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Exploring the Top 155 Pitchers

Happy Holidays. A new year is almost upon us. Just around the corner, pitchers and catchers will be gearing up to report. Spring-training facilities are prepping for an early start in anticipation of the World Baseball Classic, added excitement for any baseball fan ready to brush the cold off. Every new year brings change. Some more than others. This year, the new CBA was agreed upon. As the real game changes, so too does the fantasy world. Our league is entering its twelfth year, which is mind-blowing to me, considering we now represent six different states in four different time zones. Part of our longevity is attributed to adapting to the ever-changing landscape of baseball. Sabermetrics are slowing creeping into our stat categories — power is relied on less, and relievers more so. All that to say, we have changed again.

Our constant struggle has always been how to reflect the real game as best as possible without drastically changing the landscape of the league during one offseason. Recently there has been a trend toward an arms race. Pitchers were going ridiculously early in drafts and trades were featuring first- and second-round draft picks for non-keeper-eligible starting pitchers. Our solution to reduce the value of starting pitching in our league was to move from strikeouts to K/9 so as to reflect our six stat categories: Wins, K/9, ERA, WHIP, Net Saves, and Quality Starts.

Enough about our incredibly awesome keeper league. With all the talk of the winter meetings, the World Baseball Classic, and a new year, the jump on pitching is long overdue. So, the top 155 pitchers were ranked accordingly.


Steamer has released their 2017 projections. These projections, of some 4000-plus pitchers, were exported to Microsoft Excel. Pitchers were then sorted by WAR: highest to lowest. The top 155 pitchers were then selected. In a 10-team standard league, no team should roster more than 15 pitchers, giving justification for cutting off the sample at 155. Five stat categories were then selected. Steamer does not project quality starts or blown saves. Therefore, to balance the importance of SP vs RP, innings pitched was selected in addition to Wins, K/9, ERA, and WHIP.

A table was then created with the stat categories on the x-axis and the pitching running down the y-axis (if you will). Each pitcher was given a positional value based on where that pitcher ranked within each stat category. For example, Max Scherzer is projected to have an outstanding 10.93 K/9 rate, which ranks sixth in the top 155. Scherzer was therefore given a value of 6 for the K/9 category. Scores were summed for each pitcher. Pitchers were than ranked by final score. Finally, a correlation using the summed scores and pitcher rank was executed to examine the relationship between stat categories and pitcher ranks.

Table 1: Example of Pitching Scores
    Wins K/9 ERA Whip IP Total
10 Rich Hill 6 10 8 12 98 134
11 Lance McCullers 3 11 18 67 31 130
12 Robbie Ray 5 12 19 39 61 136
13 Tyler Glasnow 7 13 52 130 91 293


A complete list of the top 155 pitchers can be found at the end of this document. Below is a list of the top 20. Of note are Lance McCullers and Robbie Ray, who rank at 17 and 19, respectively. Not surprisingly, Clayton Kershaw is number one.

Table 2: Pitcher Rank
Rank Pitcher
1 Clayton Kershaw
2 Max Scherzer
3 Noah Syndergaard
4 Corey Kluber
5 Chris Sale
6 Madison Bumgarner
7 Jon Lester
8 Chris Archer
9 David Price
10 Stephen Strasburg
11 Carlos Carrasco
12 Yu Darvish
13 Justin Verlander
14 Jake Arrieta
15 Johnny Cueto
16 Jacob deGrom
17 Lance McCullers
18 Rich Hill
19 Robbie Ray
20 Michael Pineda


A correlation was then performed to explore the relationships of stat categories on pitcher total scores. Table 3 highlights K/9, ERA and WHIP as very strong correlations, with ERA being the strongest. Innings pitched had the weakest correlation.

Table 3: Correlation of Stat Categories and Total Scores
  Wins K/9 ERA WHIP IP Total
Wins 1
K/9 0.122264 1
ERA 0.333911 0.716097 1
WHIP 0.372086 0.589884 0.815055 1
IP 0.909963 -0.04049 0.138322 0.2326 1
Total 0.594921 0.752427 0.891181 0.881576 0.458243 1



The goal of this exercise was to explore the impact on the changing landscape of pitching stat categories in fantasy baseball. The top 20 pitchers remain starters. However, within the top 20, one can see the impact of the change to K/9 from strikeouts. Both McCullers and Ray rank inside the top-15 projected K/9, according to Steamer. This led to the question, just how much of an impact will K/9 have on total scores?

The correlation revealed a strong relationship, but not the strongest. Therefore, the answer is, it has a strong impact, but in the end not as much as ERA and WHIP. What does strong mean? Statisticians usually agree that a correlation above .75 is considered a very strong relationship. To explore this meaning, let us take a look at an extremely early positional ranking done by ESPN.

Below, we’ll play the guessing game.

Table 4: Player Comparison
Player 1 174.1 8 218 4.90 1.47
Player 2 175.1 7 167 4.88 1.27


The above numbers appear somewhat similar. In a standard league, you may be inclined to lean toward Player 2. Indeed, according to ESPN, Player 2 is ranked 38th at his position and Player 1 is ranked 62nd. However, when scored using the methodology in this study, Player 2 ranks 49th while Player 1 ranks 19th. Two things when considering this. Table 4 are stats from 2016. The aforementioned rankings are based on 2017 projections. It could be that Player 1 has more room to grow. However, the change from strikeouts to K/9 is evident. Player 1 (10.11) has a much better K/9 than Player 2 (8.35). Therefore, the K/9 relationship to player ranking is correctly strong, and ranking Player 1 higher than Player 2 is logical. If you were wondering, Player 1 is Robbie Ray, and Player 2 is Drew Smyly.


Steamer does not project quality starts or blown saves, therefore the correlation could be skewed toward starters or relievers. These results should only be taken into consideration when these five stat categories are in play. The sample size of starting pitchers is large enough, but not for relief pitchers. Only five relievers were projected in the top 155 pitchers ranked by WAR. Results of the correlation, then, could look different had more relievers been incorporated.

Future research

Future research should then include additional relievers. Expanding the pitcher rankings to the top 300 would include most relevant pitchers according to Steamer. Furthermore, additional stat categories should be explored. Would adding saves and quality starts affect the rankings? Certainly, the more variables added, the more complicated the results become. However, finding a balance between starters and relievers, reflective of the real game, should be further explored.


A great importance is placed on starting pitching, both in the real and fake game. However, relievers seem to have a growing importance. In 2016, three months of Chapman cost the Cubs two of the game’s best prospects, a trade usually reserved for starting pitching. How to value starting pitching compared to relief pitching is left open to interpretation, especially in the world of fantasy. A reduction on starting pitching value was in order for our league and for standard leagues. How to go about this should reflect the real game. For 10 managers, the decision was to move from strikeouts to K/9.

This initial research demonstrates that this change does not swing the pendulum too far toward relievers and away from starting pitching. A correlation demonstrates the strongest relationship to pitcher ranking is ERA. Given a head-to-head matchup, with an innings limit, having multiple starters with a good ERA will still be favorable to deploying strong relievers. The top 155 pitcher rankings further confirm this fact. Initial conclusion is that a move to K/9 is a positive switch that reflects the growing importance of a good reliever, while still favoring starting pitching.

Appendix A

Top 155 Pitchers

1 Clayton Kershaw
2 Max Scherzer
3 Noah Syndergaard
4 Corey Kluber
5 Chris Sale
6 Madison Bumgarner
7 Jon Lester
8 Chris Archer
9 David Price
10 Stephen Strasburg
11 Carlos Carrasco
12 Yu Darvish
13 Justin Verlander
14 Jake Arrieta
15 Johnny Cueto
16 Jacob deGrom
17 Lance McCullers
18 Rich Hill
19 Robbie Ray
20 Michael Pineda
21 Danny Duffy
22 Steven Matz
23 James Paxton
24 Danny Salazar
25 Carlos Martinez
26 Gerrit Cole
27 Andrew Miller
28 Aroldis Chapman
29 Kenley Jansen
30 Dellin Betances
31 Zack Greinke
32 Aaron Nola
33 Jose Quintana
34 Jameson Taillon
35 Matt Shoemaker
36 Kyle Hendricks
37 Edwin Diaz
38 Dallas Keuchel
39 Cole Hamels
40 Zach Britton
41 Masahiro Tanaka
42 Kenta Maeda
43 Jeff Samardzija
44 Tyler Skaggs
45 John Lackey
46 Vince Velasquez
47 Julio Urias
48 Matt Moore
49 Drew Smyly
50 Julio Teheran
51 Jon Gray
52 Matt Harvey
53 Kevin Gausman
54 Garrett Richards
55 Rick Porcello
56 Gio Gonzalez
57 Alex Reyes
58 Alex Wood
59 Wei-Yin Chen
60 Zack Wheeler
61 Collin McHugh
62 Carlos Rodon
63 Drew Pomeranz
64 Felix Hernandez
65 Tyson Ross
66 Matt Andriese
67 Jerad Eickhoff
68 Sean Manaea
69 Anthony DeSclafani
70 Michael Fulmer
71 Marcus Stroman
72 Blake Snell
73 Taijuan Walker
74 Tyler Glasnow
75 Ian Kennedy
76 Adam Wainwright
77 Jake Odorizzi
78 Jaime Garcia
79 Yordano Ventura
80 Joe Ross
81 J.A. Happ
82 Aaron Sanchez
83 Sonny Gray
84 Jharel Cotton
85 Hisashi Iwakuma
86 Michael Wacha
87 Francisco Liriano
88 Drew Hutchison
89 Mike Foltynewicz
90 Lance Lynn
91 Ricky Nolasco
92 Jeremy Hellickson
93 Archie Bradley
94 Luis Severino
95 Nate Karns
96 Mike Leake
97 Bartolo Colon
98 Mike Montgomery
99 Tyler Anderson
100 Ervin Santana
101 Junior Guerra
102 Ivan Nova
103 Chad Green
104 Tanner Roark
105 Jason Hammel
106 Mike Fiers
107 Dan Straily
108 R.A. Dickey
109 Doug Fister
110 Marco Estrada
111 Homer Bailey
112 Jesse Chavez
113 Ty Blach
114 Jordan Zimmermann
115 Trevor Bauer
116 Brandon Finnegan
117 Edinson Volquez
118 Charlie Morton
119 Daniel Norris
120 Cesar Vargas
121 Zach Davies
122 Adam Conley
123 Eduardo Rodriguez
124 Derek Holland
125 Luis Perdomo
126 Alex Cobb
127 Jose Berrios
128 Josh Tomlin
129 Shelby Miller
130 Chad Bettis
131 Patrick Corbin
132 CC Sabathia
133 Christian Friedrich
134 Hector Santiago
135 Kendall Graveman
136 Anibal Sanchez
137 Steven Brault
138 Tyler Chatwood
139 Wade Miley
140 Chris Tillman
141 Dylan Bundy
142 Andrew Triggs
143 Jason Vargas
144 Matt Garza
145 Phil Hughes
146 Miguel Gonzalez
147 Kyle Gibson
148 Ariel Miranda
149 Tom Koehler
150 Jorge de la Rosa
151 Chase Anderson
152 Martin Perez
153 Chad Kuhl
154 Andrew Cashner
155 Wily Peralta


Waiting On an Ace: Jimmy Nelson

I love pitching prospects. Not that I can back this statement up, but I believe pitchers make a more immediate impact on a fantasy roster than hitters. So, each year I stack my “Watch List” with young pitchers that might get called up in September, have a good shot of getting called up in June and potential breakout sleepers. Four years ago, one such player was Jimmy Nelson. How could a man that stands 6-6 at 245 lbs. not be on the radar? I watched with eager anticipation at all those strikeouts. That was four years ago and not much has changed. Both the Brewers and I seem to be in the same boat — waiting on Jimmy Nelson.

At one point, Nelson was the number one prospect in the Brewers’ organization. His fastball and slider were scouted as plus pitches and as such, Nelson was touted as a middle-of-the-order pitcher with potential to move up with the development of a third pitch. He was drafted in the 2nd round, 64th overall and is still just 26 years old. His aforementioned size gives him the frame to tax his arm with 200-plus innings each year. Plainly put, Nelson has the pedigree to be a stud and clearly the Brewers thought so too. Why then are we waiting three years into Nelson’s MLB career?

About 16 months ago, Mike Newman wrote about Nelson’s rising stock. That was prior to a year when Nelson had somewhat of a breakout campaign, going 11-13 with a 4.11 ERA and a 19.7 K%. If you recall he seemed to put things together in July to the point of striking out 32 in 33 IP with a sizzling 1.61 ERA. That’s when everyone jumped on board and expected big things in my fantasy league (10-team mix league, five keepers, deep rosters, 12 years running). July ended, however, and Nelson fizzled with the fading temperatures in 2015. His stock was mixed heading into this year (ADP 211, Yahoo!). It’s a new year now and the temps are starting to rise again. Will Nelson resurface as the potential ace he showed last July?

Last year Jimmy Nelson introduced a curveball to his arsenal, and it was good. The story on Nelson is that he always lacked confidence in his third pitch, the changeup. In the early going Nelson rarely threw that pitch. In order to get lefties out and develop into an ace Nelson needed a third pitch he was not only confident in but that could develop into a plus pitch. Maybe the curve was just what the doctor ordered. His pitch distribution looks like this.

In 2015, Nelson offered his newly-found curve 21% of the time while keeping his plus slider around (17%). 2016 seems to be a different story to this point. Nelson is throwing his fastball much more often and his off-speed pitches less, basically ditching the change all together. This has had two results: hitters are swinging less and making more contact. Z-contact% is creeping up to scary levels (93%).

Worse, so far, hitters are being patient with Nelson. It seems when Nelson goes outside the zone, hitters are laying off.

To summarize, hitters are swinging less at pitches, both inside and outside the zone, and making more contact, both inside and outside the zone, than ever before against Nelson. This is not a good sign. Dating back to Nelson’s early days, he has displayed control issues. What happens when hitters become patient against a pitcher with historic control issues? His walk rate increases.

Jimmy Nelson is progressing in the wrong direction. Hitters have adjusted to his curve and slider, they are being more patient, and they are making more contact. While Nelson’s K% has not dropped dramatically, his BB% is trending in the wrong direction. As a result his K-BB% is at an all-time high (in both the major and minor leagues).

I have something to confess. Prior to researching Jimmy Nelson I attempted to trade him in my fantasy league. To multiple teams. Multiple times. Here were my selling points: Pedigree, development of a third pitch and progression. So far this year Nelson has a 3.46 ERA, a 3-1 record, and he is still striking guys out at 17.9%. On the surface it looks like he is pitching to more contact and inducing weaker contact when he does; his 24.7% soft-contact rate is up from 19.2% last year.

One could be optimistic about this. I am not, however. His ERA is being supported by a .225 BABIP and a crazy 90% strand rate. Worse, pitching to contact is not a good strategy when fly-ball percentage is also trending in the wrong direction; up to 35% from 29% last year.

To wrap this lengthy post up I have several concerns with Jimmy Nelson. He’s always been known for having control issues and it seems he has not improved that yet. He’s developed a third pitch but is refusing to throw his plus slider and curveball more often. He’s inducing more contact but that contact is in the air. I am not searching for a way to “fix” Jimmy Nelson. His velocity seems to be consistent, perhaps just a tick down. His mechanics seem fine. There are no injuries to report. Rather, this post is about waiting on the ace that the Brewers thought they had. If that ace is going to emerge, Nelson is going to have trust in his slider and curve as he did in July of 2015. He’s going to have to find a way to induce more swings outside the zone. As it stands now, he is living dangerously inside the zone and will eventually run into major problems when those stranded runners come around to score as his BABIP rises. As deep as our fantasy league is, he still might be able to be moved. More than likely, however, he’ll remain what he has been — a middle- to back-end-of-the-rotation arm both in fantasy and real baseball.