Starters are some of the most volatile fantasy commodities to deal with. Hot and cold streaks can wreak havoc on your numbers from week to week. For us, consistency is king when it comes to starters and that’s why you really won’t see a TON of movement in the top two tiers from our preseason rankings. Most of the arms in the top-20 have been there for the past couple of years and while they some may be under performing at the moment, elite level starters have a way of righting the ship in a hurry.
Tier one is the studs. Guys we expected fantastic numbers out of that have delivered so far. As with most of our tiered listed, the second group of players can easily jump into the top tier but the confidence level is just not there halfway through the season. All-told, any one of the top 22 options on this list could find there way into the top-10 at the end of the season and it wouldn’t shock us one bit.
Tiers three and four are where things get interesting. We’ve seen solid production from most of these guys, but questions remains about there ability to give you a better-than-quality start each and every turn. Tier three is also one that is particularly difficult to order within the group. We have some of the more proven, veteran options up at the top, but if you wanted to make a case for Minor, Buchholz or Fernandez to be at the front-end of this tier, it would be difficult to argue… they are all very close.
When constructing a team, we’d prefer to have three or four options in the top three tiers and another couple arms from tier four and five. Beyond that, you are playing with fire in a standard league and the guys ranked outside our top five tiers have just as good chance of leading you to a championship as they do to destroy your ratios.
1. Clayton Kershaw – LAD
The K’s are down just a touch, but hard to argue with a sub-2.00 ERA through 18 starts.
2. Cliff Lee – Phi
On of two qualified pitchers (Felix Hernandez) with >23 K% and <5 BB%.
3. Yu Darvish – Tex
On pace to provide the first 300+ strikeout season since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson both did it for the DBacks in 2002.
4. Justin Verlander – Det
“Struggled” his way to nine wins and a 3.54 ERA through his first 18 starts.
5. Felix Hernandez – Sea
6. Stephen Strasburg – Was
Two or fewer earned runs in each his last nine starts: 1.29 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 54 Ks in 56.0 IP over that span.
7. Max Scherzer – Det
With a 2.63 FIP and 2.83 x FIP you could make an argument that his 3.09 ERA is a bit unlucky.
8. Adam Wainwright – StL
9. Chris Sale – CWS
10. Gio Gonzalez – Was
Following a rocky April (5.34 ERA) Gio has been as advertised, posting a 2.26 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 79.2 innings since.
11. Matt Harvey – NYM
First 28 big-league starts: 2.42 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 211:53 K-to-BB in 182.1 innings. Only concern is that the Mets decide to cap his innings.
12. Cole Hamels – Phi
Hamels’ 3.65 FIP and 3.61 xFIP point to a bit of poor luck so far, expect a massive iimprovement.
13. Madison Bumgarner – SF
14 . Jordan Zimmermann – Was
If only the strikeouts were more consistent, he’d be a lock for the top tier.
15. Jeff Samardzija – ChC
Chase wins if you want, we’ll take a solid ERA with a strikeout-per-inning every day of the week.
16. David Price – TB
Nice to see a solid outing in his return from the DL… of course he’ll need to beat teams better than the Astros, but it’s a start.
17. James Shields – KC
18. Mat Latos – Cin
19. Matt Cain – SF
20. Homer Bailey – Cin
Career best KY (25.0), career best BB% (5.9) is a solid combination for an emerging stud. Consistency is the only this that is holding homer back.
21. Shelby Miller – StL
Phenomenal start to the year, but owners must be wary of the workload after he tossed just 150.1 innings last year between the majors and minors.
22. A.J. Burnett – Pit
The previously erratic Burnett has been remarkably solid in Pittsburgh, posting a 3.39 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 279 strikeouts in 291.2 innings pitched since the start of 2012.
23. Kris Medlen – Atl
Coming on strong with five quality starts in last six turns but mediocre strikeout totals keep him outside of the top-20.
24. Hiroki Kuroda – NYY
Hopefully recent injury issues won’t hamper Hiroki’s elite control. He’s walked more than one batter in a start just twice since the start of May (11 starts) .
25. Julio Teheran – Atl
26. Jarrod Parker – Oak
Slow start is firmly in the rear-view mirror as Parker has put up a sterling 2.25 ERA in his last nine starts (60.0 innings pitched). He’s walked just 13 batters in those nine starts compared to 22 walks in his first eight turns.
27. Lance Lynn – StL
28. Derek Holland – Tex
Hard to ignore the jump in strikeouts coupled with improved control. Very quietly putting up SP2-type numbers.
29. Mike Minor – Atl
30. Matt Garza – ChC
When he’s healthy, he’s good. It’s that simple.
31. Zack Greinke – LAD
When he’s on, he’s great but at some point you need to look at the career 3.79 ERA and the diminished K-rate and wonder when we need to stop calling him unlucky and start calling him mediocre.
32. Clay Buchholz – Bos
33. R.A. Dickey – Tor
It’s been reported that he’s finally over the neck/shoulder issue and if he has that hard knuckler working, Dickey is very difficult to beat. Still, as evidenced by his poor start Saturday (7 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K), he’s going to be a bit hit-or-miss this season.
34. CC Sabathia – NYY
Bounced in his last outing (7.0 IP, 2 ER, 9 K) after a seven start rough patch in which CC posted a 5.08 ERA over 51.1 innings pitched.
35. Jose Fernandez – Mia
One of the hottest pitchers in baseball with a 1.34 ERA in six starts since the beginning of June. Unfortunately for head-to-head owners, he’s not gonna throw more that 160-170 innings this season.
36. Doug Fister – Det
The strikeouts have been erratic and he’s allowed 13 earned runs in his last three turns (16.1 innings pitched). Fister is capable of better, but we need to see it over 200+ IP.
37. C.J. Wilson – LAA
Walks are always an issue, but his control has been much better since the start of June: 3.0BB/9 in June/July compared to 4.2 BB/9 in April and May.
38. Hisashi Iwakuma – Sea
Four earned runs in each of this past four starts, one of the best stories of the first half is trending in the wrong direction.
39. Anibal Sanchez – Det
Solid return from the DL over the weekend, but we are terrified of the health of his shoulder. He’s pitched his way into the top-20 so far this year, but injury concerns leave him and unknown commodity.
40. Matthew Moore – TB
The most impressive stat from his weekend dominance of the White Sox: 2 walks in 6.1 innings pitched. Don’t let the 4-game win streak fool you, Moore had walked 23 batters in his last 31.2 innings pitched heading into Saturday’s game and until he proves the control issues are behind him, he’s a risky play.
41. Patrick Corbin – Ari
42. Alexander Cobb – TB
43. Hyun-Jin Ryu – LAD
The rookie has churned out 10 straight quality starts and 15 of 17 overall. Still, his 80.4 LOB% points to a bit of fortunate luck and the strikeout rate (7.25K/9) isn’t quite elite.
44. Justin Masterson – Cle
45. Josh Johnson – Tor
Strikeout rate has been solid, but Johnson remains the victim of some blowup outings. Still, we’ve got a feeling a dominant run is coming down the road.
46. Johnny Cueto – Cin
If he could stay on the field, he’d threaten the top-20. Head-to-head players looking ahead to the playoffs would be wise to pounce on Cueto right now while his value has hit rock bottom.
47. Paul Maholm – Atl
48. John Lackey – Bos
49. Rick Porcello – Det
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Porckchop this year, but it he continues to generate ground balls and and stirkeouts at career-best rates, he should see his ERA trend downward towards his 3.55 FIP and 3.14 xFIP.
50. Tim Hudson – Atl
51. Kyle Kendrick – Phi
52. Francisco Liriano – Pit
His phenomenal performance is a feather in the cap of the fantastic Pittsburgh coaching staff that seems to consistently get maximum production from their talent. Still, 3.49 BB/9 has us worried that the inevitable blowup is just around the corner.
53. Bartolo Colon – Oak
54. A.J. Griffin – Oak
Followed up the best start of his career (9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) with one of his worst of the season (5.2 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). Still, there is a solid arm here.
55. Chris Tillman – Bal
56. Jered Weaver – LAA
Striking out just 6.75 batters per nine innings this year, Weaver is little more than a big-name innings eater.
57. Dillon Gee – NYM
Ignore the 4.45 ERA and trust the guy who has put up a 2.47 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 47:9 K-to-BB ratio over his past seven turns (47.1 IP).
58. Ricky Nolasco – LAD
Give him a slight bump with the move to LA, but don’t expect miracles.
59. Eric Stults – SD
60. Jeff Locke – Pit
61. Corey Kluber – Cle
62. Yovani Gallardo – Mil
We wrote this back on April 24: “This guy has issues and is as inconsistent as they come. He bring the strikeouts, we all know that, but the ratios just are not there. It’s well past time to sell Gallardo.” And the only thing that doesn’t hold true is that the strikeouts have not been there as he’s currently sporting a career-worst 7.3 K/9.
63. Bud Norris – Hou
64. Ervin Santana – KC
65. Jon Lester – Bos
The WHIP killer has once again reared his ugly head. In fact, he’s crushing you across the board for the last couple of months: 6.26 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over his last nine turns.
66. Jason Vargas – LAA
67. Miguel Gonzalez – Bal
68. Andrew Cashner – SD
Not sure where the strikeouts have gone, but Cashner’s pitch-to-contact approach appears to be working. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, we need the Ks.
69. Jorge De La Rosa – Col
70. Tim Lincecum – SF
71. Zach Wheeler – NYM
72. Jake Peavy – CWS
73. Lucas Harrell – Hou
74. Gerrit Cole – Pit
The kid’s got a bright future, but we need the Ks to trust him in fantasy.
75. Jeremy Hellickson – TB
76. Nathan Eovaldi – Mia
77. Ian Kennedy – Ari
78. Ryan Dempster – Bos
79. Jacob Turner – Mia
80. Jose Quintana – CWS