The truth about a lot of the big-name fantasy sports touts is that they argue incessantly in the comments section. Right now on the Tweeters there are two major projectionists — actually three because two of them are fighting over the interpretation of the third projectionist — about how much of a sample size you need before making definitive statements about improvement. The short answer: it’s inconclusive. The long answer (which is me summarizing a decade of data collection): about 400 IP worth of pitching. This is why you see the ol’ standards like Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole always appearing at the top of the Streamonator and other Razzball tools — we know how to expect Scherzer and Cole to perform, but we don’t know how to expect Nestor Cortes to perform. You simply can’t know the wild card pitchers when there’s no data on them. Like I pointed out last week, if you based your team on Week 1 SP returns in 2021, you would have abandoned Max Scherzer after his 4 HR allowed outing and dropped him for Kyle Gibson, the eventual SP4 for most non-winning fantasy teams.
Sometimes these rash decisions make for fun fantasy baseball. In my longest-running home league (16-team points, big upside to sluggers), somebody already dropped Jorge Soler. As I noted in my bold preseason takes, Soler has more HR over the past 3 years than Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu, Rafael Devers, and so on. Right now, there are leagues out there where Shohei Ohtani, Brandon Woodruff, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Gerrit Cole are “droppable” based on their early returns. Why do we even bother drafting when Doug McDropper will just give up on his top players based on 7% of their games? Like sure, I’ll take Aaron Nola and his 6.75 ERA off waivers.
We need at least 3 games of data before we can say anything even close to definitive about pitcher stats…and even after 3 games, that data is still pretty messy. Any moves you make at this point are based on variance, which is a fantasy manager’s best friend and worst nightmare. Variance is what makes DFS so exciting — Alec Mills throws a no-hitter and nobody started him except you, you contrarian beast! But for the season-long fantasy manager, variance is a nightmare. Gerrit Cole will, almost inevitably, go about 20% of the season with a 6.00 ERA. Is this, right now, that 20% of the season? Or is it a 7% burst, followed by 30% of the season worth of gold, followed by the 20% crapiness, followed by 42.9% awesomesauceness?
The truth is: none of us knows. There, I saved you a bajillion dollars on subscription fees to sites. But what we can do, is have reasonable expectations about what should happen. 30% of the time, a player will perform where Rudy has them positioned (you can check this on his Ombotsman). But the other 70% of the time — now that’s the great mystery of the universe, right? I suppose it’s that time where the three Abrahamic religions join forces to give ol’ Blair some sort of prescience into the future. Happy Easter/Passover/Ramadan to those who celebrate!
Depending on the sample size available, I’ll start ranking either in week 3 or 4. I’ll be doing the same thing as last year: describing my confidence per inning pitched. This is not a projection. Rather, it’s a statement given the scope of the field, how confident should I be to start this player? It’s like WAR except way less pretentious. ENYWHEY. Let’s get on with the blurbs!
Clayton Kershaw: You saw the near perfecto and thought, “couldn’t he stay out there for like 50 more pitches and entertain us all?” After we lost Kenta Maeda, Spencer Turnbull, and Corey Kluber to arm fatigue following their no-hit bids/no-hitters in 2020/2021, I applaud the Dodgers for sitting Kershaw. Also, your fantasy teams should be applauding. I live up in the Bold North and trust me, the weather during the perfecto bid was sub-optimal: 38 degrees, and a blizzard that dumped snow over the north part of the state and thunder and chilled rain over the southern part. Hopefully, the RazzBallers have a greater than normal share of Kershaw on their teams because I was asking y’all to grab him as your SP4/SP5, and now we can keep fingers crossed that he stays healthy the rest of the year thanks to not pushing himself wildly for a perfecto in the cold in April.
Tylor Megill: Lady and gentlemen, it’s your 2022 SP1! No really, he’s SP1 right now. Megill has been stunning to start the year, and he might be one of the statistics-breakers that statisticians hate. There’s not a ton of data on him (about 100 IP in the minors and 100 IP in the majors total) and so far the former 8th-round pick is surpassing every expectation. Nothing in the small sample size of 2022 screams “fear me!” Obviously, his 0% walk rate is unsustainable (or is it shades of Corbin Burnes?), but even if he ends up with a 2 BB/9 and if Megill maintains his current K%, that’s a good sign of forward momentum. There’s just not a lot of pitchers with this kind of limited data and low-draft pedigree who are examples of sustainable success. So, fingers crossed that Megill is the Truth and we can all benefit from a low-ADP/undrafted value starter.
Patrick Corbin: A lot of touts liked Corbin coming into the year and they asked readers to draft the former fantasy stalwart. Now they’re all looking like warts. I know I said not to worry about pitchers until you see three pieces of evidence, but Corbin is looking bad enough in his first two starts that you can drop and move on. He’s actually been limiting hard contact and still has an ERA near 10.00. Certainly, things can be better for Corbin, but is a 5.00 ERA something you want on your team? Maybe if you’re doing one of those old bizarro Worst Ball leagues that Razzball used to run. Send Corbin packing before he hurts you more.
Kyle Hendricks: You saw what I said last week. There were touts who make big coin working for big sites telling you to add Hendricks everywhere. And Hendricks rewarded those managers who were duped by big sites with a 6ER, 4BB thrashing at the hands of the [checks notes] Pittsburgh Pirates. I know there are some commenters that think that we [waves hands around at Razzball] are like, somehow rolling in venture capital dough and all living in big houses with pools based on the money we make writing about imaginary sports. No, friends, that is not the case. At least not for me. But what I can tell you, is that people writing for the venture capital-backed fantasy sites who have bylines with alphabet reporter companies and make the kind of money such that they could reasonably fill a pool — they told you to add Kyle Hendricks everywhere. So, keep that in mind when it comes to re-upping your Razzball subscription this year.
Merrill Kelly: Tee-bee-ache (my tooth hurts), my system liked Kelly an unreasonable amount last year. Then, Kelly got injured and missed the rest of the year, and let’s be fair, the Diamondbacks pretty much missed the rest of the year too. Now it’s 2022 and nobody’s rostering any D-backs because Vegas expects them to win 32 games this year. But our favorite hero, Merrill Kelly, is trying to best the over on that best. Kelly has struck out 13 batters in 9 IP over two starts this year, and that was against the Padres and the Astros. It’s not like he torched the Rockies on the road. If you’re looking for an early-season waiver wire add, throw a dart at Kelly. Don’t expect miracles, but he’s at least a floor pitcher with an interesting ceiling based on his career norms of good control.
Kyle Wright: I speculated he’d be worth an add last week and he’s been devastating so far, K-ing 15 over 11 innings while walking only 1. Wright has had multiple cups of coffees over his MLB career but looks to make a case for staying in the rotation this year. His minor league numbers are pretty “That looks nice”-ish, but nothing screams “He’s a 12.5 K/9 monster!” If he was a monster, I’d be hiding. Fortunately for you, you’re just adding him and hoping for the best.
Zack Greinke: Ugh, he might be toast. He’s struck out 1 batter in 10 innings, although that “crafty veteran” label has kept him away from the ERA police so far. Greinke has given us fantasy managers so many years of IP-based utility that we almost take him for granted. Give him a start or two more before truly jumping ship, but there’s simply no way a guy who is striking out 1 batter per 9 can stay relevant in the modern MLB. Unless you’re shooting for a major DFS win with a contrarian lineup, avoid Greinke for the rest of the month.
Brandon Woodruff: Ugly start so far but swinging strike % was above 11% in his last outing and that’s fine (albeit a touch below his 13% recent average. It’s worthwhile to note his called strike % has plummeted by 5% compared to his career average, which is probably causing him to fall behind in counts more than any manager would like. Of course, if a pitch isn’t called a strike, then it’s a ball, and that explains his 4+ BB/9. Hold the line, Woodruff should be fine.
Tarik Skubal: Not a lot of hype on Skubal in the off-season, but he had a nice 2021 outing and is slicing through batters to start 2022. He’s a worthwhile add in case the Tigers end up making a run for the pennant this year, but it’s more than expected if Skubal finishes the year with 6 wins as the Tigers tank for more picks for A.J. Hinch’s epic rebuild.
Michael Kopech: The season’s early and the “true skill” stats are just as wonky as the baseball card stats. But, for whatever it’s worth, Kopech is leading the league in ERA (1.00) vs xERA (7.14). When we look at the cause, it’s likely that the “true skill” stats are really worried about Kopech getting super-lucky on flyballs. Kopech has a launch angle near 23 degrees (perfect homerun weather) and a less-than-thrilling 90 MPH exit velocity and nearly 110 MPH exit velocity. Now, every pitcher gets crushed once in a while, but Kopech’s issue is that launch angle, which will be unsustainable at keeping a 1.00 ERA if it maintains. Keep an eye on him in high-stakes leagues, but everybody else can keep trotting him out as you would do normally.
John Means: Sprained elbow and on the 60-day IL. Go ahead and drop him in all formats, including keepers. You can get him at a major discount next year if you want.
That’s it for this week! Depending on the sample size available, I might start ranking next week. That said, the takeaway is: stick with your studs unless they are literally broken. Good luck and see you next week!