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Innings Limits to Monitor (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Mar 4, 2023
Spencer Strider

What makes a pitcher valuable? Well, there are a few things that you want to look for when deciding which arms you want to draft. Of course, you want someone who is going to get strikeouts (use K% instead of K/9 as a better indicator), and you especially want those who are getting swinging strikes (SwStr%). If your pitcher is striking guys out, they are limiting the number of balls in play that the defense has to be counted on to make.

You also want someone who is going to limit hard contact or induce a lot of groundballs.

But more than any other metric, you want innings. Well, you want good innings and not just innings, but let’s look at the top 10 pitchers off the board based on NFBC February ADP. Here are their last full season innings totals and their projected innings total for 2023 (in parenthesis using The Bat projections):

There are only four pitchers not listed (Luis Castillo, Framber Valdez, Shane Bieber, and Logan Webb) who are projected to throw for 190 innings this year.

Only Alcantara is projected to eclipse 200 innings this year.

If we dip down to a 180-inning threshold instead, Alek Manoah, German Marquez, Zack Wheeler, Max Fried, Robbie Ray, Miles Mikolas, Yu Darvish, Merrill Kelly, Joe Musgrove, Dylan Cease, and Logan Gilbert are all projected to hit that mark this year.

Last year, we had eight pitchers (Alcantara, Nola, Mikolas, Burnes, Valdez, Cole, Kelly, and Bieber) who hit the 200-inning mark, and a total of 27 pitchers in 2022 hit the 180-inning mark. Among those who we haven’t talked about yet are Martin Perez, Adam Wainwright, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Zac Gallen, Marco Gonzales, Chris Bassitt, Cole Irvin, Kyle Wright, and Pablo Lopez.

Elite innings matter, and it’s why those top couple of tiers of pitchers are so coveted early in drafts.

But not everyone is able to have the luxury of throwing near 190 innings or getting one of those guys. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t valuable on a per-start or a per-inning basis. You just need to be mindful when you construct your roster and have some players who may get skipped, sent down, or shut down in order to preserve their arms.

We’re going to take a look at some of those players below to give you an idea of how many innings you can expect from them, whether they are coming off an injury, or if they are young guys who will be looking at the expected 30-inning increase year over year.

Jacob deGrom (SP – TEX)

Well, hey, would you look at that? It’s our old friend Jacob in the column again. It feels like he’ll be here for the rest of his career, and it makes sense given his injury track record. The Rangers opened up their checkbook to bring deGrom to Texas, and there still might not be a more dominant pitcher on a pitch-by-pitch and inning-by-inning basis. But how many are you going to get? That’s the only question with deGrom, making him hard to draft given how early he goes in drafts.

Spencer Strider (SP/RP – ATL)

I really like Strider, and I’m not really knocking him in my rankings for being “just” a two-pitch pitcher. That matters way less to me. What I care about is his ability to hit 160 innings. He threw for 131.2 last year, and a 30-inning increase puts him at the 160-inning mark. But as the sixth starter off the board, it’s a little too rich for me with the number of equally talented arms below him who have shown they can hit that mark (and more) with little concern.

Tyler Glasnow (SP – TB)
Dustin May (SP – LAD)

I’m going to loop Glasnow and May together here, as they are both pitchers who are entering a full year off from Tommy John surgery and both pitched a bit last year. But given their relative youth still, there are concerns about how many innings they’ll log this year on teams that have options to take on those innings in Tampa and Los Angeles, respectively. The Bat has Glasnow for 155 innings, which aligns closely with the other models, but I have him closer to 133. He’s a top-five pitcher on talent, but there are big durability concerns. As for May, he’s totaled 143.2 innings in his big-league career over four seasons. He showed the signs of an elite pitcher in a tiny sample in 2021, but he’ll be on an unofficial management plan this year, per the Dodgers. You’ll take 115 innings and be thrilled, but even that feels like it’s pushing it for this year.

Grayson Rodriguez (SP – BAL)

I am so excited for Rodgriguez to make it to Baltimore, and he would have last year if not for an injury. Breaking camp with the team seems likely, and he’s as big-league-ready as I’ve seen from a rookie in quite some time. But even with that, he threw 76 innings last year after throwing 103 in 2021. I can see the Orioles stretching him out to around 120 in his rookie season, but they’ll do the Chris Paddack method back in the day where they send him down for spurts (especially a week before the All-Star break) to manage his workload.

Jesus Luzardo (SP – MIA)
Edward Cabrera (SP – MIA)

There’s always injury concern with Luzardo, but 2022 was a great rebound step in his career. He hit the 100-inning mark for the first time in his career, and he matched his career high in starts with 18. There wasn’t much of a leap in innings from 2021 at the big-league level, and taking into account his minor-league innings, he actually threw fewer innings last year than the season before. The projection models have the 24-year-old taking a 45-inning leap, which is doable, but I see closer to 138 innings for him this year. The Marlins have a fantastic rotation, which could result in them going 6-man at times to build in rest days for Luzardo and Cabrera. Speaking of Cabrera, he’s one of my favorite arms and has been for some time. Last year, I said I’d take him over Sixto Sanchez for the short and long term, and projected him for 70 innings. He threw 71 last year for the Fish, and as someone who has his own injury history, 120 innings sounds about right as the ceiling for him this year.

Hunter Greene (SP – CIN)

There’s a lot of helium around Greene, and understandably so. He shoved in the second half of the season last year, and we know that he can hit triple digits with ease. He increased his workload from 106.1 innings to 132.2 across two levels last year, coming close to my 30-inning progression that I give for pitchers. That would put him around 160 innings this year, which is great and wouldn’t be anything to monitor. The concern with him is his increased injury risk, which could play a factor in his hitting those innings.

The walking wounded

I’m grouping all of these pitchers because, well, I can. They are all either returning from major injuries or in some cases, dealing with an injury to an unknown extent. Flaherty is yet again trying to regain his pre-injury form from a shoulder injury. For McCullers, he has a muscle strain already in his throwing arm, adding it to a long list of injuries over the years for him. Maeda is back from Tommy John surgery and is a great value. He’s older, and the Twins won’t have any restrictions on him. But it’s always easier to say that than actually do it. I’m hesitant to buy in on Gore with the numerous setbacks he’s had. Anything over 100 innings would be a success for him. Bello had forearm tightness as Spring Training opened up, and that’s never something you want for a pitcher with as few innings under his belt as Bello has. Ashby was everyone’s darling this year, and it sucks to see that he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that could cost him his shot as a full-time starter and any game action into May.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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