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: 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 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: 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: Archer's maturation from a fifth-round selection in 2006 into a legitimate No. 3 starter in the big leagues is one of the best stories in the Rays' storied history of prospect development. The athletic, 6-3 righty solidified his status as a mid-rotation starter last season as a 25-year-old, posting a 3.33 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 194⅔ healthy innings. He pumps gas with a 96 mph heater and a hard, 87 mph grounder-inducing slider while occasionally mixing in a changeup. For Archer to take another step forward both in real life and fantasy, going deeper into games will be key. In 32 starts last season, he pitched more than seven innings on just two occasions. He's shown he can remain effective the third time through the order, and now that he's entering his third full season, the hope is that the Rays fully set him loose. Entering his age-26 season, Archer provides the nice combination of a high floor and room to dream a little.
2015 Outlook: Coming off a career season that was supported by the advanced stats, it was easy to view Sanchez as a No. 2 fantasy starter heading into 2014. Unfortunately, his season was shortened by minor finger and chest injuries, keeping his innings total below 180 for the first time since 2009. His strikeout rate also dipped below 20 percent for the first time since 2010, which limited his production when he was healthy. The drop in strikeouts can be attributed to an increased contact rate, but even as a more hittable pitcher, Sanchez was a well-above-average starter when he was on the mound. All told, he finished with a 3.43 ERA (2.71 FIP), 1.10 WHIP and 102 strikeouts in 126 innings. If he can return to eating 180-plus innings, he should finish as a top-30 starter in fantasy.
2015 Outlook: At 32, Weaver's skills seem to be diminishing at least slightly, but he's a proven fantasy commodity. Weaver tied with Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer for the AL lead with 18 wins last season, marking the third time in the past four years he's reached that number, and he'll return to anchor the staff for an Angels team that won the most games in baseball last year. He has seen alarming spikes in his WHIP the past two years, going from 1.01 to 1.14 to 1.20, but Weaver brought his line-drive rate back down to 19.2 percent last season from 22.4 percent the year before. Further, his first-pitch-strike rate dropped to a career-low 56 percent last season; if he can get back to attacking the strike zone early in counts, it could go a long way toward improving his numbers in the ratio categories. A return to All-Star form seems optimistic, but Weaver should still garner interest as a third or fourth starting pitcher on draft day.
2015 Outlook: McHugh came out of nowhere to finish with the sixth-best WHIP (1.02) and 15th-best ERA (2.73) among starters with 150-plus innings last season. While he may not be quite as good as his numbers indicate, this does not appear to be entirely a flash in the pan. McHugh relies primarily on a low-90s fastball, a hard slider and a bat-missing curveball. His 157:41 K:BB ratio in 154⅔ innings demonstrates that his stuff and command are above average, and his 3.11 xFIP suggests he can remain fairly successful in his second full season with Houston. It's unlikely McHugh will continue to pitch like a borderline ace going forward, but his lack of prospect pedigree or a flashy repertoire, combined with the fact that he pitches for the Astros, should keep his price suppressed on draft day.