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Starting Pitcher Barometer, Week 1: Start Paxton Your Bags, James

I’ve been playing fantasy baseball for 20 years, and this is the craziest week I can recall. You could spend your whole day tracking player moves if you wanted to. Just trying to keep up with the optioning of players, who are testing positive for COVID, whose velocity is down, and so on and so forth is really cutting into the time I have to replay The Last Of Us Part II. Suffice to say, this article could be 20,000 words and I would still miss out on some pitching information. What I will do here is cover the most impactful news items which affect the risers, fallers, and newcomers of my starting pitcher rankings.

Topping the list of news items has to be Justin Verlander. He, unfortunately, departs the list due to a forearm strain. Dusty Baker said that he will be shut down for at least three weeks, going against a report that stated he’d miss the season. Color me pessimistic that he returns at all. What color is pessimistic? I’m not sure, but let’s go with lavender.

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The Starting Pitcher Barometer: 2020 In-Season Starting Pitcher Rankings

The Risers

  • Zack Wheeler, PHI (+22) – I had Wheeler ranked conservatively in the last rendition of my starting pitcher rankings mostly due to the fact that we didn’t know if he was going to return following the birth of his child. Now that he has announced that he’s good to go, he is a solid SP2 in my rankings. He made sushi out of the Marlins in his Phillies debut, which is what good pitchers should do. He’ll face a tougher test next time out against the Yankees.
  • Carlos Carrasco, CLE (+26) – I am frankly still astonished that Cookie decided to play this season. He is at elevated risk due to his Leukemia diagnosis but is a full-go for the season anyway. On top of the uncertainty regarding his health, he didn’t pitch well in 2019. A 5.29 ERA over 80 innings didn’t have me very interested. However, in his first start, he went with a more offspeed-heavy approach. He threw his slider just about as much as his fastball, inducing nine swinging strikes on 29 sliders. That 33% slider usage would be a career-high if it continues. That will be good for his strikeout totals, and there are some bad teams in the Central division for him to feast on this year.
  • Ross Stripling, LAD (+17) – Stripling went from a bullpen arm to practically entrenched in the rotation over the course of a couple of weeks. Clayton Kershaw is on the IL for a short stint (hopefully), Alex Wood stunk (more on that shortly), and of course, David Price opted out of the season. His role stability as well as his strong debut has him rocketing up my starting pitcher rankings. With the Dodgers being a little more short-handed than usual, Stripling has less worry of being Dodgered (innings limited, role bounced around, for those new to the term). I suddenly feel better about him than I do about a lot of pitchers drafted much earlier.
  • Dylan Bundy, LAA (+37) – I was taking a wait-and-see approach with Bundy coming into the season. His notoriously bad fastball, as well as a homer-happy former home park, led to, well, an entire career of ERAs more bloated than my stomach after a dozen PBR’s. We knew he was going to a better park for fly-ballers to pitch in. What we didn’t know is if there would be a change in his stuff with a new organization. We now have the answer to that question. Bundy went to his fastball a career-low 45% of the time, opting for a lot more sliders. That’s a better recipe for success. I wouldn’t be counting on him to be dependable in a standard mixed league, but he is firmly in the Streaming Zone now. If he can silence the Astros bats in his next start, he’ll climb even higher.


The Fallers

  • Zack Greinke, HOU (-15) – The 36-year old Greinke has begun Spring Training with low velocities for years now. It has always come up to speed around the start of the season. This year, whether it’s the lack of Spring Training or something else, his velocity was way down in his debut. After averaging 90 MPH with his heater in 2019, he averaged just 87.7 MPH against the Mariners. Perhaps the velocity will continue to climb over his upcoming starts, but I’m concerned that the sun may be setting on his day as a high-quality starter.
  • James Paxton, NYY (-19) – Speaking of diminished velocity, Paxton’s fastball velo was down three MPH from 2019. That is pretty startling when you also consider that he is returning from a serious back procedure. He’s useful in fantasy because he’s elite when he’s on the mound, which isn’t all that often for a fantasy SP1/2. If he isn’t missing bats at an elite rate, his value takes a huge hit.
  • Shohei Ohtani, LAA (-21) – Hey, more diminished velocity! What an ugly trend. We didn’t know exactly what to expect from Ohtani since we haven’t seen him pitch since 2018. What you certainly didn’t expect if you drafted him was five earned runs with three walks without recording an out. Yikes. His control is currently on the back of a milk carton. It can’t be this bad moving forward, but I was already down on him due to his limited role. He’s only going to pitch once a week, and when he does, he usually isn’t pitching deep into games. If he doesn’t even give you elite numbers in those limited innings, he’s essentially useless as a fantasy pitcher.
  • Alex Wood, LAD (-33) – As opposed to Ohtani, I was all aboard the Alex Wood train heading into this season. Their prices were drastically dissimilar, of course, with Wood going at pick 314 on average on NFBC compared to Ohtani at 112. Wood was far from impressive in his debut as well, however, with his typically very strong command nowhere to be found. He skewed very curveball-heavy in that start, so that might be a part of that issue. His velo was fine, but if you can’t take advantage of the Giants lineup, who can you take advantage of? He’ll have to impress me for a few starts to regain my trust.


The Newcomer

  • Brady Singer, KC (SP82) – Of all the rookie debuts we were expecting, Brady Singer was not one of them. He got called up to debut against the Indians, finishing with a 5 IP/3 H/2 ER/2 BB/7 K line. It’s an encouraging debut from a somewhat highly-touted prospect, but don’t get your hopes up too high. He posted a nice 40% CSW, but he had the advantage of facing a lineup that didn’t know what to expect. Singer also lacks a true third pitch. He tossed just two changeups and threw nearly as many sliders as fastballs. A two-pitch mix isn’t a good way to turn over a lineup a third time, so he will typically not pitch past the fifth inning often if at all. He’s worthy of deep league streaming, particularly in his next matchup against the lowly Tigers, but don’t expect him to be a stalwart of your rotation.


In-Season Top 100 Starting Pitcher Rankings

RnkNamePrev. Rnk
1Gerrit Cole1
2Jacob DeGrom2
3Max Scherzer3
4Shane Bieber6
5Mike Clevinger5
6Jack Flaherty9
7Luis Castillo11
8Clayton Kershaw7
9Charlie Morton8
10Walker Buehler10
11Stephen Strasburg12
12Patrick Corbin13
13Frankie Montas14
14Aaron Nola15
15Yu Darvish16
16Chris Paddack22
17Jose Berrios21
18Blake Snell17
19Hyun-Jin Ryu19
20Lucas Giolito20
21Max Fried25
22Sonny Gray27
23Zack Wheeler45
24Carlos Carrasco52
25Lance McCullers, Jr31
26Trevor Bauer34
27Mike Soroka30
28Kyle Hendricks32
29Tyler Glasnow26
30Lance Lynn41
31Luke Weaver28
32Brandon Woodruff33
33Zack Greinke18
34Zac Gallen35
35Kenta Maeda39
36Madison Bumgarner37
37Matt Boyd40
38Carlos Martinez44
39Dinelson Lamet50
40Jake Odorizzi42
41Ross Stripling58
42James Paxton23
43Caleb Smith38
44Robbie Ray29
45Mitch Keller49
46Corey Kluber46
47German Marquez48
48Julio Urias53
49Marcus Stroman51
50Mike Minor56
51Corbin Burnes57
52Rich Hill55
53Sandy Alcantara66
54Dustin May70
55Dylan Bundy92
56Garrett Richards61
57Shohei Ohtani36
58Andrew Heaney59
59Steven Matz60
60Johnny Cueto85
61Jordan Montgomery62
62Kyle Gibson63
63Joey Lucchesi64
64Austin Voth65
65Chris Bassitt67
66Dallas Keuchel68
67Griffin Canning69
68Joe Musgrove71
69Jesus Luzardo88
70Masahiro TanakaNR
71Jose Urquidy72
72Matt ShoemakerNR
73Spencer Turnbull76
74John Means77
75Nathan Eovaldi82
76Ryan Yarbrough74
77Adrian Houser75
78Josh James78
79Sean Manaea79
80Alex Wood47
81Josh Lindblom81
82Brady SingerNR
83Aaron Civale84
84Carlos Rodon87
85Jon Gray86
86Dakota Hudson89
87Tanner Roark90
88Jordan Lyles91
89Pablo Lopez98
90Yonny Chirinos93
91Freddy Peralta100
92Wade MileyNR
93Mike Foltynewicz94
94Dylan Cease95
95Miles MikolasNR
96Jeff SamardzijaNR
97Homer Bailey99
98Asher WojciechowskiNR
99Reynaldo Lopez83
100Mike FiersNR

Fell Off The List

Justin Verlander (injury), Eduardo Rodriguez (COVID), AJ Puk (injury), Michael Fulmer (role), Anthony DeSclafani (injury), Gio Gonzalez (performance), Vince Velasquez (performance).

Got a different take on how to handle starting pitcher rankings in what will undoubtedly be a one-of-a-kind season? Let us hear it in the comments below!

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  1. Peter Furlong says

    Aaron Nola is Top 5 right now in all of baseball, his last 3 starts are the best in all of baseball

  2. Luke says

    I know he’s had injuries and is starting the year just coming off of Covid, but Jesus Luzardo at 88 and behind Put?

    1. Nathan Dokken says

      Puk will be off the list next time because of his injury, but yes I wouldn’t take Luzardo until very late. You’re basically drafting a high-K reliever for the first half of the season, and he may not get stretched out much at all with only 60 games to play.

  3. Steve says

    Where would you (anyone) have Corbin Burnes if you knew he’d make ~25 starts?

  4. Scot MacDonald says

    Is Marco Gonzalez not worthy of a top 120 ranking?

    1. Eric Cross says

      He didn’t miss by much for me, but I don’t see a ton of upside with him.

  5. David Bertram says

    I didn’t see Zach Eflin (Phil.) on your list. I get the impression he will be in the rotation. Any thoughts about him? I apply in a deep keeper league.

  6. Jeremy Muratore says

    In a 14-league keeper, i have weaver, montas, bauer, heaney, alcantara and t. williams at $5-$10. Am I wrong to think about keeping 3-4 low cost arms from this group with upside out of my 12 keepers? Player costs inflate $4 annually. Tough part is always gauging league value as I am higher on these guys vs. above rankings. Thanks!

  7. dude says

    4 pitchers jump out at me because of the spread in ranking; Darvish, Berrios, E-Rod, and Lynn. Would love to hear the case why one of the higher rankers is high on each and the lower rankers are low on them.

    1. Eric Cross says

      I’m the high man on E-Rod, but as a Red Sox fan that has seen basically all of his career starts, he’s really improving. His problem was always trying to nibble too much around the corners. Attacking hitters and pounding the strike zone has raised the effectiveness of his entire arsenal, especially his fastball. I’m expecting another step forward in 2020.

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