2019 Preseason Rankings: Top 15 Starting Pitchers: Who Joins The Elite & Who Falls Short?

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by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

As we’ve said with our other early rankings, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • We are still extremely early in the process so player movement, among other factors, will have an impact on these rankings as we get closer to the start of the season
  • Just because a player his ranked #3 doesn’t mean you should draft him in that spot. In most cases you shouldn’t have to, it just shows the potential value they hold
  • These rankings are based on our projections and expected production for 2019

When it comes to starting pitchers, we all know that health is always going to be a potential issue. With it seemingly becoming when, not if, a pitcher needs Tommy John surgery the idea of spending an early round selection becomes that much tougher. That doesn’t mean an elite starter can’t be a difference maker, but we need to know the risk. With that in mind, let’s take a first look at the top of our starting pitcher rankings for the upcoming season:

  1. Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals
  2. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets
  3. Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox
  4. Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Justin Verlander – Houston Astros
  6. Corey Kluber – Cleveland Indians
  7. Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets
  8. Carlos Carrasco – Cleveland Indians
  9. Luis Severino – New York Yankees
  10. Patrick Corbin – Washington Nationals
  11. Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals
  12. Gerrit Cole – Houston Astros
  13. Blake Snell – Tampa Bay Rays
  14. Trevor Bauer – Cleveland Indians
  15. Miles Mikolas – St. Louis Cardinals

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Thoughts:

  • Notable by his absence is Clayton Kershaw, and it was not an oversight.  We will really dive into why he has dropped more into the SP2 range, but there have obviously been consistent injury issues and he also saw a significant drop in velocity (91.39 mph, down from 93.18) and an increase in his Hard% (36.1%, compared to 26.0% for his career).  He’s simply not the same pitcher that he once was, and while others may want to continue to value him as one of the elite it seems far more likely that he falls well short.
  • Noah Syndergaard’s spot will likely be among the most questioned, but we all know what he’s capable of if he stays healthy.  We know the strikeout stuff (even last year he posted a 13.6% SwStr%)…  We know the elite control (2.01 BB/9)…  When opponents did make contact, it wasn’t with authority (21.9% Hard%)…  Now throw in a solid groundball rate (49.5%) and while you can argue against ranking him this high, it’s hard not to like what he’s selling.
  • It was a tremendous season for Blake Snell, pitching to a 1.89 ERA with an 11.01 K/9.  It’s easy to point towards a .241 BABIP and 88.0% strand rate as reasons to expect a regression, especially considering a 35.7% Hard% and likelihood of more home runs (0.80 HR/9).  Obviously he’s going to remain among the better pitchers in the game, but don’t pay for last year’s success.
  • Miles Mikolas’ first year back in the Majors was a rousing success, even with a limited strikeout rate (6.55 K/9).  There’s a little bit more upside than that, and he really flashed it in the second half (11.5% SwStr%, 38.9% O-Swing%), and even a marginal increase in strikeouts coupled with elite control and enough groundballs will yield another impressive season.
  • Doesn’t it feel like Trevor Bauer has been hyped and hyped and hyped…  However he finally realized the potential in 2018, pitching to a 2.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.  There was a change in his approach (he was throwing his slider more than ever), and that likely helped to bring an increased strikeout rate and with it the results in general.  While he may take a step back, the upside of a borderline SP1 remains.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

** PRE-ORDER ROTOPROFESSOR’S 2019 FANTASY BASEBALL DRAFT GUIDE **
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10 COMMENTS

    • Not the first cuts, but both should be among the next 10-15 to be added. Both are in the mix as SP2, or at worst high-end SP3

  1. Hey Prof. Happy New Year! Love the new layout you got going.
    I was wondering if you were going to do an article on the new Japanese sensation Yusei Kikuchi.
    I have the rights to him in 1 of my keeper leagues. And was curious as to how you’d value him. I know we don’t know a ton about him, but wanted to know your opinion.

    • First, thanks for the support and glad you are enjoying the new design! I’m definitely doing some work on Kikuchi to get a better feel for him. I will definitely have something soon!

  2. Professor, I echo the love of the new site design. Curious as to why you are down on Greinke. He seems to be a pretty dependable high K, low WHIP guy that usually wins around 15 games.

    • I think the best answer comes from a small excerpt from the Draft Guide as to why I have my doubts:

      “That said a Hard% that’s trending in the wrong direction (30.7% to 35.1% to 40.9%) and could mean significantly less luck (.272 BABIP, 80.2% strand rate), which when coupled with the home run risk brings significant questions. As long as he’s in Arizona the risk simply outweighs the potential reward.”

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