This week’s Adjuster turns its attention from position players, and focuses on starting pitchers in alternate fantasy formats. In particular, the focus of this article will be on changes in pitcher value in leagues that consider either K-BB% or Quality Starts. There are several other stats that can come in to play when dealing with starters, and I’d be happy to answer questions about those in the comments.
For each category, I’ve chosen to highlight one player from each tier of our “Fantasy Tiered Rankings.” The “others” section at the end of each list gives a second option from each tier.
Last season, MLB starters averaged a K-BB% of 12.5 percent. As you can imagine, most of the starters in the five and four-star tiers blew past this rate. However, if you’re willing to do some digging, there are a handful of starters in the lower tiers who could also be of some help in this category.
Max Scherzer, WAS – Scherzer has been a model of dependability over the past few seasons. He’s started at least 30 games for eight straight years which is valuable on its own. He’s also been a model of dependability in leagues that consider K-BB%. Last season, Scherzer only allowed 2.21 BB/9, and his K/9 hit its highest mark since 2012 (11.19). Anyone in the five-star tier can provide some value here, but Scherzer topped the list last season. Standard: Five Stars, K-BB%: High-Five Stars
Justin Verlander, DET – Verlander’s stats underwent an impressive resurgence last season. His strikeout rate was the highest mark of his career (28.1 percent), and he kept his walk rate under 7 percent for the second straight season. It’s understandable if owners are cautious about a repeat performance, but Verlander’s DRA suggests his results weren’t a fluke. His walk rate isn’t likely to fluctuate much, and if he holds on to the additional two to three strikeouts per nine he becomes very valuable in this format. Standard: Four Stars, K-BB%: Low-Five Stars
Robbie Ray, ARI – Ray is potentially a high-risk play here. His walks per nine have been above league average each of the past three seasons. However, his strikeout rate inched even closer to 30 percent in 2016 (28.1 percent). Ray induced much less contact on swings outside of the zone than in previous seasons. His home park will be problematic for some of his numbers, but he is developing in to a nice option in this category. Standard: Three Stars, K-BB%: High-Three Stars
Michael Pineda, NYY – Pineda’s 2016 stats produced some mixed results in terms of fantasy production. His ERA hit a four-year high, and his HR/9 jumped up to 1.38 (with some help from a rough April). However, his strikeout rate was a career best 27.4 percent. His walk rate jumped as well, but if he continues to strikeout batters this often he should remain one of the top options in this tier for this category. Standard: Two Stars, K-BB%: Low-Three Stars
Jon Gray, COL – Most fantasy owners don’t go in to a draft looking to acquire a pitcher from Colorado, but if you’re looking in the one-star tier it isn’t the end of the world. Over 29 starts, Gray ran a 26 percent whiff rate to go along with an 8.3 percent walk rate. You’ll have to deal with a less-than-desirable ERA, but if he starts a full slate of games he can strike out 200 hitters in 2017. Standard: One Star, K-BB%: High-One Star
Others: Noah Syndergaard, NYM (Standard: Five Stars, K-BB%: High-Five Stars); Chris Archer, TBR (Standard: Four Stars, K-BB%: Low-Five Stars); Drew Pomeranz, BOS (Standard: Three Stars, K-BB%: Low-Four Stars); Collin McHugh, HOU (Standard: Two Stars, K-BB%: Three Stars); Jeremy Hellickson, PHI (Standard: One Star, K-BB%: Two Stars).
Jake Arrieta, CHN – Arrieta finished 2016 with the worst K-BB% of any pitcher in the five-star tier. Part of the reason for this was a walk rate that went north of 9 percent after being under 7 percent the past two seasons. His strikeout rate fell from 27.1 percent to 23.9 percent, and that combination of factors landed him here on this list. If you’re committed to grabbing a “five-star” starting pitcher and play in this format, you should definitely invest your pick/dollars elsewhere. Standard: Five Stars, Walks: Four Stars
Carlos Martinez, STL – Martinez’s walk rate has remained above 8 percent for the past three seasons. Owners should expect a similar result in 2017, and if his strikeout rate slides again he becomes much less valuable in this format. In 2016 Martinez lost just over one full strikeout per nine innings compared to 2015. His K-BB% was higher in the second half (13.2 percent) than it was in the first half (12.6 percent), so there could be reasons for optimism here. Standard: Four Stars, Walks: Low-Four Stars
Tanner Roark, WAS – Roark regained his role as a full-time starter last season, and he rewarded fantasy owners with an ERA under three. He also produced the highest strikeout rate of his young major-league career (20.1 percent). Unfortunately, his walk rate also hit a career high (8.5 percent), and this kept his contributions below league average in this category. Not only that, but his K-BB% fell to 8.7 percent in the second half from 13.9 percent in the first. Standard: Three Stars, K-BB%: High-Two Stars
Jaime Garcia, STL – Garcia started 30 games for the first time since 2011, but that won’t clear up all the concerns about his injury history. In this format, there are additional reasons for concern. His walk rate crept up to its highest mark since 2010. It’s still not a terrible rate, but he doesn’t strikeout enough hitters to move the needle much in this category. Standard: Two Stars, K-BB%: Low-Two Stars
Brandon Finnegan, CIN – By the end of 2016, Finnegan was one of the most reliable options in Cincinnati’s starting rotation. However, that result didn’t diminish concerns about his control. His walk rate was north of 11 percent, and his strikeout rate dipped just under 20 percent. DRA and FIP both suggest that Finnegan is in line for regression, and those concerns are elevated in this format. Standard: One Star, K-BB%: Low-One Star
Others: Jon Lester, CHN (Standard: Five Stars, K-BB%: Four Stars); Cole Hamels, TEX (Standard: Four Stars, K-BB%: Three Stars); Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA (Standard: Three Stars, K-BB%: High-Two Stars); Trevor Bauer, CLE (Standard: Two Stars, K-BB%: High-One Star); Chris Tillman, BAL (Standard: One Star, K-BB%: Low-One Star).
Maybe you find yourself in a fantasy league that gave up on Wins for the much more dependable Quality Starts category. This format takes a significant amount of randomness out of the scoring, and gives you a much steadier foundation to build your pitcher assessments on. The players listed below were assessed considering Quality Starts, Quality Star rate, and pitchers per inning or plate appearance.
Jon Lester, CHN – Lester finished 2016 with the highest quality start rate of any qualified starter (just over 80 percent). It doesn’t hurt that he pitches in front of the best defense in baseball, and Lester is likely to benefit from this again in 2017. He also cracked the top-30 for fewest P/IP at 15.6. These factors suggest that he’s one of the safest bets for Quality Starts available. Standard: Five Stars, Quality Starts: High-Five Stars
Rick Porcello, BOS – Porcello had an impressive 2016 season, and that performance extended to a high rate of quality starts. He tied for the second-best rate in baseball with Justin Verlander, but Porcello accomplished that with fewer P/IP (15.3). It’s hard to envision another Cy Young season out of Porcello, but he should contribute a solid Quality Starts total to your fantasy team. Standard: Four Stars, Quality Starts: High-Four Stars
Aaron Sanchez, TOR – Sanchez’s success as a starter was one of the big surprises of the baseball season. Not only did he win 15 games with a 3.00 ERA, but he gave Toronto a quality start in 77 percent of his starts. Sanchez had the 14th best P/IP total (15.2) last season, and his profile as a low-strikeout pitcher should allow him to go deep in to games. His ability to induce a below average BABIP is becoming a trend, and these factors should push you to give him an extra look in this format. Standard: Three Stars, Quality Starts: Low-Four Stars
Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA – Of the pitchers listed in the “arrows up” category for Quality Starts, Iwakuma had the lowest rate (58 percent). If he replicates his 4.12 ERA it might be difficult to reach that percentage again. His top-five finish in P/IP (15.0) is helpful, but if the results aren’t better it might not mean much. He was the best option in the two-star tier in 2016. Standard: Two Stars, Quality Starts: High-Two Stars
Dan Straily, MIA – When Straily was added to the Reds roster prior to the 2016 season, no one expected him to become the team’s second best starting pitcher. However, that’s exactly what happened. Straily’s quality start rate of 65 percent tied him with a much higher tiered option (Carlos Martinez). Straily is moving to a better ballpark this season, and he’s not a bad late round/low dollar flier in this format. Standard: One Star, Quality Starts: Two Stars
Others: Madison Bumgarner, SFG (Standard: Five Stars, QS: High-Five Stars); Justin Verlander, DET (Standard: Four Stars, QS: High-Four Stars); John Lackey, CHN (Standard: Three Stars, QS: Low-Four Stars); Adam Wainwright, STL (Standard: Two Stars, QS: High-Two Stars); Bartolo Colon, ATL (Standard: One Star, QS: High-One Star).
Johnny Cueto, SFG – Cueto finished 2016 with the second worst quality start rate among pitchers in the five-star tier (Arrieta had the worst rate). Cueto’s QS% only hit 69 percent, and that was with a 2.79 ERA. It’s difficult to believe his ERA won’t climb this season, and that makes it likely his QS% could fall even lower. Standard: Five Stars, Quality Starts: High-Four Stars
Kenta Maeda, LAD – For all the concerns about Maeda’s health, he started 32 games in 2016. However, Maeda registered the 11th lowest QS% among qualified starters (44 percent). Part of this was due to his 16.7 P/IP, which was the 17th worst mark among that same group. The Dodgers are likely to be very cautious with Maeda during the season, and that will suppress his Quality Starts total. Standard: Four Stars, Quality Starts: Low-Four Stars
Robbie Ray, ARI – Let’s start with the bad news. Ray had the worst QS% of any starter in our tiered rankings (31 percent). A major reason for this is the fact that Ray also had the highest P/IP among any qualified starter last season (18.2). If Quality Starts are important to you, go ahead and scratch Ray off your list. Standard: Three Stars, Quality Starts: Two Stars
Michael Pineda, NYY – Pineda produced a pretty similar result to Ray in this category in 2016. His QS% was the third worst (34 percent), and he finished inside the top-10 for P/IP (17.2). That number of pitches coupled with an ERA that has been over 4.30 the past two seasons make him an unlikely contributor here. Standard: Two Stars, Quality Starts: Low-Two Stars
Edinson Volquez, MIA – Volquez’s final stats in 2016 were pretty brutal. His 5.37 ERA was the highest it’s been since 2013, and his HR/9 (1.09) was his highest total since 2011. Volquez also gave the Royals the eighth lowest QS% in baseball (41 percent). Factor in a top-15 P/IP total (17.1), and he’s unlikely to contribute in this area. Standard: One Star, Quality Starts: Don’t draft
Others: Jake Arrieta, CHN (Standard: Five Stars, QS: High-Four Stars); Julio Teheran, ATL (Standard: Four Stars, QS: Low-Four Stars); Drew Smyly, SEA (Standard: Three Stars, QS: High-Two Stars); Jaime Garcia, STL (Standard: Two Stars; QS: Low-Two Stars); Francisco Liriano, TOR (Standard: One Star, QS: Low-One Star).
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now