Newsday kicks off its 2015 fantasy baseball rankings with the best pitchers on the market. A look at the top 20.
20. Jacob deGrom, Mets(Credit: Michael Ross)
20. Jacob deGrom
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year was the saving grace for the Mets last season. He won just nine games in 22 starts, but posted a 2.69 ERA and a strong 9.2 K/9. Don’t think of it as beginner’s luck — deGrom is the real deal.
19. James Shields, San Diego Padres(Credit: AP / Lenny Ignelzi)
19. James Shields
The move to pitcher-friendly Petco Park is big for Shields, who had the best defensive outfield in the game behind him in Kansas City. Shields continued his streak of 200-plus inning seasons for an eighth-straight year in 2014. His strikeout rate took another drop, down to 7.1 K/9 from 8.8 two seasons ago, but he seemed to gain some control, bringing his BB/9 down to 1.7 from 2.7 last season.
18. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals(Credit: AP / John Bazemore)
18. Adam Wainwright
Wainwright is proof of what pitchers can do post-Tommy John surgery. The righthander, who missed all of 2011 after the surgery, has been as good as ever the past few seasons. In 2014, he racked up 20 wins for the first time since 2010 and posted a career-best 2.38 ERA. Wainwright raised some concerns after having surgery to trim a piece of cartilage from his right elbow after the season and after battling an abdominal strain that delayed his start to the spring, but he threw four scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut Saturday. His health is something to monitor all season, but he should be ready to go Opening Night against the Cubs.
17. Matt Harvey, Mets(Credit: Getty Images / Stacy Revere)
17. Matt Harvey
The Mets ace makes his long awaited return after missing the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Harvey’s lengthy recovery can only help after he was potentially on track to win the NL Cy Young Award in 2013. The one downside to Harvey, who had a 2.27 ERA, 0.931 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 in 26 starts in 2013, is that his innings could be limited to fewer than 200.
16. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies(Credit: AP / Kathy Willens)
16. Cole Hamels
Despite a biceps injury that started him on the disabled list in 2014, Hamels still managed to log 200-plus innings in 30 starts. He had a career-best 2.46 ERA, but the Phillies continue to struggle to give him run support. Hamels has a combined 17 wins the past two seasons, which is what he totaled alone in 2012. Barring a midseason trade, Hamels will likely continue to struggle in the win department.
15. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves(Credit: AP / David Goldman)
15. Julio Teheran
The 24-year-old had a career-best 2.89 ERA in 2014 and matched his 14 wins from the year before. Teheran might experience some struggles this year with a significantly weaker outfield. The Braves traded away Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, leaving B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis and a question mark in leftfield in 2015.
14. Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox(Credit: AP / Ben Margot)
14. Jeff Samardzija
After a brief stint in Oakland, Samardzija returns to Chicago, only this time for the crosstown rivals. Samardzija, who spent most of his career on a lousy Cubs team, has struggled with wins his entire career — never breaking into double digits in his seven years in the league — largely because of a lack of run support. That should change this year on a much-improved White Sox team. Samadzija’s biggest weakness used to be his control, but that’s now become a strength. He has a career average of 3.2 BB/9, which was drastically improved in 2014, dropping to 1.8.
13. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals(Credit: AP / DG)
13. Jordan Zimmermann
Zimmermann seems to just keep getting better. The 28-year-old posted a career-best 2.66 ERA while leading the NL with 1.3 walks per nine innings last season. He also brought his K/9 up to 8.2, his best strikeout rate since his 2009 debut season.
12. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics(Credit: Getty Images / Christian Petersen)
12. Sonny Gray
The youngster wasn’t limited in innings in his first full big league season last year. The A’s let him go for 219 innings, including two shutouts, one of which helped the team clinch a playoff spot on the final day of the season. Despite a strikeout rate drop from 9.4 to 7.5 from 2013 to 2014, Gray doesn’t seem to have lost any speed on his fastball. According to Fangraphs, his four-seam fastball averaged 93.2 mph in 2013 and 93 mph in 2014.
11. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers(Credit: AP / Chris Carlson)
11. Zack Greinke
In his first full season with the Dodgers last season, Greinke got back in a groove. He brought his ERA back down below 3.00 for the first time since his 2009 Cy Young Award season and won a career-high 17 games. The 31-year-old is right in his prime as a top-tier pitcher again.
10. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds(Credit: AP / Al Behrman)
10. Johnny Cueto
Despite leaving the team to deal with a personal matter, Cueto won’t miss Opening Day, according to Reds manager Bryan Price. Cueto is coming off his best career season, and if it wasn’t for Clayton Kershaw, he could’ve won the NL Cy Young Award. After an injury to his latisimus dorsi muscle limited him to just 11 starts in 2013, Cueto led the NL with 243.2 innings pitched and 242 strikeouts last season. The 29-year-old also allowed an NL-low 6.2 hits per nine innings and hit 20 wins for the first time in his career.
9. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs(Credit: AP / Chris Carlson)
9. Jon Lester
The 30-year-old put up one of his best seasons of his career in 2014, splitting time between Boston and Oakland, and the move to the National League should only help. Lester posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the first time in his career and had a career-best 1.102 WHIP in 2014. His 220 strikeouts were his best since 2010, but it seems unlikely he’ll get back there.
8. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians(Credit: AP / Ross D. Franklin)
8. Corey Kluber
Kluber, 28, had a breakout year in 2014 en route to the AL Cy Young Award. The righthander led the American League with 18 wins for an Indians team that missed the playoffs with 85 wins. Kluber had career highs in ERA (2.44), WHIP (1.095) and strikeouts (269) in 2014, but he also saw a big jump in his workload from 2013 to 2014, going from 147.1 innings pitched to 235.2. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to repeat his performance but don’t expect too much of a drop off.
7. David Price, Detroit Tigers(Credit: AP / John Bazemore)
7. David Price
Splitting his time between Tampa Bay and Detroit last season, Price led the AL in strikeouts with 271 in a league-high 248.1 innings pitched. For the second time in his career, Price started 34 games, including three complete games. His ability to go deep into ball games helps across the board.
6. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox(Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)
6. Chris Sale
Sale experienced a scare after suffering an avulsion fracture on the outside of his right foot earlier in spring training, but he’s already managed to get back on the mound. The White Sox improved their lineup with the additions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche and locked down a top closer in David Robertson, which can only help Sale in the wins department, where he’s struggled the past two seasons with just 11 and 12 wins, respectively. Sale led the AL with 10.8 K/9 and posted career-bests in ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.966).
5. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants(Credit: AP / Ben Margot)
5. Madison Bumgarner
After one of the most dominant performances in postseason history, Bumgarner is once again primed to be one of the best pitchers in the league this season. The lefty won a career-best 18 games and struck out a career-high 219 batters. Bumgarner has also pitched at least 200 innings each of the past four seasons for the reigning champions and should only continue the streak.
4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals(Credit: AP / David Goldman)
4. Stephen Strasburg
It’s hard to believe Strasburg is arguably just the second-best pitcher on his team, but that’s what happens when your rotation is as good as the Nationals’ is this year. Strasburg is coming off one of his best seasons, finally eclipsing the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career and starting a career-high 34 games. The 26-year-old led the NL in strikeouts with 242 and could be in for an even bigger year. Strasburg suffered what’s considered to be a minor ankle injury and will miss a spring training start, but if he can stay healthy, he could be in for an even bigger year.
3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals(Credit: AP / David Goldman)
3. Max Scherzer
The Nationals’ big offseason signing bolsters an already robust starting rotation. Coming off his Cy Young season in 2013, Scherzer led the AL with 18 wins in 2014 in his final season in Detroit. The 30-year-old has hit his stride, delivering back-to-back 200-plus inning seasons and striking out at least 200 batters each of the past three years. His ERA and WHIP aren’t quite as dominant (3.15 and 1.175) as the likes of Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw, but he’s as good as they come elsewhere.
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners(Credit: AP / Ben Margot)
2. Felix Hernandez
Hernandez continues to be a workhorse for the Mariners. He’s pitched at least 200 innings each season dating back to 2008. The hard-throwing righthander came up just short of his second American League Cy Young Award last season, losing out to the Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber. Despite lacking in wins the past five seasons, Hernandez fills out the stat sheet elsewhere. Last season he led the AL in ERA (2.14) and WHIP (0.915) while striking out 248.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers(Credit: AP / Lenny Ignelzi)
1. Clayton Kershaw
This one’s a no-brainer. Kershaw, the reigning NL MVP, has been the most dominant pitcher in the league since his breakout year in 2011. He’s won the NL Cy Young Award three of the past four years, including last season when he led the league with 21 wins, struck out 239 batters and posted a career-best 1.77 ERA, despite missing a month of the season. Kershaw has been as durable as they come, pitching in more than 195 innings each of the past five seasons. And he’s still only 27.