2017 Outlook: Much of the magic that fueled Arrieta's astonishing, historic 2015 Cy Young campaign seemed to wear off early last season, coinciding almost precisely -- and strangely -- with his no-hitter on April 21, when he walked an unusual-for-him four batters. Though still an excellent pitcher for his 31 starts -- he finished as the No. 11 starting pitcher both on the Player Rater and in standard-league fantasy points -- his walk rate rose alarmingly, from 5.5 to 9.6 percent, and he eased off his signature slider, such a productive pitch for him in 2015, throwing it nearly 11 percent less often. Fatigue could've played a part, as his 248 2/3 innings pitched in 2015 counting the regular season and postseason led the majors, and the Cubs seemed to do a better job giving him requisite rest last year. That might give Arrieta an excellent chance at either a repeat or slight improvement upon his 2016 numbers, and his combination of swing-and-miss and hard contact-minimizing stuff should only help. A return to 2015 form might be a long shot, but he's plenty capable of a top-10 starter's season.
2017 Outlook: Lester found himself in a dream scenario in 2016, backed by a brilliant (and arguably league-leading, depending on your measure of preference) Cubs defense and with veteran David Ross doing wonders for his pitch framing as well as masking any of his own deficiencies holding runners on base. Though the Cubs return a similarly skilled supporting corps behind him, Ross' retirement casts a shred of doubt upon Lester's ability to replicate his career bests in wins (19), ERA (2.44) and WHIP (1.02). Lester's numbers will presumably fall back to earth somewhat, but his substantially improved command of the past three seasons gives him a fighting chance of either meeting or exceeding his 2014-15 combined rates of a 2.88 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. His durability -- nine consecutive seasons of at least 30 starts and 190 innings pitched -- should not be ignored, and should keep him a top-10 starting pitcher in any format.
2017 Outlook: The majors' defending ERA crown winner (2.13), Hendricks had a lot of things break in his favor last season, but he also made adjustments that lent legitimacy to his performance. He was a master of minimizing hard contact, especially against left-handed hitters; he led the league in well-hit average allowed (.089) and was second in the category amongst right-handers versus lefty hitters (.085), thanks in part to increased sinker usage as well as a high-spin curveball (higher spin being more difficult to hit). His 3.20 FIP, which was right in line with his 3.29 career number, hints at regression to the mean in his future, but this is a pitcher who might make a career of somewhat exceeding his peripherals. In a year where few starting pitchers are truly "safe" picks, Hendricks makes an easy top-20 case.
2017 Outlook: Say hello to Captain Consistency, and he's doing it at age 38! Since recovering from his 2011 Tommy John surgery, Lackey has averaged a 3.35 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 170 strikeouts in four seasons, rarely straying much from those individual numbers in any single year. He's a master of getting ahead in the count, ranking among the top five in the game at first-pitch strikes in each of the past three years (he's the only pitcher to claim that), and he has leaned increasingly upon a two-seam fastball and cutter that helps neutralize left-handed hitters. Lackey probably offers little profit potential as a mid-rounder, but he's also one of the more stable investments out there.