FOX Sports South invokes a predictive look at the National League East's top 15 starting pitchers for 2015 -- a listing which includes a certain force-of-nature ace with the Miami Marlins who's slated to return, via injury, sometime in June. In other words, we're taking an educated-guess stab at the division's best rotation assets by season's end, a countdown that accounts for real-world and fantasy-league success. Thank goodnes the two often work hand in hand with baseball. (Photos: Brad Mills/Brett Davis/Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
RANK: 15 ... 2014 STATS: 4-2, 2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 70/13 K-BB, 12.2 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) Assuming full health, Fernandez (elbow surgery) will be the No. 1 asset for this countdown ... next year! 2) In the meantime, Marlins fans can only hope for three months of excellence in 2015. 3) Of Fernandez's first seven starts last season, the kid absurdly notched three outings of 10-plus strikeouts, six efforts of eight-plus strikeouts and six games of two or fewer runs allowed. 4) Citing his final 18 starts of 2013, Fernandez was a perfect 18 for 18 in surrendering three or less runs. In that span (June 1-Sept. 11), the right-hander tallied eight-plus strikeouts 11 times.
Shelby Miller, Atlanta Braves
RANK: 14 ... 2014 STATS: 10-9, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 127/73 K-BB, 6.2 K/9... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) With the Cardinals in 2013 (age 22) and '14 (age 23), Miller posted double-digit wins both times. 2) In his final six games last season, spanning 37.1 innings, Miller produced a 2-0 record, 1.69 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 29/7 K-BB ratio. Of equal relevance, opponents batted at a paltry .185 clip. 3) Covering 383.2 minor league innings (2009-12), Miller had a scintillating K/9 ratio of 11.1. 4) Two years ago, Miller was hailed as a can't-miss prospect (source: Baseball America) and a future linchpin of the Cardinals rotation. Everything's in place for Miller to enjoy similar success with the Braves -- currently as the club's No. 3 starter (behind Julio Teheran and Alex Wood).
Bartolo Colon, New York Mets
RANK: 13 ... 2014 STATS: 15-13, 4.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 151/30 K-BB, 6.7 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) The ageless Colon has three-year averages of 14 victories, a 3.40 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. 2) In his first season with the Mets (2014), Colon surrendered just zero or one run 10 times. ... REASONING FOR PESSIMISM: Heading into his age-42 season (May 24 birthday), Colon will undoubtedly lose his major-league mojo at some point in the near future. But luckily for the Mets ... that may be a question more pressing for 2016.
Mat Latos, Miami Marlins
RANK: 12 ... 2014 STATS: 5-5, 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 74/26 K-BB, 6.5 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) Charting his last four healthy seasons (2010-13 with the Reds), Latos notched four straight campaigns of 180-plus strikeouts. 2) Latos will likely serve as the Marlins' de facto workhorse for April, May and June -- while Jose Fernandez fully recovers from elbow surgery. 3) Of the last five seasons (2010-14), Latos bossts 56 victories, a 3.27 ERA and 8.2 K/9 rate. 4) Latos, who's slated for free agency next winter, should be highly motivated to enjoy a career year in 2015. At age 27, a productive campaign could warrant a hefty five- or six-year contract.
Joy R. Absalon
Henderson Alvarez, Miami Marlins
RANK: 11 ... 2014 STATS: 12-7, 2.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 111/33 K-BB, 5.3 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) In 2014, Alvarez enjoyed career highs with wins (12), ERA (2.65) and strikeouts (111). Of equal importance, he had rock-solid tallies with WHIP (1.24) and walks per 9 innings (1.6). 2) For April, June and September last year (five starts per month), Alvarez had a perfect record for allowing three runs or less. 3) Alvarez (88 career MLB starts) doesn't turn 25 until April. He's like the Rick Porcello of the National League, in terms of opposing teams having a significant book on the kid's strengths and weaknesses -- and yet, there's still plenty of upside to appreciate.
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
RANK: 10 ... 2014 STATS: 10-10, 3.57 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 162/56 K-BB, 9.2 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) How's this for inflated expectations? Gonzalez suffered through his worst season of the decade in 2014 -- winning just 10 games and fanning only 162 hitters. And yet, he still had a 3.27 and 9.2 K/9 rate over 27 starts. 2) For 2010-13, the admirably consistent Gonzalez posted 63 victories and collected at least 32 starts per year. And while the 2013 campaign elicited his highest ERA of the decade (3.36), the Nats southpaw walked just 76 hitters (same as 2012) and registered eight outings of eight-plus strikeouts. 3) Gonzalez (190-plus strikeouts for 2011-13) still has the high-end chops to be the Nationals' anchor ... even if he's starting from the 4-slot after Spring Training (behind Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister).
Doug Fister, Washington Nationals
RANK: 9 ... 2014 STATS: 16-6, 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 98/24 K-BB, 5.4 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) With Seattle, Detroit and Washington, Fister holds four-year averages of 13 wins, a 3.11 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 135 strikeouts. 2) The 6-foot-8 Fister, one of the tallest starting pitchers in baseball, had sterling tallies last September: Five starts, 33.2 innings, 4-1 record, 1.87 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and opponents' batting average of .205. 3) Incredibly, Fister has never yielded more than 44 walks in a single campaign. 4) Fister would be a shoo-in for the top five ... with 160 strikeouts.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
RANK: 8 ... 2014 STATS: 9-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 144/43 K-BB, 9.2 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) At age 26, deGrom (9-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 144/43 K-BB) seemingly came out of nowhere to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors. 2) For the season, spanning 22 starts, deGrom yielded just three runs or less 19 times. 3) Here's why the right-hander is a must-have in Round 6 of fantasy drafts (12-teamers): He notched 32 strikeouts in his final three starts last year.
Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves
RANK: 7 ... 2014 STATS: 11-11, 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 170/45 K-BB, 8.9 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) In Year 3 of his MLB career, Wood stands firmly entrenched as the Braves' No. 2 starter (behind Julio Teheran). 2) Of his final 17 appearances last year -- all starts -- Wood surrendered three or fewer runs 15 times; and the two "clunkers" entailed just four runs allowed. In that span, Wood tallied seven-plus strikeouts seven times. 3) Check this out: In his age-23 season (201.1 innings -- 2013), Giants ace Madison Bumgarner racked up 13 victories, a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 199 strikeouts. In Wood's age-23 campaign (171.2 innings in 2014), the southpaw accounted for 11 wins, a 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 171 strikeouts.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
RANK: 6 ... 2014 STATS: 11-11, 3.54 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 187/79 K-BB, 9.1 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) I'm expecting Wheeler to make another leap forward this season, flirting with 15 wins, a 3.20 ERA and 210 strikeouts. 2) Of his final 16 starts last year, the 24-year-old righty surrendered three or fewer runs 15 times. In that span, Wheeler racked up seven-plus strikeouts seven times. 3) Think the San Francisco Giants would like to have that Wheeler-for-Carlos-Beltran swap back, circa 2011? Wheeler should rival fellow Mets pitcher Matt Harvey for the baseball title of King Of New York over the next five years.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
RANK: 5 ... 2013 STATS: 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 191/31 K-BB, 9.6 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) When healthy, Harvey has few peers in baseball's under-26 crop of pitching aces. 2) Of his 26 starts in 2013, the right-hander surrendered three or less runs 22 times. He also tallied seven-plus strikeouts 14 times. 3) For that breakthrough campaign in 2013 (started the All-Star Game at Citi Field), Harvey didn't allow more than three walks in any start. 4) A healthy Harvey has a reasonable shot at 16 wins, 210 strikeouts and a sub-2.50 ERA. REASON FOR PESSIMISM: It'll be interesting to see if the Mets take an extremely cautious tack with Harvey (elbow surgery in 2013), especially given their surplus of starting pitching.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
RANK: 4 ... 2014 STATS: 9-9, 2.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 198/59 K-BB, 8.7 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) Hamels has become the quintessential volume ace, racking up five straight seasons of 200-plus innings. In that span (2010-14), the southpaw holds per-annum averages of 12 wins, a 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 204 strikeouts. 2) Hamels is a yearly lock for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.8/1 or higher. 3) In 2014, Hamels was part of the short list of pitchers who notched 10 or more strikeouts in consecutive outings. 4) Of his final 23 starts last year, Hamels was a perfect 23 for 23 in surrendering three runs or less. That should explain why he's being coveted by a number of clubs, prior to Spring Training.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
RANK: 3 ... 2014 STATS: 14-13, 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 186/51 K-BB, 7.6 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) The 23-year-old Teheran (Jan. 27 birthday) has quickly established himself as the Braves' ace, reliably averaging 14 wins, 31.5 starts and 178 strikeouts in his first two MLB seasons. 2) Of his 33 starts last year, Teheran surrendered just two or fewer runs 22 times. 3) At age 24, Teheran has the reasonable capacity for 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and 215 strikeouts. 4) Which brings us to this: Teheran may be the most valuable pitching asset in the National League East: The Braves may be in transition, offense-wise, but the rotation (anchored by Teheran) has a chance to keep Atlanta in wild-card contention all season.
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
RANK: 2 ... 2014 STATS: 14-5, 2.66 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 182/29 K-BB, 8.2 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) Zimmermann followed up a 19-victory campaign in 2013 with career-best tallies involving ERA (2.66), strikeouts (182) and WHIP (1.07). Oh, and the 14 wins and 8.2 K/9 were celebratory components, as well. 2) Of his final 12 starts last year -- including the no-hitter on the final day of the season -- Zimmerman surrendered three or fewer runs every time. 3) How's this for insane? Of his 33 outings last season, Zimmerman yielded three or more walks just once. Think about that for a second. 4) The free-agent-to-be is a reasonable candidate for 17 wins, a sub-2.80 ERA and a 210-plus strikeouts.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
RANK: 1 ... 2014 STATS: 14-11, 3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 242/43 K-BB, 10.1 K/9 ... REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: 1) Strasburg reigns as the National League East's redoubtable strikeout king, averaging 210 over the last three seasons and rolling for 242 in 2014. 2) As a product of that, Strasburg posted the most outings of 10-plus strikeouts last season -- five -- than any other NL East hurler. 3) Strasburg didn't allow a single run in his final three starts, spanning 20 innings. 4) For his final six starts, Strasburg fostered two eye-popping stats: A 1.13 ERA and 40/3 K-BB rate. 5) Strasburg resides in that tiny circle of pitchers who can beat a healthy Clayton Kershaw for NL Cy Young honors this season. The Nats ace has a reasonable upside for 18 wins, 250 strikeouts and a sub-2.70 ERA.