2016 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Pitchers To Target/Avoid In Your Draft

Sonny Gray

We are just about two weeks away from the Mets and Royals kicking off the 2016 MLB season in a World Series rematch on April 3rd, which means, it is time for fantasy baseball players to draft up their squads. Here are some starting pitchers to target and to avoid in your upcoming fantasy baseball draft.

Click here to read about the 2016 Top-10 fantasy baseball starting pitchers. 


* Dallas Keuchel

A year ago, not many people knew the name ‘Dallas Keuchel,’ but the Houston Astro ace enters 2016 as one of the favorites to win the AL Cy Young award. The 27-year-old posted a 20-8 record with a 2.48 ERA in 2015 and helped lead the Astros to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2005. In the 2015 AL Wild Card game against the New York Yankees, Keuchel got the nod for Houston and he threw a three-hit, seven-strike out gem, resulting in a 3-0 win. Both fantasy-wise and in real life, Keuchel was simply dominant in 2015. The obvious top pitchers to be drafted in 2016 are Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Jake Arrieta, but if Keuchel is still around in the fourth or fifth round of your draft he is a must-take. 

* John Lester

Jake Arrieta stole the show in 2015 for the Cubs pitching staff, but one must not forget the man that Theo Epstein signed to a $155,000,000 deal in free agency before last season in Jon Lester. In 2015, Lester clearly did not perform up to his price tag, logging an unimpressive 11-12 record with a 3.34 ERA. Another big gray area of Lester’s game in 2015 was making the simple throw from the mound over to first base whether on a pick-off attempt or on a ground ball. The thing that saved Lester’s fantasy value in 2015 was his 207 strikeouts. This season, expect Lester to bounce back and log at least 15 wins with around the same amount of strikeouts and hopefully, cut down his error total as well. Lester is certainly not worth wasting a fourth or fifth-round pick on due to his hot/cold reputation, but if he is still available in rounds seven or eight of your draft than he is worth the addition to your starting pitching rotation. 

* Felix Hernandez

For about 10 years now, Felix Hernandez has been the undisputed ace of the Seattle Mariner pitching staff. In 2015, “King Felix” registered an 18-9 record with a 3.53 ERA and 191 strikeouts. Hernandez’s fantasy value is pretty straight forward as he is almost guaranteed to get you at least 15 wins and 185+ strikeouts every season. The only issue with Hernandez is his ERA, but it isn’t exactly his fault. Felix Hernandez just happens to be on a team that is not known for providing much run support and playing solid defense, which are two of the main reasons why Seattle has failed to qualify for the postseason since 2001. Felix Hernandez is a solid fifth-round pick, but his team’s lack of run support drastically limits his ceiling in for both real-life and for fantasy stats.

* Jose Fernandez

The Miami Marlins are a sad story right now. Year after year they either disappoint their fans, fire their manager/GM, and do things that no other franchise in baseball would do (sign a player to a $300+ million contract). The three key pieces of this team are power-hitting right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, speedy second baseman in Dee Gordon, and ace right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez. At just 23 years old, Fernandez has already amassed a 22-9 record with 336 strikeouts in three seasons with Miami. The Marlins have already announced that Fernandez will likely be under a pitch count and innings limit to begin the season, so it is unknown how much he will produce in the early stages of 2016. However, if he is able to keep up his track record of putting out consistent starts, he will likely be allowed more pitches and innings of work. He is already a top fantasy pitcher, but if his workloads increase he has the ability to be a fantasy icon as far as pitchers go in 2016. Pick him up if he is still available in the fourth round. 

* Cole Hamels

The Texas Rangers made arguably the biggest move in all of baseball at the 2015 trade deadline when they acquired Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies. After arriving in Texas, Hamels posted a 7-1 record with 78 strikeouts and a 3.66 ERA. Credit much of Hamels success in Texas to some of the run support given to him over the last two months of the season, but Hamels’ success in 2015 proved that if you provide him with solid defense and a couple of big bats like Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder (something he did not have in Philadelphia), he can be a huge difference maker for your franchise. If will be interesting to see how Hamels responds to his late-season success from a year ago, but fantasy-wise, he is pretty safe 6th/7th round pick.

* Sonny Gray

As we all saw a season ago, Sonny Gray is a solid young ace stuck on a really bad and young Oakland A’s team. A franchise that looked to be on the way up in 2013/2014 with Yoenis Cespedes leading the charge has now fallen into complete irrelevance in the AL West since the Cuban outfielder’s departure. Despite the lack of offensive support in 2015, Sonny Gray still posted a 14-7 record with a 2.73 ERA and 169 strikeouts. Even while being on a team that isn’t going anywhere near the postseason in 2016, Sonny Gray is still worth a fourth/fifth round pick in most drafts.

* Carlos Carrasco

Another case of a solid young pitcher being stuck on a mediocre team is Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco. The Venezuelan-born Carrasco posted a 14-12 record in 2015 with 216 strikeouts and a 3.63 ERA. Anything over 13 wins and 200 strikeouts in a season makes a pitcher extremely valuable in the fantasy world. Carrasco could be a big-time sleeper in 2016 and if he is able to bring down that ERA a little he could be one of this year’s biggest steals in most fantasy drafts. He’s a solid fifth-round selection.

* Corey Kluber

The other ace on Cleveland’s pitching staff is Corey Kluber. In 2015, Kluber posted a 9-16 record with a 3.49 ERA and a ridiculous 245 strikeouts. Credit Kluber’s low win total from a season ago in large part to Cleveland’s inability to put up any run support, and while the possible scare of the Indians being unable to provide enough runs is still present in 2016, Kluber’s ability to strike batters out at will and still keep his ERA under 4.00 make him a solid early-round pick. If he is still available in the fourth-round he is a must-take.

* Noah Syndergaard

The New York Mets have put together quite the pitching staff with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Harvey and deGrom are obviously the two top Met pitchers to target in your fantasy draft as both will likely be off the board early. If you are unable to land either Harvey or deGrom, Noah Syndergaard would be a solid consolation in the fifth or sixth round. The 23-year-old Syndergaard posted a 9-7 record in 2015 with a 3.24 ERA and should only improve. If you are in a keeper/dynasty league, Syndergaard is a must add due to his young age and promise for the future. 


* Johnny Cueto

In 2015, Johnny Cueto was dealt from the Cincinnati Reds to the Kansas City Royals and helped KC to their first World Series title since 1985. The San Francisco Giants were the highest bidder in the Cueto-sweepstake during free agency, landing the Dominican-born ace with a six-year, $130,000,000 deal. Like in KC, Cueto will be given a good amount of run support in San Francisco. Cueto’s 11-13 record from a season ago is worrisome, however, especially after he went 4-7 with KC in the regular season. The Giants narrowly avoided a disaster when a line drive went off of Cueto’s head in his first spring training start last week, and while this likely won’t have any affect on his production this season, it may be a sign to avoid him in the early rounds of your fantasy draft. If Cueto is still on the board in rounds five or six than he is certainly worth taking a risk on, but do not waste an early-round pick on him due to his inconsistency.

* Masahiro Tanaka

One of the biggest fantasy disappointments in 2015 was Yankees ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who was taken in the first two rounds of most fantasy drafts. While Tanaka’s win total only went down one in 2015 from 2014 (13-5 to 12-7), his ERA took a major hit as it plummeted from 2.77 to 3.51. Yes, Tanaka was still able to keep his ERA under 4.00 which is huge for pitchers in the fantasy world, but his decline in strikeouts along with the decline in his ERA is very worrisome. Tanaka is still worth a seventh or eighth round pick, but his decline is certainly something worth monitoring if you decide to take a risk on him.

* Yu Darvish 

Elbow injuries are always nothing to mess around with, and in 2015, Yu Darvish missed the entire season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right throwing arm. Yes, Darvish is a game-changer when healthy, but right now he is too high of a risk to have on your fantasy pitching staff. He could very well end up being a sixth/seventh round steal and put up 12-13 wins in 2016 if he is able to come back from surgery fully healthy. But right now there are too many question marks with the young Japanese ace to take this type of risk on in the early rounds of your fantasy draft. 

* Justin Verlander

2015 was a lost year for the Detroit Tigers. A season that began with so much promise with Justin Verlander and David Price being the team’s aces ended with David Price being dealt to Toronto at the deadline and Detroit finishing last in the AL Central. Verlander missed a good portion of the 2015 season due to back and triceps injuries, but while in the rotation, he put up a mediocre 5-8 record with a 3.38 ERA. A pitcher on a struggling/rebuilding team coming off of a season filled with injuries is never something you want to have in your fantasy rotation, but if you want to go all in and take a risk on Verlander returning to prominence in 2016 then go for it. Verlander is a hit or miss seventh/eighth-round pick. 

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