Hot 2nd Half Pitchers Who Deserve Your Attention

Four pitchers with hot second halves to keep an eye on.

In September, I wrote an article determining every team’s best player in the second half. It focused on both hitters and pitchers and included defense and other intangibles. In other words, it wasn’t necessarily fantasy-focused.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I identified four batters from that list that deserve your attention in fantasy drafts.

Now, I’ve set forth to single out a few pitchers of similar ilk. This article will differ from the first one in that it’ll focus on pitchers through a fantasy lens. That means it’ll value ADP, wins, and strikeouts more than the real-life baseball focus in my piece from September.

While most of these pitchers won’t be considered sleepers, their second-half performances hint at a higher ceiling not portrayed by their full-season numbers; a higher ceiling that they may be able to carry over into 2024. Keep these pitchers at the top of your mind when drafting this Spring as they may be discounted in the draft room relative to the improved baseline at which they performed down the stretch.

Here are four pitchers with hot second halves that deserve your attention.


Tarik Skubal


2nd Half Stats (72.1 IP): 7 W | 3.11 ERA | 0.94 WHIP | 32.3% K% | 4.3% BB%

Making just two starts in the first half after recovering from Tommy John surgery, Skubal proved there was no rust in his arm by dominating as one of the best pitchers in baseball in the second half. Not only did he make a full return to his pre-injury form, but he surpassed anything he had done before.

After a mini-breakout in 2022 in which Skubal posted a 3.52 ERA and a 24.5% strikeout rate across 117.2 innings, it felt like he was finally reaching his potential. He proved his potential was much higher with his second-half performance in 2023 by increasing his fastball velocity nearly two miles per hour and displaying a changeup that was amongst the best in baseball, leading to a massive hike in strikeout rate and on-field success.

His four-seamer now sits in the mid-90s (95.8 mph avg. velocity) and his changeup maintained a 100th percentile, 40.9% CSW. If he can carry over the gains he made in the velocity department and the feel he had for his changeup, he’ll enter the season with a solid base off which to build. That doesn’t even account for his average slider, his groundball-inducing sinker (93rd percentile, 79.3% ground-ball rate), and a curveball with which to steal strikes.

His projected lack of innings is the only thing holding Skubal back from being a legit fantasy ace. ATC projects him for 156 innings, a 3.40 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and a 28.3% strikeout rate, numbers that would certainly make any fantasy manager proud. However, it’ll cost a pretty penny (or draft pick) to get him.

In Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, Skubal has an ADP of 50, making him the 13th starting pitcher off the board. He’ll have to outproduce proven studs like Aaron Nola, Framber Valdez, Logan Webb, and Max Fried to make good on his draft slot. Given the level he pitched at last year, that shouldn’t be a problem. The lack of project innings and wins (11 via ATC) are truly the only knocks against him

With a blood red Pitcher List player page exhibiting 90th percentile marks or better in FIP (1st in MLB, 1.99), xFIP (1st in MLB, 2.56), xERA (1st in MLB, 2.01), strikeout rate, walk rate, ground-ball rate (55%), swinging-strike rate (16.6%), and CSW (33%), Skubal is the complete package. There should be little scaring fantasy managers away from drafting the up-and-coming ace of a young Tigers team.


Kyle Bradish


2nd Half Stats (84.2 IP): 7 W | 2.34 ERA | 0.91 WHIP | 27.3% K% | 6.4% BB%

It still feels like Bradish is a relatively unknown name despite a huge step forward in 2023. We witnessed a taste of a new level in the first half of 2023 as he pitched to a 3.32 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and a 22.9% strikeout rate, but he became the Orioles’ clear-cut ace due to his performance after the All-Star break.

From afar, he increased his strikeout rate and his ground-ball rate while continuing to maintain his usually elite suppression of the free pass. The question remains: what changes did he make to get there and will they stick?

Mainly, Bradish added half a tick of velocity across his entire repertoire, moving his arsenal into the upper echelon. It helped him avoid bats more often as he reduced the out-of-zone contact rate of opposing batters by more than three percent, leading to a direct increase of nearly 1.5% to his swinging-strike rate.

From a pitch modeling perspective, his sharper arsenal led to a noticeable increase in his stuff. In the first half, Bradish sported an overall Stuff+ of 117, with his fastball coming in at 96, his slider coming in at an astonishing 157, and his curve producing an equally impressive 132 mark. If you thought that was good, check out his Stuff+ marks in the second half.

Pitch Stuff+
4-Seam 107
Sinker 89
Slider 178
Curve 136
Change 97

Every pitch got better, leading to an overall Stuff+ of 130. His fastball benefitted greatly from the extra velo and it made his other pitches better in concert. Among pitchers with at least 50 IP in the second half, Bradish’s Stuff+ on his slider was the best in MLB while his cutter was in the top 10. Overall, his stuff was rated out as the third-best in baseball behind Corbin Burnes and Graham Ashcraft. His combination of stuff and command was nearly unmatched in MLB in the second half. Only one pitcher (min. 50 IP) with a Stuff+ north of 120 held a walk rate lower than Bradish’s 6.4% (Bobby Miller – 5.3% BB%).

Given his success on a winning ball club that should net him plenty of victories, it would be expected that Bradish is highly coveted in fantasy drafts. While that’s true, he’s not being drafted nearly high enough. With an ADP of 88 in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, he’s going off the board as the 28th starting pitcher.

It’s likely due to modest projections from ATC that suggest 168 IP, a 3.65 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 23.7% strikeout rate. With the new level he hinted at in the second half and the consistency he displayed throughout the year, he should be able to surpass that projection without a problem. His innings are unlikely to decrease after last year’s mark of 168.2, and with a very solid walk rate, his WHIP shouldn’t rise above 1.10. His full-season mark of 1.04 last year was the sixth-best in MLB.

Bradish is comparable to proven innings eaters like Logan Webb and Framber Valdez. While he’s unlikely to cross the 200 IP threshold, his stuff will help him maintain a strikeout rate outside of the Toby range. Additionally, his ability to keep his pitch count low, and thus, his innings per start high, by limiting walks and inducing plenty of ground balls (87th percentile, 52.3% GB%), he’ll have a good shot at reaching 180 IP in 2024.

If Bradish can reach the ceiling he hinted at in the second half, he’ll surpass the Holly types he’s being compared to and will enter top-20 starter territory. That doesn’t seem out of the question given his status as a pitcher in line for plenty of wins and a boatload of innings with an increasing strikeout rate and an abstinence from allowing baserunners. His ADP should only make him even more appealing to target in the first eight rounds.


Cole Ragans


2nd Half Stats (71.2 IP): 5 W | 2.64 ERA | 1.07 WHIP | 31.1% K% | 9.4% BB%

It can be argued that Ragans was the breakout pitcher of the second half. The southpaw struggled to a 5.92 ERA alongside a paltry 22.6% strikeout rate out of the Texas bullpen before being traded to the Royals in exchange for Aroldis Chapman. From, there, he took off.

Ragans produced the second-best ERA in baseball in the second half, and according to fWAR, was a top-10 pitcher in MLB. There’s no doubt that he improved his draft stock more than any other pitcher in the second half.

The most interesting fact about his ascension is that it began before his trade across divisions. Ragans was an interesting breakout candidate out of the bullpen early in 2023 due to a four-mph increase in his fastball velocity. His improvement was akin to Brock Burke’s 2022 breakout. Burke improved his velocity by three mph en route to a sub-2.00 ERA just a year after posting a 7.42 mark. However, Ragans didn’t find the same success with improved velocity as Burke did; at least not until he changed teams.

With a newfound starting job, Ragans took his new-look fastball, which occasionally touched 100 mph, and paired it with a deep and complete arsenal of four secondary pitches that made him the apple of Pitcher List’s eye. He utilized his improved repertoire effectively, inducing swinging strikes with his heater, changeup, and slider while stealing strikes with his cutter and curveball. He became one of the best pitchers in the whiff department and his success was almost completely backed up by ERA estimators.

The hype died down a bit as he dealt with command issues, leading to 16 walks and a 4.88 ERA across his final four starts totalling 24 innings, but not enough to take him out of the top-40 starters. Since the beginning of December, Ragans has had an ADP of 110 in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform, making him the 33rd starting pitcher off the board. It’s a reasonable spot for him to go as he’s surrounded by risky pitchers with huge upsides such as Walker Buehler, Tanner Bibee, and Dylan Cease. All of these pitchers have their warts, so you must be wondering: what is Ragans’ wart?

The aforementioned command issues that plagued him in September are one of them. The others are his projected lack of innings and wins. ATC projects Ragans for a 3.85 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP across 161 IP with a grand total of 10 wins – hardly league-winning numbers. He’ll need to prove that he’s fixed his tendency to face bouts of loss of control and that he can handle a full season of a starter’s workload after topping out at 124.1 IP across Triple-A and the majors last year. It’s almost guaranteed, though, that he’ll have a hard time earning victories as he’s situated on an unfortunate Royals squad.

Even facing those downsides, the sky is the limit with Ragans after the abilities he displayed during the eight-start run with which he began his Royals career. He pitched to a 1.51 ERA (47.2 IP) and struck out more than 34% of the batters he faced as he took the league by storm. Don’t go too crazy chasing that upside, but know that it’s there when drafting him inside the top 100.


Yusei Kikuchi


2nd Half Stats (74.1 IP): 4 W | 3.39 ERA | 1.25 WHIP | 27.6% K% | 6.8% BB%

It took a while for Kikuchi to acclimate to MLB. Across his first four seasons stateside, he pitched to a 5.02 ERA (466.1 IP) a 1.42 WHIP, and a strikeout rate just north of 22%.

He made one significant change heading into 2023 that altered his fortunes. He reintroduced a curveball that he utilized in his debut campaign but had sidelined for the previous three seasons. The pitch provided his arsenal the depth it needed to survive lineups the second and third time through the order. The pitch produced a 78th percentile, 35 CSW%, and graded out in the 89th percentile according to PLV, pairing exceptionally with his fastball and slider.

Everything came together in a second half that saw him become a legitimate force in the Blue Jays rotation. From the first to the second half, he jumped his strikeout rate by more than three percent, leading to a nearly full-run improvement from his first-half ERA (4.24); an improvement that was fully supported by a 3.36 xFIP.

Heading into 2023, Kikuchi is far from being considered a fantasy ace, but he is the only name on this list that can be considered a sleeper. In Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since the beginning of December, he’s being drafted outside the top 200 picks (243 ADP), making him the 71st starting pitcher off the board. That draft slot provides him plenty of opportunity to provide immense value above his draft position.

He’s more of a Toby than you’d like, but ATC’s modest projection of a 4.10 ERA (148 IP), a 1.25 WHIP, and a 25.3% strikeout rate makes him plenty appealing. Barring injury, he should attain 175 innings and with supportive ERA estimators, an ERA below 4.00 makes a lot of sense. Maintaining the reduced walk rate (6.9%) he displayed last year will be integral to keeping his WHIP from hurting you, but the biggest knock against him is his proclivity to serve up hard contact and fly balls.

His home-runs-per-nine last season was 1.45, placing him in the 37th percentile. Considering the fact he found success by lowering that rate to 0.61 in the second half, controlling the long ball will be tantamount to any other improvements he made in the second half. Pitching in a hitters’ ballpark with his profile is far from ideal for keeping the ball in the yard, but if he can continue to induce strikeouts at the increased rate he proved he could reach last year, he will be able to help your fantasy team.

There’s more risk and less upside in Kikuchi’s profile than the other players in this article, which is inherently why his ADP is significantly higher, but his ability to eat innings while producing solid ratios after pick 200 is enticing. This is not a suggestion to make Kikuchi one of your targets in fantasy, but rather, to not remove him from your draft board due to his struggles in previous seasons. He made an obvious change to his repertoire, and as he got comfortable with it, returned to performing at the level that earned him a four-year, $56M deal following his posting by the Seibu Lions. Draft him for his ability to be a solid, relatively stress-free pitcher late in drafts that is okay to drop for more exciting arms as the season wears on.


Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on X)

Jake Crumpler

A Bay Area sports fan and lover of baseball, Jake is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in English Literature. He currently writes fantasy articles for Pitcher List, is the lead baseball writer at The Athletes Hub, and does playing time analysis at BaseballHQ. Some consider his knowledge of the sport to be encyclopedic.

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