The middle rounds of an ESPN standard draft are filled with interesting names at starting pitcher. If you're picking at 130 and all of these names are on the board, who are you taking: Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Lance McCullers Jr., Luke Weaver, David Price, or Zack Godley?
Eric Karabell: The starting pitcher I will be most interested in for drafts will depend on the options secured earlier, to some degree. I will mostly look for strikeout options, of course, and for the middle rounds I have tended to avoid injury risks, thus I have no shares of Leo Howell's coveted McCullers. Godley's performance looks legit to me, and now that the humidor is in effect in Arizona, I could see him repeating his numbers. I suppose Weaver could have a season like Godley just did, but if each is available I would likely go with the more proven option.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: All of these pitchers appeal to me in the middle rounds, which is the reason I have them all ranked between 30th and 40th among starting pitchers and 117th and 153rd overall, but the one who stands out slightly above the rest is Bauer. His is the best mix of the six in terms of durability, stuff and recent trend.
In the past three seasons combined, Bauer's 89 starts and 542 1/3 innings pitched lead the pack, and he was also tops in both categories in 2017 alone (31 and 176 1/3).
During that same time span, Bauer's 12.9 percent swinging-strike rate trailed only Godley's 13.4 percent (but Godley's came in less than half as many pitches thrown). Bauer's 93.3 mph average fastball velocity was third, behind McCullers (94.2 mph) and Price (93.6 mph), and he boosted it to 94.0 mph in 2017 alone. Bauer's curveball was also worth 5.4 runs above average during the second half of the season per FanGraphs, which was ninth-best in the game and trailed only Godley's (10.2).
But it's that referenced second half of Bauer's last season that makes his strongest case. Beginning with his July 21 start, which was the first one during which he exhibited a clear increase in use of his slider while shelving his cutter, he had 10 quality starts, a 2.60 ERA and 26.7 percent strikeout rate in his final 14 appearances. It was the first time in his career that Bauer seemed to exhibit good control -- his walk rate was an uncharacteristic-for-him 6.7 percent -- which is something he has carried through his first two Cactus League starts (zero walks).
I can formulate a case for any of the other five and think McCullers has a definitively higher ceiling -- McCullers' raw stuff is tops from this group -- so the decision could come down to roster context, but Bauer is the most well-rounded choice for me.
AJ Mass: In a points league, I don't think there's as much urgency to grab most of these starters at this proposed point of the draft. In a vacuum, at least from a pure value standpoint, relative to hitters, the entirety of this SP sextet probably can wait a minimum of five more rounds before flying off the board. That said, if pitching is flying off the board in your league's draft, I certainly wouldn't be afraid to grab any of these arms when you feel the time is right.
First off the board from this group, for me, is Godley. We're looking at solid 200-K potential from a pitcher who may well reap the benefits of the Chase Field humidor, as his career ERA at home is 4.80, compared to 3.61 on the road. He still walks too many hitters for my tastes in a points league, but if he gets that under control be even a little bit, this is a top-25 SP.
While I recognize the future potential of McCullers, I'm least optimistic with him in 2018. Not only do I expect a maximum of 25 starts from him this season, but his HR/FB rate was a career-worst 12.7 percent. Yes, he also increased his GB% to a career-high 61.3 percent, but is that really a good thing with the Astros being so poor defensively? I'd definitely want him on my staff above many other options, but not until I have at least four other SP in place.
Kyle Soppe: I think McCullers is the most talented of the bunch, but I'm valuing innings pitched more now than I ever have and I think Bauer's quantity outweighs any difference in quality. Bauer's BB/9 dropped by over 15 percent in the second half of last season and rounded out the regular season with a 2.60 over his final 83 regular season innings. I'm holding out hope that Bauer learns to pitch more than throw in this his age-27 season, and if his .472 batting average against over the past two seasons on the first pitch of at-bats regresses near league average (.347), he will hold the most value of this group when all is said and done.
Leo Howell: As Eric mentions above, I have long been a fan of McCullers, and I think he has the most upside here. The first half of 2017 showed us his ceiling, and it's backed up by some fantastic stuff in his arsenal.
You can't use any one statistic without context, but even with his poor second half post-injury, McCullers finished with an FIP of 3.10 -- right in line with his totals from the previous two seasons. Among pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched, that ranks No. 10 for 2017. He's a special talent with all of the upside in the world, and as long as he's not the first pitcher on my roster, he's always the name I'll select around this spot in the draft, happily taking the gamble on his health and consistency.