Top 15 Starting Pitchers for 2020

Feature photo credit: Nick Wass - Associated Press

The 60 game schedule this year could have an impact on how some pitchers approach the season.  Starters this year will only make roughly 10-12 starts so we may see guys go hard knowing they don't have a long season with 30 or so starts to pace themselves.  Think about how starters change their approach if they're shifted to the bullpen. With that in mind it will be interesting to see how some of these guys perform. As always, don't chase wins!  Look for guys who'll help you with the other categories and trust that the wins will come.  Here are the guys, that regardless of how many wins they accumulate, are the best at the position.

 1. Gerritt Cole – Yankees – AL East

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Cole went to Houston and everything improved, his Swinging K rate went from 9% to 15% and then 17% last year.  His velo went up 2 MPH, his command improved, he basically became a different pitcher!  The question is, who will the Yankees get, the Astros Cole or the Pirates Cole?  Whatever happened in Houston I am of the belief that he’ll bring it with him to New York so for me, he’s the top SP out there.

2. Jacob deGrom – Mets - NL East  

Charles Wenzelberg-New York Post

Just 10 wins in ’18 and 11 wins in ’19...but remember, we're not chasing wins here.  He will give you elite production in every other category, if we felt better about the wins he'd top the list.

3. Justin Verlander – Astros – AL West   

Mark J. Terrill - Associated Press

Just like Cole he went to Houston and revitalized his career.  This’ll be his age 38 season so the skills should start to diminish soon.  Good news is he’ll only make roughly one-third of the starts with the shortened season so he should be fresh, thus elite, the whole way.

4. Walker Buehler – Dodgers – NL West

Gary A. Vasquez - USA Today Sports

No Sophomore slump for this guy.  He’s heading into just his 3rd season and, for me at least, I’ve got him as one of the best pitchers in the game WITH room to get even better.  He could top this list heading into 2021.

5. Jack Flaherty – Cardinals – NL Central  

David Crane LA Daily News

The story here is similar to that of deGrom.  You can expect a low ERA, WHIP, a high K Rate but he needs his team to back him up to get the wins…and last year that didn’t happen…just 11 wins.  Despite that he still finished in the top 25 overall.  Now he’ll be facing the Brewers, Reds and Cubs a lot this year so it won’t be a walk in the park, could have another wins issue, but he’ll still help you in a big way with the categories that he can control.

6. Stephen Strasburg – Nationals – NL East (Up 2)

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Strasburg does give up runs (3.32 ERA LY) but he generally limits base runners (1.04 WHIP LY) and gets more than his fair share of strikeouts (10.8 k-rate).  Coming into 2020 I was concerned about a DL stint after how much he was used in 2019.  Several times in his career he followed up high usage rates from the previous season with multiple or lengthy DL stints.  2010 to 2011, 2014 to 2015, 2017 to 2018.  Here’s the good news and it’s why he’s up 2 spots, he’s only going to make 10-12 starts with the schedule.  The shortened season should keep him in the rotation, and if he’s out there he’ll produce.

7. Max Scherzer – Nationals – NL East (Down 1) 

Credit: Getty Images

Moves behind Strasburg, but it’s still close.  Even as he’s getting a bit older his velo, k rate, swinging k rate, are all holding steady.  You can feel comfortable expecting another Mad Max type season out of Scherzer.

8. Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers – NL West (Down 1) 

Credit: Yahoo Sports

Only entering age 33 season but his velo is on the decline(93 to 90 in last couple years), and that has caused several to shy away from Kershaw.  However his Slider and Curve are keeping him a viable option, but in a year or two he’ll probably be out of the top 10.  The k rate is down from an elite level but it is still good enough to consider him an ace of your staff this year.

9. Mike Clevinger – Indians – AL Central 

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Velo jumped 2 MPH from '18 to '19 and thus his swinging k% went from 12.4-15.7 and k rate jumped from 9.3 to 12.1.  Some fantasy owners might be lagging behind in the hype but the metrics back him up and he’ll be facing some pretty weak lineups.  He was VERY close to jumping Kershaw on this list, in fact as I’m writing this I’m second guessing myself but I’m going to leave it.  Let me put it this way – to be safe I’ve got him 9th, but the upside here is 5th.

10. Shane Bieber – Indians – AL Central  

Jason Miller - Getty Images

Benefits from facing a generally weak hitting AL Central but even aside from that he’s got great control (throws 76% strikes) and he’s young so there is a chance that his velo has some room to improve on that 93.1 from last year.  If he sees a Clevenger like jump on the velo, watch out!

11. Blake Snell – Rays – AL East 

Steve Nesius - Associated Press

Big bounce back candidate here.  Despite 4.29 ERA and 1.29 WHIP he kept his k-rate, swinging k% stayed steady and his XERA and XWhip were 3.47 and 1.16.  That means the 2019 struggles were a blip and you can get back to feeling comfortable deploying him in favorable matchups.

12. Luis Castillo – Reds – NL Central  

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Castillo became the ace of the Reds staff last year.  15 wins, a 10.7 k-rate, 3.40 era and 1.14 whip.  Now the ERA won’t actually HELP you, but he should get wins and will strike out more than his fair share.  If he can get that ERA under 3 he’d be good enough to be your number 1 starter.  I don’t know if he can so that’s why he lands here.

13. Chris Paddack – Padres – NL West 

K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune

He was so good in the first half that all Fantasy owners who didn’t draft him had Prospect envy.  He came back down to earth a little bit in the second half but was still very good.  I caution you though, don’t over pay for him.  Some might reach and make him their number 1 starter.  If you’re paying/drafting for a top 10 guy I think you’ll be disappointed but if you temper your expectations and make him your number 2 starter, you’ll be in good shape.    

14. Patrick Corbin – Nationals – NL East

Will Newton - Getty Images

Really took off in the second half last year and a lot of that was thanks to an increase in velocity 90.8 in 2018, 91.4 in the first half and 92.3 in the second half.   We’re at the point in the ranking where we are discussing your number 2 starters, and he’d be one of the best you could ask for – but not a 1. 

15. Zack Greinke – Astros – AL West 

Karen Warren - Houston Chronicle

This will be Zack’s age 37 season and despite a declining velo and k-rate he’s hanging in with his control, Strike %, and HR/fly ball.  As long as he continues to do that he’ll be a great option for your number 2 starter. 

Good luck this year!

You can find me on Twitter @JimRileyLive

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