MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
Neville E. Guard / USA TODAY Sports

One thing that's hard about writing about rankings risers among pitchers is, well, anyone who has managed to stay on the mound is going to rise in the rankings, just because of the natural attrition rate of the position.

Among starters who opened the season in the top-36 of my rankings, Spencer Strider, Jesus Luzardo, Bobby Miller, Blake Snell, Shane Bieber, Justin Steele, and Eury Perez have all gone on the IL, with Strider, Bieber, and Perez all gone for the season. That means that, even if someone like Bailey Ober had done nothing but hold steady, he would have moved up a decent amount in the rankings, and indeed he has – in Week 1 of the Fantasy season, he was SP32, and now entering Week 6, he's SP28. Even though my opinion of him hasn't really changed at all. 

And then there's the relief pitcher side of things, where the only thing that has changed for someone like Jason Foley is that he's gone from not being the closer in Detroit to being the closer in Detroit. But, of course, for relievers in Fantasy, that changes everything

Which is to say, a lot of the changes in rankings on the pitcher side are driven by things well beyond a pitcher's control. There is inherently a lot more movement on the pitching side of things than the hitting side of things, both because there's more in a pitcher's skill set that can change in a month – you can't really fake throwing 3 mph harder, you know? – and because pitching rankings tend to just be a bit squishier than hitter rankings. Call it the glob or call it whatever you like, but I tend to hold on to my opinions of pitchers a lot less tightly than I do my opinions of hitters. 

So, you're going to see a lot more movement in the pitcher risers than in the hitter risers. That's by design, but it also means you could see a lot more movement by the time I do this exercise again at the end of May. That's just the nature of the position. 

Jared Jones, SP, Pirates

Preseason: SP70 – Now: SP21

And SP21 is me being conservative. There have been some signs of Jones struggling to sustain his velocity deep into his starts, an issue that seemed especially acute during his most recent start, when he was down to 94.5 mph in his fifth and final inning of work, so we'll keep an eye on that. But Jones has just been overwhelmingly dominant so far, with the fourth-highest strikeout rate and 10th-lowest walk rate of any pitcher so far – with the latter really standing out, given that command was supposed to be a real issue for Jones coming up as a prospect.

His stuff has taken a leap forward in his jump to the majors, but I'm ranking him somewhat conservatively here just to see if he can sustain it. If he can, I genuinely think Jones' upside might be a top-five starter in baseball – I can't shake the obvious Spencer Strider comp. But if the stuff takes a half-step back, and the command regresses, maybe he's more like a Hunter Greene type – occasionally dominant, but with enough inconsistency to frustrate. SP21 is kind of a copout, putting him somewhere in between those two outcomes, but just know, I have more faith in the high-end outcome than concern about the low-end one. 

Mackenzie Gore, SP, Nationals

Preseason: SP83 – Now: SP49

Gore's surface-level numbers are fine enough, with a 3.12 ERA, 1.385 WHIP, and 31 strikeouts in his first 26 innings. But He's also come up just short of truly great starts on four or five different occasions so far, and I feel like the true breakout is coming. His average fastball velocity is up 1.8 mph through his first six starts, while his changeup has moved in the opposite direction, dropping 1.2 mph to create 11.5 mph of differentiation between the two pitches. I think that will help both of them play up, and his slider and curveball were already strong swing-and-miss weapons for him. 

Gore has always had the talent to be an impact pitcher, but I truly feel like he's closer to putting it all together than we've ever seen from him, and when it happens, he's going to take off like a rocket ship. 

Tanner Houck, SP, Red Sox

Preseason: SP72 – Now: SP56

I'll admit, I was never much of a believer in Houck's skill set, at least as a starter. But the Red Sox seem to be maximizing their entire staff's potential, and in Houck's case, it comes down to the development of his splitter. It was a decent pitch in the past, but one he rarely used, with a career-high usage rate of just 11.4% last season. This season, it's up to 21.1%, with that increase in usage mostly coming from his pretty mediocre fastballs. That's a trade well worth making, especially with Houck continuing to prioritize his elite slider as well. He's living in the strike zone more than we've ever seen from him before (55.5% zone rate, up from 48% for his career), and it hasn't cost him anything so far, thanks to strong in-zone whiff rates. 

That's allowing him to generate more strikeouts without having to trade off with more walks, and if he can sustain this secondary-heavy approach without sacrificing control, Houck looks like the best version of himself, by far. I'm not all the way bought in, and the range of the rankings Houck is in features plenty of other pitchers I like a lot, like Jack Flaherty, Nick Lodolo, and Reid Detmers, so it's tough to move him up too much more than that. But he's gone from someone I didn't really believe in to someone I think should be viewed as a must-start pitcher moving forward. And that's not nothing. 

Ranger Suarez, SP, Phillies

Preseason: SP104 – Now: SP58

I wish there was something in Suarez's skill set I can say makes me buy into his incredible start, but there really isn't anything. He's mostly throwing the same pitch mix with the same movement profiles, and if anything, his velocity is actually down between 1-2 mph, depending on the pitch, which isn't typically a path to success. I mostly just think he's executing at an extremely high level, but in a way that isn't necessarily likely to prove sustainable.

So, why am I moving Suarez up so much? Well, because this hot start has been a reminder of how useful he has been in the past, and apparently still can be. It wasn't that long ago that Suarez had a similar stretch, back in 2021, and while he couldn't sustain that, he was a very useful Fantasy option, posting a 3.65 ERA and 10 wins in 2022. This isn't the profile of an ace unless he somehow maintains this 27.8% strikeout rate – his career rate is 21.8%, so I'm betting against it. But I am betting on him remaining a solid starting Fantasy option moving forward, and that's how I'm ranking him. 

Edward Cabrera, SP, Marlins

Preseason: SP102 – Now: SP65

Now, with Cabrera, I have no faith that he'll even be useful. His range of outcomes remains far too wide to have any confidence in that. But I'm moving him up because he's showing signs of being a lot more than just useful, if you can get past the unseemly 5.25 ERA. The key thing here is that Cabrera has walked just 9% of opposing hitters through his first three starts. 

That's still an above average rate, but it's only slightly above average; for his career, he's been at a disastrous 13.6% rate, so this would be a big step forward, if he sustained it. He's doing that while still striking out 31.3% of opposing batters and generating just a 30% hard-hit rate, so if this is real, it could be huge. He's fading his fastballs, dropping his usage of them from 37.2% last season to 19.6% this season, and those fastballs have always been his biggest issue when it comes to command. It's a small sample size, but if it proves real, Cabrera has top-30 upside with this approach. 

Spencer Turnbull, SP Phillies

Preseason: SP242 – Now: SP96

If I thought Turnbull was going to remain in the Phillies rotation, I'd probably rank him closer to where Suarez and Cabrera are, because I've been very happy with his performance so far. The addition of a sweeper seems to have really changed his outlook, as he's throwing the new pitch 29.3% of the time and generating really terrific results with it, with a 3.18 expected ERA showing that, while the 1.33 actual ERA probably isn't sustainable, he may have taken a real step forward. 

Of course, with Taijuan Walker back from the IL this weekend, it just isn't clear how long Turnbull might remain in the Mariners rotation, unfortunately. Of course, as you surely know by now, pitchers tend to get hurt, and teams never actually have too many arms for too few rotation spots for long. If he does remain in the rotation, I think Turnbull can be a very useful option moving forward, and even in deeper Roto leagues, I wouldn't necessarily drop him if he gets pushed to the bullpen, because he could still have some value as a multi-inning reliever who helps with ratios and strikeouts, like Matt Strahm has the past couple of years. 

Garrett Crochet, RP, White Sox 

Preseason: RP40 – Now: RP17

In his first three starts of the season, Crochet had 21 strikeouts and only five runs allowed; in his next three, he had 19 strikeouts and 17 runs allowed. Seeing as those were the only six starts he's ever made in the majors, it's been extremely tough to pin down what, exactly, we should be expecting from the lanky lefty. What I see from him is this: A legitimate starter's repertoire, with four pitchers he can get whiffs with, albeit with somewhat shaky command at times. 

The ERA is a problem right now, but Crochet's WHIP is still just 1.09, and his 26.6% K-BB% ratio is the third-best in baseball. Is he an ace? Probably not, especially given real concerns about how many innings he's likely to throw. But that upside is definitely there, and that's enough to keep him squarely in the must-roster range of the rankings, whether you get him in your lineup as an RP or SP. 

Mason Miller, RP, Athletics

Preseason: SP57 – Now: SP35

For reference, Miller is also RP15 for me. And that feels way, way too low, truth be told. Before the season, I said he might have "best reliever in baseball" upside, and honestly, he might already be there. Miller is sitting at 101 mph with his fastball out of the bullpen and is striking out 52.1% of opposing hitters so far. He's making very good major-league hitters look legitimately uncomfortable in the batter's box in a way we don't often see, and I don't see any reason he can't keep it up … assuming he stays healthy, which is a huge question mark for a guy who was moved into the bullpen because he couldn't stay healthy as a starter. Add in that the A's aren't likely to give him, say, 40-save upside, and I have to rank him lower than I want to. But, as with Jared Jones, I really want to rank Miller a lot higher than even this fairly aggressive jump.