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“The Mad Professor” The Top 20 SP for 2019.

Hi Campers!

We begin this week with the first of several analyses of SP who fall into the top 100.  This list will vary, of course, depending on who does the ranking and what criteria enter into the analysis.  It’s always debatable stuff because, in the end, such rankings are as much art as they are science.  Also, the variance in rankings grows significantly as we move from the top 20 to #80-100.  So, for this week, at least, there is not much variance.  This year, to simplify, I’m drawing upon Fangraphs’ auction calculator ( ).  My base is a 12 team mixed league.

I ran a 23-man roster (2C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, U, MI, CI, 5 OF, 6 SP, 3RP), 10 bench spots, and standard 5×5 scoring.  I used 20 starts for position players, five starts for SP and five appearances for RP. Then I re-ran using the same roster but with Ron Shandler’s 4×4 scoring system (Batters: PA, HR, SB, BA; Pitchers: IP, K-BB, Saves+Holds, ERA).  He says this is a truer measure of batter and pitcher worth. Finally, I used Fangraphs’ Steamer 600 projections to look at the top 100 SP in terms of WAR.

The standard criteria and the Shandler 4×4 model generate essentially the same 19 out of the top 20.  The respective ordinal rankings vary, of course. But, as Table 1 shows, differences really address only a few spots in overall rank.  This may come as a shock to some, but Boston’s Chris Sale comes in at #1.  In the rest of the top 5, we have deGrom, Scherzer, Kluber and Verlander.  Blake Snell has the biggest difference in ranks, coming in at #10 in the standard 5×5 format and #5 in the 4×4.  Beyond that, there is little disagreement.  The only two outliers are Rich Hill (#19 in the 5×5 ranking at $16) and German Marquez (#20 in the 4×4 at $23.20).  Neither shows in the other ranking.


Table 1: Average Ranks and Auction Values


Player Team std rank Std$ 4×4 rank 4×4$ avgrank avg$
Chris Sale Red Sox 1 $48.40 1 $65.10 1  $ 56.75
Jacob deGrom Mets 3 $38.70 2 $59.00 2.5  $ 48.85
Max Scherzer Nationals 2 $39.50 3 $55.90 2.5  $ 47.70
Justin Verlander Astros 4 $33.10 4 $45.10 4  $ 39.10
Corey Kluber Indians 5 $27.50 6 $39.40 5.5  $ 33.45
Gerrit Cole Astros 6 $26.60 7 $38.80 6.5  $ 32.70
Blake Snell Rays 10 $24.70 5 $43.40 7.5  $ 34.05
Carlos Carrasco Indians 7 $26.10 8 $38.00 7.5  $ 32.05
Luis Severino Yankees 8 $25.90 9 $37.60 8.5  $ 31.75
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 9 $25.40 10 $35.20 9.5  $ 30.30
Trevor Bauer Indians 13 $20.20 11 $33.50 12  $ 26.85
Aaron Nola Phillies 14 $19.30 12 $32.60 13  $ 25.95
James Paxton Yankees 11 $22.10 15 $29.80 13  $ 25.95
Walker Buehler Dodgers 12 $20.60 14 $30.60 13  $ 25.60
Patrick Corbin Nationals 15 $18.90 13 $30.90 14  $ 24.90
Chris Archer Pirates 18 $16.10 16 $29.30 17  $ 22.70
Noah Syndergaard Mets 16 $18.30 18 $27.20 17  $ 22.75
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 17 $16.90 19 $24.80 18  $ 20.85
Robbie Ray Diamondbacks 20 $14.20 17 $28.60 18.5  $ 21.40


Since auction values differ radically based on format (witness the differences here), I’ll focus on the 5×5 value for comparison purposes while using the average rank.  Value, of course, depends on what the SP delivers.  Let’s take a brief look at those Steamer projections.


Table 2 Ranks and Projections


Player Std$ avgrank W ERA GS IP SO WHIP WAR
Chris Sale $48.40 1 17 2.8 32 200 272 0.97 6.4
Jacob deGrom $38.70 2.5 14 2.9 32 200 243 1.06 5.4
Max Scherzer $39.50 2.5 15 3.1 32 200 261 1.04 5.2
Justin Verlander $33.10 4 15 3.4 32 200 247 1.07 4.7
Corey Kluber $27.50 5.5 14 3.5 32 200 211 1.12 4.6
Gerrit Cole $26.60 6.5 15 3.5 32 200 239 1.13 4.6
Blake Snell $24.70 7.5 14 3.2 32 200 245 1.2 4.6
Carlos Carrasco $26.10 7.5 14 3.4 32 200 218 1.13 4.6
Luis Severino $25.90 8.5 15 3.5 32 200 226 1.14 4.7
Clayton Kershaw $25.40 9.5 14 3.2 32 200 194 1.12 4.1
Trevor Bauer $20.20 12 14 3.6 32 200 226 1.2 4.1
Aaron Nola $19.30 13 13 3.6 32 200 217 1.19 4
James Paxton $22.10 13 15 3.5 32 200 229 1.15 4.7
Walker Buehler $20.60 13 14 3.3 32 200 229 1.18 4
Patrick Corbin $18.90 14 14 3.4 32 200 207 1.21 4
Chris Archer $16.10 17 13 3.6 32 200 213 1.23 3.9
Noah Syndergaard $18.30 17 13 3.5 32 200 207 1.17 4
Stephen Strasburg $16.90 18 14 3.7 32 200 216 1.19 3.7
Robbie Ray $14.20 18.5 13 3.7 32 200 251 1.27 3.5


The first problem with these rankings is, obviously, the assumption that all of these top SP are going to throw 200 IP.  They are not.  But, for the sake of analysis and argument, let’s work with the data since they are normalized to a 200 IP season.  The relative values are still useful and we can qualify them with real world analysis.

One of my favorite quotes about Chris Sale is “on an IP basis, he’s platinum.”  Really?  On an IP basis, the most K you can get is 3 (ignoring passed balls, etc.).  No doubt, Sale is electric.  He is not old (30).  BUT…since 2015, his IP have been 209, 227, 214, 158.  That’s a downward pattern if there ever was one.  In fact, the number of SP hitting the 200 IP mark has been plummeting due to the use of advanced metrics and, of course, injury concerns.  As a result, it’s vital to take durability and the use of middlemen into consideration.  In fact, for the first time, it might me more accurate to refer to “openers” instead of SP.

Based on the rankings and values, I’m not sure I’d fork out $48 for Sale if I could get deGrom, Scherzer or Verlander for less than $40—or Kluber at $27.50.  Based Sale’s durability and Boston’s continuing promises to monitor his innings, his projected K total of 270 looks more like 200 if he loses time due to rest or injury again.  That would knock his value down to about $36.  Still solid.  But, can you afford to have an investment that takes up about 15% of your payroll sitting on your bench 25% of the season?

Looking at the four SP who have values of $30 or better, there is no questioning their skill sets or value. At these prices, they are unlikely to return profit on your investment.  The only real risk is severe loss due to injury.  In this regard, then, we need to discount relative ranking by age and reliability.

In the following table, there is reason for concern with all of these guys. They are all 30 or older. With the exception of Scherzer, all have had one season significantly shortened by injury.  At 36, however, concerns about Scherzer’s durability have to make even the biggest fan skittish about going that extra buck.

  age avg ip 2015 2016 2017 2018
Chris Sale 30 202.0 209 227 214 158
Jacob deGrom 31 189.3 191 148 201 217
Max Scherzer 34 219.8 229 228 201 221
Justin Verlander 36 195.3 133 228 206 214

The next 10 SP include young Turks such as Severino (25), Nola (26), Snell (26), and Buehler (24).  The baby of the group, Buehler, showed lights out stuff—in only 137 IP (plus 23 in the post-season).  In 2017, he threw a whopping…82.  No disrespect here.  But my guess is that Davey Roberts will watch him carefully.  No surprise if he gets rested here and there and ends up maybe pushing 175 IP.  That works for me.  But, it remains something to be watched for a young pitcher in his second full season.


Blake Snell offers more stability.  Since 2016, his IP totals are 152, 173, 181.  He has established bona fide durability.  2018 was a bona fide breakout year in which he displayed electric stuff across the board.  Severino has also manifested solid durability and outstanding stuff.  He cracked 190 IP in 2017 and 2018. Were it not for the late season swoon in 2018, his otherwise outstanding numbers would be incredible.  One has to wonder what went wrong after the 2018 All-Star break.  Was he nursing an injury? Severino is a solid SP.  But, 2018 has to make you gun shy on upping the ante one more time.  Whereas you should do nothing but bid on Snell.

Nola’s IP totals have been 111, 168, 212 since 2016. He has established himself as the anchor of a Philadelphia staff.  In this group, he and Buehler have the luxury of striking our fellow pitchers since the NL has still not caved in on the DH.  He’s solid and you can bid with confidence.

The Indians boast three SP in this group in Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer (and to think that Clevinger has established himself as their #4 starter…).  There is not much to say with regard to these three.  They are solid, play on a team hungry for victory (but seem to find a way to snatch defeat from its jaws instead) and, when healthy, are lights out.  With the exception of Carrasco’s injury back in 2016, these three are as solid and consistent as anyone.  Bid with confidence.

This leaves us with Gerritt Cole, Clayton Kershaw and James Paxton. Cole has been a strikeout machine.  The move from Pittsburgh to Houston gave him a tremendous boost in offensive support.  It helps to pitch when your team is ahead, no?  Kershaw’s durability has caught up with him.  No doubt, he is virtually unhittable when he is on.  You are also unhittable when you are on the DL.  That does not help your value much.  In 2014 and 2015 he delivered better than $40 value.  But DL stints in the last three years coupled with decreasing trends in velocity have brought his value closer to earth.  He remains a solid SP—bit worth your #1 SP pick?  Not anymore.  For the money in the tables, I’d look at Nola or Buehler instead.

James Paxton also seems to like the unhittability of the DL.  He’s been solid when he’s been on in the happy confines of Seattle.  In 2019, he’ll be pitching under the scrutiny of AL East crowds and media. That can be just a bit more trying than working in front of the effete crowds of the left coast.  For my money, I think I’d let others bid on this skill set and look to place my extra money on Corbin or Marquez.

The remaining SP in this top-19 (minus Hill or Marquez) each offer tremendous, high probability reward but with a bit of risk.  Corbin had an incredible breakout year in Arizona in 2018.  Moving to DC should help at least a bit since he’ll be pitching at sea-level, in humidity and with baseballs that don’t need to be kept in a humidor.  OTOH… he will find out that a move from the altiplano to the swamp may chip away at his durability. Nonetheless, his upward IP trajectory, his age (29) consistency and his efficiency (very low pitches thrown per IP) make him a solid investment.  Bid with confidence.

I love Strasburg.  Everyone does.  How what is the over/under on is DL time? Recall that quote about Sale.  On an IP basis, he’s golden.  Bid accordingly.  Same goes for Syndergaard.  When he comes to work, it’s incredible.  But, how many of you have been burned?  He may surprise with an injury-free season.  But, it’s not the way to bet.  Grab him at a good price.  But don’t overbid unless your hair is too short to pull out.

Chris Archer.  I’ve loved this guy.  He delivers strikeouts in between home runs.  He moved from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh in 2018.  That got him out of the AL east and gave him the chance to strikeout pitchers.  And yet…  I think the impact of a trade in terms of venue and league change cannot be underestimated.  I don’t think he is a top 20 SP.  I’d bet on picking him up cheap—especially if you can nominate him early in an auction.  Folk will want to hang on to their money for Sale, Scherzer, etc.  He’s worth $15…

In all of my columns, I’ve insisted that you should not overbid on pitching.  With regard to SP, this rings even truer in 2019.   I’ll elaborate more on this in future columns.  But, just to give a preview of things to come…

When bidding on SP, remember that “SP” have become “openers.” Complete games are virtually unheard of.  Middlemen and setup guys are taking up more and more of the IP?  That means that SP are increasingly less valuable.

Here are a couple of graphs I ran courtesy of Fangraphs.  I looked at the last 20 years (1999-2018) of league stats for SP.  The trends are as stark as they are astonishing.  The number of IP per game started (“IPGS”) was more or less stable…until 2014.  Then…well, graph speaks for itself.  In 2014, the average SP IP was 5.97.  In 2018, it was 5.36.  That’s more than a 10% drop.


Similarly, Strikeouts per IP have inched up.  In 20 years, they have moved steadily from roughly four K per start to five.  So, SP are throwing harder for fewer innings.


Meanwhile, starts per win have inched up significantly as well.  The average hovered around 2.8 throughout most of the last 20 years.  Then, in 2018, it jumped to 3.21 from 2.96—nearly a 10% increase in one year after a steady, but much more measured, increase over 19 years.  In plain English, W are getting harder to come by for SP.


The moral of the story?  Don’t overbid on SP.  The role of starters is diminishing.  They are not extinct.  But, their role has changed.  Make note. There is profit to be made in those guys who now pitch in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.  I’ll touch upon this as I work this column the next few weeks.   For now, best wishes for the Ides of February.  Till the next time…the Prof. abides…

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday February 10th, 2019 from 8-9:45pm EST for episode #136 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Join us for our first Sunday night show of 2019. We will be breaking down the National League divisions over the next 3 Sundays. You can listen live on blogtalk,, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. This week we will break down the N.L. East.

Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with and a frequent guest on our Sunday night shows.

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore on Thursday February 14th, 2019 from 9pm – 10:45pm EST for the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. Call in number is 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk,, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Our topic for tonight will be the A.L. Central.

Be sure to check out our Sunday night show February 17th from 8pm to 9:30pm EST. They will cover the N.L. Central.

Unrepentant Red Sox fan and all things Boston. Deflategate was a joke. Boston Latin School is awesome. Harvard and Johns Hopkins alma maters... Besides that... Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law at Washington and Lee University. Wrote for Ron Shandler's Shandler Park for two summers and have been on board with MLFS since 2011. Been at Washington and Lee since 1990 with a brief hiatus (2010-2013) in the Middle East. Currently developing that last word in Fantasy Baseball analysis. Married to Flor, Dad to William and Alex, and adopted daughter Reem. Soon to be father and law to Meaghann. Alpha male to the world's super-pup, Humphrey. Life is not bad.

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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.

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