It’s the second-best week of the year behind Shark Week: Fantasy Baseball Draft Week! Brought to you by Manscaped and DraftKings. All those senior citizens who hear the word fantasy baseball and then start saying “I started on Usenet and then upgraded to the newspaper haw haw haw” are assuredly proud that the next generation of the game’s elite will be sponsored by shorn man parts and venture capital. Wait, am I elite? Where’s my venture capital? Fine, I’ll settle for the Venture Bros. Me, Edgar Allen Poe, and Me from Ten Minutes Ago are going in! Where are we going? To Draft Week!
All right, whatever. Weeks. All my home leagues are drafting this week, and I know the Grey/Rudy/Donkey Teeth annual meetup is happening in Vegas for the Main Event, and you’re probably looking at a draft for yourself. If you’ve been around since the start of the year, you’ve seen the best players I have to offer. For draft week though, all the ADPs have been established, and we’re running into ADP inefficiency 2.0. 1.0 happened during the Usenet era. Hah! Let’s see if I can get on Google Trends for the ubiquitous use of Usenet. But for real: even with literally every site in the world providing their fantasy baseball opinion right now, you can still find deals on pitchers. Let’s get you set up with the best starters to target for 2022:
Starters to Target
Shohei Ohtani: If you’ve been following me o’er the past few months, you know that I say “Hey” to “Shohei.” First and foremost: in daily roto leagues, points, and best ball leagues, Ohtani is the One oh One and don’t pretend that he isn’t. Yes, his health makes as much sense as Liz Phair’s turn toward adult contemporary pop. There’s basically no precedent for a guy coming off Tommy John surgery, and then being shut down for another year due to arm issues, and then coming out and two-way-playing his way to fantasy stardom as a hitter and relevance as a pitcher. But truth is, Ohtani — even in his “limited” role as a pitcher — still finished in “plus” fantasy value in 2021, just as a starting pitcher. If he never touched a bat in 2021, he still would have been an SP2 and worth a pick in the top ten rounds as a starter in 2021. And that was on an Angels team that was literally marching out the Salt Lake Bees for the majority of the year (thanks for that reference, Coolwhip). If the Angels are even 75% healthy on the year, the stats indicate that Ohtani’s consistent end-of-year 2021 pitching should carry over to 2022. Get Ohtani and you get a top-notch 5 category hitter and a 4-category pitcher. Absolute cheat code, and I still don’t know why some leagues are letting him slide toward the 10th pick. They must hate winning. ENYWHEY. I wrote about Shohei to start off the 2022 season in this Shohei Ohtani 2022 Fantasy Baseball Outlook. If you draft Ohtani in a DH/P role, treat him as your SP3 or SP4. Instead of worrying about drafting an SP at pick 100, grab Jared Walsh and pair him with Ohtani — could be a huge correlation upside.
Kevin Gausman: It’s absolutely ridiculous how the “he’s had a bad month” crew has dominated fantasy sports for the past [checks calendar] 145 years. Apparently, Americans needed fantasy baseball during Reconstruction. ENYWHEY. Do you know the sample size needed before SIERA becomes effectively predictive of future performance? Over 400 IP. Last year, commenters kept doubting Gausman and said, “he looks so bad” at the end of the year. Gausman’s end-of-year numbers: 7 starts, 40 IP, 51K, 4BB, 2.51 xFIP. 18.1 swinging strike%. Yet, he’s being drafted after noted IP-chewing stalwarts like Lance Lynn and Sandy Alcantara. That bad month of Gausman’s in 2021? Let’s turn on the ol’ split-0-nator and see what July 2021 looked like: 5.11 ERA? Yuck. Let’s dig deeper during that month: 12.04 K/9, 3.89 xFIP. And what was his SIERA over the previous 400 IP? 4.04. Looks like we have a winner, folks! If you gave up on Gausman in July, you missed out on a pitcher that went 5-1 with a 7:1 K/BB ratio to finish out the year. Now tell me again why we’re drafting pitchers in the first four rounds when Gausman is sitting there as late as pick 100? I’m fine if you want to treat Gausman as your SP1, but I’d be even happier with a cheap Shane Bieber/Kevin Gausman combo, which gives enormous upside for your team while also spreading out risk and allowing your team to grab a ton of hitters.
Nathan Eovaldi: There are a lot of late bloomers in professional sports, and often that’s a good thing. Max Scherzer didn’t lead the league in strikeouts until he was 31, and then he did it for 3 years straight. What about when deGrom first led the league in strikeouts? Also 31-years old. It took Zack Greinke 136 starts before leading the league in ERA at the age of 25, but he had been in the league for 5 years at that point. You get the point. Not every pitcher comes out of the NCAA womb looking like Joe Ryan (also, Ryan was a 7th rounder). Eovaldi flopped around the AL East for the better part of his 20s and has burned so many fantasy managers that he’s being drafted 132nd overall. Let’s look at Eovaldi’s stats over the combined past two years:
So…maybe Walker Buehler and Sandy Alcantara aren’t your answers at SP this year? Regardless how you feel that Eovaldi hurt you in the past, he seems like he’s stabilized and prepped for big things at the age of 32.
Hyun-Jin Ryu: His current ADP is 210th overall, which in standard leagues is basically the last round. Ryu wasn’t optimal in 2021, but how did he finish the year? SP45, ahead of guys like Shane McClanahan, John Means, Ian Anderson, and Pablo Lopez. Let’s not forget the Blue Jays spent half their year playing in AAA-stadiums and sleeping in Buffalo, New York. I’ve never been to upstate NY, but I hear stories. Weird stories. There’s sauce. ENYWHEY. The narrative on Ryu used to be “gets injured too much.” So, let’s do that multi-year study deal again, this time from 2019-2021:
Ryu’s got an extremely dull ceiling, but if you’re loading up your SP roster with Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, Shane McClanahan, and Joe Ryan, the least you can do is add Ryu at the end of the draft. Ryu is going to be the ballast that allows your pitching ship to stay afloat.
Ranger Suarez: Razzball readers already know to target Suarez, but his ADP is still falling because he ran into some visa issues and might miss some games. Y’all realize that only like 20 starters pitched a whole season last year? And some of those top starters who were “healthy” all year were guys like Wade Miley, Dallas Keuchel, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Gibson, Kyle Hendricks, Chris Flexen, Tyler Anderson…geez, the list goes on. Quite literally a dozen guys you wouldn’t want other people to know were on your fantasy roster. Games started are really important for the top starting pitchers because that edge in games started is what divides Max Scherzer from Jack Flaherty. But there are a ton of other pitchers that are going to throw 20-25 games of extremely efficient baseball, and Ranger Suarez — although he comes with a ton of small sample size risk — has one of the highest ceilings in 2022 fantasy baseball. He’s being drafted around pick 190 — so, the end of your draft — and he’s a perfect fifth starter. There’s no risk to drafting him — and you might even get him on the IL/NA list while he deals with visa issues — and nothing but upside if he pans out.
Starters to Avoid
Let’s finish this article with some starters to avoid at their current ADP. Who you don’t draft is sometimes as important as who you do draft.
Sandy Alcantara: Fine, I don’t really mind Sandy’s skill set. Looks great on GIFs. But he’s up to SP15 on the pre-season ADP board and I’m hearing he went in the SECOND ROUND this past week at one of the big drafts. Remember: winning a 1,000 player tournament requires a non-normative team; the strategies used in tournaments ARE NOT the same strategies needed to win your baseball league with all your Usenet buddies (assuming you all upgraded from the 14.4 modems). Sandy is a fine starting pitcher. Matt Cain was a fine starting pitcher. They were both not great fantasy pitchers for years. Alcantara is not a pitcher to draft in the second round. He is not the 15th best pitcher on the board. “But the innings are so nice!” the crowd shouts. Great, you know what leading the league in innings got Sandy last year? SP24. What happens if Mr. 99 MPH gets a blister and misses games like quite literally every other pitcher out there? What if he feels a shoulder twinge? What if the Marlins — who just got rid of President Jeter — decide to tank again? Y’all know that Sandy, in 500 innings of major league work, has as many career wins as Julio Urias alone got last year, right? Like, what upside does Alcantara bring to the table that justifies a second-round pick? Read up 18,000 words ago — Alcantara is behind or comparable to guys like Nathan Eovaldi and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who are going 150 picks later. I’m happy to eat crow if Alcantara finishes in the top 10 SP because volume guys can do that. However, it’s much less risky with much better prospects to take a high K/9 guy who exceeds his IP projections. Whew. I’m gonna go cool off with some X-Files reruns and chat about it on the Sightings message board afterward.
Lance Lynn: Lynn ranked 4th overall among 150 IP+ starters in terms of ERA-FIP discrepancy (sorted the bad way), trailing Casey Mize, Robbie Ray, and Walker Buehler. Let’s toss out Mize because he’s a rookie. Of Ray, Buehler, and Lynn, Lynn had the worst ERA-SIERA discrepancy of the three, had the highest walk rate, and the lowest K/BB ratio. “But show me the small sample sizes!” the crowd shouts. Lynn had a 7-game span to finish the year where he had an ERA near 5.00, a FIP of 4.50, and he allowed 8 dingers; 5 of those were allowed to the tanking Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Guardians. Lynn is a fine pitcher, but he’s not your discount SP1 or a top 20 SP like he’s being drafted. People have this conception of Lynn that he’s an innings eater like Alcantara — I mean I even wrote that earlier in this piece! — and it’s true that Lynn shows up to every damn game. But only one time since 2015 has Lynn topped 200 IP. So, he needs IP volume to be a top pitcher, but he also doesn’t get that volume on a historical basis. OK. What are his odds of hitting 200 IP this year on a White Sox team that will be trotting out Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Craig Kimbrell, and Liam Hendricks to finish games? I think we’ve answered our own questions.
Justin Verlander: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the list of players who have accumulated 3+ WAR after returning from significant time off at the age of 39+ in the recent era of MLB is: Bartolo Colon. Sure, Verlander could be #2. But, it makes more sense that Verlander turns in a very pedestrian outing this year so he can go out on his own terms in front of his own crowd. It doesn’t make a ton of sense that Verlander is being drafted in the top 30 SPs. If you draft him, I’d take another SP pretty quick because I think the Verlander upside is limited.
Chris Sale: He’s not pitching until June at the earliest and yet he’s still being drafted in the top 50 SPs. You’ll be able to get him off the waiver wire in almost every league; no need to draft. I learned the hard way last year by grabbing injured arms in too many drafts. If I had just left Sale on the waiver wire and replaced him with literally anybody, I probably would have finished top 3 in RazzSlam and had a shot at the overall title. Instead, I watched Sale sit idly on my roster while other pitchers put up 21+ starts, and I captured zero of those points. Failure is the best teacher — learn from my mistake.
That’s all folx! Happy draft week(s), and let me know who you’re targeting or avoiding down in the comments!