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Fantasy Baseball Second-Year Player Primer: Pitchers (2023)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Feb 1, 2023
Jhoan Duran

Jhoan Duran was a revelation in Minnesota’s bullpen last year.

A track record of success is desirable for fantasy baseball selections. Unfortunately, youngsters don’t have work in The Show under their belt for a long track record, creating a need to sift through small samples to make informed decisions. Still, second-year players have meaningful statistics to dig into from their first season, and their scouting reports should also be considered for painting a complete picture of their outlook. Hitting on the correct second-year players can create a massive edge over other league mates. If you missed it, the second-year hitters were previously discussed. Now, the pitchers are under the spotlight.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

Fantasy Baseball Second-Year Player Primer: Pitchers

Early-Round Sophomore

Spencer Strider (SP/RP – ATL): 33.7 ADP and 31.0 ECR

Technically, Strider debuted in 2021. However, the righty tossed only 2.1 innings in two relief appearances. So, Strider fits the spirit of this piece. He opened last year by dominating in Atlanta’s bullpen before continuing his dominance in their rotation.

Strider had a 2.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 131.2 innings. Fortunately, his electrifying marks were supported by his underlying numbers. According to FanGraphs, Strider had a 2.39 xERA, 2.30 xFIP and 2.41 SIERA.

The rookie also had a blistering 38.3 K% and an acceptable 8.5 BB%. There wasn’t any smoke and mirrors pumping up his strikeout rate. Instead, Strider had a 15.5 SwStr% and 31.1 CSW%. The only fly in the ointment was an Injured List (IL) stint in September.

Thankfully, Strider was back for a postseason start, albeit an ugly one. It would have been better if he returned and had a dominant start. Nonetheless, Strider should be fine this year. He was on the shelf with an oblique injury, and the data is encouraging about him avoiding a recurrence.

Strider pitched 134 innings last year when including the postseason. So, he’ll presumably face an innings restriction this year. It shouldn’t be too obstructive, though. As a result, Strider is an excellent selection in the third round, right in line with his ADP and ECR.

Mid-Round Sophomores

George Kirby (SP – SEA): 102.7 ADP and 115.3 ECR

Kirby had a stellar rookie season in 2022. First, he piled up innings. The righty threw 130.0 innings for the Mariners in the regular season, tossed eight in the postseason, and pitched 26.2 innings in the minors. Thus, if he stays healthy, Kirby should be built up to eclipse 180 innings.

Second, he filled up the strike zone. Kirby’s 4.1 BB% was precisely half the league average in the 2022 regular season. Kirby used his approach to spin a 3.39 ERA, which was in line with his 3.31 xERA, 3.33 xFIP and 3.32 SIERA. The rookie also had a 1.21 WHIP and 24.5 K%.

Is there anything to dislike about Kirby’s rookie campaign? At a glance, gamers should be delighted to take him at his ADP. However, a deeper dive provides one reason for pause, and the rankers have likely noticed the blemish, creating a notable discrepancy between Kirby’s ADP and ECR.

Kirby had a 24.5 K%, above the league average of 22.4%. However, his plate-discipline numbers were less impressive. Kirby had a 9.7 SwStr% and 25.9 CSW%. Additionally, Kirby’s slider had the highest swinging-strike rate among his secondary pitches at a lackluster 7.7 SwStr%. Kirby’s four-seam fastball had a 13.7 SwStr% and was his most-used pitch. So he can exceed expectations for his overall SwStr% and CSW%. Still, Kirby’s lack of a dominant putaway pitch is concerning. As a result, I have Kirby ranked slightly lower than the ECR and won’t end up with him on my rosters in leagues where he’s selected near his ADP.

Hunter Greene (SP – CIN): 111.0 ADP and 124.1 ECR

Greene has an undeniably high-octane arsenal. According to FanGraphs, Greene’s average fastball velocity (99.0) was the fastest among starters who pitched at least 120 innings, more than a whole tick higher than Sandy Alcantara‘s heater (97.9 mph).

Greene also did an elite job of missing bats, recording a 14.5 SwStr% and producing a 30.9 K%. It’s easy to fall in love with a player of Greene’s archetype. Unfortunately, his low groundball rate (29.3 GB%) is problematic in his homer-friendly home ballpark. Greene’s penchant for allowing flyballs resulted in 1.72 HR/9 allowed.

Greene’s 4.44 ERA was higher than his 4.00 xERA, 3.64 xFIP and 3.33 SIERA. However, it was in alignment with his 4.37 FIP, which doesn’t normalize homers. Greene might also find wins hard to come by since Cincinnati’s offense doesn’t have established high-end hitters. I love Greene’s long-term outlook, but I’m bearish on him in re-draft leagues and would need him to fall multiple rounds after his ADP to pull the trigger on him.

Felix Bautista (RP – BAL): 111.3 ADP and 84.8 ECR

Bautista had a few saves early in the year for the Orioles before seizing the closing gig for himself after Baltimore traded Jorge Lopez. The 27-year-old had a 2.19 ERA, 2.66 xERA, 2.77 xFIP, 2.49 SIERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.1 BB%, 34.8 K%, 15.1 SwStr%, 30.1 CSW%, four wins, and 15 saves.

Bautista is the prototypical flamethrowing closer. However, he backs his elite cheddar with a slider and splitter. The drafters are underrating him, and the rankers are slotting him appropriately.

Nick Lodolo (SP – CIN): 125.0 ADP and 137.6 ECR

Lodolo doesn’t have the same drool-inducing heater as Greene. Still, he was more successful as a rookie. The young lefty had a 3.66 ERA, 3.97 xERA, 3.49 xFIP, 3.29 SIERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.8 BB%, 29.7 K%, 12.3 SwStr% and 29.8 CSW% in 19 starts that spanned 103.1 innings. He also threw 12.2 innings in the minors, giving him a decent foundation to add more innings to in 2023.

The left-handed pitcher also had a 46.0 GB%. Lodolo’s ability to coax grounders at a superior rate to Greene helped him tally a palatable 1.13 HR/9, despite Great American Ball Park’s homer-amplifying conditions.

As is the case for Greene, wins might be hard to come by for Lodolo. Nevertheless, the lefty’s profile is fantasy-friendly, making him an attractive target at his ADP and ECR. Moreover, I’d rather have Lodolo than Greene without factoring in the cheaper ADP and ECR for the former.

Late-Round Sophomores

Jhoan Duran (RP – MIN): 187.0 ADP and 165.0 ECR

Duran was a revelation in Minnesota’s bullpen last year. The rookie’s heater averaged triple-digit velocity, and he also threw a curve and splitter. Duran used his dominant arsenal to tie up hitters to the tune of a 1.86 ERA, 2.22 xERA, 2.11 xFIP, 1.96 SIERA, 0.98 WHIP, 6.0 BB%, 33.5 K%, 17.9 SwStr% and 32.2 CSW%.

Sadly, Duran had only two wins and eight saves. The Twins didn’t reserve him for save situations. Instead, they used him in high-leverage situations before the ninth inning if the situation warranted it. Duran isn’t a shoo-in to close games in 2023, either. The Twins acquired Lopez from the Orioles in a trade last year, and he saved four games for Minnesota. Lopez is back in the fold again this year and could share the closing gig with Duran.

Regardless, Duran is a fantasy asset, even if he’s not a full-time closer. In his high-leverage, part-time closer role in 2022, Duran was the 83rd-ranked pitcher. The sophomore reliever can pan out at his ECR in a similar role this year. Yet, Duran has the upside to significantly outproduce his draft spot if he takes a stranglehold of the closing job. Therefore, gamers shouldn’t hesitate to reach ahead of his ADP and ECR if they need another reliever.

Hunter Brown (SP/RP – HOU): 242.3 ADP and 271.9 ECR

Brown was featured in Players Who Benefit From Free Agent Departures (2023 Fantasy Baseball). Readers should check out his write-up in that piece. In short, Brown could be Houston’s 2023 version of Cristian Javier in 2022. The second-year hurler is an excellent stash in leagues with medium to large benches.

Roansy Contreras (SP – PIT): 273.0 ADP and 390.0 ECR
Kyle Bradish (SP – BAL): 336.5 ADP and 349.4 ECR
MacKenzie Gore (SP – WSH): 337.5 ADP and 320.2 ECR
Braxton Garrett (SP – MIA): 339.5 ADP and 310.0 ECR

Contreras, Bradish, Gore, and Garrett are fun but volatile darts on lousy teams. They’re tightly clustered in my rankings after flashing their potential in 2022. Garrett had the lowest ERA of the quartet at a 3.58 ERA. He also had a 4.05 xERA, 3.50 xFIP, and 3.52 SIERA. Further, Garrett had the highest strikeout rate (24.1 K%) and led the group with a 30.9 CSW%.

Contreras had the second-best ERA (3.79) and the second-highest CSW% (29.8 CSW%). Yet, his 4.43 xERA, 4.48 xFIP and 4.41 SIERA weren’t as flattering.

Bradish and Gore lagged both in overall numbers. However, Bradish turned his season around after being demoted to Triple-A and recalled. He had a 3.28 ERA, 4.01 xFIP, 4.16 SIERA, 1.16 WHIP, 48.2 GB%, 9.4 BB%, 21.9 K%, and 9.5 SwStr% in his final 13 starts that spanned 71.1 innings. Additionally, Bradish faced loaded offenses in most of those starts. Baltimore’s offense is also superior to the offenses supporting the other three pitchers.

Conversely, Gore had a hot start to the 2022 season before his velocity slipped, and he landed on the IL. The lefty’s average fastball velocity was north of 94.0 mph through his first nine starts. Gore had a 2.50 ERA, 3.33 xFIP, 3.52 SIERA, 1.19 WHIP, 10.1 BB%, 29.0 K%, and 11.0 SwStr% in 50.1 innings in those starts. Will he recapture his pre-elbow inflammation velocity? That remains to be seen. Gamers should keep an eye on reports about Gore’s velocity in Spring Training. Each Contreras, Bradish, Gore, and Garrett have merit for taking a stab at late in drafts in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers with medium to large benches.

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 – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

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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 – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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