2016 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Starting pitcher tiers

2016 Tiers: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

If I can guarantee one thing about your upcoming Fantasy Baseball draft, it's this: You're going to be drafting a lot of starting pitchers.

Most leagues require you to start at least five, and you'll want depth beyond that to take advantage of two-start weeks.

So needless to say, you shouldn't necessarily wait until the end of a tier to take one. Doing so limits you to only one from that tier, and more so than ever this year, you're going to want multiple of the best.

Because as you can see, the distribution isn't so even from top to bottom.

Note: Players with asterisks (*) next to their names are also eligible at relief pitcher in standard CBSSports.com leagues.

The Unmatched: Clayton Kershaw
The Elite: Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Greinke, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Carrasco
The Near-Elite: Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Noah Syndergaard, Sonny Gray, Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto
The Next-Best Things: Danny Salazar, Michael Wacha, Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Martinez, Garrett Richards, Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Marcus Stroman
The Fallback Options: Taijuan Walker, Tyson Ross, Shelby Miller, Francisco Liriano, Hisashi Iwakuma, Carlos Rodon, Collin McHugh, James Shields, Steven Matz, Yordano Ventura, Julio Teheran, Luis Severino, Drew Smyly, Lance McCullers, Yu Darvish, Raisel Iglesias, Kenta Maeda, Michael Pineda, Jose Quintana, Matt Moore, Joe Ross, Patrick Corbin, John Lackey
The Last Resorts: Mike Fiers, Scott Kazmir, Gio Gonzalez, Jake Odorizzi, Aaron Nola, Jeff Samardzija, Jaime Garcia, Jason Hammel, Jimmy Nelson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Ian Kennedy, Vincent Velasquez*, Clay Buchholz, Ervin Santana, Kyle Hendricks, J.A. Happ, Rich Hill, Alex Wood
The Leftovers: Trevor Bauer, Anibal Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Derek Holland, Andrew Cashner, Jerad Eickhoff, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Tanner Roark*, Doug Fister*, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez, Wei-Yin Chen, Tyler Glasnow, Tyler Duffey, Kevin Gausman, Erasmo Ramirez, Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jesse Hahn, Jose Berrios, Anthony DeSclafani, Taylor Jungmann, C.J. Wilson, Robbie Ray, Phil Hughes, Jered Weaver, Andrew Heaney, Nathan Karns, Matt Wisler, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kris Medlen, Chris Bassitt, Homer Bailey, James Paxton, Daniel Norris, Josh Tomlin, Alex Cobb, Zack Wheeler, Kyle Gibson, Jose De Leon

Would you look at that elite tier? My gosh.

Maybe your eyes still haven't moved past Kershaw all by his lonesome at the top, but don't be misled. The Unmatched is a superfluous tier added to the top of select positions -- basically just starting pitcher, outfield and first base as way of signaling that Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Kershaw should be the first four players off the board.

If I went the more traditional route and counted Kershaw among The Elite, the tier would be 17 deep. That's compared to 10 deep last year and 11 deep the year before. The number of top-shelf contributors is clearly on the rise.

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Clayton Kershaw LAD • SP • 22
2015 STATS16

The problem is the rest of the position doesn't seem to be catching up. In fact, offense as a whole took a turn for the better last season, making its first big jump since the crash of 2010. So if the best pitchers are getting better at the same time offense is getting better ... what does it mean?

It means those top-shelf starting pitchers are that much better than the rest of the crop, and you see it reflected in these tiers.

The Near-Elite is only six deep. Given the widespread need for starting pitching in Rounds 6-8, it could all be gone within a round. You may never have a shot at it, depending where your picks fall within the run, in which case you'd be settling for The Next-Best Things, who are even less likely to measure up to The Elite and -- oh yeah -- not so plentiful themselves.

In a standard 12-team format, about half the league will have two of The Elite, assuming an even distribution. The risk in not being part of that half is that your second pitcher could be a whole three tiers worse if you don't act quickly on the next two tiers. Meanwhile, some of those owners with two stud pitchers will have grabbed a third and fourth by that point.

The bottom line is that, with the way the position stacks up this year, you could find yourself in a big hole if you don't make starting pitching a priority. It's one thing to ask a ragtag bunch of cross-your-fingers-for-a-breakout types to keep pace with a staff led by one ace and two fairly good pitchers. But one led by two aces plus a Lester or Hamels type who would have counted as an ace in the very recent past? You're just asking to get buried. That's the difference between now and two or three years ago.

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Jon Lester CHC • SP • 34
2015 STATS11

For what it's worth, starting pitcher does still have its breakout types, including a quintet of promising sophomores -- McCullers, Rodon, Joe Ross, Severino and Iglesias -- who help comprise The Fallback Options. Nola and Rodriguez also fit that description, but with fewer assurances. They join retread types like Gonzalez, Samardzija, Kennedy, Buchholz and Hill as potential upside picks late.

The Fallback Options and The Last Resorts are large tiers, and most every pitcher in them qualifies as a sleeper in some way. It's just that those types are better served as depth than equalizers these days. Build your staff around them, and you may be out of the race by the time you sort through all the misfires.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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