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RP-Eligible Starting Pitchers to Target (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Feb 22, 2023
Jeffrey Springs

The Rays stumbled into a gem last year when converting Jeffrey Springs from the bullpen to the rotation.

Positional versatility is especially useful for hitters. However, in fantasy leagues that use starting pitcher and relief pitcher lineup spots, having a starter who can slot into a reliever role is a nifty bonus. RP-eligible starters are available throughout drafts, and the following piece analyzes the most exciting choices.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

RP-Eligible SPs to Target (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

Elite Tier

Spencer Strider (SP/RP – ATL): 32.6 ADP & 31.5 ECR

Spencer Strider is a blue-chip fantasy hurler gamers can select as the headliner of their fake-baseball rotation. He was the premier pitcher highlighted in Fantasy Baseball Second-Year Player Primer: Pitchers (2023), and his average draft position (ADP) and expert consensus ranking (ECR) has largely remained stagnant since that article was published. Instead of rehashing Strider’s analysis here, readers are encouraged to check out the linked article.

Cristian Javier (SP/RP – HOU): 66.6 ADP & 70.5 ECR

Christian Javier’s 2022 season was a tale of the cream rising to the top. He began last year’s campaign in Houston’s bullpen, pitched well as a starter when called upon and never gave back his rotation spot.

According to FanGraphs, among pitchers who pitched at least 130 innings as a starter in 2022, Javier had the third-highest strikeout rate (32.6 K%) and 12th-lowest WHIP (0.97). The righty also spun a 2.68 ERA, 3.28 SIERA and 28.0 CSW%.

Javier’s numbers as a starter were fantastic. Furthermore, he has a rock-solid foundation for innings under his belt. Including the 2022 postseason in his totals, Javier tossed 161.1 innings in 2022. He should eclipse 170 innings this year if he stays healthy. Just 39 pitchers tossed more than 170 innings last year. Thus, Javier’s ADP and ECR are spot on.

Mid Tier

Jeffrey Springs (SP/RP – TB): 169.8 ADP & 174.6 ECR

The Rays stumbled into a gem last year when converting Jeffrey Springs from the bullpen to the rotation. The lefty made only two starts versus 110 relief appearances in the majors before last season. Springs made seven relief appearances before getting his first turn in the rotation last year. After that, he made only one more relief appearance before closing the year with 24 more starts.

In 25 starts spanning 125.0 innings, Springs had a 2.66 ERA, 3.33 xFIP, 3.36 SIERA, 1.10 WHIP, 5.5 BB%, 25.9 K% and 29.4 CSW%. The 30-year-old southpaw’s bread is buttered by a filthy changeup. According to Baseball Savant, Springs’ changeup had the 26th-highest whiff rate (38.1%) among 320 pitches with a minimum sample of 150 plate appearances. Further, per FanGraphs, it had a 47.9 O-Swing%, 21.5 SwStr% and produced a 77 wRC+ against it. Springs wisely used the pitch at a 34.7% clip.

Springs’ late and unexpected breakout is a reason for pause. Yet, the underlying stats were legitimate. The fly in the ointment was his modest workload of 135.1 innings in 2022 and the sizable leap from 44.2 innings in 2021. Thankfully, Springs’ shortcomings are an easy pill to swallow at his fair ADP and ECR.


Hunter Brown (SP/RP – HOU): 247.0 ADP & 267.6 ECR

Hunter Brown had an excellent Triple-A campaign last year and flashed his potential in a taste of the Bigs. Unfortunately, there isn’t an immediate opening in Houston’s rotation this season, but the story was the same for Javier last year.

Might Brown be this year’s version of Javier for the Astros? Maybe. The high-upside prospect was included in Players Who Benefit From Free Agent Departures (2023 Fantasy Baseball), and Brown’s write-up still applies to his 2023 outlook. Readers should check out the linked article for a complete breakdown of Brown’s 2022. He’s an exciting option to stash on medium-to-large-sized benches in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers.

Ross Stripling (SP/RP – SF): 277.8 ADP & 284.0 ECR

Ross Stripling was a successful swingman for the Dodgers early in his career, stumbled in 2020 and 2021, but found his footing again last season. Stripling made 24 starts and eight relief appearances for the Blue Jays.

The veteran righty spun a 2.92 ERA, 3.60 xFIP, 3.69 SIERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.9 BB%, 20.6 K% and 27.5 CSW% in 123.1 innings in his starts. Per FanGraphs, Stripling used a four-seamer, sinker slider, curve and changeup last year. The arsenal depth is helpful, but his changeup is the breadwinner in his repertoire. Stripling had a 46.7 O-Swing% and 20.9 SwStr% on his changeup last year, giving him a legitimate putaway offering when he gets a hitter to two strikes.

The 33-year-old hurler will ply his trade for the Giants this year after his bounce-back showing for the Blue Jays last year. Stripling will pitch with similar park factors at Oracle Park in 2023 to those he pitched with at the Rogers Centre in 2022. Additionally, in recent years, San Francisco has had success with veteran pitchers such as Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Alex Cobb. Stripling can be the next success story, making him a stellar choice at the end of drafts.

Garrett Whitlock (SP/RP – BOS): 282.6 ADP & 281.2 ECR

Garrett Whitlock will have an opportunity to sew up a spot in Boston’s competitive and unsettled rotation. The righty’s primarily been a bullpen weapon for the Red Sox since debuting in 2021. However, he started nine games last year, giving him a taste of starting in The Show.

He pitched 39.0 innings to the tune of a 4.15 ERA, 3.64 ERA, 3.63 SIERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.5 BB%, 23.2 K% and 27.0 CSW% in his nine turns. The gap between Whitlock’s ERA and ERA estimators can partially be attributed to an inflated BABIP as a starter. He had a .276 BABIP in the bullpen in his career, but that surged to a .315 BABIP in his starts. Even minor regression to his career BABIP would help reduce the gap between his ERA and ERA estimators.

Whitlock’s an intriguing late-round dart with a viable floor as an ERA and WHIP asset that can be a multi-inning reliever if he flops as a starter. Unfortunately, there are a few knocks against Whitlock. First, he pitched only 82.1 innings last season. As a result, the Red Sox will presumably cap his innings. Second, they could use him in tandem as part of a piggybacking arrangement to limit his innings through this year, decreasing his potential to earn wins. Regardless, Whitlock’s ADP has baked in his negatives. Thus, he’s a good pick around his ADP and ECR.

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

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