Starting pitching can make or break your fantasy baseball season. This guide is everything you need to know for your draft.
Pitching is not as deep as years past. I highly recommend getting at least two if not three pitchers from the four and five-star tiers. I always recommend drafting pitchers early in your draft because you can always find hitting later in drafts. Draft pitching early and often this year because you can’t have enough pitching depth. Let’s take a look at the tiers and good luck this year in your drafts.
Five Star: If you can get one of these studs in this tier you are off to a good start. These players will carry your team and give you elite production in every starting pitcher category.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
When he’s healthy, he’s the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. He had an “off” season last year and that was because of a back injury. Expect a big bounce back where he can get to 275 strikeouts while putting up elite numbers in ERA, WHIP. He could even possibly win 20 games.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer gives you elite production in every pitching category that matters. He’s the oldest player in this tier but don’t let that stop you from drafting him in the second round. He gets to face the Phillies, Mets, Braves, and Marlins, all four teams will be average at best on offense. Scherzer is one of the few workhorses left in the league. He’ll get you over 200 innings, 250 K’s and will be near the top in ERA and WHIP. Draft the back-to-back NL Cy Young award winner with confidence.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale was the only pitcher last season to strike out over 300 batters. The biggest concern with Sale every year is people assume he’s going to get hurt because of his delivery. With 200 innings pitched in four of his last five seasons, it’s time to put that concern to bed. He’ll get you over 225 K’s, to go along with elite production in ERA and WHIP. He’s the perfect pitcher to start your staff around this year.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Corey Kluber led all pitchers in WAR, ERA, WHIP and was tied for first in wins, shutouts and complete games. The two-time AL Cy Young winner is no fluke and belongs in this tier. If you want safety in a number one pitcher, Corey Kluber will give you that.
Four Star: These pitchers give five-star production when they pitch but because of injuries or being older they won’t make as many starts. If you miss out on a five star guy, make sure you get yourself two pitchers from here.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
If Stephen Strasburg could stay healthy and pitch 200 innings he would be in the five star tier. When he does pitch, he gives top-tier production. If he is your number one pitcher just make sure you have a solid number two behind him.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
I wanted to put Bumgarner in the five-star tier but he didn’t pitch well coming back from when he was being Evel Knievel on his dirt bike last year. If Mad Bum has a solid spring and looks like his old-self he will be back to being a workhorse who will get over 200 strikeouts.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard will be in the five-star tier next year. When he’s on the mound, he’s one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. If I had to put my money on the next great pitcher, it would be Thor. Huge upside and he makes a great pick in dynasty leagues since he’s only 25 years old.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander is the guy you want in a big game. In fantasy this year he might get over drafted because of the amazing post season run he just had. I might fade him this year because of his age and how many extra innings he pitched in 2017. I don’t see him making more than 25 starts but he will be solid when he’s on the mound.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
If you ask the average baseball fan about how old Jacob deGrom they might say 25 or younger. He’s going to be 30 in June but he doesn’t have the wear and tear on his arm. He’ll be around 200 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA which is solid but I wouldn’t feel comfortable if he was my only pitcher in the top two tiers. He’s got a back injury that might delay the start of the season for him. If that’s the case you might be able to get him at a discount.
Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Carrasco is better than most people think. He gets overshadowed by his teammate Corey Kluber but he puts up solid numbers for fantasy. Carrasco will get to face the White Sox, Royals and Tigers who should finish at the bottom of every hitting category in the AL. He should be a lock for over 200 strikeouts and he should win close to 20 games again.
Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Zack Greinke will benefit the most from the humidor in Arizona (makes the ball heavier and will limit how far it will travel). He’s the oldest in the top two tiers but he should finish the year as a top 15 pitcher.
Luis Severino, New York Yankees
Luis Severino is the youngest in the top two tiers and he should be a consistent pitcher for the next decade. He benefits from having one of the best lineups in baseball and he should contend for the league lead in wins and strikeouts.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish landed in a great spot in Chicago. He isn’t the most durable pitcher but when he is on the mound he is a strikeout machine. He is on a good team so his wins will go up from last year. Big upside with Darvish and he’s a pitcher that is worth the risk.
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
I have done dozens of mock drafts this year and Carlos Martinez has ended up on 75 percent of my teams. He’s an underrated ace that pitches in a good ballpark and will get a ton of strikeouts. If you wait on starting pitching, Martinez is a pitcher that you can get in the fifth or sixth round to start your staff with.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
The biggest problem with Chris Archer is the division he pitches in. Every team in the AL East (except Tampa) have good lineups and play in hitter-friendly ballparks. He will be in the top ten in strikeouts but he could hurt your teams in ERA and WHIP. He won’t get many wins but if you play in a league where quality starts are a category his value gets a slight boost.
Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
Robbie Ray had a breakout season in 2017. He is extremely talented and will contend for the NL Cy Young for years to come. The humidor in Arizona will help Ray out and he will prove last season was no fluke. The sky is the limit and he could be a threat for 300 strikeouts and 20 wins this year.
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Aaron Nola is another pitcher that will end up on a bunch of my teams this year. Don’t let the fact that he’s pitching for a bad team stop you from drafting him. This year’s Phillies team will be better than last and he will be a contender for 15 wins and 200 strikeouts.
Three Star: It would be a good idea to get multiple pitchers from this tier. These pitchers are the backbone of your rotation.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners
James Paxton won’t pitch for more than 150 innings but he will give elite production in the innings he does pitch. He needs to be your third or fourth pitcher and make sure you have some depth if Paxton is on your team. If he somehow can stay healthy for a full season he could be a poor man’s Chris Sale.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
He’s a better real-life pitcher than for fantasy. He does a lot of things well but he doesn’t get strikeouts which drives up a pitchers value. He will help with ERA, WHIP and quality starts. It would be a good idea to have at least one pitcher like that on your roster.
Jose Quintana, Chicago Cubs
Jose Quintana will benefit from pitching in the NL for a full season. Quintana will give us over 30 starts and close to 200 innings and those are numbers that few pitchers will get. Expect the ERA to drop below four and his wins should be up to 15 this year. He makes for a solid middle round pick.
Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
I am not a fan of Gerrit Cole and I think the move to the AL will hurt his value. If you need a pitcher who will get you strikeouts and you can take the hit in ERA and WHIP then Cole will be your guy.
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
In Tanaka’s 13 wins last season he had a 2.16 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. In his 12 loses, he had a 9.79 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP. He’s too hot and cold for me but when he’s on he gives you good numbers. He showed improvements in the second half and if he can continue that into 2018 he can finish the season as a top 20 starting pitcher.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels *NPB Stats*
Shohei Ohtani is the biggest wildcard in 2018. I think he will have a lot more value as a pitcher this year but I don’t see the Angels letting him throw over 180 innings. He should strike out a batter an inning and give us an ERA around 3.50 with a solid WHIP. Othani is only 22 years old and he is a good pick in keeper and dynasty leagues.
Lance McCullers, Houston Astros
Lance McCullers has all the tools to be a future fantasy ace. He’s in the same boat as James Paxton. He won’t throw for more than 150 innings because the Astros are crazy deep and they will keep a cap on his innings. Hopefully, the team will allow him to pitch deeper into games and if he does that he can sneak into the top 30 for starting pitchers this year.
David Price, Boston Red Sox
David Price was hurt last year and he has some off the field problems with the media in Boston. He still has all the tools to go back to being a top 10 starting pitcher. If you have a solid five pitchers and Price is still available in your draft, I wouldn’t hesitate on drafting him. If you get him late in your draft, he could carry you all season to a championship.
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
This is another pitcher that I am staying away from. Lester has struggled in recent years without David Ross catching for him. Without Ross, he has an ERA over 4.30 for his career and he isn’t coming out of retirement anytime soon. Stay away from Lester this year.
Jake Arrieta, Philadelphia Phillies
He won’t contend for a Cy Young this year but he will put up solid numbers. He’s going late in drafts and he could return good value this year. Expect the same type of numbers that he put up in 2017 with a small chance of improvement.
Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s another pitcher who won’t throw for more than 150 innings but he will give elite production in the innings he throws. Rich Hill will have over a strikeout an inning, an ERA under 3.50 and a WHIP under 1.20 but he won’t start more than 25 games. He’s worth the roster spot even with the limited amount of innings he’ll pitch in 2018.
Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
Kyle Hendricks is the NL’s version of Dallas Keuchel.
Zack Godley, Arizona Diamondbacks
I wanted to move Zack Godley up in the tiers but I want another year to make sure that last year wasn’t a fluke. Last year he showed that he can be a fantasy stud but I’ll be alright if I miss out on him this year. Big upside but there is some risk in Godley.
Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins
Jose Berrios has huge upside but he still hasn’t put it all together at the big-league level. I would target Berrios in dynasty leagues because this could be the season he puts it all together and vaults his way up into the top 20 starting pitchers.
Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers
Stay away from Alex Wood this year. His ERA doubled in the second half and his strikeout numbers went way down. He has a hard time staying healthy and his win total last year was fluky. He is going way too high in drafts and he won’t return value to the level he is being drafted. Stay away. There is too much risk with Alex Wood.
Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
Johnny Cueto is a prime candidate for a bounce back year. He had one down year and now nobody wants him. When he is healthy he will pitch over 200 innings and have elite production in every category except for strikeouts. If he gets off to a slow start then you can cut him.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Stroman is a better real-life pitcher than fantasy pitcher. I don’t mind him on my team because he doesn’t get lit up and he will help in ERA and WHIP. Stroman is a solid middle to late round pick but he doesn’t have great upside in fantasy.
Luke Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals
People in fantasy either hate or love Luke Weaver, I love him. I think he is a future ace and this is the cheapest you will get him in drafts for the rest of his career. He strikes out over 10 batters per nine innings and he doesn’t give up many walks.
Sonny Gray, New York Yankees
Sonny Gray is another pitcher he keeps ending up on my team after every mock draft. He’s safe but he doesn’t have huge upside. Not every pitcher needs to contend for the Cy Young and Gray gives you a solid pitcher at the end of your rotation.
Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants
Jeff Samardzija had a much better season than his record and ERA shows. I love drafting him in the later rounds because he gives elite production in innings, strikeouts, WHIP and quality starts. He is a must add if you draft a player like James Paxton or Rich Hill.
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
He’s the AL version of Rich Hill. The fact that he doesn’t get to face NL lineups sends his value way down.
Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
Don’t let pitching in Colorado scare you from drafting him. He has top 25 talent and is going way too late in drafts. It can be scary starting him some home games but at where he is going in drafts it’s alright to sit him in some tough match-ups in Colorado. Every start he’s on the road, he is a must-start.
Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
Trevor Bauer is my kind of pitcher. He is going late in drafts and he could strike out 200 batters. After the All-Star break, he had a 3.01 ERA, 10 wins and struck out 93 batters in 83 innings. He’s just another stud in the Indians rotation.
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
If Danny Salazer could stay healthy he is basically Carlos Carrasco Jr. He puts up big time numbers but he tends to get knocked around at least once a month. Big upside but there’s a lot of risk drafting Salazer.
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Gio Gonzalez is another player that can give you value late in the draft. I wouldn’t expect the same kind of numbers that he put up last year but he is a solid pitcher and he rarely gets lit up.
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jameson Taillon battled back from cancer last year and he’s the type of guy I want on my team. He is a future ace and 2018 will be his break out year. Target him late in drafts and he will pay off in a big way.
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
If he could strike out more batters he would be a four-star pitcher. He has more value in quality start leagues, but don’t expect him to help you in wins because the Tiger lineup is brutal this year.
Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels
If he can stay healthy he will put up monster numbers. I don’t expect him to pitch more than 150 innings but in the games he pitches, you will want to roster him.
Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Chase Anderson was lights out last year. He’s another pitcher that I target late in drafts because the Brewers are improved and he has a chance to finish inside the top 30 this year.
Charlie Morton, Houston Astros
Charlie Morton is basically going for free this year. He pitches for the best team in baseball and should put up similar numbers. Another good value pick late in drafts.
Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
Surprise, another stud pitcher in the Indians rotation. He’s similar to Trevor Bauer but is going undrafted in most leagues. Health has been Clevinger’s bug a boo and he has the talent to win the Cy Young.
Others who are worth a pick up:
Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
He will be a trendy sleeper this year and he is one of the few pitchers who could throw 200 innings that you can get late in the draft. He’s healthy and if everything goes right he could finish as a top 25 pitcher this year.
J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
J.A. Happ is just a solid pitcher. If you need another arm late in the draft I would target him. I just wouldn’t start him against the Red Sox or Yankees but other than those two teams feel free to start him.
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres
When I’m looking for pitching late in the draft or on free agency I look for one thing, strikeouts. Lamet could strike out 175 or more batter depending on how many innings he pitches. It doesn’t hurt that he pitches in one of the best pitcher parks in the league. Big upside with Lamet.
Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs
Tyler Chatwood is free from Colorado and in his career, he has done well outside of Coors Field. He has a career 3.31 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP on the road and those are the kind of numbers he should put up for the Cubs. Not great upside but he is a good pitcher to have at the back end of your rotation.