A ranking of the 25 best starting pitchers to target in fantasy baseball drafts for the 2017 MLB season.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even after missing two and a half months with a herniated disc in his back, the lefthander turned in yet another stellar season, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting. Kershaw was 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA, 0.725 WHIP and 172 strikeouts in 149 innings over 21 starts -- his fewest since his 2008 rookie season. Upon his return in September, Kershaw allowed four earned runs in five starts (including the postseason) with 27 strikeouts in 28 innings, proving his health shouldn't be a concern in 2017.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Scherzer became the sixth pitcher in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues last season. He led MLB in strikeouts (284) and WHIP (0.968) and led the NL in wins (20), innings pitched (228.1) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.07). Scherzer, 32, had a sub-3.00 ERA for the third time in the past four seasons. Though Schezer won't be the Nats' Opening Day starter -- he's dealing with a stress fracture in his right ring finger -- he's slated to be the team's No. 3 starter. Scherzer has said he's eager to make 33 starts, which he's done the last three seasons.
3. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
The one thing Sale lacked throughout most of his career with the White Sox was wins. That wasn't a problem last year, though, as he matched a career-best 17 wins on a sub-.500 team. Sale's run support per start was 4.7 last season from a White Sox team that averaged 4.2 runs per game. In his previous four seasons, his RS/GS was 3.95. The MLB average is 4.3. The Red Sox, who won 93 games last season, led MLB with 5.4 runs per game. Yes, they've lost David Ortiz, but it's still a loaded young lineup with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Plus, the Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland, who hit 22 home runs last season, to play first base, so Hanley Ramirez will become the primary DH, according to manager John Farrell. Sale threw a career-high 226 2/3 innings and six complete games last season, further proving the lefthander as a workhorse.
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
It's hard to believe that the three-time World Series champion is only 27. And he seems to be getting better. Bumgarner went 15-9 with a career-best 2.74 ERA and 1.028 WHIP last season. He had career highs in starts (34), innings pitched (226.2) and strikeouts (251), reaching 10.0 strikeouts per nine for the first time. The lefthander has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past six seasons, making him a durable force for fantasy owners.
5. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
After a somewhat down 2015 season following his Cy Young performance in 2014, Kluber got back on track in 2016. The improved Indians offense, which added Edwin Encarnacion this offseason, played a big hand in that. His run support per game jumped from 3.3 in 2015 to 5.3 in 2016, helping him reach 18 wins for the second time. But Kluber helped himself too. He's been among the best at going deep into ballgames, notching a career-best two shutouts and logging a quality start in 22 out of 32 starts last season. The righthander has logged at least 200 innings and struck out at least 200 batters in each of the past three seasons. He's about as dependable as they come.
6. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
The only thing more electric than Syndergaard's hair is his right arm. In his second season, "Thor" went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.149 WHIP and 218 strikeouts in 183 2/3 innings. The Mets' hard-throwing ace led MLB with a 2.29 FIP, which is an estimated measure of a pitcher's run prevention independent of the performance of their defense. The league average was 4.19. He also allowed a league-low 0.5 home runs per nine innings pitched, despite pitching in a home ballpark that ranked 11th in home runs. His ability to keep the ball in the yard combined with his high strikeout rate (10.7 per nine innings) make him a top fantasy option.
7. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
After landing on the disabled list for the first time in his career in 2015, Verlander bouned back with one of the best seasons of his career in 2016. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA and led the AL in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.001) to finish second in AL Cy Young voting. It was the first time he struck out at least 200 batters since 2013 and the first time he had at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings since 2009. Verlander will be 34 this season, and while he's not hitting 100 mph with his fastball anymore, he's made adjustments -- like improving his slider -- to get batters out. A healthy Verlander should have no trouble repeating that success.
8. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
The ace of the reigning World Series champs was as dominant as ever last season. Lester, 33, had career-bests in ERA (2.44) and WHIP (1.016) and matched a career-high 19 wins while leading the NL with a .792 win percentage. The lefthander pitched more than 200 innings for the eighth time in nine seasons and was just three strikeouts short of 200. He also had 26 quality starts.
9. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
It was going to be impossible for Arrieta to repeat his stellar 2015 Cy Young season, but he turned in a solid year. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA, 1.084 WHIP and 190 strikeouts. For a second straight season, he led MLB with 6.3 hits allowed per nine innings pitched. Unlike 2015 when Arrieta was utterly dominant in the second half, in 2016, Arrieta started hot and came down to earth. He went 9-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his first 11 starts. The rest of the year he was 9-8 with a 4.15 ERA. Control was a major issue for Arrieta, as his walk rate jumped from 5.5 percent in 2015 to 9.6 percent in 2016 and he led the NL with 16 wild pitches. The righthander will turn 31 before the start of the season, so it seems more likely that the 2016 version, which was still really good, is what we should expect to see in 2017.
10. Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
Cueto got off to a great start in his first year in San Francisco. After going 13-1 in the first half, he finished 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.093 WHIP and 198 strikeouts in 219 2/3 innings over 32 starts. He led the NL with five complete games, brought his home run rate down to 1.7 percent (his lowest since 2012) and increased his strikeout rate by more than two percent from the year before. Cueto's almost a sure thing to deliver 200 innings, as he has in four of the last five seasons, and has 200-strikeout potential. Overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner, he's an underrated No. 1 fantasy pitcher.
11. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Carrasco was limited to 25 starts after landing on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring in April and suffering a fractured right hand after getting struck with a line drive in mid-September. While he was on the field, the righthander went 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.148 WHIP and 150 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings. Carrasco's strikeout rate dropped a bit from his career-best 29.6 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2016, but his walk rate remained excellent at 5.7 percent compared to the 8.1 percent league average. The righthander will be 30 this season, and if he can stay on the field he has ace potential.
12. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Archer got off to a rocky start, going 4-12 with a 4.66 ERA and 1.436 WHIP before the All-Star break. In the second half he went 5-7 with a drastically improved 3.25 ERA and 1.007 WHIP. Archer's record (a league-worse 19 losses) suffered from a lack of run support from a lousy Rays offense that scored just 3.5 runs per game for him, despite averaging 4.1 on the season. He did surpass 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for a second straight season, and if the 28-year-old can continue in the direction he was headed in toward the end of 2016 and get a boost in run support, he can be a top-15 starter.
13. Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Martinez delivered another solid season for the Cardinals, going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.224 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 195 1/3 innings. He forced 33 batters to ground into double plays, good for second in the league, and had a home run rate of just 1.9 percent.
14. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Entering last season, deGrom was the Mets' most dependable pitcher, but much like the rest of the staff, he was bit by the injury bug. The righthander underwent season-ending surgery last September to reposition the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow. Through his first 21 starts, deGrom was his usual self. He went 7-5 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. While bothered by his elbow in his last three starts, deGrom suffered. He went 0-3 and gave up 21 hits and 16 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings. If deGrom, who reportedly began throwing off a mound in early February, can stay healthy, he shou'd return to form.
15. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
Porcello struggled in his first year in Boston, losing 15 games with an ERA approaching 5.00. The righthander couldn't have done much better in his second season with the Red Sox. He won a league-high 22 games, brought his ERA down to 3.15 and had career-bests in WHIP (1.009) and strikeouts (189) to earn the AL Cy Young and Comeback Player of the Year awards. Porcello, 28, led the league with an impressive 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But there also was some luck involved. His BABIP allowed was a career-best .269 and his HR/FB rate was 2.5 percent lower than the year before, meaning it's more than likely Porcello will regress. It's just a matter of how much.
16. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Darvish missed the entire 2015 season and almost the first two months of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He went 2-0 in his first three starts but wound up back on the disabled list with discomfort and tightness in his right shoulder. Darvish finished 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.116 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings in 17 starts. He had 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings, just below his league-high of 11.9 from his career year in 2013, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career-best 4.26, so now that he's healthy, Darvish has big upside.
17. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
With Chris Sale gone, Quintana moved to the top of Chicago's rotation and was named an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2016. Much like Sale, Quintana has suffered from a lack of run support, getting just 3.9 runs per game in his five-year career. But Quintana managed to win a career-high 13 games last season after winning just nine in each of the past three seasons. Quintana also had career-bests in ERA (3.20), WHIP (1.163), innings pitched (208) and strikeouts (181), and at 28, he's just entering his prime. Quintana is almost guaranteed to throw 200 innings after surpassing that the past four seasons. He's a dependable starter, hurt only by being on a lousy team.
18. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Injuries have been the story of Strasburg's career. He landed on the disabled list with an upper back strain in June and later wound up there again in August with right elbow soreness that effectively ended his season. Strasburg seemed to have put it all together early in the season. He went 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA, 0.9855 WHIP and 138 strikeouts through his first 17 starts, three of which came after his first DL stint. But it was downhill from there. He ended the year at 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.104 WHIP and 183 strikeouts. Strasburg has missed chunks of time the past two seasons after starting a career-high 34 games in 2014, so it's hard to count on him staying healthy. But one thing fantasy owners can depend on from Strasburg are strikeouts as the hard-throwing righthander had 11.2 K/9 last season.
19. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Greinke didn't live up to the $206.5 million deal he signed with the Diamondbacks before the 2016 season. Aside from a one-month stretch from May to June where he won seven straight starts, it was a down year for Greinke. He posted an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA, his worst since his rookie year in 2005, and 1.273 WHIP, his worst since 2008. Greinke missed about a month and a half with a strained left oblique and missed his last two starts with a sore shoulder, which likely contributed to his struggles. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said Greinke is "ready to go," but the team is taking it slow with him during spring training. It's hard to expect Greinke to get back to the ridiculous numbers he posted as an NL Cy Young contender with the Dodgers in 2015, but assuming he's healthy, he should rebound.
20. David Price, Boston Red Sox
Price has been an innings eater pretty much his whole career, and last season was no different as he led the league in innings pitched for the second time in three seasons with 230. With the news that he's expected to start the season on the disabled list with a strained left elbow, his three-year streak of 200 innings could be in jeopardy, which dropped him from No. 12 to No. 20 on this list. In addition to leading the league in innings pitched last season, the former Cy Young winner also led the league in hits allowed with 227 and gave up a career-worst 30 home runs. While Price managed to earn 17 wins, his ERA was up to 3.99 compared to his 3.21 career average and his WHIP was up to 1.204 compared to his 1.142 career average. His strikeout rate was on par at 8.9 K/9 compared to his 8.6 career average. At 31, Price's inflated stats and elbow injury are cause for concern.
21. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka has been monitored closely since deciding in 2014 to pitch with a partially torn UCL, but he managed to pitch a career-high 199 2/3 innings and start 31 games in 2016. The Japanese import wasn't completely injury free as he was shut down the final week of the season with a slight forearm strain, but it was a vast improvement. Tanaka won a career-high 14 games and was in the top five among qualified starters in both ERA (3.07) and WHIP (1.077). He lowered his home runs per nine innings from 1.5 in 2015 to 1.0 in 2016, but his strikeouts per nine fell from 8.1 to 7.4. Injuries will always be a concern for the $155 million man, but after his best season, the risk is worth the reward.
22. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
Hendricks, 27, continued to make strides last season, leading the league with a 2.13 ERA and 188 ERA+. He had career bests in wins (16), WHIP (0.979) and strikeouts (170). Hendricks continued to dazzle during the Cubs' World Series run, posting a 1.42 ERA, 1.026 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings over five starts. Hendricks has the benefit of arguably the league's best defense behind him, but he's proven to be a solid fantasy starter on his own.
23. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Cole had the best season of his young career in 2015 and had top-five fantasy starter potential heading into the 2016 season. That deteriorated quickly. He suffered a rib injury before spring training that continued to bother him during the season and later landed on the disabled list three times, once with a strained right triceps and twice with right elbow inflammation. Cole went 7-10 with a 3.88 ERA, 1.440 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 116 innings over 21 starts. After going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.091 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 2015, Cole, 26, has the potential to rebound.
24. Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Sanchez came out of nowhere to become one of the best young starting pitchers in the game. He posted a 15-2 record for a league-high .882 win percentage with an AL-best 3.00 ERA last season, his first as a starter. Sanchez, 24, once again brought the innings limit debate to the forefront with the Jays planning to move him back to the bullpen by midseason. But after overperforming, he ended up pitching 192 regular-season innings, blowing by his previous career high of 133 1/3, split among the Blue Jays and three minor-league teams in 2014. Fantasy owners should expect some dropoff, but the youngster should have another good year if he doesn't suffer from being overworked.
25. Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Fulmer joined Detroit's rotation at the end of April, but it didn't pay off for the Tigers or fantasy owners until later. After going 2-1 with a 6.52 ERA in his first four starts, Fulmer faced a potential demotion. Instead, he went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year after incorporating his changeup more. He went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.119 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 159 innings, just three innings short of qualifying for league leadership in ERA. Fulmer turns 24 before the start of the season.