Top 24 Starting Pitchers for 2017 by Paul Sporer September 22, 2016 Let me just state out front that this isn’t just subject to change, but that it will change. I don’t think that fact makes it useless to roll out an early top 24. This gives us a baseline and hopefully fosters some discussion that will impact that changes sure to come over the fall and winter. Heck, I might have an update in early November after marinating on the entirety of the 2016 season for a month or so. Here are my top 24 with a quick comment on each: Clayton Kershaw: He sits fifth on ESPN’s Player Rater among starters despite just 135 innings because he’s insane. Max Scherzer: Had a 4.05 ERA and big home run issue through two months of season, but he’s rallied with a 2.10 ERA in his last 20 starts and now rates as the best fantasy pitcher for the season. He allowed 15 HRs in those first 11 starts, but just 11 in the last 20 along with a filthy 169 strikeouts in 137.3 innings. Jose Fernandez: Toting a 2.86 ERA on the season despite some consistent road woes – 6 of his 8 starts with 4+ ER have come on the road. I don’t see this becoming a long-term issue, though. He still has a 30% strikeout rate and 3.7 K:BB ratio in 77.7 road innings. Madison Bumgarner: Does he get the credit he deserves? I know crying East Coast Bias is a little hackneyed, but he seems somewhat underpraised for a guy about to finish his fourth straight season with a sub-3.00 ERA – this time a career-best 2.57 with a career-high 241 strikeouts in what might also be a career-high innings if he finishes more than five next time out. Chris Sale: Only fanned 8.3 batters per nine in his first 12 starts under the guise of efficiency, but his pitch counts weren’t any better so he went back to striking a bunch of guys out with a 9.8 mark in his last 17 starts including all four of his double-digit strikeout outings. He’s also averaging 7.4 innings per start over that stretch. Workhorse, strikeout stud, and still just 28 years old. Imagine if the White Sox ever get good with him. Corey Kluber: Could be angling for a second Cy Young and showing just how useless his 9-16 record was last year. His season has been virtually identical, but better support has essentially flipped the record. 2015 v. 2016: 7.7 v. 7.0 H/9, 9.9 v. 9.5 K/9, 1.8 v. 2.4 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 in both seasons, 9-16 v. 17-9 W-L record. Yu Darvish: Should wind up with about 120 regular season innings between rehab and the majors plus whatever he does in the playoffs so I feel confident that we’ll get a full 200+ output next year. Noah Syndergaard: Remember how we felt rock solid confident in about 20 pitchers to be fantasy studs this year? I think it runs about six deep this year before we start to get serious questions. I’m betting on Darvish, but he’s no guarantee in what will be his first full season off of TJ and then Thor has battled minor ailments while his rotation-mates all fall to bigger issues, but the risk is certainly worth the return. Carlos Carrasco: We’ve still only seen one 30+ start season and he’ll be 30 years old next year. While some of his recent injuries have been fluky, he did have shoulder and elbow issues that made him a late-bloomer in the first place. I don’t think the broken hand that ended his 2016 prematurely should impact his 2017. David Price: For all the talk of his struggles (and he’s had some for sure), he’s still been a top 20 arm this year thanks to a strong WHIP (1.18), great strikeout rate (25%), AL-high in innings (211.7), and a bucket full of Ws (16). I think he’ll improve that 3.91 ERA in year 2 with Boston. Jake Arrieta: Another situation where his flaws – er, flaw as it’s just the walk rate has been highlighted to a degree that you might’ve missed the 2.96 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 24% K rate, and 17 wins that have him sitting 12th among starters this year. His 10% walk rate is nearly twice that of last year’s 5.5% mark, but when you pace the MLB two years in a row with a 6.0 H/9, you can overcome some free passes. Stephen Strasburg: This is a gamble since his health is very much up in the air, but this ranking obviously assumes he doesn’t worsen and get subjected to a second Tommy John surgery. I know he’s polarizing in the fantasy community, but the talent is unquestionably elite so I’m still drafting him as a #1. Johnny Cueto: Regularly perceived as an injury risk, but four years of 212 or more innings over the last five runs entirely counter to that. In fact, even with just 60.7 IP in the fifth of those seasons still only pushes him to 14th in total innings since 2012 (946). He’s also second in ERA during that span (min. 500 IP) with a 2.80 mark. Jon Lester: The last three seasons are arguably his three best which is unorthodox given normal aging curves, but his skills are really stable so I feel confident even at 33 years old. That 86% LOB rate will almost certainly regress, but I’ll take 200+ innings of a 3.30ish ERA here, too. Justin Verlander: Over the last two calendar years, he’s6th in WHIP, 13th in K-BB%, and 15th in ERA. I understand some reservations health-wise for someone headed into his age-34 season, but he only has one truly bad season and it was tied to injury. Masahiro Tanaka: It’s not easy to have a quiet season in New York, but Tanaka hasn’t gotten much ink for what is currently an AL-best 3.07 ERA. We can’t ignore the back-to-back seasons of strikeout decline, but the swinging strike rate is a just a half percentage point lower than last year. Perhaps the biggest surprise of his season is the fact that his HR rate improved from last year despite the league seeing a sharp jump in the longball. Danny Duffy: This is obviously a huge jump in his stock, but the 27-year old lefty didn’t experience some colossal innings jump and the skills strongly support his excellent season. We always knew the raw talent was there and it finally manifested into a top-20 SP season. Homers are usually the culprit when things go sideways (1.2 HR/9, 5 multi-HR games) for the flyball pitcher, but it strikes me as a fixable issue given his stuff. In fact, his homers have kinda ebbed and flowed this year: 1.9 in first 9 starts, 0.5 in next 10, and then 2.3 in these last five, including three in Boston. Has a Carrasco feel to it where it’s a giant-but-reliable leap in short order. Kenta Maeda: Quick, who has the 20th-best swinging strike rate among qualified starters this year? No, it’s not Maeda, dummy, I tricked you! He’s 15th!! Boom, roasted. His brilliant debut doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping LA afloat as the rotation crumbled around him. It’s hard to avoid the Asian comparisons when pitchers come over and he was seen more in the Hisashi Iwakuma/Hiroki Kuroda range, but has performed more like Tanaka. Not bad for $3.1 mil. Chris Archer: The high-4.00s ERA he carried into the All-Star break has no doubt shaped his perception, but it might’ve caused you overlook his 3.20 second half ERA with 91 strikeouts and a 6.0 K:BB ratio in 78.7 innings. That said, don’t be expecting a heavy discount at the draft table. It’s only one mock, but he went 35th overall in my first 2017 draft. Carlos Martinez: He dropped some strikeouts with a commensurate swinging strike rate decline, but his WHIP improved and there was minimal change to his ERA (+0.15) and I’m very much willing to still bet on a 25-year old who throws 96 with a disgusting changeup (49% K, .486 OPS). Rich Hill: OK, I’ll admit that I don’t necessarily believe Hill will finish with the 21st-best season among starters next year, but he’s so good when he pitches that I’ll gamble to hopefully get 100 excellent innings and fill in around him resulting in a roster spot that nets a top-20ish arm. You may be surprised to learn that his 105.3 innings so far this year has him 20th on the Player Rater. Health, durability, and age will depress his price, but the skills are undeniably great. Jacob deGrom: The elbow surgery isn’t expected to impact the start of his 2017 season so I’m expecting the continued studliness we’ve seen over the last three seasons. Cole Hamels: The surge in WHIP is a little concerning as he added a full walk to his rate for a career-worst 3.6 BB/9, but everything else was in line with his career levels and I could definitely see him trimming the walks and getting the WHIP back into the 1.10s. Zack Greinke: There’s some speculation behind this pick as I could see him leaving Arizona via trade and winding up in a better situation, namely back with the Dodgers. It’s not that he couldn’t be a top-24 guy with Arizona, but obviously his outlook improves if he leaves that dumpster fire.