February 26, 2016
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
Starting Pitchers, Part Two
To read the previous articles in this series, follow the links below:
Today, we’ll continue with the starting pitchers—but we’re working with the bottom half of the barrel in this article. This is the place where championships are sometimes won and lost, and where sleepers can be found.
Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $20. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $15-20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2016.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from this year’s PFM using a 15-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $80 of a $260 budget to pitchers. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
There is a perception that the two-star tier is a good place to go hunting for bargains. A quick glance at last year’s two-star pitchers says otherwise. Whether you want to play it safe with a veteran or aim high for upside depends on your philosophy and what you have done in your draft to that point. If taking the latter route, Rodriguez is a strong play to make. He still needs some refinement, but a knee-buckling, mid-90s fastball is a nice starting point on which to build. Rodriguez could produce similar value to Rodon and Walker (who were profiled in the first part of this series) and will not cost nearly as much.
Scott Kazmir could be a three-star pitcher on ability and performance alone if you trusted him to throw 200-plus innings. Granted, he has tossed 180 or more two seasons running, but Kazmir’s history doesn’t speak to endurance or durability. With the myriad options the Dodgers have assembled for their rotation, along with their deep bullpen, it seems like the plan for all of the non-Kershaw starters is 5-6 inning starts followed by a barrage of bullpen bullets to bombard the bisiting ball clubs. While this is a brilliant tactical strategy by Andrew Friedman and should keep the Dodgers arms fresh, it isn’t going to provide a boost for your fantasy teams.
Based solely on last year’s numbers, Kennedy looks like he doesn’t even belong in the top 100, let alone in the two-star tier. However, his K/9 last year was 13th among qualifiers and the move to Kansas City gives the historically fly ball prone Kennedy a nice defensive outfield to work with and a park that suppresses home runs. The Royals have made similar gambles in the past on less skills-oriented pitchers like Chris Young and Jason Vargas that have paid off handsomely. Kennedy has a higher ceiling than either of those pitchers. He also has a low floor and there is some risk, but Kennedy could duplicate his 2014 campaign (minus the AL adjustment).
PECOTA loves Ryu, but your guess is as good as mine as to how many innings he’ll be able to throw this year. A shoulder injury sidelined Ryu for all of 2015. As debilitating as elbow maladies are, shoulder injuries are always surrounded by the whiff of mystery. 150 innings of Ryu could be quite valuable; it’s quite possible that he doesn’t pitch half that many.
Two-Star Value Pick: Andrew Heaney
Niese is viewed by plenty as a bottom-of-the-barrel, NL-only pitcher, but between 2012-2014 Niese put up a 3.49 ERA. The low strikeout totals and low ceiling keep Niese firmly planted in the one-star tier, but with the trade to Pittsburgh he moves to an even more favorable park for lefties. Combine this with a better team defense behind him as well as a pitching coach who has worked wonders with nearly every trade addition and Niese stands a fairly strong chance of improving upon that PECOTA projection that you see above. Moving from the NL East to the NL Central does cast a bit of a black cloud over all of this sunshine, but Niese is still a nice back-end target in deeper mixed leagues.
The ceiling for Finnegan is a mid-tier starter in deep mixers, but given his shaky command and inability to keep the ball in the park in four late season starts, there is a lot of risk as well. Some believe that Finnegan’s future is in the bullpen and that the Reds could pull the plug on Finnegan the starter at some point this year.
Tomlin had one of those campaigns a pitcher sometimes has where he just comes out of nowhere and produces fantasy value. PECOTA seems to think that it is mostly sustainable, but a propensity for the long ball and some ridiculous numbers in his favor (a 90 percent strand rate? A .199 BABIP?) suggest that Tomlin is more fluke than fact and should be avoided as more than a spot starter in anything except AL-only. The Mickey Callaway factor certainly shouldn’t be ignored entirely, but he’s a great pitching coach, not a witch.
The perception on Porcello is that he is a subpar starter. This is likely fueled by the optics of a bad real life contract, even in this winter’s hyper-fueled pitching market. The reality is that Porcello put up the highest K/9 rate of his career and closed out the 2015 campaign with a 3.14 ERA in his last eight starts. Small-sample-size alert, but Porcello returned to a sinker-heavy arsenal in the second half, which is what has always been the key to his success. He’s trying to add a slow curve to the repertoire, which could lead to a performance spike but also to some bumps in the road right out of the gate.
One-Star Value Pick: Jerad Eickhoff