The Mad Professor’s Re-Entry. Ranking the Top 100 Starting Pitchers for 2017, Part Uno.
Ahhh….. The crisp spring air; the crack of the bat. Not yet. Mr. Brady has work to do.
Hi Sports Fans! With luck, you’ll be reading this on the heels of a glorious New England Patriots Super Bowl victory. Regardless, you’ll be reading this while I’m in Cuba, leading a group of alumni and offering lectures on politics and, if I can get away with it, beisbol. Alas, I won’t be able to get to an Industriales game this time. We will travel around Cuba by boat. The government has limited the amount of time any boat can tie up in Havana due to the surge in the number of boats arriving now that relations have warmed between the USA and Cuba.
Anyway, a brief note about Cuban baseball… I saw the Industriales (once known as the New York Yankees of Cuba. Maybe they don’t want that moniker anymore…) in 2003. Kinda cool, really. The games move quickly. None of this Red Sox-Yankees four hour game silliness. Get your arse into the batter’s box and swing. No one got to be picky, either. It was clear that these guys weren’t being paid much, nor were they being paid by the hour. So, the pitchers pitched quickly and the strike zone was fat. The game was over in less than two hours.
Sadly, I think Cuban baseball will suffer the same fate as the old Negro Leagues. As the great journalist, Wendell Smith said in his obituary for the Negro leagues, “Nothing was killing Negro baseball but Democracy. The big league doors suddenly opened one day and when Negro players walked in, Negro baseball walked out.” You have to figure that the same will happen to Cuban baseball now that players don’t have to defect to the USA via Cancun and other Caribbean ports of call. But, this is the stuff of another column. Now then…
The Top 100 SP
As a prefatory note, I’ll begin with the same disclaimer I used last year. I’m not going to try to tell you who’s #17 and who’s #19. The marginal difference between Jose Quintana and Rick Porcello is something that may boil down to a buck or two on draft day, depending on your strategy and what you are holding when one of these guys gets called.
So, I’ll offer an analysis of tiers of SP. I’ll look to split the top 100 at what appear to be the key inflection points between levels. As with any such analysis, we can always argue about who should be the last guys in a tier and the first guys out of it (just like we do when sorting through the last teams into the March Madness pools). For now—and long before anyone gets injured—the best we can offer is some broad but thoughtful prospective rankings based on retrospective assessments.
The assessments in this and the next several articles are drawn from an analysis of 2017 projections by Yahoo!, Fangraphs, CBS Sportsline and Rotochamp (available at Fantasyrundown.com). This is essentially an analysis of crowdsourcing: I looked at several “expert” sources to see where they concur and where they differ. I looked at two particular rankings: overall ranking from 1-100 and overall auction value in a 12-team, $260, 23-player roster. There might be a bit of variance in the roster building at particular positions. But, in all of the sources, we are looking at carrying 9 SP. Based on this analysis, the following table lists the top 25 SP according to average rank. The data are indicated by the column titles. “n” refers to how many of the 4 sources ranked a particular SP. In the top 25, all SP were included in all four top 100 rankings.
TOP 25 SP: AVERAGE RANK
It may come as a shock to you, gentle reader, but Clayton Kershaw is ranked first overall. There is nothing remarkable in this table. If we reorder the top 100 by rank, Cole Hamels of Texas jumps into the top 25 with a dollar-value of $12.05, right between Keuchel ($12.45) and Tanaka ($12.00).
Kershaw stands out as the clear #1 in terms of average dollar value. His $42 price tag is $10 more than Max Scherzer who is the only other SP carrying an average value of more than $30. These two also have no variance. Kershaw is the consensus #1 and Scherzer is the consensus #2.
YAWN. So, what else is new?
The key consideration is, of course, bang for the buck. I added Fangraph 5×5 predictions (minus saves) from Steamer600 (31 January 2017). All of these data are subject to updating as we get closer to Opening Day. But, based on this, one has to ask whether, if you had a gun pointed at your head, you’d choose Kershaw at that price. Scherzer offers comparable returns for $10 less.
Bumgarner, Syndergaard, Sale and Kluber are the next four in average rank and dollar value. They round out the category of SP commanding a $25 tag or better. Nothing to sniff at here. You are going to get 200+ K and something better than 12 wins. One percent of your budget (barely $2.50) separates these four players. So, what to consider? Perhaps durability (Syndergaard) and a new ballpark which also happens to be hellish for lefties (Sale heads to Fenway). Beyond that, barring injury, there is virtually no risk here.
But, with regard to Syndergaard, he’s only in his third year. The Mets have been careful with him, limiting him to 150 IP in 2016 and 187 in 2016 (including an other-worldly performance in the playoffs). So, while folks do want to keep an eye on usage for young pitchers, Syndergaard’s numbers are advancing carefully. 200 IP would not be a big jump for him in 2017.
With regard to Chris Sale, see David Price in 2016. Both are great SP. Both are lefties who moved to Fenway. Overall, in terms of counting stats, Price was fine in 2016. He delivered 228 K in 230 IP. But his ERA and WHIP were not what you wanted from a #1. One has to expect that both of these SP will pay dividends insofar as they are strikeout machines. You have to figure Price will settle into Fenway in his second season there. But, you might proceed with a bit of caution regarding Sale as he moves into new environs.
Price ($21.55) joins Lester, Arrieta, Cueto and Verlander and the other five in the top 25 that command more than a $20 average value. Here is where you need to start doing some serious comparison shopping. In a snake league, you grab Kershaw and feel good about yourself. It’s a long time between your bids and you don’t know what’s going to be left on the table when your number comes up.
In an auction, you really must ask: why pay $42 for Kershaw’s 240 K when you can get Cueto and Verlander for the same money and rack up 380? Intangibles don’t matter in Fantasy. Kershaw is not worth the money in a 5×5 league. If you can get double the production for the same price tag, take the deal and spend your money elsewhere.
Sure, these data are really raw. But, to the extent they serve as rough, blunt, but reasonable predictions, the next six SP (who cost between $15 and $20) definitely offer real value. Both Darvish and Strasburg project 230+ K and you can have them together for less than $40. Granted, one always has to wonder about Darvish’s fragility. But, Tommy John surgery works and if Darvish is back to 100%, he is a bargain at less than $20. (Of course, I would not expect him to go that low in any of my drafts. Still, he is coming in at half the price of Kershaw for essentially the same value).
The only real question marks in this group are DeGrom (durability) and Archer (will Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde show up for work). When he is on, deGrom is lights out. But, will he crack 200 IP this year? Archer’s second half numbers last year demonstrated his quality skill set. Whatever was bothering him in the first half seemed to have been resolved in the second. If you assume he has his head on tight this year, he could be a bargain at his $17 price tag. Be sure to talk up his inconsistency while passing the nachos on draft day.
The remaining ten in our top 25 SP show the sort of variation one expects when you move a few floors down from Olympus. Speculation sets in. Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon returned after TJS and a hernia to pitch superbly in 2016. But, how many innings will he get you in 2017? His command is outstanding. But, let’s see if he can crack 150 IP. That $10 price tag is driven by risk. Carlos Martinez has all the characteristics of a breakout year. His IP have increased steadily towards 200 over the last four years. He is 27. His K/9 rate hovers around 8.5 and his BB/9 rate is about 3. Tick, tick, tick. Behold the next ace of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bid with confidence.
The injury-riddled Masahiro Tanaka showed up for work in 2016. He had 199 IP. But, he is not a strikeout machine. In his first two years, his K/9 rate was close to 9. But, he was injured. In 2016, he pushed 200 IP, but his K/9 dropped to 7.5. That’s nothing to sniff at. But if a staff #1 is not delivering 200 K, you need to count on his W and ratios (WHIP and ERA) to carry you. Proceed with caution. Here’s a question to ponder: Taillon or Tanaka at the same price?
There is some risk here. Are these guys #2 SP or borderline #3? Granted if your #3 is Porcello or Quintana, you will sleep well. But, in looking at those two, how do you bid—for the steady, not very flashy Quintana or for the Cy-Young winning Porcello who may be climbing up the ratings?
One thing to keep in mind. To the extent there is wisdom in crowds, take note of the shift that occurs once we fall below $19 in average value: the range of dollar value widens greatly. Porcello, Taillon and Keuchel fall into the single digit dollar values in some surveys. Clearly, folks question whether Porcello can do it again, whether Taillon can handle a full season and whether Keuchel will return to Cy Young form. Compare these three (whose dollar values have an $8 or $9 spread, to Carlos Martinez or Gerritt Cole whose spreads are only $3. On average all of these guys offer solid value. But, the crowds suggest that you will sleep better drafting C-Mart or Cole than you will with Porcello, Keuchel or Taillon.
Overall, there is not much to discuss with the top 25 in any survey. There is quality up and down here. The only qualifications arise with regard to bang for the buck and risk. Real debates begin when we look at the second 25 and see who is hovering in the 26-35 range. I’ll look at that next week. Till then…
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday February 12th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #75 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is our first show of the 2017 season. We will discuss the important player movement and how it affects their value for the 2017 season.
Our guests this week are the “Legend” Lenny Melnick and Joe Iannone. Be sure to visit Lenny’s website lennymelnickfantasysports.com, and listen to his Sirius satellite show on the fantasy sports station from 7-10am every Sunday morning with host Craig Mish. Joe is a writer with MLFS and you can check his articles every Sunday morning throughout the season.
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