Fantasy Baseball Tier 2 Starting Pitchers

Tier 2

Stephen Strasburg


In his eighth MLB season, the Glass Joe (Mike Tyson‘s Punch-Out!) of starting pitchers exceeded 175 innings pitched for just the third time in his career. Despite this fragile flamethrower’s injury history, he’s still being drafted as the fifth SP of the board in NFBC drafts and for good reason. His skill set is still among the best in the game and if it’s combined with some volume then you have a potential top five SP.

Among qualified starting pitchers in 2017, Strasburg ranked 3rd in FIP (2.72), 6th in O-Swing% (33.4%), 8th in K/9 (10.47), 10th in SwStr% (13%) and 12th in Contact% (73.7%). His fastball doesn’t touch 100 MPH like it once did, but it’s still elite at an average velocity of 95.6, which was good for 5th best among qualified starting pitchers. He upped his CB usage by nearly 10% from 2016, which should have fantasy managers excited seeing how batters were helpless against it (.154 BAA). Drafting Strasburg will always be a gamble given his tendency to flirt with the DL vixen, but he’s worth the roll of the dice if you miss out on a tier 1 guy.

2018 Projection:

185 16 215 48 2.85 1.06


Jacob deGrom


It wasn’t long ago (2015 to be exact) that the Mets’ rotation was the envy of every other major league team. Championships won on the backs of deGrom, Harvey, Thor and Matz seemed like a foregone conclusion.  Fast forward to present day and deGrom stands alone as the lone Mets’ SP that can truly be counted upon (young pitchers are a volatile bunch). deGrom, who turns 30 this June (time flies), is performing like a guy that is enjoying the latter half of his prime.

To this fact, his 2017 fastball velocity (95.2) was up nearly 2 MPH from 2016. What’s more, he’s able to produce elite swings and misses with this pitch, which is why it comes as no surprise that he uses it 55.4% of the time. His slider (89.3) is one of the hardest in the game and he can rely on it to get ground balls to get out of jams. His curveball tends to produce fly balls, which isn’t a bad thing at Citi Field (28th in HR/game). In 2017, this potential Locks of Love donor did some of his best work in the underlying stats that I covet the most.

FIP (3.50)


K/9 (10.68)


O-Swing% (32.5)


Z-Contact% (79.7)


SwStr% (13.2)


His Z-Contact% moves me in a way that I’d rather not fully describe at the risk of making this post R-rated. I feel that anyone reading this article probably knows the stats that I often refer to, but I never want to ass-u-me too much. So, I feel it’s right to give some context to what I’m blithering about. Z-Contact% (league average: 87%) is the rate at which batters make contact with a pitch within the strike zone. deGrom’s rate is elite amongst his peers, which affords him the luxury of getting away with some mistakes. Do yourself a favor and don’t make the mistake of missing him on draft day.

2018 Projection:

195 15 220 50 3.27 1.16


Madison Bumgarner


This Excitebike hero burned those (myself included) that drafted him in the top-20 a year ago. Yeah, that’s another Nintendo reference, so what of it? Anyways, 2017 marked the end of a six-year run of at least 30 starts per season for this wannabe cowboy. “MadBum” finds himself just outside of tier 1 for the first time in seemingly forever. It’s hard to guess what to expect from him going forward after an odd year (to say the least) on and off the mound.

On the surface, his 2017 ERA of 3.32 says we should expect the same old Bumgarner in 2018. However, upon further review, he exhibited a mixed bag of stats during his abbreviated season (111 IP). His K/9 (8.19) was the lowest it’s been since he became a full-time starter in 2011 and his FIP (3.95) indicates that he may have been shacking up with Lady Luck. Meanwhile, his ground ball rate of 40.8% was near league average and one of his lowest outputs of his career. That said, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for this lefty.

His fastball and slider (.200 BAA) velocities were on par with his career norms. In addition, he was above league average in O-Swing%, Z-Contact% and SwStr% (although, below his standards). More optimism: Had he pitched a full season in 2017 then it’s highly likely he would have led all pitchers in IP since 2011 (he’s 9th). So, perhaps his arm was saved from some wear tear, which could buoy him heading into 2018. I’m willing to give “MadBum” a clean slate because of last year’s odd circumstances, but I would advise being cautious in drafts. He belongs among the other great arms in this tier, but his days of being a top ace are probably over.

2018 Projection:

205 13 205 40 3.08 1.06


Luis Severino


Why do so many of us fantasy managers seem to always gravitate to that new, shiny toy? It’s probably some reflection on our society as a whole, but count me in as one of those who are enamored and fully invested in Mr. Severino for 2018 (and beyond). Severino has been known in the fantasy community for some time because of his dynasty appeal. However, for many, he came out of nowhere following a disastrous 2016 (5.83 ERA). So, what went right in 2017 for this 23-year-old fireballer?

Let’s start with his average fastball velocity (97.6), which led all qualified starting pitchers in 2017. This pitch generated above league average whiff rates and its movement can often mimic a sinker that produces plenty of ground balls. You know, just your run of the mill 98 MPH sinker. His slider is just as “stupid” with its velocity sitting near 89 MPH (9th highest), leaving hitters with two viable options: swing and miss or weakly hit it into the ground. The variable that perhaps most helped Severino turn the corner was the improved control of his changeup (88 MPH). It has a ton of backspin, so it doesn’t dive out of the zone like some of the elite changeups in the game, but Severino’s improved accuracy of the pitch, coupled with its natural velocity drop, forced hitters to respect it. In turn, this made his fastball and slider even more effective.

You may have noticed that I love throwing ranks around like it’s going out of style. Well, here I go again (bare with me). Among qualified starting pitchers in 2017, Severino’s ranks:

FIP (3.07)


K/9 (10.71)


GB% (50.6)


Z-Contact% (82.3)


SwStr% (13.0)


I was tempted to put my boy, Sev, at the top of Tier 2, but I digress. Lastly, his limited track record and AL East home don’t worry me that much and you shouldn’t let those factors prevent you from drafting him as your ace in 2018. So, make like the late Hugh Hefner and go young. You won’t regret it (Hugh sure as Hell didn’t).

2018 Projection:

195 15 212 55 3.37 1.14


Noah Syndergaard


Coming off his brilliant 2016 season (more on that later), “Thor” was primed to cement himself as one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury coupled with an incompetent Mets’ training staff, derailed his 2017 season (30.1IP). I’m trying to imagine last year’s conversations that took place among Mets’ decision makers. “Well, we ought to err on the side of caution with Noah’s shoulder, but he says that he’ll be fine. Ya, let’s just take his word for it and throw him back on the mound. Sound good? Great.” Seriously, who is steering that clown car? Well, since there isn’t much to glean from his 2017 season, let’s fawn over his ridiculous 2016 campaign in an effort to remind ourselves of his insane talent.

At 6’6″ 240, Syndergaard is the prototypical, right-handed power pitcher. In 2016, his average fastball (98) made hitters look feeble while his slider (91) made them wish they could “PS4 quit” their at bat. I’ll save you from any more of my feeble attempts at humor, so let’s go straight to the 2016 numbers!

FIP (2.29)


O-Swing% (36.5)


SwStr% (14.2)


K/9 (10.68)


Z-Contact% (83.4)


GB% (51.2)


Those stats are simply absurd and why he’s being drafted so highly despite the obvious injury risk. If he can give you 175 IP then he’s a Tier 1 SP all day long. Making safe choices early in drafts can help you create a competitive fantasy team. That said, 2nd place is the same as last place for most of us, so if you want to go for the gold then sometimes you have to take risks. Take a risk on “Thor” and cross your fingers. Oh, and hope the Mets’ training staff doesn’t screw the pooch.

2018 Projection:

165 12 189 50 2.98 1.10


Carlos Carrasco


In 2017, “Cookie” finally rewarded his owners that patiently waited for him to breakout. In his first season reaching 200 IP, he was consistently good throughout the summer (1st half: 3.44 ERA, 2nd half: 3.12 ERA). Carrasco saw a drop in his ground ball rate last season, however, his career GB% typically hovers around 50% (elite). His slider (.142 BAA) and curve (.138 BAA) elicit extreme swings and misses, which is why they are regarded as two of the best in the game. Carrasco’s breakout appears legitimate as he was ranked in the top 11 in SwStr% (13.4), K/9 (10.17) and FIP (3.10). Once again, the Indians will be one of the best teams in baseball, so he could very well luck into 15+ wins (#banthewin) in 2018. Look to the “Cookie” in round 3.

2018 Projection:

200 15 225 45 3.35 1.11


Zack Greinke


This guacamole lover (clause in contract, not kidding) redeemed himself after a disappointing inaugural season in the desert. He exceeded 200 innings pitched for the seventh time in his career and put up a 3.20 ERA (3.31 FIP), which is more in line with what we’re used to seeing out of this aloof pitcher. Greinke isn’t a sexy name to draft these days because of his age (34), but he’s more than adequate and still a top ten SP heading into 2018. His average fastball (91 MPH) no longer intimidates hitters, but he throws all three of his complementary pitches at least 13% of the time to keep hitters off-balance and chasing (O-Swing%: 34.4). He still rarely walks batters (BB/9: 2.00), which helps limit damage and last year his K/9 (9.56) was the highest it’s been since 2011. In fact, he’s one of just thirteen 2017 qualified starting pitchers to have a K/9 > 9.5 and a GB% > 44. Don’t have anxiety (See what I did there?) when drafting the Greinkenator. He still gets it done.

2018 Projection:

205 15 200 45 3.27 1.11


Justin Verlander


In 2014, a then 31-year-old Justin Verlander stumbled to a 4.54 ERA and many figured his days as an ace were behind him. He proceeded to quietly rebound over the next two seasons, but his name lost some cachet in fantasy baseball circles. Then, just last season, he had a disappointing first half and was seemingly written off once again. Around July, something changed in him and he started to pitch like the ace we grew accustomed to watching.


1st Half

2nd Half



3.37 (11th)



10.75 (7th)



1.87 (9th)






33.9 (8th)

At the waiver trade deadline (August 31st), Kate Upton’s husband was dealt to the Astros. There he continued his second half surge by posting a 2.69 FIP and 11.4 K/9 in five starts with Houston. ICYMI, the Astros’ front office are fans of the breaking ball. Thus, it was unsurprising to see Verlander’s breaking ball usage increase concurrently with is K/9. Has he completely regained his Cy Young form? That’s hard to say for sure, but he’s regained my trust heading into 2018. Moreover, he seems to be reversing a pitcher’s typical aging process. Yup, he’s gaining velocity in his mid-thirties. In 2014, his average fastball velocity fell to a career low, 92.3 MPH. Since then it’s steadily improved and averaged 95.2 MPH last year, which was the highest it had been since 2010.

2018 Projection:

205 17 215 62 3.39 1.13


Yu Darvish


Okay, let’s first address the elephant in the room. Darvish was absolutely pummeled by the Astros in the World Series, but don’t let his October emasculation deter you from drafting him this spring. Early this off-season, Astros’ hitters were quick to point out that he was tipping his pitches. At any rate, his 2017 average fastball velocity (94.2) was the highest of his career and it generated a high volume of swings and misses. Darvish’s pitch speed variance (70 MPH-95 MPH) make him a popular choice for online game play in MLB The Show. Real life hitters just assume use a PS4 controller than a baseball bat it seems. His slider (.165 BAA) and cutter (.185 BAA) are a lethal 1-2 punch that few starting pitchers possess. I wish Darvish generated more ground balls (40.7%), but that weakness is something that can be overlooked when you peep some of his other metrics.


10.08 (12th)


12.3 (13th)


82.8 (12th)


3.83 (18th)


Darvish’s value receives a slight bump after signing with the Cubs (Yes!). He can serve as your team’s ace, but I wouldn’t expect him to quite live up to the promise he had just a few years ago.

2018 Projection:

195 14 230 62 3.57 1.17


Thanks for reading and look for Tier 3 Starting Pitchers in the coming days!


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