2016 List of 12
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Quick question: What’s the official sign that a new season is upon us? And no, the answer isn’t pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. Those of you reading this know that the correct answer is the release of the List of 12, a 411 tradition that dates back to the old radio days. As has been the case in recent years, there are way more than 12 guys on this list. We could call it the List of 19, but it just doesn’t sound as good.
Now passing the baton to Cory…
Corey Kluber – Although Kluber failed to match his 2014 Cy Young results, much of that was due to some bad luck in his HR/FB and strand rates. His strikeout rate dipped only slightly, but so did the walks, and his BABIP improved considerably in the second half after the Indians overhauled their infield defense. He’s a stud and will carry a heavy price tag this year, but should be worth it.
Dallas Keuchel – I thought he’d be good in 2015 but give back some of his gains from the year before. Instead, Keuchel went out and won the AL Cy Young Award. Despite throwing essentially the same pitch mix as in 2014, he spiked his strikeout rate and cut his walks, although his HR/FB rate was a little unlucky. It’s hard to see him repeating 2015 again, but then again, he certainly proved that 2014 was no fluke.
Sonny Gray – Gray traded some curveballs for sliders in 2015, resulting in fewer hits allowed and a third of a run dropping from his ERA. He cut his walks, too, although his strikeout numbers held at a level below the elite. So, while he might be a step down from the ace category, there’s no reason he can’t offer more of the same in 2016, and that’s pretty darn good.
Carlos Carrasco – Carrasco’s incredibly unlucky first half BABIP normalized in the second half after the Indians improved their infield defense, and for the second straight year Carrasco posted second-half results that will have him skyrocketing up draft lists. He throws hard, has a variety of secondary pitches, doesn’t hurt himself with walks and keeps the ball down. Get ready to pay up, but he should be worth it.
Chris Archer – Increased use of his awesome slider led to a career-best strikeout rate, while Archer also managed to cut his walks and bump up his fastball velocity to a career-best. He topped 200 IP for the first time, and the underlying rate stats supported his breakout, too. On the downside, Tyson Ross was the only qualified starter to throw his slider more frequently, so Archer has to be viewed as a major injury risk.
Tyson Ross – The Majors’ most slider-reliant starter, Ross posted career-highs in starts, innings and strikeouts last year, although he allowed more walks than in 2014 and was more hittable due to the Padres’ poor defensive lineup. The underlying indictors point to very similar quality over the past two seasons, so small improvements in his command, and better defensive luck, could lead to big gains in the results. Injury risk aside, he should be a draft-day target.
Shelby Miller – Miller traded a large chunk of ordinary curveballs for dominating cutters last year, leading to improvements in his strikeout and walk rates, plus more grounders and fewer homers allowed. He also overcame unlucky BABIP and strand rates en route to a 3.02 ERA, so ignore that 6-17 record. If his luck improves this year to match his skill advances from 2015, Miller could be in line for a breakout season.
Garrett Richards – He couldn’t match his breakout 2014 season last year, but Richards still deserves credit for topping 200 IP for the first time, while overcoming a gruesome knee injury at the end of 2014. He struck out fewer batters, walked more and gave up more homers, but maintained most of his velocity and recorded 79 K’s in his last 78.2 IP over 12 starts. His true level is probably in between the last two seasons, so there’s a profit opportunity here.
Julio Teheran – Teheran regressed in almost every way in 2015, giving up more walks and homers while his ERA spiked by over a run. On the bright side, he got a few more grounders and maintained his solid strikeout rate, while posting a 2.89 ERA in 17 home games to suggest that his “soft ace” upside is still there. Wins might be hard to come by due to the Braves’ weak offense, but Teheran has bounce back potential.
Andrew Cashner – Cashner had his first fully healthy season as a starter, and spiked his strikeout rate thanks to increased use of his slider. The good news ends there, though, as his walk rate went up, while his HR/FB rate, BABIP and LOB rates all slumped, leading to a deceptively high ERA. He should be better this year, but don’t pay for an ace.
Nathan Eovaldi – On the bright side, Eovaldi is one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, has decent command, and isn’t homer-prone, all of which contributed to a 14-3 record last year. On the downside, despite his elite velocity, he’s still too hittable and has only managed good-but-not-great strikeout numbers. He was much better in the second half last year after improving his changeup, so he could take a step forward this year.
Hector Santiago – A first-half revelation and an All-Star, Santiago faded badly in the second half as his walk rate exploded. Overall he posted career-highs in innings and strikeouts, but his command isn’t strong enough to overcome his extreme fly-ball tendencies and gopheritis. He’s useful, but of limited upside.
Wily Peralta – Between a strained oblique and dead arm, Peralta was a shadow of his 2014 self last year, averaging just under five strikeouts per nine IP and posting a 4.72 ERA. When healthy the year before, he parlayed his overpowering two-pitch repertoire into a 17-11 season, but even then couldn’t crack the magical 7.0 K/9 barrier. Assuming health this year, he’s a low-ceiling but useful end-of-rotation option.
Rich Hill – Hill posted a 1.55 ERA and 0.66 WHIP last year, with a ridiculous 7.2 K/BB, so we know he’s pretty good. Of course, he only made four starts, his first in the Majors since 2009, and produced those results while essentially being a two-pitch pitcher. There’s no way of knowing what he’ll do over a full season. Do you feel lucky?
Jeff Locke – A slight bump in his fastball velocity helped contribute to Locke’s career-high strikeout rate last year, but his walk rate increased too and regression in his BABIP and strand rates didn’t help either. As of now, Locke is a sneaky-good home/away play, and improvement in his walk rate could produce some longer-term end-of-rotation value.
Tom Koehler – Koehler has decent velocity and three useful secondary pitches, but that hasn’t led to great strikeout numbers, and his command backslid last year. The results against his pitches suggest that more reliance on his breaking balls could lead to more success, so he bears watching throughout the season. On draft day though, he’s purely Pitch or Ditch material.
Josh Tomlin – Tomlin posted a 3.02 ERA and 7.8 K/9 last year despite a very ordinary repertoire, although he helps himself out by being extremely stingy with the walks. On the other hand, his BABIP and strand rates both point to some incredible good luck, more than outweighing the slight inflation in his HR/FB rate. He’s a poor bet to repeat his 2015 success.
Jesse Chavez – Chavez faded badly in the second half for the second straight year, although at his best he was good enough to be a useful middle to end-of-rotation option in mixed leagues. He’s not an extreme ground-ball pitcher, and does give up his share of homers, so the move to swingman status with Toronto should severely limit his value on draft day this year.
Miguel Gonzalez – Gonzalez is an extremely consistent innings-eater, and thoroughly uninspiring from a fantasy standpoint. Pitch or Ditch material outside of deep AL-only leagues.
CLICK HERE to download a spreadsheet of the year-by-year pro stats of all the pitchers discussed.