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15 Starting Pitchers to Target & Avoid (Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 17, 2022

Strong pitching becomes more essential for fantasy success each year, particularly when it comes to guys who can both soak up a ton of innings and strike out plenty of hitters. The demand for those players continues to only go up. As such, you can bet that some, or perhaps most, of our breakout and sleepers candidates discussed below will rise in rank toward the beginning of the season. This also means that one would do well to avoid early-round starters who either can’t deliver on both of these metrics or face other issues like moving to a hitters park, being extraordinarily lucky last year, possessing poor control, or dealing with mounting injury concerns. With that being said, our featured pundits are here to share their thoughts on which pitchers have the highest bust, breakout, and sleeper potential.

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Q1. Who’s your biggest bust inside the top 20 SPs and why?

Jack Flaherty (STL): Consensus Rank – SP19
“Flaherty has had an ERA under 3.50 in three of his last four years. However, his underlying stats don’t support a sub-3.50 ERA. Last year, he had a large gap between his 3.22 ERA and 3.92 SIERA. The righty’s luck was best summed up by a .233 BABIP, well below his career mark of .256, per FanGraphs, before last year. As a result, he’s my SP36.”
– Josh Shepardson (FantasyPros)

Chris Sale (BOS): Consensus Rank – SP17
“Sale came back in August after missing two whole years of game action and posted solid numbers with a 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 28.4 K%. The keyword there is ‘solid,’ as in ‘not spectacular.’ Sale is being drafted as if he will return to ace form with an early draft price close to 60 overall. Aside from the obvious injury risk, it’s doubtful we’ll see his fastball get back up to 95 MPH on average or his strikeout rate over 30% as it was for years. Sale’s draft stock is a classic case of paying for past performance while ignoring the potentially massive downside.”
– Pierre Camus (RotoBaller)

Robbie Ray (SEA): Consensus Rank – SP13
“Ray tamed his chronic wildness in 2021 and had a Cy Young season. Do you really want to bet that the control problems won’t return? Ray walked 2.4 batters per nine innings last year. His career average is 3.9 walks per nine innings. Ray also had some good luck in 2021, giving up a career-low .269 BABIP. Regression in Ray’s hit and walk rates would drain his value, and regression seems likely here.”
– Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

Kevin Gausman (TOR): Consensus Rank – SP18
“Gausman is the easy choice for me. After signing a five-year, $110 million free-agent contract with the Blue Jays this offseason, the 31-year-old veteran right-hander is moving away from a very favorable pitching environment in the NL West at Oracle Park in San Francisco to the unfriendly confines of the vaunted AL East and the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Not only will he now have to face a DH each turn through the lineup instead of an opposing pitcher (which would be the case in either league now), but he’ll also be seeing a steady diet of the Yankees’, Red Sox’s, and Rays’ lineups as well. Gausman was terrific for the Giants last season, but given his age, his career 4.02 ERA, and his transition back to the Junior Circuit, I’ll likely be avoiding him in drafts this spring.”
– Lucas Spence (Pitcher List)

Jacob deGrom (NYM): Consensus Rank – SP5
“It’s deGrom and it pains me to say it. He’s the best pitcher in the game, but the mysterious injury accumulation of 2021 leaves his 2022 status in serious question. If you were getting a discount on deGrom I can understand taking that risk, but there has been zero indication that he’s going past the first five SPs off the board.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Q2. Who’s your top breakout candidate inside the top 60 SPs and why?

Logan Webb (SF): Consensus Rank – SP23
“To be clear, Webb broke out last year. However, I have him as the SP14, well above his SP23 ECR. The young righty checked all the boxes last year, earning a 3.03 ERA that was largely supported by his 3.13 SIERA, a 1.11 WHIP, 6.0 BB%, 26.5 K%, 60.9 GB%, and 30.9 CSW%. Finally, he pitched 163.0 innings, giving him the foundation to pile up innings in bunches this year. Thus, he is worthy of being the SP1 on a fantasy squad, even though I have him just outside the top-12 hurlers.”
– Josh Shepardson (FantasyPros)

Ian Anderson (ATL): Consensus Rank – SP42
“While he doesn’t possess the strikeout upside that you often want in a top-of-the-rotation starter, Anderson makes for a terrific pick in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this season. The right-hander was sensational in his late-season debut with the Braves in 2020 (1.95 ERA) and followed that up with a solid-yet-unspectacular season in 2021 (3.58 ERA, 8.7 K/9). However, the 23-year-old elevated his game in the postseason, allowing three total runs in 17 innings across four starts (1.59 ERA) en route to a World Series championship with Atlanta. The Braves have been cautious with the former No. 3 overall pick’s workload early in his career, but he possesses all the tools necessary to emerge as a top-20 starting pitcher as soon as 2022. A couple honorable mentions are Alek Manoah (TOR) and Shane McClanahan (TB). They are both terrific breakout candidates with some of the best raw stuff in baseball but navigating the AL East will always be a challenge for younger pitchers.”
– Lucas Spence (Pitcher List)

Tarik Skubal (DET): Consensus Rank – SP54
“Skubal’s ticket to a breakout season is a reduction in gopher balls. The Tigers’ young lefty has harnessed his control and had a 6.5 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio after the All-Star break last season. He also allowed an OBP of just .272 over the second half. The problem is that Skubal allowed 35 home runs in 149.1 innings. He cut his flyball rate somewhat from 2020 to 2021, and a further reduction in flyballs could propel the 25-year-old Skubal to ace level.”
– Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

Luis Garcia (HOU): Consensus Rank – SP49
“Having a deep pitch mix doesn’t necessarily make one a better pitcher for fantasy purposes, but in the case of Houston’s Luis Garcia, it could lead to a breakout season. Garcia has four offspeed offerings that induced a whiff rate over 36% last year; his strikeout numbers could rise if he keeps pumping up his cutter usage as he did last year. A rough final start of the 2021 season inflated his ratios, but we could be looking at a pitcher who brings an ERA around 3.00 and top-20 K totals.”
– Pierre Camus (RotoBaller)

Michael Kopech (CWS): Consensus Rank – SP58
“Although the velocity is amazing, it’s actually Kopech’s mechanics that make me so excited for his 2022 season. His delivery is smooth and effortless and his 2.97 FIP indicates he was even better in 2021 than we realize. He may not start all year, but whatever innings I get from him as a starter or reliever, I want on my roster.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Q3. Who’s your favorite sleeper outside the top 60 SPs and why?

Josiah Gray (WSH): Consensus Rank – SP81
“Gray’s numbers as a rookie looked scary — 5.48 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and a 10.7 BB%. He was barreled hard (12.2%), especially on his four-seamer, where batters posted a .620 SLG. Late in the season, Gray started using his slider twice as much while cutting down on his four-seam usage and the results showed with a total of six earned runs and a 19-6 K-BB rate over his final 17 1/3 innings. That’s a great sign since he induced a 45% whiff rate and a .162 xBA on his slider. If he continues along this path, we could have a full-blown ace on our hands.”
– Pierre Camus (RotoBaller)

Ranger Suarez (PHI): Consensus Rank – SP62
“I’m dumbfounded by Suarez being ranked as the SP62. He made an in-season transition from dominant reliever to lights-out starter in 2021. According to FanGraphs, in 12 starts spanning 65.2 innings, he had a 1.51 ERA, 3.68 SIERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.3 BB%, 25.0 K%, 56.7 GB%, and 26.9 CSW%. Sure, his SIERA tells the tale of a pitcher that will regress this year. Nevertheless, a 3.68 SIERA, with other rock-solid or better statistics, is a top-50 hurler, let alone a top-60 starter.”
– Josh Shepardson (FantasyPros)

Patrick Sandoval (LAA): Consensus Rank – SP65
“There is much to like about Angels 25-year-old left-hander Patrick Sandoval. The southpaw enjoyed a mini-breakout last season, striking out 94 batters in 87 innings while pitching to a 3.62 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Those numbers would look even a tad better if you throw out his final start of the season, in which he gave up four runs before exiting with a lower back injury. The injury (lumbar stress reaction) caused Sandoval to be shut down for the remainder of the season, but there is no indication that he should not be fully healthy for 2022. Powered by a terrific changeup to complement his fastball, sinker, slider, and curveball, Sandoval does a terrific job of keeping hitters off-balance and limiting hard contact, as he ranked amongst the best in the league in terms of exit velocity (85.4 MPH) allowed in 2021. Sandoval also recorded two 10+ strikeout games last season, including a 13-strikeout performance against the Twins in a near no-hitter, and had two other games with nine strikeouts as well. He makes for a terrific pick in the later rounds of drafts. Another honorable mention is Elieser Hernandez (MIA).”
– Lucas Spence (Pitcher List)

Cristian Javier (HOU): Consensus Rank – SP80
“I had colleagues of mine who make a living covering baseball tell me Javier was simply electric last spring. He may have to battle for a rotation spot, but much like Kopech, that dual RP/SP eligibility can be very useful and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot at being a starter via injury or poor performance. Javier reminds me a lot of a young Johnny Cueto in his Reds’ days.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Stephen Strasburg (WSH): Consensus Rank – SP71
“Yes, Strasburg is fragile. He had thoracic outlet surgery last July, but the surgery reportedly went well. The bottom line is that when he pitches, he’s going to pitch well — he always has. If he’s injured, you can pick up another pitcher. But at Strasburg’s current ADP, the pot odds are right to draft him and hope for 100-plus innings of good health.”
– Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

Thank you to the experts for giving us their starting pitchers to target and avoid. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter.

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