The wins category is the least predictable of them all, hitters and pitchers combined. It's to the point that we barely even address it when breaking down a pitcher's outlook, preferring instead to assess the skills and let the wins fall where they may.
But a win is also the most valuable thing a pitcher can contribute in Fantasy Baseball, and so being able to forecast them would certainly be preferable. And I think it's become a little more doable in recent years. So many pitchers get removed so early from games now that it seriously hampers their ability to collect wins. The ones who don't have an early hook, then, and are trusted to pitch deeper into games have a serious advantage there.
If I were to rank the factors that most influence a pitcher's ability to secure victories, it would look something like this:
- His own ability
- His workload
- His supporting lineup
- His supporting bullpen
It's reflected in my choices here. Of course, in a shortened season, predicting any player's output in such a volatile category is even more of a crapshoot, but the actual process shouldn't change.
We analyzed RBI and wins sleepers plus the first round of the MLB Draft on Thursday's Fantasy Baseball Today podcast. Subscribe to the podcast here.
Only starting pitchers with an ADP of 160 or later, according to FantasyPros, were considered.
Sean Manaea SP
SF San Francisco • #52 • Age: 31
One aspect of Sean Manaea that shouldn't be in doubt at this point is his ability to throw strikes. It's the reason I also have him as a sleeper for WHIP. Wasting so few pitches allows him to pitch deeper into games, and he has in fact gone six-plus innings in 19 of his 32 starts over the past two years. That's going to put him in a position to win some games for a potent Athletics offense even if the strikeouts come back down to earth.
SF San Francisco • #18 • Age: 31
Though durability is the biggest question surrounding Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals didn't hold him back in his previous life as a starting pitcher, and it translated to 16 wins in 2016. They always treated him like a top-of-the-rotation arm and gave him the corresponding workload. And if you were worried they'd be more careful with him this time around, the shortened season gives them less incentive to be. He's also one of my sleepers for ERA, so I expect him to pitch well.
Kenta Maeda SP
MIN Minnesota • #18 • Age: 34
The Dodgers version of Kenta Maeda wouldn't appear on this list. They suppressed his workload as a dollar-saving measure, pulling him early from games and periodically transitioning him to the bullpen even though he's well equipped for a big workload, boasting a deep arsenal and generally keeping his pitch count down. The Twins will need him to be the anchor the Dodgers never did, and presuming they handle him differently, he'll have big offensive production backing him up.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #19 • Age: 34
Masahiro Tanaka has his faults that rightfully have pushed him down in drafts, but even in a year when he couldn't get a grip on his best pitch, the splitter, causing his strikeout rate to tumble, he still recorded double-digit wins. On paper, the Yankees have the best offense and the best bullpen, and Tanaka has always given them length, throwing six-plus innings in 21 of his 32 appearances last season -- which was, again, a down year.
HOU Houston • #43 • Age: 29
Lance McCullers doesn't have a history as a big winner, mostly because his career high in innings is 128 1/3, but workload-wise, he'll be on equal footing with everyone else in a shortened season, even coming off Tommy John surgery. The Astros actually haven't shied away from giving him a third turn through a lineup, having him throw six-plus innings in 13 of his 22 starts two years ago. And as for supporting cast, theirs remains second to none even though they're under new management now.
CHC Chi. Cubs • Age: 31
Marcus Stroman also shows up in my ERA sleepers, being a ground-ball specialist who has delivered an ERA shy of 3.25 two of the past three years, but there's a reason he lasts long enough for me to call him a sleeper -- two, actually. The ground balls come at the expense of strikeouts, and they also keep his WHIP high. Is either of those going to prevent him from picking up wins? No, the ERA matters most there, and again, I say he's good for it. We've already seen him throw 200 innings twice, so he can handle the workload, too.
J.A. Happ SP
STL St. Louis • #34 • Age: 40
Really, anyone pitching for the Yankees is a sleeper for wins, given the supporting cast. The lineup and bullpen both deserve a chef's kiss. As for J.A. Happ specifically, he won 20 games in 2016 and 17 games in 2018. He also won 12 games last year even though he was terrible, which shows what the Yankees supporting cast can do for a pitcher. And I suspect he won't be terrible this year -- he made some changes to his delivery this offseason and looked dominant in the initial spring training.
STL St. Louis • #39 • Age: 34
Miles Mikolas was an 18-game winner for the ever-competitive Cardinals in 2018, and while his numbers that year may have been too good to be true across the board, he didn't deserve the 9-14 record he got last year either. His elite walk rate makes him a sleeper for WHIP as well, and he's so efficient, throwing seven-plus innings more times (seven) than he threw 100 pitches (five) last year that you can trust him to control his own destiny in the win-loss department.
Cole Hamels SP
SD San Diego • Age: 39
Cole Hamels of course has a long and storied track record as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse and got back to performing like one in his first 17 starts last year, throwing seven-plus innings eight times while compiling a 2.98 ERA. An oblique injury wrecked that season, and a shoulder injury caused his stock to tumble this spring, but he should be healthy now. The Braves have an elite offense and an upgraded bullpen, so if he's back to being that first-half guy from a year ago, watch out.
Rich Hill SP
PIT Pittsburgh • #44 • Age: 43
What's funny is Rich Hill almost certainly wouldn't appear here if 2020 was a full-length season given how often he has proven incapable of lasting a full season. And even as things stand, he's not an open-and-shut case, being a 40-year-old coming off elbow surgery. But if he comes back pitching the same way he has the past three years, compiling a 3.30 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 with the Dodgers, he'll be a big winner. The Twins figure to have a top-five offense and I think a top-five bullpen as well.