Coming into the season, many agreed there was a "big four" at starting pitcher: Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber. And with just about half of the MLB season behind us, the top of the Player Rater for pitchers features three familiar names: Scherzer (No. 1), Sale (No. 4) and Kluber (No. 5). However, several other starters are competing with these aces on the Rater ... will any of them be in the discussion as an early-round, top-tier ace starter for drafts next season? If so, whom -- and if not, who is closest to reaching that level?
Eric Karabell: Luis Severino is already right there for me in the top tier, with ridiculous statistics and a strong likelihood of him winning at least 20 games, thanks to the offensive support surrounding him. Severino had the numbers in his breakout last season, but since they were so different than his 2016 campaign, plenty of fantasy managers were dubious of a repeat. Now he is even better and is showing no signs of regression. One could debate Severino versus Justin Verlander, I suppose, but Severino is more than a decade younger. I need to see much more from lefties Blake Snell and James Paxton to regard them as top-tier options and would say Madison Bumgarner still has a better shot at the top tier than they do, but Severino is already there.
Kyle Soppe: The top tier of pitching is always fluid, given that we assume most pitchers are destined to miss time, but in terms of drafting for 2019, I'm not sure how you keep Severino out of the first class of pitchers. I mean, all the 24-year-old has done is post a 2.60 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP while striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings since the beginning of last season. Those numbers are essentially identical to what Kershaw has produced during that stretch (2.44 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 10.3 K/9) ... but in 79.2 more innings of work. Trevor Bauer and Jacob deGrom could well flirt with top-tier designation if they finish this season in their current form and without any health concerns, as the expectation from your ace is more 175 innings and not the 200-plus of years past.
AJ Mass: Prior to every season, I compile an extra set of rankings specifically with an eye toward dynasty leagues. If I'm playing in a redraft format, this list is not something I'd use to make my picks, because it gives a lot more weight to where a player's stats may be several years from now. After all, in a "one and done" league, none of those potential future stats matter.
That said, when I look at dynasty rankings and see players whose value indicates a big jump down the road, I'm going to pay attention. While there's no guarantee, sometimes players like this make that leap sooner than expected. Looking back, two starting pitchers who fit this mold are Severino and Aaron Nola.
For redraft leagues, I had ranked Severino at No. 9 and Nola at No. 18 among their peers. However, for dynasty purposes, those two hurlers rose to No. 6 and No. 11, respectively. Looking at the current ESPN Player Rater, Severino is SP2 and Nola is SP8. I'm buying both of their breakouts, with Severino on the verge of being in next season's top-five SP and Nola potentially in the top 10.
As for Snell (No. 7 Player Rater, No. 65 SP in my dynasty ranks), his extremely low BABIP (.225) and high strand rate (87.1 percent) tell me his current success is unsustainable. Gerrit Cole is currently No. 6 on the Rater, and I did have him as my preseason SP16. While I don't think he's doing what he's doing with mirrors because he's changed his pitch selection this season, thus making him a different kind of pitcher, I do see regression ahead with his .238 BABIP and 82.2 percent strand rate.