Players to Reach For: Pitchers (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
There aren’t many worse feelings in fantasy baseball drafts than when you get sniped on one of your guys. Further, it only gets worse if they perform up to your preseason expectations. Thus, sometimes it behooves you to reach for players. I suggest going out of your way to draft the following starting pitchers. Thankfully, only one has a top-100 average draft position (ADP). So, the pitchers I recommend reaching for are getting picked in the most volatile portions of the draft anyway.
Logan Webb checks almost every box I look for in a top-shelf fantasy starting pitcher. The only box he has left unchecked is a track record of excellence. Nevertheless, he’s only 25 years old and coming off an excellent season with the advanced metrics to support it.
According to FanGraphs, the right-handed hurler pitched in 27 games (26 starts) in the regular season lasting 148.1 innings, spinning a 3.03 ERA, 2.79 xFIP, 3.20 xERA, and 3.13 SIERA. Thus, his low ERA was backed by his sparkling ERA estimators.
In addition, he had a rock-solid 1.11 WHIP. Webb did an elite job of keeping the ball on the ground with a 60.9 GB%, avoided issuing free passes with a 6.0 BB%, and struck out a stellar 26.5% of the batters he faced with a 30.9 CSW%. He also dominated in the postseason. As a result, he pitched 165.0 innings in 2021, giving him the baseline to push 200 innings in 2022. So, I’m happy to start drafts with a hitter-heavy approach and grab Webb as early as the fifth round as my fantasy ace. Finally, I won’t allow him to slip out of the sixth round.
Shane McClanahan (SP – TB): 104.8 ADP/106.2 ECR
Shane McClanahan had an electrifying rookie season last year. The flamethrowing lefty was eased into a regular starter’s workload with three starts lasting precisely 4.0 innings. McClanahan flashed upside in the early going, but he kicked it up a notch from June 20 through the end of the year.
June 20 represents the first day he pitched at least 6.0 innings. Including that start, he made 16 starts spanning 84.2 innings the rest of the regular season, recording a 2.98 ERA, 3.62 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.8 BB%, 27.0 K%, and 30.4 CSW%.
Including two postseason appearances, McClanahan pitched 129.0 innings. So, he’ll likely face an innings limit this season. However, 150-160 innings isn’t an outlandish possibility. There aren’t many true workhorses in baseball anymore, minimizing my concern about McClanahan’s near-certain innings cap. Otherwise, McClanahan’s profile is impeccable.
Patrick Sandoval (SP – LAA): 205.0 ADP/208.5 ECR
Patrick Sandoval is another young southpaw I’m enamored with this season. But unfortunately, Sandoval took his lumps instead of hitting the ground running. In his first 19 appearances (15 starts) that lasted 76.0 in 2019-2020, Sandoval was beaten up to the tune of a 5.33 ERA. However, his 4.01 xFIP and 4.38 SIERA were reasons for optimism.
Last year, he made three relief appearances before successfully transitioning to the rotation. Sandoval pitched 79.2 innings in his 14 starts, totaling a 3.39 ERA, 3.98 SIERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.4 BB%, 26.1 K%, 50.7 GB%, and 31.0 CSW%.
Sandoval has a pair of nasty bat-missing offerings. According to FanGraphs, he had a 19.1 SwStr% against his slider in 2021. However, that pales in comparison to his bread-winning pitch, a changeup with an eye-popping 28.7 SwStr%. Thankfully, because he has a weapon for taming lefties and righties, he dominated the latter to the tune of a .227 wOBA and allowed a .311 wOBA to righties. Sure, it would be nice if he was a bit better with the platoon disadvantage. Still, a .311 wOBA is palatable.
Unfortunately, Sandoval’s season was cut short in late August by a stress fracture in his back. However, Sandoval was reportedly healthy and running in November, erasing concerns about him ramping up for a typical start to the 2022 season. Since he pitched only 87.0 innings last year, he’s likely to face a more restrictive innings cap than McClanahan above. Thankfully, that’s more than baked into his post-200 ADP. I’m willing to snatch up Sandoval as early as the late-14th round in 12-team mixers to avoid a league mate beating me to the punch.
Joe Ryan (SP – MIN): 225.4 ADP/234.0 ECR
Joe Ryan was dominant at every level of the minors. He pitched so well in Tampa Bay’s minor-league system in 2019 that he rose from Single-A to High-A, finishing in Double-A. Ryan didn’t skip a beat in Triple-A in 2021 following a season without minor league games in 2020.
Ryan pitched 17 games (16 starts) in the upper minors (Double-A and Triple-A) in 2019 and 2021, recording a 3.40 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 5.3 BB%, 38.3 K%, and 0.84 WHIP in 79.1 innings. Additionally, Ryan had excellent swinging-strike rates at every level of the minors.
Ultimately, he never pitched for the Rays. Instead, he was included in a trade to the Twins for Nelson Cruz. He made just two Triple-A starts with the Twins organization before getting his feet wet in The Show. Ryan started five games for the Twins, hurling 26.2 innings. He had a 4.05 ERA, respectable enough at first blush but didn’t do his work justice versus his 2.99 xERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, and 3.42 SIERA. Ryan also had a 0.79 WHIP, 5.0 BB%, 30.0 K%, and 29.4 CSW%.
Beyond his surface stats and ERA estimators, I like his plate discipline numbers by pitch type. Ryan is a four-pitch pitcher, throwing a four-seam fastball, changeup, curve, and slider. Three of Ryan’s offerings had a swinging-strike rate of at least 11.0%, climbing from an 11.0 SwStr on his four-seam fastball to a 15.6 SwStr% on his curve, and topped by an 18.2 SwStr% on his slider.
Frankly, I’m shocked a young pitcher with Ryan’s track record of excellence in the minors, and encouraging debut for the Twins isn’t a more coveted pitcher. But, again, Ryan is another young pitcher who’s probably destined to face an innings limit. Still, he pitched 92.2 innings professionally and 15.0 for USA Baseball (if I correctly understand his player page), bringing his total to 107.2 innings. So, I’m guessing 130-150 innings is probably a reasonable expectation.
Ryan wasn’t a prospect list darling, but the results have been too good to ignore. I’m targeting Ryan in the 16th to 17th round in 12-team mixers. Even reaching, Ryan is a cheap lottery ticket.
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