Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting pitcher tiers for 2023 drafts

If there has ever been a fantasy position for which nobody knows anything, it’s starting pitchers. But you need a list, and we need a plan, so here we go.

What follows are my suggested salaries if you play in a Fantasy Salary Cap Draft format.

[Tiered Rankings: C | Middle Infield | Corner Infield | OF | Starters | Relievers]

Have disagreements? Good. That’s why we have a game. I welcome your reasonable and respectable feedback at @scott_pianowski.

And away we go.

The big tickets

$37 Corbin Burnes

$36 Gerrit Cole

$33 Sandy Alcantara

$32 Brandon Woodruff

$31 Max Scherzer

$31 Aaron Nola

$30 Justin Verlander

$29 Spencer Strider

$28 Shane McClanahan

Adam Wainwright has the most all-time Cy Young voting shares without winning the award; Cole is right behind him. The most important part of starting pitcher value is availability, and Cole hasn’t had a major injury since 2016. It’s foolish to imply any pitcher is truly safe, but some have to be safer than others. Put Cole in that safe bucket. ... Burnes didn’t repeat his Cy Young season, but he led the NL in strikeouts, and his WHIP was once again under one. He’s one of the few pitchers with a legitimate chance at 200 innings.

Alcantara’s pitch-to-contact style is a double-edged sword; it keeps him in games longer (and he’ll get strikeouts through volume anyway), but it also brings a dicey Miami defense into play. Then again, Alcantara hardly walks anyone, and he keeps the ball in the park, so I suspect he’s too big to fail. Even if he regressed to 2021 ratios, we’re still talking about a star. ... Generally we get nervous about starting pitchers with just two offerings, but Strider was so dominant with his fastball and slider, it didn’t matter last year. Although lefties had a slightly better chance against him, they didn’t do a lot against Strider during his breakout year: .202/.264/.277, just three homers.

Nola’s expected ERAs are often better than his real-life ones, which is a comment on the Philadelphia defense. But his stellar control will keep the WHIP in a good area, and he has been over 200 strikeouts in four different years. He’s also very easy to watch, given that his command is consistently excellent.

Corbin Burnes is in the conversation to be the top pitcher off the board in fantasy drafts. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Corbin Burnes is in the conversation to be the top pitcher off the board in fantasy drafts. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Legitimate building blocks

$27 Jacob deGrom

$27 Shohei Ohtani

$26 Carlos Rodon

$26 Shane Bieber

$26 Zack Wheeler

$25 Dylan Cease

$24 Julio Urias

$23 Luis Castillo

$22 Zac Gallen

$21 Kevin Gausman

$21 Alek Manoah

$21 Yu Darvish

$21 Framber Valdez

$20 Cristian Javier

$20 Max Fried

$20 Robbie Ray

$19 Triston McKenzie

A healthy deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball, but after two breakdown seasons and with him entering his age-35 campaign, I can’t write an expectant check. ... Bieber has an ordinary fastball, and his strikeout rate has dropped two years in a row, but if you believe in his off-speed pitches and the Guardians defense, you’ll consider him a quasi-ace, as I do. ... Even if we concede that Urias ran favorably on batted balls last year, what’s wrong with a 2.81 expected ERA? Unfortunately, Dodgers Stadium isn’t the pitcher haven it used to be, but entering an age-26 season, Urias is still a proactive pick/

Anyone on the Astros rotation looks interesting to me, with Valdez getting the first look because of his ground-ball tilt. Maybe the shift restrictions will push the BABIP up, but he misses enough bats and should be supported by the things we care about: defense, a good offense and a reliable bullpen. ... If Cease gets control of his walk issues, he’s a Cy Young contender. But I’m not going to proactively push that into his ranking. Let the room come to you.

Talk them up, talk them down

$17 Logan Webb

$16 Luis Severino

$16 Nestor Cortes Jr.

$15 Logan Gilbert

$15 Clayton Kershaw

$15 George Kirby

$15 *Joe Musgrove

$14 Kyle Wright

$13 Blake Snell

$12 Lance Lynn

$12 Charlie Morton

$12 Lucas Giolito

$11 Tyler Glasnow

$11 Hunter Greene

$11 Freddy Peralta

$11 Brady Singer

$10 Nick Lodolo

$10 Joe Ryan

$10 Pablo Lopez

$10 Chris Bassitt

$10 Jordan Montgomery

$10 Jeffrey Springs

$10 Tony Gonsolin

$10 Luis Garcia

$9 Chris Sale

$9 Jesus Luzardo

$9 Dustin May

$9 Drew Rasmussen

Giolito and Lynn are interesting targets for a White Sox team that had everything go wrong last year (Giolito also had a run with COVID). This team profiles as a playoff contender on paper and could easily win the AL Central with a reasonable runout. ... I understand it’s hard to let go of Glasnow’s upside, but he has been past 90 innings just once in his career. His ADP shouldn’t be in the top 100.

Scheduled maintenance and load management are part of Kershaw’s plate into the final few years, but he still projects for a low-3s ERA and a plus WHIP, along with better than a strikeout per inning. He’s a reasonable SP3 and a steal if you land him for a lower slot. ... Sale hasn’t pitched a full season since 2017, and he’s always had a violent delivery and unorthodox set of mechanics. No one ever questions his guts or his desire, but at age-34, I’ll question his current ADP (160s for Yahoo, similar in NFBC).

Plausible upside

$8 Hunter Brown

$8 Kodai Senga

$7 Jon Gray

$7 Grayson Rodriguez

$7 Miles Mikolas

$7 Cal Quantrill

$6 Andrew Heaney

$6 Sonny Gray

$6 Tyler Mahle

$5 Patrick Sandoval

$5 Reid Detmers

$5 Tyler Anderson

$5 Jameson Taillon

$5 Marcus Stroman

$5 Carlos Carrasco

$5 Eric Lauer

$5 Jose Quintana

$4 Alex Cobb

$4 Jose Berrios

$4 Merrill Kelly

$4 Edward Cabrera

$4 Trevor Rogers

$4 Jose Urquidy

$4 Sean Manaea

$4 Justin Steele

$4 Martin Perez

$4 Michael Kopech

$4 Ross Stripling

$4 Adam Wainwright

$4 Kenta Maeda

$4 Alex Wood

Brown is too good not to crash Houston’s rotation at some point, and perhaps there’s a tailwind with Lance McCullers already dinged up. ... Quintana revitalized his career last season and was a nifty back-of-rotation addition for the Mets. ... Lauer has out-pitched his metrics the past two years, but over 49 starts, we’re looking at a 3.47 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and around a strikeout per inning. His current tag (Yahoo ADP: 258) is a giveaway. ... If Mahle can stay health, he easily crushes his ADP, no longer tied to Cincinnati’s messy defense and score-friendly park.

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Bargain bin

$3 Nathan Eovaldi

$3 Jack Flaherty

$3 Ranger Suarez

$3 Taijuan Walker

$3 Bailey Ober

$3 Noah Syndergaard

$3 Aaron Civale

$3 Mike Clevinger

$2 *Lance McCullers Jr.

$2 Roansy Contreras

$2 Garrett Whitlock

$2 Eduardo Rodriguez

$2 Aaron Ashby

$2 Zach Eflin

$2 Hayden Wesneski

$2 Corey Kluber

$2 Cole Irvin

$1 Steven Matz

$1 MacKenzie Gore

$1 Kyle Bradish

$1 Tylor Megill

$1 David Peterson