2016 was a year of upheaval for MLB Starting Pitchers.
Clayton Kershaw, the undisputed Ace of Aces, missed several months due to a back injury, after lowering his ERA 1.77 points, Rick Porcello walked away with the AL Cy Young award and Rich Hill, one year removed from starting for the independent Long Island Ducks, finished with a 2.12 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP.
As we look forward to the next year, here are the three pitchers (avoiding the usual suspects) to watch for 2017.
- Michael Pineda
A pitcher who finished 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA as a pitcher to watch? Absolutely! It’s all about the peripheral stats for Pineda, and a lot of bad luck that should turn around. In baseball, there’s only a few things that a pitcher can control, the rest is up to chance. Strike batters out, limit walks and limit home runs. Pineda couldn’t keep the ball in the park to save his life in 2016, but a lot of it was driven by bad luck. His HR/FB ratio was among the worst in the league and is due to rebound back to league averages. Where Pineda excels is his ability to get batters out while limiting free passes. With a K/BB ratio that is comparable to Justin Verlander (with a much better GB%) it wouldn’t surprise me to see Pineda have a season similar to Verlander’s 2016. With better luck keeping the ball in the yard, Pineda can also eclipse the 200 IP mark for the first time in his career.
Prediction: 203 IP, 13-5, 3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 211 Ks
- James Paxton
The flamethrowing lefty from Seattle finally managed to perform well enough to stick in the big leagues for the foreseeable future. Boasting a pitcher friendly ballpark and an improved lineup to support him, Paxton is poised to break out this year. My optimism stems from his tremendous control (sub 2.00 BB/9) and his ability to strike out batters at an above average rate (8.70 K/9). His K/9 has managed to increase in each of his last three seasons on the MLB club while his walk rate has dropped dramatically. There’s enough tape on Paxton to rule out that his success is based on lack of knowledge, and there’s always hope when it comes to a left hander who throws (controlled) heat. He threw a combined 171.2 IP over AAA/MLB last year so a jump to 190 isn’t out of the picture.
Prediction: 187 IP, 14-8, 3.15 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 171 Ks
- Noah Syndergaard
OK, this isn’t a bold prediction. Syndergaard is regarded as one of the top SPs in the league and for good reason. Thor has the pure strikeout ability to dominate opposing batters and stepped up for the Mets in 2016 when his fellow rotation mates faltered. The only thing that can stop Syndergaard is injury to his prized asset. Boasting the fastest velocity of any SP in the league, there’s a risk he succumbs to Tommy John eventually. However, despite some small injuries last year, Syndergaard hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. His 50+ GB% show his ability to keep the ball in the park, while his 10.64 K/9 was fourth among all qualified SP. Add in the 15th lowest BB/9 of qualified starters (out of 71) and you have a recipe for a bonafide fantasy Ace. If he can avoid injury, this is the year that he vaults into the top 3 of all SP (behind only Kershaw and Scherzer)
Prediction: 212 IP, 19-6, 2.84 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 224 Ks