Evaluating pitchers for fantasy purposes is difficult at best. We measure them in categories they largely can’t control. Obviously, strikeouts and walks are directly in their control, but wins, WHIP, and ERA (to a lesser extent) are dependent largely on the support they have from the fielders behind him, relief pitchers that follow them, and performance of the hitters on their team. Then, we get the added specter of batted ball luck.
Like with the hitters, we are marrying the four major categories (saves are obviously not a consideration) with total points. We do that by projecting their performance across either 150 or 180 innings depending on their health history. We then compare those projections with their total points from the past three seasons and total points and total points per games started over those three seasons.
Total points= (2) Innings + (3) wins + SO – ER – Hits – BB
Max Scherzer—Washington Nationals
Points: 1416 (1st)
PPS: 14.46 (2nd)
Projection: 15 wins/2.68 ERA/209 SO/0.93 WHIP (1st)
Attendance matters and there is no position where attendance matters more than with starting pitchers. Scherzer is a borderline first rounder in fantasy circles because he seems as close to a lock as any to have 30 starters and at least 180 innings this season. The projection is actually low in strikeouts and wins, but 180 innings is all I’m willing to commit across the board.
Chris Sale—Boston Red Sox
Points: 1347 (2nd)
PPS: 14.80 (1st)
Projection: 14 wins/2.85 ERA/234 SO/0.96 WHIP (2nd)
The choice between Sale and Kluber is a brutal one. Sale is pound for pound the more dominant pitcher, but he has not been able to stay healthy the past two seasons. Maybe his arm falls off or maybe he is finally able to give us the 180 innings we’ve been waiting for. If he starts 30 games this year he is a lock to win the Cy Young award.
Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians
Points: 1336 (3rd)
PPS: 14.21 (4th)
Projection: 16 wins/2.77 ERA/203 SO/0.97 WHIP (3rd)
Kluber has come up snake-eyes the past two seasons in the playoffs. The Indians were rumored to have been shopping him around this winter. I don’t know if those two facts are related or not, but the Indians window for contention is closing as they lost a few good hitters and few good relievers in the process.
Justin Verlander—Houston Astros
Points: 1321 (4th)
PPS: 13.08 (5th)
Projection: 13 wins/2.98 ERA/212 SO/1.02 WHIP (5th)
Betting on power pitchers in their mid-thirties is a risky proposition. They tend to lose their effectiveness and they don’t do it gradually. Verlander has one more year on his deal with the Astros. Depending on how long he wants to continue to pitch, he has plenty of motivation to stay on top of his game.
Jacob deGrom—New York Mets
Points: 1094 (5th)
PPS: 12.57 (6th)
Projection: 13 wins/2.70 ERA/207 SO/1.09 WHIP (4th)
Jacob deGrom is a better pitcher than some of the guys on the list above him, but so much of a pitcher’s fantasy ranking depends on things he can’t control. The Mets look much better on paper than they have in the past, so maybe that should vault him above Verlander, but these rankings are based on past results.
Clayton Kershaw—Los Angeles Dodgers
Points: 1062 (6th)
PPS: 14.35 (3rd)
Projection: 12 wins/2.26 ERA/167 SO/0.91 WHIP (7th)
Give him 180 innings and he jumps up the board into the top three. It’s hard to give him those innings after the past two seasons. He has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown after being the best pitcher in baseball over the past decade. Where he stands in the game’s history depends on his ability to stay on the mound.
Carlos Carrasco—Cleveland Indians
Points: 1019 (7th)
PPS: 11.71 (8th)
Projection: 15 wins/3.33 ERA/203 SO/1.12 WHIP (6th)
Seeing two Indians in the top seven shows how dominant the top teams in the game are. Throw in Trevor Bauer and you can see why the Indians are still the favorites to win the AL Central. Sadly, the offense and bullpen will not be as strong as they were in the past, so he might not be quite this valuable in reality.
Stephen Strasburg—Washington Nationals
Points: 910 (10th)
PPS: 12.30 (7th)
Projection: 13 wins/3.22 ERA/180 SO/1.10 WHIP (8th)
Strasburg is another pitcher that would rank higher if we could count on him being healthy for a full season. With the huge contract the Nationals gave to Patrick Corbin, it is easy to forget about Strasburg, but he has been one of the best in fantasy sports on a per start basis.
Aaron Nola—Philadelphia Phillies
Points: 880 (13th)
PPS: 11.00 (11th)
Projection: 13 wins/3.32 ERA/194 SO/1.13 WHIP (11th)
Nola and Greinke are neck and neck in the rankings. Given the relative health concerns of pitchers, it seems prudent to favor the one closer to his prime. Plus, they’ve already added Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura to their vaunted offensive attack.
Zack Greinke—Arizona Diamondbacks
Points: 953 (8th)
PPS: 10.47 (14th)
Projection: 14 wins/3.50 ERA/173 SO/1.13 WHIP (13th)
Greinke has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade. It’s funny how a potential Hall of Fame pitcher gets relegated to barely being in the top ten. The Dbacks have been looking to deal him, but as long as he stays he probably tumbles even further down the list.
Luis Severino—New York Yankees
Points: 829 (17th)
PPS: 11.20 (9th)
Projection: 14 wins/3.60 ERA/204 SO/1.15 WHIP (10th)
Severino really only has two seasons under his belt, so that is killing his total points. Give him one more full season and he is likely to vault into the top ten in 2020. Given the Yankees relative strength, you could definitely justify throwing him into the top ten.
Trevor Bauer—Cleveland Indians
Points: 893 (11th)
PPS: 10.38 (16th)
Projection: 14 wins/3.58 ERA/194 SO/1.26 WHIP (16th)
As good as Bauer has been the past two seasons, you can’t help but feel the storm clouds are coming. For one, their lineup and bullpen has taken a huge hit this offseason. For another, he did miss a little time last season with nagging injuries. Those have a way of returning for pitchers.
Gerrit Cole—Houston Astros
Points: 892 (12th)
PPS: 10.37 (17th)
Projection: 12 wins/3.29 ERA/198 SO/1.21 WHIP (15th)
The needle for Cole is pointed up. His last two seasons in Pittsburgh are dragging him down a bit, but the Astros have as talented a lineup (including fielding) and bullpen as any in the league. Couple that with a pitching coach that can get the most out of anyone and he could be a sleeper yet again.
Kyle Hendricks—Chicago Cubs
Points: 873 (14th)
PPS: 9.92 (18th)
Projection: 13 wins/2.86 ERA/155 SO/1.10 WHIP (12th)
Hendricks’ brilliant 2016 season is still driving this average down. He probably is a lot closer to the pitcher he was the last two seasons. That’s still gives him a combined 21-16 record with an ERA below 3.50 and a WHIP below 1.20. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, but otherwise he looks like an elite pitcher.
Jon Lester—Chicago Cubs
Points: 914 (9th)
PPS: 9.52 (22nd)
Projection: 16 wins/3.33 ERA/168 SO/1.21 WHIP (14th)
Lester looked better than Hendricks last season, but this is a three-year projection and three- year total points universe. The bigger the sample size the clearer the picture. Moving forward, the only way he is superior to Hendricks is in his ability to win games. Wins have little to do with the pitcher himself.
Madison Bumgarner—San Francisco
Points: 798 (18th)
PPS: 11.08 (10th)
Projection: 8 Wins/3.03 ERA/148 SO/1.10 WHIP (21st)
There is always tension involved when deciding whether to gamble on past performance or future projections. Bumgarner has been unhealthy and a lot more hittable lately. One might be related to the other, so he could either steadily get worse or rebound if it is linked to health. It’s a contract year, so there’s a lot riding on that question.
Masahiro Tanaka—New York Yankees
Points: 864 (15th)
PPS: 9.82 (19th)
Projection: 13 Wins/3.83 ERA/175 SO/1.15 WHIP (17th)
Through the all-star break last season, it looked like he would drop off the list completely, but he rebounded to post the same kind of numbers he has in past seasons. He is really a step below some other guys not on this list, but he wins consistently and puts up good strikeout numbers. That’s literally half the battle.
Blake Snell—Tampa Bay Rays
Points: 709 (23rd)
PPS: 9.58 (21st)
Projection: 14 Wins/2.95 ERA/198 SO/1.23 WHIP (8th)
Here we see the difference between projections and total points. Snell doesn’t have three full seasons worth of numbers to go on. For those that might want to discount these rankings, just look at what the Cy Young award winners have done in the subsequent season. He shouldn’t tumble out of the top 20, but he might not be top ten material again either.
Noah Syndergaard—New York Mets
Points: 682 (24th)
PPS: 11.00 (11th)
Projection: 11 Wins/2.81 ERA/166 SO/1.17 WHIP (17th)
Again, we find a pitcher that would rank much higher if we could count on him to get 30 starts. Sadly, we can’t. He has four seasons in the big leagues and only one of them saw him make 30 starts. He had 218 strikeouts in that season and won 14 games. He could easily surpass those numbers if he is completely healthy.
James Paxton—New York Yankees
Points: 755 (22nd)
PPS: 10.49 (13th)
Projection: 10 Wins/3.52 ERA/173 SO/1.16 WHIP (22nd)
Paxton was on his way to a brilliant season last year when he was struck with illness and injury in the same season. He seems to have been snake bit with nagging injuries every year. The Yankees are rolling the dice that he can turn in a healthy campaign. If he does he is a borderline top ten pitcher.