2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Rating bounceback potential for aces who failed us in 2016

Pay up for pitching, right?

It’s a little easier to justify these days, when the 200-inning threshold is limited to just a select few -- the same few most likely to benefit from the league-wide strikeout increase while avoiding the pitfalls of the league-wide home run increase.

The gap between the best 15-20 and everyone else has widened, in other words, and if you’re not taking advantage, you’re getting left behind.

The downside to that way of thinking, though, is that the inherent risks of investing in starting pitching haven’t changed. From injuries to random variance to injuries disguised as random variance, not everything will go as planned.

A disproportionately high number of the pitchers we drafted to lead our Fantasy Baseball staffs last year instead fell flat on their faces. For a case like Matt Harvey, the reasons are obvious. I think we all recognize that he hurt himself badly, and besides, I’ve already addressed it elsewhere. But for these eight, we could use some more clarity.

Potential unfulfilled is not potential lost, though, so let’s consider the likelihood of a rebound for each. 

Chris Archer SP / Tampa Bay (2016 season)
W-L: 9-19 ERA: 4.02 WHIP: 1.24 IP: 201 1/3 K: 233

This one more or less resolved itself. Archer’s struggles weren’t an issue of stuff but pitch selection and, judging by the elevated walk rate, mechanics. He cut that walk rate down to an exemplary 1.9 per nine innings over his final 13 starts and had a 3.11 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings to go with it. It’s just that the ugly win-loss record helped keep it under the radar.
Likelihood of rebound: Book it.

Zack Greinke SP / Arizona (2016 season)
W-L: 13-7 ERA: 4.37 WHIP: 1.27 IP: 158 2/3 K: 134

Other than him missing more than a month with a strained oblique -- which popped up during his best stretch of the season, mind you -- we never got a cut-and-dried explanation for Greinke’s struggles. He made some vague references to tweaking his delivery last September, and mechanical issues would make the most sense given that his velocity and pitch selection were almost identical to 2015, when he put together a 1.66 ERA. He won’t be that good again, but his track record earns him the benefit of the doubt.
Likelihood of rebound: Book it.  

Gerrit Cole SP / Pittsburgh (2016 season)
W-L: 7-10 ERA: 3.88 WHIP: 1.44 IP: 116 K: 98

Cole didn’t land on the DL until mid-June, but there’s reason to believe he wasn’t right from the get-go. He missed most of spring training with rib cage inflammation, and though he had a 2.77 ERA halfway through the year, his velocity and strikeout rate weren’t quite at their usual levels. He was sidelined for good with elbow inflammation after a few more bad starts but has a clean bill of health now. And while he doesn’t quite have Greinke’s track record, he was an unquestioned ace in 2015.
Likelihood of rebound: So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Felix Hernandez SP / Seattle (2016 season)
W-L: 11-8 ERA: 3.82 WHIP: 1.32 IP: 153 1/3 K: 122

Hernandez has all the smarts and guile you’d expect of a 12-year veteran and the sort of diverse arsenal that should allow him to age gracefully, which is why we never cared so much that his velocity was trending down for six years. But it may have finally reached a breaking point last year. The Mariners have suggested to him that leaning on his four-seamer more will allow his secondary pitches to play up, and he has thrown it twice as often this spring. But when a pitcher reaches a point where he’s having to compensate for diminished stuff, all bets are off.
Likelihood of a rebound: Don’t hold your breath.

Dallas Keuchel SP / Houston (2016 season)
W-L: 9-12 ERA: 4.55 WHIP: 1.29 IP: 168 K: 144

There’s no questioning how much injury affected Keuchel in 2016. He didn’t throw as hard from the beginning and didn’t have his usual command either, which prevented him from having an other-worldly ground-ball rate. He did manage to put together a 3.47 ERA in his final 12 starts before conceding to the rotator cuff inflammation, which is encouraging. It’d be easy to dismiss his Cy Young 2015 as an aberration, but the breakout actually came the year before. An offseason of rest likely did him a world of good.
Likelihood of rebound: Book it.  

Sonny Gray SP / Oakland (2016 season)
W-L: 5-11 ERA: 5.69 WHIP: 1.50 IP: 117 K: 94

Everything from the velocity to the strikeout rate to the pitch selection to the pitch location was virtually the same for Gray as in 2015, when he finished third in AL Cy Young voting with a 14-7 record, 2.73 ERA  and 1.08 WHIP. So it wasn’t just a case of bad luck. He was legitimately hit hard last year. It wasn’t just a matter of poor defense either because his home run rate doubled. So did the league catch up to him, or does he simply need to refine his mechanics and/or approach? Since he’s being drafted like he was never good, I’ll get behind the latter.
Likelihood of rebound: So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Adam Wainwright SP / St. Louis (2016 season)
W-L: 13-9 ERA: 4.62 WHIP: 1.40 IP: 198 2/3 K: 161

To be fair, Wainwright was making his way back from a torn Achilles last year and now has had another year to recover. But he’s also 35, has lost a little something off his fastball the last couple years and was never a big-time bat-misser in the first place, which gives him a lower margin for error. He thinks he made some sort of breakthrough with his curveball earlier this spring after watching some tutorial he put together years ago, but he had those kinds of epiphanies over and over again last season without it amounting to much.
Likelihood of rebound: Don’t hold your breath.    

Jordan Zimmermann SP / Detroit (2016 season)
W-L: 9-7 ERA: 4.87 WHIP: 1.37 IP: 105 1/3 K: 66

It’s easy to forget Zimmermann was 8-2 with a 2.58 ERA after his first 10 starts last year given that he was so bad once his health began to betray him, but that’s kind of the point. It all started with a groin injury in May, but then before he was even all the way back from that, he had to contend with shoulder and neck pain so persistent that he was still receiving injections as recently as December. He was a steady workhorse prior to last year, though, so for him to be a complete afterthought in Fantasy now seems like an overreaction.
Likelihood fo rebound: So you’re saying there’s a chance.  

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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