10 Must-Have Pitchers to Draft (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
If you’re reading about fantasy baseball in January, you’re a sharp enough fantasy player to know that drafting players and building teams is all about value. Labeling a player like the new Astros 1B Jose Abreu as a “must-have” doesn’t mean you should draft him ahead of Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman in Round 1. Instead, it means Abreu is a “must-have” at his current ADP of 107-and might be worth reaching an extra round for. With this in mind, here are the 10 pitchers I must have this season at their current draft price.
10 Must-Have Pitchers for 2023
All ADP data courtesy of FantasyPros.
Pitchers to Target in the First 30 Picks
None. Starting off with a bit of a curveball, but it’s a point worth making. Complete one mock draft and you’ll figure out quickly that pitching is deep this year and the “middle class” of hitting leaves a lot to be desired. You’d be wise to focus on hitters with your first 2-3 picks in roto leagues.
Pitchers to Target From Picks 30-80
Justin Verlander (NYM – SP):ADP 38
Can someone explain to me why last year’s top-ranked starter is the 11th starter off the board this year? Sure, his days of 200+ Ks may be behind him (he has 9 such seasons), but Verlander will still strike out more than a batter an inning and is as good a bet for a sub 1.00 WHIP (a feat he’s accomplished four straight seasons he’s played) and a sub 2.60 ERA (a feat he’s accomplished the last 3 seasons he’s had 16+ starts) as anyone in baseball. Couple this with an improved ballpark (the Mets ranked as the fourth-best ballpark at suppressing home runs and the Astros ranked as the tenth-worst) and a team built to support his win total, and Verlander is a great way to anchor your staff at the beginning of Round 4.
Max Scherzer (NYM – SP): ADP 42
Age ain’t nothing but a number, right? And at 38 years old, Max Scherzer can still spin it. In 2022 he ranked in the top 15% of baseball in xBA, K%, BB%, chase rate, fastball spin rate, and curveball spin rate. All that adds up to a four-category stud, who, despite only throwing 145.1 innings last season still finished as Yahoo!’s #36 overall player. I’ll take the over on this workhorse throwing 145.1 innings in 2023 and bet that Scherzer returns even better value this season.
Julio Urias (LAD – SP): ADP 49
Sometimes fantasy baseball is simple. If you want a pitcher who wins games, draft a pitcher on a team that wins a lot of games. And Urias and the Dodgers do just that. Urias’ 37 combined wins the last two seasons are tops in baseball (well ahead of Gerrit Cole‘s 29) and the 26-year-old shows no signs of stopping. Urias is a master of inducing soft contact, with a hard-hit percentage in the top 4% of the league-and with elite spin rates on his fastball and curveball, there is nothing in Urias’ profile that says he can’t continue his dominance. There are far worse ways to build a roster than taking four elite hitters and letting Urias anchor your staff in Round 5.
Kevin Gausman (TOR – SP): ADP 61
Maybe there is something in the water in Toronto because Kevin Gausman couldn’t catch a break in 2022. Despite limiting walks (top 3% of the league in BB%) and finishing in the 99th percentile in chase rate, he finished with a 1.24 WHIP. The culprit: Gaursman’s BA-xBA of 0.030. He had the dubious distinction of “leading” all qualified starters in this metric, and for perspective, no one else finished with a BA-xBA over 0.013 (heck, only 15 qualified starters even finished with a positive BA-xBA). Gausman was also the sixth unluckiest qualified starter in SLG-xSLG, with his Toronto teammate Robbie Ray leading the way in that category. Gausman is a safe pick for innings, wins and Ks, and a good bet to see his luck even out in his ratio stats in 2023.
Cristian Javier (HOU – SP): ADP 67
What if I told you last year’s 15th-ranked SP was an up-and-coming 25-year-old who was a statcast darling, finishing in the top 6% in all of baseball in xBA, xSLG, and K%. Not enough? This righty is so talented that his GM let Justin Verlander walk in the offseason. You’d be excited, right? Now despite all this, Cristian Javier is going as the 25th SP off the board in the 2023 draft. Pay the SP3 price on draft day, enjoy the borderline SP1 numbers all season, and thank me later.
Pitchers to Target From Picks 80-145
Clayton Kershaw (LAD – SP): ADP 116
Clayton Kershaw is a wizard. Despite a fastball that barely cracked 90 MPH the last two years, he ranked in the top 10% in baseball in xERA, xSLG, xISO, Barrel rate, and BB% in 2022. While Kershaw may only give you 120 IP in 2023 (he pitched 121.2 and 126.1 the last two seasons), his numbers in those 120 IP will be elite. In leagues with IL slots, draft Kershaw outside the top 100, enjoy his elite 120 IP, and fill in the extra innings you need off the wire.
Tony Gonsolin (LAD – SP): ADP 145
Maybe you should just draft all Dodgers this season. Gonsolin finished as the #7 overall SP last season and now is the 56th SP off the board. Something doesn’t add up. Sure, his advanced metrics don’t support a top-10 finish, but his elite splitter and slider (both with run values of -10 or better) and win potential in the Dodgers rotation surely don’t spell disaster. Gonsolin had a better xBA than Triston McKenzie and a better xSLG than Zack Wheeler and Alek Manoah in 2022. I see no reason Gonsolin can’t finish as a top 40 SP in 2023.
Pitchers to Target in the Late Rounds
There is no reason to reach for closers early, as even the “safe” closers can flame out. Only one of the top 4 drafted closers finished the season ranked in the top 140. Josh Hader finished with a 5.22 ERA, Raisel Iglesias had only 17 saves and was traded and Craig Kimbrel had only 22 saves and a 1.32 WHIP. Instead, invest in skills (and preferably skills on good teams), late in your drafts. Paul Sewald, Pete Fairbanks, and Evan Phillips are all currently listed as their teams’ closer, and even if they share the role, 15-20 saves with excellent ratios (thanks to those skills) is very valuable after pick 200.
Paul Sewald (SEA – RP): ADP 229
Sewald ranks in the top 10% of the league in whiff rate, fastball spin rate, and xERA. Andres Munoz may force his way into a late-inning role, but Sewald will get his share of saves too.
Pete Fairbanks (TB – RP): ADP 273
How does a 99th-percentile fastball velocity with a 96th-percentile spin rate sound in the bottom of the 9th inning? When Pete Fairbanks is healthy, he is a menace in the closer role, as evidenced by his 1.03 xERA last season.
Evan Phillips (LAD – RP): ADP 297
There is no doubt Phillips has the skills – top 10% of the league in xERA, average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, xBA, xSLG, barrel rate, and K%. If the Dodgers don’t add a more “proven” closer between now and opening day, Phillips could be the steal of the draft. And even if they do, Phillips’ skills are still a steal at around pick 300.
Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – that optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.
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