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: Teheran's second velocity drop -- his average fastball lost 1.1 mph last year after having stabilized following a full-point drop from 2011 to 2012 -- is a matter of some question. Was this due to the wear and tear of a long season, one in which he exceeded 200 innings for the first time in his career, was it by design for purposes of longevity and increased control, or is this a warning sign? Along with that drop in velocity came a small drop in Teheran's strikeout rate, from 22 percent to 21 percent, not to mention his FIP, which suggests last year's 2.89 ERA was an aberration. Another point of concern is Teheran's team context -- the Braves traded away two-thirds of their starting outfield in Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, then Evan Gattis, leaving them with an outfield of B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis and a big question mark in left field. The net effect will likely be a decline in outfield defense, which isn't good for a fly ball pitcher like Teheran, and he's likely to see reduced offensive support as well. Pointing out all of these concerns isn't to say you should avoid Teheran, but he might not take the next step in his development in 2015.
2015 Outlook: Wainwright turned in yet another stellar season in 2014, posting career-best ratios despite a strikeout rate that dropped to 19.9 percent. But that drop in strikeouts sometimes worked in his favor, as he needed fewer pitches to get through an inning than his high-strikeout peers. His status should be monitored carefully this spring after he had surgery to trim a piece of cartilage from his right elbow immediately after the playoffs. Another issue popped up in camp, with Wainwright suffering an abdominal strain that could keep him out of spring games until mid-March. His status should be monitored by prospective owners throughout spring training, but this represents a nice buying opportunity for the bold, as he is going at a firm discount in drafts due to his health concerns.
2015 Outlook: Shields turned in another solid performance in his final season with the Royals in 2014, posting a 3.21 ERA over 227 innings. He seemed to trade off a few strikeouts in exchange for better control, walking only 4.7 percent of the batters he faced. Given that he’s a fly ball pitcher who pitched in a park that depresses home runs and had the best defensive outfield in the game behind him, this pitch-to-contact approach made a lot of sense. He will likely deploy a similar strategy once again in 2015, now that he can call Petco Park his home. San Diego is one of the best destinations for free-agent pitchers, so Shields' value will be trending up heading into drafts. The outfield defense could be a bit of an issue, but the Padres have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and will finally field a competent big league lineup, which should allow Shields to win double-digit games for the ninth season in a row.
2015 Outlook: Cole has been a very effective major league pitcher in his first two seasons, but his performance, especially in the fantasy realm, still lags behind the hype that follows the former No. 1 overall pick. He has a 3.09 career FIP in 255⅓ innings, but in his rookie season Cole failed to notch the strikeout totals owners had hoped for, and last season he missed 10 weeks with fatigue and a subsequently diagnosed strain in his throwing shoulder. The big, 6-foot-4 righty possesses a fastball and slider that are among the best offerings in the National League, and while healthy, his strikeout totals finally started to sync up with his elite raw stuff. Cole's 24.2 percent strikeout rate in 2014 was a nice improvement on his 21.3 percent rate from his rookie season, and it does not take much imagination to project further strides in this department in coming seasons. Until he has the 220-inning tour de force campaign most agree he is capable of, Cole's price on draft day will continue to offer room for fantasy owners to profit.
2015 Outlook: Harvey is returning from Tommy John surgery after not throwing a pitch at any point in 2014. The good news is that the success rate of pitchers returning from the procedure, while not uniform, is much better than a decade ago. Moreover, Harvey will be 17 months removed from his surgery by the start of the season, so he might not have some of the growing pains experienced by some of his peers who came back in 10-12 months. His previously elite velocity was already all the way back in early spring outings, but as is the case with most pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, the return of his command and control will be the key to Harvey achieving his prior level of dominance. The Mets intend to limit Harvey's workload a little in 2015, so he'll probably throw fewer than 200 innings and might skip a start around the All-Star break.
2015 Outlook: Gonzalez missed six starts in 2014 due to shoulder inflammation, which has to be frightening for fantasy owners considering him at the draft table. But when he was on the mound, his results were similar to his career numbers, if not better in some instances. His 24.8 percent strikeout rate was better than his career average, and his 8.6 percent walk rate, while not elite, was still the best of his career. He also was a little bit unlucky, as his strand rate was a tick below average at 70.6 percent. Gonzalez did lose half an MPH off his fastball, however, and that's probably not coming back at age 29. Look for him to receive somewhat improved run and bullpen support, and if he stays healthy, his peripherals suggest he'll improve on last year's 3.57 ERA.
2015 Outlook: Ross has been one of the best success stories on the Padres under manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley. After acquiring Ross from the A's before the 2013 season, the Black-Balsley duo changed the righty's mechanics -- giving him a higher leg kick, among other adjustments -- and he paid dividends starting midway through that season. He has one of the best sliders in the game, and he also uses that slider more than nearly every starter in the game. Ross might be paying the bill for that soon, however -- he missed the end of the 2014 season with a forearm flexor strain. The Padres overhauled their roster in the offseason, giving them a much better lineup, albeit at the expense of defense, especially in the outfield. Fortunately, Ross shouldn't be affected as badly as other starters on the staff, given his high strikeout and groundball rates from last season.
2015 Outlook: When an oblique injury forced Jason Grilli to the DL in May, Melancon was afforded another opportunity in the ninth-inning role for Pittsburgh. It wasn't smooth sailing from the get-go, as Melancon blew two of his first seven save chances, leading manager Clint Hurdle to reinsert Grilli into the role upon his activation later in the month. It was just a matter of weeks, however, before the switch back to Melancon was made, and the right-hander went on to convert 23 of his final 24 save opportunities. Melancon finished with brilliant numbers (1.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), and though he did benefit from a .258 BABIP and 80.4 percent strand rate, he improved his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 13.7 percent while lowering his line-drive rate by more than 4 percent. He also maintained a ground ball rate above 57 percent, seemingly locking him in as the team's closer to open 2015. There's always a chance the Pirates could look to move him back to the setup role eventually, but he's easily the best option they have in the ninth inning at the moment.
2015 Outlook: Arguably one of the best free-agent fantasy pickups in 2014, deGrom wasn't even listed among the Mets' top 10 prospects entering the year, but he excelled in 22 starts, winning nine times while posting excellent ratios and one of the best strikeout rates among starting pitchers. DeGrom's surprising success was credited to him honing his breaking ball and changeup during the spring, as both became above-average pitches to go along with his low-to-mid-90s fastball. That combination worked wonders, as he missed plenty of bats and kept the ball in the park. The 179 innings he worked between Triple-A and the majors represents an increase of 30 over any of his other seasons, but don't think of him as a rookie fluke -- the supporting statistics show that what deGrom did in 2014 was very real.
2015 Outlook: Although Rosenthal's walk rate more than doubled last season, going from 2.4 BB/9 in 2013 to 5.4 BB/9, he was able to hold onto the Cardinals' closer job the entire year. The right-hander blew six opportunities, but still finished with 45 saves, second in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel. While his swinging-strike rate fell by close to two percent and his opponents' line-drive rate jumped by nearly six percent, Rosenthal allowed just two home runs in 70.1 regular-season innings and finished the year with just three earned runs allowed in his final 15 appearances (including the postseason). Jordan Walden, whom the Cardinals acquired from the Braves in the offseason, has closing experience and will be waiting in the wings in case Rosenthal falters, and Carlos Martinez could be a ninth-inning option as well if he fails to maintain a rotation spot, but as long as Rosenthal has manager Mike Matheny's trust, he will see plenty of chances and thus warrant consideration as a first closer
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.