Happy Spring?! Well, sort of. As I am physically typing this article, there is still over a foot of snow outside my house that needs to thaw in order for me to see my grass. This is certainly not stopping me from thinking about the crack of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting a mit or the smell of hotdogs in the stands of a ballgame. I feel like the WBC has peaked my interest into baseball earlier this year.
As MLB baseball is right around the corner, I am getting my mind focused on the mound, specifically with the pitchers. Usually a spot I don’t put too much stock in, but when most of my leagues have converted to Quality Starts I have taken the time to take a closer look.
A quality start is when the starting pitcher goes six innings and doesn’t give up more than three earned runs. Here are a few pitchers that you should take a look at in 2017 that should produce high quality starts this year. I won’t be talking about the obvious guys (Kershaw, Bumgarner, Scherzer, etc.). These are other key guys that can produce quality starts just as well as the top starting pitchers in the league.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Quality Start Targets
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
After a poor 2013, 2014 and 2015, Verlander had a resurgence in 2016. He recorded 227.2 innings that was third in the majors. The last time he pitched over 230 innings was in 2012.
He continues to stay on the mound, which makes him a viable quality start pitcher to have on your fantasy team. He got back to pitches that looked like pre-2013 Verlander. His fastball was reaching in the top of the zone, his curveball returned to plus-plus power and his velocity of his slider was his career best at tops of 88 mph. He certainly was going back to the future!
Usually mid-30 year old pitchers will regress in their performance. The way he has been using his pitches and has been healthy shows that Verlander is not showing this type of lapse.
There was a big controversy last year with Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello on winning the AL-Cy Young Award. Porcello ended up beating Verlander by five points. Verlander was left off of two ballots and Porcello shockingly did not receive any first place votes. Despite not winning the award, Verlander should not hang his hat on the season he had in 2016 that I believe will continue in 2017.
I think he is a top-5 quality start pitcher. He ended up with 27; which led all of the majors.
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
Lester is a player I personally miss see pitching for my own team. You can pencil in Lester to start at least 30 games each season for you as a fantasy owner. From 2008-2016, he started over 30 games each season. This consistency puts him close to the 200 inning mark when finishing out the season.
You shouldn’t worry that Lester can’t throw it over to hold runners on at first base because most of the time he doesn’t have to. He hasn’t had a WHIP higher than 1.30 since 2012. Because of the Cubs recent success, the defense is not too shabby for Lester to pitch in front of as well. It makes looser and freer on the mound. This type of defense is certainly going to help him again in 2017.
Lester finished the 2016 with 26 quality starts. This was tops in the National League. In the past three seasons, he hovered around the nine strikeouts per nine innings mark. He is the model of reliability that represents the epitome of quality starts. The Cubs got a great deal in signing Lester to a long term deal a couple of years ago. Don’t let him get out of your grasps too!
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Sanchez is coming off of a season where he was limited on the amount of innings he was going to pitch. He led the AL in ERA in 2016 and finished the season with 23 quality starts, despite having to have a shortened time on the mound. This year, the Blue Jays are going to let off the reigns and let Sanchez go the distance.
Sanchez has had a tough go at it trying to figure what type of role the Blue Jays want to keep him in. He has gone from starter to reliever to starter to reliever and now back to a starter. A lot of different strain on his arm, but he has been up to the challenge. This can be a set-back fantasy wise, but it seems like the Blue Jays are poised to keep him as a starter, for now. He has good stuff with a modest strikeout to walk ratio and has a weakness to giving up homers to lefties.
He did have an increase of almost 100 innings of pitching from 2015 to 2016, so I would proceed with caution when drafting him in 2017. As obviously a higher rate of quality starts, he is a pitcher I would keep on my radar though.
Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
I am a big Jose Quintana fan. Much like Lester, he is a model of consistency as a pitcher, but is a less flashier than Lester. I would consider him a poor man’s Lester, plus adding what type of ball team he plays for. For the past four years, Quintana has pitched between 200 and 208 innings with an ERA between 3.20 and 3.51.
There was a rumor this offseason that Quintana would be or could be traded. With the latest of Chris Sale going to Boston, it seems like the White Sox are ready to dump some top players in order to get something back. This could still be a reality for Quintana once the 2017 is over, but for now he will keep being serviceable on the mound for the White Sox and quite possibly your fantasy team.
Quintana is a guy that relies mostly on his off speed pitches and last year had a career high of 38.7% fastballs thrown. This could be a sign of caution, but I believe a move (which is inevitable) can be a positive for Quintana. He could possibly pitch for a better defensive team which will certainly help with his quality starts. He ended up with 23 quality starts in 2016.
Dan Straily, Miami Marlins
Who? Yes, Straily is under the radar as a starting pitcher. Often guys like this under the radar can be scooped up later in the draft. Straily pitched for the Cincinnati Reds last year and maybe can tell why many were not looking at him. Although he did have a higher ERA of 3.76, he finished the season with 20 quality starts; which is quit serviceable.
Straily is not your normal pitcher. His unpredictability makes him a unique breed. Cody Reed, who was a teammate of Straily last year, explains, “I’d love watching [Dan] Straily pitch. He’d go 2-0 and boom, flip a change in there, and he’s back in the count. I couldn’t do that.” Straily’s fastball is one of the slower ones in the league. He normally will throw a fast ball in a 2-0 count about 73% of the time versus when he used to throw it at 87% of the time. By throwing off pitchers, this unpredictability makes him a unique pick in drafts this year.
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Martinez, a lifelong Cardinal, seems to be settling in nicely as a starting pitcher these past two seasons. This past month or so he pitched for the Dominican Republic National Team in the World Baseball Classic. At age 25, he is on top of his game and is an ace for the Cardinals. His fastball can top off to 100 and his changeup can get in the low 90s. This is an amazing feat at such a young age in his career, especially for a starter.
Martinez is off to a great Spring Training. His latest start was against the Washington Nationals that had most of their regular starters. He pitched five scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out three batters. The Cardinals have already named him the Opening Day starter as he is looking every bit the part.
I have mentioned this before in past articles, but the Cardinals seem to breed or find players like this and keep them in their organization for a while.
Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Ceuto and Carlos Martinez were the only three pitchers last season to have a ground ball rate of 50% or higher to go along with an above-average strikeout and walk rate. I would say this is pretty good company.
Martinez can be a risk/reward type of case. With what little we know about any injury type of case, the guy can flat out strike out batters and keep the ball in the ball park when he is mixing all his pitches. With this being said, he is a bargain if drafted after the top 15 pitchers go in the draft.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Here is a guy you probably wouldn’t think would be on my list. I was very high on Chris Archer entering the 2016 season. Even after a deplorable season last year, he still finished the year with 19 quality starts. This mark made him have more quality starts than Marcus Stroman, Clayton Kershaw (I know, right?!) and Jake Arrieta (yep!).
Let’s look deeper in to the type of year that he was having. Remember that quality starts really do show the way a pitcher is pitching regardless of what type of offense is provided for him.
It was a tale of two halves for Archer. Coming into June 2016, Archer had an ERA of 4.76 and 1.45 WHIP. This looked like it was a lost cause for Archer to do anything better from here on out. His number of earned runs lessened by 24 runs, he gave up six fewer home runs and his total ERA went down by 1.41 compared to the first half.
You would be drafting him in the better of the two halves if you took a chance on him in 2017.
I hope you picked up on my vibe while reading about starting pitchers. I am totally for quality starts to not only be a statistic in fantasy baseball, but also in the MLB. Times have changed and so should statistics.
Even though quality starts is a relatively new term for baseball (1985). I have seen a lot of changes that MLB is trying to enforce in order to show a truer verification of the game, so why not make it for the players as well. The Wins or Losses should count for the ball club, not for a pitcher. I feel that quality starts show the true testimony of what a pitcher is going through instead of worrying about if his team is putting up enough runs or not.
Be sure to check out our Rankings, Position Preview and much more in the 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit.