Way Too Early Rankings: Starting Pitcher

With the calendar turned to December, the “Way Too” portion of the title feels  incorrect. Still, we have a series to finish so let’s get down to business. This is the seventh of eight volumes in the Way Too Early Rankings collection. Pre-Order the complete edition now – it makes a great stocking stuffer! You can find outfielders and links to the rest by following a link.

As a reminder, these rankings represent my first reactions rather than a truly rigorous approach. I’ve used an absolutely objective technique called mental math to compile the lists. I’m assuming a standard 5×5 format.

The purpose of this exercise is two-fold: to get an early start on 2017 rankings and to crowdsource missing or misranked players. That’s where you come in. Let your thoughts and feelings be known in the comments. As we’ve done in previous editions, we’ll break this into digestible chunks.

Starting pitcher is the deepest and most difficult position to rank. I’ll be focusing written analysis on the players who most interest me. There’s a very high likelihood some players have slipped through the cracks. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about in the comments.

Let’s focus on the potentially divisive choices. Darvish has a very real home run problem, but he also strikes out everybody. While most of the top 25 starters have at least a chance to post a sub-3.00 ERA, Darvish has a steeply uphill battle due to the homers. I’ll still take the strikeouts over the alternatives.

I’m assuming Strasburg is/will be healthy based on what I’ve heard. If he’s not, he’s much lower on the list. Similarly, Tanaka, deGrom, Hernandez, and Cole are health risks I’m mostly overlooking for the moment.

Like Carlos Santana finally playing the way he was supposed to in 2016, Carrasco is going to pitch to his potential one of these season. Or maybe he’s missed his opportunity. The breaking stuff is incredible.

I suspect I’ll catch some flak for my Hill pick – in both directions. He doesn’t pass the Ace smell test for many fantasy owners, yet he was also the 14th most valuable pitcher last season while throwing only 110 innings.

I suspect a future revision might push Porcello to the 15-20 cohort. My justification for placing him 26th relates to his high win total. It accounted for half of his value above average in 2016. A little regression in the wrong places could push him back down into the league average category.

You’ll notice this collection is all over the map. Some of these pitchers will be 2017 heroes. Others will ruin seasons. It’s uncommon to see a Rockies pitcher this high on the list, yet Gray did enough last year to justify a bullish outlook. I’m also hopeful we’ll see big things from Urias, Paxton, and Ray. There’s an awful lot of downside in that trio which prevents them from being ranked higher.

Rebound candidates include McCullers, Harvey, Nola, Keuchel, Wainwright, and Samardzija. Boring high-floor vets include Happ, Teheran, Shoemaker, and Lackey.

In many ways, this group is much more exciting than the 26-50 crowd. We have some impressive young pitchers, most notably Taillon, Reyes, Rodon, Weaver, and Velasquez. Other quality hurlers like Manaea, Musgrove, Eickhoff, and Anderson might get overlooked.

My inclusion of Iglesias obviously depends on him starting. He’s been talked about as a closing option for the Reds. They’ve yet to announce which way they plan to deploy him. As a rebuilding team, there’s no pressure on them to decide before the season.

Regression is likely to take a big bite out of Estrada, Phelps, Wright, and Duffy. The latter pair felt the sting late in 2016. Estrada is the most likely to see no ill effects, hence his much higher ranking. The Marlins hope to use Phelps as an Andrew Miller-style reliever.

Richards, Liriano, McCarthy, Gray, Cobb, and Lynn are wild cards. All but Liriano missed most of 2016 with injuries. As for Liriano, he morphed into a top 30 pitcher once he was reunited with Russell Martin. Who knows if that was signal or noise?

That’s a lot of names including several where I really deviate from the consensus. A few are simply misranked, and I’ll make those adjustments as I internalize more information about them.

I anticipate a mob with pitchforks over my placement of Pineda. He had a 3.30 xFIP and a 3.40 xFIP because he throws a fantastic slider and doesn’t walk hitters. The problem is that he’s a reliever. His cutter – the only fastball he throws – is terrible. Beyond terrible. Maybe it plays up in the pen. He could probably benefit from throwing fewer strikes, but what he really needs is a major league viable fastball. I doubt he’ll find it as a starter.

People really like Odorizzi. I used to be one of them. Maybe there’s another breakout in there, but I see him as a high floor, low ceiling core piece. There’s no point drafting those ahead of players with gamebreaking upside.

Some of my favorites from this section include Montgomery, Cotton, and Gsellman. The Cubs seem committed to starting Montgomery – enough so that they freed Hammel. Cotton is one of those guys scouts always poopoo even though he performs well at every level. That now includes a stop in the majors, making it harder to overlook his potential. Gsellman would be a top 75 arm if he wasn’t the sixth or seventh pitcher in the Mets rotation.

In no particular order, here are more guys who pitch baseballs. Foltynewicz is supposed to rank 80th. I’ve already done way too much work to go back and fix everything.

 



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RonGT
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RonGT

Ignoring Zack Wheeler until he actually makes it back this year? Thought his K upside might be more intriguing then some of the others in the 100+ range.