I spent an hour trying to find something relevant to say about the last two weeks of the season but was unsuccessful. Or at least there was no topic worth spending several hundred words on. If you’re looking for a two start streamer in what is likely the last week of your H2H playoffs, look at Blue Jays Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. They’re the most talented pitchers owned in less than 50% of ESPN.com leagues in terms of K-BB% and OPS allowed on balls in play (aka limiting hard contact). Instead, let’s spend a few hundred words quickly running through a way too early top 10 SP list for next year.
Since 2008, no pitcher has thrown more innings that King Felix. And Felix has the fourth best ERA in that time frame. Given that he’ll only turn 29 shortly after Opening Day next season, there’s really no safer pick than Hernandez. Of course “safe” is a word not synonymous with pitchers, but no pitcher is a better bet to give you 200+ innings of well above average stats. You’ll have to spend a top 30 pick to roster Hernandez, which is not something that fits with my personal strategy. But if you like to grab a top starter early, Kershaw and Felix should be the top options.
3. Johnny Cueto
We often look at pitchers with ERA estimators much higher than their actual ERA and expect them to regress. And rightly so. But some pitchers are exceptions to that rule, and Cueto is one of them. We’re going on five years now where Cueto’s ERA has been markedly lower than his SIERA and xFIP. How? Cueto is the king of limiting hard contact. Cueto’s OPS allowed on balls in play is 35% better than league average this year, the eighth best mark in the league. From 2011-2012 he was second in the league in that stat with an OPS allowed that was 42% better than league average. His ERA was also much lower than his estimators in 2013, but he didn’t have enough innings to qualify for my 2013 study of OPS allowed.
He likely won’t strikeout 25% of the batters he faces next year as that K% spike isn’t really in line with his SwStr% that’s around where it has always been. But he’ll stike out more batters than league average and walk fewer batters than league average. He also has a history of winning a high percentage of his starts. He’s a true stud.
4. Chris Sale
Sale took it to another level this year by missing more bats than anyone not named Kershaw. Sale has the second best SwStr% in the league at 13%, and his contact rate dropped about three percentage points from last year. He also upped his first-pitch strike percentage by several points and was top ten in the league in that department among qualified starters. Truly, the only pitcher in the league who has a better combination of being able to miss bats and getting ahead in the count is Kershaw. Sale could easily be the top starter at the end of next year, but he might have a little more risk of injury than some of the other top starters. If upside is your thing, Sale is your guy.
Wainwright was drafted like a top five starter and has performed like one according to ESPN’s player rater, so why shouldn’t he be treated like one next year? He’s the first guy on this list on the wrong side of 30, so the risk may be a little higher. If you’re looking for other things to be concerned about, his strikeout rate is below 20% for the first time since 2008, and his fastball velocity is down a tick from last year though in line with his career average. The thing Wainwright has done ridiculously well this year is limit damage on balls on play. His OPS allowed on balls in play is 46% better than league average. There may be some regression in order, but year-to-year correlation in OPS allowed is much higher for guys on the extreme ends of the statistic than it is for guys in the middle. Wainwright is a top five pitcher in that regard and should be drafted like one next year.
7. Max Scherzer
9. Yu Darvish
10. Corey Kluber
This is where it got tough. Scherzer and Strasburg couldn’t be left off the list because they’re two of only four pitchers with a K-BB% of 20% or higher from 2012 to present. Bumgarner couldn’t be left off because he’s been a top 12 starter on ESPN’s player rater in each of the last two seasons, which is something neither Scherzer or Strasburg can claim. In fact, Strasburg hasn’t finished that high in either season. Darvish couldn’t be left off the list because he has the second highest raw strikeout total since the beginning of 2012, and he hasn’t pitched in a month.
The only one who could have been left off is Kluber. David Price, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and maybe even someone like Masahiro Tanaka would all be reasonable inclusions on a list like this. But Kluber gets the nod because his strikeout rate rivals that of Felix and Price, and his raw strikeout total is second to only Price and Scherzer. The reason Kluber is ranked higher than Price despite the strikeout similarities is because Kluber’s ratio stats have been as valuable in fantasy as those of Wade Davis. Among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, Davis’ ERA is over half a run lower than anyone else’s. As you can see by clicking on the previous link, Kluber’s 2.45 ERA has been even more valuable that Davis’ because Kluber has 212.2 innings to go along with the 2.45 ERA. No one would fault you for preferring Price’s track record, but Price has had a hard time limiting weak contact this year. It’s Kluber for me, but to each his own. Feel free to leave your top 10 below.