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Twelve unheralded, and dominating, starting pitchers to consider in 2016

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Ray profiles twelve starting pitchers that fantasy owners should consider in 2016 fantasy baseball drafts.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

No one likes to pay for starting pitchers. At least that is the case in most of the leagues I play in. Having to pay big dollars or draft an ace in the early rounds of drafts just isn't popular (although it should be), so with that in mind, I conducted a little off season research looking for some cheap starting pitchers who could exceed their draft day value in 2016.

Last week, I was doing some offseason draft research for one of my leagues over at FanGraphs. I was looking for some starting pitchers who I could grab in drafts relatively cheaply, whether it be an auction draft of a snake draft. I decided to look at all starting pitchers who tossed 40 or more innings in the second half of the 2015 season. I sorted the resulting spreadsheet by K/9, as the higher the strikeout rate, the lower the ERA and WHIP......usually. Then again, there are some starters, even some listed in the table below, that you may have to hold your nose when drafting in 2016, as a few pitch in some hitters parks.

In my search, the obvious names came up, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, among many others, but you already know about them so they were not included in this article. This article seeks to find starting pitchers with a high strikeout rate, who could help you in the strikeout category, and possibly help in the ERA and WHIP categories if things go there way. That may be asking a lot, or too much, in some cases, but every year we find some diamonds in the rough when drafting young, unproven starters late in drafts.

Here is the resulting table sorted by K/9, reflecting the pitchers' 2015 performance: wins, walks per nine, ground ball rate, ERA, and other advanced ERA estimators.

Name

Team

W

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

John Lamb

Reds

1

10

49.2

10.51

3.44

37.70%

5.80

4.16

3.73

0.6

Raisel Iglesias

Reds

2

11

66.1

10.45

2.58

53.10%

3.39

3.66

2.92

1

Kyle Hendricks

Cubs

4

15

81

9.78

2.89

53.70%

4.44

3.32

2.84

1.5

Robbie Ray

Diamondbacks

2

15

77.2

9.39

4.29

49.30%

4.40

3.92

3.85

0.9

Taylor Jungmann

Brewers

5

14

73.1

8.96

4.30

40.60%

4.79

4.29

4.19

0.7

Adam Conley

Marlins

3

10

53.2

8.89

2.85

42.20%

3.69

3.43

3.93

1.1

Jon Gray

Rockies

0

9

40.2

8.85

3.10

43.20%

5.53

3.63

3.84

0.8

J.A. Happ

Blue Jays

7

14

75.1

8.84

2.39

40.50%

2.99

3.21

3.38

1.7

Rick Porcello

Red Sox

4

11

71.1

8.83

1.89

47.60%

3.53

3.57

3.23

1.1

Carlos Rodon

White Sox

6

12

73

8.75

3.70

45.40%

3.70

3.96

4.04

1.1

Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies

3

8

51

8.65

2.29

37.90%

2.65

3.25

3.60

1.2

Lance McCullers

Astros

2

11

61.1

8.51

2.79

44.90%

3.96

3.92

3.54

0.8

I am sure you are all too familiar with several of the starting pitchers in the table above, including Carlos Rodon, Lance McCullers, Rick Porcello, and one starter who will be getting plenty of love this offseason, Reds starter Raisel Iglesias. I won't write about all of the starting pitchers in the above table, but here are my thoughts on a few of the guys who are intriguing in 2016.

John Lamb, Reds

Lamb is a former top prospect with the Royals, who was included in the package that sent Johnny Cueto to the Royals last summer. Upon joining the Reds, Lamb made 10 starts, not many good ones, but he did strike out 58 batters and walking 19 in 49.2 innings. His 10.51 K/9 was good for 8th best among qualified starters in the second half last season. Lamb's problem was the home run ball, as he served up eight of them in his 49 innings, so that has to improve in 2016. He also gave up a .376 batting average of balls in play, which is extremely high and should not be repeatable next season. With regression and continued success in striking out batters, Lamb could be serviceable in deeper mixed leagues and NL only leagues in 2016.

Raisel Iglesias, Reds

Yes, another Reds starter, and he is probably the best of them all. In his 11 second half starts, Iglesias pitched like an ace, striking out more than 10 batters per nine, walking around 2.5 per nine and inducing ground ball outs at a near-elite 53% clip. He has all the skills to be a fantasy ace in the next year or so, or even in 2016 if he can repeat his second half performance in 2016. Unlike other dominating starting pitchers, Iglesias doesn't throw a dominating fastball, relying mostly on his sinker, slider and change up mix of pitches to keep hitters off balance and killing worms when they do make contact.

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs

The Cubs have one of the better starting rotations in the National League, with Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of their rotation. Their #5 starter is Hendricks, and he put up a solid season in 2015, winning 8 of his 32 starts with a sub-4.00 ERA and even better advanced ERA estimators. In the second half, he was especially dominant, striking out just under 10 batters per nine, walking under three batters per nine and keeping the ball on the ground at a 53% rate. If he can keep pitching like this in 2016, he can put up an ace-like performance for fantasy owners.

Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks made some noise this offseason, signing ace Zack Greinke to e $206.5 million contract, and trading for Braves starter Shelby Miller. Their rotation will be much improved in 2016, with Greinke, Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby de la Rosa and Ray or Chase Anderson filling out their starting five. Ray was solid in his 23 starts last season, pitching to a 3.52 ERA while striking out more than eight batters per nine. In the second half, his strikeout rate was better, he kept the ball on the ground, but walked too many batters. He was also unlucky with the BABIP in the second half. I will be interested to see if he makes the Dbacks rotation out of spring training. If he does, he can be a cheap source of strikeouts in deeper mixed and NL only leagues next season.

Adam Conley, Marlins

I admit, I had heard of Conley last season, but did not realize he pitched THIS well. In his ten second half starts, he struck out just under nine batters and walked just under three batters per nine, while inducing grounders at a 42% rate. He's a three pitch starter, throwing a fastball, slider and change up, and should make the Marlins rotation out of spring training, assuming he doesn't get injured or gets knocked around. He is more of a NL only choice late in drafts or auctions, but owners shouldn't bid more than $2-3 on him in auctions, but he could easily outperform his draft day value in 2016.

Jon Gray, Rockies

Yes, a Rockies pitcher. Certainly not for the faint of heart, and I am not recommending him in deeper mixed leagues......yet. You see, even though he pitches in Coors Field for half of his starts, he is a former first round pick with the potential to be a #1-2 in the big leagues. If you look past his 5.53 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, there are some skills here that could see growth in 2016. Before he was shut down last season, he made nine starts, striking out almost a batter per nine, walking just over three batters per nine, and kept the ball on the ground at a 43% rate. All three of these stats are important when pitching in Coors Field, and he is working on a fourth pitch, a curveball this offseason. Here is Thomas Harding from MLB.com on Gray's new pitch:

"I'd never thrown a curveball in my life, could never get the spin," said Gray, who purchased a two-foot artificial tree for the first Christmas for himself and his wife, Jacklyn. "I would always watch videos before my start of dominant righties -- Yu DarvishFelix HernandezGerrit ColeGarrett Richards. I noticed a lot of them had something really slow to throw a hitter off. I saw that as a weapon, if I could learn it. I asked the coaches if they could start working with me on one. They were pretty open about it."

Bullpen coach Darren Holmes, whose curveball helped him thrive as a member of the Rockies' bullpen from 1993-97, taught Gray how to make the pitch work consistently. Gray said he already is creating a consistent "12-6" downward break (think of the hands of a clock at 12:30]. He hopes his new toy floats in "below 80, maybe at 75," which would be slower than his changeup, which travels at about 85 mph.

The curveball could help keep hitters off balance, changing their eye level, and induce weaker contact as well. Gray is still very young and learning how to pitch at the big league level, and doing so at Coors is especially difficult. Hitters teed up on him at Coors last season, but he pitched very well on the road, both in small sample sizes. He could be a decent streaming option in 2016.

Rick Porcello, Red Sox

The Red Sox gave Porcello a four year, $82.5 million contract in early April last season, but Porcello, along with the rest of the Red Sox rotation underperformed in the first half of the season, resulting in the firing of GM Ben Cherington and their pitching coach. In the second half, Porcello looked more like the pitcher they gave the big contract to, as he won 4 of his 11 starts, striking out nearly a batter per inning, limiting his walks to under two per nine and keeping the ball on the ground at a 48% rate.  He should come cheaper in 2016 drafts, and should be rostered in mixed and AL only leagues.

Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies

The Phillies are in a complete rebuild right now, and they are accumulating arms via trade and free agency. Eickhoff is almost assured of a rotation spot out of spring training, especially with his performance in eight second half starts, where he went 3-3 with a sub-3.00 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, while striking out almost a batter per inning, limiting the free pass and inducing ground balls at a 37% rate. He won't win many games in 2016, but he could be a breakout candidate who could provide solid strikeout totals, and a decent ERA and WHIP ratio for his owners. He should come very cheap in NL only league auctions and snake drafts, and could easily outperform his draft day auction bid or draft round.

Lance McCullers, Astros

McCullers is another starter who will get plenty of love in 2016 drafts, as he has already made 22 big league starts, striking out a batter per inning, walking around three per nine and inducing grounders at a near 47% clip. He put up a 2.8 fWAR in 125 innings of work last season, and will probably be ranked in the upper parts of Top 100 starting pitcher rankings this offseason. I am writing about him in case you are in a league where this particular Astros pitcher isn't drafted among the top 30 or so starters, assuming you play in a mixed league. Because, if he does fall, you may win your draft by drafting him before the rest of your league mates. Invest with confidence.