Top Fantasy Pitchers (05/31/16)

By Mark Dankenbring
MLB Pitching Leaders – April/May

The list of top pitchers through the first two months of the season features many names you would expect to be there. Kershaw, Syndergaard, Sale, Cueto, Arrieta, and several other aces have lived up to all the hype early on. There are also a few names at the top who weren't expected with guys like Jose Quintana, Aaron Nola, and Rich Hill. Let's take a closer look at some of these top pitchers' numbers and how they've become premier fantasy targets whenever they take the mound.

Clayton Kershaw (LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers)

I'll start with the three-time Cy Young award winner. Kershaw leads the league in several categories through April and May. He boasts the league's lowest ERA at only 1.56, as well as a league best WHIP at 0.65. Kershaw has dominated hitters all season, striking out 105 batters in 86 and 2/3 innings. His strikeout numbers are even more impressive when compared to his measly five walks on the year. He's pitched the most innings of any starter, including three complete game shutouts which are most in the majors as well. If he continues this historic pace, he'll be in line to win his fourth Cy Young, and perhaps a second MVP to go along with it.

Noah Syndergaard (RHP, New York Mets)

The man affectionately known as Thor has been dropping the hammer on his opponents so far this season. In this case, the hammer is his new-found devastating slider, which has helped him reach a K/9 inning mark of 11.35, the second highest in the majors. Syndergaard has complemented his strikeout numbers with a top three ERA in the league as well, sitting at 1.87 through 10 starts. Syndergaard also boasts an impressively high strikeout to walk ratio like Kershaw, with nearly nine Ks/BB. This number is good enough for second in the majors, and has helped Syndergaard solidify himself as the early season ace for the Mets.

Chris Sale (LHP, Chicago White Sox)

Sale has had an exceptional start to the year. He was the first pitcher since 2008 to win his first nine starts of the season. Sale hasn't posted strikeout numbers like we're used to seeing from him over the last few years, but his commitment towards drawing weak contact has allowed him to pitch 78 and 2/3 innings in 11 starts this year, including three complete games already after only having one all of last season. Therefore, Sale has improved his fantasy value with extended outings, and has still been very effective, sitting at a 2.29 ERA and has 76 strikeouts so far, which are both good for top ten in their respective categories. It will be interesting to see how Sale takes this new approach and extends it over a whole season.

Jake Arrieta (RHP, Chicago Cubs)

Arrieta has once again been the ace for the Cubs this year. He's lead the league's best team to a 10-0 record in his first 10 starts, including a 9-0 personal record when it comes to decisions. Arrieta doesn't boast as high of strikeout numbers as some of the other top fantasy options, but his consistency and his second best ERA of 1.72 make him as strong of a fantasy option as ever. Arrieta has also held opposing batters to league low .168 batting average, and has a 0.90 WHIP on the year, third behind only Kershaw and Sale. Arrieta is on one of the most dominant runs in baseball history, leading the Cubs to victory in his last 23 starts. Arrieta is also the only pitcher on this list to have a no-hitter under his belt this season.

Johnny Cueto (RHP, San Francisco Giants)

It's surprising to see a Giants pitcher on this list that isn't Madison Bumgarner, but Cueto has slightly outperformed MadBum up to this point in the season. Like a few of the pitchers mentioned above, Cueto has been able to finish three games on his own this year, including two shutouts. This has helped him pitch the second most innings in the majors, as he sits at 81 and 2/3 after 11 starts, which has lead him to an 8-1 record. Cueto doesn't have the strikeout per inning numbers of a top fantasy pitcher, but his length has allowed him to accrue fantasy value, as he still sits in the top ten in strikeouts.

Rich Hill (LHP, Oakland Athletics)

Hill has taken the AL West by storm so far this season, posting an 8-3 record in his 11 starts. He currently sits seventh in the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and has accumulated 74 strikeouts in his 64 innings of work, which is also good for top ten in the league. Hill has been excellent at limiting the long ball this year, only allowing two in the first two months of the season. Behind his strong strikeout numbers and impressive eight win start, Hill has become the ace of the staff for Oakland.

Aaron Nola (RHP, Philadelphia Phillies)

Nola leads a group of young starters in Philly. He's started off the year with a 4-3 record, which isn't too impressive, but the numbers behind it are. Nola has accumulated 70 strikeouts over his first 10 starts as opposed to only 12 walks, which is good enough for the fourth best strikeout to walk ratio in the majors. Nola also has a rather impressive ERA at just 2.86, which leads the Phillies pitching staff. He's also been able to pitch seven innings in seven of his ten starts, and has struck out at least six batters in nine of his ten starts, showing impressive consistency for a young pitcher.

Stephen Strasburg (RHP, Washington Nationals)

This righty has been a strikeout machine thus far, fanning 90 batters in 73 and 2/3 innings of work so far. This number puts him second behind Clayton Kershaw, and ties him with division foe Jose Fernandez and teammate Max Scherzer. Strasburg has been very consistent throughout the early part of the year, going at least six innings in every start, and has struck out at least seven batters in nine of his 11 starts, including five with double digits. This consistency has allowed him to get off to a 9-0 start. Strasburg has also been able to limit his walk numbers which has lead him to a nice 2.69 ERA through 11 starts this year.

All of the pitchers above have gotten off to great starts, and it will be interesting to track their success both on the mound and in the fantasy realm for the rest of the year. We'll see if Kershaw can set the single season record for WHIP, and if he can maintain his 20+ K/BB ratio. We're nearly a third of the way through the season, so these pitchers still have a long way to go to maintain their status as the league's best fantasy pitchers.