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Starting Pitcher ROS Rankings – May Update (Fantasy Baseball)

Wow, quite a bit has changed since Opening Day back in late-March. We are just under two months into the season so a starting pitcher rankings update was well overdue. I also included my relief pitcher ranking updates as well. In the blurbs below, I’ll cover the pitchers who have seen significant movement since opening day. If a player has been injured, they, of course, have dropped in the rankings. I won’t cover them as it’s obvious why they have fallen. There are some pitchers who are intriguing and have shown skills changes (both good and bad) discussed below. Note: The ECR +/- is based on FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings, not my previous ranks. Click here for my preseason rankings.

 

BIGGEST RISERS

Caleb Smith (SP – MIA) +73 and Pablo Lopez (SP – MIA) +93
Yeah, Smith has been unbelievable this year. I had him ranked just inside the top 100 (99th) at the start the season and now he’s inside the top 20! To my credit, I did rank him as the top Marlins pitcher followed by Richards and Lopez. Smith has earned a 28.5% K-BB% which ranks fourth in all of baseball! All of the ERA estimators have him regressing closer to an ERA near 3.00, but given his skills, that puts him inside the top 20 overall for SPs.  Lopez has jumped over Richards as the Marlins second best option. His 5.06 ERA does not indicate how good he’s been. He has a 1.17 WHIP, an 18% K-BB%, and his ERA estimators have him closer to 3.65. I’ve bumped him up to 56th overall but could be higher if he didn’t pitch for one of the worst teams in the league. The same could be said for Smith (who could be top 15). Smith is long gone but Lopez may still be available in 12-team leagues.

Lucas Giolito (SP – CHW) +95
How fitting. Giolito just threw a complete game shutout against the Astros striking out nine batters. He’s been an absolute beast this year. I thought about bumping him up even more but feel that he’s safe in the upper-30s. Clearly, I was not in on Giolito coming into the season after a disastrous 6.13 ERA in 2018. He’s doing everything right. His K% is up to a whopping 12%, his walk rate is down over two percent, and he’s given up just three homers in 52 innings! That home run rate probably won’t stick but his improvements look somewhat legit. He dropped his sinker usage and is throwing his changeup more. Increasing his FB velocity has helped as well. He’s getting ahead of hitters and has a career-high zone rate. Now for the not so great. I don’t want to completely throw cold water on Giolito but he doesn’t quite have elite swing and miss stuff and when the weather heats up in Chicago, he’s in for some regression. Still, I think he’s more of 24-25% K rate pitcher with a home run per nine innings. I’d put him closer to a 3.50-3.60 ERA with near a strikeout per inning. 

Matt Boyd (SP – DET) +33
Based on FantasyPros Expert Consensus, my rank was on average 28 spots higher than the other experts. I guess you could call this one a victory for me but then why do I only own one share? Sad. I loved what I saw with his slider last season and he was one of my favorite weekly streamers. He really was just one step away from being very good which is why I boosted him in my preseason ranks. Well, he’s taken that next step and looks a lot like Patrick Corbin from last season. Other than very little run support, Boyd looks like a great SP2/3 this year with some upside. The AL Central is full of mediocre and poor offensive clubs (sans Minnesota), so I don’t see much regression in Boyd’s numbers.

Chris Paddack (SP – SD) +44
The rookie sensation has been fantastic in the early going. He’s got the stuff, he’s got command, and he’s got control. It will be interesting to see how the Padres handle him. He’s rumored to get only 140 innings this year but he’s starting every sixth day. At his current pace, he would be shut down with about three weeks remaining in the regular season. That kind of sucks for head-to-head leagues but should be just fine for roto leagues.

Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD) +16
Kershaw might not be the best pitcher in baseball but he’s doing the best with his declining velocity and skills. He’s throwing his breaking balls nearly 60% of the time but it does appear to be working. His control and command are elite and should be a top 15 starting pitcher if he remains healthy. Let’s just hope his back issues stay away for four more months.

Luis Castillo (SP – CIN) +15
Everywhere you look, people are calling for regression with Castillo and we saw some of that against the Brewers on Wednesday but his quality of contact against has been elite. Per BaseballSavant, his xwOBA is .249 which is just insane. My boo from last offseason is off to a hell of a start and has now essentially been an ace over the last calendar year. Here are his numbers since May 24th, 2018:
182.2 IP 12-9 3.25 ERA 1.08 WHIP 193 Strikeouts

That’s what I call a borderline ace. His changeup has been the best in the bigs this year. He’s close, but not quite there. His zone rate is dangerously low and it’s really bumped his walk rate. If he can dip his BB% to 8-9%, he’s going to be a monster.

FALLERS

Nick Pivetta (SP – PHI) -55
Ouch Nicky P. Was Pivetta a sleeper if everyone loved him coming into the season? Unfortunately, K-BB% isn’t everything. Quality of contact and location of pitches in the zone are extremely important. Pivetta may be recalled soon as he’s pitched well in Triple-A, I’m just no running to the waiver wire to add him save for deep leagues. He’s walking more batters and his BABIP is low in the minors. In over 315 innings in the bigs, his BABIP is .335. He just won’t succeed if those numbers continue.

Kyle Freeland (SP – COL) -65
Outside of injury or demotion, Freeland is the biggest faller from my preseason ranks. Coors Field is a bitch, amirite? Freeland has already given up 12 home runs this year after giving up 17 in all of 2018. We all knew regression was coming but no one expected this much. He’s still struggling with walks and the juiced ball has really hurt his home run rate. But, he’s also turned into a fly ball pitcher with his fly ball rate over 40% (up 6%). He’s not likely this bad but given him limitations with strikeouts, he’s not rosterable in 12 or even 14-team leagues. 

Miles Mikolas (SP – STL) -43
I had him at 24 in my preseason rankings as I believed his stuff could induce more swings and misses and therefore net more strikeouts. That has clearly not been the case. It figures that a pitcher who pitches to contact would get bitten by the juiced ball. Duh. As strikeout rates continue to rise, Mikolas’ K rate is falling. Mikolas doesn’t appeal to me as a fantasy player in this era. I missed on this one.

Ross Stripling (SP – LAD) -35
Well, we knew the risk going into the season with Stripling and other Dodgers starters. There’s a ton of skill and depth in that rotation but also a lot of uncertainty in terms of health. It’s difficult to rank Stripling any higher even though he’s been very successful as a starter. As a bullpen arm, he falls outside the top 100 but as a starter, he’s a top 40 option. In deep leagues, hold him, in shallow leagues, he’s a clear cut.

If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter @FreezeStats


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2019 Top 25 Starting Pitcher Rankings

Early 2019 Rankings for Starting Pitchers

Very little introduction here. Pretty straightforward, I rank my top 25 starting pitchers and follow up below with a blurb about some of the players and rankings. I touch on a few players that are left off and why. I plan on spitting out positional rankings as soon as the new year flips. On with it!

RANKPLAYERTEAM
1Max ScherzerWas
2Chris SaleBOS
3Jacob deGromNYM
4Justin VerlanderHOU
5Trevor BauerCLE
6Aaron NolaPHI
7Corey KluberCLE
8Blake SnellTB
9Gerrit ColeHOU
10Carlos CarrascoCLE
11Patrick CorbinWAS
12Luis SeverinoNYY
13Walker BuehlerLAD
14Noah SyndergaardNYM
15Clayton KershawLAD
16Stephen StasburgWAS
17German MarquezCOL
18James PaxtonNYY
19Zack GreinkeARI
20Mike ClevingerCLE
21Jameson TaillonPIT
22Zack WheelerNYM
23Jose BerriosMIN
24Jack FlahertySTL
25Mike FoltynewiczATL

I’ve been flip-flopping on Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale in the #2 spot. Sale’s skills are so far off the charts, that all he needs to do it reach 170 innings to provide the second most fantasy value per my projections. I have him at 182 IP and deGrom at 203 IP, so Sale gets the nod. If Sale could grace us with 200 IP, he’d be ahead of Scherzer, but Max is such a bulldog and has a badass name, so there’s that. If you search FanGraphs pitcher leaderboard for 2018, Sale doesn’t even show up because he only threw 158 innings. I guess you need 160 to qualify? If you’re wondering, Sale ranked 64th overall in innings pitched last season. However, his 237 strikeouts were good for 6th in MLB. You read that right, his 38.4% K rate laughed in the face of Justin Verlander, who finished 2nd at 34.8%.

I have a feeling that some of you are sitting there with your mouth agape looking at Trevor Bauer at number five overall. Here’s the deal though, Bauer ranked 4th overall in ERA and 8th is K% last season. Remember, he basically missed the last month+ with a stress fracture in his right leg. If we remove his short outings upon his return in late September, Bauer averaged 6.64 Innings per start. This is important for a lot of reasons but mostly because Bauer would have finished with around 215 innings and ranked 3rd or 4th in value for 2018. The average number of innings per start in 2018 was under 5.4, so yes, 6.64 is fantastic. Check out his Twitter and his work ethic, he’s always looking to improve. Me like Bauer!

I’m down a bit on Luis Severino, check out my player profile I posted a few days ago. Basically, Severino lacks a third quality pitch. Also, when he doesn’t properly elevate his 98 mph fastball, he gets punished. He also doesn’t possess a strong putaway pitch outside of his slider, that my friends can limit his strikeout upside. Sure, a K/9 between 9.5 and 10 is solid but because he’s grooving too many pitches, his ratios may take a hit. I like him, but he’s a back-end ace for me.

Yes, Walker Buehler is over Clayton Kershaw. I’m not going to wait until Kershaw completely breaks down to put Buehler ahead of him like those big box sites. This kid is for real and shouldn’t be limited to much of an innings cap (if at all) for 2019. We saw his skills and strikeout potential improve as the season roared on. Kershaw, on the other hand, is seeing his skills deteriorate and injuries have sapped his innings upside. Here’s the trend on Kershaw. K% last three seasons: 31.6%, 29.8%, 23.9%. The contact rates against him have jumped by 8% in that timeframe as well. It’s not just the strikeouts though, his homerun rate has spiked the last two seasons and has been firmly above league-average. Kershaw is a gamer and has a badass curve that he needs to throw more than 40% of the time to be successful. He will be fine, but not an ace.

Starting Pitchers who just Missed

The newly signed Tampa Bay Ray, Charlie Morton landed in the number 26 spot on my list. I very much wanted to put him in my top 25 but Morton’s win rate the last two season with Houston will not stand. Morton tallied 29 wins in only 55 starts with the Astros. Tampa is a good team but Morton has averaged just 157 innings the last two seasons and just turned 35. I love his stuff and that’s why he’s inside my top 30 despite the low innings projection.

A couple of boring low-strikeout guys Miles Mikolas and Kyle Hendricks are slotted at 27 and 28 because they have some very solid consistent skills. These guys have incredible control and regularly induce soft contact. Let’s play a little game of who is it? Who is the pitcher with the 5th lowest ERA since 2016? Did I give it away? Yes, it’s Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks. I don’t love the strikeout trend for Hendricks (hint: it’s going in the wrong direction), but he seems to defy the sabermetrics that I love so much. Mikolas is just a stud when it comes to control and pairs his elite slider with a solid 94-95 mph fastball. He keeps the ball on the ground which is muy importante when it comes to a lower strikeout rate.

I’ll get into guys like Rich Hill and Luis Castillo when I finalize my SP rankings and player projections, but both hover around 30 overall. Stay tuned.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

If you enjoyed this ranking and writeup, follow me on Twitter @FreezeStats