. His first 17 starts yielded a 14-2 (!) record with a 2.93 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 120 innings, but his SIERA was 3.52. His final 15 starts gave way to a 3-8 record, though his 115:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio reflected a more aggressive approach and his SIERA actually improved to 3.34 after the All-Star break. Trust the metrics, as he’s still absolutely a stud but his approach is a big piece of the puzzle.

6. Corey Kluber, CLE– Kluber actually wasn’t his sharpest in 2016, and yet he still struck out 227 in only 215 innings while posting plus ratios (3.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) and seeing his win-loss record rebound from 2015’s mutinous 9-16 to 18-9. The Klubot’s SIERA has sat below 3.00 in 2014 and 2015, but this season it was at 3.50 as his strikeouts dropped a tick (-1.3%) and his walk rate went up 1.5%. He’s still amazing though, and it showed.

7. Yu Darvish, TEX – Darvish’s 2016 didn’t get started until July 16 after recovery from TJS took quite a while, though he made three starts in late May/early June before needing additional time off. Excluding those three outings and his first start back when he was on a pitch count, Darvish posted a 3.47 ERA (3.01 SIERA) alongside a 24% soft contact rate, 31.3% K rate and 6.3% walk rate.

8. Justin Verlander, DET – Verlander showed a form we haven’t seen in five years, as he went ballistic on opponents with a 16-9 record, 254 Ks in 227 2/3 innings to the tune of a career-high 28.1 K%. At age-33, some might think that this is a little late for such a renaissance, but rest assured this was a talent-fueled campaign for the Detroit ace.

9. Jon Lester, CHC – Chicago’s ace finished with an impressive 19-5 record thanks to an electric second half that didn’t see him take a loss until the very last start of the regular season on Oct. 1. He went 10-1 with a pristine 1.76 ERA from the Midsummer Classic on, much to his fantasy owners’ delight. Lester’s ridiculously low 2.44 overall ERA checked in as the second-best mark in the Major Leagues out of qualified starters, though he didn’t even lead the Cubs in that department thanks to this next guy…

10. Kyle Hendricks, CHC – AKA “The Maestro” due to his insane ability to place the ball where he wants with the right amount of break on the pitch to induce soft contact at a league-leading 25%. In an era where everyone is dazzled by velocity, Hendricks led the league with a wild 2.13 ERA and a solid 0.98 WHIP. It’s not like he can’t miss bats either, as he bumped up his swinging-strike rate from 8.1% to 10% this season even though his K% only rose 0.2%.

11. Jake Arrieta, CHC – All of the Cubs! It’s difficult to complain about an 18-8 record with a 3.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 190 Ks in 197 1/3 innings, but there were some troubling signs underneath the hood. His K% sunk from 27.1% to 23.9%, but his walk rate shot up from 5.5% to 9.6%. That lack of command resulted in a 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP and 3.94 SIERA (his numbers last year: 2.35 FIP, 2.61 xFIP, 2.75 SIERA). He’s shown enough over the past three years to still be considered a top pitcher, but 2015 Arrieta is in the wind.

12. Johnny Cueto, SF – Cueto’s 2015 was a tale of two halves, with a 2.73 first-half ERA (3.12 FIP) that rose to 4.34 in the second half (4.04 FIP). 2016 showed the same trend, but he brought both figures down with a 2.47 first-half ERA (2.67 FIP) and a 3.26 second-half ERA (3.37 FIP). His overall 2.96 FIP is encouraging, and his 50.2% ground-ball rate and 0.61 HR/9 really helped minimize the damage.

13. Stephen Strasburg, WAS – Upside, thy name is Strasburg. Washington’s young arm is dealing with an elbow injury at the moment, but before that he had posted a 15-4 record with a 3.60 ERA and 1.10 WHIP alongside a dynamite 30.6 K%. His 2.92 FIP, 3.20 xFIP and 3.18 SIERA are all bankable metrics, but it’s really just about that nagging feeling that you’re not going to get a full season out of him.

14. David Price, BOS – This was one weird season for the southpaw, as he posted his worst ERA (3.99) in a full season thanks to a huge jump in hard-hit rate (+6.6%), pull rate (+10.8%) and a HR/FB rate that rose 5.7% as a result. He still struck out 24% of batters faced for his third-straight season of 225+ Ks, and even posted his fourth-straight season with a walk rate under 5.5% -- both very strong figures – but he simply got hit too hard when contact was made. The AL East and Fenway can be unforgiving in these regards, but he should be a solid “bounceback” candidate in 2017.

15. Carlos Carrasco, CLE – He improved his ERA from last season’s 3.63 to 3.32, but he was nowhere near the force that he was in 2015. His SIERA went from 2.74 to 3.44 as his strikeout rate dropped from 29.6% to 25% and his hard-hit rate allowed soared from 27.5% to 36.4%. This led to an ordinary 1.29 HR/9 (up from 0.88) and paints him as above-average rather than a borderline SP1.

16. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY – The Yankees ace had the third-lowest ERA in the AL (3.07) as he made modest improvements to his ground-ball rate (47% to 48.2%) and first-strike rate (62.6% to 64.5%). The biggest impact came from lowering his HR/9 from 1.46 to 0.99, though his SIERA did rise from 3.36 to 3.79. His K% did drop to 20.5% from 22.8%, but his splitter and strong control (4.5% walk rate) should keep him viable as a high-end SP2 in 2017.

17. Jacob deGrom, NYM – In his third season, deGrom clearly wasn’t 100% for much of it and he still posted a 3.04 ERA (3.66 SIERA) and 1.20 WHIP with a 23.7% strikeout rate. The 7-8 record wasn’t really his fault, we’re past that thinking, but his BABIP rose from .271 to .312 thanks to a hard-hit rate that jumped 5%. He’s been a great arm for the greater part of three seasons now, and if he handles rehab and Spring Training well then he’s a nice value in the NL East.

18. Kenta Maeda, LAD – Maeda performed admirably in his first MLB season, going 16-11 with 179 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings (25% K rate) and a 3.48 ERA (3.69 SIERA). His 11.6% swinging-strike rate backs up those Ks, and his 7% walk rate illustrates a pitcher who was more than ready to take on this level of competition. He’ll turn 29 a couple of weeks into the 2017 season, and should be a good bet to turn up again next year.

19. Danny Duffy, KC – Duffy made quite the leap in 2016. In his 161 2/3 innings as a starter, he posted a 3.56 ERA while allowing a .238/.291/.424 triple slash to opposing hitters. He also had an incredible 25.4% strikeout rate alongside a mere 5.6% walk rate. The thing he needs to improve on is arm strength, as his fastball velocity sat around 96 MPH when he first entered the rotation on May 15 but steadily dropped to just a shade under 94 MPH in late September. I like his chances.

20. Chris Archer, TB – We all know the surface stats were pretty gross (9-19, 4.02 ERA), but his fielding-independent metrics still provided hope (3.50 SIERA) – some of which we saw in the second half. His K/BB rose from 2.71 in the first half to 5.42 in the second, and his WHIP plummeted from 1.44 to 1.01.

21. Carlos Martinez, STL – The strikeouts were down as he put an emphasis on locating the ball low in the zone, which resulted in a drop in strikeouts from 24.4% to 21.5% but also a .286 BABIP compared to 2015’s .318 mark. While his 3.04 ERA was near-identical to last season’s 3.01 ERA, his SIERA blew up from 3.44 to 3.97 as a result of this approach.

22. Cole Hamels, TEX – The walks are concerning (7.1% in 2015 to 9.1% this season), but he actually managed to dance around ugly first-half metrics (4.53 FIP) to improve in the second half (3.28 FIP) and put together a solid campaign. The 3.99 SIERA was easily a career-worst mark, even though his 3.32 ERA was actually 33 points down from 2015’s 3.65 ERA.

23. Rich Hill, LAD - Everyone's favorite posterchild for blisters in 2016, Hill was incredible when he was able to stay on the bump. His 2.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP joined a 29.4% strikeout rate. It will be interesting to see what uniform he's wearing in 2017, as park factors and the division he's stuck in will certainly matter, but the reinvented 36-year-old should still be solid for fantasy owners regardless of his surroundings.

24. Rick Porcello, BOS - Boston's surprise ace had an incredible reversal of fortune considering all he really did metrics-wise was drop his walk rate from 5.2% to 3.6% and shave 3% off of his line-drive rate. This, combined with a rather unlucky 2015, helped his .332 BABIP of last season to nosedive to .269. This resulted in a 35-point drop in his WHIP, and of course his 22-4 record didn't hurt anyone either. His xFIP actually rose 17 points and his SIERA crept up five points compared to 2015 though, so color me skeptical.

25. Jose Quintana, CWS - In each of his last three seasons, Quintana has logged 200+ innings with an ERA ranging from 3.32 to 3.51 -- admirable marks -- yet has only been rewarded with nine wins in each of those seasons. He still fought off some poor luck to only finish 13-12 despite finishing sixth in the MLB with 23 quality starts, an identical mark to teammate Chris Sale. Behind all of his career-best marks was a career-worst 4.01 SIERA and 32.7% hard-hit rate, but his age-28 season should still have a good shot at providing SP3-caliber stats.


Honorable Mentions

Danny Salazar, CLE.

Aaron Sanchez, TOR.

Tanner Roark, WAS.

Marcus Stroman, TOR.

Jon Gray, COL.


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