Ranking Five Tier 2 Starting Pitchers

Depending on league type and tendencies, there is a group of five pitchers who I have a problem differentiating their value. They are Chris Sale, Mike Clevinger, Jack Flaherty, Stephen Strasburg, and Shane Bieber. While the ideal spot would be to take the last of this group, not every owner will have that option. There will be instances where if an owner passes on one of this group, none will make it back to their next pick. I needed to dig in a bit to differentiate them.

The first elephants in the room to deal with are Walker Buehler and Blake Snell. I went through the following analysis and Beuhler came out a bit ahead of the ground and Snell a bit behind. I completely understand if someone wants to include them. All these pitchers are close but currently, they are easier for me to rank. I’m sure someone can’t wait to write a small essay in the comments on why I’m wrong. I can’t wait to ignore it.

The second elephant in the room is Sale. He struggled last season, but if he returns to form from just two years ago, he has the potential to be the #1 overall player. I’m not sure the other four have that level of upside. He seems like a high variance play.

To differentiate pitchers, I usually compare projected production and past health. Here’s a comparison with Depth Chart projections and previous major league playing time.

Pitcher Comparison: Take 1
Name ERA pERA K/9 BB/9 ADP GS (3-years) IP (3Y) Injury from past three seasons
Clevinger 3.34 3.01 10.96 3.07 23 74 447 Strained back and ankle
Flaherty 3.37 3.28 10.51 2.71 24 66 368 none
Bieber 3.57 2.92 10.06 1.73 28 52 329 none
Strasburg 3.43 3.09 10.49 2.51 29 83 514 Elbow nerve impingment, shoulder inflammation
Sale 3.34 3.14 12.42 2.14 37 84 519 Inflammed shoulder (twice), inflamed elbow

Usually, I use pERA as a tie-breaker, but the range is from 2.92 to 3.28. The projected ERA’s are closer from 3.34 to 3.57. Sale stands out with the higher strikeout rate but the injuries, both elbow and shoulder, are concerning. The pitcher who sticks out is Strasburg. A checkered injury history with equivalent talent to the non-Sale pitchers. He falls to last for me.

How about another table? It’s coming anyway. The additions are fastball velocity and usage, groundball rate, and the 2019 second-half K%-BB% rate The one is used to see if a pitcher is riding into the season with any momentum. I’m not big of second-half stats but in this instance, there needs to be a tie-breaker.

Also, once someone differentiates themselves after an analysis, I’m not going back to them. Strasburg’s last and will stay that way even though some stats may appear better than the others.

Pitcher Comparison: Take 2
Rank Name FB Velo FB% 2H K%-BB% GB%
1t Clevinger 95.5 51% 25% 41%
1t Flaherty 93.9 58% 28% 40%
1t Bieber 93.1 46% 29% 44%
1t Sale 93.2 46% 32% 43%
5 Strasburg 93.9 48% 30% 51%

The one who moves to fourth is Flaherty. He’s got limited upside with just the two pitches and an owner can just wait for Patrick Corbin. Also, I’m going to take Clevinger over Bieber. Clevinger has more fastball velocity to fall back on and can throw his breaking balls more … if the fastball falters.

So where does Sale fit into the mix? It really comes down to personal preference on rostering the high variance player. Personally, I’m all about high variance players as long as they come at a discount to their median range of outcomes. For me, I’d take him third after Clevinger and Bieber.

My final rankings are

  1. Mike Clevinger
  2. Shane Bieber
  3. Chris Sale (Anywhere from #1 to #4, personal variance tolerance)
  4. Jack Flaherty
  5. Stephen Strasburg

I can’t wait to read how I’m wrong. Fire away.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Can’t find anything really wrong at all. Honestly, just glad to get any of those guys in a draft so no matter how they’re ranked I’ll take any of ’em.