2017 Outlook: When a pitcher can miss 74 days, make just 21 starts, yet manage to finish third in Rotisserie-based scoring and 19th in points-based among all players, you know he's something special. Kershaw's back became an issue around midseason, casting shadow upon his value for the first time in more than a half-decade, but he rebounded to the tune of a 1.29 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in five regular season-ending starts, not to mention had his productive moments (some of which were on short rest) during the postseason to quell some of the doubt. The Dodgers, too, have managed his workload brilliantly throughout his career, and he'll play the 2017 season at a not-too-old 29. Kershaw is the only player in baseball to manage a top-10 overall Player Rater finish in each of the past six seasons, and during that six-year time span, his 2.06 ERA is more than a half-run better and 0.91 WHIP more than one-tenth of a point better than any other pitcher who has made at least 10 starts. He's a Hall of Fame talent pitching at peak levels, so while there's risk he won't give you a full, 30-plus starts, he's still the wisest pick as your first pitcher off the board, and perhaps first player off the board in a points league.
2017 Outlook: For all the complaints about his workload at a young age and during recent playoff runs, Bumgarner has been one of the game's most durable hurlers, joining Cole Hamels as the only two pitchers in baseball with at least 30 starts and 200 innings pitched in each of the past six regular seasons. Bumgarner has also improved his Player Rater standing in each of those six campaigns, culminating in 2016's 10th overall finish, and he was the second-best player behind only Max Scherzer in points-based scoring last year. Could all those innings come back to haunt him? Since he joined the Giants' rotation for good on June 26, 2010, Bumgarner has totaled the second-most innings and sixth-most total pitches thrown between the regular season and postseason, though in his defense, he is younger than any other member of the top 10 in either category. He's a model of consistent greatness and should be treated accordingly in fantasy drafts.
2017 Outlook: For the first time in their nine big-league seasons in 2016, Scherzer finally outperformed Clayton Kershaw, the man whose shadow in which he has had to live in fantasy leagues, on both the Player Rater and in terms of standard points scored. That's not to characterize Scherzer's remarkable run of production the past four seasons as second-rate. During that time, he won two Cy Young awards, one in either league, and had three seasons of a sub-3 ERA, sub-1 WHIP and at least 240 strikeouts, which makes him one of only five pitchers in history to have at least that many such campaigns in a career. In fact, the only thing that really separates Scherzer and Kershaw in terms of value is Scherzer's penchant for giving up home runs, and some of the cause for his career-high 31 home runs allowed in 2016 was the league-wide power spike. If we're to label aces and call Kershaw the best "per-start" pick, then Scherzer is the "safe" pick of the two, the 1A to Kershaw's 1.
2017 Outlook: Now a member of the Boston Red Sox, Sale's fantasy value might ultimately not change much from his 2016, which had him the seventh most-valuable starting pitcher in points-based leagues and ninth-best on the Player Rater. Sure, he'll have a more productive lineup backing him, but run support wasn't a severe issue for him last season, and he enjoyed a sizable increase in his average innings pitched per start from 2015 to 2016 -- 6.7 to 7.1 -- which already helped pad his win total. Sale lost a hint of fastball velocity and regressed slightly against right-handed batters last season -- the latter more of a problem because of how often opponents try to exploit the platoon advantage against him -- resulting in a noticeable decline in his strikeout rate, to 25.7 percent. He still, however, possesses top-shelf stuff and now has a four-year track record of greatness. Don't allow yourself to "chase wins" due to his trade, but Sale should regardless be one of the first five starting pitchers off the mixed-league board.
2017 Outlook: In many ways, Kluber's 2015 was statistically better than 2016, and his standard-league point total illustrates it: He scored 470 in 2015 and 540 in 2016, with his win-loss total differential alone more than making up the difference (a swing of 80 in merely those two categories from one year to the next). In short, don't discount Kluber as an unpredictable, "even/odd-year" pitcher, because he has pitched excellently for three years now. He can attribute much of that to his breaking pitches -- his curveball and slider/cutter -- which have helped fuel strikeout totals in excess of 225 in each of those campaigns, propelling him into the top 10 at his position even in Rotisserie formats. Wins and losses aside, Kluber has been one of the game's more consistent pitchers, and one who should be one of your first starting pitchers off the board in AL-only leagues.
2017 Outlook: To put "Thor's" 2016 into perspective, consider that he finished as the No. 12 starting pitcher on the Player Rater as well as using points-based scoring, and he did so while pitching nearly 60 percent of the Mets' schedule with a bone spur in his pitching elbow. Syndergaard did not require postseason surgery to correct the problem, and his 3.19 ERA and 27.2 percent strikeout rate in his 17 starts after revealing the ailment show he's capable of being productive even if he's forced to pitch a portion of 2017 again at less than full strength, though his 1.31 WHIP during that same time span shows that he's not without warts. He possesses some of the best raw stuff of any pitcher, capable of reaching 100 mph with his fastball with a plus curveball, slider and changeup, weapons that would give him a legitimate chance to push for the top spot at his position if everything were to break perfectly in his favor. In a game where no pitcher can be deemed truly "safe," Syndergaard's potential earns him an easy top-10 place among starters.
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: His 2016 represented one of the best return-to-glory stories, resulting in one of the year's best tweets. (And for the record, Kate, you're right, he probably should have won the American League's Cy Young award.) Verlander set career bests in strikeout rate (28.1 percent of batters faced) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.46:1) and posted his second-best WHIP (1.00), K-per-nine ratio (10.04) and batting average allowed (.204), getting there not thanks to a restoration of his peak-level, 2009-11 fastball velocity, but rather a healthy amount of spin he put on said fastball, creating more swings and misses. In short, he adapted his game to compensate for diminishing stuff; he "learned to pitch rather than throw," as the cliché goes -- though he always knew how to pitch. If there's a flaw in Verlander's game, it's that he's a bit more fly-ball oriented than he was in the past, increasing his home run risk and perhaps threatening his ERA. He should remain one of the 10 most productive pitchers in any format, however, and in fact makes a compelling case for top-five consideration in points-based scoring.
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: It's remarkable what Cueto has been able to accomplish despite a strikeout rate that never ranks among the game's elite. Consider: He's one of only four pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are the others -- to have managed at least three seasons of 200-plus innings with a sub-three ERA in the past four years, yet Cueto's strikeout rate during that four-year span is 3.5 percent lower than any of the others. A three-year pattern of rising strikeout-to-walk ratios is largely responsible, culminating in his career bests in that category (4.40:1) as well as walk rate (5.1 percent), but Cueto is also one of the game's better pitchers at inducing weaker contact and infield pop-ups. Granted, pitchers like this are often in the precarious position of being one small skills setback -- sometimes an untimely injury or a small velocity drop -- away from a precipitous statistical decline, but Cueto's consistency counts for something. In an era where few pitchers can truly be deemed trustworthy, he makes a case for top-10 starter consideration in any format.
2017 Outlook: Here's an example where a pitcher's win-loss record can fool you: Archer's 19 losses tied for the major league's lead, but his underlying numbers proved that his year wasn't a total loss (pardon the pun). A small decline in velocity and command of his four-seam fastball resulted in an awful start to his 2016 -- he had a 4.66 first-half ERA -- but by midseason, he had mostly straightened that out, his second-half numbers falling eerily in line with those of his breakthrough 2015 (3.25 second-half ERA, 3.23 2015 ERA, for one). Archer appears to be the same, dazzling strikeout artist he has always been, thanks to a heavy reliance upon a virtually unhittable slider, and a rebound to his 2015 fantasy valuation is at least as likely as a repeat of his 2016. In fact, if he pitched for most any other team or in most any other division, he might swing his 2016 win-loss record backwards and be one of the 10 most valuable starting pitchers in the game, so if you can stomach the risk in those departments, you shouldn't let him slide much further than that ranking group.
2017 Outlook: After returning from March 2015 Tommy John surgery, Darvish flashed the same, unhittable stuff he has always possessed: He recorded his third career campaign of at least 10 starts and a strikeout rate of at least 30 percent (that a percentage of total batters faced), and his 812 strikeouts through 100 career big-league starts is an all-time record by nearly 50 more than anyone else. Most importantly, his fastball velocity had actually improved upon his return, a good sign since velocity of that pitch is critical to his success. Still, Darvish's health remains a concern, as he has made six career trips to the DL including at least one in each of his past four seasons, his most recent trip due not to his recovery from elbow surgery but rather right shoulder discomfort. Given 30 starts, he could be one of the five most productive pitchers in baseball, and of the pitchers ranked outside the top 10, his ceiling is arguably the highest. Just know the risk you're absorbing if you take that chance in the early rounds.
2017 Outlook: Martinez has made incremental gains in each of his four big-league seasons, culminating in a 2016 that placed him, among starting pitchers, 17th on the Player Rater and 20th using points-based scoring. Though his strikeout rate dropped last season, he made two key improvements: His 57.6 percent ground-ball rate and .329 wOBA allowed to left-handed hitters were both career bests. The former helped minimize damaging innings, the latter promising because of how often opponents load lineups against him with lefties. Martinez might not be on the verge of a breakout but rather a spins-his-wheels campaign, but he's legitimate top-20 starter in Rotisserie formats, and if any of his lost strikeouts do return in 2017, he's earn that status in points leagues as well.
2017 Outlook: Few pitchers have been as genuinely unlucky in the injury department as Carrasco, who missed 48 Indians team games last season due to a hamstring injury he suffered running to cover to first base and a fractured bone in his right hand suffered when he was hit by a line drive; he was fortunate not to miss additional time when he was hit in the cheek by a separate line drive in April. Those issues, as well as the right shoulder inflammation that cost him a couple of weeks late in 2015, do raise the "injury-prone" question, but Carrasco has been remarkably productive working around them. He's one of the rare pitchers with elite command and a high ground-ball rate; since he joined the Indians' rotation for good on Aug. 10, 2014, he's one of only four qualified pitchers with at least a 25 percent strikeout and 50 percent ground-ball rate as well as a sub-7.5 percent walk rate (Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard). Any risk with Carrasco is related to injury, not skill; his ability is that of a potential top-10 starter, but it's probably wiser to hedge and give him top-20 draft treatment.
2017 Outlook: Jansen carries this perception of being one of the most consistent, rather than the best, closers in the game, but in the past two seasons, he has refined his control to the point that he's indeed the position's most stable selection. His 9.68:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2015-16 combined was best in the majors (minimum 100 innings), and in each of those campaigns he managed at least a 40 percent strikeout rate and 50 innings, joining only Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in that group. Like Mariano Rivera, Jansen thrives on a cutter which grants him one of the highest statistical floors of any current closer, and he's the finisher for a competitive team with somewhat weak middle relief sure to maximize his usage, giving him outstanding odds of at least 40 saves and 100 strikeouts. The right time to select the first closer varies significantly by league format -- they can be third- or fourth-rounders in mixed points leagues with daily transactions -- but if you're going to invest at the position, Jansen is one of the rare, "safe" choices.