While 2017 saw the worst year for Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitchers since the end of the steroid era, 2018 saw things trend back closer to the norm. With two historically dominant Cy Young award campaigns courtesy of Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell leading the way, 2018 was a strong fantasy year for a number of pitchers.
The State of Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitching in 2019
In 2018, we saw more and more teams relying on heavy innings from their bullpen. Some (notably the Rays and A’s) even go as far as to replace a starting pitcher’s spot in the rotation with a “bullpen game” featuring four to five relievers who throw one or two innings each. Many teams experienced success leaning more heavily on the bullpen, but the success has come at the expense of the old school starting pitcher. With the exception of a select few, starting pitchers are rarely given the opportunity to go a full 9 innings unless throwing a no-hitter or perfect game.
Despite teams putting more of an emphasis on a pitch count and pulling starting pitchers before they go through the lineup for the third time, there still remain a select few starting pitchers capable of dominating games and putting up massive numbers.
Let’s take a look at 2019’s best fantasy baseball starting pitchers for season-long standard formats.
Fantasy Baseball 2019 Starting Pitcher Rankings
10. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 175 IP, 14 W, 189 K, 2.93 ERA, 1.16 WHIP
After having his 2017 season derailed by injury, Syndergaard bounced back with a very strong 2018 campaign. Despite playing for the 77-85 Mets and lacking much run support, he went 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA. Syndergaard seemed to get stronger as the season went on and despite a rocky August, rebounded to close out the year with a dominant 4-1 record to go with a 1.73 ERA in September.
With a year under his belt since the 2017 injury, Syndergaard offers the potential to improve considerably in both the innings pitched and strikeout categories. Although playing for the Mets will always limit his win potential, Syndergaard possesses enough talent to produce enough in other categories to make him a top 10 fantasy baseball pitcher.
9. Luis Severino, New York Yankees
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 187 IP, 15 W, 216 K, 3.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
After surging to one of the strongest starts in baseball and working his way into the AL Cy Young award conversation, Severino struggled a bit down the stretch in 2018. However, the sophomore slump is somehow a thing in baseball and despite appearing in games during the 2015 and 2016, 2017 was Severino’s first full year in the big leagues.
Yahoo Sports is a little low on Severino’s ERA, but he grades out among the best pitchers in every other category. If Severino can bounce back to his Cy Young form, he could be one of the biggest steals of the 2019 fantasy baseball season.
8. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 207 IP, 228 K, 2.96 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
The two-time AL Cy Young award winner put in another strong fantasy season in 2018. Despite seeing his ERA dip slightly from his 2017 Cy Young campaign, 2018 saw Kluber toss 215 innings, closer to the workhorse 2014 and 2015 seasons that saw him go for over 220 innings each.
At 32 years old, Kluber is nearing the end of his prime. While his style of pitching is one that should age well, at some point soon Kluber’s production will start to consistently trend downwards. Despite all this, he is a year removed from a Cy Young season and his resume alone makes him worthy of a spot on the list.
7. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 206 IP, 221 K, 2.97 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
After showing flashes of potential in 2017, 2018 saw Aaron Nola burst onto the scene and cement himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. When he’s on, Nola is nearly unhittable. Former division rival and new teammate, Bryce Harper, recently (albeit jokingly) told reporters that his first thoughts upon signing with the Phillies was that he no longer had to face Nola.
At just 25 years old with some of the dirtiest stuff in the game, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Nola is even better this season. While it will be tough to beat the 2.37 ERA and 224 K’s he put up in 2018, Nola should at the very least be able to put up comparable numbers.
6. Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 199 IP, 16 W, 235 K, 2.94 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
After joining the Astros in 2018, Cole finally was able to regain the elite form he showed early on with the Pirates. The latest Astros reclamation project, Cole posted an otherworldly 276 strikeouts on the back of reworking his approach with the Astro’s pitching coaches.
The Astro’s analytic heavy approach and emphasis on spin rate have clearly worked wonders with Cole’s natural talent. Per Baseball Prospectus, Cole’s spin rate on his fastball is up nearly 200 RPM’s, helping to explain the increased movement and whiff rate on his pitches. Cole gave no reason to think that last year was a fluke, so expect more excellent fantasy production from the righty.
5. Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 188 IP, 15 W, 200 K, 2.54 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
With an incredibly impressive 2018 Cy Young season that saw Snell post a 1.89 ERA across 180.2 innings, Snell posted a Cy Young season on somewhat limited innings. Despite his strong performances, the Rays rarely allowed Snell to pitch past the 6th inning, capping his strikeout production significantly.
It remains to be seen if the Rays will give Snell a bit more run and it is unlikely he repeats with another sub 2.00 ERA season. However, Snell has at the very least proven that even with his current workload he is worthy of being in the discussion for one of the best fantasy baseball pitchers in the game.
4. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 178 IP, 14 W, 245 K, 2.83 ERA, .99 WHIP
When healthy, Chris Sale is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the game. Despite missing significant time last season, Sale still put up dominant enough numbers to find himself 4th in the AL Cy Young award voting.
Chris Sale was striking batters out at a career-best clip in 2018, averaging 13.5 strikeouts per 9 innings. Sale has always been a strikeout pitcher, but the uptick in that department made him even more valuable in fantasy leagues. If Sale can stay healthy and go for over 200 innings, there is no reason to think he won’t blow his projected stats out of the water.
3. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 207 IP, 15 W, 261 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
Justin Verlander makes for the second Astro on the list and arguably has the highest floor of any pitcher on this list. Verlander is an old-school workhorse capable of eating tons of innings while racking up huge strikeout numbers along the way.
At 36 years old, many felt Verlander’s career was nearing an end in 2017 before his midseason trade to the Astros. Since coming to Houston, Verlander has experienced a renaissance working with the Astros’ coaching staff. Despite his age, Verlander remains one of the best pitching options in fantasy baseball.
2. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 219 IP, 15 W, 260 K, 2.47 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
The Mets having two pitchers on this list yet being one of the worst teams in baseball is perplexing, but the greatness of Jacob deGrom is impossible to ignore. Coming off his NL Cy Young campaign with historically low run support, DeGrom is in line to see a steep increase in the win department (regardless of how bad the Mets are).
It will be hard to repeat his masterful 2018 performance, but there is no reason to think that deGrom won’t have an extraordinarily productive 2019. DeGrom was one of the top starting pitchers in fantasy baseball despite winning only 10 games, proving he doesn’t need run support to be an effective fantasy weapon. If he gets more run support, look out.
1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Yahoo Sports Projected 2019 Stats: 215 IP, 15 W, 286 K, 2.59 ERA, .92 WHIP
Already a three-time Cy Young winner and coming off a historic 300 strikeout season in 2018, if not for DeGrom’s unreal 1.70 ERA Scherzer might have taken home his third straight Cy Young. An old-school workhorse who cut his teeth under Verlander in Detriot, Scherzer goes hand in hand with Verlander in terms of having the lowest floors on this list.
Scherzer ferociously pounds the strike zone and almost never pitches around a hitter, which helps him keep his pitch count down and go deeper into games. It also helps with limiting his walks (helping his WHIP and ERA) and contributes to his historically high strikeout totals. Combine those factors with the fact he plays for a playoff contender and you have the recipe for the top fantasy baseball pitcher for 2019.