“Round Robinson”: Top 100 Starting Pitchers for 2015 (41-70) (Part 3 of 4)
Now we really start getting into the nitty-gritty of starting pitching. Proof of the depth of the position will be found right here as there is a plethora of useful arms forthcoming. We’ve got something for all crowds whether you’re looking for reliable veterans or high-upside youngsters, depending on how you’re looking to construct your staff. Round Robinson Inc. is about to drop a whole lot of knowledge your way, so let’s take a look at the best names still on the board. You can find out who’s already made the cut by checking out my pitchers ranked 1-20 and 21-40.
41. Lance Lynn (STL) – He won’t garner any of the headlines away from Wainwright, Wacha or even Carlos Martinez, but quietly Lance Lynn put together the best season of his young in career in 2014. Granted, his 2.74 ERA bares very little chance of being repeated this year, but Lynn has shown he’s among the more consistent starters in the league based on his FIP the last three years (3.49, 3.28, 3.35) and his strikeout totals (180, 198, 181). Even a tiny step back, which I’m projecting him for, still makes for some impressive final numbers.
Projection: 13-11, 3.42 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 178 K
42. Drew Smyly (TB) – When you’re the primary piece returning in the trade that jettisons the best pitcher in Tampa Bay history, expectations will be lofty to say the least. Look, Smyly isn’t David Price and will probably never be David Price, but the numbers he put up in a Rays uniform were certainly Price-esque. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up the strong results over the course of his first full big league workload, but he’s one pitcher whose value has the opportunity to far exceed his draft day price.
Projection: 12-9, 3.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 165 K
43. Jose Quintana (CWS) – Quintana posted a very respectable line in his rookie season of 2012 and has proceeded to take a step forward each subsequent year. He finished last year with a 3.32 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 178 K in 200.1 IP, all very useful contributions. Expecting yet another step forward could be asking too much (although his 2.81 FIP suggests it’s possible) as I don’t see him going another full season allowing just 10 HR while making half his starts at U.S. Cellular. Even so, a small regression will result in another quality campaign.
Projection: 13-8, 3.48 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 174 K
44. Marcus Stroman (TOR) – When we speak of those high-upside young arms, Stroman might as well be the posterboy among this group. His peripherals last year were superb (1.9 BB/9, 2.84 FIP) and speaks to his potential for growth. But now that there’s a book out on him, can he pitch to the level the numbers suggest he can? I say no, for now, but Stroman’s still able to pull off a solid sophomore campaign.
Projection: 11-8, 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 169 K
45. Zack Wheeler (NYM) – Another cog in this impressive young rotation, Zach Wheeler has been the definition of effective wildness since getting called up in 2013. Averaging over a strikeout per inning last year, Wheeler finished with 187 K which, along with his extreme groundball tendencies (1.20 GB/FB), should have pushed him near the elites. Alas, Wheeler just can’t keep the ball over the plate, resulting in a career BB/9 approaching 4.0 and the reason he finds himself buried in SP3/4 territory. If you can handle the hurting he’ll put on your WHIP, the other numbers could more than make up for it.
Projection: 11-9, 3.61 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 184 K
46. Yordano Ventura (KC) – I think the fantasy community has a much better grasp on what to expect out of Ventura this time around. It was easy to see his 100+ MPH fastball and solid arsenal of secondary pitches and expect huge numbers, especially in the strikeout department. The end result was good, but still not up to what some had projected. With his inability to keep the bases clean, Ventura limits his own potential to become a frontline starter, something the Royals need with James Shields no longer in the mix.
Projection: 11-12, 3.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K
47. Danny Salazar (CLE) – If Danny Salazar can improve on his final 12 starts in 2014, this projection will look awfully low come the end of the season. After being recalled on July 22, Salazar had an ERA of 3.50 and an opponents’ batting average of .255 while striking out 73 in 69.1 innings. Those were the kind of numbers expected all season from the breakout candidate. Perhaps we were all just a year too early on projecting his emergence, but he has the chance to achieve those levels of success again this year.
Projection: 11-7, 3.51 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 178 K
48. Michael Pineda (NYY) – If you can’t stomach spending a middle round pick on Andrew Cashner because of his considerable injury history, consider Michael Pineda his late-round comp. Everyone will remember the pine tar incident, but what really cost Pineda his season was a strained shoulder. When he was on the mound, Pineda’s stuff was as good as ever, posting a ridiculous 0.825 WHIP while giving up just 5 HR in 76.1 IP. Even if he’s only able to make 24 starts, the value of Pineda over three-quarters of the season is worth this price.
Projection: 12-8, 3.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 148 K
49. Collin McHugh (HOU) – While he may not be a traditional front-of-the-rotation guy, Collin McHugh sure pitched like it in 2014, sporting a scintillating 2.73 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 25 starts. I wish I could believe in him more, but I have a feeling we’ll look back on McHugh’s career and view last season as the outlier, especially considering his previous failures with the Mets and Rockies. His numbers will definitely play, but don’t get caught paying too much for last year’s production.
Projection: 9-9, 3.61 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 167 K
50. Francisco Liriano (PIT) – So much for the sudden downturn in Liriano’s inflated walk rate. Liriano gave up one full free pass more per nine innings last season than he did in 2013, accounting for the uptick in both his ERA and WHIP. Still, for a pitcher who will never be known for keeping the bases clean, you’ll take a low-to-mid three ERA and all those strikeouts. Build in some room for a spot starter as it’s a safe bet Liriano will miss time at some point, but there will be quality returns when he’s on the mound.
Projection: 11-9, 3.57 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 172 K
51. Jose Fernandez (MIA) – You have to ask yourself how much a half season (at most) of Jose Fernandez is worth. There was no questioning his ability pre-UCL tear, and while I think he gets back near that level at some point, there’s no telling if he resembles his early-2014 self upon his immediate return. When Fernandez does come back, you’ll be getting SP2 numbers from him, but can you resist passing up other names on this list waiting for them?
Projection: 6-4, 3.11 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 103 K
52. Scott Kazmir (OAK) – Further proof of Billy Beane’s magical powers, he not only continued the career rebirth of Scott Kazmir, he helped push him back to an All-Star level. While I can’t endorse a return trip to the midsummer classic, I do expect similar production from the 31-year old in 2015. What hurts Kazmir’s profile the most is the precipitous drop off in strikeouts as he lost nearly 1.5 K/9 last season. He’ll still be a solid contributor across the board, but don’t look at those 15 wins as repeatable in Oakland this year.
Projection: 10-9, 3.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 154 K
53. Mike Fiers (MIL) – Fiers was absolutely filthy after being recalled from AAA in 2014. Not only were his ratios outstanding, but you have to love that he strikes out more than a batter per inning. Sadly, everything points to major regression this year, including his wildly unsustainable .224 BABIP. I think the 2012 version of Fiers is the norm rather than what we saw last year, but that’s still a pretty good pitcher. If you play in a K/9 league, Fiers value steps up another notch or two.
Projection: 11-8, 3.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 164 K
54. Jake Odorizzi (TB) – Odorizzi’s performance last year could best be described as hit-or-miss. While a slow start and a rough finish did a number on his final totals, a 15-start stretch from May to July showed what the righty is capable of. In those 86 IP, Odorizzi had an ERA of 2.83 and struck out 103 while opponents hit just .211 off of him. Upside like that is very tantalizing now that, like Smyly, we should be seeing a 190+ inning workload for the first time. If good Jake can keep bad Jake at bay, there’s plenty of goodness to be found here.
Projection: 11-12, 3.76 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 187 K
55. Phil Hughes (MIN) – Amazing what an exodus from Yankee Stadium can do for a pitcher’s career. At least it is in the case of Phil Hughes and a previously unfathomable level of control he found in Minnesota. Consider that over his first four starts, Hughes walked a total of six batters. Over his final 28 starts, however, Hughes walked just 10 batters. 10. That’s it. The question everyone’s asking is, “how repeatable is this?”, and the answer is not very. His FIP the previous three seasons hovered in the 4.50s, and now that opposing batters have gotten a good look at his new approach, I expect a result a little closer to his New York days.
Projection: 10-10, 3.78 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 164 K
56. Ian Kennedy (SD) – After his 21-win outburst in 2011, Kennedy had been something of a disappointment until last season’s bounce back. I can’t imagine anyone predicted him to surpass the 200-K plateau while simultaneously setting a career mark for HR/9, a fact no doubt helped by getting to pitch his first full season at Petco. But the surroundings matter in our game, and Kennedy should again be in a position to succeed in 2014. It won’t be an exact replica of last year’s success, but the drop off should only be minor.
Projection: 11-12, 3.78 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 182 K
57. Brandon McCarthy (LAD) – A midseason trade to the Yankees brought about a career revival for McCarthy. In his 14 starts with New York, he posted a 2.89 ERA and surpassed 8.0 K/9, something he had never done in his previous eight seasons. McCarthy parlayed this success into a four-year deal with the Dodgers and slots into one of the strongest rotations in the league. We’ll see if he can keep up this new found strikeout prowess, but even if he can’t the ratios will still be of help this late in the draft.
Projection: 10-8, 3.58 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 144 K
58. Jered Weaver (LAA) – Ah it’s good to be an Angels pitcher considering Weaver gave up a career high 27 HR last year and still tied for the AL lead in wins with 18. A good offense can cover up a few flaws, but Weaver is trending the wrong direction as he enters the twilight of his career. Another jump in both his home run rate and walk rate looks inevitable, and his ratios are bound to follow. Weaver can still hang his hat on having another chance for wins in the mid-teens thanks to the strength of the Angels’ roster, something no other pitcher to follow has the luxury of.
Projection: 14-11, 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 156 K
59. Dallas Keuchel (HOU) – Keuchel was as much of an out-of-nowhere story as we had in the league last year. Hard to believe a guy who had never posted a sub-5.00 ERA or a sub-1.50 WHIP could pull off the kind of season he did, but Keuchel was strong from start to finish. Safe to say, however, expecting those kinds of results again is borderline foolish. His stuff isn’t overpowering, as evidenced by the 146 K in exactly 200 IP, and I’m not buying Keuchel only surrendering 11 HR again.
Projection: 10-10, 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 138 K
60. Chris Tillman (BAL) – Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend. Looking at Tillman’s peripherals, especially his FIP, suggests there’s little chance he should be a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher. But for three years running now, Tillman has given us very useful ratios and strong win totals as part of an up-and-coming Baltimore squad. The longer he continues to buck the analytics, the more I’m forced to believe this is for real. As long as there isn’t a repeat of the 33 HR he allowed in 2013, this should be another season where Tillman doesn’t hurt you in any of the four categories.
Projection: 13-10, 3.86 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 157 K
61. Matt Cain (SF) – Everything’s trending the wrong way for Matt Cain at this point in his career. A falling strikeout rate combined with a jump in both home run rate and walk rate suggests the end could be near. But Cain was dealing with injuries from nearly head to toe last year which obviously had a major effect. He’s only 30 years old so conventional wisdom suggests there might still be some mileage left on that arm. Even a small turnaround could produce a nice profit here, and I think Cain is wily enough to make it happen.
Projection: 12-9, 3.71 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 136 K
62. John Lackey (STL) – Of all the pitchers you’re going to see across these ranks, the easiest one to project in my opinion is John Lackey. At this point in his career, we know exactly what he is. Despite his struggles with the Cardinals post-trade, his ERA will settle back into the mid-to-high threes to go with a decent WHIP and average strikeouts at best. Lackey will benefit from finding himself once again on one of the better teams in the league and, should he stay healthy, reach double-digit wins for the 12th time in his career.
Projection: 13-10, 3.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 152 K
63. Justin Verlander (DET) – The Verlander pick will be one of the most interesting to watch in drafts this Spring. How much is someone willing to invest on the potential of him returning to All-Star form? Hopefully not much, as the signs of wear and tear on Verlander’s arm are etched all over his peripherals. That once-overpowering fastball that only got better as the game would progress is now nothing more than a slightly above-average tool. The result was a strikeout rate that dipped under 7.0 for the first time since 2006 and the dubious distinction as the league leader in runs allowed. He righted the ship ever so slightly down the stretch, but I’m afraid we’ll never see the dominant fireballer we remember.
Projection: 13-9, 4.01 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 172 K
64. Rick Porcello (BOS) – The Washington Nationals, the favorites in the National League, had five starters ranked in the top 40 with another to come shortly. The Red Sox, who some have appointed the favorites in the AL, are making their first appearance right here. Rick Porcello is a decent #3/#4 starter for a team, but an ace he is not, so don’t value him as such. Last season was the first since his rookie year with an ERA under 4.00, and only once in that time has Porcello surpassed even 6.0 K/9. He’ll get some wins as he’s found his way onto another loaded offense, but expecting across the board contributions is naive.
Projection: 13-11, 3.74 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 129 K
65. Tanner Roark (WAS) – This has to be one of the more unique situations in all of fantasy baseball. Typically, when we’re this far down in the ranks, there’s some question about the pitcher’s skill level. With Tanner Roark, coming off an incredible 2014 with a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.10 WHIP, those questions really don’t exist. Problem is, he’s the sixth best starter on a team with a loaded rotation. Almost all of Roark’s value is tied to the trade rumors of Jordan Zimmermann and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Strasburg. If you sink a draft pick into Roark, you’re banking on one of those two guys getting moved or a significant injury opening up a spot. It’s one of the biggest gambles in the draft, but one where the payoff could be monstrous.
Projection: 9-6, 3.31 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 103 K
66. Drew Hutchison (TOR) – Among the reasons I like the Blue Jays to win the AL East this year (spoiler alert) is, while both they and Boston have assembled what should be top-tier offenses, I prefer the young starters Toronto will be throwing out there, including one Drew Hutchison. Although Hutchison’s fantasy value exceeded his real-life value thanks to 184 K and double digit wins, I fully expect to see him take a step forward when it comes to his ratios. He’s not the mid-four ERA pitcher we saw last year as evidenced by his 3.85 FIP. A handful less walks and home runs, something Hutchison is clearly capable of doing, will get that ERA much closer to 4.00 if not under it.
Projection: 13-10, 4.01 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 186 K
67. Danny Duffy (KC) – Among the factors that helped elevate the Royals to the American League pennant was the semi-breakout of Danny Duffy. I say semi-breakout because for a couple seasons now we’ve seen glimpses of the potential this kid has, but his oft-injured nature kept us from getting a good long look. Don’t take last year’s numbers as gospel as there are plenty of warning signs that a decent slip back to reality is in order, none more than his .240 opponents’ BABIP. If he can somehow pull off anywhere near a repeat of last season’s success, Duffy won’t find himself outside the top-50 for long.
Projection: 11-9, 3.83 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 142 K
68. Kevin Gausman (BAL) – The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, the popular sentiment will be that Kevin Gausman will start to live up to that lofty pedigree sooner rather than later. My belief is that it’s going to take some time before we start seeing his numbers match his draft day potential. As with many young, strong-armed pitchers, the control will have to develop over time before his peripherals support a major jump. The numbers will be decent in his first full MLB campaign, but nothing mindblowing.
Projection: 10-9, 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 142 K
69. R.A. Dickey (TOR) – Dickey’s third year in Toronto should look a lot like his first two. He’ll be an innings eater with useful ratios and strikeouts, but we’ll never see numbers resembling his Cy Young year and expecting anything close is too ambitious for my blood. He’s another vet in the mold of John Lackey that should buoy your stats but doesn’t provide anything in terms of tangible upside. Take him for what he’s worth, nothing more, nothing less.
Projection: 12-10, 3.97 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 165 K
70. Matt Garza (MIL) – Since 2011, when he looked like he had ascended into the upper echelon of starting pitchers, everything’s been trending the wrong way for Matt Garza. His 27 starts last year represented his high watermark over the past three seasons as his durability has become a major sticking point. His K/9 over the past four seasons looks like this: 9.0, 8.3, 7.9, and a disappointing 6.9 in 2014. If you’re investing in a low-upside vet, might want to shop around before settling on Garza in 2015.
Projection: 10-8. 4.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 139 K
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