Fantasy Baseball 2015 Starting Pitcher Preview

by Greg Benson
Position Previews C 1B 2B 3B SS OF SP RP
Credit: Vélocia

Credit: Vélocia

They say that starting pitching is a key component in winning championships in todays MLB, which many believe to be true, just ask Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, who won their third title in five years on the back of their superlative rotation. While fantasy baseball doesn’t always compare favorably to the actual big leagues in this case it does, stout starting pitching is an absolute necessity for owners with championship aspirations. Its pretty well known at this point that Clayton Kershaw is the class of pitching amongst all major league starters and in my opinion is the only starting hurler worth a first round selection in this years drafts. Along with Kershaw the other elite names include King Felix, Chris Sale, David Price, Corey Kluber, Stephen Strasburg and the previously mentioned Bumgarner, who all play the part of ace on there respective squads. There are also some younger guys who have been elevating there games over the past few seasons and are creeping into the elite conversation including Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, and two names to be discussed below Julio Teheran & Tyson Ross.

The thing about pitching is that there are always going to be guys you can get off of the wire waiver during the season, but having a solid starting core is fundamental to fantasy success. We saw the American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber come out of no where to become one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, he was not drafted in majority of leagues last year, proving you can strike gold on the wire. While some big names like Verlander, Wilson, and Dickey disappointed last season with stats that were just not worthy of there respective average draft positions, for example Wilson finished 80th amongst qualified starters in ERA. While its not all negatives for those names heading into 2015, some new guys and some old guys will look to make there mark this season and I’m going to give you the dish on which hurlers you want penciled into your lineup this year and which arms you should avoid.

1. Which young ace returning from Tommy John would you rather have: Matt Harvey or Jose Fernandez?
These two names surely warrant discussing, as they have been the games most dominant young pitchers over the last three seasons, while also both having to go through the dreaded Tommy John procedure. Harvey should be ready to go for opening day, which is represented by his 16th overall average draft position amongst starters, on the other side of things Fernandez will likely not return until June or July. Currently the Miami ace is being taken as the 51st starting pitching off the board, which seems about right considering the current state of his rehabilitation. While I love everything that Fernandez brings to the table including the park he pitches in and the competitive fire he displays every time he steps on the diamond, I’m going with Harvey for this question. The reality of the situation is simply the fact that New York’s ace is further removed from his procedure and undoubtedly at a better point in his career right now regarding his health. Just in case you forgot how good Harvey was in 2013 he sported a 2.27 ERA paired with a 0.93 WHIP and 191 strikeouts in just under 180 innings, yeah that’s straight up filthy. Its easy to look at those numbers and assume “The Dark Knight” will return to that level upon his return to the diamond, but it may take some time for him to readjust to the league, having not pitched in an entire season. Currently going as the 16th pitcher as I mentioned earlier I would say that’s about right if you are targeting Harvey, be smart though and don’t reach for a guy based on namesake coming off of a serious surgery.

2. How will Jeff Samardzija & Jon Lester perform in their new Chicago homes?
Unlike the last two guys I talked about these aces are coming off excellent seasons but have both packed there bags for the windy city in hopes of helping there respective clubs ascend into October. Samardzija moved around quite a bit last season, going from the Cubs to the Athletics then in an offseason move to the south side of Chicago, joining Chris Sale in the White Sox rotation. Lester essentially did the same thing as he saw himself dealt to Oakland also then decided to move on and pursue a lucrative deal with the up and coming Cubs in order to anchor there staff. Now that we’ve talked about there new surroundings lets take a look at each players average draft position Lester is currently the 13th starter off the board while Samardzija is just a few spots behind at 17th. I’m actually a little bit higher on the former Cub heading into 2015 because he is pitching behind one of the games best in Chris Sale, while Lester is pretty one a one-man army on the north side. While I like the new White Sox hurler a bit more I think that both guys are veterans and will perform quite well in there new homes, in turn both warranting there respective average draft positions.

3. How will Max Scherzer, currently the 6th Starting Pitcher off the board fare in 2015 after switching to the National League?
As many of you know I’m an avid Washington Nationals fan so this move is pretty exciting for me as a supporter of Mad Max’s new team. When it comes to fantasy value based off of his move to the National League, there is no possible way this move can hurt him, as he will now face a pitcher in majority of his starts instead of a designated hitter. Much like former teammate Doug Fister I don’t think Scherzer will have any issues switching from the AL to NL, as its widely known pitching in the NL is easier due to the lack of the DH. Currently the 6th starter being taken off of most boards I’m going to venture to say that Max will finish as a top three option this season just behind Clayton Kershaw & King Felix. Not that Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner & new teammate Stephen Strasburg aren’t great I just think Scherzer will be that much better pitching in the other league with an excellent Nationals defense at his back, don’t be afraid to draft the former Cy Young winner this season he will be just fine in the nations capital.

4. Will Jacob deGrom & Jake Arietta be able to repeat the success they had during the 2014 season?
Wow some more young stars coming off of career years and likely to be drafted a bit higher this year than last, as neither of them was drafted in 2014. With one year of success and little track record to rely on how exactly can you value these two hurlers? As of right now Arietta is the 26th starter off the board with deGrom following suit at 27 placing both before the likes of Doug Fister (33rd), Mat Latos (43rd), and Anibal Sanchez (45th). The reason I mentions those three names right there is because heading into 2015 I would take all of them over both Arietta & deGrom. I have no doubt that these young guys are really solid starting pitchers but just like everyone else the league will make adjustments and both hurlers will become more hittable. While Fister was an instant success in D.C. last season once he made his way to the mound Latos returned from injury to have a decent season and Sanchez underperformed based on his 2014 ADP. I think the former Tiger will continue to dominate in the nations capital imbedded in a absolutely stout rotation while Latos & Sanchez are in for big bounce back years in my opinion. Getting back to the question at hand I’m not doubting these young guys having solid 2015 campaigns I’m just not reaching for them over the much more established names being taken behind them in drafts.

Player(s) on the Rise
Julio Teheran (ATL) / Shelby Miller (ATL) – Its time to talk about players on the up and up and I’m going to give you two pairs of teammates that currently see there arrows trending upwards. I’m going to start with Atlanta’s Julio Teheran and the newly acquired Shelby Miller who came over in the Jason Heyward deal a few months back. While Teheran will likely fall into the likes of Sonny Gray last year, that being a talented young arm coming off a career year Miller is a bit of a question mark after departing St. Louis en route to Atlanta. The hard throwing right hander was just 10-9 last season with a 3.74 ERA to go along with a less than stellar 1.27 WHIP. There are a few things working in Miller’s favor now that he sports a Braves uniform including staying in the National League, joining a rotation with fellow promising arms and less expectations in Atlanta. When you look at Julio Teheran and the season he compiled in 2014 there’s no doubt this guy is one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball and I firmly believe that promise continues to shine through as we look ahead to this year. On the other hand I think Miller will fit in nicely with his new team and with an average draft position of 65 there is much value to be found in drafting the Houston native this season.

Credit: Keith Allison

Credit: Keith Allison

Andrew Cashner (SD) /Tyson Ross (SD) – Moving on to the next set of teammates I have climbing the ladder of starting pitching we will examine San Diego’s Andrew Casher and Tyson Ross. Neither of these guys is a big name that’s well known to the fantasy world, however they both have provided good value for owners during the past few seasons when healthy. Obviously there is a concern with Cashner and the injury issues he had to go through in 2014 however the news all seems to be pointing towards a injury free opening day start for the Padres ace. Ross was completely under the radar in fantasy leagues last season despite finishing in the top sixteen in earned run average and strikeouts in his fourth big league season. San Diego made some serious offensive upgrades in the offseason which will feature a starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Will Myers; quite the renovation. What this means for Cashner & Ross is the offense will be much improved leading to more chances to pick up victories, something that have been hard to come by for both thus far in there careers. With an ADP of 22nd Tyson will be a bit harder to obtain but the price should be worth it on both of these young guns as they look to push San Diego to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Player(s) on the Decline
Tanner Roark (WSH) – After a breakout 2014 in which Roark set career highs for wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched he finds himself the odd man out in a loaded Washington starting five. Even as a fan of the Nats I was skeptical of him quite a bit last season, as it seemed he was more of a cog turning the machine that was an excellent Washington team than the engineer himself. There is no question he was great when he toed the rubber for the NL East winning Nationals but the recent addition of Max Scherzer has him on the outside looking in. It is currently unclear how manager Matt Williams plans to use Roark this season with the likely scenario resulting in him moving into a Craig Stammen role of sorts for Washington. As the situation presently stands in D.C. he has no place in drafts although the bearded righty retains the watch list tag in case Gio Gonzalez struggles early on and his name is called on as a replacement.

Matt Cain (SF) – Oh man just imagine what you would have said two or three years ago if I told you Matt Cain would be off most peoples fantasy radar in 2015 well its true. The big right-hander hasn’t been an effective pitcher in the big leagues for over a season and a half and teammate Madison Bumgarner has taken over the role of staff ace. After going 16-5 in 2012 with a sub 3.00 ERA Cain has gone 10-17 with an ERA over 4.00 in his last two seasons. Injuries have certainly had there hand in what has happened to the former ace but I think his time is just about over as an elite fantasy option and he is moving towards the draft him and give it a shot and if he is mediocre once again simply cut bait. Unless it’s a later pick past his average draft value I’m going to pass on Cain in 2015 instead grabbing a guy like Rick Porcello two rounds later at a cheaper cost.

Player(s) on the Horizon
Danny Salazar (CLE) – I’ve been following Salazar for a few years now including his trips up and down from the minors to the pros and the roller coaster of a pitching career he’s had thus far. At certain times the flamethrower looks to be completely in control and can absolutely dominate any line up in the game while other times he has command issues and is very hittable. Its hard to tell what version of Salazar you are going to get each time he steps onto the hill which makes drafting him a bit risky however if he can put all the pieces together he has the ability to be a top 25 starting option for years to come.

Michael Pineda (NYY) – The unfortunate thing for this young Yankee is that he is more likely known for the pine tar incident that took place during a rivalry game with Boston last season than his actual abilities. Pineda was suspended and then went on to suffer a serious injury that kept him sidelined for months, although he did return and returned to form. One of the most prosing arms in the Yankee system for a few years the big man showed he has the ability to overpower hitters while also locating his breaking ball. After returning from injury he pitched quite well for New York and the needle is certainly pointing up for Pineda as we enter this season, his current ADP is 35th amongst starters.

Player(s) to Avoid
CC Sabathia (NYY) – Unlike his teammate that I just discussed one of the more veteran arms on New York staff is trending down, and I mean way down. Sabathia has a combined ERA over the last two seasons of 5.03, which is one of the worst marks in the majors during that time. In the 46 innings that he managed to pitch last season he looked extremely vulnerable as teams were just mashing his offerings time after time. An injury forced the 34-year-old to shut it down for 2014 making it even less tempting to give him consideration for one of your picks this year, stay away from aging big man as his days of fantasy glory are just a distant memory of the great career he has had.

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