2020 Fantasy Baseball: ADP Report - Starting Pitchers & Closers

Shawn Childs

ADP Reports: C & 1B | 2B & SS | 3B & OF | SP & CL

Starting Pitchers ADP Report

With the baseball season only being 60 games, many talented arms that looked to be on inning limits can now close the gap on the top pitchers in baseball in the fantasy market.

Here’s a look at the top 12 starters ranked by SIscore in 2019:

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Both Justin Verlander (+16.07) and Gerrit Cole (+15.25) created massive edges by SIscore. The average of the top 12 starting pitchers in 2019 had 15 wins, 238 strikeouts, a 2.865 ERA, and 0.991 WHIP. 

Here are the projections (7/18) for the top 12 starters at Sports Illustrated ranked by SIscore:

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The stats highlighted by the yellow line show the average projections for the top 12 projected starting pitchers in 2020 (a pitcher needs to pitch 77.5 innings with four seven wins, 2.79 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, and 98 strikeouts). 

The top five pitchers (Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Justin Verlander) all projected well. Each of these pitchers should win many games if healthy while adding value in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts.

Here’s a look how they rank by ADP in five NFBC Main Event drafts in July:

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Gerrit Cole looks to be in a class by himself. He pitches for a team that will score plenty of runs with strength in their bullpen. Cole finished last year with elite value thanks to short pitch counts in many innings while dominating in strikeouts. It will be challenging to land him after the first six picks in any draft in July.

The only black mark on Jacob deGrom’s resume is the lack of wins in 2017 (10) and 2018 (11). His arm remains a significant edge while pushing his way to the middle of the first round in 2020. I expect him to be more productive in wins this year.

The go-to guy for fantasy owners as the third starting pitcher off the board over the last week was Walker Buehler. He locked and loaded to make a big step forward in 2020 while expected to handle a full season of starts. I can’t give him the “stud tag” until he earns it, even if he looks the part. 

Justin Verlander suffered a lat injury on March 8th that set the stage for his ADP to slide. He regained all of his lost value in July after having time to get healthy. Houston is a top team in baseball, and Verlander is coming off an excellent season.

Another pitcher suffering from a slight hiccup in draft value in March was Max Scherzer. He has a minor side injury, which may have been a factor if the season started on time. His arm still looks elite while his fastball had plenty of velocity when on the mound in spring training.

Over the second half of 2019, no pitcher in baseball was better than Jack Flaherty. Follow through should be a given with his next step coming in the win department.

If a fantasy owner wants to control the WHIP category, Shane Bieber fits like a glove thanks to his incredibly low walk rate in his minor league career paired with his success last year. Even with a pullback in strikeouts, he’ll help a fantasy team on the front end.

In 2019, Stephen Strasburg was a value in drafts while pushing his inning total (209.0) over 200 for the first time since 2014. He’s always had a franchise arm, but durability helps back his production. Talented enough to build on last year.

Mike Clevinger has been the big mover (+13.5 draft picks) in fantasy drafts in July. In the early draft season before his knee issue that required surgery, he had a mid-20s ADP. His fastball is rising while his secondary stuff is moving to stud status.

At this point in July, there is no way I’m touching Blake Snell. His left elbow issue may be minor, but he hasn’t looked great on the mound. There are too many good arms to take his risk while paying almost full price.

I would call Luis Castillo the bobble guy. He has the best changeup in the game, which leads to a ton of swings and misses. With better command in 2020, his arm should push further up the pitching rankings. The buzz did lose some momentum in spring training, which was a small sample size.

Clayton Kershaw showed more life in his fastball this spring, which led to his ADP (37) moving up over 13 draft slots. His momentum should push even higher as we get closer to the start of the regular season. He has an excellent career resume while pitching for the best team in baseball. 

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In a way, Chris Paddock may be on the same path with Shane Bieber as far as command. He looks poised to take a further step forward while needing to add a third pitch of value to become a foundation ace. 

Patrick Corbin falls into the neutral category for me. I can’t dismiss his last two seasons, but I can avoid him as a target due to his success coming ultimately from one pitch (plus slider).

I expect a rebound season for Aaron Nola while being priced fairly in drafts. He showed his upside in 2018, which should shine through again this year. Many fantasy owners have faded him in the high-stakes market in July. 

I’m neutral on Yu Darvish and Charlie Morton while not expecting to own either arm in the 2020 draft season. Darvish finished last year with the best command of his career while still battling home runs. Morton pitched at the highest level of his career over the previous two years, but I tend to shy away from two-year movers in drafts.

Zack Greinke wins games while being a steady option for a fantasy team. His lack of upside in strikeouts does push him back a notch if drafted as an ace. 

Jose Berrios and Brandon Woodruff have the talent to improve this year. 

Tyler Glasnow looks to have the whole package to become an impact arm if his injury issues last year don’t resurface. His next step is proving he can handle a full season of starts. His minor league resume does support his growth with Tampa. His ADP slid in July due to his late reporting to camp.

Trevor Bauer looks to be the wild card in this group for me, based on his higher walk rate and inconsistency from year-to-year and game-to-game. It's all about price point with Bauer.

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In March, Frankie Montas was the biggest riser in the third tier of starting pitchers. His ADP (95) drifted back in July. Last year he outpitched his career resume by a wide margin over half of a season. His growth is tied to the addition of a split-finger fastball. I’d like to see more before making a significant draft investment.

Corey Kluber lost his fan base in the fantasy market after an injury-plagued year, but a flash start in July led to a rise in his ADP (89). Kluber’s value is well below his previous few seasons while pitching in an unknown ballpark (Rangers’ new stadium) this year. He has a veteran arm with the ability to throw plenty of innings. If Lance Lynn can crawl off the bottom rung of the pitching pool, Kluber is worth a dance in 2020.

I don’t trust that Sonny Gray will repeat, but a shortened season vs. the American League does help his draft value this summer. 

Mike Soroka lacks the edge in strikeouts on his resume, but his stuff looks elite. A fantasy owner should expect improvement this year with a chance at a few more whiffs. Soroka would be a great SP3 in 12-team leagues while being a trickier SP2 in 15-team formats. 

The shining star on this list is Jesus Luzardo. His arm projects to be elite while still needing to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. Luzardo will miss some time early in the year due to contracting Covid-19.

I had Dinelson Lamet as my breakout arm in 2018 only to see him get hurt before the start of the year. He looked ready to rock and roll last in 2019, which points to an impactful season. His only strike is his command, which may lead to some WHIP risk.

The excitement of Carlos Carrasco is dwindling after receiving an injection in his right elbow on March 11th. He looks healthier in July while seeing only a slight rebound in his ADP (116).

I’m a big fan of Julio Urias and Shohei Ohtani this summer, thanks to only 60 games. Both arms have ace upside, but wins may be an issue for Urias if the Dodgers give him the quick hook in a few of his starts. My draft rating on Ohtani is strictly on the pitching side.

Closers ADP Report

The most volatile position in baseball is closer. There is some stability at the top end of the reliever inventory. Saves are trending down as fantasy owners wait for the next group of developing arms to blossom into ninth inning studs. 

As the regular season approaches, more information emerges about bullpen roles allowing fantasy owners to make better-educated bets on which players they trust the most to keep their closing jobs.

Here’s a look at the top 12 closers ranked by SIscore in 2019:

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The average top 12 closer last year had four wins, a 2.38 ERS, a 0.976 WHIP, 31 saves, and 97 strikeouts over 66.5 innings. Josh Hader had the most valuable season in relief last season by SIscore (+5.93). 

Here are the projections (7/18) for the top 12 closers at Sports Illustrated ranked by SIscore:

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The stats highlighted by the yellow line show the average projections for the top projected closers in 2020 (a reliever needs to pitch 25.2 innings with two wins, 2.65 ERA, 0.978 WHIP, 12 saves, and 36 strikeouts to be considered the league average). 

Here’s a look how they rank by ADP in early March:

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Josh Hader is the best option at closer due to his ability to pitch multiple innings while offering impact strikeouts for a reliever. Last year he struggled with home runs at times. Must own if possible, but his price point (ADP – 48) is shooting up draft boards in July.

Last year Kirby Yates emerged as an elite closing option thanks to the development of his split-finger fastball. His command is now elite while looking poised to deliver 40-plus saves with help in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts.

I expected to avoid drafting Aroldis Chapman in drafts in March, but he is the only closer not jumping up the ADP list (80) due to his July battle with COVID-19. He’s never saved over 40 games in a year, and his innings tend to fall short of the best relievers in the game.

Roberto Osuna still hasn’t had that spike in his strikeout rate to be considered with the big boys in the 9th inning, but he has the control and arsenal to reach a much higher level. There’s a lot to like here with youth on his side. Despite gaining draft momentum, Osuna still hasn’t thrown a pitch in camp in July.

This year I planned on fading Liam Hendriks. I understand how great he was last year, and his stats look phenomenal. My problem comes from his high volume of innings pitched (85), and his question resume in ERA from 2016 to 2018 (3.76, 4.22, and 4.13)

Edwin Diaz turned into a major bust in 2019, which requires fantasy owners to coin flip his elite success in 2018 with his dumpster fire last season. His stuff is elite, and I’m banking on him rebounding in a big way. The Mets won’t endorse him as their closer in July, which led to less draft momentum than expected.

The luster of Kenley Jansen started to fade last year, but his long resume of success gives him time to prove his worth this year. His velocity isn’t where it once was while still owning a plus cutter to get batters out. The Dodgers will win a ton of games, so don’t dismiss another solid season. His ADP (78) moved up 46 spots since the beginning of March.

Taylor Rogers moved into the top closer category in 2019 thanks to growth in his command. He did show some risk when pitching in back-to-back games, which is something to keep an eye on. His save total may fall well short of the top relievers this year.

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As you can see, most closers are trending up in drafts in the high-stakes market, with most owners looking to compete for an overall prize.

I’m giving Craig Kimbrel a pass as well for last year after a disastrous 2019 season. His command remains sketchy while still having the arm to strike out a ton of batters. Kimbrel’s career resume should be the deciding factor here.

If given a choice between Brandon Workman and Nick Anderson, I’m drafting Anderson every time. Workman doesn’t throw enough strikes while relying heavily on his curveball. With any regression in his best pitch and command, he’ll be relegated back to a setup role. Anderson looks elite with the command and strikeouts to support a season-long job in the 9th inning. I expect him to move up further in drafts. 

Will Smith proved to be worthy of the 9th inning last year for the Giants while out-pitching Mark Melancon. The consensus was about 60/40 that Smith earns the closing role for the Braves, but a case of Covid-19 led to him free-falling drafts in July. I like his direction, and I would fight for him on draft day.

It took some time, but Archie Bradley started to take to the closing role late in 2019. He needs to throw more strikes, which he did 2017 and 2018. This year I could see a big jump in strikeouts with better command.

I’m avoiding both Sean Doolittle and Ian Kennedy for different reasons. I can’t trust Doolittle to stay healthy, and he relies too much on his fastball that is declining. Kennedy handled the 9th inning well last year. He struggled as a starter in 2017 (5.38 ERA) and 2018 (4.66 ERA), and Kennedy hasn’t looked sharp in spring training (five runs and nine baserunners over 5.1 innings with no strikeouts).

Giovanny Gallegos should have the inside track to saves for the Cardinals while needing to hold off Ryan Helsley, who’s been getting some sleeper talk in March. At the very least, I would handcuff the two to see what shakes out early in the season. 

The Pirates may not win a ton of games, and Keone Kela needs to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season. When on the mound, he has the arm to get batters out in the 9th inning. 

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