Fantasy Baseball 2016: 7 Pitchers Who Won't Deliver on Draft Position

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2016

Fantasy Baseball 2016: 7 Pitchers Who Won't Deliver on Draft Position

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    Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    Now that spring training games are officially underway and the calendar has turned over to March, fantasy baseball draft season is upon us.

    Anchoring your fantasy rotation with someone like Clayton Kershaw is great, but it's generally the next eight pitchers you draft who will determine how your season plays out.

    No position on the diamond poses a bigger injury risk than pitcher, and balancing durability and consistency with upside and potential is always important. Reaching for a pitcher who regresses or misses time to injury can leave you thinking, "I wish I would have taken so-and-so instead," as hindsight is always 20/20.

    Ahead, we've offered up a quick overview of seven starting pitchers who won't live up to their current average draft positions (courtesy of FantasyPros) in an effort to avoid that regrettable hindsight.

    This is not to suggest that these players won't have strong seasons in 2016 or that you should avoid them altogether on draft day. It's simply a heads-up not to reach for any of them while suggesting a few players currently being drafted below them who might be better targets.

    Note: Everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring for hitters (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB) and pitchers (W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). Lineup construction assumes 22 active roster positions, consisting of one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 166.8, No. 47 SP)

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are not expecting Scott Kazmir to replace Zack Greinke, but he will be stepping into the No. 2 spot in the team's rotation this coming year after signing a three-year, $48 million deal in free agency.

    Kazmir has been an impressive comeback story after toiling in the independent league in 2012, and he's certainly capable of being a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he's been wildly overvalued in fantasy drafts to this point.

    His 7.7 K/9 rate the past two seasons ranks 41st among starters with at least 300 innings of work over that span, and while his 3.10 ERA last year was solid, it was accompanied by a 3.98 FIP that could be a sign of regression to come.

    The 32-year-old will benefit from pitching his home games in Dodger Stadium, and he's a solid pick to round out a fantasy pitching staff, but there are a number of guys with substantially more upside going below him.

    Julio Teheran, Luis Severino, Yordano Ventura, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Rodon and Kyle Hendricks are all capable of significantly outperforming Kazmir, while veteran Gio Gonzalez looks like one of the best positive-regression candidates out there.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Julio Teheran (168.5)
    • Luis Severino (171.0)
    • Yordano Ventura (176.5)
    • Jake Odorizzi (177.0)
    • Gio Gonzalez (179.0)
    • Taijuan Walker (181.0)
    • Carlos Rodon (183.5)
    • Kyle Hendricks (205.3)

John Lackey, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 151.8, No. 42 SP)

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    When a pitcher twirls arguably the best season of his career at the age of 36, he becomes a fairly obvious regression candidate.

    That's exactly what John Lackey did for the St. Louis Cardinals last season when he went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA, 1.211 WHIP and 175 strikeouts in 218.0 innings.

    The veteran turned that performance into a two-year, $32 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, as he fills the void at the No. 3 spot in their rotation.

    He'll have plenty of opportunities to win on a team many are picking to be the best in baseball, and there's no reason to think his production will fall off a cliff, but regression seems unavoidable.

    His 3.57 FIP last season may be a best-case scenario for his ERA this year as he moves to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, and his ability to keep the ball in the yard will be put to the test. He's also never been a big strikeout pitcher, posting a 7.2 K/9 mark last year and 7.1 K/9 rate for his career, so he doesn't help much in that category.

    Lance McCullers, Julio Teheran, Drew Smyly and Yordano Ventura all offer better upside, while Luis Severino could be one of the breakout stars of 2016.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Lance McCullers (152.3)
    • Drew Smyly (162.5)
    • Julio Teheran (168.5)
    • Luis Severino (171.0)
    • Yordano Ventura (176.5)

Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (ADP: 114.5, No. 31 SP)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    Despite a relatively healthy season last year where Masahiro Tanaka made 24 starts and tallied 154.0 innings of work, health remains the ongoing question mark for the 27-year-old ace.

    "Three letters will always be hanging over Tanaka’s head: UCL (ulnar collateral ligament). Still pitching with a partially torn UCL, the threat of Tommy John Surgery will constantly be in the back of the minds of Tanaka’s owners come draft day and throughout the season," wrote FanGraphs.

    There's plenty of reason to roll the dice on him staying off the disabled list.

    His terrific command (1.6 BB/9) once again resulted in a terrific WHIP last season, as his 0.994 mark ranked sixth among starters with at least 150 innings of work. He also maintained a solid strikeout rate at 8.1 K/9, even though that mark was down from 9.3 K/9 in his rookie season.

    Throw in the fact that he'll be pitching for a Yankees team that is expected to contend, which should mean plenty of opportunities to improve on his 12 wins from a year ago, and he's a solid No. 2 fantasy starter with upside.

    However, it's also worth noting that he had a 3.98 FIP last year, and that his stuff was simply not as overpowering as it was during his standout rookie season.

    If you're rolling the dice on an injury risk, Yu Darvish probably has the higher ceiling.

    Guys like Francisco Liriano, Justin Verlander and Shelby Miller also look like better risk/reward plays, if that's your preferred route at this point in the draft.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Francisco Liriano (116.0)
    • Justin Verlander (134.0)
    • Yu Darvish (138.5)
    • Shelby Miller (146.3)

Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 99.0, No. 27 SP)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    Garrett Richards was in the midst of a great season in 2014 when a ruptured patellar tendon ended his season on Aug. 20 and eventually required surgery.

    He still finished the season at 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.038 WHIP and 164 strikeouts in 168.2 innings, establishing himself as the Los Angeles Angels' best pitcher and a breakout fantasy star.

    The 27-year-old bounced back strong from the knee surgery last year to throw a career-high 207.1 innings, but he didn't perform at the same elite level. 

    A 15-12 win-loss record was accompanied by a 3.65 ERA, 1.240 WHIP and 176 strikeouts, solid numbers but not quite front-line production. In the process, his walk rate increased from 2.7 to 3.3 BB/9, his strikeout rate dropped from 8.8 to 7.6 K/9 and his 3.86 FIP was far from promising as far as potential positive regression.

    Fantasy owners will need to decide if that step back was a result of his trying to shake off the knee surgery or more long-term regression from his standout 2014 performance.

    At any rate, players like Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Liriano, who have longer track records of success, and Carlos Martinez, who has a higher ceiling, look like better picks here.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Michael Wacha (101.0)
    • Carlos Martinez (102.3)
    • Jordan Zimmermann (108.5)
    • Francisco Liriano (116.0)
    • Justin Verlander (134.0)

Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres (ADP: 92.8, No. 25 SP)

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    Tyson Ross was a popular topic of trade rumors this offseason, and that will likely continue throughout the 2016 season, as he pitches for a San Diego Padres team that does not appear to have the horses to contend in the NL West.

    Regardless of what players and teams may say, the imminent possibility of being traded is going to be a distraction, which could have an impact on Ross.

    The 28-year-old has quietly emerged as a solid starter over the past three seasons, and he went 10-12 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.306 WHIP and 212 strikeouts last season. The number that sticks out there is the relatively high WHIP, as he led the NL with 84 walks and has seen his walk rate climb from 3.2 to 3.3 to 3.9 BB/9 over the past three years.

    At the same time, his strikeout rate has increased from 8.6 to 9.0 to 9.7 K/9, and his 212 strikeouts in 2015 represented a career high, putting him at an elite level in that category.

    Still, that 1.306 WHIP ranked 52nd among 78 qualified starters, and his shortcomings in that category are enough to push him behind the five guys listed below and perhaps a few others.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Marcus Stroman (94.8)
    • Michael Wacha (101.0)
    • Carlos Martinez (102.3)
    • Jordan Zimmermann (108.5)
    • Francisco Liriano (116.0)

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (ADP: 43.5, No. 13 SP)

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    Dallas Keuchel came out of nowhere to emerge as the ace of the Houston Astros staff in 2014 and gave an even better performance in 2015.

    A 20-8 record, 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP and 216 strikeouts earned him AL Cy Young honors, as he solidified his place as one of the game's best pitchers.

    So what's he doing on this list?

    Keuchel is a guy who pitches to contact, and he's great at doing it. He's posted a ground-ball rate over 60 percent each of the past two seasons, including a 61.7 percent rate last year that was tops among qualified AL starters.

    That leaves him somewhat at the mercy of his defense, and it was a defense that ranked 19th in the league last season, according to FanGraphs.

    A 2.91 FIP and a .269 BABIP could mean he winds up with an ERA closer to 3.00 this coming season than to the 2.48 mark he posted last year, which ranked second in the AL.

    Strikeouts are also something of a question mark for the left-hander because of the way he attacks hitters and pitches to contact.

    "He doesn't have to be a high-strikeout guy, because he does all the little things well," wrote David Schoenfield of ESPN. "He had the second-highest ground-ball rate, fields his position and controls the running game."

    His strikeout rate climbed from 6.6 to 8.4 K/9 last year, but he's one of the rare guys who could actually see his strikeout rate decline as a result of his improvement as a pitcher.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Stephen Strasburg (47.5)
    • Felix Hernandez (49.3)
    • Chris Archer (50.3)
    • Noah Syndergaard (55.3)
    • Carlos Carrasco (57.0)
    • Sonny Gray (61.8)

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 32.8, No. 7 SP)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Why He'll Fall Short of His Draft Position

    Let's preface this by saying that Zack Greinke is a great pitcher who is going to make a world of difference for the Arizona Diamondbacks atop their rotation as they look to make the leap to contention.

    That being said, he's also going to have a tough time duplicating his 2015 performance, in which he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA, 0.844 WHIP and 200 strikeouts.

    For one, he's moving from a very friendly pitcher's park in Dodger Stadium to a park that trends more in favor of hitters, Chase Field.

    • Dodger Stadium: 0.918 Park Factor (8th-best pitcher's park)
    • Chase Field: 1.062 Park Factor (8th-best hitter's park)

    Greinke still managed to rack up 200 strikeouts last season, but his strikeout rate dropped from 9.2 K/9 to 8.1 K/9, and he's become more of a pitcher who throws to contact than a true strikeout pitcher.

    He's still more than capable of being a top-15 starting pitcher, but as the No. 7 starter off the board on average right now, there are better options out there.

    Guys I'd Rather Draft

    • Jacob deGrom (32.8)
    • Matt Harvey (35.3)
    • Gerrit Cole (35.5)
    • Jose Fernandez (37.0)
    • Corey Kluber (38.0)

    All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.