FANTASY BASEBALL – 2016 SP Rankings: Grim on Greinke
by Garion Thorne | 6:00 am, February 4th, 2016
Thorne’s 2016 MLB Fantasy Preview
Divisional Break-Downs: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL East | NL Central | NL West
Podcasts: ’16 Strategy w/ Fred Zinkie
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Thorne’s 2016 SP Rankings
- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
- Jake Arrieta, Chicago
- Max Scherzer, Washington
- Chris Sale, Chicago
- Jose Fernandez, Miami – If the NFBC draft trends are any indication of what to expect in February and March, there isn’t going to be much of a post-injury, buying window for Jose Fernandez. Honestly, I don’t blame people at all. If you combine the Marlin’s numbers from his last two fragmented campaigns in 2014 and 2015, there’s a legitimate argument he might just be the best in the game. Over 116.1 innings (19 starts) Fernandez has posted an 11.53 K/9, the highest mark of any starting pitcher with 100+ innings since the beginning of 2014, and his 2.21 FIP is bested by only Clayton Kershaw. Is there risk? Sure. But the upside of Fernandez more than offsets the danger.
- Corey Kluber, Cleveland
- Jacob deGrom, New York
- Matt Harvey, New York – There were only eight pitchers last season who by year’s end had averaged over a strikeout per inning and fewer than two walks per nine – Matt Harvey was not one of these men. With a K/9 at 8.94, the soon to be 27 year-old just missed the cut, though not at the expense of an incredible second half push. Now, its insane to write that a 3.07 ERA and 4.19 K/BB ratio are subpar by any means, however, those first half numbers were not to the standard of which we’d come accustomed with Harvey. Then, post All-Star, and possibly lost in a publicity nightmare, a 9.12 K/9, a 1.27 BB/9, and a 2.28 FIP. Matt Harvey was back and, somehow, it could have been better. Consider that over this impressive 78 inning span, opponents were putting just 12.6% of contact off Harvey into play at a soft rate, a number which would have been the lowest in baseball across 2015 as a whole. An unlucky 2.19 ERA. How can you not get excited for the Dark Knight in 2016?
- David Price, Boston
- Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
- Chris Archer, Tampa Bay
- Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland
- Stephen Strasburg, Washington
- Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh
- Zack Greinke, Arizona – Before we really delve into this – its mostly a preference thing. When constructing a fantasy team, I generally like to have a staff “ace” or SP1 that can generate 220 to 250 strikeouts. Greinke, or, at the very least, the 2015 version of Greinke, does not fit this profile. He hasn’t since 2011. Now, I fully endorse the belief that the former Dodger is a different breed of pitcher, operating and executing on a different level mentally, but luck is still luck and regression pardons no man, however intelligent. Greinke’s 2.76 FIP was over a full run higher than his league-leading ERA; his .229 BABIP was the lowest in the National League, not to mention his .183 BABIP with runners in scoring position was the only mark below .200 in baseball; an 86.5% strand rate was not only a league-high, but made him the sole possessor of a figure above 83%; his 0.57 HR/9 was it’s lowest since Greinke left the comfy confines of Kauffman. Yes, he’s talented. It allows for a certain degree of outlier, but this? This is crazy. With the talent available in the second, third, and even fourth tiers of this year’s pitching class, I’ll be steering clear of Greinke.
- Felix Hernandez, Seattle
- Dallas Keuchel, Houston
- Noah Syndergaard, New York
- Jon Lester, Chicago
- Danny Salazar, Cleveland
- Cole Hamels, Texas
- Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
- Tyson Ross, San Diego
- Carlos Martinez, St. Louis
- Garrett Richards, Los Angeles – The 27 year-old Richards took a step back in 2015. However, when your 2014 season included a .264 BABIP and 3.9% HR/FB ratio, normalization might be a more apt term. Regardless, Richards still profiles to the exact specifications of a fantasy stalwart: he induces an incredible amount of ground balls and he possesses quality swing and miss stuff – at least its much better than often credited. Yes, you generally wouldn’t want to see a pitcher’s K/9 fall as Richards’ figure did last season, but, when you look deeper into the numbers, the Angel’s swinging strike rate actually rose to 11.1% in 2015, a career best. This ability, combined with Richards’ 54.6% grounder rate since the beginning of 2013 (the third highest among pitchers with 500 innings) makes him worthy of fringe SP2 status.
- Sonny Gray, Oakland
- Johnny Cueto, San Francisco – In the fantasy community, we always try and avoid overcorrection, the life-blood of the post-hype sleeper. Cueto’s taking this concept to its real-life extremes. After being traded to the American League and posting a 4.76 ERA over 13 starts, the veteran signed in San Francisco, where AT&T Park has rated as ESPN Park Factors’ best pitcher’s park two of the last three seasons. All that’s peripheral to me. This truly comes down to strikeouts and BABIP. After nearly two and a half seasons of somehow sustaining a sub .240 BABIP, Cueto surrendered a massive 11.2 hits per nine with the Royals, likely the result of normalization, but also directly correlated to an increased amount of opponent contact. The AL K/9 was at 6.2. That’s awful. Even his full-season rate of 7.47 wasn’t overly inspiring, though very much in line with his career numbers. For me, Cueto’s 2014 is proving to be an outlier and I’m not willing to still pay a price for it.
- Marcus Stroman, Toronto
- Justin Verlander, Detroit – Its important not to overreact to what essentially comes down to nothing more than a 103 inning sample size, but Justin Verlander was fantastic in 2015’s second half. The life-long Tiger posted a 2.81 FIP, 1.00 WHIP, and, maybe most importantly, a 8.30 K/9. Now, I’m not one to often slip into a good narrative, but this would appear to be the best indication we’ve had that Verlander is finally making a smooth transition to the denouement of his career, adjusting for a well-documented velocity loss. You know, actually pitching. The numbers seem to bear it out. Verlander’s slider surpassed his change-up, historically his best strikeout pitch, in usage last season, the biggest spike coming with two strikes in the count – a situation where said slider produced a 26.4% whiff rate. Factor in Verlander’s always above average control (2.52 BB/9 since 2009) and ability to suppress home runs (0.80 HR/9 for his career) and, if the strikeouts can sustain, a once bleak future looks pretty bright.
- Yu Darvish, Texas
- Michael Pineda, New York – Pineda should really look into selling his 2015 campaign as a case study for those who want to learn the difference between ERA, FIP, and xFIP. The former Mariner had a 4.37 ERA over 160.2 innings. Not great. We still, after all, live in a standard 5×5 world. However, that number begins to look a little strange when you consider Pineda’s 7.43 K/BB ratio would have only trailed Max Scherzer had he the innings to qualify. That’s where the 3.34 FIP comes into play and with it Pineda’s .332 opponent BABIP and 68.6% strand rate, which, again, dependant on innings, would have been one of the ten lowest figures in all of baseball last season. Finally, we move to xFIP, a 2.95 number that takes into account Pineda’s incredibly high HR/FB ratio of 14.7%. Now, even though the Yankees as a team lead the league in HR/FB (13.6%) and have placed Top 10 as an organization each of the past five seasons, it’s not insane to think this number might drop in 2016. Basically, with even a little luck next year, Pineda will make a lot of noise.
- Masahiro Tanaka, New York
- Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh
- James Shields, San Diego
- Lance McCullers, Houston
- Rasiel Iglesias, Cincinnati
- Michael Wacha, St. Louis
- Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles – Speaking of luck, few were as often without it as Scott Kazmir in 2015. With just seven wins to his name last season, Kazmir, despite all-around decent numbers, finished the season as SP41. This will happen when you spend half the year with the unluckiest team in baseball by BaseRuns (Oakland was -12 wins) and then get traded to the second worst (Houston was -11). However, if you line up the veteran’s numbers with Michael Wacha’s (see directly above), last season’s SP24, they are insanely close. Each threw roughly 180 innings, each had a K/9 of 7.6, and Kazmir’s ERA was actually better than Wacha’s at 3.10. Yet, Wacha, led more by the name on the front of his jersey than the one on the back, finished the year with 17 victories. Here’s hoping Kazmir gets a few more breaks in the National League.
- Taijuan Walker, Seattle
- Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle
- Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit
- Patrick Corbin, Arizona
- Carlos Rodon, Chicago
- Steven Matz, New York
- Gio Gonzalez, Washington
- Ian Kennedy, Kansas City – One of only 16 starting pitchers to register over a strikeout per inning since the beginning of 2014 and one of just 11 to do so with a BB/9 under 3.00. Sure, the home runs are a issue. A major one. However, a 17.2% HR/FB is ridiculous in any capacity, especially one that involves as much Kauffman Field as Kennedy’s 2016 would appear to. Look for a happy middle ground between the right-hander’s 2014 and 2015 power suppression figures.
- Luis Severino, New York
- Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay
- Clay Buchholz, Boston – Okay. So, he hasn’t thrown 200 innings in a season since, well, ever. He also hasn’t even reached 120 innings in two of the past three years, however, in both campaigns in question, he posted a FIP below 2.80. This, in a nutshell, is the agony and mystery of Clay Buchholz. Is it crazy to assume 2016 will feature any level of consistency? It is. It truly is. But I’m not willing to overlook a 4.65 K/BB ratio and a pitcher who, in general, has cut his BB/9 down in seven consecutive seasons. Maybe a Top 50 Ranking is extreme, but I’ll guarantee Buchholz returns value on his current NFBC ADP of 286.
- Jose Quintana, Chicago