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To read the previous editions in this series, follow the links below:

Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at starting pitching. Because there are so many starting pitchers to choose from, this article is divided into two parts. Part II will run tomorrow.

Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and will fetch mixed-league auction bids over $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and are projected to be worth more than $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 a regurgitation of last year's values but rather offer insight into what we expect will happen in 2017.

Dollar values come from last year's PFM using a 12-team, standard 5×5 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 we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. 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.

FIVE STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

$26.37

$27.52

149.00

12

172

1.69

0.72

Max Scherzer

WAS

$32.42

$35.45

228.33

20

284

2.96

0.97

Madison Bumgarner

SF

$27.47

$30.53

226.67

15

251

2.74

1.03

Chris Sale

BOS

$22.79

$25.05

226.67

17

233

3.34

1.04

Corey Kluber

CLE

$22.48

$24.65

215.00

18

227

3.14

1.06

Noah Syndergaard

NYM

$17.70

$21.66

183.67

14

218

2.60

1.15

Johnny Cueto

SF

$22.46

$27.44

219.67

18

198

2.79

1.09

Jake Arrieta

CHC

$18.29

$23.68

197.33

18

190

3.10

1.08

David Price

BOS

$11.86

$19.50

230.00

17

228

3.99

1.20

Jon Lester

CHC

$26.05

$29.89

202.67

19

197

2.44

1.02

Yu Darvish

TEX

$2.54

$6.72

100.33

7

132

3.41

1.12

Carlos Carrasco

CLE

$7.08

$11.75

146.33

11

150

3.32

1.15

Stephen Strasburg

WAS

$10.03

$15.44

147.67

15

183

3.60

1.11

For the second year in a row, Kershaw was not the top dog among pitchers in fantasy. This isn’t an indictment of Kershaw, but rather the customary reminder that there are no sure things on the mound in fantasy leagues. If you’re scoring at home, since 2013 Kershaw is still ahead of Scherzer by $25. Inning for inning, Kershaw had one of his best seasons. If he’s healthy and can log 200 innings, he’s the man.

Scherzer became the sixth pitcher to win a Cy Young award in each league, joining Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Roy Halladay. Scherzer’s hardware is even more impressive considering his struggles during the season with fastball command and his overall mechanics. This is a pitcher who could strike out 300 and post a sub 2.50 ERA if he is on and if he’s healthy. That is an if, however, as Scherzer is recovering from a mild knuckle injury that could impact his availability on Opening Day.

Whether these pitchers belong in the top tier or not likely depends upon how your league values starting pitchers. It is fair to say that there is a drop from the top two, and league depth plays a role in whether you will be drafting pitchers like Carrasco or Lester early or if you will be waiting a few rounds. In LABR Mixed this year, there was a big gap between Strasburg (the 46th player taken overall) and Darvish (59th).

Darvish Is being treated like an elite option in most leagues, but it is fair to wonder if he will be able to get both the volume and stats necessary to push him into the five-star tier. PECOTA is forecasting 174 innings for Darvish, and while this sounds reasonable, keep in mind that PECOTA is generally conservative when it comes to forecasting innings for any pitcher. His 78 cFIP was right in line with Darvish’s career marks, and his strikeout percentage was where it usually is as well. The stuff and talent are not in question, but rather the ability to hold up for a full season.

It is the same story with Strasburg nearly every season. He is an elite pitcher when he is healthy but it is impossible to predict how healthy he will be. Strasburg tossed 147 2/3 innings in 2016, missing time due to a back strain, elbow soreness, and finally a pronator tendon tear that ended his season in early September. Strasburg says he is entering Spring Training at 100 percent, but the issue has never been his ability to bounce back from injury but rather his ability to stay on the field. He is planning on using his slider less frequently to minimize the stress on his arm.

Sale moves to a tough pitcher’s park at Fenway, but he was already pitching in a hitter-friendly environment and now benefits by default by moving away from some of the worst framing catchers in baseball. Expect another 225+ strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP, which makes him elite no matter how the wins and ERA shake out.

Five-Star Value Pick: Carlos Carrasco
Sleepers are difficult to come by at the top of the pack, but Carrasco’s elite rates are somewhat masked because he has never pitched more than 183 2/3 innings in a major-league season. Even if Carrasco only manages to get 170-180 innings in 2017, you are still buying a pitcher with an elite skill set at a slightly discounted price.

FOUR STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Kyle Hendricks

CHC

$24.95

$28.17

190.00

16

170

2.13

0.98

Chris Archer

TB

$6.70

$14.35

201.33

9

233

4.02

1.24

Justin Verlander

DET

$27.02

$27.42

227.67

16

254

3.04

1.00

Cole Hamels

TEX

$9.38

$16.66

200.67

15

200

3.32

1.31

Carlos Martinez

STL

$12.43

$18.48

195.33

16

174

3.04

1.22

Masahiro Tanaka

NYY

$16.09

$19.12

199.67

14

165

3.07

1.08

Gerrit Cole

PIT

($3.84)

$1.86

116.00

7

87

3.88

1.44

Jose Quintana

CHW

$13.39

$18.20

208.00

13

181

3.20

1.16

Zack Greinke

ARI

$1.08

$7.87

158.67

13

134

4.37

1.27

Rick Porcello

BOS

$24.71

$26.13

223.00

22

189

3.15

1.01

Julio Teheran

ATL

$12.33

$16.71

188.00

7

167

3.21

1.05

Kenta Maeda

LAD

$11.60

$17.55

175.67

16

179

3.48

1.14

Jacob deGrom

NYM

$5.35

$10.09

148.00

7

143

3.04

1.20

Rich Hill

LAD

$10.50

$14.40

110.33

12

129

2.12

1.00

Tanaka is one of those rare cases where a pitcher opted not to get Tommy John surgery and it worked out for the best, thus far. What Tanaka has lost in velocity he has more than made up for with increased usage of a devastating sinker to go with an already solid fastball/slider combo. Tanaka is battling a strained forearm, but he threw a simulated game on Sunday and the injury is reportedly minor. The Yankees are unlikely to push Tanaka past 200 innings, but his excellent control makes Tanaka a viable second-tier asset.

Maeda and Hill fit two completely different profiles. Maeda is a reliable starter who is not likely to crash the party in the five-star tier but who is a good bet to continue producing at the same level he did in 2016. It is likely that the Dodgers will cap his innings. This will tamp down his value, but Maeda is a relatively safe pitcher. Hill is on the opposite end of the spectrum: a high-risk arm who has only topped 100 innings twice in his career: last year and in 2007 for the Cubs. The results have been ridiculously good since Hill’s brief yet triumphant return as a starter for the Red Sox in 2015, but you are drafting significant risk when you opt for Hill.

Last year in this space, I tabbed Dallas Keuchel as a potential risk due to a limited ceiling in strikeouts. This year, Hendricks and Porcello fit this profile. The influence of the Cubs’ defense on their pitchers is well documented, but even accounting for this benefit it is difficult to predict a repeat for Hendricks. Even if Hendricks can post another sub-3 ERA, his relatively modest strikeout totals put a ceiling on his fantasy value. Porcello has some of the same issues, and doesn’t have the elite defense behind him that Hendricks does. It takes a lot for any pitcher to win 22 games in a season; even if Porcello loses 4-5 wins, his fantasy value will take a tumble.

Four-Star Value Pick: Gerrit Cole
Cole’s follow up to his breakout 2015 campaign was a disappointment, and thus far the market is betting against a return to prominence. Cole’s elbow is certainly something to watch, but all the positives that came with Cole in 2015 are still here: nasty repertoire of hard stuff with plenty of movement, great pitchers’ park, and a strong defense behind him. There is crash-and-burn potential with this pick, but this is almost entirely due to the injury risk.

THREE STAR

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

IP

W

SO

ERA

WHIP

Danny Duffy

KC

$10.53

$15.47

179.67

12

188

3.51

1.14

Felix Hernandez

SEA

$0.97

$8.05

153.33

11

122

3.82

1.32

Dallas Keuchel

HOU

($0.45)

$7.38

168.00

9

144

4.55

1.29

Aaron Sanchez

TOR

$13.19

$17.62

192.00

15

161

3.00

1.17

John Lackey

CHC

$13.70

$18.57

188.33

11

180

3.35

1.06

Jameson Taillon

PIT

$0.72

$4.95

104.00

5

85

3.38

1.12

Marcus Stroman

TOR

$1.13

$10.04

204.00

9

166

4.37

1.29

Michael Fulmer

DET

$8.90

$12.91

159.00

11

132

3.06

1.12

Jeff Samardzija

SF

$7.40

$14.12

203.33

12

167

3.81

1.20

Vincent Velasquez

PHI

($0.08)

$4.97

131.00

8

152

4.12

1.33

Danny Salazar

CLE

$1.55

$8.53

137.33

11

161

3.87

1.34

Carlos Rodon

CHW

$0.12

$8.22

165.00

9

168

4.04

1.39

Sean Manaea

OAK

$1.81

$7.59

144.67

7

124

3.86

1.19

James Paxton

SEA

($0.87)

$4.94

121.00

6

117

3.79

1.31

Aaron Nola

PHI

($3.71)

$1.80

111.00

6

121

4.78

1.31

Jerad Eickhoff

PHI

$8.83

$14.95

197.33

11

167

3.65

1.16

Tanner Roark

WAS

$16.34

$21.94

210.00

16

172

2.83

1.17

Steven Matz

NYM

$3.26

$8.49

132.33

9

129

3.40

1.21

Matt Harvey

NYM

($8.89)

($1.76)

92.67

4

76

4.86

1.47

Robbie Ray

ARI

($3.65)

$2.88

174.33

8

218

4.90

1.47

Jake Odorizzi

TB

$6.76

$13.06

187.67

10

166

3.69

1.19

Lance McCullers

HOU

($3.73)

$2.37

81.00

6

106

3.22

1.54

Marco Estrada

TOR

$8.84

$13.54

176.00

9

165

3.48

1.12

Kevin Gausman

BAL

$4.56

$11.65

179.67

9

174

3.61

1.28

Sonny Gray

OAK

($11.76)

($0.15)

117.00

5

94

5.69

1.50

Drew Smyly

TB

($1.18)

$7.10

175.33

7

167

4.88

1.27

Julio Urias

LAD

($4.40)

$0.74

77

5

84

3.39

1.45

Taijuan Walker

ARI

($0.02)

$5.34

134.33

8

119

4.22

1.24

J.A. Happ

TOR

$14.36

$19.24

195.00

20

163

3.18

1.17

Four of the 29 pitchers in the three-star tier are Blue Jays. The PFM despises these guys. Stroman is the highest rated Blue Jay; at 71st among starting pitchers, he is the only Toronto starter projected to post positive value in 12-team formats. If you are a straight-PFM drafter you will avoid all the Blue Jays pitchers in this tier. My recommendation is to be more aggressive with these arms than the PFM recommends. Sanchez and Stroman should be owned in all formats, while Estrada and Happ are both solid deep mixed league plays and absolute musts in AL-only.

Despite a rocky ending to his 2016, Duffy is the guy many experts are targeting as a potential breakout ace in 2017. Duffy’s problems at the end of the year were attributed to fatigue and the demands of working every fifth day for a full season for the first time in the majors as opposed to hitters catching up with his stuff. From June 6 through August 21, Duffy had a 15-start stretch where he posted a 10-1 record, a 2.38 ERA, and 107 strikeouts in 102 innings. In keeper leagues, you’re going to have to push harder than this if you are buying into Duffy’s potential.

It is unlikely that Roark repeats his 2016 performance, but he is a legitimate mid-tier starter who is probably good for an ERA in the low-to-mid-3s with a solid WHIP and good whiff rates. He is pitching for an excellent team, so the wins are as guaranteed as wins can be for any starting pitcher.

Harvey and Matz could both outpitch this ranking assuming full health. Harvey is an extremely high risk/high reward arm, as he returns from an injury where the recovery path and success isn’t nearly as clear as it is for Tommy John recoverees. He looked terrible last year, but you can write off everything he did last year to injury. Matz looked amazing at times, but his durability is an open question. In shallower leagues where you can live with 80-120 good innings and then slide in a decent replacement, move him up in your rankings somewhat.

Every year there are sophomores in the three-star tier who entice us with their potential. This year those pitchers are Manaea and Taillon. Manaea combines deception with an assortment of strong off-speed pitches that keep hitters off balance even though he isn’t a flamethrower. If there is a weakness, it is that his fastball isn’t an overwhelming pitch and right-handers did not have much difficulty squaring up against Manaea’s heater. Taillon has a higher ceiling than Manaea but while he was relatively healthy last year, a sore shoulder sidelined Taillon for about a month. I love Taillon’s long-term potential, but in redraft formats it is worth pumping the brakes a little bit. We have been down this road before with injury-prone future aces. The return is seldom immediate.

Three-Star Value Pick: Marco Estrada
It is always a fine line for pitchers like Estrada who don’t throw hard and rely disproportionately on fly ball outs. But the formula works for Estrada. He was first among qualifiers with a 16.8 percent infield fly rate thanks to a change-up that consistently generated poor contact and one of the best swing-and-miss rates in baseball. Estrada’s horrific 2014 will understandably be remembered for a very long time, but in terms of performance it is the outlier over the last four seasons.