2020 Starting Pitcher Preview: Top 100 Ranks, Tiers and More
Welcome to the next installment of my positional previews for the 2020 fantasy baseball season. We have just finished with the offensive positions and now it is time to move to the pitching side. In this post, I will break down my top 100 starting pitcher ranks into tiers as they now stand and discuss players individually. I have included the 2020 steamer projections for each player as well.
Evaluating starting pitchers is always tough. The position is littered with talent from top to bottom. There is everything from high-end talent to sneaky sleeper options later on. Let’s get to it.
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2020 Starting Pitcher Ranks and Tiers
Starting right the top, these two pitchers feel like they clearly stand out and belong in a tier of their own. I think some may call Jacob deGrom ranked first a bit of a hot take. He has proven to be one of, if not the best pitcher in the game for two straight seasons. He has won back-to-back Cy Young awards in the process. I feel there is an elite floor and ceiling and taking him as the first pitcher off the board is a rather easy choice for me.
Gerrit Cole is more of a 1B rather than the second overall in the ranks. There is no denying how elite he was last year and he should pick up where he left off. He does have a tougher division and more hitter-friendly parks to pitch in now with the move to New York and the AL East. These are the deciding factors for me when I have two players ranked so evenly and need to technically lay them out in number order.
I am one of the few that are not concerned about the back issue Max Scherzer dealt with last season. Yes, I know he is aging and health can easily become a concern, but if I trust anyone to figure out how to manage their health through a season, it is definitely Scherzer. I am betting on the bounce-back and I expect a strong season out of him.
Justin Verlander is another one I have no concerns about. He is getting older of course but has shown no signs of decline. JV is coming off a Cy Young winning season and that was with a home run problem as well. He had a career-high 16.0% HR/FB rate I expect to regress back to career norms. Regardless, I think Verlander is a safe and solid get and is deserving of being a top 4 starting pitcher.
I almost put Walker Buehler in a tier of his own. He has an amazing pitch mix and just overall great stuff. Buehler offers elite upside and if he made the jump into one of the upper tiers this year I would not be surprised.
Mike Clevinger entered last season purposely adding velocity to his pitches. He did end up suffering a significant injury that sidelined him for quite some time. Could the increase in velocity cause him to hurt himself? I am not sure but he did come back and not throw as hard after that. He was still great. It is just worth monitoring the velocity entering Spring Training, but even without it, Clevinger is just a great athlete and gets to pitch in the AL Central which would help any pitcher. You should still draft him with confidence.
I am all about Blake Snell this year. We know there is an elite, Cy Young caliber starting pitcher ceiling to be had here. He is coming off a down year. Between the injuries and just how unlucky he was, I expect him to bounce back in a big way.
Shane Bieber is almost the opposite of Snell. There is a level of safety and floor you get with him. He is as safe as it gets in this tier and he too gets to benefit from the weak division.
Chris Sale is the wild card of the group. I have had many people tell me I am too high on him. They may be right. He was great when he was healthy last year and the underlying metrics say he was also on the unlucky side. He is someone I am watching VERY closely come spring training. If he appears healthy and throwing hard, he will move up a few spots but if he looks even a little off I will move him down a bit. As I said before, he is the wild card.
Stephen Strasburg is coming off his second career 200-plus inning season. He is a great pitcher but I do not suddenly trust the health to hold up. Not to mention he had a deep playoff run. I do believe he is a top-10 starting pitcher entering 2020 but I have some concerns about him holding up the whole year.
Luis Castillo is legit. I think there is an opportunity for him to take another step forward in 2020. He doesn’t have the track record of names I have above him but he offers the same, if not higher ceiling than them.
I have a similar opinion of Jack Flaherty. He had an amazing second half and it is driving up the price. That is not quite enough for me to be as high as others are on him but I really do like Flaherty and think he will make a push to be a top-10 pitcher this year. He underperformed in the first half, made a change and had success in the second half and was nothing short of spectacular. However, he definitely over-performed in the second half and I think there is a happy, solid middle ground with Flaherty.
Patrick Corbin is about as safe as they come these days. He is good for innings, ratios and K’s. What more can you really ask from him? Sure, he lacks the ace potential but he is a great fallback option to start your pitching staff with.
Lucas Giolito went out of his way to really make changes last year and it paid off. He lived up to the prospect pedigree and everything about it seems to be real. I am big on Giolito this year and if he jumped up to the next tier by the end of the season I would not be surprised.
Aaron Nola is a starting pitcher I cannot give up on. Last year we actually saw a jump in K-rate but also a jump in walk rate. He is known for his control so the walk rate concerns I expect to be better this year. He was also a victim of the long ball. I see a nice bounce-back season for Nola incoming and I am happy to take him at his price.
Clayton Kershaw is not who he used to be but he still offers a very high floor. The best days are behind him but he doesn’t come with the ace price tag so it is hard to argue that he isn’t a good value. The back will always be a concern as well, but it feels as though the injury risk is baked into his price.
Chris Paddack is another hot topic. The concerns are with him being only a two-pitch pitcher. The curve needs to develop and with a full offseason of prep I don’t see why he cannot make some improvements. Pair that with the fact that there shouldn’t be any restrictions on innings this year and I think we are about to see that jump into stardom.
Luis Severino is coming off a lost year. We know what he is capable of but there are still concerns with his health for me. Also, I expect some form of innings limit after missing all that time. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle him this year.
Charlie Morton has found the fountain of youth over the last couple of seasons. The production is legit and that curveball is his bread and butter. I think he has one more great year left in him.
I am known to be higher on Brandon Woodruff than most. He is top-20 in a ton of metrics, has two good fastballs, and a slider with potential. The ratios were great and his underlying metric suggesting they were very real. Woodruff managed to perform as well as he did with the juiced ball and having Milwaukee to call home. That is a tough task for any pitcher. I am planting my flag and will live with the consequences.
Tyler Glasnow is another pitcher with tremendous upside and potential. He relies on a two-pitch mix and that is always concerning when drafting a guy as high as he is going. That two-pitch mix, however, is not your typical two-pitch mix. It is great and effective. There is ace upside but the lack of third pitch and the health issues keep me a bit standoff-ish.
Yu Darvish appeared to figure things out in the second half of 2019. Prior to Tommy John surgery, he was a fantasy darling. I believe he will continue where he left off and is in for a solid 2020.
Sonny Gray went to Cincinnati and seemed to figured things out. I do think it was mostly real but I also am a bit skeptical of the strikeout rate. The ratio indicators also suggest he slightly over-performed. With all that said I still buy into the idea of a mid 3.00’s ERA and easily a K per inning.
James Paxton is who he has always been. He is good for strikeouts and ratios but the health remains an issue. Although the same can be said for a couple of names ahead of him, Paxton has a career-high of 160 innings in a season. At this point when you draft him you know he is going to miss time. That is factored into his ranking.
Trevor Bauer burned me last season. It may be that 2018 was the outlier but I am buying in once more. He has the pitches and skillset to be better than he was last year. Maybe getting a full offseason in the Reds system will allow for him to make the appropriate changes. He also is heavy into the analytics and I love any player willing to try and utilize them to better themselves.
Noah Syndergaard is another starting pitcher I was in on big time last season. Ranking both of these guys inside the top 30 after they let me down last season means I must be a glutton for punishment. I just believe he is better than he showed us last season. There were times he could not get a feel for his pitches and it showed. I am buying in on the bounce-back and at his current price, it is not a bad gamble to take.
Corey Kluber was traded to the Texas Rangers this offseason and it is a slight downgrade for him. Although the new park is climate controlled, it is still a tougher division and he did just miss pretty much a whole year. He is also another year older and typically a slow starter. I have my reservations but I will have a share or two this year. Kluber was just a top two or three round pick last season and I don’t think he has just fallen off.
I find people are either in or they are out on Lance Lynn. I am in. The changes he made have proven to pay off and everything suggests it was not a fluke. He also gets an improved lineup around him for better run protection and now a better ballpark as well. All signs are pointing up.
Carlos Carrasco is another starting pitcher who has the stuff but the health is a question mark. Cancer is no joke and it can cause issues at any moment. The skills still seem to be there and if he looks and feels healthy coming into the season, I think I will be moving him up.
Frankie Montas added a fantastic splitter to his arsenal. With it came a pitch mix change and the results followed. People are worried about the PED suspension but that has nothing to do with his pitch mix change. It could potentially affect his velocity if he was actively using them during the season. The velocity needs to be monitored but other than that I have little concerns and I have confidence in Montas continuing the breakout into this year.
Zack Greinke is exactly who he is. He will give you 200 innings and be a compiler. He will also carry a good win total pitching for Astros. Nothing exciting but you know the results you’re getting.
Jose Berrios seems to be becoming a similar pitcher. He has given you 190 or more innings the last two seasons with roughly a 3.80 ERA. He is just a good pitcher. I am not sure the next step will come but at 25 years old there is still a chance. He offers a four-pitch mix and all it takes is for one of those pitches to improve and with it could come the breakout we are all hoping for.
Zac Gallen is becoming an industry darling. We saw the upside last season but there are some concerns for me. He had ERA indicators a run or more higher, a BB/9 of 4.05 and a strand rate of 83.7 %. Although he is not as good as he showed in the sample size he provided last year, I think there is a lot of upside and potential here. He gives you a five-pitch mix but typically only utilizes four of the pitches. Three appear to be above average and he tends to induce a good amount of weak contact. So although regression is likely I don’t think it will be too much.
Jesus Luzardo has overall ace potential but he is likely entering this season on an innings cap. The ceiling is definitely high. He does have the benefit of a good home park and a solid team around him.
Zack Wheeler is always a solid mid-tier starting pitcher with upside for more. I am not sure he will reach it and with what is now a worse home park he could take a step back. He is good, but will he ever reach that potential we have seen him flash? That remains to be seen.
Mike Soroka is similar to Greinke. A solid innings-eater with a little more upside. He lacks the K’s and the Greinke-like track record. He is safe but the upside is capped.
Max Fried actually offers a higher upside that Soroka. The curveball is great. He also offers a good slider to go with it. Having two good breaking pitches typically leads to good things. The fastball tends to get hit pretty well but with a full offseason to improve I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Fried make some strides next season.
Dinelson Lamet is another guy getting a ton of helium. He was fantastic in his limited innings in 2019. The K-rate really jumps out at you and is backed up by the improved swinging-strike rate and the improved chase rate. His ONLY issue is the lack of a third pitch. He has a great home field, a strong curveball and slider, and could really take a step forward.
Eduardo Rodriguez had a great season last year. It was carried by 19 wins though. He still put up 200 innings with over a K per inning and solid ratios. For some reason, the K/9 regressed in spite of the career-best O-Swing and SwStr%. Both of which were above league. There is room for growth and I think he will continue to better himself even if it is just ever so slightly.
Shohei Ohtani as strictly a starting pitcher really concerns me this season. He is limited to at most one start per week it seems. He may get the occasional two-start week but they will be far and few between. Not to mention he is coming off Tommy John surgery. On a per-game basis he will have elite outings but how many games are we going to get out of him? Not to mention potential setbacks, re-injury or fatigue. I like Ohtani long term and in leagues with daily lineup moves, but in weekly formats or as just a pitcher I am out.
Madison Bumgarner is just a high floor, mid-rotation type of pitcher for fantasy purposes. His best days are likely behind him and he moves from pitcher-friendly Oracle park to Chase Field which is not as pitcher-friendly. Yes, it is better now with the humidor in place but it is still a downgrade. Although the team is better around him and he does get a boost in win potential, I am slightly concerned about the ratios due to the stark contrast in the home and road splits last season.
David Price is on the downturn of his career. He doesn’t offer much of a ceiling these days but there is still some upside to be had here.
Hyun-Jin Ryu signed with the Blue Jays and I am not sure how much that affects his value. You know he is going to miss time. He does just about every season. He moved to a worse home park and an overall tougher division. Ryu can combat that with the type of pitcher he is to a point. he should still provide you quality ratios. Although he lacks the K upside you would like, he is a safe option in the middle rounds and a good rotation stabilizer.
Speaking of rotation stabilizers, Kyle Hendricks may just be the definition of that. If you take riskier options early, he is a great piece to fall back on in the middle rounds to give you ratio support and a safe amount of innings overall.
Robbie Ray has elite strikeout upside but the ratios are iffy. You need to build your pitching staff to accommodate his ratios.
Andrew Heaney is one of the starting pitcher sleepers I am targeting this year. He has the K potential and overall upside to make the leap. It is always a matter of health and I am going to continue to buy in and hope he can stay healthy for once.
Luke Weaver was in the middle of a breakout prior to suffering what was basically a season-ending forearm strain. He managed to technically finish the year on the mound. The injury concerns are there but it is baked into the price and he is another pitcher that took strides and made a tangible change that was followed by success. Let’s see if he can pick up where he left off.
Matthew Boyd lacks a third pitch but has great strikeout upside without it. It can just limit his overall potential. Boyd plays for one of the worst teams in the league so the win potential is pretty low for now. I do expect him to be dealt but until then there is only so much to be excited for.
Jake Odorizzi showed improvements across the board. Most of the said improvements hold some merit and seem somewhat sustainable. I do expect some regression but not too much as he remains in one of the best divisions for pitchers in all of baseball.
Mike Minor did over-perform last season according to the metrics. I think he is still a solid option in the mid-rounds and the improved lineup and likely a better home park to pitch in offer him some added safety.
Lance McCullers is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is a starting pitcher to remember on draft day. He was a top-20 option and he always had the stuff to finish there. He will likely have an innings cap and that limits the overall potential.
Griffin Canning has a quality arsenal and should come into this season and be successful. There is a lot to like here and he is a sleeper to target in your drafts for sure.
Kenta Maeda is projected to start and as long as he is healthy he is a solid starter you can get later in drafts. In points leagues, he has added value as a starting pitcher with relief pitcher eligibility
Carlos Martinez is apparently going to be stretched out as a starter this year. He has a track record of being a successful starter but the injury concerns are still an issue. Martinez has not started a game since 2018 and only pitched 118 innings that season. I expect an innings limit for him as well this year but on a per-game basis I think he offers SP 3 upside.
Joe Musgrove broke my heart as well last year but just like Bauer and Thor, I am not ready to quit him. There is a new coaching staff in Pittsburgh and he has the repertoire to take his game up a notch. I think we were all a year early on Musgrove and this may be the breakout season.
Julio Urias has lost some of the appeal he once had as the Dodgers’ top prospect. There is still plenty of upside to be had and it is said he will be a starter this year. This might finally be the season we get the Urias we have been waiting for.
German Marquez is very talented but Coors field is undefeated. His home/road splits tell the story of his season. Although he feels like a bargain here, it is because you cannot start him for half his starts essentially. Or at least you cannot start him with confidence those starts.
Sean Manaea came back last season and showed us he is healthy again. I don’t think he offers the upside some want to believe he does but I do think he can be a solid depth piece to any fantasy rotation.
Caleb Smith was so good for the first half of the season and then he just fell off. I think it was in part due to fatigue. There is a big chance for a bounce-back season and I expect there to be one.
Anthony DeSclafani is one of my favorite late-round targets. He had a solid second half with tangible change behind it. I think he is in for a breakout season.
Mitch Keller was another young starting pitcher who got unlucky and should have a better go this time around. The slider is really good and he is a former top prospect. There is a lot to like here.
Jose Urquidy is very interesting. He has a great four-pitch arsenal and pitches for the Astros. The more I look into him, the more I like him. He is someone you may need to reach on to secure in drafts but the upside is there and I will reach to get myself a couple of shares.
There really is a lot to like about Aaron Civale. He has a quality pitch mix and more strikeout potential than the numbers suggest. He has the arsenal to take his game up a notch and if the Indians do anything right, it’s definitely developing their pitchers.
Dylan Cease should strike out a lot of hitters this year. His issue have been and continue to be the control. I hope Grandal can help him out a bit with that. It doesn’t hurt that Grandal is great at pitch framing either. The talent is there, it is just a matter of if he can put it all together.
Mike Foltynewicz had a solid second half last season and that is the driving force behind the love of him. Although I do like him, I am not as high on him as most and I don’t think he offers the same upside as other starting pitchers that go around him. I won’t have many shares of Folty this year.
Prior to the Keuchel signing, I was way higher on Michael Kopech. There is elite strikeout potential but the innings are gonna be capped and he is coming off Tommy John. There are just more questions than answers right now.
Brendan McKay is another young player running into playing time questions. He is not currently projected to be in the Opening Day rotation. The Rays of late have messed with the playing time of their young players and although he belongs in the rotation, it just does not seem likely at this point.
There is a trend here. Dustin May falls right in line here with these last two players. He offers the highest floor of the three but he too has playing time concerns and may not make the rotation out of camp. All three of these names need to be monitored.
Garrett Richards is a known commodity or more so of one I should say. Richards has the rotation spot but I do not trust the health. When he pitches he should be great but between the constant health issues and missing all of 2019 the upside is limited. He too will be faced with an innings limit but at least you know he has a starting spot in the big league rotation entering camp.
I am a bit bullish when it comes to Stripling. He offers a good four-pitch mix highlighted by a solid knuckle-curve and changeup. We have seen him flourish in a starting role before and I think given the opportunity he will again. It appears that said opportunity has arisen and I think he can run with it. At least for this season.
Ryan Yarbrough feels like a player who should strike out more hitters. With an O-Swing% of 35.1 %, I would expect better than the SwStr rate of 10.2%. If he does not improve the strikeout rate, the ceiling will remain limited.
I am not big on Kyle Gibson this year. He did show growth in the strikeout department but the ratios took a little hit in the process. Gibson also leaves the AL Central for the AL West where it is a tougher division as a whole as well.
Cole Hamels is another pitcher I am sort of down on. With that said, I love the team context and the changeup is great. I think he may have another year in the tank and should be good for quality innings late in drafts.
Adrian Houser continues to grow on me. There is definitely sleeper appeal with Houser. He has a four-pitch mix and the two fastballs stand out. There is also the potential for his two breaking itches to be better this year. Both pitches had better x-stats than actual so if even just one improves we can see big improvements to the numbers. You should add Houser to your sleeper lists.
Chris Archer is who he is by now. He is a good source of strikeouts late in drafts and he offers you a low 4.00’s ERA. His best days seem to be behind him. It will be interesting to see what the new coaching staff does with him though.
Joey Lucchesi is a good late-round dart throw. He flashed K potential in the minors and in 2018 so the step backward was unfortunate in 2019. The low 4.00’s in ERA might be who he is, but at just 26 years old, I am not ready to give up on him yet.
The Marlins have intriguing pitching and Sandy Alcantara is part of the reason why. He had an ERA of 3.41 or better in four of the six months of last season and improved the K-rate in the second half. Alcantara is an interesting late-round flyer.
Jon Gray pitched better at Coors than away last season. That is very atypical. He is a Rockies starting pitcher so that expectations in check and tells you just about everything you need to know.
Dylan Bundy has a great slider and is now on a team that throws a lot of sliders. I do like the team change but I still am not buying in too much on the hype. The fastball gets crushed and you cannot get by on just one pitch.
Masahiro Tanaka is not what he once was. There are health concerns and an overall decline in the numbers. You should only target him to chase wins and to give you some innings late.
Justus Sheffield has solid strikeout potential and should have every chance to build on his 2019 season this year. He had a 12.9% swinging-strike rate and just a 28.3% O-Swing rate. If he can improve the chase rate then watch out.
*I am not here to speak on the politics I am just here to rank the player.* Domingo German is set to miss the first 63 games of the year. He is a stash candidate come draft day depending on the depth of your league but far from a must-draft guy.
I just cannot seem to figure out Reynaldo Lopez. I don’t think he can figure himself out. He has shown flashes in the past. He is a deep league dart throw worth putting on your roster if for nothing else, just the simple fact he gets to pitch in that division.
Miles Mikolas, Dallas Keuchel, and Marcus Stroman are all basically the same player to me. If you want a player that you can count on for a lot of innings and a rotation stabilizer for your team, one of these guys are for you. You can pick your preference. I believe Stroman has the most upside of the group but they really are similar to me. They all gain more value in points formats.
Nathan Eovaldi I really want to quit but can’t. There is just this untapped potential I feel is there. The injury risk is a concern and at this point, he could find himself in the bullpen again if things don’t take a turn for the better.
Steven Matz is another starting pitcher who shows glimpses at times, but just like every Mets pitcher, he cannot stay healthy.
Merrill Kelly had some increased velocity and nice numbers to follow down the stretch but was it a fluke or is there something to it? At his price, it’s worth it to find out. I just tend to fade older pitchers without the track record. Not a bad dart throw by any means at the end of drafts.
Pablo Lopez is part of that ever-intriguing Marlins staff. He one of my favorite names here at the end of the ranks. Lopez is a late-round upside play. Let’s see if the marlins can get the best out of him.
Jose Quintana had a moment of what appeared to be figuring something out last season and then he just went back to being himself. He doesn’t offer much more than just late innings here.
Dakota Hudson is someone that appeared to over-perform last year. His indicators suggest he should’ve been as much as a run or so worse in the ratios. There is not much exciting here but there are innings and innings do have value late in drafts.
Logan Webb had a good minor league run but it could not be repeated in the majors last year. He has a solid slider and a great home park to help him out as well. He did get unlucky and there are better days ahead for him.
Wade Miley quietly had a good 2019. He had four months with a 3.25 or better ERA and one month with a 3.76 ERA. That is great. Why the numbers look so bad is because he had one the worst months you could’ve had to finish off the year and it skewed the overall numbers. There is a sneaky upside here.
Jeff Samardzija, Matt Shoemaker, and Anibal Sanchez are just late sources of innings with some strikeouts. We have reached that point in the ranks if you haven’t noticed. They don’t offer much for upside but they do give you some floor production which can be valuable depending on how you built your team to this point.
A.J. Puk is a wild card. He is not projected to be a starter as of now and there is a chance he takes time to get stretched out as well in the minors. He has appeal as a multi-inning RP for ratio and strikeout support but I would love if he got the chance to start.
Jordan Lyles rounds out the top 100 of my starting pitcher rankings. There are still about 10 names I could put here but Lyles did just enough last year to keep me interested in him. He put up 12 wins with over a K per inning and a 4.15 ERA. Lyles had 3 months last year with a sub 3 ERA and two of those were the final two months of the season. I like that he finished on a high note and I am looking forward to seeing what he does over in Texas.
That is going to wrap up the top 100 starting pitcher ranks, tiers and more. One hundred player blurbs is a lot to get through but I hope you enjoyed it.
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