2016 Fantasy Baseball Tiered Rankings: Starting Pitchers (February)

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Our starting pitching rankings will be split into two parts. Today's edition will examine only the top five tiers of starters, as determined by our staff's composite rankings (which differ a bit from my own evaluations where noted). Using the composite rankings to guide discussion helps to highlight personal preferences while also providing a more balanced view of the players' values. These rankings are for standard 5x5 leagues.

You should adjust these rankings to account for your league-- in shallower leagues or formats with daily transactions, upside pitchers are worth investing in since you can replace high-floor, low-ceiling players from the waiver wire. In deeper leagues or those with very infrequent waivers, high-floor pitchers are more important, as the wire will likely be barren and it'll be a challenge to effectively stream pitchers.

In weekly leagues, so long as they aren't too deep, it often makes sense to target a few elite pitchers to head your rotation and allow the two-start streamers to serve as depth; it makes little sense to carry high-floor pitchers whose value will often be outweighed by streamers. With these tips in mind, we move onto the players themselves.

 

2016 Fantasy Baseball Rankings Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Tier One

And unsurprisingly, Clayton Kershaw occupies the first tier by himself. He'll be 28 on Opening Day, and over the last three years, he's sported a 1.92 ERA, 772 strikeouts (10.4 K/9) with a 0.886 ERA and 53 wins. In a word, WOW!

Tier Two

The second tier consists of Scherzer, Sale, Arietta, Greinke, Price, deGrom and Fernandez. I have both Arietta (even though my Orioles traded him away) and Fernandez ranked much higher than my peers. Even though the Cubs are going to manage Arietta's innings due to his enormous jump last year, his numbers are too much better than the others (aside from Fernandez) for me to rank him lower. Last year, Arietta posted a 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and a 22-6 record. The year before, he had a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 9.6 K/9. While he will strike out fewer batters than Sale or Scherzer, in year-long leagues many participants may fail to meet their inning limits.

My third-ranked pitcher is my favorite non-Oriole: Jose Fernandez. At age 20 (yes 20!), Fernandez posted a 2.19 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and a 0.979 ERA. Going into his last start of 2014 before the injury that ultimately required Tommy John Surgery, he had a 1.74 ERA, 12.5 K/9, and a 0.90 WHIP. Last year, while battling a biceps injury and not being too far removed from his surgery, he still posted 11 K/9, a 1.16 ERA, a 2.92 ERA and a 6-1 record.

Another year removed from Tommy John, the sky is the limit. If not for his innings limit, I would place him ahead of Arietta. Despite liking these two pitchers the best out of the second tier, when factoring in risk with upside, I view all the pitchers in the second tier as somewhat similar in value. I would choose whoever falls to me, rather than reaching . But because Fernandez is currently the eighth pitcher coming off the board, I expect him to be the best value.

Tier Three

In the third tier, the two pitchers I like significantly more than my peers are Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg. While second half performance is usually a worse predictor of the future than full season performance, there is a reason to view Harvey's and Strasburg's second halves differently. In Harvey's case, he was further removed from his recent Tommy John surgery, posting a 2.19 ERA, 0.923 ERA, and 9.1 K/9.

In the year before his injury, he posted a 2.27 ERA with a 0.931 ERA and 9.6 K/9. As those impressive stat lines are remarkably similar, that might be who he is. Strasburg is a player who I admittedly have overrated over the years, so take this one with a grain of salt. However, here is why I am bullish. After battling a lingering injury to start the year, in the second half he posted a 1.90 ERA, a 0.754 ERA, and 12.5 K/9. Yikes! While Strasburg has always performed below my expectations, he still has a nice floor given his career 10.4 K/9 and 1.09 ERA to go with a 3.09 ERA.

Currently being drafted as 12th and 13th pitchers, these two can be considered value plays. On the flip side in this tier, Keuchel appears to be drafted way too highly for me. Yes, he won the Cy Young. However, this is 5x5. He has never struck out a batter per inning or had a ERA under one. As such, I feel my peers are ranking him too highly due to his real world performance overshadowing his fantasy performance. Why not wait a bit longer and get a similar fantasy player in Sonny Gray for cheaper?

Tier Four

In the fourth tier, the biggest error to me is ranking Darvish too highly. Even if nothing goes wrong, he isn't expected back until mid-May or June. On top of that, he likely will experience the initial struggles that others returning from Tommy John have. On the other side of the equation, I have Danny Salazar pegged higher than my peers. Last year, he had a 9.5 K/9 rate, a 1.13 ERA and a 3.45 ERA. In his career, he has a 9.9 K/9 ratio. In front of an improved Indians' defense, and at 26 years of age, he has room for further improvement.

After this fourth tier, our rankings start to diverge more noticeably. It is probably not a coincidence that this is the point where I determine that non-upside plays are too close to what is available on the waiver wire. I'd rather gamble on someone who can outperform the waiver wire by a decent margin than use a relatively high draft pick to get the same value.

Tier Five

Because of that calculus, I rank Zimmerman and Quintana lower than my peers, and McCullers higher. Zimmerman's line last year consisted of a 3.66 ERA, 1.205 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and a 13-10 record in the NL East. Those aren't numbers to get too excited about, and now he will be facing much tougher AL lineups. While he had a good 2014, it stands out like an outlier from his consistent career numbers, which resemble his career averages of 3.32 ERA, 1.16 ERA and 7.4 K/9. Switching to the AL, and at age 30, I'd bet he performs close to a waiver wire streaming option in standard leagues.

Quintana likewise lacks upside. He's pitched four seasons, and by combining his best numbers from each category in any season we get a 1.22 ERA, 8.0 K/9, and a 3.32 ERA with nine wins and six losses. While that is well-rounded, it's hardly an impressive line given that it is his best work over four years. Lance McCullers, on the other hand, gets me excited. The guy wore Batman cleats in his debut; that shows charisma and the type of self-confidence that I want in my upside plays.

Even though he wore down as the season progressed, presumably due to a career high in innings pitched, he finished with a 3.22 ERA, 1.186 ERA, and 9.2 K/9. At the break, he boasted a 2.56 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and a 1.10 ERA. Based on his age (only 22 years old), his overall solid numbers, and his improved numbers when fresh, I like his breakout potential for 2016.

While that concludes today's analysis, check in tomorrow for my starting pitcher value picks and sleepers among those rated in the sixth tier and below. Starting pitching gems are often uncovered late in the draft, and tomorrow they will be identified.

 

Starting Pitcher Tiered Fantasy Baseball Rankings (February)

Ranking Tier Name Brad Max Kyle Nick Harris Jeff Bill
1 1 Clayton Kershaw 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 2 Max Scherzer 2 2 2 2 2 4 4
3 2 Chris Sale 4 3 3 3 3 5 2
4 2 Jake Arrieta 3 4 4 4 12 2 3
5 2 Zack Greinke 5 5 9 7 5 8 5
6 2 Jacob deGrom 9 7 5 5 9 6 6
7 2 David Price 8 6 6 6 4 10 8
8 2 Jose Fernandez 18 8 7 8 6 3 14
9 3 Madison Bumgarner 10 11 10 10 7 11 13
10 3 Dallas Keuchel 6 9 11 9 16 17 7
11 3 Gerrit Cole 13 14 8 15 11 13 9
12 3 Noah Syndergaard 11 15 12 16 15 12 10
13 3 Felix Hernandez 7 10 18 14 13 18 12
14 3 Stephen Strasburg 17 21 13 11 10 9 16
15 3 Matt Harvey 16 16 16 18 8 7 17
16 3 Chris Archer 14 13 14 17 14 16 11
17 3 Corey Kluber 12 12 15 13 19 15 15
18 3 Carlos Carrasco 15 17 17 12 21 14 18
19 4 Jon Lester 19 22 19 21 24 19 20
20 4 Cole Hamels 25 20 21 19 20 24 21
21 4 Johnny Cueto 21 23 20 26 18 20 23
22 4 Sonny Gray 23 19 25 22 17 26 19
23 4 Adam Wainwright 20 18 26 20 26 25 25
24 4 Carlos Martinez 22 24 23 25 28 21 24
25 4 Danny Salazar 27 26 24 23 32 22 28
26 4 Tyson Ross 24 25 31 29 22 23 30
27 4 Marcus Stroman 30 28 27 27 23 31 31
28 4 Francisco Liriano 26 33 29 28 27 27 36
29 4 Yu Darvish 43 30 22 24 32 49 22
30 5 Masahiro Tanaka 39 27 35 30 33 32 29
31 5 Michael Wacha 37 31 33 32 31 34 32
32 5 Jordan Zimmermann 28 32 38 35 25 53 27
33 5 Jose Quintana 31 36 30 36 29 46 34
34 5 Jake Odorizzi 32 38 32 44 33 28 39
35 5 Luis Severino 29 29 44 34 41 44 26
36 5 Scott Kazmir 36 34 37 38 38 37 33
37 5 Garrett Richards 38 39 39 39 35 36 37
38 5 Lance McCullers 34 50 28 41 42 29 40
39 5 Michael Pineda 52 37 41 31 44 40 35
40 5 Jeff Samardzija 35 42 46 47 34 35 49
41 5 Patrick Corbin 42 47 34 33 54 39 42
42 6 Justin Verlander 40 49 51 45 50 30 46
43 6 Shelby Miller 51 35 54 52 30 61 38
44 6 Steven Matz 64 41 47 40 49 38 44
45 6 Gio Gonzalez 45 46 50 51 46 47 45
46 6 John Lackey 33 48 56 48 51 50 55
47 6 Raisel Iglesias 59 51 43 46 48 48 51
48 6 Hyun-Jin Ryu 49 45 48 56 53 51 47
49 6 Drew Smyly 66 43 57 43 47 33 60
50 6 Clay Buchholz 41 54 42 49 58 56 56
51 6 James Shields 61 44 58 58 45 41 52
52 6 Yordano Ventura 44 47 53 53 56 58 48
53 6 Collin McHugh 46 52 52 57 57 54 50
54 6 Joe Ross 92 40 36 37 55 57 57
55 6 Hisashi Iwakuma 54 61 40 55 52 60 58
56 6 Taijuan Walker 60 67 45 50 43 62 54
57 6 Carlos Rodon 71 57 59 54 39 45 64
58 6 Jaime Garcia 48 53 64 42 73 67 43
59 6 Kyle Hendricks 62 63 55 59 62 42 62
60 6 Alex Cobb 81 46 49 68 59 71 41
61 7 Wei-Yin Chen 53 55 74 60 60 52 63
62 7 Eduardo Rodriguez 57 56 62 61 69 59 61
63 7 Julio Teheran 63 59 72 66 40 63 66
64 7 Andrew Cashner 50 60 73 69 65 72 59
65 7 Nathan Eovaldi 47 74 60 63 75 70 68
66 7 Brett Anderson 56 58 70 62 78 66 78
67 7 Andrew Heaney 58 65 65 71 80 68 65
68 7 Anibal Sanchez 67 68 67 72 63 74 74
69 8 Robbie Ray 55 69 61 70 88 76 71
70 8 Jason Hammel 73 70 63 75 83 73 53
71 8 Aaron Nola 68 62 69 77 72 75 72
72 8 Ian Kennedy 77 75 78 64 66 65 77
73 8 Marco Estrada 65 64 71 79 76 78 76
74 8 Jimmy Nelson 70 66 76 73 74 77 73
75 8 Mike Fiers 72 79 75 103 61 43 84
76 8 Kevin Gausman 85 76 79 88 71 64 70
77 8 Kenta Maeda 80 77 101 65 92 55 -
78 8 Alex Wood 82 82 68 104 68 79 79
79 8 Anthony DeSclafani 89 91 66 74 97 80 69
80 8 Mike Leake 86 78 87 86 64 82 85
81 8 Trevor Bauer 98 72 85 85 106 90 67
82 9 Erasmo Ramirez - 95 77 67 114 92 83
83 9 J.A. Happ - 92 83 81 87 86 102
84 9 Derek Holland 74 83 97 102 - - 89
85 9 Taylor Jungmann 113 88 88 89 - 88 75
86 9 Nate Karns - 81 80 93 115 93 82
87 9 Wade Miley 75 98 92 109 95 69 103
88 9 Henry Owens 91 94 91 76 119 91 80
89 9 Jesse Hahn 109 71 109 82 79 112 88
90 9 Edinson Volquez 84 84 94 91 96 111 90
91 9 Yovani Gallardo 94 89 102 97 67 115 87
92 9 James Paxton 88 103 96 96 90 83 99
93 9 Jake Peavy 115 97 84 95 99 87 81
94 10 Daniel Norris 99 93 - 111 70 85 109
95 10 Drew Hutchison - 111 81 80 - 94 107
96 10 Jerad Eickhoff 83 100 95 78 118 95 95
97 10 Chris Heston 122 86 - 84 91 - 94
98 10 Kris Medlen - 73 89 118 86 96 116
99 10 Mat Latos 117 96 82 87 102 102 92
100 10 Ubaldo Jimenez 93 99 93 106 98 - 93
101 10 Tyler Duffey 78 80 111 90 120 109 96
102 10 Erik Johnson 106 104 90 108 - 89 91
103 10 Ervin Santana 110 87 99 83 112 110 86
104 10 Zack Wheeler 108 85 105 107 89 116 98
105 10 Phil Hughes 114 90 103 94 101 107 100
106 11 Jesse Chavez - - 86 99 109 105 108
107 11 Rick Porcello 69 122 98 110 93 104 115
108 11 Chris Tillman 95 103 115 112 84 100 106
109 11 Kyle Gibson 76 110 100 101 108 118 104
110 11 Rubby de la Rosa 105 101 104 92 - 101 117
111 11 Josh Tomlin 90 102 108 128 - 98 105
112 11 Matt Shoemaker 97 113 113 122 - 99 114
113 11 Joe Kelly 79 123 110 125 113 - -
114 12 Danny Duffy 111 105 114 117 107 103 113
115 12 Hector Santiago 120 112 119 123 82 106 110
116 12 Wily Peralta 121 106 123 116 - 121 118
117 12 Nicholas Tropeano 96 - 112 115 - 108 -
118 12 Jeremy Hellickson 100 121 - 124 - - 112
119 12 Martin Perez 101 115 124 129 105 - -
120 12 Jonathan Gray 104 109 122 105 85 - -
121 12 Matt Boyd 107 - - 121 - - -
122 12 CC Sabathia 112 - 116 126 - - 119
123 13 Homer Bailey 116 117 125 - 81 - -
124 13 Chase Anderson 118 108 - 127 - 114 -
125 13 Brett Oberholtzer 123 - - - - - -
126 13 Adam Conley - - 107 113 - 84 -
127 13 Matt Moore - 116 - 119 77 - -
128 13 Matt Cain - 113 - 120 - - -
129 13 Vincent Velasquez - 124 121 100 - 81 -
130 13 John Lamb - 121 120 114 104 97 -
131 13 Doug Fister - 114 - 98 103 120 -
132 13 R.A. Dickey - 107 - - - 119 111
133 13 Mike Foltynewicz - - 106 130 - 117 -
134 13 Trevor May - 125 117 - - - 120
135 13 CJ Wilson - 118 - - 94 - -
136 13 Matt Wisler - 119 - - 116 - -
137 13 Jered Weaver - 120 - - 117 - -
138 13 Jorge de la Rosa - - - - 111 - -
139 13 Miguel Gonzalez - 122 - - 110 - -
140 13 Chris Bassitt - - - - - 113 -
141 13 Rich Hill 87 - - - - - -

 

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