2018 Outlook: He's coming off a historic seven-year run, during which he has captured three Cy Young awards (2011, 2013 and 2014), an MVP award (2014) and four major league ERA crowns (2011-14) and has averaged 17 wins and 232 strikeouts with a 2.10 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. So why is it even a question as to whether Kershaw is the No. 1 overall pick in any fantasy draft? Simple: Back problems have shortened each of his past two seasons, costing him a combined 96 Dodgers games and limiting him to 48 regular-season starts, only 13 of which have come after the All-Star break. That's an issue particularly in head-to-head leagues, in which Kershaw is the type of pitcher who can almost single-handedly lead your team to the playoffs, only to disappear at that most inopportune time -- said playoffs. It makes him the most risk/reward pitcher in fantasy, as he has been the No. 7 overall player on the Player Rater in each of his past two injury-shortened seasons, yet he has forced his managers to find replacements for weeks at a time. Depending on your risk tolerance, Kershaw stakes a claim to the No. 1 overall pick -- more so in points-based leagues, where elite starting pitching dominates -- but he might not be the lead man in a four-pitcher "Tier 1" of starters.
2018 Outlook: Let the debate begin: Who was the best pitcher of the past five seasons? If WAR, wins or strikeouts is your measure of choice, it's Scherzer, as he's the major league leader in each of those categories, with 33.3, 89 and 1,320 respectively. Scherzer has also won back-to-back Cy Young awards and three in that five-year span. Perhaps most importantly, in fantasy terms, Scherzer's 163 starts and 1,092 1/3 innings pitched during that span are tops in the game, which means he's bringing you volume in a game that is trending further toward specialization. These are the things points-league managers want, and they're plenty helpful in Rotisserie leagues, too. Although Scherzer is now 33 years old and had minor neck, calf and hamstring injuries last season, the beginning of his career decline doesn't appear imminent. He should again be one of the first pitchers off your draft board -- if not No. 1.
2018 Outlook: The reigning major league leader in wins (18), ERA (2.25), WHIP (0.87), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.4:1) and ERA+ (202), Kluber has cemented his status as one of the most valuable pitchers in the game. Better yet, he's one of the most durable, as both his 876 1/3 total innings and his 6.9 innings-per-start average the past four seasons combined rank second in baseball -- the former behind only Max Scherzer and the latter behind only Clayton Kershaw. Although Scherzer and Kershaw tend to get more fantasy press and have the benefit of working in the more pitching-oriented National League, Kluber's skill set warrants placement right there in the four-man "Tier 1" of fantasy starting pitchers, regardless of format. In an era when workhorse starters are becoming increasingly rare, all three warrant first-round selections in points-based leagues and can make legitimate cases for the same using Rotisserie scoring.
2018 Outlook: If you're of the belief that left-handed pitchers are at a disadvantage when calling Fenway Park their home, Sale certainly did his best to prove you wrong in 2017. Consider his accolades in his debut season for the Red Sox: His 308 strikeouts were the most by any pitcher in 15 years, and his 36.2 percent strikeout rate was third in history by an ERA-qualified pitcher. Sale posted 117 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP in his Fenway games, which ranked second and fourth in history, respectively, among ERA-qualified Red Sox left-handers. What's more, opponents continued trying to load lineups with right-handed hitters as they attempted to solve the Sale puzzle, yet he limited them to a .274 wOBA -- 13th among the 134 pitchers who faced at least 250 righties -- and he whiffed a major-league-leading 267, 98 more than anyone else. Sale is as good a strikeout source as there is and a clear member of the starting pitcher "Tier 1," a group with as much value today as it has had in any season so far this century.
2018 Outlook: Injuries have dogged Strasburg throughout his eight-year career, as he has averaged just 24.1 starts per season (prorating his 2010 debut, which was split between the minors and majors). But when healthy, he has provided numbers competitive with almost anyone's in the game. His eight-start performance to conclude 2017, after missing 23 team games with a nerve impingement in his pitching elbow, is compelling evidence: Strasburg's 0.84 ERA led the league, his 0.78 WHIP was third best and 31.7 percent strikeout rate was fifth best. He's also top 10 in baseball in all three categories since his June 8, 2010, big league debut (among pitchers with at least 100 starts). Selecting him is taking a chance on his Cy Young-caliber talent on a per-start basis and knowing you'll probably need someone to fill in during his likely injury absences. That's a more palatable strategy today than it was in the past, at least.
2018 Outlook: Few pitchers possess as much raw ability as Syndergaard, who throws the game's highest-velocity fastball (among regular starters) and has three other plus pitches in his slider, curveball and changeup. Unfortunately, few come with as many injury questions, as the right-hander missed the majority of 2017 with a partially torn lat muscle, after he had pitched a significant chunk of the 2016 campaign with a bone spur in his pitching elbow. Considering the increasing specialization of pitching staffs in the game, Syndergaard isn't as scary a selection as he might've been in the past, and his per-game stats support his candidacy for an early-round pick: Since his May 12, 2015, big league debut, he has the seventh-best ERA (2.89), 13th-best WHIP (1.10) and 10th-best strikeout rate (28.4 percent). The problem is that he's every bit as likely to make five or fewer starts as he is to start 30-plus.
2018 Outlook: For the first time in his career, Carrasco made 32 starts and reached the 200-inning plateau, and the good fortune in the injury department helped him flash his top-10 fantasy starter potential. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball after the All-Star break, posting eight quality starts, a 3.12 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 29.2 percent strikeout rate in 15 starts, numbers that hinted he might only be improving with time. Carrasco's injury history is difficult to ignore. He has averaged 176 2/3 innings in the past three seasons, but even that number might be enough to propel him into the top-10 starter tier in 2018. He's well worth an early-round selection.
2018 Outlook: Don't sleep on deGrom, whose 2017 was excellent and perhaps overlooked due to the barrage of injuries that beset the Mets' roster. He was much more fortunate in the health department, setting personal bests with 31 starts and 201 1/3 innings, and he only improved as the year progressed, posting 10 quality starts, a 3.39 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 29.5 percent strikeout rate and 5.7 percent walk rate after the All-Star break. He also gained some fastball velocity in the process, which bodes well for further growth in 2018. He's a potential top-10 fantasy starting pitcher, and one of the safer such selections.
2018 Outlook: A one-pitch pitcher wielding a cutter on a similar career path to Mariano Rivera's, Jansen has already done four times what Rivera did only once in his career: strike out 100-plus batters. In fact, Jansen in 2017 became only the second player in history with at least 40 saves and 100 strikeouts in a season, and in the process he significantly improved both his strikeout and walk rates. He had an eye-popping 15.6- 1 strikeout-walk ratio! Fantasy analysts often advise you go the cheap route for saves, but Jansen entering 2018 is about the most surefire relief pitcher in any season in history. He's the exception to the rule that you wait beyond at least the top 50 picks to pick a reliever and has even greater value in leagues that score relievers more heavily.
2018 Outlook: One of 2017's biggest breakthrough stories on the pitching side, Severino had the underlying skills that supported its legitimacy: He was one of four ERA-qualified pitchers with the dream combination of at least a 25 percent strikeout rate and 50 percent ground ball rate as well as a sub-.150 well-hit average. In short, he misses bats, minimizes damaging contact and keeps the ball down, the latter a wise thing considering his home park is homer heaven Yankee Stadium. Severino accomplished it with a much more aggressive approach last year -- he had the eighth-best first-pitch strike rate (65.1 percent) as well as the game's highest average fastball velocity (97.5 mph). Though he might not seem like a top-10 starter due to only one season's evidence, his skills support the selection.
2018 Outlook: Just when it looked like he was drawing back to the rest of the pack among fantasy closers, Kimbrel broke through with not just one of his own best single years, but one of the best single years by any relief pitcher all-time. He whiffed 49.6 percent of the batters he faced, the third-best rate by a reliever in history, and coupled it with a career-best 5.5 percent walk rate, resulting in the second season in his career with at least 35 saves and 125 strikeouts -- he owns two of the five such campaigns by any player all-time. Having answered the injury questions that popped up late in 2016, Kimbrel has re-established himself as the "1A" to Kenley Jansen's "1." He's a viable top-50 option in any format, and if your league heavily weights relief scoring, he could be worth a pick a round or two sooner.
2018 Outlook: Just when it seemed like Verlander's career curve was trending downward, he was traded to the Astros, where he enjoyed one of the most improbable hot streaks of 2017: Counting the postseason, he had nine wins, a 1.66 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 31.6 percent strikeout rate in his 10 starts for his new team. They were reportedly the fruits of his extensive video analysis throughout the year, with both the Tigers and Astros, helping polish both his slider and changeup. Verlander might not be the high-velocity pitcher he was a few years back, but he has a much more complete array of pitches today, elevating his statistical floor and building a strong case for a top-10 starting pitcher selection.
2018 Outlook: After a mediocre first year in Arizona, Greinke rebounded in 2017, with the most notable improvement being his 2.87 ERA at Chase Field, after he had posted a 4.81 mark there the year before. More moderate temperatures -- which are favorable for pitchers -- helped, but greater command was largely responsible for the right-hander's improvements, as his 4.78-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio was in line with his 5-to-1 mark during his great 2015. While Greinke's underlying metrics last season supported the likelihood he'll merely repeat the effort in 2018, bear in mind that the Diamondbacks plan to install a humidor in Chase Field beginning this year, something that could make his home ballpark more of a neutral than extreme hitter-friendly environment. Though his skill set falls shy of the elite "Tier 1" at his position, he's also one of the safest bets to again finish within the top-10 starting pitchers.
2018 Outlook: Though our most recent memory -- and one on the national stage during the World Series -- was of Darvish struggling mightily, don't let one postseason series (reportedly the product of his tipping pitches) persuade you that he's anything shy of a top-15 fantasy starting pitcher. Darvish hasn't been quite the elite strikeout artist post-March 2015 Tommy John surgery that he was before it, but his performance in two seasons since has been excellent nevertheless: 3.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a 28.8 percent strikeout rate in 48 starts, and a top-100 Player Rater (and fantasy point) total finish in 2017. Landing in Chicago provides him a small bump in terms of strikeout rate, locking him into 200-plus whiffs if he stays as healthy as he did in 2017, and the Cubs' defense should also help him from an ERA perspective. Darvish has a chance at a top-10 season, but even if he falls just shy of that you'll probably be happy with his output.
2018 Outlook: Considering Archer's raw ability, it's difficult to fathom how he managed to post ERAs on the wrong side of four in each of the past two seasons. He's the quintessential example of the pitcher with greater value in sabermetrically angled than Rotisserie leagues, with this as telling a stat as any: In 2017, he had a major league-leading 14 quality starts that failed to earn him a win, and in 2016, he had 10 such outings. Archer is an elite strikeout source who ranks among the most durable starters in the game, having posted a majors-leading 133 starts in the past four seasons, and that combination makes him a borderline top-10 starting pitcher in points-based formats despite his win-loss struggles. He's a top-15 candidate in Rotisserie leagues. Better yet: With whispers that Archer could be a midseason trade candidate, he might even get a boost in that frustrating "W" column if moved.