I’ll be honest: a lot of the job of a fantasy sports writer is constrained by search engine optimization and giving audiences what they expect. This article, for example, is ostensibly about starting pitchers. But what *is* a starter, anyway? So many teams are using openers now. So many teams are letting pitchers go 4.2 IP, or piggybacking, or bullpen games, or long reliever, or, or, or. And tee-bee-ache (pronounce that last word softly, like you’re staring longingly into its eyes waiting for the next clause), starters don’t require a mass of innings pitched to be effective for fantasy baseball. In 2021, Corbin Burnes finished SP5 with 167IP, Carlos Rodon SP10 with 132IP, Jacob deGrom SP13 with 92IP (!), Freddy Peralta SP14 with 144IP, and so on. Unless you’re in one of those quality starts leagues — which I established in the pre-season were just different ways of slandering a Win — you could really roll with any number of “pitchers,” broadly speaking, and do fine.
Let’s re-think what “starters” are. Basically, starters are the IP ballast that gets you that elusive “Win” category, right? The yin to the yang of the efficient, save-craving closer. Last year, Chad Green, Paul Sewald, Ranger Suarez, Andrew Kittredge, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tyler Rogers, Blake Treinen, Drew Steckenrider, Garrett Whitlock, Kendall Graveman, Colin McHugh, and Devin Williams were all Top 100 pitchers despite spending the year neither as a primary closer or primary starter. In other words, 1/9th of the Top 100 pitchers didn’t have an established role on their team. Paul Sewald and Chad Green had more wins than Brandon Woodruff, Sandy Alcantara, Shohei Ohtani, Trevor Rogers, Alek Manoah, and Yu Darvish. You get the idea.
I mean, you probably wouldn’t have won your league with the “roleless” rotation [points above], but Ranger Suarez finished as P33, Paul Sewald as P47, and Chad Green as P49. They all finished ahead of Yu Darvish, Trevor Rogers, Shane McClanahan, John Means, Shane Bieber, Jack Flaherty, and German Marquez. Y’all know how many touts ran through the streets celebrating their drafts with Bieber/Flaherty/Darvish/Means and then danced on the edge of a volcano when they picked up Rogers and McClanahan? When it was all said and done, they coulda just picked up Chad Green off the waivers and had a better outcome than any of those guys. [teeth sucking noise]
The above observation got me thinking (or, for those using screen readers, the hypothetical rotation I mentioned an eon ago while dinosaurs still trotted the globe): while we’re setting up the confidence ranking for 2022, let’s expand our horizons. I’ve never given you just 100 starting pitchers; usually, I post like 150. And honestly, I’ve never given you just starters — that’s how a bunch of you ended up with Freddy Peralta on your teams last year (and that former no-role guy finished as SP14!).
For 2022, I’m expanding the horizons a bit: you’re getting my confidence ranking on the top pitchers for your fantasy team. So: starters, openers, and those nebulous middle relief semi-bullpen guys like Chad Green, Michael King, Josh Fleming, Taylor Hearn, etc. Truth is, sometimes a fantasy pitcher gets injured, and the best solution is to replace the player with a non-starter. No, not that kind of non-starter. A Roleless Rob, so to speak.
Let’s break down some performances from the past week, and get on to the rankings!
Kyle Wright: Well, my system seems to love him, and don’t we all? Wright dominates batters, like Voldemort except with baseballs. He’s striking out 3 batters for every 2 innings, which means he’s leaving only 3 outs for his fielders to manage. Come on, Kyle, share the love! He’s rostered just about everywhere now, so…let’s move on!
Michael King: Here’s a weird one. King has been an occasional spot-starter slash non-important game closer for the Yankees for a few years. That’s the kind of position that Freddy Peralta was in for the Brewers! This year, King has already racked up 10 IP — more than a number of full time starters — and he has an unreasonable 15 K/9 streak going. I almost wrote “steak” because my mouth started watering. He’s picked up a Save and a Win already, and he’s pitched in nearly 40% of the Yankees’ games so far. Could that lead to tiredness? Sure, whatever. What am I? Armstradamus? At this point, King is pitching like an elite starter and making a case for a more important role on the team…or possibly another team at the deadline. Put in perspective, King has enough IP to be SP2 on the Tigers this year. On the OVERALL Player Rater, King’s in the Top 100. I’m not saying to over-react, but…15 K/9 with starting experience in the Bronx will play.
Paul Blackburn: The Athletics are a mess and a major metropolis have abandoned their team. OK, that’s awful for real baseball, but for us fantasy mavens, we’re wondering if we can sign up some heroes to our squad. Blackburn is a journeyman without a great pedigree, but he’s crossing the threshold where his K/9 is acceptable and his ability to limit damage tolerable. How’s about that for a tout! But those kinds of arms can be the quiet league winners — Blackburn will be asked to eat some innings and that could lead to a slight Win advantage, and his ability to limit walks will play. I hesitantly recommend Blackburn in many formats, with the knowledge that he could transform into a turnip at any moment.
Jose Berrios: In my internal Google Sheet, I created an automatic “This Guy is Crappy” tab. It spit out Jose Berrios. I thought, “Maybe my filters are too restrictive and I need more coffee.” So I adjusted, like all good engineers do. Still, the automatic crap-o-nator spit out Jose Berrios. This isn’t an arms race, but there’s some worry about Berrios. K/9 at a career low, with a BB/9 above 4. Did the spirit of 2020 Robbie Ray stay in Toronto? And at the time of writing, his FIP is…6.66. Spooky! Berrios is only 28 and has been a stalwart for fantasy managers for years, so fingers crossed he figures out his problem. For now, bench Berrios until warmer weather or the Pirates roll into town.
Andrew Heaney: Tried telling you he wasn’t all bad. There’s a reason the Dodgers targeted him as one of their top off-season acquisitions (take that Freddie Freeman!) and gave him a prove-it contract after the Angels and Yankees ruined his confidence last year. Heaney just hit the IL with shoulder discomfort due to the shortened spring training and news reports indicate nobody in the organization is worried about significant time missed. Heaney is still available in like 10% of leagues and most people consider him a “sell-high!” candidate. Lucky for you, 420 Day is gone and you don’t need to be high to justify buying Heaney! Don’t sell the farm to get AH, but, consider trading one of those Owen Miller-types that is playing out of their mind this spring (don’t you dare trade Seiya though!).
Keegan Thompson: He’s got more IP than Freddy Peralta, Andrew Heney, and Clayton Kershaw. He’s snared two wins out of four games, which is why he’s a bit over-valued right now. That said, this is how Freddy Peralta got started in 2020 and 2021, and Thompson is available everywhere in all formats and is worth a speculative add in best ball at 16+ team leagues.
Garrett Whitlock: A win, a save, and 5 appearances. Old-school Razzball hates that kind of pitcher. But new-school Razzball loves that 11+ K/9. As we’ve learned, you want to chase K/9 because that will play. Whitlock appeared in Tier 1 after I refreshed the data on Sunday morning, which is great news for everybody who speculatively added him. If he’s still out there in any of your leagues, snag him ASAP.
Gerrit Cole: Wow, he’s way down there on the list, ain’t he? He’s currently SP152 on the Razzball Player rater, which definitely is not the return on investment anybody was expecting. Well, maybe just people who don’t read my columns because I’ve always asked y’all to fade Cole. He’ll redeem himself soon enough but in the meantime, every Cole blown start gives a guy like Michael King a chance to make a case for solid role in the rotation.
Josh Fleming: Told y’all it’s early in the season. Fleming racked up 100+ IP last year, and already has 2 wins on 10IP this year. Big difference? He’s K-ing 11+ per 9 this year, which is over twice as many punchouts as last year. So, you want big and bold statements? How about my system outputting Josh Fleming in the top 20 pitchers? His ERA is over 4.00 but his FIP is 3 points less and his BABIP is nearing .500. That means: regression incoming!
The Confidence Men
Awright, here’s the list. It’s a new list. Never seen a better list. Truth. I re-invented my listicle style this year to take advantage of the fluid P/SP roles that so many teams utilize. I rank according to Confidence, which means: On a per inning basis, how confident am I that I should play this pitcher? An ideal confidence score is something like 4.2. What am I, a math major? You’ll notice that even the top tier of players max out in the high 3-point range (wish pitchers could shoot the three).
K/9 gets the highest weight in my system, followed by a number of other important factors, like how the pitcher looks in tight pants. This year, I’ve managed to correct last year’s biggest weakness: injuries. I’ve tied my ranks into Rudy’s Rest of Season projections that automatically calculate remaining games. Now, you’ll still need to use your human brain a bit because sometimes MLB teams don’t update their injury lists immediately (remember the pre-season when we’re all waiting for injured players to be officially listed?). Players like John Means are controlled by Rudy’s algorithm, which still has him down for 25 games remaining because his data source has Means on the 10-day IL. Also, Means is visiting Dr. Freeze if you didn’t hear, so we won’t see him until late 2023. Definitely not making that 25-game projection for 2022.
So, always do a sanity check. I’m providing free data that quite literally has a better or higher correlation to fantasy efficacy than many sites that charge an arm and a leg and don’t answer your questions. The source of this data is none other than Razzball itself. So, if you are winning money or having a great time reading the articles, please consider a subscription to the site or drop me a line in the comments and let me know I’m not wasting my life away for naught.
Here’s how to use the list:
- Tier: 1=best, 2=everybody else for 12 team consideration, 3=deep league/dynasty/best ball/tournaments/DFS, 4= you do you.
- Name: Player name
- Confidence: The overall score my system outputs. The higher the score, the more confident I am in using the player. As always, we’re in small sample size territory, so this ranking will get better as the season goes on.
- Own%: This is the rostership % of the player in Razzball Commenter Leagues, run on Fantrax. This may vary depending on site and format for readers.
- L30$/G: This is how valuable the player has been over the past month. Players with high confidence who have low or negative $/G are “buy low” candidates. Shohei Ohtani has been blistering with his true skill stats, but his roto stats (like a 4.40 ERA) aren’t valuable. This indicates we should expect Ohtani to be much more valuable soon. Spot starters/Roleless Robs will have a lower $/G because they play in more games. Michael King, for example, has pitched in twice as many games as the other top P.