Starting Pitchers Outside the Top 20 Rankings That Can Finish Top 5 (Fantasy Baseball)
Finding a breakout player is often a key element to a winning fantasy baseball season. That’s certainly the case when it comes to pitching. Given the volatility of the position, there will be pitchers who climb the ranks to deliver a solid return on their pre-season rankings. Some may even join the ranks of the top pitchers in the league.
Along those lines, we’ve asked our writers to provide their pick for a pitcher that is currently outside the top 20 starting pitchers in our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) that has the best shot to finish as a top-five fantasy baseball starting pitcher.
Q: Which starting pitcher outside the top 20 SPs in ECR has the best shot at finishing as a top-five SP?
Lance McCullers Jr. (HOU): ECR SP53
I agree with the other names in this thread; namely, Glasnow and Kluber, as I have both within my top 15 fantasy pitchers this season. Those analysts did a great job explaining why, though, so I’ll provide a deeper name who has a chance to be a Cy Young candidate, Lance McCullers Jr. We’ve already seen him dominate major league hitters for long stretches of the season but he has yet to put it all together for a full year. Now that the MLB season is likely shortened, there should be no such thing as an innings limit for McCullers. He was a legitimate Cy Young contender at the All-Star break in 2018 before his injury and that could very well happen again in a 100-game season.
– Bobby Sylvester (@bobbyfantasypro)
Trevor Bauer (CIN): ECR SP22
Given that Bauer was a top-10 starting pitcher in 2018 despite pitching only 175 innings and winning 12 games, he certainly has a chance to finish top five at the position this year. Bauer’s fastball was hammered last year (.567 slugging percentage, 20 home runs against), which was a huge reason why his ERA and WHIP skyrocketed. In the National League for a full season, in a contract year, and with rumors of the baseballs returning to their pre-2019 levels, Bauer could easily get back to his dominant 2018 numbers, and perhaps even improve on them.
– Dan Harris (@danharris80)
Jesus Luzardo (OAK): ECR SP46
No pitcher benefits more from the MLB delay than Luzardo. It is very unlikely that the Athletics let him throw more than 150 innings this year, given his previous career-high in a single year is 109. With the almost sure loss of 30+ games to the MLB season, that 150 innings will be close enough to the league leaders to give Luzardo this kind of upside. He has dominated everywhere he has pitched, and his career 250:46 K:BB ratio is great evidence that he can continue that in the big leagues.
– Jon Anderson (@JonPGH)
Kenta Maeda (MIN): ECR SP42
Ok, hear me out here. I love Tyler Glasnow if he can stay healthy in what could be a shortened season. But since he was already mentioned a few times, I’ll give you my sleeper for who I think could end up being a top-five starting pitcher in 2020: Kenta Maeda.
Normally, a pitcher who is over 30 years old and moving from the National League to the American League would not be a popular pick to make a jump into SP1 territory. However, the Dodgers bounced Maeada between the bullpen and the rotation because of their depth and to manipulate his innings. In Minnesota, I think Maeda can make that jump. If you look at his Statcast data, you’ll see elite strikeout, exit velocity, hard hit, and xwOBA percentages. As a full-time starter for what should be a playoff contender, fantasy owners can grab a potential top-five starting pitcher in the middle rounds on draft day.
– Mike Maher (@MikeMaher)
Tyler Glasnow (TB): ECR SP20
It’s hard to argue against Tyler Glasnow as the pitcher most likely to benefit from a shortened MLB season. Granted, the official word of “shortening” the season has not been announced, but Glasnow was already gaining ADP momentum despite the likely innings limitation. If said limitation is shared throughout the league, he instantly becomes a top-tier option. Glasnow’s sub-2.00 ERA from 2019 is unsustainable, but his sub-3.00 FIP and xFIP indicate that any regression in 2020 should not be dramatic. In a worst-case scenario, Glasnow delivers for his current ADP and then reaches an innings limit. Best-case? Glasnow is in the Cy Young conversation.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)
Jose Berrios (MIN): ECR SP21
Berrios is still only 25 (turns 26 in May) but he has proven himself to be a quality starter on a very explosive club. His team will be in games, giving him a chance to pile up innings and counting stats. His stuff is wicked, with a high-velocity fastball as the centerpiece. He repeats his delivery well, is deceptive, and knows how to pitch. An All-Star the past two seasons, Berrios just keeps getting better and better.
– Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff)
Mitch Keller (PIT): ECR SP63
Tyler Glasnow is my favorite answer to this question, but I’m going to go a little more off the radar with someone that a lot of fantasy players might not be into this season. I’m about to recommend a starting pitcher who gave up 38 earned runs in 48 innings of major league action last year. However, I shouldn’t really paint a picture that everyone is off Keller. A lot of fantasy analysts actually really like him as a bounce-back candidate. That’s due to his advanced stats. Yes, the 7.13 ERA is hideous to look at. But what if I told you that of all starters who threw a minimum of 40 innings last year, that only 14 had a better park-adjusted FIP than Keller? Sure, batters hit .343 against him in 2019, but statcast showed an expected batting average against of just .265.
Keller’s prospect shine has faded a bit but he was Baseball America’s 12th ranked prospect entering 2018. He also ranked 22nd entering last year. and he’s still considered a prospect! Lastly, the Pirates are becoming a little more analytically friendly. Ray Searage, who had a ton of success throughout his career preaching a down-in-the strike zone philosophy, is out as pitching coach. Much like the Twins last year, the franchise is set to undergo an analytics overhaul, which is great news for Keller.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
Corey Kluber (TEX): ECR SP23
In a shortened season, I think Kluber has a great chance to finish as an SP1. Prior to his injury-riddled 2019, he logged 200+ innings for five straight years. His Achilles’ heel has always been the month of April. Whether that be cold weather in Cleveland or just shaking off rust to begin the season, I think there’s a good shot that Kluber avoids the early season blues this year. His strikeout rate slightly declined in 2018, but his swinging strike rate was consistent with prior years, so I’m still expecting around a 26% strikeout rate. In a shortened season, playoff odds for fringe teams like the Rangers increase. That could lead to a boost in wins for Kluber (relative to the league) as well. Finally, the new home ballpark should also result in being a more pitcher-friendly environment than we are used to seeing. If things break right, he could again post a sub-3 ERA, sub-1.10 WHIP season. Add this all up, and the Klubot could easily finish as a top-12 SP.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)
Zac Gallen (ARI): ECR SP39
There are names outside the top 20 who I think could be safer, more consistent starting pitchers in 2020. However, we are here to shoot for upside. Zac Gallen has elite stuff that can allow him to finish as a top-five starting pitcher in 2020. During his 2019 campaign, he started in 15 games and sported a 2.81 ERA. Splitting his time between the Marlins and Diamondbacks, Gallen had a 10.8 K/9 ratio and a 2.67 strikeout to walk ratio. He is a powerful pitcher who is not afraid to challenge hitters, and he has the potential to improve his ratios by cutting down on walks. Gallen possesses a great repertoire of pitches that includes a fastball that can reach the upper 90s to go along with a curveball, cutter, and changeup. Gallen pitched in the ACC for North Carolina and has the potential to be a great MLB starter. I fully expect him to lock up a role in the starting rotation for Arizona and get the chance to showcase his ability in 2020.
– Shane Bryant (@ShaneBryant31)