This Year’s Justin Verlander (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Coming into last season, I did nearly six months of preparation. I dug into every player and watched a ton of games. I spent countless hours writing and discussing players with some of the smartest people in this industry. I developed my strategies and figured out who I wanted to target and who I was fading. Even when you put in the kind of work that I do, you are going to have mistakes. One of my biggest whiffs in 2022 was fading Justin Verlander.
Now hear me out. I faded Verlander for the right reasons. He was coming off of Tommy John surgery and had only thrown six innings in 2020 and none in 2021 because of it. I fade Tommy John surgery returners because they often struggle in their first season back with command and control and have innings limits. He was also entering his age 39 season and seemed unlikely to be able to maintain the skills and volume we had seen in the past.
Well, we know what happened. Verlander posted a 1.75 ERA, a .83 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 175 innings on his way to a Cy Young Award. So, who will be the pitcher that will make me look silly for fading them? Who will be this year’s Justin Verlander?
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This Year’s Justin Verlander
Jacob deGrom (SP – TEX)
There is no doubt that on a per inning basis that deGrom is the not just the best pitcher in baseball, but he could easily be the top player in fantasy pretty easily. He is so dominant that he would only need about 140 innings to be in contention for being the best pitcher in fantasy. However, even prior to having the side issue which has delayed his first spring training start, I was worried about his injury risk. He’s only thrown 156.1 innings in total over the last two seasons and has already been injured this spring. There have been fears about his elbow since that 2021 season. It is just such a huge risk to take for a guy that is going so early in drafts.
Tony Gonsolin (SP – LAD)
Gonsolin is coming off of a fantastic season where he threw 130.1 innings with a 2.14 ERA, a .87 WHIP, and 119 strikeouts. While the breakout was great, he got extremely lucky with a .207 BABIP and could be one of the pitchers hurt most by the new shift restrictions. He also had elbow issues last season which is why he only threw 130.1 innings in the first place. Now he is dealing with an ankle injury. There is just too much risk to draft.
Shane Bieber (SP – CLE)
There was nothing wrong with what Bieber has done in terms of results. He has had four straight seasons with a 3.28 ERA or better and he threw 200 fantastic innings last season. The problem is in the underlying numbers. His velocity has dropped now in consecutive seasons and so has strikeout rate in the process. He now relies on contact to get him out of innings and at some point that may catch up with him. I worry that the reason his velocity keeps dipping is health. I feel like the floor is going to drop out from under him one season and I would rather be early on than a year late.
Logan Webb (SP – SF)
As a Giants fan, I love Webb, but as a fantasy player, I can’t draft him. Webb is another pitcher that could be hurt by the lack of shifting this season because of his extreme ground ball tendencies. The other problem with that is the defense behind him in San Francisco. The Giants had one of the worst defenses in baseball last season and somehow they made it worse in the offseason by letting Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria walk in free agency and replacing them with LaMont Wade Jr and David Villar. The outfield is a problem too with Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, and Mitch Haniger all expected to play large roles.
Alex Cobb (SP – SF)
The most commonly written article in 2022 was about Cobb being a bounceback player. Unfortunately, most people didn’t realize that the reason he was so unlucky in 2022 was the aforementioned defense. Like Webb, Cobb relies a ton on ground balls and with the defense behind him, there are going to be real problems for him again in 2023. Honestly, I don’t really want to draft many Giants pitchers in spite of their amazing home park because I think the defense will be so bad.
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