2016 Outlook: Heading into the season, 2015 was going to be a huge year for Scherzer. He was moving to the National League again, and the Nationals looked very strong on paper. Some were picking him to win another Cy Young with an eye towards his domination of NL East hitters. Well, Scherzer posted the second-best K/9 of his career and set new career-bests in his BB/9 as well as his ERA, but he ended up going 14-12 thanks in part to the malaise around him on the roster. He had 11 games in which he struck out double-digit batters, had five games in which he allowed three or fewer hits including a perfect game and a no-hitter that came just a chicken wing HBP away from another perfecto. The one flaw of his own doing was he struggled preventing the long ball as he allowed home runs in 16 of his 33 outings with multiple home runs in 8 starts. All in all, he's still a fantasy stud for 2016.
2016 Outlook: Injuries plagued Strasburg throughout 2015, as an ankle issue in spring training was linked to a shoulder ailment he suffered in May. From there, neck tightness and an oblique strain also caused him to miss time, but there was a noticeable difference in his performance before and after his first stint on the disabled list. Strasburg had a 6.55 ERA through 10 starts, while opposing hitters posted an .874 OPS against him. Additionally, he failed to go four innings in four of his last five starts before getting shut down by the ankle problem. Upon returning to the mound on June 23 in Atlanta, Strasburg was one of the most dominant starters in the game the rest of the way, compiling a 110:12 K:BB, 1.76 ERA and allowing opposing batters to post a mere .500 OPS against him over his final 13 starts. Strasburg is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after having a non-cancerous growth removed from his back during the offseason. With a full season of health, he still has the skills necessary to finish as a top-three pitcher, and he should come at a slightly discounted price on draft day with just one 200-inning season under his belt since 2012.
2016 Outlook: Thankfully, Papelbon's fantasy owners don't have to worry about him choking any of his fantasy teammates, because the fiery reliever continues to produce statistically, despite his consistent blowups and bridge-burning. Papelbon's 24 saves in 2015 marked his lowest total since becoming Boston's closer in 2006, but he still recorded a 2.13 ERA and showcased his typically impeccable control, as he walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings. However, there is room for concern with Papelbon's declining stuff -- he struck out a career-low 7.9 batters per nine innings, and now has a fastball averaging under 92.0 mph. Between his experience and his control, there's no reason to believe he can't be sharp with that arsenal, but his margin for error continues to shrink.
2016 Outlook: The strikeouts remained intact, and the home run rate tied a career-low at 1.1 percent (the same as his MLB-leading rate from 2012), but Gio's magical ability to squelch base hits went completely out the window in 2015. Gonzalez hadn't allowed more than 7.8 H/9 since 2009, but that rate ballooned to 9.3 H/9 last season, which combined with his typically high walk rate to inflate his ERA and his WHIP to levels not seen in six years. He has been losing velocity for the past few seasons, and has lost 1.4 mph on average since his 2012 peak, but the lost pitch speed is no enough to explain the depths of his plunge in value last season. His FIP, which ignores hit rates, was virtually the same in 2015 (FIP of 3.05) as it was in 2014 (FIP of 3.02), but his BABIP spiked 44 points to a .343 mark last season. The BABIP was completely out of line with career norms for Gonzalez, an outlier so large as to suggest that there was likely some skill degradation in addition to some misfortune on balls in play. Regardless of the source, expect Gonzalez to put up better fantasy numbers in 2016.
2016 Outlook: With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister gone, the door is open for the 22-year-old Ross to secure a spot in the Nationals' starting rotation, and his 2015 stint with the club provided plenty of reason to believe the young righty can flourish in the role. Ross' most encouraging metrics were his 8.1 K/9 rate and stingy 0.82 HR/9 figure. Both numbers were in proximity of Ross' marks in those categories over four-plus minor-league campaigns, lending credence to the idea that they can carry over into a full season with the big club. He brings a near-94 mph fastball to the table, and demonstrated solid command of the strike zone in 76 2/3 innings last season. While his work against left-handed hitters (.279 average surrendered) and on the road (1-3, 5.29 ERA) need improvement, Ross' ability to mow down hitters could render him as one of the most effective back-of-the-rotation starters in 2016, and provide terrific value for those savvy enough to nab him in drafts this spring.
2016 Outlook: Although his numbers in 2015 were fairly good, they may not even do Giolito justice for just how good he pitched. The right-hander split time between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 2.71 ERA and 3.80 ERA at those levels respectively. However, he may have been the victim of some bad luck, as his FIP was actually 1.90 and 3.12 at those levels, showing he was even better than those stats would show. Pair the strong FIP with a combined 10.1 K/9 and you've got the makings of a future big-league ace. Giolito will likely start off with Triple-A to develop a bit more against advanced hitters, but don't be surprised if the 21-year-old makes his major-league debut sometime this season.
2016 Outlook: Those who miss out on a second closer or decide to punt saves entirely should have Kelley near the top of their list of speculative options. The right-hander's lone season in San Diego was the best so far of his career, as he shaved more than two runs off his ERA from 2014, using a slider-heavy approach to induce swinging strikes at close to a 15 percent clip. He attacked the strike zone and trimmed his walk rate by nearly two percentage points, with right-handed hitters combining for just a .536 OPS against Kelley, down from .709 the year before. Team context is important here, too, as Kelley signed with Washington in the offseason, and incumbent closer Jonathan Papelbon is in a walk year and on shaky ground with the organization. Kelley should be first in line if the job opens up.
2016 Outlook: Last year's offseason signing of Max Scherzer pushed Roark into bullpen duty to begin the season, but he eventually saw some time out of the starting rotation after injuries to Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg. The 29-year-old was more effective working as a reliever (3.74 ERA in 45.2 innings as opposed to a 4.82 ERA in 65.1 innings starting), but the departures of Fister and Jordan Zimmermann have positioned Roark to return to the rotation this year. He may stand to benefit from a more clearly defined role at the season's outset, as he sported an impressive 2.85 ERA in 2014 while working exclusively as a starter. In reality, his true value likely lies somewhere in between his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, but he could have a quick hook if things don't start off well.
2016 Outlook: Cole made his first career start on Apr. 28 and was shellacked, giving up nine hits and nine runs (four earned) in two innings. After being sent down in the wake of that, Cole made two more major league appearances, giving up two earned runs in those two appearances, but couldn't find any sort of consistent role in the majors. After a poor start in Triple-A, Cole finished at 5-6 with a 3.15 ERA in 21 appearances (19 starts) while striking out 76 in 105.2 innings. Cole will likely be in the mix for the last starting rotation spot, but with Joe Ross, Tanner Roark, Bronson Arroyo and Lucas Giolito all above him in the pecking order for the last two rotation spots, Cole will likely either start in the MLB bullpen or in the Triple-A rotation. As one of the team's top prospects, the Nationals will likely take their time with him as opposed to rushing him into action.