If you’re looking for my hitter predictions, you can find those here. Below, I wrap up my 10 bold predictions for 2018 with five pitcher predictions.
1. The Indians have four top-25 ranked starting pitchers
Last season, Corey Kluber topped the starting pitcher rankings, per ESPN’s player rater. Among Cleveland’s starting pitchers, he was followed by Carlos Carrasco (SP7), Trevor Bauer (SP33), Mike Clevinger (SP35), Josh Tomlin (SP87), and Danny Salazar (SP88). Kluber and Carrasco are established top-flight starting pitchers who should repeat within the top-25 starting pitchers. They don’t need further explanation.
Bauer and Clevinger were the next two highest ranked starting pitchers from the Indians, and they’re my favorites to get this prediction home as a hit. In the second half, Bauer tallied a 3.01 ERA that was supported by solid, albeit not matching, advanced metrics (3.68 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, and 3.69 SIERA). His 1.31 WHIP, 7.5% BB%, and 26.7% % rounded out his second-half numbers. The righty’s tweaked his slider in the offseason and used it regularly in the spring. I believe this new weapon will push him into the top-25 SPs.
Clevinger enjoyed a breakout in 2017 that was split 21 starts and six relief appearances. As a starter, he twirled a 2.84 ERA (3.70 FIP, 4.05 xFIP and 4.24 SIERA), 1.21 WHIP, 11.6% BB%, 27.1% K%, and 12.4% SwStr%. If he’d pitched enough innings as a starter to be qualified, his 12.4% SwStr% would have ranked tied for the 12th highest. The righty has three filthy swing-and-miss secondaries. His changeup, curve and slider had a 19.0% SwStr%, 20.7% SwStr% and 23.4% SwStr%, respectively. The righty’s breakout was largely fueled by cutting back his fastball usage in favor of his dominant secondaries. If Clevinger is going to take another step forward this year, he’ll need to cut back on his free passes a bit. Thus far through six Spring Training starts spanning 19.0 innings, he’s walked only four batters out of 72 total batters faced (5.6% BB%) while maintaining an elite strikeout rate (34.7% K%).
Salazar is a wild card with plenty of arm talent, but he has a penchant for missing time due to injury. The flame-throwing righty is already mending rotator cuff inflammation, but he provides one other potential top-25 SP candidate, though, a long shot. I’ve made these team rotation predictions in the past, and regression and/or attrition has derailed all of them. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Regardless, I love the starters in this rotation, so I’ll go back to the well again.
2. Kyle Gibson is a top-70 starting pitcher
I can’t seem to give up on Gibson. I’ve been fooled before, and perhaps I’m fooled again. I wrote about him late in October last year, and you can read there why I’m once again buying into the veteran hurler. In short, he made tangible changes after a second demotion to Triple-A Rochester, and in his last 11 starts of the year, he totaled a 3.55 ERA (3.84 FIP, 3.54 xFIP and 3.79 SIERA), 1.26 WHIP, 5.8% BB%, 22.6% K%, 48.9% GB%, and 11.7% SwStr%. He’s piggybacked his intriguing conclusion to last year with a stellar spring. In four spring starts spanning 12.2 innings, he’s totaled a 3.55 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with just one walk and nine strikeouts. Over at FantasyPros, his expert consensus ranking (ECR) is SP106. Suffice to say, I’m higher than my peers on Gibson’s outlook this season.
3. Gio Gonzalez is not a top-75 starting pitcher
Gonzalez was the 11th ranked starting pitcher in 2017, per ESPN’s player rater. His ECR at FantasyPros is SP47, but I’m even more bearish on his stock this year. As Keith Farnsworth points out in Gio’s player cap, the lefty’s velocity has slipped the last couple of years. The 32-year-old hurler posted his lowest SwStr% (8.7%) since 2010 last season and his lowest- F-Strike% (55.3%) and highest walk rate (9.6% BB%) since 2011. The southpaw needed a perfect storm of BABIP and LOB% luck to a 2.96 ERA that was considerably worse than his 3.93 FIP, 4.24 xFIP and 4.41 SIERA. Regression is going to rear its ugly head for Gonzalez.
4. Stephen Strasburg is the highest ranked pitcher
This is probably the least bold of my predictions, but it sure does feel like Strasburg’s sky-high ceiling fails to get the recognition it deserves. Yes, he’s cleared 200 innings just one time in his career. But, man, when he’s healthy, he’s out of this world. Last year, he finished as SP5 on ESPN’s player rater. Getting back to his ceiling, the cheddar-pumping righty closed the regular season with eight otherworldly starts. During that eight-start stretch, he accumulated 53.2 innings with a sparkling 0.84 ERA (1.72 FIP, 2.67 xFIP and 2.84 SIERA), 0.78 WHIP, 5.0% BB%, 31.7% K% and a 13.7% SwStr%. He’s obviously not going to post anything close to those numbers over the course of a full season, but I think he can best last year’s 2.52 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while crossing the 200-innings threshold for the second time in his career.
5. The Astros have three top-10 ranked starting pitchers
Houston placed zero starting pitchers in the top 10 at the position last year. Late-season acquisition Justin Verlander nearly cracked the top 10 ranking as SP13. Dallas Keuchel wasn’t far behind at SP16. Swingman Brad Peacock checked in as SP20, and Charlie Morton ranked as SP27. Peacock has been pushed to the bullpen after the acquisition of Gerrit Cole via trade, and Lance McCullers is yet another electric arm Houston’s rotation boasts. This bold prediction isn’t bringing any surprise 2018 contributors to light. Instead, it’s asserting just how dominant I think Houston’s starting pitching can be.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.