It’s updated tier week! As usual, these rankings represent my fantasy value expectations over the rest of the season. While I am not completely ignoring what has happened so far, its effect on my rankings is to merely expand the body of work by a pitcher from which to analyze. Unless there is a dramatic change in underlying skills that looks sustainable or an injury, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of movement after just 30 to 40 innings pitched.
While the preseason tier rankings were technically in descending order of my projected value, most pitchers within a tier are so close to each other that you could basically consider them interchangeable. An extra win, an additional 10 strikeouts, a .290 BABIP versus .295 BABIP are all pretty much random, but can shift a pitcher’s value by a couple of bucks. I didn’t bother moving players around within a tier, which is something I used to do, but provides little incremental value.
Darvish’s strikeout rate is down, but he’s offset the fewer punchouts by reducing his walk rate. Unfortunately, his strike percentage is down, so the improved control looks like a fluke. He has also suddenly become an extreme fly ball pitcher. There’s no obvious explanation for what’s afflicting him, so this could all just be a small sample mirage. He sticks in the top tier for obvious reasons, but be warned that there are a number of red flags here.
If Darvish looks a bit worrisome, Justin Verlander looks downright scary. His skills have taken a nosedive, but thanks to just one home run allowed in 40 innings, you would think it was business as usual. Driving the decline in strikeout rate is yet another drop in his average fastball velocity. All this adds up to a SIERA well above 4.00, which is the first time it has sat above that plateau since 2008. It’s too soon to drop him from this tier, but the alarm bells are ringing.
Felix Hernandez just keeps sailing along and looks like the safest option in this tier. If only he had a more powerful offense backing him, he could very well be the best fantasy starting pitcher in baseball.
I strongly considered dropping Chris Sale due to his elbow injury, but word is he should be back shortly after one rehab start. I’m still concerned here, but his skills are dynamite, so he’s clearly a top option if healthy.
David Price vaults into the top tier as he has scoffed at another season of velocity loss and is inducing swinging strikes like never before. Combine the boost in strikeout rate with impeccable control and you have yourself one more top option.
It’s bold, but Masahiro Tanaka leaps over an entire tier to join the top group. His skills have been off the charts, his SwStk% sits at a remarkable 15.8%, he gets ground balls and throws tons of strikes. While it will be interesting to see how he fares the second time around the league, it’s hard to imagine him suddenly flopping after this kind of start. I was initially concerned about his eventual innings total, but if he could reach 200, he fits here.
Anibal Sanchez loses value, but still remains here. His velocity has regressed back to pre-2013 levels and he’s generating a lower rate of swinging strikes. R. A. Dickey has played Jekyll and Hyde this year, as he’s had two excellent starts, three terrible ones, and one mediocre one. The good news is that his knuckleball velocity is higher than last year, which has led to an improved SwStk% and better strikeout rate. Walks have been an issue in the early going, but he hasn’t struggled with his control for many years.
Rather than remove injured pitchers and place them in some injured tier all by their lonesome, I’m leaving the guys in the tiers they would be in had they been healthy. So Cobb remains here. Iwakuma should be back within the week. Hiroki Kuroda drops a tier. His skills have held up amazingly well, defying the effects of aging, with no signs of imminent decline. However, his velocity is down a bit (technically marking the fifth straight season of decline) and he’s generating a lower rate of swinging strikes. He’s obviously been unlucky so far, stranding just 61% of runners, but it’s possible we’re finally seeing old age take its toll.
Danny Salazar was the unsleepiest sleeper in the history of fantasy baseball. He was more expensive than many very good veterans, which was lunacy. He drops a tier, as his velocity is down and his control hasn’t been as good. He has also been an extreme fly ball pitcher and his supporting defense has been atrocious. Yet, he has still struck out over a batter per inning and sports a solid 3.44 SIERA.
I considered bumping CC Sabathia up a tier — boy would that have created a firestorm! Amazingly, even with sub-90 mph fastball velocity, his strikeout rate is at a career high, as is both his F-Strike% and ground ball rate. His SIERA sits at a studly 2.70. He may just be the stealthiest buy low in the history of fantasy baseball. Unless of course you think that he’ll continue to allow home runs on 23% of his fly balls, fail to strand runners at even a league average clip and post a .333 BABIP.
I’m a fan of Sonny Gray‘s given his intriguing blend of strikeouts, solid control and gobs of grounders, but he’s looking like quite the sell high — if you can get a top offensive player for him. His underlying skills are generally what was expected, but only one homer allowed and a crazy 81.6% LOB% is making him look like a Cy Young contender.
Kazmir appears down here only because of his injury history. Can we really expect more than 160-170 innings? He’s not all that different from Peavy in that respect, but Peavy is a bit safer from a performance expectation perspective. Yordano Ventura makes a big leap as his secondary pitches have been fantastic, generating tons of swinging strikes and grounders. That was my biggest concern, but his control has also been excellent.
Clay Buchholz‘s velocity was at its best in his last start and it looks fine now. After last year’s luckfest, the dragons are getting their revenge, sticking him with a ridiculous .380 BABIP and stripping his ability to strand runners. Justin Masterson‘s velocity is down, but his skills are as good as ever. The poor Indians defense is probably playing a role in his struggles, given that elevated .333 BABIP. Dan Straily‘s skills have been fantastic and his strikeout rate boost is supported by a wonderful 13% SwStk%. A 19.4% HR/FB ratio is killing his ERA, but that’s going to come down.
I introduced you to the new Tyler Skaggs last week and I remain confused. He has a chance of moving higher, but those strikeouts must return for that to happen. Michael Pineda could be out a month with a strain of his teres major muscle (whatever that is), and his skills were a far cry from what they were before his shoulder injury and surgery. His slider has again been excellent at generating swinging strikes, but his fastball no longer is. That said, I wasn’t projecting a whole lot for him to begin with, which is why he doesn’t move.
It’s too bad James Paxton got hurt, as he was showing some exciting skills. Drew Hutchison jumps a tier as his fastball velocity is up as we heard and it has generating a fantastic SwStk%, to go along with a solid slider and plus changeup. The only question mark is how many innings he is going to finish with.
Garrett Richards‘ velocity is up, but that strikeout rate is simply not sustainable given his strike type breakdown. It’s also difficult to maintain throwing 75% fastballs. Since he’s throwing fewer than 60% strikes (league average around 63% – 64%), control has been a problem, but it hasn’t affected his surface results thanks to a crazy .195 BABIP and just one homer allowed.
The bad Ubaldo Jimenez has returned as he freefalls in the rankings. His velocity is down for the fourth straight year, his SwStk% is at a career low and his control has regressed. What the heck happened to Ricky Nolasco? He drops like a rock as well. Obviously, we all figured he’d suffer a performance decline after moving to the American League, but he’s struck out just 13 batters in nearly 30 innings! His velocity is fine, but he just isn’t missing bats.
Robbie Ross jumps a tier as he has made a seamless transition to the Rangers rotation. He has displayed the holy trinity of skills and the only thing capping his upside right now is a likely innings limit. Speaking of innings limits, Jesse Chavez follows Ross in tier jumping, but will also likely face an innings cap. I’m less optimistic about his future success though as his strikeout rate is being driven primarily by a sky high called strike rate. This is not something he has ever shown the skill for before. But, he could regress and still possess a solid overall skill set.
Dallas Keuchel is yet another tier jumper. Already an extreme ground baller, he is throwing more strikes and inducing more swings and misses. If only he was on a better team.
Brandon Morrow was looking interesting with perhaps a return to shallow mixed league relevance given the bounce back in his strikeout rate. Then he proceeded to walk eight of the 14 batters he faced in his last start before his removal from the game. It’s extremely hard to predict what you’re going to get on a start by start basis.
Who the heck are you, Colin McHugh? I stuck him at the end for now, as I need to see more than two ridiculously good starts. And yes, those starts were ridiculous. He posted a 15.3% SwStk% and every pitch he throws (with the exception of his two-seamer than he has only thrown three times) has a SwStk% above 10%. He could be up several tiers, or off this list completely, by next month.
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