We’re jumping straight into the next batch of SPs this week. On the whole, pitchers in this class won’t provide the jaw-dropping numbers of the early-round selections, but it never fails that a handful of them will work their way up to SP2 and even SP1 status as the season progresses. It’s all about being able to pick out the gems before your leaguemates, and I have a feeling the first hurler on this week’s list will be a popular choice.
*If you need a refresher on SPs ranked 1-20, you can find them here.
21. James Shields (SD) – Shields was destined to land somewhere in the 21-30 range depending on what team he chose to sign with. As you can tell by my ranking, I wholeheartedly approve of his decision to sign with the Padres as it relates to his fantasy outlook. We all know the wonders of Petco on a pitcher’s prospects, and Big Game James should be no different. But before we get too carried away, keep a few things in mind: Shields is a fly-ball pitcher that is walking away from the best outfield defense in the game in Kansas City and replacing it with the trio of Kemp, J. Upton and Myers. In a cavernous stadium, that tradeoff is going to cost him a few outs. Also, Shields is entering his age-33 season and has thrown at least 200 innings in eight consecutive seasons. Not saying that wear and tear is going to catch up with him this year, but we are creeping closer with every turn of the calendar. He’s a surefire SP2, but probably doesn’t belong in the mid-teens where others may be tempted to take him
Projection: 13-11, 3.24 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 183 K
22. Tyson Ross (SD) – Whereas Shields has stolen much of the thunder in the San Diego rotation, an opportunity to snatch Tyson Ross on the cheap could be looming. I was very curious to see how he would build on a solid finish to 2013, and boy did he shine last season posting a 2.81 ERA in 195.2 IP with a 9.0 K/9 to boot. Ross should be less affected by the substandard outfield defense than Shields as well considering his 1.39 GB/FB ratio. One of my favorite targets in 2015.
Projection: 13-10, 3.29 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 192 K
23. Jake Arrieta (CHC) – If we were ranking starters based on the impressiveness of their 2014 numbers, Arrieta’s name would’ve flashed much sooner than this. After a disappointing run in Baltimore, the soon-to-be 29-year old put together a sparkling campaign including a 2.53 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with a FIP of 2.26 that suggests he could’ve been even better. Those kinds of numbers can happen when you nearly triple your K/BB ratio in one season. The only thing holding Arrieta back is his workload. The 156.2 IP he notched last year were a career high. Should Arrieta be able to take the next step and approach 200 IP, my projection, fortuitous as it is, could end up being on the conservative side.
Projection: 13-11, 3.23 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 194 K
24. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) – Much like Tyson Ross is now dealing with, sharing the stage with a big name suppresses just how much publicity Hisashi Iwakuma should get for what he’s done. Although the surface numbers took a step back in 2014, Iwakuma was again able to lower his already elite BB/9 (1.1) while maintaining a solid K/9 (7.7). His contributions in WHIP are something you just won’t find past this point. The September swoon he went through last season due to groin and back injuries shouldn’t carry over, so take advantage of the opportunity for a discount.
Projection: 15-9, 3.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 168 K
25. Gerrit Cole (PIT) – Will this be the year? We’ve seen the flashes of brilliance. Now we need to see Gerrit Cole put it together for an entire, injury-free season. 138 K in 138 IP suggest he’s as dominant as has been expected, but two prolonged absences in 2014 kept Cole from reaching the heights those who invested in him were hoping for. Being ranked in the top-25 means he has to take a step forward to meet his draft day price, but it also means you still have plenty of room to turn a profit should that step be a substantial one.
Projection: 14-8, 3.40 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 187 K
26. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) – There aren’t too many pitchers who can go from winning 21 games three years ago to being the fourth-best option on their own staff. Then again, there aren’t too many staffs that look like that of the Washington Nationals. A shoulder scare cost Gonzalez six starts last year and put a damper on what many hoped would be a return to 2012 levels. Still, his 3.02 FIP suggests there’s still plenty left in the tank and his 2015 numbers should be as steady as we’ve come to expect.
Projection: 15-9, 3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 189 K
27. Jacob DeGrom (NYM) – Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year burst on the scene without much of any fanfare and turned in a scintillating campaign that has Met fans very excited about their young staff. DeGrom’s entire season was strong, but his second half was almost mind-blowing. In his last 15 starts, he went 9-2 with 110 K and a 1.99 ERA in 99.1 IP. He was the kind of free agent pickup that helped win many people their leagues, but this year the price tag is considerably higher, as it should be. We’ll see if DeGrom can do it again now that there’s a book out on him, but even a minor regression will still result in a terrific sophomore season.
Projection: 11-9, 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 188 K
28. Doug Fister (WAS) – Did I mention the Nationals are loaded? This makes five starters in the top-30, and one could argue that Fister was the best of the bunch last season. He built that sterling 2.41 ERA on the back of a career-low 1.3 BB/9 and a .265 BABIP, which comes in 30 points below his career mark. It was a remarkable pitch-to-contact season that saw Fister fall short of even reaching triple digits in strikeouts. Naturally, his numbers are due for a market correction, but he should still provide strong ratios and plenty of win potential.
Projection: 14-10, 3.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 133 K
29. Alex Wood (ATL) – Although his delivery may not be the most aesthetically pleasing in the league, it certainly gets the job done. Wood was jerked between the rotation and the bullpen early on in 2014, but once he found a full-time role as a starter late in June, he paid huge dividends for owners. From June 25 on, Wood posted a 2.43 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 107 K in 17 starts and made Atlanta’s decision to move on from Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy that much easier. He’s part of a solid core of young players that will continue to improve as the Braves keep an eye towards 2017 and the opening of their new stadium.
Projection: 12-11, 3.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 181 K
30. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) – All that kept Ryu from a spot closer to the top-20 were a pair of trips to the DL that limited him to just 152 innings last season. After an impressive first year with the Dodgers in 2013, his K/BB ratio jumped over 50% while giving up only eight home runs for the year. Ryu won’t blow you away with his stuff or put up mesmerizing strikeout totals, but at the end of the day his numbers will be exactly what you expect out of a pitcher his caliber. For the risk averse, Hyun-Jin Ryu is your man.
Projection: 14-10, 3.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 162 K
31. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY) – We go from the safe, solid, almost boring outlook of Ryu to one of the most divisive names in the game. I can tell you right now that, with a rank outside the top-30, I have no shot of landing Tanaka on any of my teams. Someone is going to look at what he did last year and take him much earlier than this. If it pays off, then that owner will have a top-10, even top-5 caliber pitcher at his disposal for pennies on the dollar. But that’s a risk I’m not willing to take quite this early considering the nature of Tanaka’s UCL injury. Ron Darling, who, like Tanaka, specialized in the splitter, says it’s “certainly a gamble” for the Yankees to opt to go the non-surgery route and I’m inclined to believe him. He’ll pitch well when he’s out there, but just how long will that be?
Projection: 10-7, 3.17 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 152 K
32. Anibal Sanchez (DET) – If you want to call last year a disappointment after what Anibal Sanchez did in 2013, go ahead. Just don’t look for me to be joining you. I get that he had a superb season and all the peripherals were there, but Sanchez’s track record suggested that was more of an outlier than a paradigm shift. Sure enough, he came back down to Earth and now everyone’s going to discount him too much as a result. Your loss. I’ll take a mid-threes ERA and a sub-1.10 WHIP (his 2014 totals) any day of the week. He even improved on his 2013 league-leading HR/9 rate to boot. Yes, the time he missed due to injury was painful to owners, but Sanchez should be back around 190 IP again and be a steadying influence as an SP3.
Projection: 13-9, 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 173 K
33. Cliff Lee (PHI) – Now here’s the veteran pitcher I’m more pessimistic about than most. After six straight seasons of 200+ IP, the wheels fell off for Cliff Lee in 2014. He battled elbow inflammation early on and, after three starts in July, was forced to sit out the duration after totaling only 81.1 innings. Like Tanaka, the Phillies decided against surgery so there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the now 36-year old. Of utmost importance to me is his diminishing fastball velocity and whether or not he can survive pounding the strike zone like he does with less juice. If you believe 2014 was an anamoly, you’re taking Cliff Lee ahead of some previous names on this list. I, however, think we’re witnessing the beginning of the end.
Projection: 10-12, 3.48 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 152 K
34. Andrew Cashner (SD) – Cashner has been a favorite of mine for a couple of years now. I was all in on him last year and the results were mixed. His ratios were elite, but as has been the trouble with owning him, injuries derailed his availability and he only managed 123.1 IP. I still love his stuff and am convinced that we will soon see his strikeout numbers reflect how nasty he can be (think 8.0+ K/9). Odds are, his final ranking will be nowhere near the mid-30s as he’ll either be curtailed by injuries again or finally put together a full season of dominance.
Projection: 9-11, 3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 149 K
35. Garrett Richards (LAA) – If you want Exhibit A as to why I have so much faith in a guy like Cashner, it’s Garrett Richards. No one ever questioned Richards’ arm talent and he finally put it all together in the form of a 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 164 K in 168.2 IP. Unfortunately, a freak knee injury cost him the last month and a half of what was a breakout campaign. While I don’t expect Richards to sustain the level of excellence he reached last year, there’s no questioning he will be an above-average fantasy starter when he gets back on the mound. The only question is, when will that be? He was cleared to throw off a mound for the first time on February 9th, but there is still no target date set for Richards’ return. I would count on him being sidelined for all of April and this ranking is reflective of that. If he misses more time, he might not make enough starts to provide SP3-type numbers. However, should he return sooner (and Richards himself is targeting Opening Day), there’s immense value to be had here.
Projection: 13-8, 3.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 164 K
36. Michael Wacha (STL) – Sure seems like that playoff run of 2013 was a long time ago for Wacha. It’s not that he didn’t pitch well last year (3.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.17 FIP), but only making 14 starts can leave a bad taste in an owner’s mouth. By all indications, Wacha is fully recovered from the stress fracture in his right shoulder and should be good to go come the start of the season. While anyone expecting results comparable to his rookie season is probably pushing the envelope a little too much, he should take another step forward towards his first full big league campaign.
Projection: 13-9, 3.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 157 K
37. Mat Latos (MIA) – Is Mat Latos a pitcher? That’s the question that’s going to surround his first and possibly only season with the Marlins. We know him as the young fireballer who could light up the radar gun and who struck out between 185-189 every year from 2010 to 2013. But injuries have forced Latos to change his approach and last season his K/9 took a stark dip to 6.5 as a result. The electric stuff is gone and Latos now relies more on cutters, sinkers and his newly developed splitter as a contact pitcher who is walking fewer batters. While this does limit much of his upside, you still have a serviceable starter who is going from a hitter’s park to a notable pitcher’s park in Miami.
Projection: 12-12, 3.47 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 162 K
38. Homer Bailey (CIN) – For as good a pitcher as Homer Bailey is, it’s hard not to think of what might’ve been. If that sounds a little postmortem-esque, it’s because I’ve thrown in the towel on Bailey being the top flight starter many, including myself, predicted he would become. I keep waiting for that magical season only to be let down year after year. He certainly had a good close to 2014 (2.66 ERA from June on) before a torn flexor mass tendon in his right arm ended his season, but I’ve seen too many of these flashes to buy into him being anything more than an inconsistent SP3. If you can judge the ebbs and flows of his season with any success, then he may be a valuable commodity to you, but I’d rather let him be somebody else’s headache.
Projection: 12-8, 3.52 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 159 K
39. Chris Archer (TB) – Archer is another one of these young bucks who’s got a ton of physical attributes and upside. He fell just short of 200 innings last year and recorded 173 K as one of the few bright spots for the Rays. In order to take the next step and reach the upper echelon of starters, Archer has to do a better job of keeping the bases clean. His BB rate jumped from 2.7 in 2013 to 3.3 in 2014 and he gave up nearly one full hit more per nine innings as well. He’ll be a very popular sleeper candidate this year, just make sure not to let that inflate his draft stock too much.
Projection: 12-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 181 K
40. Carlos Carrasco (CLE) – Nothing in Carrasco’s major league profile suggested he should’ve done what he did the last two months of 2014. To put it in perspective, there might not have been a better starting pitcher in all of baseball from August 10th on. In his 10 starts, Carrasco compiled a 1.30 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 78 K in 69 IP, numbers that lifted some in the fantasy playoffs to a title. Even if you dismiss that as nothing more than a fluke, the sheer fact that Carrasco has the ability to put together a stretch that good makes me want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Based on performance alone, Carrasco has as wide a range of outcomes in 2015 as any pitcher out there and will be quite the dice roll on draft day.
Projection: 10-9, 3.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 167 K
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