Previewing 2018 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Corey Kluber the new No. 2 at starting pitcher, behind Clayton Kershaw
Innings eaters are a dying breed, which makes the true ace more valuable than ever in Fantasy Baseball. Still, there are more than enough high-upside arms to fill out a top 40, according to Scott White.
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We're still figuring out the best way to tackle starting pitching with the latest evolution of our sport.
Used to be we could target the pitchers who miss bats and trust the innings to follow. But now, the strikeouts are everywhere. Pitching deep into games is the real differentiator.
The pitchers who do both? Well, they're more valuable than ever. They're also what we commonly call "aces."
And there are enough to go around, perhaps even twice over in shallower leagues. But it's that next tier, the prospective aces, where I feel like we're seeing real growth.
Bottom line: There isn't a pitcher here in this list of 40 that I wouldn't be thrilled to draft on some level and several beyond it that I hated to leave out.
Either the tide is turning and the scarcity correcting itself or I've simply lowered my expectations. You decide.
Note: These rankings are intended to be just a first glimpse and aren't tailored for any specific format. In cases where the format would make a big difference, that difference is noted.
Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers SP
|Back issues are becoming a real concern for Clayton Kershaw, forcing him to the DL three of the past four years, but that's the only reason his grip on the No. 1 spot may be loosening. He's the best pitcher of his generation and the one obvious first-round pick at this position.|
Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians SP
|That four-month stretch in which Corey Kluber was nearly untouchable wasn't just some hot streak, but the result of a conscious decision to feature his breaking ball more, which is why he's my choice among the three candidates to slot behind Kershaw.|
Chris Sale Boston Red Sox SP
|Only the second pitcher of the last 15 years to record 300 strikeouts in a season (Kershaw in 2015 being the other), Chris Sale is both dominant and, at least in a year-to-year sense, consistent, but his tendency to save his worst for last can be frustrating.|
Max Scherzer Washington Nationals SP
|Yeah, Max Scherzer had another dominant season, making it five in a row now, but he also had a couple little injuries that kept him from reaching his usual innings total, which may become the new normal as he enters his mid-30s.|
Zack Greinke Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|Zack Greinke can't compare to the top four, but he's the best of what's left both because of his consistency (2016 notwithstanding) and the fact you can trust him to handle an ace workload. He relies more on command than velocity, so durability isn't a great concern even at his age (34).|
Luis Severino New York Yankees SP
|Luis Severino has three genuine swing-and-miss pitches, no real control issues and no innings limit heading into 2018. He was also one of the most reliable pitchers from start to finish in 2017, so while this ranking may be aggressive, it's justified.|
Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals SP
|Between ditching the windup and relying less on his slider, it's hard to say exactly what made the biggest difference for Stephen Strasburg, but the two together allowed him to settle in as we hadn't seen before. He still had a DL stint but threw his most innings since 2014.|
Justin Verlander Houston Astros SP
|I could make a case for any of the next six in this No. 8 spot, but have opted for Justin Verlander because of his durability and supporting cast. Plus, if his past two second halves are any indication, he still has best-pitcher-in-baseball-type stuff when his mechanics are in order.|
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP
|Madison Bumgarner rebounded nicely after spraining his shoulder in a dirt bike accident, returning with more or less his usual stuff, and on an individual level, he's still a good bet to perform like a top-five starting pitcher. But if the Giants aren't any better next year, the wins may be hard to come by.|
Carlos Carrasco Cleveland Indians SP
|In 2017, we learned Carlos Carrasco can indeed hold up for a full season (not that he had much control over his strained hamstring and fractured hand in 2016), and his strikeout and walks rates have suggested he's an ace for years now.|
Jacob deGrom New York Mets SP
|In terms of both arsenal and peripherals, Carrasco and Jacob deGrom are kind of the same pitcher, so if you trust Carrasco's health issues are behind him, it really comes down to has more wins potential. No question there.|
Noah Syndergaard New York Mets SP
|That little bit Noah Syndergaard pitched at the end of 2017 at least confirmed his torn lat didn't cost him anything stuff-wise, but durability is a major concern coming off a lost season. You can't expect a full workload for what may be the best pure pitching talent in baseball.|
Robbie Ray Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|Better BABIP luck gets much of the credit for Robbie Ray's breakout season, but then, he sort of creates his own luck with all the strikeouts he gets. If he can maintain the walk rate he showed after returning from a concussion in August, he's an ace in every respect.|
Yu Darvish Los Angeles Dodgers SP
|Yu Darvish got burned by win-loss record in 2017, but assuming he doesn't sign with some bottom-feeder club, it'll go down as an aberration. The Dodgers had him pitching like an ace at season's end, having tweaked his mechanics to get him back where he was before Tommy John surgery.|
Chris Archer Tampa Bay Rays SP
|Chris Archer's rocky September will also go down as an aberration, in all likelihood, though the fact it began immediately after he missed a start with forearm tightness is unsettling. He remains a big strikeout pitcher whose FIPs have consistently outpaced his ERAs.|
Carlos Martinez St. Louis Cardinals SP
|Another pitcher who stumbled to the finish line, Carlos Martinez nonetheless took on a bigger workload and improved his strikeout rate, so he's still firmly in the ace discussion even though he hasn't put it all together yet.|
Dallas Keuchel Houston Astros SP
|Dallas Keuchel looked like he might cruise to his second Cy Young award before a nerve issue in his neck derailed him in June, and while he wasn't as efficient when he returned, he was still effective thanks to his other-worldly ground-ball rate. He should pile up wins for the Astros.|
Jake Arrieta Chicago Cubs SP
|By now, it's clear Jake Arrieta isn't the same pitcher who won a Cy Young in 2015, having lost something off his fastball. But he found success in the second half by doing a better job of keeping the ball on the ground and still has enough strikeout potential to merit an early selection.|
David Price Boston Red Sox SP
|David Price gets a pass for a season that never really got off the ground thanks to an ongoing bout with elbow soreness. In the little he did pitch -- mostly as a starter, but some in relief -- he was more or less fine, and of course he has a long history as an ace. He's a potential bargain here.|
Zack Godley Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|A poor win-loss record allowed Zack Godley to fly under the radar all year, but by leaning on his curveball more, he developed a top-10 swinging strike rate to go along with his top-10 groundball rate. It's an ace profile that was more or less reflected by his ERA, even with the bumpy finish.|
Sonny Gray New York Yankees SP
|After a 2016 detour, Sonny Gray got back on an ace track in 2017, transforming his sinker, already an elite ground-ball generator, into a genuine swing-and-miss pitch. Now with the Yankees, he has a dangerous home venue but also an excellent lineup and bullpen backing him.|
James Paxton Seattle Mariners SP
|A left-hander with a fastball that pushes triple digits, a swing-and-miss breaking ball and plus control is all but a lock for greatness, and James Paxton confirmed in 2017 that he's great. But he also confirmed he's brittle, and seeing as he has never thrown even 140 innings in a big-league season, 180, much less 200, is a big ask.|
Aaron Nola Philadelphia Phillies SP
|Aaron Nola already had the command part down. Improving his velocity and making better use of his changeup allowed him to take the next step in 2017. A few late-season blips inflated his era, but seeing as he's already pitching seven-plus innings with regularly, he's on the verge of acedom.|
Masahiro Tanaka New York Yankees SP
|In terms of swings and misses, Masahiro Tanaka was as dominant as he has ever been in 2017, but his tendency to serve up home runs in bunches made him equally infuriating. The hope is it evens out -- his fly-ball rate isn't especially high, after all -- but he has pulled this same act before.|
Jon Lester Chicago Cubs SP
|Jon Lester had an uncharacteristically bad 2017, but it wasn't totally foreign -- he hit a similar rough patch in 2012 and rebounded nicely. True, his velocity appears to be declining as he approaches his mid-30s, but it didn't so much impact his strikeout rate. As a perennial Cy Young contender, he's discounted enough here.|
Jose Quintana Chicago Cubs SP
|An uneven 2017 has Jose Quintana basically in the same spot he was a year ago. While the ERA was on the high side, the rise in strikeouts was perhaps the bigger development. He still may lack the upside of an ace, but his wins potential as improved now that he's with the Cubs.|
Johnny Cueto San Francisco Giants SP
|Like Lester, Johnny Cueto has been down this road before, bouncing back from a bad half-season with the Royals in 2015 with ace numbers in 2016. This time, he has the excuse of pitching with blisters on his hand half the year. If he leaves the Giants, he'll move up a few spots.|
Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates SP
|Gerrit Cole may simply be a victim of our expectations. Just because he's a former first overall pick doesn't mean he's a surefire ace, and his whiff rate, not to mention his ERA, suggests he's something less than that. Draft him as your No. 2 and hope the home runs get back to normal.|
Alex Wood Los Angeles Dodgers SP
|An early-season velocity spike took Alex Wood from being a deception-over-stuff guy to something close to unhittable, compiling a 1.56 ERA in the first half. Everything returned to normal in the second half, which doesn't mean Wood was bad, but he invited more contact and looked more like a mid-rotation arm.|
Danny Duffy Kansas City Royals SP
|Danny Duffy is another pitcher who couldn't sustain his velocity gains after transitioning from the bullpen and, as a result, wasn't as effective in 2017. But while the strikeout rate dipped, the swinging-strike rate remained fairly high as he began to mix in his secondary pitches more. He's still figuring things out, but the complete package looks like a pretty good one.|
Luis Castillo Cincinnati Reds SP
|Luis Castillo will be everyone's favorite breakout pick in 2017 after he demonstrated Severino-like potential during his first 15 starts in the majors. His fastball pushes triple digits, and he already has one of the best swing-and-miss changeups in the game. He also put together his 3.12 ERA despite uncharacteristically mediocre control, if his minor-league history is any indication.|
Brad Peacock Houston Astros SP
|Brad Peacock was to 2017 what Rich Hill was to 2016 -- a long forgotten prospect who began striking out everybody in sight thanks to a greatly improved secondary arsenal. For Peacock, the game-changer was a slider that he throws about one-third of the time, and while he still struggled with walks, the FIP suggests the ERA was legit.|
Luke Weaver St. Louis Cardinals SP
|You could make the case Luke Weaver's rookie showing was even more dominant than that of Castillo, but he didn't do it over as many starts. He doesn't have as big of a fastball either, but clearly he knows what he's doing with it, compiling a 1.90 ERA over his last two minor-league seasons.|
Lance McCullers Houston Astros SP
|Lance McCullers had about two months when he looked like a bona fide ace, two when he couldn't locate anything and two when he didn't pitch at all. So while the percentages are intimidating (similar to those I was hyping for Godley, actually), you have wonder how much he'll be there for you.|
Dylan Bundy Baltimore Orioles SP
|Dylan Bundy's 2017 can be summed up this way: When he leaned on his slider/cutter hybrid -- his bread-and-butter pitch that he abandoned in 2016 to preserve his arm -- he impressed, and when he shied away from it, he faltered. He finished on a high note, as far as that goes, and I'm anxious to see what he'll do with no innings restrictions.|
Marcus Stroman Toronto Blue Jays SP
|The most extreme ground-ball pitcher this side of Keuchel hasn't enjoyed the same notoriety or success, really, but Marcus Stroman has established himself as a high-floor, middling-ceiling pitcher who can handle an ace workload. And given how rarely anybody consistently pitches six-plus innings these days, that's enough to make him a Fantasy standout even with a suspect strikeout rate and WHIP.|
Rich Hill Los Angeles Dodgers SP
|Rich Hill showed over the final three months of 2017 that he can perform like an ace when everything is right mechanically. But he has recurring blister issues and has gone so long without pitching a full six-month season that you can't expect him to go back to it at age 38. It's like he has a natural innings limit even if the Dodgers don't impose one.|
Jacob Faria Tampa Bay Rays SP
|The Rays might have been a little too careful with Jacob Faria after he returned from a strained abdominal at the end of 2017, putting him in a position where they may have to monitor his innings again in 2018. But he looked plenty polished for the time he was healthy, baffling hitters with his plus-plus changeup and consistently working six-plus innings.|
Jose Berrios Minnesota Twins SP
|Even though he faded down the stretch after dominating out of the gate, Jose Berrios' sophomore season was an unqualified success and total 180 from his rookie campaign. He may be a little Cole-like in that he lacks the swing-and-miss ability of a true ace, but seeing as he's only 23, you can't rule out continued improvement either.|
Mike Clevinger Cleveland Indians SP
|Swings and misses certainly aren't an issue for Mike Clevinger, who ranked alongside Carrasco in that measurement, but he's still learning to throw strikes consistently. He gave up some pretty hard contact, too, which suggests he may have gotten lucky in the BABIP department, but the good outweighs the bad for this pitcher on the rise.|
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