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Fantasy rankings: How to value young starters with innings caps

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Oh, to be young.

Through 10 weeks of the season, seven individuals who have yet to celebrate their 25th birthdays find themselves included among the top 42 starting pitchers on our Player Rater. One of them, a 23-year-old, currently ranks fourth, and another, also 23, recently set a major league record with four consecutive starts of at least six scoreless innings and three or fewer hits within a single season.

Another, also aged 23, ranks among the top 10 in baseball in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts during the past calendar year.

In case you haven't guessed, their identities are Jose Fernandez, Michael Fulmer and Noah Syndergaard, and today, their fantasy owners are abuzz with excitement, presumably believing that nothing can go wrong in the remainder of their seasons.

But should their owners be?

After all, in this age of conservative workloads for young starters, specialized roles and the threat of Tommy John surgery, these pitchers' teams might have different ideas than you about their immediate futures. It's a debate we've heard ad nauseam, from Mat Latos to Stephen Strasburg to Matt Harvey; it's the dreaded "innings cap" topic. It's one that increasingly becomes part of the conversation around this stage of year, amplifying as the postseason approaches.

Now, however, is the time to react, prepare and act, where appropriate, regarding your pitchers subject to an innings cap. For those wondering why some of the hotter-starting youngsters might've received more modest ranks in past editions of this column than you'd have expected, this column might provide the explanation.

As always, I begin discussing this topic with my annual rant: Baseball puts far too much emphasis on innings pitched as a measure of workload, despite it being a weak choice. Innings do have importance from an up-and-down -- the physical process of getting up, warming up, pitching and sitting back down -- perspective, but from a statistical angle, total pitches thrown, stressful pitches (though not recorded, these would include pitches thrown in innings with high pitch counts or close-and-late situations, for example) and the pitcher's own health history would prove stronger guidelines.

Teams do seem to be improving in this regard, less often announcing specific innings-pitched targets in the preseason and taking into account how the pitcher feels and performs throughout the process. There's still an initial instinct in baseball, however, that innings pitched are the primary measure, so address them we must.

The pitchers below are currently on pace -- using major league team scheduled games -- to exceed their 2014 workloads by at least 30 innings, that number chosen because of teams' apparent preference to keep said increases in the 30-40 range. For each, his age, 2015 and 2016 innings totals, his previous single-season professional high number and his projected increase are listed. In addition, a "worry level" regarding an early shutdown (or slowed pace) is provided. Generally speaking, pitchers older than 25 are excluded from the list due to a larger volume of career innings as a pro.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering about the No. 11 starting pitcher on our Player Rater, consider this: Noah Syndergaard currently finds himself on pace for 197 innings pitched in 2016, which is actually fewer than he tallied between the regular season and playoffs combined in 2015 (198 2/3). Syndergaard is not one of the youngsters whose workload should be of concern.


Matz

Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies Age: 26 4 IP in 2015, 212 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 208 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2011 (158 IP)

Though he's a more advanced age and nowhere near as highly regarded as the names that follow, Chatwood has two Tommy John surgeries on his résumé, the most recent in July 2014, with no track record of ever having absorbed the seasonal workload indicated by his current pace. As he's not a "franchise chip," the Colorado Rockies might not rein in his innings to the same extent, but affording Chatwood 200-plus frames might have a different, adverse impact: A decline in performance as his innings pile up by August or September. Keep it in mind if you've been locking in his road starts; he has a 0.65 ERA in six such games.

Worry level: Low.


Matz

Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates Age: 24 0 IP in 2015, 191 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 191 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2013 (147 1/3 IP)

Taillon has enjoyed a phenomenal bounce-back from a pair of seasons wiped out by injuries -- he had April 9, 2014, Tommy John surgery, then July 8, 2015, surgery for an inguinal hernia that further delayed his recovery -- but those absences also greatly increase the chances he'll face an innings cap. The Pittsburgh Pirates do have two other nearly ready prospects whose seasonal paces aren't close to reflecting as sizable a 2016 increase, and one of them, Chad Kuhl, isn't even on this list, with a projected increase of roughly 20 frames. This is one of the primary reasons that, when asked which of the top Pirates prospects I'd prefer to stash, Taillon or Tyler Glasnow, I've been choosing the latter. In Taillon's defense, however, the last time the Pirates had as prominent a young prospect as him facing an innings-cap question, it was Gerrit Cole in 2013, whose workload they didn't really restrain.

Worry level: High.


Matz

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays Age: 25 34 2/3 IP in 2015, 224 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 189 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2014 (166 1/3 IP)

Though they haven't been as overt with their plans for him as they've been with Aaron Sanchez, listed below, the Toronto Blue Jays have dropped whispers that they're also monitoring ace Stroman's workload. The increase itself shouldn't warrant panic -- Stroman also had 19 1/3 playoff frames that aren't reflected in his 2015 total -- but rather his previous career high, as well as his somewhat few 408 2/3 career professional frames, might. He made an effectively miraculous recovery from March 19, 2015, ACL surgery that was expected to shelve him for the entire 2015 campaign, so perhaps Stroman has proven capable of exceeding physical expectations. Still, if the team again sprinkles in Drew Hutchison and/or others for spot starts to "buy extra rest" for their current five, it might be a tip-off.

Worry level: Low.


Matz

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks Age: 23 65 IP in 2015, 183 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 118 IP Previous career high: 2013 (152 IP)

Injuries, specifically a line drive to the face in April and shoulder inflammation in June/July, derailed Bradley's 2015, and were ultimately responsible for the low innings total that landed him on this list. Whether that weighs in the Arizona Diamondbacks' decision on his workload is unclear, but chances are they won't let him zoom far past his 2013 career high in innings.

Worry level: Moderate.


Matz

Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins Age: 23 89 1/3 IP in 2015, 211 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 111 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2013 (172 2/3 IP)

Fernandez has been one pitcher for whom there's a perception of a "free pass" on this front; many feel that he's an ace with Tommy John surgery (May 16, 2014) in his rearview rather than his future, and he's far too important to the Miami Marlins' contending quest to be limited. The Marlins did, however, outline an innings range for Fernandez in the preseason, and if 180 was the decision, then he's already more than 20 innings over pace. Granted, he has been used more aggressively this season than pre-surgery, including seven of his 19 100-pitch outings and three of his five with at least 110 pitches, but the Marlins also haven't yet allowed him to begin the eighth inning a single time in 2016. If the Marlins remain competitive into August, expect a rekindling of this discussion, and if they're not, count on him having a premature conclusion to his season.

Worry level: Moderate.


Matz

Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays Age: 24 102 IP in 2015, 206 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 104 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2014 (133 1/3 IP)

There might not be a pitcher about whom workload has been more of a discussion this season. The Blue Jays have been adamant all year, including as recently as last week, that they'll keep Sanchez's innings in check, and their initial plan was to shift him to the bullpen sometime midseason to slow his pace. Regardless of any change to that plan, Sanchez isn't going to be afforded 200 innings, and as he continues to rack them up, it's only going to elevate the level of discussion, making it difficult to trade him in redraft formats. If you cannot afford to be without Sanchez's services in the closing weeks, shop him now.

Worry level: Extreme.


Matz

Brandon Finnegan, Cincinnati Reds Age: 23 105 1/3 IP in 2015, 205 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 100 IP Previous career high: 2015

Finnegan's 2014 innings total at Texas Christian (105 2/3) was almost spot-on to his 2015 in the pros, but this season the Cincinnati Reds, presumably pushed into using him more heavily due to a barrage of injuries to their other starters, have him well ahead of pace. With Anthony DeSclafani, John Lamb and Jon Moscot now healthy, however, Michael Lorenzen on the way back and Homer Bailey possibly a factor late in the year, the Reds will probably start easing Finnegan's workload in the second half.

Worry level: High.


Matz

Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks Age: 26 102 IP in 2015, 190 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 88 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2013 (208 1/3 IP)

He's on here for one reason alone: He missed the 2014 season in its entirety due to Tommy John surgery, so might the Diamondbacks regard Corbin's workload as a two-year, ramp-up process? If they're not contending come August, perhaps, but otherwise...

Worry level: Low, if not nonexistent.


Matz

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays Age: 26 114 1/3 IP in 2015, 200 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 86 IP Previous career high: 2012 (177 1/3 IP)

It's fitting that he's the next name on the list after Corbin, as they're the two oldest names on the list as well as pitchers who had Tommy John surgery 28 days apart (Moore's was the more recent) and marked their major league returns two days apart (July 2, 2015, for Moore; July 4, 2015, for Corbin). They're also on teams that aren't positioned well in their respective division races, but in Moore's case, he's the one with the lower career high in innings and the one considerably less pitch-efficient (3.97 pitches per batter faced, compared to 3.54 for Corbin). If either is in danger of being shut down early, Moore's odds are greater.

Worry level: Moderate to low.


Matz

Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates Age: 22 109 1/3 IP in 2015, 179 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 70 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2014 (124 1/3 IP)

The Pirates' other top prospect -- and, in fact, one more highly regarded than Taillon -- Glasnow missed a month's time due to an ankle injury in 2015, resulting in the modest innings total that puts him under the microscope this season. Glasnow walks more hitters than Taillon, which means potentially more taxing big-league frames, so you can be sure the Pirates will be closely watching his workload once he debuts.

Worry level: Moderate to high.


Matz

Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics Age: 24 100 IP in 2015, 170 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 70 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2014 (121 2/3 IP)

Injuries have also been a problem for the Oakland Athletics' rotation, Manaea included, as he landed on the DL on Tuesday with a left pronator strain. Even after he returns, the team will almost assuredly keep Manaea's workload in check in the 150 range considering his totals in 2014-15.

Worry level: High.


Matz

Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies Age: 24 88 2/3 IP in 2015, 153 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 65 IP Previous career high: 2013 (124 2/3 IP)

Velasquez's current DL status due to a biceps injury will slow his innings pace, but his inclusion serves a reminder that he would've been likely to miss some time to keep his workload in check anyway. He's also one of the less-efficient pitchers on the list, averaging 4.00 pitches per plate appearance and 16.7 pitches per inning, and is one of the pitchers for whom innings is a poor indicator of workload. It might've been smart for the Philadelphia Phillies to cap him at perhaps as few as 140, though it's also impossible to target a specific number of innings for him (or any pitcher for that matter). Your window to trade him has closed.

Worry level: Extreme.


Matz

Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds Age: 23 134 IP in 2015, 193 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 59 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2014 (136 1/3 IP)

He's another young pitcher the Reds could throw into their rotation in the coming weeks both to get his feet wet as well as to slow some of their other starters' paces, but Stephenson, like some of the others, faces a potential workload cap of his own. If you're stashing him in the hopes of help later this year, keep your expected number of starts from him conservative.

Worry level: High.


Matz

Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers Age: 23 124 2/3 IP in 2015, 174 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 50 IP Previous career high: 2015

Fulmer has been a fantasy sensation, albeit one currently ahead of pace. In his defense, however, he has been pitching well over his head -- natural regression to the mean will slow his pace -- and his Detroit Tigers have been smart about not wasting pitches, best evidenced by hooking him with only 88 and 91 pitches in his past two starts, dominant starts, when the team felt it had those games in hand. Fulmer's workload might become a conversation for the second half if he significantly cools, but even then, a 50-inning increase isn't extreme.

Worry level: Moderate.


Matz

Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays Age: 23 134 IP in 2015, 177 2/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 43 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2015

Set to rejoin the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, for his second career big-league start, Snell actually serves a good real-game "handcuff." Both he and Matt Andriese are on pace to shatter their previous single-year highs, with Andriese's on pace for 47 1/3 frames more than he had in 2014 (and 79 more than in 2015), so a rotating approach to the No. 5 starter role might make some sense to keep either pitcher's workload in check. Still, Snell's workload will warrant monitoring because he's a blue-chip prospect, a high-velocity pitcher and the Rays therefore have no reason to push him if they fall out of the race in August or September. Ah, the perils of owning young pitchers; volume is almost always a question.

Worry level: Moderate.


Matz

Braden Shipley, Arizona Diamondbacks Age: 24 156 2/3 IP in 2015, 199 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 42 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2015

Considering two other Diamondbacks starters are higher on the list, why not address their top pitching prospect, working in Triple-A Reno and nearly major league ready? While Shipley's current innings pace pales in comparison to Bradley's or Corbin's, his level of experience hints that the Diamondbacks might prefer to keep him beneath 200 innings for the season, and perhaps by a good amount. It's odd, in fact, that Shipley currently has the third-most innings of any minor leaguer. Wouldn't the Diamondbacks want to preserve some of those frames to use in the majors later this summer?

Worry level: High.


Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies Age: 22 131 2/3 IP in 2015, 177 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 45 1/3 IP Previous career high: 2016

Eflin had a rough big-league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, and while things should improve for this usual control specialist, the team will surely be monitoring his workload throughout the summer.

Worry level: High.


Jake Thompson, Philadelphia Phillies Age: 22 132 2/3 IP in 2015, 170 1/3 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 37 2/3 IP Previous career high: 2016

While we're on the topic of Phillies prospects, Thompson is in a similar situation to Eflin from a workload perspective. In fact, the 2016 Phillies in many ways resemble the 2015 Reds, with many promising youngsters but all likely to be conservatively used during the season's second half.

Worry level: Moderate.


Matz

Lucas Giolito, Washington Nationals Age: 21 117 IP in 2015, 153 IP pace in 2016 Increase: 36 IP Previous career high: 2016

If you're a Giolito owner in a redraft league, mind his innings pace. The Washington Nationals might be less apt to promote him if he's this far ahead of his 2015 number come August/September.

Worry level: Moderate to high.


New ESPN position eligibility

The following players added new position eligibility within the past week. As a reminder, position players need to appear 10 times at a new position to gain in-season eligibility, while pitchers need to make three starts to earn starting-pitching eligibility or five relief appearances to earn relief-pitching eligibility.

Darwin Barney (SS), Richard Bleier (RP), Christian Colon (2B), Evan Gattis (C), Shane Greene (RP), Casey Kelly (RP), Rob Refsnyder (1B), Sean Rodriguez (SS), Josh Smith (RP), Ryan Weber (RP).

The following players are within two games of earning new eligibility, with their total games played noted at the listed position.

Cristhian Adames (2B, 8 games), Javier Baez (SS, 8 games), Andres Blanco (1B, 8 games), Matt Carpenter (1B, 9 games), Daniel Castro (3B, 9 games), Chase d'Arnaud (3B, 9 games), Andrew Romine (OF, 8 games), Ryan Rua (1B, 9 games).

Going-forward rankings: Week 11

Listed below are my updated, going-forward rankings. These are based upon an ESPN standard league of 10 teams and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring. Click here to see these rankings sorted by position.

Updated Top 250 Rankings

* Overall 2016 Player Rater season ranking. Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games, otherwise the position the player appeared at most, in 2015, or a minimum of 10 games in 2016. "NR" in the "Previous Rank" column means that the player resided outside the top 250 in last week's edition.