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: 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: 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: 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.
2016 Outlook: Ross remains one of the nastiest starting pitchers in baseball, as he polished off his first 200-strikeout season in 2015 on top of a 3.26 ERA in 196 innings. His 9.7 K/9 rate was the best of his career, and his swinging-strike rate remains elite, as hitters whiffed at nearly one out of every eight pitches last season (12.3 percent). Ross gives up a bit of control to achieve this nastiness, as he recorded a BB/9 above 3.0 for the sixth consecutive season. But between his strikeout stuff and the way Petco Park helps suppress home runs, he is able to work around those extra baserunners. Ross could be a trade candidate this year. Leaving San Diego could do some damage to his ERA, but he only has 23 wins in the past two seasons despite his excellence, so maybe a change of scenery could do him some good in that regard.
2016 Outlook: Coming off 2014's breakout, some unfairly consider Richards' 2015 to be a disappointment. After all, he tossed 207.1 innings, which is encouraging unto itself coming off a devastating ACL injury that cut his 2014 short. Plus, despite throwing more first-pitch strikes and inducing a higher percentage of swings and misses, he lost 2014's gain in strikeout rate. Research suggests if Richards maintains similar first pitch and swinging-strike marks, his strikeout percentage will approach 2014 levels. That said, keep in mind Richards' 2014 campaign featured a miniscule HR/FB that predictably regressed to the league norm last season, so even if Richards' whiffs return, his ERA should be closer to last season's 3.65 mark than the previous year's 2.60 effort. Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially when combined with an improved strikeout rate over a bevy of innings.
2016 Outlook: Samardzija was the biggest non-injury disappointment of 2015 on the mound, and perhaps overall. He was drafted as a top-20 starting pitcher and top-100 overall pick only to run up nearly a 5.00 ERA in 214 innings. Worse yet is that the one thing that seemed safe -- the strikeouts -- cratered to under 7.0 per nine innings. With all that said, now is the time to buy. Samardzija couldn't have moved into a better situation, going from a park that exacerbated his home run issue to one that will greatly suppress it. Samardzija himself admitted to some mechanical issues that led to pitch-tipping and no doubt played a role in his 11 starts of 5-plus earned runs, which were tied with Alfredo Simon for most in the league. He had just 12 in the two previous seasons combined. The new park, league and division should help him cut some of those and at least return to his 2012-14 form (3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 608 IP), if not get him closer to that standout 2014 effort (2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in 220 IP).
2016 Outlook: The Rangers acquired Hamels from the Phillies in July, bolstering their rotation for the second half and adding a much-needed top-shelf arm through at least 2018. Moving from one hitter-friendly environment to another, Hamels' home-run rate ticked up after the trade (1.08 HR/9), but the increased rate was still in line with his career mark (0.99 HR/9). Not surprisingly, the shift from the National League to the American League also pushed his strikeout rate from 25.5 percent (9.6 K/9) to 22.7 percent (8.4 K/9) after the trade. Now 32 years old, Hamels has been remarkably durable and consistent for a decade at the big league level, making at least 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons and averaging 200 strikeouts annually during that span. An uptick in wins would hardly be surprising in 2016, as Hamels should benefit from a good Texas offense providing run support along with an excellent bullpen to protect his leads.
2016 Outlook: Expectations were as high as ever for Zimmermann following back-to-back All-Star selections and a top-12 finish among starting pitchers in earned rotisserie value in 2014. The strikeout and walk rates both went in the wrong direction, and although his strikeout rate did rebound over the final two months, he also allowed 15 homers from August 1 on. His fastball velocity was down a bit last season, but the biggest concern for Zimmermann may be his struggles against left-handed hitters, as lefties combined for a .284/.338/.438 line against Zimmermann, up from .258/.289/.336 in 2014. As one of the first major chips to fall in free agency, Zimmermann now jumps from one of the worst hitting divisions (NL East) to one of the toughest in the AL Central, but that's not to say there's nothing to like about the right-hander entering 2016. He's held up to a heavy annual workload, putting his 2009 Tommy John surgery firmly behind him, and the steady control will continue to make him a valuable WHIP asset.