2016 Outlook: Why are so few fantasy players willing to take Kershaw No. 1 overall? Oh, because pitching is too volatile? Sure, maybe as a whole, but there is absolutely nothing in his stat line than can be questioned. In fact, he's been getting better or holding firm every year with a ridiculously tiny ERA and WHIP to go alongside massive innings and strikeout totals. He even logged the first 300-strikeout season since 2002 with 301. Further, in standard formats Kershaw is one of just nine active pitchers while Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, or Mike Trout fill up just one of your 14 active hitter slots. So not only are you getting the best pitcher in the world, but his stats are having a bigger overall impact on your team. He is just so good, the rules don't apply to him. He should go no later than fifth overall and has a case for any of those first four spots.
2016 Outlook: Heading into the season, 2015 was going to be a huge year for Scherzer. He was moving to the National League again, and the Nationals looked very strong on paper. Some were picking him to win another Cy Young with an eye towards his domination of NL East hitters. Well, Scherzer posted the second-best K/9 of his career and set new career-bests in his BB/9 as well as his ERA, but he ended up going 14-12 thanks in part to the malaise around him on the roster. He had 11 games in which he struck out double-digit batters, had five games in which he allowed three or fewer hits including a perfect game and a no-hitter that came just a chicken wing HBP away from another perfecto. The one flaw of his own doing was he struggled preventing the long ball as he allowed home runs in 16 of his 33 outings with multiple home runs in 8 starts. All in all, he's still a fantasy stud for 2016.
2016 Outlook: A lot of guys would kill for a 3.41 ERA over a full season, but for Sale, it was the highest ERA of his major league career. Despite setting new full-season bests in strikeout rate and walk rate, he went 13-11 thanks to some defensive challenges behind him that led to a high batting average on balls in play and his not stranding as many runners as he had in seasons past. The concerns about his durability are overplayed as he's missed just a handful of starts, and he's getting better with age as his strikeout rate has improved each of the past four seasons. The additions of Todd Frazier amd Brett Lawrie on the infield should help convert more of Sale's batted balls to the left side into outs and hopefully get him a few more wins in 2016. Just keep him away from the Twins who hung four of the 11 losses and 27 of the 79 earned runs on Sale in 2015.
2016 Outlook: Buying in on Arrieta's 2014 yielded glorious rewards, as he turned in a historically excellent season. Only eight pitchers have posted a 1.77 ERA or better in 229-plus innings since 1947. That list includes guys you may have heard of like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Dwight Gooden. Nobody's expecting an encore, but even an ERA that came in a full run higher would have been the tenth-best mark last year. The only lingering question with Arrieta surrounds his health as 2015 was far and away his most innings pitched ever. His 2014 season (157 IP) was his career-high coming into the season. Injuries were a big reason that his breakout took so long in the first place. If every pitcher comes with a set amount of risk, Arrieta's is that plus 10 percent or so, but the payoff more than makes him worth the cost. Accurately projecting wins is tough, but if anyone is a good bet for 20-plus, it's Arrieta, given the additions the Cubs made to a 97-win club.
2016 Outlook: Bumgarner is so consistent at this point it is almost boring. He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the past five seasons. He has struck out greater than 20 percent of the batters he has faced in all but one season of his career. He has never had a double-digit walk rate in a season and hasn't had a WHIP over 1.20 since 2011 or an ERA over 3.00 since 2012. His strikeout rate has improved each of the past four seasons and he's won at least 16 games in three of the last four campaigns. He even hits home runs when he comes up to bat. All pitchers have some risk built in, but the risk associated with Bumgarner is about as minuscule as his walk rate in recent years. Write him into the top 10 for the Player Rater with a Sharpie, because it is a stone-cold lock.
2016 Outlook: One does not need a Price pun to describe how well the lefty has pitched in his career. He has missed just a handful of starts in his career but has otherwise been getting better with age and pitched his way to his huge payday this winter as a free agent. He piles up strikeouts while rarely walking batters and excels in the ratio categories. Run support has not been a problem since he left Tampa Bay and that is likely to continue with the well-rounded Red Sox lineup behind him. He should also have a very strong bullpen to help get him off the hook when he is lifted from the latter stages of games. Price is still pitching with an elite fastball and keeps batters honest with the cutter and the changeup, and owners should expect similar dominance in 2016. After all, Price has historically pitched very well in Fenway and is intimately familiar with the other venues in the American League East. Come on down!
2016 Outlook: After throwing a career-high 216 innings last season (postseason included), Harvey's Tommy John surgery is fading fast in the rearview mirror. His velocity was essentially all the way back, and his control wasn't far behind. Despite more than doubling his HR/FB from 4.7% in 2013 to 9.8% last year, and seeing his K-rate dip from 27.7% to 24.9% in his first year back from the surgery, he still pitched like an ace. Harvey ranked eighth among qualified starters in both ERA and WHIP, and he ranked 11th with a 20% K-BB%. Those rankings represent where he will be going among starting pitchers in drafts this year, as the expectation will be for him to eclipse 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in the regular season for the first time in his career. If he can suppress home runs the way he did in 2013, a career year is within reach.
2016 Outlook: Cole does not yet have 500 major league innings under his belt but he's already a fantasy ace. The fireballing righty finished eighth in the 2015 Player Rater for starting pitchers, contributing mightily in all four starting pitching categories. The scary thing about what Cole was able to do is that all of the metrics fully support the breakout: his batting average on balls in play and strand rate are both right about league average. The .06 difference between his ERA and his FIP further legitimize the studly performance from the former top overall pick. The one area of concern for Cole is that his workload from 2014 to 2015 increased by 70 innings and 1,041 pitches so it remains to be seen how he holds up after the greatets usage of his pitching career. Other than that, set it and forget it with Cole as this is as low-risk as a 25-year-old pitcher gets.
2016 Outlook: Many expected some regression from Kluber coming off his surprising Cy Young season of 2014. While his 2015 strikeout and walk rates were near mirror-images of that 2014 season, some ill-timed home runs with men on base helped his ERA jump more than a full run. He still pitched much better than his 9-16 record would lead you to believe as his 2.97 FIP teases what might have been. A pitcher with a 27-percent strikeout rate, a 5-percent walk rate and a 12-percent swinging-strike rate deserved a better fate than a 9-16 record. Kluber has all of the strong indicators fantasy owners look for in starting pitchers and could once again be a top-10 pitcher in 2016, particularly with some better luck with the long ball. A full season of the improved team defense on the left side of the infield from Giovanny Urshela and Francisco Lindor is an added bonus.
2016 Outlook: deGrom picked up where he left off in 2014, proving his Rookie of the Year performance was no fluke. He finished ninth in the 2015 Player Rater for starting pitchers and had the eighth-best Quality Start percentage of all major league pitchers. The one area that held down his fantasy value was the 14 wins, which should have been a lot more. The Mets scored just 3.5 runs per game when deGrom pitched, a rate which ranked in the bottom 20 percent for all starting pitchers. Not that the defense behind him in 2015 was that great, but the Mets have taken a step back defensively on paper in 2016 with their current roster construction, though the offensive support should be better for deGrom with the re-tooled lineup. Skills-wise, there is all upside here with very little risk, and he gets to enjoy an unbalanced schedule against a division that includes two rebuilding clubs in Atlanta and Philadelphia and one middling squad in Miami.
2016 Outlook: Jansen's 2015 debut was delayed by a foot injury, but he did not miss a beat upon returning from the disabled list in mid-May. The absence limited him to just 54 appearances -- his lowest total since 2011 -- while he still managed to pile up 36 saves in 38 opportunities. Skills wise, Jansen improved his walk rate for the fifth consecutive seasons to a career-low 4.0 BB%, while he continues to miss bats at an elite clip (40.0 K% in 2015, career 39.4 percent). With a hard cutter that hitters rarely square up, Jansen only occasionally leans on his slider as a second offering. In an era where extremely dominant relievers are seemingly more common, Jansen is among the best in the league, and he should be one of the safest closers to invest in on draft day given his outstanding peripherals and a stranglehold on the ninth-inning role for the Dodgers.
2016 Outlook: While Keuchel doesn't overpower hitters with his fastball, his sinker, which he threw over 50 percent of the time last year, is a ground ball machine, and his slider and changeup are both plus pitches that miss bats. Throw in elite command and you're left with an ace. Among qualified starters, his 2.48 ERA and 2.75 xFIP both ranked fifth, while his 1.02 WHIP was tied for seventh. This is important, because his 23.7% K-rate ranked 23rd, behind the likes of Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy. Keuchel can certainly be targeted in drafts as an SP1, but prospective owners will need to be aware of the fact that they will need to make up some strikeouts elsewhere. He may have just had his career year, but he will go at least a round later than another starter with similar peripheral numbers (Zack Greinke) who is also coming off a career year, making Keuchel the best value among aces who can't be counted on for a strikeout per inning.
2016 Outlook: Carrasco's 29.6 percent K-rate last year was fourth among qualified starters behind only Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, so strikeout fiends will be drawn to the 6-foot-3 righty like moths to a flame. He uses a 96 MPH heater with late life to set up his slider, curve and changeup, all of which generated whiffs 19-29 percent of the time last season. With four pitches that can be plus or better, it's no surprise that he led the majors by a large margin with a 40.1 O-Swing% (Jacob deGrom was second at 36.5 percent). Despite turning 29 in March, Carrasco is just now coming into his own as a dominant big league starter. He's like Bran Stark in Game of Thrones, slowly learning how to use his otherworldly gifts, before eventually taking complete control of his realm. In Carrasco's case, that realm is the duel between pitcher and hitter. If he can stay healthy and hone his sequencing, Carrasco has as much upside as any starter not named Kershaw.
2016 Outlook: Davis has been one of the most effective relievers in the game since transitioning to the bullpen, but up until late last season, he was limited mostly to setup duty for Kansas City. All-Star Greg Holland was all that was blocking his path to mixed-league superstardom, and with Holland out of the way entirely entering 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Davis is now locked in as one of the top closer options on the board. Using a cutter and a curveball to complement his mid-90s fastball, Davis struck out more than 31 percent of the batters he faced, though his strikeout rate was down significantly from the 39.1 percent mark he posted in 2014. The right-hander improved his control, but his walk rate remained only average at eight percent. Some may point to these numbers and his 92.2 percent strand rate from last year and scream "regression!" But opponents made hard contact less than 18 percent of the time against Davis, and the home park and team context are about as favorable as it gets for a closer.
2016 Outlook: The 27-year-old righty emerged as one of the premier bat missers in all of baseball last season, thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider that is one of the best breaking balls in the game. Archer's 252 strikeouts ranked fourth, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. The only thing keeping Archer from solidifying himself as a top-10 fantasy starter is his 7.6% walk rate, which ranked in the bottom 40 percent among qualified starters, while his 29 percent K-rate was the fifth best. The walks make it hard to envision him posting an elite sub-1.00 WHIP anytime soon, while also making a sub-3.00 ERA seem like a far off dream. That said, his 2.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 121.2 innings in the first half last year offer a glimpse of what is possible when he is at his very best.