2016 Outlook: At first glance, it may appear as though Kimbrel's one-year stop in San Diego marks the beginning of a gradual decline. After all, his 2.58 ERA was the highest mark he's posted over six big league seasons. Upon further review, he doesn't seem to be in decline at all, as he finished the season on a high note by delivering a 39:8 K:BB and 1.73 ERA over 26 innings after the All-Star break. With two years and a team option for 2018 left on his contract, the Padres decided that Kimbrel was a luxury they did not need. Traded to Boston for Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra in November, Kimbrel will close for the Red Sox in 2016 as he continues to build the foundation of a resume that should garner consideration for Cooperstown someday. Since arriving in the big leagues in 2010, Kimbrel has struck out 41.2 percent of the batters he's faced. He's also managed to increase the average velocity on his fastball every year he's been in the big leagues, topping out at 97.3 MPH last season.
2016 Outlook: Greinke had everything go his way as he pitched his way into Cy Young consideration and a huge payday in free agency this winter. His obscene 1.66 ERA was the lowest by a National League pitcher since Greg Maddux and his 1.63 ERA two decades ago. Greinke finished second on the Player Rater to the Cy Young Award winning Jake Arrieta. He's a lock for double-digit wins as he has hit that total in each of the past eight seasons. He has had some issues with the ratios in previous years, but his WHIP has improved each of the past five seasons while his ERA has nearly done the same. The issue with Greinke is going to be the regression that has to come after a season with a .229 batting average on balls in play and in which he stranded 87 percent of his baserunners. Both rates will regress a bit along with his ERA and WHIP, but he should enjoy very consistent run support from a stacked Arizona lineup.
2016 Outlook: Injuries plagued Strasburg throughout 2015, as an ankle issue in spring training was linked to a shoulder ailment he suffered in May. From there, neck tightness and an oblique strain also caused him to miss time, but there was a noticeable difference in his performance before and after his first stint on the disabled list. Strasburg had a 6.55 ERA through 10 starts, while opposing hitters posted an .874 OPS against him. Additionally, he failed to go four innings in four of his last five starts before getting shut down by the ankle problem. Upon returning to the mound on June 23 in Atlanta, Strasburg was one of the most dominant starters in the game the rest of the way, compiling a 110:12 K:BB, 1.76 ERA and allowing opposing batters to post a mere .500 OPS against him over his final 13 starts. Strasburg is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after having a non-cancerous growth removed from his back during the offseason. With a full season of health, he still has the skills necessary to finish as a top-three pitcher, and he should come at a slightly discounted price on draft day with just one 200-inning season under his belt since 2012.
2016 Outlook: Syndergaard was one of baseball's most explosive rookies last year, as he burst onto the scene by striking out 166 batters in 150 innings and recording a 3.24 ERA in 24 starts for the Mets. Between his postseason success (2-1, 3.32 ERA, 12.3 K/9 in four playoff outings) and his fastball, the quickest in the league at 97.1 mph on average, there's lots to dream on with Syndergaard. Thor was not without his flaws last year -- he served up 19 home runs and he had trouble locating both his curveball and slider at times -- but his fastball is already elite, and if he can harness the rest of his arsenal, the sky is the limit.
2016 Outlook: Gray has significantly outperformed his fielding-independent numbers in each of the last two seasons, so a bet on him is a bet that those gaps are due to something inherent in the way he pitches, and are not simply the result of good fortune. Paying for a sub-.300 ERA that was accompanied by a 3.45 FIP, 3.69 xFIP and a K-rate that hovers around 20 percent is a risky proposition. Of the 28 pitchers who topped 200 innings last year, Gray was one of six who failed to record 170 or more strikeouts. The other five were R.A Dickey, Jeff Samardzija, Colby Lewis, Jordan Zimmermann and Edinson Volquez. Gray is certainly the best pitcher of that bunch, but he also carries the price tag of a high-end SP2, while the others are viewed as middling options at best. He is a safe bet for a sub-1.20 WHIP, but that might be the highlight of his profile.
2016 Outlook: In his first full season as closer, Allen continued to show why Cleveland saw him as its closer of the future from the very beginning. Allen set a career high with 34 saves and finished with a solid 2.99 ERA and a brilliant 1.82 FIP. His 12.8 K/9 was a career best, and with 99 strikeouts, Allen can compete with most elite closers. He still has some control issues -- he posted a walk rate above 3.0 BB/9 for the fourth consecutive season -- but he also allowed a 41.1-percent flyball rate, the lowest he has allowed since his rookie year. That is critical in keeping his walks from coming back to haunt him, as Allen served up just two home runs in 2015. At 27 years old, there's still some room for Allen to improve.
2016 Outlook: King Felix was one win shy of matching his career high last year, but in every other sense it was a year of decline. His innings, strikeouts and ERA all represented at least seven-year worsts, and his WHIP was his second highest in seven years. Much of this decline can be traced back to a 15.3% HR/FB -- a major outlier after not posting a rate higher than 10.1% since 2007. His velocity was incrementally down last year, but that is nothing new for Hernandez, and it will probably be the case again in 2016. The decline in production did not start until the second half of 2015, as he had a 2.84 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 117.1 innings before the All-Star break, compared to a 4.48 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 84.1 innings after the mid-summer classic. Essentially, less than 100 innings ago, Hernandez was pitching like an ace, and if his HR/FB normalizes next year, he could return to that form. That said, he should no longer be viewed as a high-end SP1 in mixed leagues.
2016 Outlook: The "yips" storyline largely defined Lester's first season in Chicago, and make no mistake, his troubles throwing over to first base will be something more teams look to exploit and fantasy players (especially DFS) can take advantage of. However, that aspect of his game overshadowed the steady, and now perhaps underappreciated, skills that Lester brings to the table. He struck out a batter per inning for the second straight year with a fastball-cutter-curveball combination, coupling it with a strong walk rate, and his groundball rate rebounded back close to 50 percent in his first season in the National League. The lefty reached 200 innings for the fourth straight year and has now exceeded 190 innings in eight straight seasons. Lester had a sub-3.00 ERA away from Wrigley Field, and continues to have success against both lefties and righties. As he enters his age-32 season, there may not be much room for growth with Lester, but the floor is significant -- it's higher than those of a lot of pitchers available in his range.
2016 Outlook: With the likelihood of a trade looming over him, Cueto continued to thrive in Cincinnati over the first four months of the 2015 season, posting a 2.62 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 19 starts. The Reds skipped him a couple times due to some elbow concerns, and after a rough stretch run with Kansas City, Cueto's free agent outlook appeared gloomy. However, a couple great postseason outings, including a complete-game two-hitter in Game 2 of the World Series, helped ease any remaining concerns about the elbow, and that, combined with his tremendous body of work at the major league level, helped land Cueto a six-year, $130 million deal with the Giants in December. The landing spot is ideal, as the spacious AT&T Park should help mask his declining groundball rate, and the strikeouts should bounce back with a return to the National League. Somehow, Cueto always seems to be undervalued on draft day. Take advantage when he falls.
2016 Outlook: Rosenthal recorded his second career 40-save season in 2015, increasing his grip on the ninth-inning job in St. Louis in the process. After struggling with walks in 2014 (13.6 BB%), he showed significant improvement in that department a year ago (8.7 percent) while continuing to miss bats at a high clip (28.9 K%). Additionally, Rosenthal induced more outs on the ground, finishing the year with a 45.8 percent GB% -- his highest total since 2012. The biggest flaw here is a tendency to allow hard contact when he misses his spot, as his fastball has premium velocity but lacks movement. A starter in the Cards' minor league system as a prospect, Rosenthal could keep hitters off-balance more frequently if he relied on his breaking pitches more often, but he throws a fastball or changeup more than 90 percent of the time. With a fair amount of job security and 80-plus strikeouts in three consecutive seasons, Rosenthal only needs to reduce his hit rate in order to become a top-tier closer.
2016 Outlook: Considering Martinez had already tossed almost 80 more innings than he did in 2014, it wasn't a completely bad thing a shoulder injury cut his season one start short, along with missing the playoffs. Before shutting down, Martinez solidified his front-of-the-rotation potential, parlaying his 95.3 mph fastball (sixth best in MLB) into more than a whiff an inning. The righty's other strength is avoiding home runs, aided by a groundball rate over 50 percent and a home venue, Busch Stadium, that squashes power. The only thing separating the 24-year-old from ace status is a slightly above-average walk rate and a few more innings. The innings are a good bet. While his minor league history doesn't portend a huge drop in bases on balls, recent trends suggest you shouldn't bet against it. Chances are we'll be talking about an ace this time next year.
2016 Outlook: It seems like a distant memory, but Salazar failed to crack the Indians' rotation out of camp last year, with the team opting to round out its starting corps with the likes of T.J. House and Zach McAllister. Salazar would force his way back up less than two weeks into the season, and went on to finish with a better ERA and more quality starts than teammate Carlos Carrasco. He threw his slider less and his split-finger changeup more often while occasionally mixing in a curveball, which allowed him to generate groundballs at a rate nearly 10-percent higher than his previous career mark. Salazar also improved his control while striking out more than a batter per inning, and now enters 2016 with a firm hold on a rotation spot. The longball remains a bit of an issue, especially against lefties (15 HR allowed vs. LHP last season), but there is still room to profit at Salazar's top-100 draft day cost.
2016 Outlook: Ho-hum is the last term most would use to describe Chapman, but his dominance on the mound has almost become ho-hum at this point. He once again struck out more than 40 percent of the batters he faced, using otherworldly velocity to dominate hitters on both sides of the plate. Control will always be a relative flaw with a pitcher like Chapman, but the stuff is so good that it truly does not matter, as hitters cannot capitalize with runners on base. Chapman has converted 69-of-74 save opportunities over the last two seasons and did not blow more than five saves in any of his four seasons as the Reds' closer. After an offseason trade to the Bronx, Chapman is primed to serve as closer for the 27-time world champions, but only after serving a 30-game suspension for violating MLB’s new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse policy. Andrew Miller will take back over in the meantime, but Chapman should take over the ninth-inning role soon after returning to the team when he becomes eligible to do so May 9.
2016 Outlook: The assumption was that a spring ACL tear would end Stroman's 2015 season, but amazingly, he managed to make it back in time to start four times in September and become an integral part of Toronto's postseason rotation. He allowed just a 1.67 ERA in his 27 innings of regular season tune-up action, and he managed a respectable 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in three playoff starts. His statistics over his full career -- 157.2 innings, 3.31 ERA, 2.96 FIP -- are excellent, and his impeccable control thus far (1.9 BB/9) will take him far. Considering that his injury was a freak leg injury as opposed to the typical elbow or shoulder fare for pitchers, there shouldn't be any lingering effects heading into 2016.
2016 Outlook: Everyone remembers Wainwright missed most of last season with an Achilles injury but forget he began the season coming off of minor elbow surgery, not to mention an abdomen pull which cost him some of spring training. Wainwright's strikeout rate was already on the decline before last season, though it didn't seem to affect his performance in 2014. However, from a fantasy sense, despite strong ratios, fewer whiffs drops him down at least a tier, especially since he's not likely to come anywhere near the 230 innings or so he routinely racked up a few years back. That said, Wainwright's excellent control, along with his ability to induce groundballs while being supported by a strong defense in a great pitcher's park should again result in a near-elite ERA and WHIP. Just realize fewer innings not only lowers strikeouts but also lessens the impact of ratios.