Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: SP10)
Kershaw no longer possesses the same upside he once did as his generation’s best pitcher, but this version is getting underrated in drafts. He throws less hard now, but the tradeoff appears to be better health, and it really helps pitching for a Dodgers team that provides a bunch of run support (don’t underestimate wins), a strong defense and bullpen, the NL West, and a pitcher’s park (this in part is also why I have Walker Buehler as a top-10 overall pick).
Kershaw visited Driveline during the offseason and reportedly his health feels “night and day” compared to last season, which started off slowly thanks to injuries but saw him post a 31.1 K% after the All-Star break. He’s my SP5, ahead of even Jack Flaherty.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs (ADP: SP18)
He posted a silly 118:7 K:BB ratio with a 0.81 WHIP over 81.2 innings after the All-Star break last season, and while that’s just a half of a season’s sample, the magnitude of that performance (he was the first pitcher since the 1800s to strike out eight or more batters without a walk in five straight starts) gives it plenty of significance. After eight starts last season, Darvish led MLB in walks; he then proceeded to have baseball’s longest walkless streak during the second half, thanks reportedly to gaining confidence in an elbow that no longer barked at him (and his fastball).
Darvish’s 35.6 K-BB% during the second half was a better mark than any season of Pedro Martinez’s career, and Yu has been working in the upper 90s this spring while throwing BBs. Pitching healthy for a full season in the National League (and without opponents knowing what pitch is coming in the World Series), Darvish is going to make a run at the Cy Young award in 2020 (I bet on him at 100/1 to record the most wins). He’s my SP8, ahead of Stephen Strasburg.
Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: SP22)
He’s an increased health risk given his lack of track record and coming off a forearm injury last year (he had nerve surgery during the offseason), but Glasnow had been throwing hard during spring, is a former top prospect (the Pirates might very well end up regretting that Chris Archer deal, which also sent Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay) and has some of the best stuff in the game.
He owns a 1.93 ERA over nearly 250 innings in Triple-A during his minor league career and had a 2.26 FIP with the Rays last season, when he also had the lowest expected batting average among all pitchers. Glasnow’s expected wOBA (.231) was also in the top 1% of the league. Throwing in the AL East isn’t ideal, but the Rays provide strong defense and bullpen support, while Tropicana Field is one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. Glasnow is one of my favorite Cy Young long shots, and I have him as my SP12, ahead of Lucas Giolito.
Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers (ADP: SP41)
He’s not in a great spot in Detroit, but that also helps keep Boyd’s price well below where it should be. As does his inflated ERA, which is a stat that should be completely ignored in most cases when evaluating pitching (Boyd will admittedly give up a decent number of homers). Boyd ranked top-10 in SwStr% (14.0) and K-BB% (23.9) last season — no other pitcher appearing on both leaderboards had an ERA worse than 3.41 (and most were in the 2s). Boyd continues to improve, will help your WHIP and is a sneaky threat to make a run at 300 Ks. He’s a top-25 SP on my board, ahead of Luis Castillo (ADP: SP12!?!).
Josh James, Houston Astros (ADP: 243)
He has terrific stuff (a 70-grade fastball that averaged 97.2 mph) that produced a 14.67 K/9 rate (and 16.2 SwStr%) last season out of the pen. James still has to work on his control, but this is someone who posted a sub-4.00 FIP despite a 5.14 BB/9 rate. His expected batting average (.171) and expected slugging (.286) were both in the top 1% of the league. James was already a favorite to move into Houston’s starting rotation this season, and he’s now virtually a lock with Justin Verlander’s injury.
It’s another fantastic situation for pitching, as the Astros will provide a ton of run support and bullpen help in what usually plays as a pitcher’s park. James is just RP eligible for now, but he’s a top-50 SP on my board, ahead of Madison Bumgarner.