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Staff Post: Starting Pitchers to Target in 2016

Our writers offer you some starting pitchers they would target in drafts this season, including Kenta Maeda, Marcus Stroman, Yu Darvish and others.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

When preparing for your fantasy baseball drafts, it is a must to have a strategy before going into your draft. To assist you in your strategy, we have provided you with our Consensus Top 100 starting pitcher rankings for 2016, tiered rankings, and NL-only and AL-only rankings as well.

Now that we have provided you all these tools you need to prepare for your drafts, your fantasy draft preparation would be incomplete without some starting pitchers to target and avoid, which we provide you today.

We asked each of the fantasy baseball writers to provide you with the starting pitcher they would target in fantasy drafts this season, and you can find them along with their reasoning below.

Starting Pitchers to Target in 2016

Kenta Maeda, Dodgers (Ray Guilfoyle)

I am targeting Maeda in most of my NL leagues this season, as I think he is being undervalued in most starting pitcher rankings. Actually, it appears that most pitchers who come over from Japan or Korea are undervalued since the competition in those leagues usually compare to Triple A here in the United States. Yet, when these pitchers come to the U.S., they seem to perform well.

Let's take a look at the first year performance of a few starters who have come over from Japan and Korea over the last few seasons. Dervish came over to the U.S. as one ore more dominating starters to come from Japan, but the other three were undervalued by many and out-performed expectations, and I see Maeda doing the same this season.

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 2.58 xFIP, 9.31 K/9, 1.39 BB/9, 3.1 fWAR

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: 9-5, 3.16 ERA. 4.35 FIP, 3.76 xFIP, 1.28 WHIP, 7.25 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers: 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.46 xFIP, 1.20 WHIP, 7.22 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, 3.6 fWAR

Yu Darvish, Rangers: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 10.40 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, 4.6 fWAR

All four of these pitchers are different, so I am not directly comparing Maeda to any of them, but many feel that he is closer to the pitcher that Iwakuma is than the rest. Iwakuma pitched out of the bullpen quite a bit in his first season in the big leagues, but he started 33 games in his second big league season, pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA, while striking out seven batters per nine and walking less than two batters per nine. I think Maeda could put up similar strikeout and walk rates as Iwakuma, with an ERA in the 3.30-3.60 range.

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (Daniel Kelley)

A 5'8", 24-year-old pitcher tears his ACL, is supposed to miss the year, only to come back for four starts down the stretch, during which he makes four starts and gives up five runs in 27 innings. He somehow becomes the team's most trusted starter in the postseason, over the superstar midseason acquisition who after the season signs a $217 million deal. That's the story of Stroman's 2015, which is kinda ridiculous, no? The kid didn't strike out that many in his late-season return, but I'm inclined to give him a bit of a pass on being full strength since, you know, torn ACL and all that. A season of growth (he turns 25 in May), an offseason of full work? Stroman could be the replacement for David Price the Blue Jays need to get to the playoffs again this year.

Yordano Ventura, Royals (Domenic Lanza)

In many ways, Ventura was better in 2015 than he was in his excellent rookie campaign. He improved his strikeout rate (from 7.8 K/9 to 8.6), walk rate (3.4 BB/9 to 3.2), and groundball percentage (from 47.6% to 52.2%), while also allowing fewer flyballs (31.1% to 27.2%) and less contact (78.3% of swings to 76.0%). His velocity did drop by between 0.4 and 0.7 MPH - but he still threw harder than any other starting pitcher in baseball. Why, then, did his ERA jump from 3.20 in 2014 to 4.08 last year? Some of it was injury woes, but much of it can be chalked up to allowing harder contact which, in turn, led to more balls dropping in for hits and flying over the fence. Many have chalked that up to inconsistent command and, perhaps, immaturity. He improved markedly after an impromptu demotion around the All-Star break, though, slashing his ERA from 4.73 to 3.56, and increasing his K/9 from 7.22 to 9.69. In my mind, he has the stuff and the track record to be a high-end SP2, and I think that his second-half performance is indicative of what he can do going forward.

Francisco Liriano, Pirates (Michael Schwarz)

I typically don't like SPs who struggle with control, and Liriano, owner of a career 3.8 BB/9, remains prone to the occasional meltdown.  We all know the type of line: 2.1 IP, 5 H, 8 ER, 6 BB, 3 K (79 pitches).  Entering his fourth season in Pittsburgh, however, and well ensconced alongside Gerrit Cole atop the Pirates' rotation, Liriano simply looks comfortable, and all of his numbers are headed in the right direction.  In 2015, while maintaining the same 3.38 ERA he had posted a year earlier, Liriano slashed his walk total from 81 to 70 despite pitching 24.1 more innings than he had in 2014.  Best of all, he appears to have added a third reliable pitch to his swing-and-miss arsenal.  For years Liriano has induced whiffs thanks to a devastating slider-changeup combo, but in 2015 his two-seam fastball induced more than twice as many swings-and-misses (64) as it had in 2014 (27).  In short, Liriano at 32 years old finds himself in a great situation, and he appears to be getting better with age.

Carlos Carrasco, Indians (Rob Parker)

Carrasco is poised to become the Indians ace and is easily draftable as a top-10 starting pitcher. He belongs in the conversation for best AL pitcher not named Sale with David Price, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, and Dallas Keuchel. He does everything you want a pitcher to do: sky high K%-BB%, elite swinging strike rate, above average ground ball rate, and sub-3 xFIP. He was unlucky with the ERA last year and could certainly end up under 3 this year. He will have a full year of excellent infield defense behind him with Lindor and Uribe on one side and Kipnis and Napoli on the other. Remember, he had the 4th best xFIP in baseball last year and the 5th highest swinging strike rate. He has some nasty stuff that belongs in an elite class.

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (Heath Capps)

Hendricks showed his burgeoning strikeout ability last season (8.35 K/9) while also maintaining his excellent walk rate (2.15 BB/9 in 2015, career 2.01 BB/9). He also increased his ground ball percentage from 47.8% in 2014 to 51.3% in 2015. He is only 26 years old and pitches for a major contender. His nickname is "The Professor." He is the SP58 over at FantasyPros and the SP56 here at FakeTeams, though he finished as the SP51 in fake leagues last season. If it all breaks right for Hendricks in 2016 you could make a severe profit off of this solid starting pitcher who has Top 30-40 upside. What's not to love?

Michael Pineda, Yankees (Jack Cecil)

If you like numbers and baseball, you like Michael Pineda.  He towers over batters at 6'7".  He loads up the zone with 93mph sinkers and cutters.  Out of all pitchers who threw at least 160IP, he was 23rd in K/9, 2nd in BB/9, and 28th in ground ball percentage.  If you go by contact rate, he was 19th best in the MLB.  So how did he record an ERA of 4.37?  His BABIP was the 5th worst last year.  I do not expect that to happen again as his hard hit and line drive rates are not high enough to expect such bad luck to follow him again.  So if you really like numbers, what's most important is price. Pineda's average 2015 will depress his cost in 2016, so don't hesitate to take advantage on draft day.

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