Heading into the fantasy draft season, we will identify high risk, high reward players at every position. Some fantasy GMs are more risk averse while others thrive on it. Either way, it’s typically a good strategy to sprinkle in some high risk players, especially later in the draft. The key is to pick the ones with the most upside and have solid backups in place. Here are 10 high risk starting pitchers that warrant consideration this season.
If you need to to know why Strasburg is the biggest risk/reward starting pitcher out there in fantasy, look no further than his 2017 season. It was the best season of his career, as he finished with a 2.51 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, but in just 175.3 innings, as he missed nearly a month with a nerve impingement in his elbow. Strasburg, who famously had to undergo Tommy John surgery near the end of his mega-hyped rookie season in 2010, has now had back-to-back seasons with serious elbow scares. Strasburg’s arm may be a ticking time bomb (he’s a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries), but if he can put together one season near full health, and take the momentum of his dominant late regular season and playoff run (coming off the DL stint), then he could easily end up being 2018’s top fantasy starter. He’s a big gamble but the payoff would be more than worth it.
Gray was a big pre-deadline acquisition for the Yankees last year, but he struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark after coming over from Oakland to the Bronx. It’s understandable given how many balls leave the yard at the new Yankee Stadium, but if he continues to struggle with it for the entirety of 2018, then it could be a serious issue. Gray rebounded big time last season, but his injury plagued 2016 is still pretty close in the rear view mirror. It shouldn’t be out of the minds of fantasy players just yet, especially since he was only able to log 160 innings last season. If Gray is able to curb the homers a tad and benefits from what should be plenty of run support, then he could be a top end 2nd fantasy starter, but the floor is lower than some would think. Be cautious when going after him in your drafts.
At this point, we don’t even know who Arrieta will pitch for in 2018, or whether or not he’ll even be on a roster before Opening Day. Arrieta was great in the second half last year, but he struggled mightily in the first half with what were rumored to be some lingering injury issues that had many believing his unprecedented run over the last few years might be coming to an end. Arrieta was strong in the second half, but he fought a hamstring issue late in the season that looked to affect him in the playoffs. Teams are obviously nervous about committing to Arrieta long-term after he’s started to show signs of wear and tear after some huge workloads the past three seasons, and you should be too. If Arrieta ends up with a big time contender, the potential upside will be too great for him to slide a lot in your draft, so have a good feel for him before adding him to your squad.
After a dominant 2016 campaign, Syndergaard hit rock bottom in 2017, pitching just 30 innings due to a torn lat muscle that he suffered early in the season after refusing to take an MRI days prior. His health is the only real question about him, and it remains one as he reportedly turned down surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow in the offseason. Taking all of this into account, Inside Injuries has him listed as a High Injury Risk headed into 2018. He’s looked good so far this spring, and, like Strasburg, is one of the few that, if right for the whole season, could lead starting pitchers in fantasy points (and contend for a Cy Young). It’s just difficult to spend such a high draft pick on such a volatile asset.
“The Japanese Babe Ruth” will debut in the U.S. this year, pitching for the Angels, while also DH’ing a couple of days each week as well. His numbers from overseas are ridiculous, and every scout possible has raved about him. However, it was revealed after he signed with the Angels that he has a first degree sprain of his UCL, which is always a worrisome thing to hear about any pitcher. He also missed most of the 2017 season after undergoing ankle surgery. He’s an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, which, combined with the uncertainty that comes with foreign players transitioning directly to the Majors, makes it incredibly difficult to predict what Ohtani will do this season. He’s basically a lottery ticket type player in fantasy going into the season.
Salazar has been banged up for two straight seasons and is already dealing with a renewed shoulder injury, making the dominant 2015 performance he put up seem like a distant memory. Salazar is a High Injury Risk with a Poor HPF (Health Performance Factor) according to Inside Injuries, and it looks less and less likely that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. However, the talent still shows up in stretches. His K rate is still elite, and he had a dynamic 5 start stretch in the second half before heading back to the DL in which he posted a 46:9 K:BB and 1.39 ERA across 32.1 innings. He’s a later round pick at this point because of all the injury issues, but the possibility is still there that he recaptures some of his old form. The risk, however, is that you get nothing out of the pick at all should he make trips back and forth to the DL.
Walker, a former top prospect who struggled with injuries when he first came up to the Majors, had the best year of his career last year, posting a 3.49 ERA and 8.4 K/9. He struggled with walks, however, as well as home runs while pitching at home, but both of those issues could be curbed given the new humidor in the Diamondbacks stadium. However, even if both areas are less of an issue, Walker could be in for a bit of a regression, considering his WHIP of 1.32 was the highest of his Major League career, yet his ERA was at its lowest (had yet to post a sub-4.00 ERA in his ML career). Also, it remains to be seen if Walker can hold up for a 200 inning type workload, given that he has never topped 170 innings. If he continues to trend upwards and gains control of his big time talent, Walker could explode in 2018. However, recognize that just the opposite is also a possibility.
On the surface, McCullers 2017 was a pretty big let down. He struggled with back issues, limiting him to 118 innings in 22 starts, and posted a rather dismal 4.24 ERA. However, his 25.2% K-rate and ability to keep the ball in the ballpark indicate that he might be in for better raw numbers in 2018. If he’s able to stay relatively healthy, and that’s a big if given his injury history from the past two years and High Injury Risk designation from Inside Injuries, and post 160+ innings, he could flourish in fantasy, especially given the team around him. He’s a dice role for sure, but McCullers, especially off the big World Series promotion, could make 2018 the year he takes off.
Coming off of a brilliant 2016, many expected Tanaka to post another huge year in 2017. Instead, he ended up up with the worst ERA of his career (4.74) and allowed boatloads of home runs. He was better in the second half of the season, putting up the occasional dominant performance, but never was able to bring his season totals all the way back down. Tanaka is also a health question mark given the fact that he’s been pitching through a partially torn UCL for a couple years now. He’s an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries but hasn’t missed too much time over the past two years. If you’re taking Tanaka, you’re banking on him building on the second half he was able to put together, when he posted a 3.77 ERA and held hitters to .229/.267/.405 line. At this point it’s hard to tell what to expect from him, but his upside makes him a worthy gamble as a #3 starter in fantasy.
Keuchel rebounded nicely in 2017 but still struggled with some injury problems, which costed him most of June or July. Given the fact that his FIP was similar to 2016 (3.87 in 2016, 3.79 in 2017), it might be best to expect something between the 2.90 ERA he posted last year the and the 4.55 ERA he posted in 2016. He won’t give you a whole lot in the strikeout department, so an uptick in ERA does hurt his fantasy value quite a bit, making him hard to value right now. Combine this with the fact that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy the past two years and is an Elevated Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, it makes Keuchel seems like a more volatile asset than many consider him heading into 2018. His offense and team around him should allow him to stack up win totals, but the health and regression factors are worth mulling over before spending an early round pick on him.
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