3 Starting Pitchers With Increased Value On New Teams (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
The beauty of fantasy baseball involves the massive player pool and the vast amount of advanced data available. Although it’s quiet on the baseball news front, it serves as a perfect time to familiarize yourself with the player pool, do some drafts, and research starting pitchers with increased fantasy value on new teams.
Interestingly, these three veteran pitchers all have an early NFBC ADP near each other around pick 300 or earlier. That said, let’s dive into a trio with sleeper potential in 2022.
Alex Cobb signed with the San Francisco Giants for a two-year, $20 million deal after one year with the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, the veteran right-hander battled wrist and blister issues on his finger in 2021, which led to him only logging 93.3 innings pitched. However, that came with a 3.76 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 24.9% strikeout rate, and 8.4% walk rate. Cobb made four quality starts on the season out of his 18 games, plus 12 outings with three or fewer earned runs in five innings or more.
Alex Cobb, Nasty 87mph Splitter. 😨 pic.twitter.com/VHCibdHJJx
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 16, 2021
Now with the Giants, Cobb joins a team that thrived on the pitching end, evidenced by a 3.25 team ERA (second in MLB), 16.8 K-BB% (No. 8), and a 2.86 wOBA (No. 2). Although it’s not automatic, the Giants found the best in their pitchers, with Logan Webb and Anthony DeSclafani putting up career-best numbers. It’s a small sample, but Cobb could lower his ratios even more if his 65.8% LOB rate regresses closer to his 72.7% career average.
Cobb’s Pitch Mix & Results
Cobb typically relied on three main pitches – the sinker, splitter, and curveball. In 2021, they once again accounted for over 95% of his pitches thrown. His splitter remains arguably his best pitch with a 20.2% swinging-strike rate, 47.8% O-Swing%, and a .270 wOBA allowed. The sinker and splitter each resulted in a ground-ball rate above 63%. Interestingly, Cobb’s sinker averaged 92.7 mph, the highest average velocity of his career.
It’s a small sample, but Cobb’s splitter reached peak usage at 36.9% in 2021, with rates above 40%. Also, Cobb limited the home runs with an 8.2% HR/FB rate and a 0.48 HR/9 in 2021. That should bode well with the Giants home stadium since they rank below average or about league average in wOBA (No. 21 – 0.99) and Home Run Park Factors (No. 28 – 0.84) per EV Analytics.
Cobb’s 2022 Value
Early Steamer Projections have Cobb with a 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 22.4% strikeout rate, and 7.5% walk rate. Steamer projects the BABIP to remain similar at .307 and the LOB% to regress near his career average at 72.8%. The 151 innings also look hopeful since Cobb hasn’t reached that mark since 2018. With early NFBC Draft Champions leagues having Cobb at an ADP near pick 300, he’s a worthy late-round starting pitcher who should thrive with the Giants.
Jon Gray finally departs from the Rockies to the Rangers in 2022. He finished his time at Colorado with a 4.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 23.9% strikeout rate, and 7.9% walk rate in 829.1 innings. Gray’s career ERA estimators look optimistic, evidenced by the 3.91 FIP, 3.80 xFIP, and 4.00 SIERA.
In 2021, Gray’s K-BB% and fastball velocity improved in the second half. Additionally, his BABIP and LOB% regressed, leading to unsavory surface numbers of a 4.81 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
Gray moves from Coors Field, which ranks first in wOBA (1.12) according to the EV Analytics Park Factors, to a Texas ballpark that ranks 21st at 0.99. Colorado remains a far more hitter-friendly ballpark than Texas in terms of batting average (first), home runs (ninth), and BABIP (first) park factors. Meanwhile, Globe Life Field rates about average or just below, meaning it’s more neutral. Gray’s fastball velocity also improved toward the end of the season.
Gray’s 2022 Value
Assuming health, Gray should have one of his better pitching seasons in 2022. Gray battled forearm and elbow injuries in 2021 but improved his skills in the second part of the season. He relied more heavily on the four-seamer and slider, accounting for 85.7% of his pitches. However, in past seasons, Gray’s slider usage remained lower with a changeup or curveball usage at a double-digit rate.
Gray’s slider elicits a healthy 18% swinging-strike rate with a .238 wOBA allowed. Although the slider doesn’t stand out from a movement perspective, Gray’s four-seamer does with 4.8 inches more horizontal break. Early Steamer projections have Gray for a 4.31 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 23% strikeout rate, and 8% walk rate in 178 innings. For context, he peaked at 172.1 innings back in 2018. Gray’s NFBC ADP keeps rising near pick 270, but he’s worth grabbing as a starting pitcher past pick 200.
After Steven Matz had his best season in Toronto with a 3.82 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. In the previous five seasons (2015-2020), Matz had a 4.35 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22.2% strikeout rate, and 7.3% walk rate in 579.2 innings with the Mets. He struggled with home runs, given the 17.5% HR/FB% and 1.49 HR/9. That’s reflected in Matz’s 4.01 xFIP.
In 2021, Matz dropped his HR/FB rate to 12.3%, and the HR/9 dipped to a near career-best 1.08. He finished with a 45.5% ground-ball rate and 32.4% fly-ball rate, both near career averages. Both Matz’s sinker (61.3%) and changeup (79.1%) generated a high ground-ball rate in 2021, with the changeup boasting a near career-best in GB%. From a BABIP (.321) and LOB% (75.4%) perspective, they don’t look like an outlier either.
Matz’s 2021 Season Splits
Matz started 2021 terribly, then gradually lowered his ERA toward the end. Although the graph shows Matz struggled with the ground-ball rate early, it’s almost identical with a 44.5% GB% from June to October, with 47.1% from April to May. Regardless, Matz relies on ground balls, especially via his sinker and changeup.
On June 1, the Blue Jays moved from Dunedin, Florida, to the home park of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. Then they returned to Toronto on July 30, two days after his final start of the month. It’s safe to say that the small 30.2-inning sample from June to July was awful.
After moving to Toronto, Matz had a 2.69 ERA from August to October. Interestingly, his K-BB% looked pedestrian compared to the first two months. It appears Matz became more fortunate with the .301 BABIP, 80% LOB rate, and a 0.75 HR/9.
Matz’s 2022 Value
From a park factor standpoint, Matz automatically receives a boost by moving to the Cardinals. Busch Stadium ranked fourth-worst in wOBA (0.96), sixth-worst in home runs (0.85), and sixth-worst in BABIP (0.98) park factors. The stadium typically plays pitcher-friendly, offering optimism for Matz and his ground ball approach. Although Matz struggled with shoulder, elbow, and arm injuries in the past, he didn’t land on the injured list for an injury in 2021. However, he tested positive for COVID-19 in the middle of June and missed a couple of weeks.
Steamer projects Matz to have a 3.91 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22.6% strikeout rate, and a 7.2% walk rate in 161 innings. The early Draft Champions ADP on NFBC sits between Gray and Cobb at pick 281. Target Gray and Matz in the double-digit rounds of 15-team leagues because of their improved fantasy value in 2022. Matz should provide a floor with Gray providing the strikeouts and ceiling.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.