Early ADP Thoughts – Starting Pitcher, Part I

The volatility of pitching makes SP average draft figures sketchy after the top 25 or so. Opinions can only differ so much on hitters, especially those with anything close to a track record (starting around ~1000+ MLB PA), but opinions will vary widely on pitchers regardless of track record. Some won’t believe in a pitcher until he has 500-600 IP under his belt regardless of how good his first 200-300 are while on the other end you have fantasy players afraid to be holding the hot potato when the music stops on someone with a lengthy track record in their mid-30s.

Most of the guys in that sweet spot are the established aces and frontliners (lower level #1s, elite #2s) that we generally agree on for those early round picks. This year is vastly different than last year which is likely to create even wider chasms perhaps as early as the mid-teens among starters. The uncertainty should create some fantastic buying opportunities, though, and it’ll open up draft strategies, too.

Last year, most teams didn’t want to exit the third round without their ace. Early on this year, teams are OK waiting until the sixth, maybe even seventh round to get their ace while they stock up on hitting and perhaps open their  pitching staff with an elite closer instead. As with outfield, I’ll do two parts with starters going through the top 50 today and then 51 and beyond next time.

Previous Editions:

STARTING PITCHER (click this for ADP to see who’s in the top 50)

  • Clayton Kershaw (pick 6) threw just 149 IP thanks to a back injury, but he was still so incredibly good that he remains the top pitcher without question. Kershaw had career-bests in ERA, BB/9, and H/9. Back injuries are tricky, but he’s still an easy first rounder.
  • Madison Bumgarner (15) and Cole Hamels (86) are the only two pitchers to throw at least 200 IP every season since 2011.
  • There are 27 pitchers with at least 1000 IP since ’11 and Bumgarner is 3rd in ERA (3.00), 3rd in WHIP (1.08), 4th in K% (25%), and 4th in IP (1276.7).
  • While Noah Syndergaard (21) only has 333.7 career IP under his belt, it’s hard not to see him as an ace already. He certainly has ace-level stuff, but there was some uncertainty with his elbow at different parts during the season. It doesn’t cut into his fantasy price because most realize that his upside is top starter in the game.
  • Corey Kluber (25) leads the AL in FIP (2.84) and he’s 4th in the MLB in both K% and IP over the last three seasons.
  • The market is still betting on that uber upside from Yu Darvish (38). He’s still an elite strikeout asset and he has improved his walk rate yearly.
  • We are three years removed from Darvish’s only 200-inning season in the majors, but he’s now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery so innings shouldn’t be an issue this year. I won’t exit draft season without at least one share.
  • There is some concern over Jon Lester (38) losing David Ross which makes some sense. He has a 2.75 ERA in 578.7 IP with Ross and 3.71 in 1425 IP with every other catcher throughout his career. I think he’ll be in the low-to-mid 3.00s.
  • I’m not sure Johnny Cueto (46) gets his full due as an ace. He’s never been a huge strikeout guy, but his ratios are consistently elite and outside of some 2013 injuries, he’s been a workhorse.
  • Stephen Strasburg (57) and Carlos Carrasco (60) both carry elite upside, but it’s tempered by their consistent injury issues. Strasburg has one DL-free season and Carrasco hasn’t been able to make it start-to-finish as a starter after breaking out in 2014.
  • Fantasy aces are in much shorter supply this year, though, so both will be fronting rotations in most leagues.
  • I’m a little suspect of Kyle Hendricks (68), especially at his elevated cost, but I certainly recognize his elite command and ability to induce weak contact. Eno identified Zach Davies (300) as someone who could be the next Hendricks.
  • There isn’t a lot of hype surrounding Carlos Martinez (73), but it hasn’t really depressed his price in the market.
  • If he continues to improve against lefties, there’s sub-3.00 ERA potential and while the SwStr% has been average to slightly above, the raw stuff portends more meaning a 25% or better K% is in play, too.
  • Jacob deGrom (74) had ulnar nerve surgery in September, but it’s not expected to be a limiting factor this spring. He had a 2.29 ERA through his first 21 starts and then a 9.82 in his final three before the surgery. Still plenty to like here.
  • His worst HR rate since 2004 tanked Zack Greinke’s (98) season, but I’m feeling a bounce back for him.
  • He allowed 3+ homers in three games, something he hadn’t done even once since 2009, and it wasn’t just Arizona as two were on the road. Those three starts accounted for 31% of his season’s earned runs.
  • Aaron Sanchez (104) added nearly 100 innings to his workload and had a fantastic season. He substantially improved his strikeout and walk rates while remaining an elite groundball guy (54% was 5th in MLB). His indicators say the ERA is headed upward, but I don’t think we can rule out his strikeout and walk rates continuing to improve.
  • Honestly, I’m probably bypassing both Sanchez and Rick Porcello (106) to get Danny Duffy (109). He isn’t without flaws of his own, namely that he allowed too many homers (1.4 HR/9) and sputtered to the finish line (6.37 ERA in final 41 IP), but his stuff is the best of the trio and if he keeps the ball in the park, he’s a sub-3.00 arm for sure.
  • Gerrit Cole (117) looked like he ascending into the ace ranks after a huge ’15, but a balky right elbow limited his innings (116 IP) and impacted his performance (3.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).
  • Cole was a regular top 40 pick last year so even at his high end of this year (85 Min Pick), he’s sharply discounted. If goes through Spring Training without any health concerns, his ADP will be inside the top 100 by late-March.
  • You probably won’t get more than 130 IP from Rich Hill (134) and even that would require a 20-inning jump from last year, but they should be great innings so if you pair him with some workhorses (like Scherzer on the high end and Samardzija in the middle rounds), he’s worth the investment.
  • Alex Reyes (135) is being heavily over-drafted. He threw 111 total innings with 4.5 walks per nine and has a whopping five MLB starts under his belt. The raw stuff is great, but there is work to be done for the 22-year old.
  • Eno and I prefer Michael Fulmer (142) at his cost to Porcello at his and discussed on the pod how Fulmer could see his ERA move up but counterbalance it by improving his strikeout rate.
  • Fulmer had a 23% K% in the minors and showed enough swing-and-miss stuff to reach that or beyond in ’17.
  • The last piece of the puzzle for Kevin Gausman (150) is keeping the damn ball in the park. He’s only done it once in the majors, though (0.6 HR/9 in ’14; 1.2 career). Eno had his splitter as one of the best pitches in the game last year, too.
  • Jameson Taillon (151) came back in a big way after missing two full seasons to injury and immediately showed why he was a five-time top 100 prospect at most outlets and six-time entry on BP’s top 100 list.
  • His changeup still needs work despite solid results (.400 OPS). He needed a .138 BABIP with the pitch to overcome the meager 14% K% (league average of 23%).
  • Julio Urias (168) showed more than Reyes and he’s going 33 picks later… which is still too early. He’s an incredible talent, but he’s not close to a finished product at age-20. Be careful.
  • deGrom, Matt Harvey (134), and Steven Matz (169) will all jump substantially in March if their health is clean during Spring Training.
  • Though Jeff Zimmerman made an important point about bone spurs with regard to Matz: “The issue to note going forward is that without the bone spur, Matz’s elbow is less stable and more likely to get injured in the future.”
  • Sean Manaea’s (179) talent has never been in question, but staying healthy has been an issue throughout his pro career. A strained pronator was the only thing to really slow him down during his 144.7 IP debut. His changeup really progressed and his slider remains fantastic.
  • Manaea threw his slider 293 times and had the 11th-best OPS (.379), 11th-best BB% (1.2%), and 20th-best K% (46%) among 144 pitchers with at least 290 sliders thrown. I’d take Manaea over Reyes at the same cost let alone nearly three rounds later.
  • Outside of Fulmer and Gausman, I’m mostly passing on the 30-40 group of SPs and then jumping back in at Matz (if healthy), Manaea, and Jon Gray (180), who I’m a huge fan of this year.
  • In fact, I really like that 45-50 range with Gray, Matt Moore (181), Vince Velasquez (187), Jake Odorizzi (187), and Lance McCullers (193). They have their warts, but the wart-free arms stop around 12 this year.
  • Moore had the same ERA with TB and SF (4.08), but he had bigger flourishes with the Giants and three bad starts pushed his ERA up. He had 10 starts (in 21 total) of 0-2 ER with TB and eight of 12 with SF, including a near no-hitter and two 11-strikeout games.
  • McCullers had shoulder and elbow issues in ’16 that limited him to 81 IP and walked 5.0 per nine, but he also had a 30% K rate and 57% GB rate showing just how devastating his stuff is when he’s on the mound.
  • Pair the high-risk McCullers pick with some stability (or perceived stability, we never really know that a pitcher will stay healthy) and his 12th-13th round cost becomes more palatable, but he’s not the kind of guy you get in 75% of your leagues if you’re a multi-leaguer like myself.

Who are some of your favorites in the top 50? Anyone you’re outright avoiding at their current cost?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Zapp Brannigan
Zapp Brannigan

Sonny Gray is someone I’m still in on that I was curious about. Was his 2016 more a result of some overdue regression or is it possible his struggles were mostly injury related?