I recently released my top 125 starting pitchers for 2020 and I couldn’t believe that nobody had a single question about them and everyone who saw them found them to be perfect top to bottom. OK, dumb joke. Anyway, I appreciate everyone getting in the comments and discussing the rankings with me. I’m still responding to questions and comments if you want to ask me about someone in the rankings.
Today I want to look the biggest differences between my rankings and the early average draft position (ADP) information at the NFBC in their Draft Champions leagues (50-round draft-and-hold format). On their list, they group all pitchers together so I took out the relievers making it more of a 1:1 comparison with my SP ranks. This will be a two-part piece with the first being the pitchers where I’m higher.
10 Where I’m Higher
Jeff Samardzija, SF | 107th SP in ADP; 52nd SP by me
I wouldn’t even say I’m a huge fan of The Shark, but his current ADP seems like a great price for someone who finished 33rd among SP on Razzball’s Player Rater last year. Even if you don’t fully buy the 3.52 ERA, he offers high volume with a strong WHIP. At the very least, he has Oracle Park protecting him for half of his starts. It’s a boring investment, but I’ll gladly take him outside the top 100 SPs.
Ross Stripling, LAD | 89th; 46th
Stripling opened 2019 in the Dodgers rotation but was promptly removed in late-April and made just nine more starts the rest of the way. I understand those who are nervous about his outlook, but I’m thinking he should at least open the season in the rotation again with Hyun-Jin Ryu out and no one added to their pool of starters except Jimmy Nelson, who is more likely to be eased into starting.
Obviously, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenta Maeda (at least until August when they will start manipulating his IP) have spots and then Stripling, Nelson, Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin are fighting for the remaining two spots. I lean toward Stripling and Urias getting the spots, at least initially. Stripling has quietly been very good the last two seasons. Of the 128 pitchers with at least 200 innings since 2018, he’s 17th in ERA (3.22), 29th in WHIP (1.17), and tied for the 9th-highest K% at 26%.
We will no doubt get clarification on his role as Spring Training progresses, but in the meantime, I’m taking him at a severely discounted rate in leagues drafting during January and February.
Jordan Lyles, TEX | 117th; 79th
It was a weird 2019 for Lyles. All was going well in Pittsburgh as he took a 3.09 ERA into June and promptly reeled off a 7-start run of a 10.00 ERA. That didn’t stop the Brewers from wanting him back, though, and he immediately recaptured his form upon returning. Lyles closed the year with a 2.45 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 58.7 innings of work thanks to his curveball and some very good fortune (.225 BABIP, 88% LOB). I think we’ll see something like a 4.10 ERA/1.20 WHIP from Lyles as I expect the new Rangers stadium to play rather neutral thanks to the retractable roof cutting into the severe climate effects.
Wade Miley, CIN | 120th; 83rd
Look, I understand that Samardzija, Lyles, and Miley are pretty boring picks which is part of why they fall down the ADP ladder, but they were all top 60 SPs last year. Miley could’ve had an even better season had it ended on August 31st as he took a 3.06 ERA and 1.22 WHIP into September. He then dropped a 16.68 ERA bomb on fantasy managers in September, pushing his season ERA to 3.98! Miley rejuvenated his career in 2018 with the Brewers under the tutelage of pitching coach Derek Johnson.
Guess where Johnson is now??
The two will be reunited in Cincinnati and I think Miley will have another useful season. If he can avoid a meltdown month like his September, we could feasibly see something like a 3.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but even a 4.10 ERA/1.30 WHIP combo plays in 15-league formats.
Aaron Civale, CLE | 84th; 58th
Dylan Cease, CWS | 90th; 66th
Cease is another arm I’ve highlighted as a favorite already his offseason. The one-time big prospect showed flashes in his 73 innings last year, though you might’ve missed it if you just look at his final numbers: 5.79 ERA, 1.55 WHIP. The 24-year old arm has premium heat (96.5 mph), a strong slider, and workable changeup. He needs to avoid the meltdown starts – like the 13 ER he allowed in 7 IP against the Twins.
Many young arms struggle getting through a lineup multiple times, but Cease had the opposite issue. He got better as the game went on: .976 OPS the 1st time through, .831 2nd time, and .631 3rd time. Perhaps something in his preparation needs to improve so he shave down his 9.32 ERA in the first two innings. Cease’s cost makes him a 5th-6th starter which is exactly the area where you start taking your gambles who could pay off big. Sign me up for some Cease shares.
Jake Odorizzi, MIN | 53rd; 35th
Speaking of times through the order, the Twins figured out that Odorizzi experienced a major dip in production after the first two times. For his career, he has a .640 OPS the 1st time through, .694 the 2nd time, and .850 the third time. So Minnesota decided to just limit how often he made it to that 3rd time and in the process, they found themselves a really strong mid-rotation arm. His times through trend held steady in 2019: .610, .629, and .883, but it was his best mark the 3rd time through in three years (.906 and 1.159 in 2017-18).
Outside of a bumpy July (9.35 ERA in his first four starts of the month), Odorizzi’s season was excellent. Lift those four starts and he had a 2.80 ERA in his other 26 starts. Of course, those starts count, but it highlights how a small blip can push an ERA from amazing to good. Frankly, I’d gladly take a repeat from Odorizzi and that’s definitely worth more than the 53rd SP off the board.
Frankie Montas, OAK | 38th; 21st
You may be struck by such a high ranking for someone without even 100 IP in the majors let alone a full season, but I love Montas’ trajectory and I’m excited about his 2020. His evolution from thrower to pitcher along with the addition of a wicked splitter now leaves him with a three-pitch mix highlighted by top shelf velo (96.6 mph) and a killer slider that netted a 9.6 pitch value in just 96 innings of work. There’s no reason the 27-year old righty can’t log 30+ starts this season and pick up where his 2019 breakout left off.
Max Fried, ATL | 42nd; 25th
I’m quite excited about the 26-year old lefty in 2020. He added a slider in 2019 and had multiple extended runs of success, though they were regularly interrupted by a 5 ER outing or two. He had six such outings among his 31 starts (as well as a 1 IP/4 ER dud at the Dodgers) which pushed his ERA north of 4.00 while his .336 BABIP saddled him with a 1.33 WHIP.
He’s had a high BABIP throughout his 225.3 MLB innings (.333) so there are no guarantees that he improves there, but with two plus breaking balls and a useful fastball, I don’t think it’s out of bounds to see some potential gains there. There’s some huge upside here and I could see Fried around a 3.30 ERA/1.20 WHIP with a strikeout-per-inning at his best.
Joe Musgrove, PIT | 60th; 45th
Of course, I’m not quitting Musgrove. He didn’t have the breakout I was hoping for in 2019, but he still offered a positive WHIP and set a new high in innings at 170.3 over 31 starts plus a relief outing. He doesn’t walk anyone, has quality swing-and-miss stuff that could push his strikeout rate up, and still carries major upside. The Pirates cleaned house and I’m hoping they change their pitching strategies and allow pitchers to lean on their best pitches instead of just spamming fastballs (often two-seamers) as Ray Searage encouraged when he was at the helm.