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The 2017 offseason has been wild thus far and many top pitchers have changed addresses since the season ended. There were a lot of rumors of trades for big name pitchers this offseason, namely Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole, so the interest in trades slowed the process a bit on the free agent market. Teams were also assessing what was available with free agent relievers, as competitive teams have moved moreso to top relievers than ace starting pitchers to win.

While there were factors that slowed the market a bit, once free agents started coming off of the board, there were a flurry of moves. The market really set itself off when C.C. Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees, filling a gap for a team that could have bid on the big name players, and then a majority of the top starters signed within a few weeks of each other. While none of these pitchers signed before January 1st, each will have a major impact on their team.

These are the top pitchers that will join new teams in 2018.

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Pitchers To Watch

Yu Darvish (from Dodgers to Cubs via free agency)

Free-agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Chicago Cubs this offseason, including options that would bring the total value of the contract to $150 million. This was the first domino to fall in the starting pitcher market, with Jake ArrietaAlex Cobb and Lance Lynn looking to sign after Darvish set the market. Darvish finished 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA last season while pitching with the Rangers and Dodgers, posting a 1.16 WHIP and striking out 209 batters in 186 2/3 innings. He will take up the mantle piece as the ace of the Cubs staff, taking the role that Arrieta left, but he has only topped 200 innings pitched once in his career (2013) and missed the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery.

Darvish already saw some benefit from switching leagues last season, as he moved from the high-scoring AL West division with the Rangers (4.81 runs per game — most in MLB) to the low-scoring NL West with the Dodgers (4.50 runs per game — fewest in MLB). He will continue to reap those benefits in the NL Central this year, as the Cubs' division rivals combined to average 4.53 runs per game in 2017. A move to the NL Central should also lead to an increase in his strikeout rate. In 2017, NL Central batters (excluding the Cubs) struck out at a rate of 22.95 percent — higher than NL West batters (excluding the Dodgers) who struck out at a 22.73 percent rate and AL West batters (excluding the Rangers) who had a 20.45 percent strikeout rate.

One slight concern for fantasy owners looking at drafting Darvish, though, is his abysmal World Series performance. A Sports Illustrated article quoted an anonymous Astros player as saying Darvish was tipping his pitches to batters, which led to his 21.60 ERA, 3.30 WHIP and zero strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings pitched in two starts. This was not the first time in his MLB career that Darvish has reportedly struggled with tipping his pitches, but it was definitely the most high profile occurrence coming at a critical point in the season. So while it was only two games and it is highly unlikely to be indicative of a future trend for him, fantasy owners will be paying close attention to how Darvish pitches this spring.

So what will Darvish's impact on the Cubs be? He will be in a weaker offensive league in 2018, in a division where opponents strike out at a high rate and signs are pointing to him potentially returning to his 2013 form. With all that said, where does that put him among starting pitchers in fantasy? Our mixed-league rankings had him as the No. 13 starting pitcher while he was still a free agent, with a draft target range around the end of the fifth round or beginning of the sixth. Of the various teams that were linked to him throughout the off-season, the Cubs are the team that would potentially give the biggest boost to his fantasy value. Pitching in the NL Central, Darvish should be a low-end top-10 starting pitcher this year with the (albeit slim) chance to finish the year in the top-five. As such, fantasy owners should look to grab him starting around the middle of the fourth round, or even the end of the third if looking to load up on pitching early.


Jake Arrieta (from Cubs to Phillies via free agency)

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jake Arrieta had a tough time finding a team this offseason, partially based on his salary demands and partially based on a drop in performance. Still, Arrieta got a three-year, $75 million contract from the Phillies, giving the team a veteran presence to combine with Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation. This is a good deal on a short-term, because, if the Phillies young players develop quickly, Arrieta could help the team make a push for a wild-card spot. If the team fades, Arrieta could get a lot of interest at the trade deadline, helping the Phillies get more prospects.

Arrieta was a dominating 22-6 with a 1.70 ERA in 2015, but has slipped in each of the last two seasons, down to a 14-10 record and 3.53 ERA last season. Furthermore, he has led the National League in wild pitches in each of the last two seasons and has seen basically every statistic drop in each of the last three seasons. After being acquired by the Cubs from the Orioles in 2013, Arrieta was 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA in his first two-plus seasons with Chicago; those numbers have slumped to 32-18 with a 3.30 ERA in the last three seasons and his strikeouts per nine have dropped in each season since 2014 as well.

Many can point to his extra workload (with the Cubs making the playoffs in each of the last three seasons) and Arrieta has gone from throwing 229 innings in his Cy Young 2015 season to just 168 1/3 last season. Not shockingly, a lot of Arrieta's advanced statistics are not glowing, led by his 29.4% hard hit ball rate, which was his worst in a full season. He has also seen his ground ball rate plummet, down from 56.2% in 2015 to 52.6% in 2016 and finally 45.1% last season. Not only has he allowed more hard hit contact, but also general contact, as he allowed 80.1% contact last season (his worst since 2013) and his 8.7% swinging strikes were his worst since 2013 as well. He has seen two miles per hour come off of his fastball since 2015 (and he has used it about 13% more) and his FIP has been worse than his ERA in each of the last three seasons as well. While there are issues with Arrieta, he is still a solid pitcher, just not the ace that he was in the past. Just as MLB teams have not valued him as an ace, fantasy owners should not either; he will make a nice SP3, but should not be off of the board before the 100th pick of the draft. Going to a hitter's ballpark in Philadelphia might not be ideal for Arrieta, nor is the fact that the Phillies may not be as competitive of a team as they believe in 2018.


Gerrit Cole (from Pirates to Astros via trade)

Houston traded third baseman Colin Moran, outfielder Jason Martin and pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz to Pittsburgh in order to add Cole to an already formidable Astros rotation. With a career 59-42 record, 3.50 ERA and 734 strikeouts, Gerrit Cole will likely slide into the No. 3 slot in the rotation behind former Cy Young Award-winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. After an injury-riddled 2016 season, Cole threw 203 innings — third-most in the National League — over 33 starts last year, compiling a 12-12 record with a 4.26 ERA. Cole did manage to match his 2015 strikeout rate with an 8.7 K/9, but his 2.4 BB/9 was up from 2015 and his 1.4 HR/9 was a career-worst for him.

Joining the Astros, Cole now gets the backing of one of the top offenses in MLB that led the majors with 5.53 runs per game in 2017. After previously being supported by an offense that averaged 4.12 runs per game — third-worst in the majors in 2017 — Cole should see an uptick in victories this year and could potentially win 20 games in Houston.

Another reason to buy in on Cole is Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. Strom has a good track record when it comes to "fixing" pitchers like Charlie Morton and Verlander. In just one season with Strom and the Astros, Morton recorded career-bests with a 1.193 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, and 10.0 K/9 while Verlander lowered his WHIP from 1.279 to 0.647 and raised his K/9 from 9.2 to 11.4 after being acquired at the end of August. Based on his potential, his underlying numbers and his previous success, it's not much of a stretch to think that under the tutelage of Strom and pitching alongside Verlander and Keuchel, Cole could become an elite pitcher in 2018.


Lance Lynn (from Cardinals to Twins via free agency)

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Lance Lynn had a tough time signing in free agency, but looks to find a home with an emerging Twins team. Lynn was 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA last season, leading the league with 33 games started, showing that he can again be a workhorse after Tommy John surgery took away his 2016 season. While Lynn did not have the 2.87 ERA that he had in the two seasons prior to surgery, Lynn's 1.23 WHIP in 2017 was the lowest of his career, as he only allowed 151 hits. The Twins are taking a chance on Lynn with a one-year deal, giving Lynn a chance to prove himself this season before hitting the market again in 2019.

He had an inflated walk rate (3.8 per nine) and he also allowed 27 home runs last season, 11 more than his previous career-high in 2012. While some of these statistics look good, Lynn also was helped by a .214 batting average against and .244 BABIP that was not supported by his 29.2% hard hit rate. Continuing with the mixed view of 2017, Lynn had a ground ball rate of 44% (right near his 44.3% career rate), but had a jump in fly ball rate (36.2%) and HR/FB (14.2%). While his hard hit ball rate was poor, his soft hit ball rate (21.1%) was much better than his 18.9% career average and his contact percentage was down to 79.6% from 81.4% in 2014 and 80.8% in 2015.  Lynn looks like he might be a good fit for the Twins, who may put him in a decent spot for wins, but he is a high-floor SP4 at best.


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