Top 40 Starting Pitchers For 2019 For Fantasy Baseball

Nick Pollack continues his starting pitcher rankings with the top 40 for 2019

After Tuesday’s Top 20 Starting Pitchers For 2019, we’re back with the next set of 20 pitchers leading up to No. 40. Let’s get right into it:

Update: The Top 60 Starting Pitchers, Top 80 Starting Pitchers, and Top 100 Starting Pitchers have been released.


Tier 5: A Touch Of Class


21. Zack Greinke (Arizona Diamondbacks) I may be over-doing it with tiers like I’m showing emotion for attention, but they make sense to me and this is how we’re going to do things. Anyway, I remember in the SP Roundups suggesting that Greinke may come at a discount in drafts this year given all the ageist people out there (you know who you are), though I’m not sure if he’ll settle where I’m OK grabbing him in 2019, especially with Greinke going near Jameson Taillon and Mike Clevinger and before Zack Wheeler. I love the fact that Greinke gave us two straight 200 IP seasons with a 3.20 ERA and 1.08 WHIP (seriously, just about the same ratios!), but there are warning signs that Greinke could be falling dramatically. His fastball velocity dropped nearly a full 1.5 ticks to sub 90 mphwith the possibility of falling further this year. Meanwhile, his overall whiff rate dropped 1.5 points as well to a decent but not great 10.8% mark (special thanks to his slider losing 8 points in swinging-strike rate), leading to a 24% strikeout rate. If we get another 200 frames, I’m fine with it, but this has all the signs of Greinke falling into the Lester/Hamels/Keuchel territory soon and I’m waiting until the options with close floors but higher ceilings have left the pool before diving in.

22. Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals This is a conservative ranking of Flaherty in my view, and I’d be lying if I didn’t consider dropping him like German Marquez (yep, sorry y’all) into the sixth tier. I’ve made the comparison plenty, and I’ll say it again: Flaherty reminds me too much of Lance McCullers, and that’s not a good thing. They both carry elite strikeout rates with one very very good breaker (Flaherty’s slider earned a ridiculous 23% swinging-strike rate last year!) and walk too many batters, limiting their IPS (5.4 IPS and 9.6% BB rate for Flaherty). Since 2014, Flaherty is one of only four pitchers with 150+ IP to have managed to hold a walk rate north of 9.5%, carry a 25% strikeout rate, and boast an ERA lower than 3.50: Francisco Liriano (2014), Tyson Ross (2015), and Robbie Ray (2017). This doesn’t hint at continued success for the 23-year-old, though there is a little bit of hope. Flaherty boasts a solid four-seamer  that’s one step above McCullers  and a fastball/slider combination could work well … if he finds a third pitch with which he truly connects . Maybe the curveball takes a step forward, maybe he finds a cutter to steal strikes, or hey, a changeup taught by Wacha/Wainwright/CarMart may work out well. The strikeout upside is worth it to chase at this point, but I find myself hesitant to take the leap given his clear control issues and lack of flexibility inside the repertoire. There’s a chance for a true step forward to bat off the clear regression ahead, but there’s also a chance he dives closer to a 4.00 ERA and goes the way of Danny SalazarI don’t like these comparisons either, y’all, but he gives me no choice

23. Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals) You know what’s weird about Mikolas? I expect him to have a completely opposite season in 2019. 2.83 ERA? Eh, more like 3.30 ERA. 18% K rate? Nah, I’m thinking 23%. 1.07 WHIP? Yeah OK, maybe 1.10-1.15 but still great. Why would I think all of this? Pretty simply, I think his stuff just didn’t match the peripherals. That slider is incredibly dope, and if he pulls back on its zone rate slightly from 50% to 40-45%, its 14.5% swinging-strike rate could climb from sub 15% to 18%-plus and turn Mikolas into a legit strikeout arm. Meanwhile, his heater touched 98 mph last season, sitting just above 94 mph regularly. Add in a curveball that he comfortably throws for strikes and held batters to a .234 average last year, and you have the recipe for a low WHIP (thanks low walk rate!) and a pitcher who should easily push a 20% K rate and hint at the 25% mark. Keep in mind as well, I’m expecting close to 200 frames, making Mikolas a strong arm across the board, failing to hurt you anywhere. He’s not ranked higher given that I’m banking on a bolstered strikeout rate to nullify some of the expected ERA/WHIP regression, but I bet I’m ranking him higher than most because few are considering how his stuff should translate to more swings and misses. Let’s see what happens.

24. Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs There are a lot of people scared of Darvish this season. He’s maddening! He’s broken! I don’t want that headache! This is all correct if you’re having a discussion back in April last season. 2018 was a lost year to me. He was pitching hurt the entire season and now is healthy for the 2019 season. THIS IS A VERY GOOD THING. Darvish has never had a strikeout rate below 27%  even including last year  and had previously never held an ERA above 4.00. In fact, if it weren’t for a 10 ER in 3.2 innings disaster in 2017 (one of 31 starts), he would have had a sub 3.50 in four straight years. He also averaged about an 8% walk rate and 1.15 WHIP in that time. I honestly considered Darvish even for the top 20, and the only reason I’m holding back is the legitimate concern that he won’t pitch more than 180 innings. Yes, the fourth tier contains the same concerns but have more recently dominated than Darvish has. Nevertheless, look at the other names in this tier. Darvish has as high strikeout upside of any of them, with an actual history of being one of the top fantasy starters. What’s fantastic is how Darvish is there for the taking. He was the 35th starter off the board in the #PLExpertsMock, lasting until the 11th both then and in the first Pitcher List staff mock. He’s the perfect arm to grab as your No. 3 SP while you rock one of the best rotations in your league without drafting one of the first 15 starters off the boardGo get him and take advantage of your leaguemates’ fear.

25. Luis Castillo (Cincinnati Reds Hey. Let’s talk. 2018 was a roller coaster of emotions, and here we are in 2019, surprisingly with close to the same price to pay for Castillo as we had last year. For obvious reasons, I’m not as confident in Castillo elevating to the ace-ceiling that he holds, but there’s an interesting discussion to be had. For those who missed the lengthy SP Roundups during the year (how dare you), Castillo showcased heavily diminished velocity for the opening three months  around 94-96  then pushed it to 96-98 in his final three months. He went from having a dope changeup and nothing else to suddenly a dope heater and slider … and no changeup … and finished with all three working in tandem. Those final three months were special if you stuck with him, returning a 2.63 ERA, 24.5% K rate, 5% walk rate, and 1.01 WHIP. The legendary upside we were chasing.Well, kind of. Still, a sub 6.0 IPS and that strikeout rate should be hinting closer to 30% at his peak. Castillo also lowered his HR/9 to a passable 1.10 clip, and a lot of people are going to think he can carry it into 2019. THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT LAST YEAR. Sorry for the bold and caps, but I feel like that really needs to be emphasized. Maybe Castillo is a warm-weather pitcher (we only saw him in late June through the end in 2017), which is why his velocity took some time. Maybe Castillo doesn’t have the command, with a slightly lower arm slot than ideal, and will never have it. Maybe he never quite gets the feel for fastball locations and sliders at the same time. Or maybe he found it last year and will dominate this season. It’s too many maybes, and I’m not drafting Castillo unless I have two arms I trust to save me if he collapses in the cold months again. But man do I want to roll the dice on Castillo continuing to grow. That 97 mph average heater in the final three months with a 26% swinging-strike rate and 53% O-Swing changeup are just so dang lovely. And if that slider can combine for 75% Zone + O-Swing (i.e. getting strikes one way or another), then we’ll certainly be seeing something special. The slide piece did earn a 16% swinging-strike rate last year, after all. Soo yeah. I’m not going to tout him as the next coming of Montero, but this is fantasy baseball. It’s supposed to be fun. And Castillo it’s just oh-so-fun to snag.

26. David Price (Boston Red Sox This time last year, I was aggressive with my love for Price, ranking him well inside the top 20 when others hovered around No. 30. I looked like a fool for a good two months, then it clicked for Price. He shifted closer to the first-base side of the rubber, helping him snag the inside corner with his heater and place cutters/changeups away effectively. So instead of reflecting on the 4.44 ERA through his first 18 starts, let’s be thrilled about the 2.41 ERA in his final 12 starts, outings that also returned a 25.6% strikeout rate, 0.96 WHIP, and 6.25 IPS. That’s legit ace stuff from Price, though its 3.52 SIERA derived from an 85.4% LOB rate and .246 BABIP bring a decent amount of skepticism. Given that his fastball velocity is slowly declining and his swinging-strike rate was still lower than 11% during this excellent run, I’m hesitant to rank Price too favorably. I think he’s a step up from the ratio vets, but his ceiling is capped and I’d be shocked if he hints at a sub 3.00 ERA this year. A solid pick for those wanting stability and a plethora of wins, not for those chasing a No. 1 or 2 SP.

27. Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals I wrestled with this one a bit. CarMart is a frustrating starter to own, often having a few bad stretches early followed by cruise control that makes us understand how he went as a top 25 starter in drafts. And funny enough, I expect his draft stock to rise through the spring as he comfortably becomes the No. 1 starter again for the Cardinals. I don’t love him myself, but the man should hold a strikeout rate hovering 24% with a sub 3.50 ERA and WHIP around 1.20 across 200 frames or so. There’s a lot of value in that, especially when the next tier features the frenetic Robbie Ray and heavy regression target Mike FoltynewiczYou’re going to dislike owning Martinez a decent amount, but at the end of the day, the man will earn his keep with a solid repertoire across the board. Seriously, that new cutter is incredibly effective and a much-needed tool for CarMart to avoid high walk rates, while his slider will miss plenty of bats (45% career strikeout rate) and a changeup with a career 18% whiff rate. Oh, and he throws 95-plus constantly. We’ll pass each other Aspirin during his four- and five-walk starts and nod to each other in approval when he cruises.

Update: Carlos Martinez has been moved down to the late 40s with the news that his shoulder is in fact NOT healed.

28. German Marquez (Colorado Rockies Some of y’all will want Marquez in the fourth tier. I get that. I really do. The dude wasn’t just great in the second half, he was the dopest2.47 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 33.5% K rate, and a 6.65 IPS across 17 starts is some of the greatest work known to man. Ever. Step aside, da Vinci. Marquez found the groove with his slider and curveball, using the former more often in deep counts while spotting his deuce better at the bottom of the zone and trusting it to get strikes in all counts. And maybe you want to take the chance that Marquez can close to repeat it across double the sample size in 2019. It’s possible. Maybe even him taking a significant step back is still worth that pick. I don’t think I’ll be one of them for a few reasons. First and foremost, he still pitches at Coors Field.Seven of those games came in Colorado, in which he faced a stripped Diamondbacks lineup twice (pffft), the A’s (OK, not bad), Pirates (blegh), Phillies (lol), Giants (still laughing), and Cardinals (meh). That seven-game sample doesn’t convince me he’s unaffected by the Coors effect, and it shouldn’t to you either. Do you know what Marquez’s hype reminds me of? Everyone’s love for Jon Gray after last season. That shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve listened to my podcasts through the off-season  I tend to repeat things when nothing has been played  but seriously, look at this: Gray had a 2.64 ERA, 26% K rate, 1.11 WHIP in his final 13 starts of 2017, performing better in Coors than on the road. That argument sure didn’t stick last year. Yes, Marquez should be more effective than Gray (two solid breakers vs. one), but the point should hit home pretty hard. There are better, safer options to take, and unless Marquez falls a decent amount, I’ll fill my rotation elsewhere.


Tier 6: The Fifth Ace


29. Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins You know, if you’re looking for a comp on Folty (we’ll talk about him shortly), you don’t need to look much further than Berrios. They have their differences  Berrios has a bit better control while Folty has two areas to develop in his curve/changeup vs. just Berrios’ changeup  but they are both incredibly reliant on just two pitches, and that inherently worries me. Berrios is your prime example of a pitcher who many expect to take that major leap at some point, but we just don’t know when. The question I ask myself in these situations is pretty simple: “Where does he improve to get to that expected ceiling?” Berrios has had two seasons to take that major leap, and while he has displayed some unbelievable moments along the way  three of four starts starts with 23 shutout frames to start 2018 and a brilliant 2.05 ERA, 31.5% K rate, 5.0% BB rate, 0.86 WHIP eight-game stretch through May/June last year  it should be a major red flag that he ended the year with a blegh 3.84 ERA despite his streaks of excellence. It comes down to two areas: 1) His dope curveball that is oh-so-pretty can be flat-out bad at times. 2) His third pitch  a changeup  is incredibly inconsistent and is far from the pillar Berrios needs when he can’t turn to this monster breaker. Seriously, that changeup held a 12% whiff rate and 25% zone rate last year. I could have sworn I saw Berrios whispering prayers to himself last year after nodding his head to wiggled fingers. And back to that curveball, it wasn’t even a Money Pitch! Sub-40% Zone and O-Swing marks should make you raise your eyebrow significantly as we’d all believe it was on par with the great breakers across the league. It can act like that, but it disappears so often. I haven’t talked about his fastballs yet, and it’s simply because they’re solid. Not a detriment at all, but it’s all relative to that curveball success. It’s good, just not the scale-tipper like the other two options. So at the end of the day, you can go chase Berrios, and I like doing that more than the others in this tier as I can fathom his age-25 season  yes he’s that young!  being the year he takes the step with that changeup or hones in on perfecting that incredible deuce. Just don’t reach for him above the guys in the fifth tier as you could be getting a frustrating SP No. 4 or 5 instead of a SP No. 2.

30. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks Like Castillo, Ray was a disappointment to owners jumping to grab him in drafts following his sterling 2.89 ERA/33% K rate campaign. The strikeouts remained, but an ERA around 4.00 isn’t enough, especially with a WHIP having a beer with the folk above 1.30. I am going to chalk up some of this season to injury, though. When Ray returned to the field, it took him a few starts to trust his curveball again, leading to a lengthy DLH … until July 25, when he threw the hook more than 25% of the time. In those 13 starts thereafter, Ray’s 2.83 ERA and 31.5% K rate felt right at home. I feel a little dirty saying that, though, as it came with an atrocious 15% walk rate, .255 BABIP, and 84.5% LOB rate that lead to a 4.07 SIERA. Is Ray destined to be a man who outperforms his peripherals? Maybe? Allow me to take a moment for true psuedoanalytics that shouldn’t be taken seriously and consider if Ray is the type of pitcher who walks way too many but is able to bear down and strikeout batters with men on base effectively, thus keeping his LOB rate high and sending his DIPS numbers into oblivion. You shouldn’t be drafting Ray based on that  that would be foolish  but I’d certainly consider Ray if I steered away from the elite strikeout arms early in my draft. I don’t love him for 2019 as I hate roller coasters, but I have to acknowledge that this sine wave is more like a cosine, starting well above y=0. Sorry, sorry. What I mean is that with all his undulation, Ray averages out to a better season than those in the next tier. And that makes him top 30. So be it.

31. Mike Foltynewicz (Atlanta Braves You may not realize, but Folty and I have been through a lot. I recall the backlash of slotting him in the 50s during his call up in 2015, recognizing him as a PEAS for the following years, and suddenly last year’s breakout as he held onto that sub-3.00 ERA for dear life. Through the summer months, I found myself going from “pffft, no way he holds that 25%-plus strikeout rate” to “hot damn I love that slider.” It’s a pitch that came out of nowhere to dominate batters, holding an 18% swinging-strike rate and 40% O-Swing after chilling at a sub 12% whiff rate just two years prior. The big key was trusting it deeper in counts (and plenty more often overall!), while also making it more enticing off the plate, tickling the zone for longer before breaking out of it. Yes, I just used the word tickling, GET OVER IT. So he has a dope slider now, but my bigger question is about the rest of his repertoire. Folty moved a good ways away from a poor sinker to more four-seamers  smart man  but I’m not sure if his curveball and changeup are good enough to support his slider through another year. The curveball is more of a show-me pitch, hitting the zone above 45% of the time but getting sub-25% chases off the plate. I expect its .216 BABIP to rise next year, becoming a meh offering overall. His changeup is also questionable, featuring a sub-15% swinging-strike rate and just a 21% O-Swing. It’s not a strikeout pitch, and finding the zone less than 40% of the time means it sure isn’t a pitch he can trust deeper in counts. It’s obviously possible for Folty to excel on just his four-seamer/slider, but it’s really hard to go sit low 3s ERA and 25%+ strikeouts with a 1.15 WHIP on just two pitches. He got very fortunate to get it last year; I wouldn’t pay for him to come close to doing it again. Seriously, a .251 BABIP and sub-10% HR/FB rate? In that ballpark?! It shouldn’t surprise you to see a 9%-plus walk rate either with his poor third and fourth pitches, making plenty more indication that this was a crazy good season and nothing close to a plateau. Don’t fall for this trap.


Tier 7: The Cliff


32. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants Entering Tier 7, we’re starting to lose pitchers with true No. 1-2 SP potential, and unfortunately, that starts with Bumgarner. After Bumgarner’s pair of injuries in 2017 and 2018, he failed to look like his former self across 130 frames last year. His overall whiff rate dropped to just 9.2%, resulting in only his second season under the 20% strikeout mark. Meanwhile, his walk rate rose to a career-high 7.8%, WHIP to a pedestrian 1.24, and no glaring reason why his 3.26 ERA was well deserved  his 3.99 FIP and 4.42 SIERA suggest worse days ahead. His cutter is still doing solid things; the problem has been the feel for his fastball to match it  a pitch that used to be a staple of his arsenal but hasn’t seen success since it was sitting comfortably above 92mph … and last year’s 90.9mph doesn’t instill hope. The numbers aren’t doing the pitch any favors  a 20% O-Swing is far away from its 30% clip during his heyday, last year’s .299 BAA was 50 points higher than its career mark, and a horrid 4.7% whiff rate is flat out bad. Then there’s his curveball that has seen a dramatic fall in its own right (near 20% whiff rate across three previous seasons vs. just 12% mark last year, O-Swing dropping from 54% to 39% in one season!), and needed to overperform heavily in 2018 to salvage the season. We shouldn’t expect the deuce to hold off Bumgarner’s regression for another year, spelling a tough year ahead for the San Fran southpaw. There’s a chance the off-season allows Bumgarner to get back into the swing of things with health on his side, though I anticipate 2019 will be the affirmation of decline we all fear.

33. Nick Pivetta (Philadelphia Phillies Ah, right, this guy. The man with a 4.77 ERA and 1.30 WHIP last year who won over many hearts last year (including mine!) as we searched for Spice Girls to support. It was the ultimate cherry bomb scenario: Either Pivetta would be dope along the lines of allowing 1 ER to the Red Sox or get walloped for 6 ER to the Mets. Pivetta didn’t care what you thought. He either showed up or didn’t and it was torturousMaybe you don’t want to deal with it again and are noping out of this. I understand that; go right ahead. What I can tell you is that there is a clear path to his ceiling here, and I have to trust that Pivetta will improve in 2019. His curveball is a legit Money Pitch, his slider hints at it, and his four-seamer held a 10%-plus swinging-strike rate. His changeup/sinker/cutter? Naaaah forget about those. If Pivetta just pounds high heat, slips in sliders for strikes, and curveballs at the bottom or below the zone, he’s destined for a sub-3.50 ERA with a repeat of his elite 27% strikeout rate. These are just words from an armchair manager, but I can only say this if he has the stuff in his repertoire and he has it down. Hopefully we see close to 45% breakers from Pivetta and a season of taking steps forward to realize his 3.51 SIERA, preventing me from giving him the dreaded PEAS label. Don’t give us coal, Pivetta, just act like a Saint Nick. But what if he gave us Cole? I like the way you think.

34. Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees Two seasons of 4.74 ERA and 3.75 ERA are tough to handle, especially when his HR/FB has been more gruesome than a hot dog at the Falling Waters 7-11. We’re talking 17.7% last year as the better of the two and no signs of improvement. But let’s say Tanaka improves slightly to a 3.60 ERA in 2019 (A 15% HR/FB rate seems reasonable, right?). He’s still going to amass wins on the Yankees, hold a solid WHIP (1.13 last year!), and earn a 25% K rate as his overall swinging-strike rate sat above 14% in back-to-back seasons. There’s value in that, even if the ERA isn’t pristine. Come on Nick, he’s not going to improve on that 3.75 ERA. No? Did we already forget that he held a 3.02 ERA after returning from the DL in his final 14 starts? And guess what: It came with a 13.6% HR/FB rate and the same excellent K/BB rates as before. It’s in him to succeed and the floor should still be a sub-4.00 ERA. Both him and Pivetta are strikeout-friendly/watch out for the ERA types of pitchers, though I am leaning Pivetta because I buy his path to his ceiling a bit more. Still, Tanaka is definitely capable of becoming the hiro you need.

35. Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies Yeah, I don’t expect people to trust me on this one, and that’s completely fine. This is a man pitching in Coors after all. I’m also going to make the case for Freeland in a way that I’m not used to doing  I believe in his craftiness to work around the zone and make batters off-balance. He’s doing Jon Lester better than Jon Lesterfeaturing fastballs high-and-tight to RHB, cutters down-and-in, and changeups down-and-away. He also has a bit of zing in the tank, sitting low 90s normally but hitting 94/95 when he needs it. This isn’t your standard soft-tosser (yes, I can feel you breathing below me, Kyle Hendricks). I won’t tell you a sub-3.00 ERA will return for Freeland, but a 3.50 ERA or better seems very plausible with a sub 1.20 WHIP, and that’s a lovely thing. Now, I’m not one to chase ratio-first arms typically, but what if I told you that Freeland could push a 24%-plus strikeout rate in 2019? He actually did just that through his final 10 starts of the year as he increased his cutter usage and bumped his swinging-strike rate two ticks from 8.4% to 10.5%. There could be plenty of value on draft day for those afraid of Coors and Freeland’s 4.35 SIERA, but he could turn into a very strong arm at a solid discount.

36. Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs For once, I think I’m on board with drafting Hendricks. Crazy, I know, but the market does what the market wants. Hendricks’ first half is scaring most away as his sinker command was lost and we all packed it up to the regression we all expected would eventually arrive. But what impressed me was Hendricks’ final three months, returning a 2.65 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 21.8% K Rate, and 3.4% walk rate in sixteen starts. IT’S THE HENDRICKS OF OLD. Unfortunately I don’t believe that, despite how many times they say it about Lenny Kravitz, but another season of 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 20%-plus K rate is there for those that want it. I’m targeting Hendricks as a strong SP No. 4, especially if I’m going after some of the riskier high-strikeout arms early. I should also note that I’d grab Freeland or Hendricks over Pivetta/Tanaka depending on the rotation you already drafted. Need more stability? Get Freeland or Hendricks. Have some flexibility? Go for Pivetta or Tanaka. The choice is yours and yours alone.

37. Andrew Heaney (Los Angeles Angels Did you realize that Heaney had a near 12% overall swinging strike rate? That mark is fueled by a fantastic curveball that boasted a 19%-plus whiff rate and a changeup that is oh-so-good (44% O-Swing and Zone rate!) when it’s working. Heaney could be an ace if he figures out how to have his changeup working every single night. Last year, he gave us five separate double-digit strikeout games and he also gave us four starts of 6 ER or more. It was incredibly frustrating watching the southpaw figure it out across the summer niiiiiiiiights, and it always came down to that dang changeup. I see a 3.60 ERA well within reach for Heaney, with the chance he could hit sub 3.50 and carry at least a strikeout per inning along the way. Meanwhile, the man held a sterling 6.0% walk rate that makes me whistle like the wind. Keep in mind, 2018 was the first season since 2015 that Heaney had good health to his name. With a full season under his belt, I can imagine him polishing his repertoire and taking that step forward we all know is in him.

38. Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay Rays Like any other human, I have so many questions. What is consciousness? Did Matt Holliday really touch home plate? How could The Last Jedi be that terrible? One question I still don’t quite understand is how Morton threw 167 innings and 30 starts last season as a 34-year-old. This is a man who had never started 30 games prior and eclipsed 160 frames just once before in 10 seasons. Now removed from the miracle water served in Houston, I cannot expect Morton to pitch more than 160 frames, and even that is generous. Should he excel in Tampa Bay? Definitely, probably to the tune of a 3.40 ERA and 25%-plus K rate and sub 1.20 WHIP. That’s great and wonderful and just not enough when I can get someone I trust for more than 150 frames. If I really trusted a repeat to 2018, then I understand him going around the 30th SP off the board. But given his lengthy injury history, the 3.52 SIERA from last season and transfer from Houston to Tampa Bay, I just don’t see Morton as a sound investment.

39. J.A. Happ (New York Yankees It’s not much of a secret that I trust Happ for a solid 2019 as he’s produced 170-plus frames for three out of his past four seasons. Meanwhile, he learned how to elevate heaters to improve his swinging-strike rate a full tick to 10.4%, producing a career-best 26.3% strikeout rate last year. Do I expect a direct repeat? No. Do I expect this ratio-floor arm to give you around a 24% K rate with a 3.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP? Sure do. Pair that with a winning ball club, and Happ becomes a sturdy No. 3-4 for fantasy squads. It’s not sexy, but it’s sturdy with surprising strikeout ability. You’ll quickly see that those arms are far from plentiful at this point.

40. Tyler Skaggs (Los Angeles Angels Remember when I called Tyler Skaggs‘ early 2018 success smoke and mirrors? I was a bit off, though at the time of the article, his four-seamer hadn’t taken the leap quite yet. Its 8.6% swinging-strike rate then ballooned to an impressive 10.7% mark by season’s end, and I’m willing to buy into his growth as a result. But Nick, he ended with an ERA above 4.00! Yeah, because he injured his groin leading to a horrible injured start, a DLH that sent him back to the DL, then DLH once again through the final two weeks of the year. Prior to his injury? A 2.62 ERA, 25.5% K rate, 6.9% walk rate, and 1.19 WHIP. Hot dang! I do expect him to step back from that  duh  and his lack of strong secondary offering does make me concerned long term, but I’m willing to make an investment at this point given the strength of that four-seamer. Maybe his changeup develops more consistency and he takes off across a full year. The path is there for more, and I think his floor is high enough that he’s worth the pick.

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

29 responses to “Top 40 Starting Pitchers For 2019 For Fantasy Baseball”

  1. Bruce Carlson says:

    Great stuff, as always. Also love 4.0! So far Happ is your biggest decliner from your year end list (-8); a bit surprising given your write up here.

    • Nick Pollack says:

      At the end of the day, my assessment of Happ himself didn’t change, but I re-evaluated what I expected from him relative to the field and had to lower him.

  2. Mario says:

    Dear Nick, great work as always.
    Flaherty’s BB/9 in the minors was about 2.5%. Dont you think this will improve in his 2nd season?

    • Nick Pollack says:

      I’m seeing a 7.0 – 7.5% walk rate through the minors and it doesn’t surprise me that given Flaherty’s repertoire that it rose during a large sample.

      He could improve his walk rate – I think I actually expect him to! – but it’s a more of a product of his approach and less so of a tweak that needs to be made.

  3. Dominic says:

    feel like reynaldo lopez, mugrove, and trevor williams couldve all made this list or if not are on the top 60

    • Nick Pollack says:

      Spoiler Alert: They are not all in the Top 60.

      • Dominic says:

        castillo and heaney make the list but no one i named? ( trevor williams also had one of the best 2nd halves in baseball regardless of his k/9). Lopez and castillo are also very similar pitchers in similar scenarios. not too sure about this list, but yet again it is YOUR opinion

  4. Marco M says:

    I can’t take your Freeland take seriously and it angers me to no end. Last July Freeland was on waivers and your 7/26 article convinced me he was a bad investment. Our eventual league champ added him, reaping the 2H rewards and knocking me out of the playoffs. You stated his June and July numbers weren’t sustainable and “want nothing to do with this TEEs who will set you up for a Grave Mistake.”. Now it seems you changed your tune. Thanks for ruining my life and my historic 2018 season.

    • Nick Pollack says:

      Hey Marco!

      Yeah, that was a tough year with Freeland as I really didn’t buy what he was doing through the year.

      What makes me change my tune now is what he did *after* that 7/26 article, boasting the 24% K rate I mentioned in his final eight starts.

      This is going to happen. I think you would prefer that I take a step back to really look at every player during the off-season, presenting an unbiased view of them despite what we went through during the year. Instead of me blindly sticking to my guns simply because I said it months ago, the most important thing is to get it right moving forward.

      In other words, I’m trying to be correct from this moment forward, not try to validate thoughts from a previous year.

      I don’t look back fondly at how I felt about Freeland during his fantastic 2018 season, but in the end that doesn’t matter today. What matters is trying to get it as correct as possible for 2019.

      We’re all going to be right on some guys and wrong on others. I’m sorry it didn’t go the right way for you in your league and hopefully we can get your revenge this year.

  5. Chris says:

    Nick, I see what your saying about Marquez. I was looking to dismiss him as well. But before we say he is Jon Gray 2.0, or Jiminez 3.0 in coors is to look a little deeper. Yes there is risk, but look at the walk rates for these players. Gray in the upper minors had BB/9 around or above 3. His control in the majors has improved a bit, as expected, but so far he is still a high 2/low 3 BB/9 pitcher. Jiminez for his career (in and out of Coors) was a 4 BB/9. That is terrible, and at Coors a recipe for a blow-up. Marquez in the upper minors had just below a 2 BB/9. When he was called up all I heard was he had great control for his youth, but if his stuff was good enough to navigate coors. In the second part of 2018, his BB/9 was also 2. Now there are other factors to consider, I could go into the command improvements and such, but at the surface, this what you want to see. It is the Anti-Robbie Ray factor. Robbie has nasty stuff that might end up in the strike zone, who knows. A risky profile prone to sometimes walking two batters and giving up a bomb is what Ray does sometimes. If Marquez can limit the walks, has he has shown in almost every level, we are talking about way more upside than somebody like Ray. I didn’t buy into Gray heading into this year, but Marquez is something different.

    • Nick Pollack says:

      Honestly, I think we’re in agreement here.

      I never ranked Gray higher than Top 40 and here’s Marquez hanging out in the mid-20s.

      Marquez is a better pitcher and being a Top 30 starter is remarkable. It’s just hard to buy into that second half and I wouldn’t want to chase that over the other guys in his tier. There’s simply more clarity elsewhere.

      • Chris says:

        Agreed, it is still a generous ranking. But man, what a fun gamble to take. If he keeps command on those breaking pitches, booya!

  6. Tim says:

    Does Skaggs still throw that amazing curveball? I watched him strike out 14 on a rehab assignment a few years ago.

    • Bbboaton says:


      You should ask Alex about his PVal pitches

    • theKraken says:

      Check out the FanGraphs splits, select “all” under “pitch split types”. Its a terrible interface, but if you are curious about pitch results it is all there once you can find it. I did it myself and the answer appears to be, no. By those metrics his CB is trash. His CB was at its worst last year.

  7. Nate says:

    I generally trust my ability to cobble enough SP together during the season to make up for the lower-end split I use drafting them. This year, anything shallower than a 12tm league almost forces you to invest fairly heavily in the top 20 as the drop off is crazy steep. 21-40 is a minefield of questions and nothing there seems like a safe floor.

    You know what would be really cool? A SP drafting strategy article.

  8. Mike says:

    Love, love, LOVE your insights (can’t stress this enough, you’re so great at what you do for the fantasy baseball community) but, if I could make a suggestion…please say “dope” less. 7 times in one article is too many.

    • Nick Pollack says:

      Thanks Mike!

      Don’t worry, it’s getting pulled back. In my delirium, I thought it would be fun to stick dope in as many times as I could and see if I’d get called out for it.

      In the end, I just sound dopey.

  9. Matt Nielsen says:

    Hey Nick!

    I noticed sometimes you view ERA vs. SIERA as an indicator of regression, and sometimes not. Example, Bumgarner’s 3.26 ERA vs. 4.42 SIERA suggest bad things to come but you don’t seem to be worried about Freeland’s 2.85 ERA vs. 4.35 SIERA? Is it just a player to player situation? I WANT ANSWERS!


  10. Jay Kruse says:

    The answers to one of your questions is that The Last Jedi actually wasn’t terrible. In order to avoid any potential flame war, I’ll just leave it at that.

  11. theKraken says:

    I swear that I have seen Flaherty throw four effective pitches in a start – I believe that there is some hope for an expanded arsenal at some point. As exciting as he is, he is certainly risky. He has continually improved as a prospect… so maybe he has some kind of special ability or understanding of the art. I think he was a converted SS, so maybe he is further from a finished product than most – that’s the dream I guess.

  12. The Pretender says:

    Nick, 12-team, $360 auction league, 6 SP, 3 RP. Would you keep Marquez at $6? I think I know the answer but just want to hear you say it. Love your work.

  13. Noah Brenner says:

    Hey Nick – Love your fireside chat with Paul. I have a question regarding Bumgarner. It seems like all elite pitchers experience a bad year or two with poor strikeout totals usually from injury shortened seasons; Verlander, Greinke, Lester to name a few. It seems like all these pitchers bounce back or am I just not remembering the ones that don’t? Just curious, when was the last time an elite pitcher was washed up at age 29 without the result of career ending injury?

    • Nick Pollack says:

      Felix Hernandez comes to mind.

      I think what Bumgarner brought the table was more about fastball command than the secondary stuff of the other pitchers you mentioned. I’m not saying he’s going to fall off the table, but he’s going to way of Lester where he’ll be productive but not studly like in previous years.

  14. Derek says:

    I need to draft Three of these 6 SPs. Considering everything that has come out within the last few weeks (some not starting; some injured), how would you rank them? McHugh, Urias, Eflin, James, Straham, Chacin, Skaggs, Musgrove

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