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2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Starting Pitcher

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Mar 10, 2020

Back-to-back Cy Youngs makes Jacob deGrom the safest pitcher to take this year.

After writing about catchers and shortstops in our early offseason prep, it was time to switch gears and take a look at the top 120 starting pitchers in fantasy. While the final tweaks are being made to my personal rankings, I decided to go with the FantasyPros consensus rankings for these pitchers.

Starters are flying off the board in 2020 drafts, and they are flying onto the Injured List in Spring Training.

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2019 recap

2019 was the year where you needed good pitching to compete. With the more balanced schedule, there were fewer streaming options – or quality streaming options, at least – to take advantage of two-start weeks with.

It became a battle of attrition and a battle of health for the end of the year, but it became clear that you needed to invest in top arms to push your team over the top in a year where offense was everywhere to be found.

Pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Mike Clevinger, Jack Flaherty, and Shane Bieber were notable arms who took a step forward.

Likewise, pitchers such as Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, German Marquez, and Trevor Bauer all took a step back, as they were stuck battling Father Time, Coors Field, and over-tinkering. 

As far as the out-of-nowhere guy who I’m not expecting to repeat his success, I’m looking at Mike Minor who outpitched his peripherals and had such a frontloaded season that it skewed his end-of-season numbers. 

2020 at a glance

There are three to four first-round picks here, with Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. Depending on the league, Scherzer could get pushed into the early second round, which makes the turn quite appealing.

Although the fantasy community seems to be aligned on needing to invest in pitching this year, not everyone wants to invest in the top arms and miss the elite-level bats. 

If you go in with the mindset that you want three or four of your top 35 or 40 guys, it allows you pivot and adjust with the draft flow as it goes on. Just be careful of getting left out of the pitcher runs.

Like we saw with Flaherty, Bieber, and Buehler last year, there are more young pitchers who look poised to take the next step. Arms such as Luis Castillo, Zac Gallen, and Dinelson Lamet are all going early enough with the hope they they turn into SP2s or SP3s, while the next crop of young arms – Jesus Luzardo, Dylan Cease, Mitch Keller, MacKenzie Gore, Nate Pearson – should all see time this season.

Grade Legend*

A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category

B: A solid, consistent contributor

C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either

D: You can do better here

F: You’re getting NOTHING

(*Grades listed are relative to the position and take positional depth into consideration.)

Tier 1

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Gerrit Cole NYY A+ A+ A+ A+ Cole is locked in as the No. 1 or No. 2 starter this year. The only question is how he adjusts to the ballpark and how he performs after signing his big contract. 
Jacob deGrom NYM A- A A+ A+ Back-to-back Cy Youngs makes deGrom the safest pitcher to take this year. The Mets are better, too, which should finally help with the wins.
Justin Verlander HOU A+ A+ A+ A+ Eventually Verlander is going to struggle since he’s 37 years old, but you have to trust him until he shows signs of not being dominant.
Max Scherzer WAS A+ A A+ A+ Missing time with non-arm injuries are always concerning for an aging pitcher. He should be the last of the group taken, and could be pushed to No. 5 with no arguments

If you want one of these guys, you need to invest a first- or second-round pick in them. They separate themselves from the pack because of the elite-level production that they offer in ratios, strikeouts, and innings. Scherzer is the only one I’m avoiding in this range because of his age and his injury history.

Tier 2

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Walker Buehler LAD A+ A+ A+ A+ By the end of the season, he’ll belong in the top tier – health pending. 
Stephen Strasburg WAS A A A- A- Heavy workload last season, including the playoffs. Long injury history, so there is some concern here. 
Shane Bieber CLE A- A A- A Look, you’re a Bieber fan, or you’re not. For every reason that he overperformed last year, there’s a counter as to why it happened. He’s the pitcher I’d be the least bit shocked if he regressed out of the top 12.
Jack Flaherty STL A A+ B+ A- He’s being drafted based on his historic second half, when his first half was pretty bad. Recency bias is one hell of a drug.
Blake Snell TB A A+ B B He was a top target until his elbow started acting up in spring. Approach with caution after 2019.
Clayton Kershaw LAD A+ B B+ A- Decreased velocity and decrease strikeouts, but he threw at least six innings in 25 of his 28 starts last year.
Patrick Corbin WAS A A B+ B Corbin proved that 2018 wasn’t a fluke with his first season with the Nats. He feels underrated and overlooked.
Luis Castillo CIN A- A+ B+ B Huge upside with Castillo. He could take a Flaherty-type leap this season into the top tier.
Charlie Morton TB A A A A Age and injuries are the concerns with Morton. Does he have one more elite season in him?

If you miss on the top four guys, this is what you come back to in the mid-second to mid-fourth rounds. There are questions about nearly all of these guys – Buehler being the exception – but they are all fantasy aces. 

Tier 3

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Lucas Giolito CHW B B B B Giolito looked like another pitching prospect who made it to the big leagues but flamed out until he turned himself into a new pitcher in 2019. Is it repeatable?
Aaron Nola PHI A- A- B+ C+ Are we sure that Nola is good outside of volume? His price is better than last year, but still looks like a potential bust candidate.
Yu Darvish CHC B A B+ B- Darvish corrected the walk issues that made him nearly unrosterable in the first half, and he led many teams to a fantasy title. Elite-level strikeouts are still there.
Chris Paddack SD B+ A- B+ A The Sheriff was one of the most exciting players to watch last year in baseball. His encore should be just as fun to watch.
Mike Clevinger CLE B+ A A- A Clevinger was a top 6 pitcher off the board before his MCL injury. He’s so talented, but there’s always something with him injury related.
Zack Greinke HOU A+ C+ A A- It’s Greinke’s last stand as hitters are going to tee off on him this year or next year like taking a bat to a garbage can.

This is where I shop. I tend to load up on the elite-level hitters and hope for one of the pitchers in Tier 2. If I miss on them, though, I target Paddack and Darvish from this tier. 

Tier 4

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Noah Syndergaard NYM B A- C C This is the final year to hold out hope on the potential of Thor. He finally gave the volume last year, but the production was really bad.
Tyler Glasnow TB B A B+ B+ Glasnow looked like he could be a top 5 pitcher in his limited work last year before getting injured. He’s working on a new pitch this spring, which will give him the expanded repertoire he needs. It all comes down to health.
Chris Sale BOS B- A B A- Speaking of health, we’ll find out soon if Sale needs to go under the knife. He’s undraftable at this point.
Trevor Bauer CIN B- A+ C+ C+ 2018 remains the outlier season for Bauer, but it sounds like he was battling an injury last year. I’m sure Bauer thinks he’ll be a top 5 pitcher, but he’s no more than an SP3.

This is the tier to go shopping in if you have one of the four aces. There is a lot of risk with this tier, but they all have top 10 upside.  

Tier 5

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Jose Berrios MIN B B B B- He’s as frustrating of a pitcher to roster as anyone in baseball. He’ll be lights out one minute, and then he’ll get shelled in his next start. He’s a floor pitcher at this point in his career, with one final shot to reach his potential.
Brandon Woodruff MIL B- A B+ B An oblique injury derailed an impressive campaign for Woodruff. Like Glasnow, health is the only concern.
Sonny Gray CIN B B+ B+ B+ Gray should be going much higher than he is in the average ranks. He’s a Tier 3 pitcher for me.
Corey Kluber TEX B B B B The jury is out on Kluber for what he will bring after a lost 2019. He started slow, but is a historically slow starter. Age is the concern now for Klubot.
Carlos Carrasco CLE B B B- C+ It’s great to see Carrasco back after dealing with cancer last year, but he had a hip flexor to start Spring Training and now is battling ebow inflammation.
Mike Soroka ATL B+ C- A- B+ He could take the Sonny Gray route to success, but the margin for error is slim.
Zack Wheeler PHI B B- B- B- He’s kind of what he is at this point in his career. Good, relatively safe pitcher.
Lance Lynn TEX C+ C C C- Nothing about his 2019 really screams fluke. Well, except for the fact that he’s Lance Lynn.
Frankie Montas OAK B B B B Are people forgetting just how dominant Montas was before his suspension? He’s going to carry this Oakland staff this year. He’s going at a great price.

This tier is filled with a ton of boring floor picks, which are very useful in fantasy. Woodruff, Montas, and to some extent Soroka and Berrios, all have another level they can reach if all breaks right for them.

Tier 6

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Eduardo Rodriguez BOS A B B D+ Wins were the big driver of value last year for Rodriguez. Don’t chase wins in fantasy. You’ll just leave disappointed.
Hyun-Jin Ryu TOR B- C- A+ A Ryu finally put together a healthy season in 2019, where he felt very forgotten heading into the season. The fit and ballpark in Toronto worry me with Ryu, but he’s a solid SP3. 
Madison Bumgarner ARI B C C- B+ He’s leaving San Francisco, which helped preserve most of his value. Fade him this year.
Max Fried ATL B+ A- B- C Fried’s introduction of the slider was game changing. He should be going ahead of Soroka.
Dinelson Lamet SD C- A+ B- D Lamet gets the award for most polarizing player in fantasy this year. He’ll get the Ks, of course, but he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher with limited control. Why not take Robbie Ray later if you are looking for the next Robbie Ray?
Zac Gallen ARI B A B+ C+ Maybe it’s because he was a pop-up prospect last year, but Gallen has more skeptics than he should. There’s legit SP2 upside here.
Kyle Hendricks CHC B+ C- B B+ If you decide to take one of the riskier pitchers from the earlier tiers, pair them with Hendricks, who is as safe and boring as you can get.
David Price LAD A- B+ C+ B No player benefited more from a trade this offseason than Price. He finally gets to move to the National League and out of the vaunted AL East ballparks. Injuries are the only concern here.
Matthew Boyd DET C A- C- C+ Is he more of the first-half 2019 pitcher, or is the second-half pitcher who we should expect? There’s upside here.
Robbie Ray ARI B- A+ B- D See Lamet, Dinelson.
Julio Urias LAD C+ A A- A- Fun fact: Urias is only 23 years old still. This is the breakout year we’ve been waiting for. Grab all of your shares.
Kenta Maeda MIN C B C B- The Twins don’t have the same luxury of depth that the Dodgers to remove him from his role in the final quarter of the season. Buy, buy, buy.

This is another tier that I like to pick from during my drafts and auctions. I try to grab two to three of these guys to help shape my rotation. I have Hendricks or Price in most of my leagues as a safety buffer.

Tier 7

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Mike Minor TEX C+ C C- C- Nope, no thanks. Minor will crash back to Earth after outperforming his peripherals in a front-loaded season.
Jesus Luzardo OAK B- A B+ B Yeah, this ADP is basically useless for Luzardo. You have to invest a top 80 pick in him at this point. The thing is, he’s worth it.
German Marquez COL D A D D+ Remember when Marquez was going to be the guy who defeated Coors Field? Fun times. He’s outstanding on the road, but a headache to roster. 
Andrew Heaney LAA C- A C- C- There’s always a lot of hype around Heaney in preseason. Let’s see if this is the year he can finally stay healthy to live up to it.
Sean Manaea OAK B B+ B- C+ Manaea seems to be getting overdrafted for a guy who has just been OK throughout his career. 
Luke Weaver ARI B B- B+ C- 2017 was a breakout season. 2018 was a second-year letdown. 2019 was great, until he hurt his elbow. 2020 will be ?
Shohei Ohtani LAA C- A B B Ohtani’s ranking all depends on your league format. As just a pitcher, you’re looking at about 17-18 starts, tops. 
Jake Odorizzi MIN C- B- C+ C He can’t go three times through the order, but that’s OK. Bump down in quality starts leagues.
Joe Musgrove PIT C B- B- C We’ll see how the shoulder holds up for Musgrove, but the jury is out – and arrow is pointing up – for all Pirates pitchers under the new regime.
Lance McCullers HOU C+ A- B C- On a start-by-start basis, McCullers is phenomenal. He will be limited to about 130 innings this year, though.

Are you feeling lucky? That’s what this tier is. There is a lot of upside, but a lot of question marks with all of these guys from health, to performance, to innings limits. It’s fine if you decide to skip out on this tier.

Tier 8

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Mike Foltynewicz ATL C+ B+ C C Great strikeout potential, but we’ve been waiting for the rest of it to follow. This is his last shot.
Masahiro Tanaka NYY C+ B- C C+ Tanaka’s path for success all depends on the baseball that is used this year. If he can get his grip back for his splitter, he could be a steal.
Marcus Stroman NYM B C- C D+ He’s a points-league specialist. In roto, he has a limited ceiling and a fine floor.
James Paxton NYY C- C+ C C Pitchers are more likely to get hurt than players at any other position. Why take on the extra risk?
Caleb Smith MIA C- A C D+ Big difference in his pre-injury numbers and post-injury numbers. The strikeouts are nice, but the home run rate is alarming.
Jose Urquidy HOU B- B- C+ B- The Astros are high on him, and they didn’t exactly go out and replace Cole on the open market. The fourth spot in the rotation is Urquidy’s until he shows he can’t handle it.
Carlos Martinez STL C+ B+ B C- We’ve seen the top 25 upside from Martinez before in the rotation. Like many pitchers, it all comes down to health.

You’re starting to notice the drop off at the position with this tier. For this tier and for most of them going forward, you only want one of these guys. If you’re relying on more than one per tier, you messed up your draft.

Tier 9

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Joey Lucchesi SD C- B C C- Lucchesi could be out of a rotation spot. He has limited upside, and there are many others like him that can be had for less.
Jon Gray COL D+ B C+ D+ Get Gray out of Coors Field – yes, he pitched better there last year – and we’ll talk.
Brendan McKay TB C- A- C C- McKay has the chance to be a great post-hype sleeper. He got rocked in his sample last year, but he’s still a pitcher with loads of potential. Can he harness his control and break into the rotation?
Mitch Keller PIT C B C+ B- Keller was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball last year. He has the arsenal and pedigree to succeed under the new regime in Pittsburgh.
Yonny Chirinos TB B+ C B B+ Chirinos is underrated in fantasy circles, especially since the Rays showed the willingness to have him throw regular starter innings.
Miles Mikolas STL B+ C C- C+ Mikolas isn’t good enough to roster when he’s dealing with a Spring Training injury. Pass. 
Chris Archer PIT C B C+ C- Archer could return to form under the new Pirates regime. He’ll get you the strikeouts like he always does, but he could help in ERA this year, too.

This is mostly a boring tier, but Keller, Archer, and McKay all offer different varieties of upside that you should look to chase at this point in the draft.

Tier 10

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Dallas Keuchel CHW C+ C B- D+ He’s old. He’s boring. He won’t strike anyone out. He’s Dallas Keuchel.
Ryan Yarbrough TB B C- C- A Yarbrough could be the pitcher to lose his job to Brendan McKay. Great WHIP.
Anthony DeSclafani CIN C+ B+ B- C Disco quietly had a good season for the Reds. With Kyle Boddy in-house, he could reach another level.
Dylan Bundy LAA B- B+ C- D+ Bundy is finally out of Baltimore and into a great ballpark. Let’s see him throw that slider more and more this year. There’s still decent upside here.
Jose Quintana CHC B- C C- D The Cubs traded Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Quintana. 
A.J. Puk OAK C A B C- Puk has great strikeout upside, but he’s going to be capped at about 120 innings this year – if he can stay healthy.
Adrian Houser MIL C+ B- C+ C- Houser is a SPARP favorite this year, and he excelled late last season for the Brewers.
Steven Matz NYM C B- C D+ Let’s not do this same song and dance with Matz again. Just save yourself the headache.
Josh James HOU C+ A+ C D+ James has the inside track on the No. 5 role for the Astros. The strikeout upside is insane. Could 2020 be what we hoped 2019 would be?
Sandy Alcantara MIA C- C B+ C- There are some underlying skills here with Alcantara, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that he’ll reach them.
Ross Stripling LAD D+ B B B- If the Angels trade went through, Stripling would be a top 40 pitcher this year. You just can’t trust the Dodgers to use him effectively.
Garrett Richards SD C- A- C- D+ The Padres signed Richards to a two-year deal – the first of which he missed the year with Tommy John surgery. They have no reason to hold him back this year. Invest in him.
Cole Hamels ATL B- B- C C- He’s already dealing with a shoulder injury and the Braves have so many younger – and better – internal options. Fade. 
Michael Kopech CHW C A C+ C- Huge upside, but unknown role for 2020. Once he gets the call, he’s a must-add player.
Griffin Canning LAA C C C C He’s given Cs across the board until we find out if he’s missing the season or not.
Dustin May LAD D+ B- C+ C- Amazing pedigree and potential, but will he be able to start more than 10 games this year with the Dodgers?
Pablo Lopez MIA C- C- C C- Lopez has limited upside, but if you squint hard enough, it’s there. He’s better left as a streaming option for two-start weeks.

You should be looking for strictly upside here. Guys like Puk, Kopech, May, and James all offer it in abundance. Richards is a great target and has top 50 potential if he can stay healthy.

Tier 11

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Jeff Samardzija SF D+ D+ C+ C+ He surprisingly had a solid season last year. Does he have another top 75 season left in the tank?
Michael Pineda MIN C- B C- D+ He’s a guy to add to your watch list and grab when his suspension is a week or two away from being over.
Dylan Cease CHW C+ B+ C+ C- Cease is another post-hype sleeper that you should target. He’s gaining helium, so invest a few rounds early from his ADP if you want him. With Yasmani Grandal as the everyday catcher, Cease is getting a big pitch-framing boost.
Rick Porcello NYM C- C- D+ C- He’s an innings eater and nothing more.
Aaron Civale CLE C- C- B- B Civale is a popular sleeper among the fantasy industry. If there’s any organization to bet on with pitchers, it’s Cleveland.
Johnny Cueto SF D+ C+ C- C It was nice to see Cueto return to the mound last year, but he’s no more than a streamer in a good matchup.
Marco Gonzales SEA C- D C+ D+ He’s a points-league guy, as the strikeouts and numbers just don’t justify him being rostered.
Anibal Sanchez WAS D- C- C- D+ He could get a Nationals-boost, but there’s not much here to like. Free Austin Voth.
Alex Wood LAD D+ B- C C Wood will be one of many to get starts in the backend of the Dodgers rotation. He’s worth monitoring his first few times out before he warrants a pickup.
Chris Bassitt OAK C B- C+ C- Bassit has an interesting profile – not necessarily good, but interesting – that makes him a late-round dart throw.
Kyle Gibson TEX C- C C C+ Gibson might be a little underrated, but we’ve seen his act before. He’s a streamer.
J.A. Happ NYY D+ C- D+ C Happ was actually pretty solid down the stretch for the Yankees, and he was being drafted as a top 50 pitcher heading into 2019.

We are fully in streamer territory here. Cease, Civale, and maybe Bassit are the only guys in this tier to consider in your drafts. Cease should be up a few tiers. 

Tier 12

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
John Means BAL D C C- C- The results were there for Means last year, but there’s not a lot that I like about his profile – least of which is pitching in Baltimore.
Kevin Gausman SF D C+ C C- Gausman has one final shot to revive his career. He’s in the right ballpark for it, if nothing else. 
Reynaldo Lopez CHW C- B C- D Some people just can’t quit Lopez because of the occasional brilliance that he flashes. Don’t be one of those people. Walk away. 
Nathan Eovaldi BOS C C+ C- D+ If Eovaldi can stay healthy, he could return a lot of value for you with the state of the Boston rotation.
Dakota Hudson STL C- C C C I’m skeptical of Hudson’s 2019. I need to see more before investing. 
Julio Teheran LAA C C C+ C- Teheran is one of the worst pitchers in baseball, but somehow he outperforms his peripherals consistently. 
Jon Lester CHC C C- C C It’s a sad day, but Lester is no more than waiver wire fodder. 
Rich Hill MIN D+ B- C+ B- When Hill pitches, he’s elite. You’ll have to wait for it this year, but he’s worth a dart throw if you have an open IL spot. 
Domingo German NYY C- B B- C German is serving a suspension that will keep him out half of the year. He’s only worth rostering if you can hold a suspended guy in an IL spot. 

This tier is very easy to avoid. Eovaldi could be interesting, but the rest you can pass over. 

Tier 13

Player Team W K ERA WHIP Notes
Mike Fiers OAK C- D C C The A’s have done it once with Fiers, so maybe they can do it again? That’s the only hope you can really have with him.
Spencer Turnbull DET D C C- C- Turnbull actually has some sleeper appeal. He’s worth grabbing with your final pick of the draft. 
Jordan Yamamoto MIA D C C- C- Yamamoto was usable at times last year with the Marlins. The ceiling is limited, though.
Josh Lindblom MIL C C- C C- The best comparison for Lindblom is Miles Mikolas when he came back to the majors. 
Justus Sheffield SEA D+ C- C- D+ He’s too short to succeed as a big leaguer. He’ll get no help from his offense, either.
Tanner Roark TOR C C- C C Roark is exactly what the Blue Jays needed, but he’s not close to anything that fantasy managers needed.
MacKenzie Gore SD C+ B- C+ C+ If Gore is called up in May or June, he should be many tiers higher. He has league-winning potential, and the Padres showed their willingness with Chris Paddack last year to ignore service time. The pressure is on the front office to win now.
Matt Shoemaker TOR D D+ C- C- Shoemaker could be a useful streamer if he can stay healthy.
Forrest Whitley HOU C- B- C+ C+ Ignore his 2019. One season doesn’t change anything. The term “ace potential” gets thrown around a lot for pitching prospects. Whitley is one of the few where this term actually applies.
Jordan Montgomery NYY C+ C C- C- If nothing else, Montgomery will have a role in the the rotation out of Spring Training. He was usable before his Tommy John surgery. 
Tyler Mahle CIN D B- C- C- If Mahle had a rotation spot, he’d be interesting. 
Nate Pearson TOR C- A C C- Pearson may be the most impressive rookie to watch this year with his purely dominating stuff. When will the Jays be willing to start his clock?
Freddy Peralta MIL D- A+ D- D Peralta is a one-pitch pitcher who is nothing more than a reliever. Corbin Burnes should be going here, not Peralta. 
Casey Mize DET D+ A- C+ C+ It’ll be interesting to watch to see who gets the call first between Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. Mize has a history of injury concerns, so we’ll have to monitor those. The Tigers have nothing to play for, so don’t expect him until later in the season. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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