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The Most Profitable Pitchers of the Last Five Years

If you missed last week’s column on the most profitable hitters of the last five years, you can find it here.

That post explains the methodology behind this work, and acknowledges the considerable help I received from colleagues throughout the process.

Today I'm here to take a look at the pitchers - players who have offered fantasy owners the greatest return on investment since the 2013 season

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!


Single-Season Leaders

2013: Hisashi Iwakuma, $23.96 ($28.10 AV | $4.14 EV)

Iwakuma’s first full season in the Mariners’ rotation resulted in a fantastic performance (14 W, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 185 K). This showing provided roughly equivalent value to fantasy owners as Cliff Lee, Yu Darvish, and Adam Wainwright. All three of those pitchers were top-50 picks by ADP, while Iwakuma barely cracked the top 250.

2014: Johnny Cueto, $34.39 ($41.50 AV | $7.11 EV)

Cueto had a career season in 2014, winning 20 games with sparkling ratios (2.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and nearly a strikeout per inning over an NL-high 243 2/3 frames. Despite his success in 2011 – 12, an injury-shortened 2013 scared owners off and made him a bargain in the 14th round of standard league drafts. This year, an injury-shortened 2017 has Cueto’s ADP in the 12th round. Hmmmm…

2015: Jake Arrieta, $38.05 ($51.20 AV | $13.15 EV)

No surprise here; we all remember how fantastic Arrieta was in 2015. His 2014 breakout had caught owners’ attention enough to make him a seventh-round pick and the #21 starting pitcher off the board that year. Those who made the investment were rewarded with the most valuable pitcher performance in fantasy baseball over this five-year sample. Shout out to Dallas Keuchel, whose 2015 was one of only three pitcher seasons to deliver at least $30.00 in profit during that time – Arrieta and Cueto, of course, being the others.

2016: Rick Porcello, $27.44 ($29.1 AV | $1.66 EV)

In the future, scientists will study Porcello’s 2016 season and be baffled by how a mediocre pitcher came out of nowhere to win a Cy Young. His 22 victories (tied with Arrieta the prior season for the most in the last five years) were a driving force behind his value, but Porcello also posted tidy ratios (3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) and a respectable 189 strikeouts over 223 innings.

2017: Luis Severino, $27.63 ($28.20 AV | $0.57 EV)

In this sample, there have been 42 pitcher seasons that returned at least a $25.00 actual value. Along with Porcello the prior year, Severino’s 2017 is one of the only two which came from a pitcher drafted outside the top 300. If you want the Yankees’ young ace for 2018, you’ll need to pony up a third-round pick.


2013 – 2017 Leaders

5. Chris Sale, $27.79 ($139.20 AV | $111.41 EV)

Sale has only been drafted outside the top 10 starting pitchers once in the last five years (17th in 2013) and has been top 5 in each of the last three. It’s tough to turn a profit at such a high draft cost, but Sale has managed to do so. Only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have produced more value than Sale over the last five seasons.

4. Zack Greinke, $35.47 ($120.60 AV | $85.13 EV)

Greinke would rank even higher here if not for his injury-marred 2016, in which he finished about $18.00 in the red. He’s fifth in actual value over the five-year sample anyway, and has turned a profit in every season besides 2016.

3. Jake Arrieta, $46.30 ($108.70 AV | $62.40 EV)

Almost all Arrieta’s profit margin came in his incredible 2015 season; he’s actually underwater the last two years. At his current price, though, he’ll turn a slight profit even if he just maintains last year’s level of production. Of course, he doesn’t have a team yet.

2. Max Scherzer, $47.78 ($172.00 AV | $124.22 EV)

Outside of 2014, when he essentially broke even, Scherzer turned a profit for his owners every year in this sample. Over those five years, he leads all pitchers in innings, wins, and strikeouts, while ranking fifth in ERA and second in WHIP. He’s obviously been priced like an ace for most of that time, but he’s stayed healthy and maintained that elite production throughout. That’s been enough for him to make an appearance on this list.

1. Corey Kluber, $50.35 ($123.70 AV | $73.35 EV)

Kluber accumulated the bulk of his surplus value in 2014 and 2017, his two Cy Young seasons. He also finds himself on this list thanks to finishing on the positive side of the ledger in all but one season. That was 2015, wherein a lack of run support and some crappy luck led to a 9-16 record for Cleveland’s ace. Kluber’s typically excellent ratios and high strikeout total kept him within spitting distance of earning his draft cost anyway.


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