2015 Outlook: Hernandez produced a 99th-percentile 2014 season in every category but wins, as he received only average run support. While he was a little lucky on batted balls (.269 BABIP), he was superb in nearly every other indicator. His strikeout percentage improved again from 26.3 percent to 27.2, his GB/FB ratio increased and his walk rate declined. After a steady decline in his average fastball velocity in previous years, King Felix actually threw a little harder in 2014, quelling fears he was starting to break down physically. There's nothing pointing to a collapse from elite levels for the 10-year veteran.
2015 Outlook: The 2014 season was a tough one for an AL pitcher to try to win the Cy Young Award, given the amazing performances of Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez. But in many other years, Sale would have been an outstanding candidate. He posted excellent ratios (2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), struck out batters at the highest rate of his career as a starter (10.76 K/9) and allowed fewer homers (just 13 in 174 innings). But because he missed six starts with a flexor strain, he never had much of a chance. The White Sox invested in their offense and their bullpen this offseason, which should give Sale more opportunities to win games in 2015. Unfortunately Sale suffered a sprained ankle and an avulsion fracture in his right foot during camp, leaving his status for the start of the season in serious jeopardy. All signs point to him joining the rotation at some point in April, but he will not be ready for Opening Day, and there is a chance he could miss one or two more starts in the early going.
2015 Outlook: How much do you believe in Kluber's breakout 2014 season? Many analysts point to his conversion to using a four-seam fastball instead of a two-seamer as fueling this performance spike. He already had strong secondary offerings, so the heater was the final piece of the puzzle. Kluber ran a little lucky in terms of preventing home runs (7.4 percent HR/FB), but he also induces a lot of ground balls. Because he's such a late bloomer, Kluber hasn't accumulated nearly as many innings as others in the first tier of starting pitchers. That rubs both ways, though, as 2014 represented a big workload spike for him. Expect a little bit of regression, but nothing near a collapse.
2015 Outlook: Price pounds the strike zone more than nearly anyone else in baseball, walking less than four percent of the hitters he's faced the past two years. After a few health scares in 2013, Price stayed healthy in 2014 and saw a big spike in his strikeout rate, going from 20.4 percent to 26.9 percent. His overall results with the Tigers weren't quite as good as with the Rays, but he's still set to remain among the elite, and he'll likely have better defensive support if the Tigers can regain the services of Jose Iglesias at shortstop.
2015 Outlook: When Samardzija first reached the major leagues, his control was a major problem, but over the last two years, it's improved to the point where it's actually become an asset. He once walked 13.2 percent of the batters he faced, but in 2014, that rate slipped down all the way to 4.9 percent. Despite the big improvement in his ratios, Samardzija had a hard time notching wins, thanks to bullpen collapses and poor run support -- he got just 3.55 runs of support in a league where 4.07 was the average. Those factors should change with Samardzija's offseason trade to the White Sox, whose hitting has been boosted by the additions of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera, while they've added David Robertson and Zach Duke to the back end of their bullpen. The change in ballparks and a little change in the normal ebb and flow of luck on batted balls might hurt Samardzija's ERA and WHIP, but he'll probably do better in the win column as a tradeoff.
2015 Outlook: Between the regular season and the postseason, Holland saved a whopping 53 games for Kansas City in 2014, with a mere two blown opportunities. The right-hander didn't allow a hit in his final eight appearances of the regular season, and allowed just one run in 11 innings during the Royals' improbable October run to the World Series. He surrendered multiple earned runs just once in 76 combined appearances, and issued multiple walks just three times. With three home runs allowed, Holland has now given up all of 14 long balls in 275 innings for his career, and he improved against opposing lefties for a third straight year. There's always a chance the workload could catch up to Holland, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down (95.8 mph average fastball velocity last season) and thus is still among the most appealing closers in fantasy entering 2015.
2015 Outlook: Gray was one of the buzziest names in last year's drafts, as his ADP climbed more than 50 spots throughout March, and he ended up delivering on the hype. The A's didn't treat the second-year starter cautiously, letting him throw 219 innings. Just as he pitched brilliantly in the 2013 playoffs, Gray came up big when the A's needed him most in September, throwing a complete-game shutout against the Rangers on the final day of the season to clinch a playoff spot. His strikeout rate dropped quite a bit in 2014, but it wasn't because of a loss in velocity, lending some hope that the strikeouts will return. He still has a superb curveball as his out pitch, and he toils in a good ballpark. The A's underwent a major overhaul in the offseason, so there could be some issues with his run support, but Gray's rate stats should remain strong.
2015 Outlook: The immediate success of recent prospects has made it difficult to realize that many don't follow that linear path. Carrasco is the perfect illustration of a prospect who took a long time to find his way. After being acquired from the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, he remained on target for a midseason call-up in 2010, then scuffled in 2011. As it turns out, he was battling elbow problems all season and needed Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012. When he returned, Carrasco had the control problems that often accompany a pitcher coming back from that surgery. He finally got it all together last season after getting over some early hiccups and ended up being one of the most dominant pitchers in the final two months. Carrasco is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball, and now he has good enough secondary offerings to accompany that fastball. There are those who might discount Carrasco because of the sample size of his breakout, but his pedigree and velocity should be your controlling factors. Get him, and hope he can put it all together for a full season.
2015 Outlook: Few pitchers are as difficult to evaluate heading into 2015 as Tanaka. He pitched like an absolute ace in the first three months of his debut season with the Yankees, posting a 2.10 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 115⅔ innings (16 starts). Then, the calendar turned to July, and he briefly pitched (poorly) through a partial UCL tear before being shut down until late September, when he returned to pitch seven total innings in two appearances. The Yankees are opting to go the nonsurgical route with Tanaka for now, but general manager Brian Cashman openly said the team is keeping its fingers crossed heading into this season. The risk of further elbow issues with Tanaka is undeniable, but so is the upside if he can pitch a full season.
2015 Outlook: The pressure of trying to fill Mariano Rivera's shoes in the country's biggest media market could have easily gotten to Robertson, but the right-hander proved poised and plenty capable in the ninth-inning role in his first season as a closer. A groin injury forced him onto the DL just a week into the season, but Robertson returned after the minimum 15 days and remained healthy the rest of the year, converting 36 of his first 39 save opportunities and improving his strikeout rate from 2013 by three per nine innings. Thanks to an anomalous 15.6 percent HR/FB rate (career 9.4 percent) and a pair of disastrous outings, Robertson finished with an ERA more than a full run above his 2013 mark, but his xFIP actually dropped from 2.60 to 2.13, giving him the confidence to turn down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer at the end of the season. The White Sox ponied up more than $40 million to acquire Robertson's services, cementing him into the closer role on a rising team for several years to come.
2015 Outlook: The Angels' playoff demise might have been foretold on Aug. 20, when Richards blew out the patellar tendon of his left knee trying to cover first base against the Red Sox. Once he was lost, the Angels' lack of depth meant they had to start C.J. Wilson in an elimination game. The 26-year-old Richards was having a breakout season prior to the injury, posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 168 2/3 innings, a great example of why it's often profitable to invest in high-velocity pitchers who haven't yet achieved a high strikeout rate. They can eventually develop adequate or better secondary offerings that make that fastball harder to hit. That was the case with Richards, who went from striking out 16.3 percent of hitters in 2013 to 24.2 percent last year before the injury. It hurts that he won't be ready for Opening Day, but Richards is said be ahead of schedule in his recovery, with the Angels now hoping he'll be ready sometime in April.
2015 Outlook: The only thing holding Cobb back from being a first-tier starting pitcher is health, as he's spent big chunks of time on the DL each of the last four seasons. But is Cobb actually injury-prone? His 2011 shoulder injury and subsequent surgery certainly are part of the job and worrisome, but his more recent injuries have been flukier -- a batted ball off his leg, the scary line drive off his forehead in 2013, and an oblique injury suffered while batting in 2014. He's not a strikeout machine, but he's also not a total void there. Cobb's an extreme ground-ball pitcher thanks to his split-change, so the Rays' switch from Yunel Escobar to Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop might hurt a little bit, but this could be the year that Cobb has a full 33-start season and turns a big profit for his owners.
2015 Outlook: Rather than turn to Allen to serve as the primary closer after releasing Chris Perez, the Indians brought in the more experienced John Axford to fill the ninth-inning role at the start of last season. It was less than two months before performance dictated a change, with Allen picking up saves in the final two days of May to secure his hold on the job. Although Allen's FIP (2.99) was more than 90 points higher than his ERA (2.07) last season, he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 14.1 percent and his opponents' line-drive rate fell by more than nine percent (from 24.6 percent to 15.3 percent). Using just two pitches -- a mid-90s fastball and a curveball -- Allen struck batters out at a 32.6 percent clip, and he also fared far better against lefties than he had before. Entering 2015, Allen is locked in as Cleveland's endgame option, and there's currently nobody in the bullpen who presents a legitimate threat to his role.
2015 Outlook: On Aug. 31, Iwakuma beat the Nationals, allowing three runs in six innings, which left him with a 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP for the season to that point. The month of September was pretty ugly, however, as he had a 7.60 ERA over five starts, with two disasters coming against the Astros. Iwakuma asserted at the time that he was healthy, but fatigued and not injured, but ended up leaving his very next start with back and groin ailments. So was he dealing with those issues all along, or did they develop in that game? When a player goes through a negative stretch like that, our first instinct is to find a reason for it and then evaluate whether it's going to be a control issue for the future. Iwakuma's control was a little off in September, but he was also victimized by poor batted-ball luck, and the back and groin issues don't promise to be chronic. Even with the down final month, his control was spectacular on the whole, as Iwakuma's walk rate was just 3 percent -- 21 in 179 innings. So long as he keeps pitching in Safeco, he's going to do well by pounding the strike zone like that.
2015 Outlook: In terms of pure stuff, Betances is easily among the most impressive pitchers in the game. After a failed run as a starter in the minors, Betances began his transition to the bullpen in 2013. It seems safe to say he's found his niche. The right-hander posted an ERA under 2.00 in all but one month in his first full season in the Yankees' bullpen, and in the one month he did not (April), he had a mark of 2.03. Having scrapped the curveball and rarely used changeup from his arsenal, Betances instead relied on a devastating slider to complement his mid- to high-90s fastball and strike batters out at a 39.6 percent clip, only behind new teammate Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger in the AL. With David Robertson departing in the offseason, the door is open for Betances to step in as the Yankees' closer, though Miller's signing has clouded things a bit. If is he formally named the closer, Betances' stock will skyrocket, and even if he doesn't get the job and remains in a multi-inning role, he will still be more valuable than a lot of starting pitchers.