2018 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers, Part 2 (26-50)
For those of you that don’t like to use an early-round pick on pitchers and prefer to wait a bit, pay attention. This article is for you. Pitching is as deep as ever in fantasy baseball, and that creates plenty of flexibility when construction your staff during your draft or auction.
You can find basically whatever you desire below. There are some reliable veterans, up-and-coming youngsters, high K-rates, low ratios, you name it. Kicking us off at No. 26 is a young rising star for the St. Louis Cardinals with plenty of upside. Turn on the jukebox. Ooooohhh dream weaver.
*PLAYER NOTES/ANALYSIS CAN BE FOUND BELOW THE RANKINGS TABLE.
|32||Lance McCullers Jr.||HOU|
Starting Pitcher Player Notes
26. Luke Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals
After a successful minor league career, Weaver has quickly ascended the fantasy ranks after his strong rookie campaign. In 60.1 innings last season, Weaver posted a 3.88 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 10.7 K/9. The ERA was a tad inflated, too, as his FIP was way down at 3.17. The biggest downfall for Weaver in 2017 was the longball. After limiting homers very well in the minors, Weaver has allowed 1.3 HR/9 in his first 22 appearances (18 starts). If he can lower that number, a top-20 SP season could be in store for the young righty.
27. Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins
If it weren’t for a disastrous July, Berrios’ final stat line would’ve looked a whole lot better. Regardless, a 3.89 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, and 8.3 K/9 is a pretty good line for a 23-year-old hurler navigating through his first full Major League season. Out of those numbers, the walk rate is most encouraging. During his 14-start rookie campaign, Berrios’ walk rate was an unsightly 5.4. And this is after having solid control throughout his minor league career. Another jump in production for Berrios in 2018 wouldn’t be a shock.
28. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
A higher strikeout rate would vault Marcus Stroman into my top-25. Stroman had a 7.3 K/9 last season, 7.3 the year before, and 7.3 for his entire career. Consistent, huh? In 2017, Stroman posted his second straight 200+ IP season and finished as a top-25 SP with 13 wins, 164 K, a 3.09 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP. His 20 quality starts tied him for the 8th most in the Major Leagues. The upside isn’t overly high, but at least Stroman is establishing a relatively high floor and is a safe pick around pick 110-125.
29. David Price, Boston Red Sox
Price is one of the biggest boom-or-bust SP picks this season. When he pitched last season, he pitched well with a 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 9.2 K/9. Unfortunately, that was only in 74.2 innings. On the other hand, he led the American League with 230.0 innings in 2016. So, which David Price are we going to get in 2018? That might not be a question we can answer right now, but what we do know is that Price is a valuable fantasy SP when he’s healthy. He hasn’t had an ERA north of 4.00 since his rookie season in 2009 and has a 3.22 ERA and 8.6 K/9 for his career. Do you feel lucky enough to make him your SP3? The risk and reward here are both very apparent.
30. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka might have a good case of whiplash after 2017. He allowed 1.8 HR/9, which was the third-highest rate in the Major Leagues. On top of that, his walk rate rose from 1.6 to 2.1 and his H/9 went from 8.1 to 9.1. Allowing more hits, walks, and home runs is a great way to balloon your ERA from 3.07 to 4.74 really damn quick. The most noticeable difference in his approach was with his fastball. His velocity rose from 90.6 to 92.2 mph on average, but the pitch became much more hittable and a less valuable offering for Tanaka. Assuming his elbow can hold up, it’s hard envisioning Tanaka finishing with a high-4.00 ERA again, making him a good bounce-back candidate this season. That said, there’s certainly plenty of risk here, too.
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31. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
One thing is for certain when talking about Jon Lester: He’s one tough SOB. The only thing that has kept him from making 30 starts in a season was cancer back in 2006-2007. Since then, Lester has 10 straight seasons of 30 or more starts. The results haven’t been half bad, either. Since joining the Cubs in 2015, Lester has averaged 14.3 wins per season with a 3.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, and 8.9 K/9. Last season’s 4.33 ERA was only his second 4+ ERA in his 10 full seasons. With all those innings on his left arm, it’s fair to wonder if the 34-year-old southpaw is beginning his decline. However, there should still be enough left in the tank for another SP2/3 type season in 2018.
32. Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros
If only McCullers could stay healthy for a full season and pitch close to 200 innings. He’d be a top-20 arm if that were to happen. In 2017, McCullers’ ERA rose a full run from 3.22 to 4.25, but his 3.10 FIP suggests that was inflated to a degree. Overall, McCullers actually got a little better as a pitcher last season. He lowered his H/9 slightly and dropped his BB/9 from 5.0 to 3.0. The strikeout rate also dropped, but no one will complain about 10.0 K/9. A return to a low-3 ERA is likely, but how much will he pitch? That’s always the ultimate question with McCullers.
33. Zack Godley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Dropping your ERA three full runs from the previous season is impressive. Godley posted a 3.37 ERA in 2017 after a stomach-turning 6.39 ERA in 2016. A huge reason for the turnaround was his curveball usage and effectiveness. Godley isn’t your typical fireballer. He succeeds by mixing pitches and keeping hitters off balance with his four-pitch arsenal, including his plus curveball that he threw 35.6% of the time, or 10.3% more than 2016. The recent news of the Diamondbacks using a humidor this season gives Godley’s value a nice boost for the upcoming season. Expect another low to mid-3 ERA and near 200 Ks for Godley, who could push for a top-20 SP finish.
34. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
He might not have the highest upside around, but Hendricks is one of the safest guys in this section of my rankings. A random inflammation of a finger tendon on his pitching hand was the only thing that kept him from his third straight 30+ start season in 2017. Hendricks also boasts a 2.51 ERA and 1.07 ERA over the last two seasons with a respectable 8.0 K/9. Another season of good ratios should be expected from the 28-year-old righty and 15+ wins could be in the cards too on a talented Cubs team. Hendricks is a fine fantasy SP3.
35. Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
It’s amazing how one player’s value can drop so much in just 12 months. At this time last year, Johnny Cueto was a top-50 pick and borderline top-10 fantasy starting pitcher. Twenty-five starts, blister issues, and a 4.52 ERA later and his Fantrax ADP is 146.5, or the 39th SP off the board. Everyone seems to forget the seven straight seasons with an ERA/WHIP of 3.64/1.28 or below. Included in that run are three top-six finishes in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Like with Hendricks above, Cueto doesn’t offer high strikeout upside, but he’s a solid bet to provide solid ratios and maybe even a decent win total on an improved Giants team.
36. Luiz Gohara, Atlanta Braves
My love for Luiz Gohara is well documented at this point. He nearly cracked my top-20 dynasty prospect rankings last week (#24), and I’m already regretting not putting him higher. The man throws flat-out gas and has a nasty slider to go along with it. Gohara dominated minor league batters over the last two seasons with a 2.33 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9 before getting a five-start audition with the Braves last season. The 4.91 ERA is a tad misleading, as his FIP was only 2.75. He also lowered his BB/9 to 2.5 and continued striking out over a batter an inning. Gohara is my non-Acuna choice for NL Rookie of the Year honors and my biggest breakout fantasy pitcher for 2018. Trust me, you’re going to want Gohara on your team.
Luiz Gohara with 3 unhittable pitches vs Philadelphia. pic.twitter.com/54ba9fx3oH
— Stephen (@b_outliers) November 19, 2017
37. Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is the spot where I begin to realize that I don’t like many of the pitchers in this area outside of the majestic Luiz Gohara. Just look at Rich Hill. The last time he pitched more than 140 innings was when I was a Junior/Senior in high school. Granted, he was a reliever for a while, but Hill has never been a poster boy for durability. Last season, he made 25 starts, totaling only 135.2 innings pitched. The 3.32 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 11.0 K/9 are great and all, but having your SP3 give you that few innings is certainly concerning. When drafting Hill, you have to ask yourself how lucky you feel that he’ll give you 160+ innings.
38. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Whether you believe in his 2017 numbers or not, Gonzalez is still a top-40 fantasy SP this season. It’s not like his 2.96 ERA came out of nowhere, either. From 2010-2015, Gonzalez never had an ERA above 3.79 and posted a 2.89 ERA in 2012. Granted, his FIP last year was almost a full run higher (3.93) and he still walks too many batters, but you can’t argue with results. Even with some ERA regression, a mid-3 ERA and 8.5 K/9 over 175-200 IP is still solid as a SP3 or SP4.
39. Charlie Morton, Houston Astros
This is a breakout that I’m believing in. In 146.2 innings last season, Morton registered a 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9. He’s throwing harder than ever at an average velocity of 95.0 mph on his fastball, and his curveball has developed into a true weapon. Assuming he doesn’t cough up the #5 starter spot in camp, Morton should be able to post more solid numbers, worthy of being your fantasy SP4.
40. Danny Duffy, St. Louis Cardinals
I know, boring, right? The upside here is limited, but Duffy has become a consistent SP4 in fantasy over the last couple of years. Over the last two seasons, Duffy has a 3.64 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and 8.8 K/9 over 326 innings. The elbow pain that plagued him last season is gone, and Duffy reported that his elbow feels “great, really great.” Maybe Duffy can finally get up closer to 200 innings this season. That said, even if he does, wins will be hard to come by with Kansas City set to push 100 losses this season.
41. Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers
So, Mr. Anderson. You got substantially better last season than you were in your first three Major League seasons. How did you do it? I’ll tell you how he did it. Anderson gained a full two mph on his fastball and bettered his overall control and command, thus making his fastball, curveball and change-up much more effective pitches. Was he 2.74 ERA and 1.09 WHIP good? No, probably not. But even with some regression in the ratios, Anderson still has the potential to be a solid SP4 this season with SP3 upside. Don’t sleep on him in the middle rounds of drafts.
42. Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Go take a look at Snell’s numbers in the second half of last season, and that’s why he should intrigue you in 2018 drafts. In 14 second half starts, Snell compiled a 3.49 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 8.6 K/9. Most importantly, he dropped his walk rate from 5.9 to 2.9. See how much easier pitching can be when you’re not walking everyone and their moms, Blake? Snell has the stuff and pedigree to become a top-25 fantasy SP in this league. That might not happen quite yet, but if his second-half numbers are any indication, good things are on the horizon for Snell in 2018.
43. Jake Faria, Tampa Bay Rays
Take everything I just said about Snell and second-half numbers and throw that out the window. Just kidding. Faria’s finish to 2017 didn’t go quite as smoothly as his teammate above. After kicking butt and taking names in his first six starts, Faria’s ERA ballooned from 2.11 to 4.47 over his final eight starts. Even with the falloff at the end, the final numbers were solid and inspire confidence that Faria can be a top-50 SP this season, even if Tampa Bay is going to be horrible. Expect a mid-3 ERA, a WHIP around 1.20, and 8.5+ K/9 for the second-year right-hander, with potential for more.
44. Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
It seems like we’ve been waiting for Trevor Bauer to break out for a decade now. During his first four full Major League seasons, he seemed to be stuck in that area of a low to mid-4 ERA, 1.30+ WHIP, and around 8.5 K/9. Those numbers will get you rostered but not coveted in fantasy. Bauer is still hovering around that zone, but at least he was able to inch closer to the circle of trust thanks to his 10.0 K/9 last season. His sharp curveball is a big reason for that rise in K rate. The 17 wins didn’t hurt, either, and Bauer lowered his walk rate for the second straight season, which was nice.
45. Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates
The former top prospect had an up-and-down season in 2017, to say the least. Taillon was forced to miss almost a month and a half after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, which was causing him groin pain in his last few starts before going under the knife. He was pretty effective upon his return, but a handful of horrible starts pushed his ERA up to 4.44 at season’s end. Take that ERA with a grain of salt, though, as his 3.48 FIP signals he was a tad unlucky last season. Don’t be surprised if Taillon finishes the season as a top-25 fantasy starter in 2018. The upside is high.
46. Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
It’s probably safe to say that it’s been a while since fantasy owners could trust a Colorado starting pitcher. We all love that thin air in Coors Field when it’s boosting offense for our hitters, but we curse its name when our pitchers’ ERAs skyrocket. Most Colorado hurlers even get ignored altogether. Jon Gray is doing his best to break that trend in 2018. Through his first three Major League seasons, Gray has lowered his walk rate down to 2.4, struck out more than a batter per inning, and lowered his ERA each season since his rookie year. What’s even better is that he’s done a fairly good job at limiting home runs, too, which is obviously huge playing in Coors Field. This ranking is still rather conservative due to his home park, but Gray has top-25 upside if he can keep making strides.
47. Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
Speaking of high upside, meet Danny Salazar. Danny enjoys giving batters long walks down to first base, high strikeout rates, and trips to the disabled list. Salazar finished 2017 with under 140 IP for the second straight season. However, he also posted a career-high 12.7 K/9, so it wasn’t all bad. The key to rostering Salazar and not wanting to bash your head against the wall is understanding what he is. He’s not a top-25 elite option. He’s a guy that will hover around a 4.00 ERA with a high walk and strikeout rates. That makes for a decent SP4/5 in fantasy, but not more than that.
48. Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres
If there’s one thing Lamet can do well, it’s rack up the strikeouts. Out of the 134 pitchers that pitched 100+ innings last season, Lamet’s 10.9 K/9 ranked 9th. Directly behind him are names like Luis Severino, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, and James Paxton. Unfortunately, a 4.57 ERA and 4.3 BB/9 came along with the high strikeout rate. Lamet’s control has always been a problem, but there’s reason to believe that ERA starts heading in the right direction in 2018, especially if he can start limiting the long ball. He has a great arsenal and gets to pitch roughly half his starts at Petco Park. There’s solid upside here for a guy you can grab after pick 200.
49. Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
The only thing holding back Michael Fulmer from being a top-30 fantasy SP is his pitiful strikeout rate. I mean, 6.2 K/9? C’mon, Michael, give us a little more than that. Even 7.5 would be acceptable. Fulmer has a 3.45 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 2.3 BB/9 over his first 51 starts, which is solid, but that K rate depresses his value in a big way. If he can start striking out more batters, Fulmer could work his way into SP3 consideration. But as it stands now, he’s nothing more than an SP5.
50. Sonny Gray, New York Yankees
Nope. Don’t want him. If you look at the Fantrax ADP data, you’ll see that Gray is being taken as the 34th pitcher off the board on average. Good luck with that, Gray owners. Gray has always been a fly ball pitcher, and that’s not a welcomed gameplan at Yankee Stadium. Here are some of Gray’s numbers before and after his mid-season trade to the Bronx:
- With Oakland: 97.0 IP, 3.43 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 0.7 HR/9
- With New York: 65.1 IP, 3.72 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 1.5 HR/9
Thirty-two pitchers threw more than 100 innings last season and had an HR/9 of 1.5 or higher. The only one of that group you’ve seen in these rankings so far is Tanaka. There are too many red flags here to trust him as your SP3, which is where he’s being drafted so far.
STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF MY STARTING PITCHER RANKINGS IN THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS.
Thank you for reading and I hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members. Got a question that I didn’t cover here? Then follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.