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: Arrieta had one of the biggest breakout performances by a starting pitcher in 2014. He put up a 2.53 ERA, which ranked 10th among pitchers who threw more than 150 innings, yet was largely undrafted in fantasy leagues. While certainly unexpected, it was not an empty or fluky ERA. Simply put, Arrieta was as good as all his numbers indicate. He had a 0.99 WHIP, a sparkling 167:41 K:BB ratio in 156⅔ innings and a 2.26 FIP, which suggest he pitched even better than his ERA indicates. The 6-4 righty was downright untouchable in almost a quarter of his starts. He had six outings in which he went six-plus innings while giving up zero earned runs and allowing four or fewer baserunners. After failing to live up to his impressive numbers in the minor leagues with Baltimore, Arrieta has blossomed under the instruction of Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and will enter his age-29 season as a legitimate No. 2 starter behind Jon Lester on the North Side.
2015 Outlook: On the surface, it appears as though Jansen took a significant step back last season, with his ERA and WHIP jumping by .88 and .27, respectively, but he actually shaved .08 off his FIP. The right-hander improved his K/9 rate by nearly a full strikeout (from 13.0 to 13.9) and his swinging-strike rate by more than 2 percent, to a career-best 16.6 percent. Jansen finished with a 1.69 ERA and .186 BAA after the All-Star break, but his overall numbers were marred by an anomalous .350 BABIP. It should be noted that lefties did have far more success against Jansen, batting .284/.331/.379 against him, well up from .204/.256/.274, but his fastball velocity ticked back up and he finished third in the NL in saves with 44. Unfortunately, Jansen's 2015 debut will be delayed after he was forced to undergo foot surgery in mid-February, a procedure which carries with it a 8-to-12 week estimated recovery timetable. J.P. Howell, Chris Hatcher and Joel Peralta seem like the top in-house candidates to start the year in the closer role, though the Dodgers may very well look outside the organization for a short-term replacement.
2015 Outlook: The hype surrounding the young Wacha following a dominant rookie season and an even more impressive showing in the 2013 postseason was so intense that there was no way he could possibly have lived up to expectations. Mix in a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder that forced him to miss about 14 starts, and fantasy owners were left thoroughly disappointed in Wacha's sophomore campaign. Now that expectations have simmered and people are beginning to realize he's a good No. 3 starter with the potential to pitch like a No. 2 at times, his draft-day price tag is much more palatable. The 23-year-old uses an effective four-pitch mix, generating plenty of whiffs with his 94 mph four-seam fastball, which allows his plus changeup to serve as an out pitch. Wacha had a 3.20 ERA (3.17 FIP), 1.20 WHIP and a 21 percent strikeout rate in 107 innings last year -- rates he should be able to replicate in a full season in 2015.
2015 Outlook: It seemed as though Bailey was on the verge of putting it all together after his strong 2013 campaign -- which included the second no-hitter of his career -- but the former first-round pick (seventh overall in 2004) disappointed in his eighth major league season. Less than a month after signing a six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds, Bailey suffered a groin strain during a Cactus League outing, delaying his 2014 debut slightly. He struggled out of the gate, posting a 6.15 ERA in April, and while he did improve gradually in each of the following months, a torn flexor mass tendon in his right forearm forced Bailey out of action in August and ultimately ended his year. The injury required surgery, and manager Bryan Price left open the possibility that Bailey may not be ready to start the year. Keep a close eye on Bailey as he progresses through his throwing program; any setback would impact his draft position considerably.
2015 Outlook: The big, 6-5 righty had a career year in 2014, thanks to some luck on balls in play and a reduced walk rate. Lynn should be judged by his 3.35 FIP -- which is right in line with his career average -- and not his 2.74 ERA, which was a far cry from his 3.97 in 2013 despite very similar peripherals. Lynn might never be a WHIP reducer, as he has lived in the 1.26-1.32 range in his three full seasons in the big leagues. However, he has now posted back-to-back seasons with 200-plus innings and 180-plus strikeouts, which is an appealing combination. He turns 28 in May, so there's no reason to think Lynn won't continue to be a steady innings-eater with valuable strikeout totals in 2015.
2015 Outlook: The swingman with the funky delivery became a full-time starter and added a breaking ball to become one of the bigger surprises in 2014. Wood understood he needed a third pitch to effectively move from the pen to the rotation, and the curveball did the trick for him, as he generated an above-average strikeout rate and did not hurt himself with walks or get hurt badly by home runs. Thus far in his career, he's been able to strand runners at a very high rate for starting pitchers, but it's very unlikely he repeats his 2014 level of 80 percent, as only a handful of pitchers have ever done so. Wood will help in ratios and strikeouts, but the Atlanta offense might hold down his win total.
2015 Outlook: By any measure, 2014 was successful for the Phillies' closer and certainly an improvement on his 2013, as Papelbon posted his highest save total since 2008 and his lowest WHIP since 2007. His strikeout rate ticked back up to 24.3 percent and his opponents' line-drive rate of 15.3 percent matched a career best. However, there were some signs that suggest Papelbon is due for a significant regression in his age-34 season. He finished with a .247 BABIP and 2.7 percent HR/FB rate, numbers that helped mask another dip in fastball velocity. Indeed, since 2011, Papelbon has lost nearly four miles per hour off his fastball. Further, his 3.50 xFIP was just one tick lower than his 2013 mark. When it comes to relief pitchers, role is of utmost importance in fantasy, and the uncertainty regarding Papelbon's future in Philadelphia presents another wrinkle for prospective owners, though Papelbon would likely push for the closer role no matter where he ends up.
2015 Outlook: Fister enjoyed a huge 2014 season despite a sharp strikeout rate dip and a strained lat that pushed his season debut to May 9. After getting roughed up by Oakland in that initial start, he reeled off a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 24 outings, going at least five innings in every one and failing to finish six innings just four times. The 14.8 percent strikeout rate, however, was a throwback to his Seattle days after an impressive 19.3 percent with the Tigers. He survived by walking virtually nobody, as his 3.6 percent walk rate was fifth-best among qualified starters; those who did reach were routinely left on base, as his 83.1 percent strand rate paced the league. The indicators can't see a repeat with these same skills, but the real surprise would be a repeat of these skills. The strikeout rate will almost certainly head upward and help negate the dip in strand rate, though you still shouldn't plan on an ERA among the league leaders. Buy the innings and WHIP while hoping that his continued presence on a great team yields another strong win total.
2015 Outlook: After pitching 180-plus innings annually from 2010 to 2013, Latos was limited to just 102⅓ innings last season after starting the year on the DL following knee surgery and dealing with multiple elbow issues in the second half. The Reds shipped him to Miami for the final year of his contract, and it's reasonable to wonder whether internal concerns about his elbow contributed to that move. His strikeout rate dipped below 21 percent (17.6 percent) for the first time since 2009, but that can probably be attributed to his knee and elbow issues. Latos was still able to post a 3.25 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, although both were aided by a .269 BABIP. Now entering his age-27 season, the 6-6 righty will get a boost with his new pitching-friendly home environment, and there's reason to believe he could be in for a big year if his health cooperates.