Starting pitcher, like outfield, is almost too much to bite into with this method.
Obviously, you need bunches of them, so if you hope to build a good pitching staff, you’ll be drafting more than one player from some of the top tiers. And thus, the strategy of drafting one of the last players within a given tier doesn’t wholly apply.
But the tiers still show you the biggest drop-offs in talent so you can avoid reaching at the expense of some other position. And that’s probably the best way to approach a position as meaty as starting pitcher: If another position’s progression through the tiers is screaming out to you, demanding action, it takes priority, but if not, that’s the perfect time to meet one of your many pitching needs.
The Elite: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, David Price
The Near-Elite: Johnny Cueto, Yu Darvish, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Archer, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello, Kyle Hendricks, Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel, Danny Duffy*
The Next-Best Things: Jose Quintana, Matt Harvey, Julio Teheran, Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Martinez, Gerrit Cole, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Rich Hill, Michael Fulmer, Steven Matz, John Lackey
The Fallback Options: Felix Hernandez, Aaron Nola, Danny Salazar, James Paxton, Sean Manaea, Tanner Roark, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Pomeranz, Carlos Rodon, Kevin Gausman, Jameson Taillon, Anthony DeSclafani, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, Matt Moore, Kenta Maeda, Sonny Gray, Julio Urias, Lance McCullers, Jon Gray, Garrett Richards
The Last Resorts: Adam Wainwright, Dylan Bundy*, Matt Shoemaker, Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, Joe Musgrove, Collin McHugh, Vince Velasquez, Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray, Joe Ross, Blake Snell, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Steven Wright, Ivan Nova, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery*, Ervin Santana, Brandon Finnegan, Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Liriano, Tyler Skaggs
The Leftovers: Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, Tyler Glasnow, Michael Pineda, Homer Bailey, Michael Wacha, Andrew Triggs*, Trevor Bauer, Zach Davies, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Patrick Corbin*, Hisashi Iwakuma, Junior Guerra, Chris Tillman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Mike Foltynewicz, Wily Peralta, Daniel Norris, Adam Conley, Drew Smyly, Jharel Cotton, Tyson Ross, Luke Weaver, Lucas Giolito, Jose Berrios, Josh Tomlin, Dan Straily, Gio Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Jose De Leon, , Shelby Miller, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Anderson, Chad Kuhl, Wei-Yin Chen, Mike Leake
In years past, I’ve distinguished Kershaw from the rest of The Elite, elevating him to an even higher tier the way I’ve done with certain players at second base, shortstop and outfield this year. But I’m not as bullish on him this time around. I still think he’s the best starting pitcher and the only one deserving of a first-round pick, but I also think his lingering back concerns make him less than a slam dunk.
And it’s not like I’ve tiered him with a bunch of chumps. The Elite features four of the six Cy Young finalists from a year ago in Scherzer, Kluber, Verlander and Lester, two other former winners in Arrieta and Price, the biggest household name in Bumgarner, everyone’s favorite up-and-comer in Syndergaard, and this offseason’s biggest landscape-changer in Sale.
You could make a case for some of The Near-Elite in that category as well. Really, the only one who hasn’t performed at an elite level for a full season is Duffy, but he gets a bump in Head-to-Head points leagues for his relief pitcher eligibility.
That’s what the asterisk (*) represents. You’ll find them scattered about. My relief pitcher tiers don’t include any SPARPs (starting pitchers as relief pitchers) because for those who only want saves from their relievers, it’s disorienting. But I do wish to highlight them somewhere. If you play in a league where that distinction matters, adjust accordingly.
Probably the biggest drop-off at the position is after The Next-Best Things. That’s sort of the dividing line between the trustworthy options from a year ago and the ones that had you continually going back to the waiver wire. The Fallback Options and The Last Resorts, meanwhile, are a hodge-podge of safe but unspectacular choices (Roark, Stroman and Hammel), unprovens with ultra high ceilings (Manaea, Velasquez and Snell) and even a few bounce-back candidates (Hernandez, Sonny Gray and Cobb). You can tailor them to suit your specific needs, and I recommend you do. That’s about a 50-player stretch for which I have little conviction about the exact order, which also means you should be prioritizing the near-depleted tiers at other positions at that stage of the draft.