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Predicting The Top 10 Finishers for ERA in 2015: Fantasy Baseball Rankings

While wins are not solely the pitcher's responsibility, one category that falls primarily in the pitcher's hand (pun intended) is ERA. In 2014 the league saw nine starters finish with an ERA under 2.50, capping off one of the best pitching seasons in recent memory. With the amount of runs scored trending downward, it is oh-so important to roster some of these elite pitchers. The following 10 guys have the best chance to finish with the lowest ERA in 2015.

 

10. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Up to this point Strasburg has yet to post a season long ERA of under 3.00 as a full time starter with the Nats. To me, this is his best shot to get under that mark. The addition of Max Scherzer, who I’ll get to later, will really take some pressure off Strasburg, who has dealt with a lot of it, since being taken as the #1 pick in the 2009 MLB Draft.

Strasburg took a step up with his command in 2014, posting career bests in BB/9 and strikeouts to walk ratio. This improvement did not decrease his strikeout rate, which remained one of the best in the majors at 10.13/9 innings. The combination of Scherzer, another year removed from Tommy John surgery and an improved sense of control, should lead Strasburg to his best season yet.

 

9. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

Another year, another postseason masterpiece from Bumgarner. Yet again, the San Francisco ace lead the Giants to the pennant and picked up the World Series MVP along the way. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, there are no bonuses for real world awards.

In 2015 Bumgarner will look to continue his consistent pitching in an attempt to reach the 200 IP mark for the fifth consecutive season. In 2014 he got into a groove and set career highs in strikeouts and BB/9. With a strikeout rate from 22.5% to 25.1% over the past four seasons, there is no reason to believe his ERA will drop from years past. At such a young age Bumgarner already has the poise, experience, and consistency of a veteran.

 

8. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto finished with the fourth best ERA in the majors last season and fourth consecutive season with an ERA 2.82 or less. His consistency has been staggering and he really turned up the heat last season with a career high 242 strikeouts.

Cueto would be higher up on this list if not for the .238 opposing batting average on balls in play. Even with the strikeout prowess it would be extremely difficult to replicate that number in 2015. That said, after four straight seasons near the top of the ERA leaderboard, there's no reason to doubt Cueto this year.

 

7. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

Nobody turned more heads in 2014 than AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Coming out of nowhere, Kluber posted a 2.44 ERA in 2014, finishing seventh in the majors. I have him at that same spot on this list and expect him to have another great year.

Kluber is 28 years old but really only has two full seasons of major league innings pitched. He has dominant stuff striking out 269 batters, good for second best in the majors in 2014. His strikeout power mixed with a great 48% ground ball rate (and a great infield defense behind him) should leave Kluber in the top ten in ERA once again.

 

6. Matt Harvey, New York Mets

In Harvey’s first full season in the Major’s he shined, putting up a 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 178.1 innings. The obvious concern which leaves Harvey low on this list is that he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. Harvey has a similar career trajectory as Strasburg (#10 on this list) who came back in 2014 with a fantastic season.

Harvey has looked great this spring and should put up stellar numbers once again. In 2013 he had a 27.7% strikeout ratio and saw extra base hits on only 22% of all hits. This is 11% below the league average and is essential in maintaining a low ERA. Harvey is one of the bright young stars in baseball and should bounce back nicely this season.

 

5. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs

Lester is one of my favorite pitching options coming into the 2015 season. He capped off a 2014 campaign where he finished with a career high 2.46 ERA. I think a move to the NL will serve well for Lester after spending the last decade in the AL.

Studies by Baseball Prospectus in 2011 and the Hardball Times in 2008, proved that moving from the AL to the NL as a pitcher adds a significant fantasy benefit. According to Baseball Prospectus, pitchers who moved from the AL to NL from 2000-2010 saw a .53 increase in K/9 as well as a .45 decrease to their ERA on average. Lester being an above average pitcher already, should be able to take advantage of these trends and possibly have the best season of his career, even in his late age.

 

4. Chris Sale, Chicago Sox

Sale, with his unorthodox release, has quickly become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He's been absolutely ridiculous against lefties, holding them down to a .184 average with only 2 home runs over the past 3 seasons. With this clamp down on one side of the plate, he will be tough to bump out of the top ten when it comes to his ERA.

In 2014 he finished second in the AL with an incredible 2.17 ERA. His 30.4% strikeout percentage was second only to Clayton Kershaw as was his strikeout to walk ratio. One statistic that sticks out from his 2014 season was that batters swing and miss at balls inside the strike zone a league leading 19.5% of the time. This shows that the hitters are simply having a difficult time picking up the ball coming out of Sales hand. Success on the mound derives from that.

 

3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Scherzer signed a $210 million dollar contract this offseason that will take his talents to the nation's capital. Scherzer has been elite in the AL for the past five seasons, and similar to Lester at #5, I think his move to the NL will show great dividends.

He consistently sports one of the best strikeout rates in baseball, averaging 216.2 strikeouts per season over the last five campaigns. One area that he should be able to improve on in the NL is the amount of walks he allows. Out of the top ten pitchers in strikeout percentage, Scherzer had the second highest BB/9 ratio. Lowering this number along with facing new hitters in the NL will help Scherzer shatter his ERA career high in 2015.

 

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

King Felix finished second in ERA in 2014 at 2.14 and I expect him to be in the running for the top spot once again. His .197 opposing batting average and .92 WHIP were elite numbers in 2014. The main upswing from years past was his command. At 1.75 BB/9, he set a career high and finished third in that category among the top 20 strikeout pitchers from last season.

Felix is as dominant a pitcher as we have seen in recent memory and there are no signs of him slowing down. Along with better control and a continued strikeout dominance, Felix recorded the highest ground ball rate, 56.2%, that he has had since 2007. Felix is clearly one of the top pitchers available and will leave fantasy owners feeling like the king.

 

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I really shouldn’t have to write anything about Kershaw but I’ll go over some of his 2014 numbers for nostalgia purposes.

Last year we saw an unprecedented earned run average for Clayton Kershaw at 1.77, the best mark since Pedro Martinez in 2000. He finished first in K/9, K%, K-BB%, WHIP, and the list goes on and on. The point being, Kershaw had one of the most dominant pitching seasons in the modern era. Still at only 27 years old, he has a chance to go down as one of the all time greats. As much as it would be fun to be contrarian with this #1 spot, I really would be shocked if Kershaw doesn’t come through with the best ERA yet again in 2015.

 




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