The goal of this series is simple: We’re telling you who, in our estimation, has a reasonable shot at topping the fantasy charts in a specific category despite not projecting as a top-10 finisher before the season begins, per PECOTA.

If you remember this exercise from last year, there are a few more changes, which I’ll pull directly from Bret Sayre’s email to the fantasy team outlining this series:

“First of all, we're only going to be picking one player per category. Second of all, we're going to allow everyone to choose the player they want, regardless of how many other people are choosing them. That means, if four writers think that Khris Davis will lead the league in homers, then by god there will be four Khris Davis blurbs detailing why.”

The good news? It’s doubtful Davis will actually be listed four times. That being said, I hope you like Stephen Strasburg

Up first this year, we have wins and strikeouts, and a wide selection of players who we think PECOTA undervalues in each category.


Doug Fister, Nationals
It’s easy to be overlooked in a rotation that boasts Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez, but don’t forget about Fister. Sure, he only struck out 98 batters last year, but that did not stop him from putting up a 2.41 ERA and posting 16 wins despite missing the first five weeks of the season. While you shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s sparkling ERA, his pinpoint control and excellent ground-ball rates should lead to plenty of opportunities to rack up wins for a Nationals team that appears to be headed for a 90-plus-win season. What’s also valuable about Fister’s game is his ability to limit baserunners from advancing via the stolen base. He posted the lowest SB-allowed percentage in the NL last year (min. 162 IP) at zero percent (runners were 0-for-1 on SB attempts—and that one try came after a pickoff). —Keith Cromer

Cole Hamels, Phillies
A pitcher on a bad team can’t lead the league in wins, at least not in the current context of relief specialization and pitch counts, right? This is the conventional wisdom, but maybe Hamels can defy the odds. He has the advantages of a strong back end of the bullpen with Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, and gets to face weak NL East offenses quite a bit. The other thing working to Hamels’ advantage is that you don’t need 20-plus wins to claim the crown. This could be one of those strange years in which 17-18 wins does the trick. And there is always the possibility of a trade to a contender. —Mike Gianella

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
It’s pretty hard to be consistently underrated in this day and age, but Iwakuma fits that bill. The right-hander threw 179 innings last season, posting a 3.52 ERA with a lower FIP in 28 starts. He lasted fewer than five innings just four times, with each of those starts coming in late August or September, and he won 15 games for a decent Mariners team. PECOTA has Iwakuma down for just 12 wins in 2015, and while his age and injury history make that somewhat reasonable, he’s a good bet to outperform that number if he stays on the field. The Mariners got better this offseason, Iwakuma is still awesome and he turns 34 in April, meaning he’s probably not quite as old as you think. A win total in the 18 range is well within his reach, and that should put him in contention for the top spot. —Ben Carsley

Rick Porcello, Red Sox
Porcello checked in 18th in IP/GS last year among starters who tallied at least 100 innings. Then over the winter he packed his bags and left a Detroit team that finished second to last in defensive efficiency in 2014 and projects to the second-worst FRAA of 2015, to a solid-average unit in Boston. Oh, and there's also the part where he'll be supported by an offense that projects to lead the majors in both runs and TAv. His 12.3 projected wins are 23rd in the PECOTA standings, and I'll take the way, way over. —Wilson Karaman

Chris Sale, White Sox
Is this a bad pick because Sale is likely to miss some time at the beginning of the season? Maybe, but Sale won 17 games in just 29 starts in 2012 and this year he’ll have a solid closer backing him up for the first time in his career in Dave Robertson. As you can see, his rehab is going well. —Nick Shlain

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
We all know that wins is kind of a crapshoot, but leaning towards a really a good hitter on a good team in the NL is always a good bet. PECOTA has Strasburg projected for 174 innings in 2015, which is probably a large part of the reason PECOTA projects him to only “earn” the 19th most wins in baseball. PECOTA is probably slightly over-deflating his innings totals because of the caution used by the Nationals in 2012. Combine this with Strasburg coming off of 215 injury-free innings in 2014 and I like the chances of Strasburg putting up gaudy win totals in 2015. —Jeff Quinton

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
It's a simple formula, really. Take a terrific pitcher from a good team and cross your fingers that he'll win games. Strasburg hasn't lived up to what he was hyped as, but that doesn't mean he hasn't be legitimately, truthfully great. Plus, he crossed the 200-inning barrier for the first time last year, and if he can do so again, it will mean he's staying in games long enough to earn those Ws. —Craig Goldstein

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Arguably the most hyped pitching prospect of all time, Strasburg is firmly in his prime and has become one of the best pitchers in the game. He has the 13th best ERA over the last three years and has started at least 30 games the last two seasons, including 34 last year. That, combined with his ridiculous stuff and the fact that he pitches for the National League favorite adds up to a high win total. —Matt Collins

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
A Cy Young caliber pitcher on one of the best teams in the National League is always a solid prediction for high win totals. The only hangups for Stras have been the inefficient starts and the injuries. Tossing 215 innings last year with 34 starts went a long way toward answering both of those questions. Fantasy owners also have to like the decreased walk rate (1.80 BB/9), as it reduces the pitch count, increases the length of starts, and lowers the overall WHIP. No need for me to get too fancy here. Two plus two equals four, and there isn’t much point in trying to make it equal five. —J.P. Breen

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
THIS is going to be the year the Nationals run away and win 100 games, isn't it? It feels like we've said this before, but it also feels more realistic with the rough squads that Atlanta and Philadelphia are going to be running out there in 2015. Zimmermann is one of those consistently underrated pitchers, and too few think of him as the ace that he is. He's never won 20 in a season, but he came very close in 2013 and then pitched even better in 2014. Zimmermann is always a good bet to sit at the top of the quality starts leaderboard, and this could be the year it comes together for him in the original 5×5 sense. —Bret Sayre


Corey Kluber, IndiansThese aren’t really darkhorses; I know I just picked two aces. Sue me. Better yet, blame PECOTA for not having Kluber in the top 10. Kluber struck out 269 (nice) batters last year on his way to winning the AL Cy Young award. It’s been a pleasure to watch him throw a baseball for the last two years. —Nick Shlain

Corey Kluber, Indians
Of all qualified starting pitchers last year, Kluber got opposing hitters to chase the ninth-most pitches outside the strike zone. Of the eight pitchers who ranked above him, only Clayton Kershaw posted a higher swinging-strike rate—and it’s not like he’s available to choose in this exercise. Kluber relies on a fastball-cutter combination to neutralize both lefties and righties, and best of all, the 28-year-old accumulates as many strikeouts against righties (28.3 percent) as he does lefties (28.2 percent). All of those are good things. —J.P. Breen

Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays
Hutchison returned to the big leagues last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012 and struck out 184 batters over his 184 2/3 innings. If you’re looking for a pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff, Hutchison fits that mold. In his last 10 starts of 2014, Hutchison reached double digits in swinging strikes in each start, including a whopping 23 whiffs in an 11-strikeout performance against the Orioles in September. He heads into 2015 another year removed from TJ and now has the added bonus of Russell Martin’s pitch-framing abilities. Despite his well documented struggles against LHB, he compiled 95 of his 184 punch outs against them last year, and his K rates improved as the season went along, evidenced by a 10.2 K/9 rate in the second half. —Keith Cromer

Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
This one all comes down to health, as shoulder troubles limited Gonzalez to 158-2/3 innings last season. He’s consistently hovered around a strikeout per inning, and has two advantages built into his schedule. He not only gets to face opposing pitchers all year, but he also plays in a division with both the Braves and Phillies. If he stays on the mound all year, he’ll rack up plenty of strikeouts. —Matt Collins

Francisco Liriano, Pirates
It's always something with Liriano. Last year it was an oblique injury. Year before a broken bone. Year before general suck. But one of these years he'll claw his way to 200 innings, and this is as good a year to fantasize about it as any. He's quietly turned his change-up into another plus pitch since arriving in Pittsburgh, and last year's 26 percent whiff rate against righties was his best mark since he still had the UCL he was born with. The stuff to lead the league in whiffs will be there if the durability is. —Wilson Karaman

Francisco Liriano, Pirates
Liriano has never pitched 200 innings in a season and has not pitched more than 162 innings since 2010. Will he break either of these marks in 2015? The chances are not great, but they might be better than we would expect. Liriano has not missed time due to elbow, shoulder, or forearm injury since 2011 and while his oblique strain last season is not great, his other “bigger” injury came in the form of broken left humerus due to a fall in a bathroom. Should he be more careful with wet surfaces? Definitely. That said, I feel comfortable putting the latter injury in our “fluky” bucket; consequently, I feel that Liriano is a sneaky play to bring his always excellent K/9 to more innings than ever in 2015, giving him a darkhorse-sized shot at a strikeout crown. —Jeff Quinton

Jake Odorizzi, Rays
Odorizzi’s 4.13 ERA leaves him off the radar in standard mixed leagues, but masks the fact that he finished sixth in the American League in K/9 last year. He only hurled 168 innings in 2014, and it doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate an additional 30-35 innings out of Odorizzi in 2015. He might not improve much from a fantasy perspective (that ERA might not dip much, in other words), but Odorizzi has an outside chance of claiming a strikeout title. —Mike Gianella

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Here’s another pick that’s pretty much solely contingent on health. Tanaka struck out 141 batters in 136.1 innings last season, good for a K% of 26.0. There should be little doubt that if Tanaka makes 30 starts, he’s going to be notch over 200 strikeouts. Whether you think Tanaka’s elbow will hold up is another question entirely, but I’m through with trying to predict pitcher injuries. PECOTA has Tanaka down for just 179 strikeouts this year, and his ADP, courtesy of, is down at 23 among starting pitchers. I think both are a touch low, and I’m willing to tolerate the risk for the big-time upside here. —Ben Carsley

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Yes, on one hand it's a cop out because had Tanaka pitched a full season last year, he may have been projected for enough innings to be in the top-10 in the category, per PECOTA. However, it's also the injury that knocks down his price, if you're one of those risk takers out there. There's little questioning the right-hander's stuff when he's on the mound, so despite the small number of players who have successfully rehabbed a partially torn UCL, it would not be out of the realm of possible to see him standing atop the mountain at season's end. —Bret Sayre

Julio Teheran, Braves
While not conventionally perceived as a strikeout pitcher, Teheran racked up whiffs at a 21 percent clip in 2014. Combined with his 220 innings, his potential to pile up strikeouts shouldn't be overlooked. Perhaps an improved pitch mix (maybe mixing in that devastating cambio he used so often on his way up) could open the door for a tick up in strikeout rate. Add that improved strikeout rate to his big innings workload and you have a potential, if unconventional candidate for league leader in strikeouts.— Craig Goldstein