It’s time to rank not the Top 50 Starting Pitchers, not the Top 100 Starting Pitchers, but the Top 200 Starting Pitchers for your 2022 fantasy baseball draft.
It’s good to be back. I hope you’ve had a chance to poke around the new site (read about the PL7 launch here) and take in our new Statcast-powered player pages. It’s 100% Statcast data. It’s also insane.
If this is your first time at Pitcher List and all you want to do is get a quick ranking, by all means, I hope I put them in the right order. However, rankings are only as good as the ethos they adhere to and I heavily encourage you to read the entire strategy section below before you take those numbers below to heart.
You can quickly access each of the SP ranking articles — and all our fantasy baseball rankings — in the navigation boxes at the top or bottom of this article.
There’s a lot to go over, and at the very least familiarize yourself with my style and philosophy to better understand the order I’m putting these 200 pitchers in. You’re not going to agree with all of them and understanding my foundation helps you make the choices you want to make. Despite all the comments I get every year, yes, I did think through every single ranking.
Here are the tenets of my rankings:
1. These rankings are for Standard Roto/H2H 12-Team Redraft Leagues
Format changes so much in fantasy baseball. Know your league and know these ranks are 5×5 categories, where Wins, not Quality Starts, are a stat.
It’s also a shallower league than, say, NFBC 15-teamers, which means I’m favoring ceiling over floor when we enter the mid-rounds of drafts. I’ll talk more about this in point #4.
2. This is NOT a Best Ball ranking
It’s obvious, but somehow we all sit back after a draft, look at our team, and compare it to the projected season numbers of everyone else in the league … yet we all know our teams in August and September are completely different.
Your goal as a fantasy manager is to draft a team anticipating it will change in-season. Why hold onto a 4.10 ERA pitcher when you could be chasing the next Robbie Ray or Logan Webb?
To that point, I’m going to feature two tables that I showcased during my October rankings that speak so heavily to this strategy.
The first is a table showcasing pitchers who were drafted past pick #260 and were Top 5 SPs for your teams for months:
This is a second table of pitchers who don’t look pretty over the full season, but were helpful for spot-starts or two-start weeks. It doesn’t look pretty, but the waiver wire was filled with worthy plugs like these arms through the year:
Embrace this. Talented pitchers we undervalue crop up every season, you just need to be following along. But Nick, there’s no way I can get all of these guys! You don’t need to get 5/24 of these pitchers, heck, just two arms from the first table could dramatically shift your entire year. However, if you draft your team planning on holding everyone through April, well, you’re going to miss a lot of those chances.
3. The Projections are a guide, not the answer
This is very similar to #2, but I wanted to make clear that I’m not ranking pitchers based on our official PL Projections — the SP Projections that I oversaw and fine-tuned myself over the off-season (Thanks Aidan Hall and Frank Bruni!). We’ll be releasing those projections site-wide on March 1st.
Projections help us get a sense of what to expect, but we can get lulled easily into their comfort zone. You see a pitcher slated for a 3.80 ERA, but it’s July 1 and he’s holding a 4.30 mark. Are you going to be faithful to that projection for him to finish with a 3.30 ERA to even it out?
There is all kinds of variance and understanding how that variance could settle or continue is truly what’s important. I do my best to highlight the arsenals and possible changes to each pitcher in these rankings, and let’s not get too hung up on a 140 IP projection vs. a 145 inning one.
4. Aim to draft four pitchers you expect to hold and take chances on the rest
There are many philosophies as to how you draft pitchers. “I gotta get an ace in the first few rounds” or “I just wait on pitching,” but that’s not enough.
What I’ve found works best is to break pitchers into four distinct tiers:
- Pitchers who I never expect to fizzle and will be held all year
- Pitchers with high upside who could turn into an SP4 or above or fizzle out entirely
- Pitchers who have a low ceiling but should be generally better than what’s on the wire
- Pitchers who have a low ceiling and could fizzle out entirely
My goal is to draft four of the first tier — which normally ends around SP #40 (here it’s around Ian Anderson) — and then go HAM on filling up my roster with the second tier.
But Nick, that means you’re not drafting anyone from tier #3 above and you said they are “generally better than what’s on the wire!”
Those pitchers don’t win you your leagues and if you really want them (aka a “Toby”), guys like James Kaprielian, Chris Flexen, Casey Mize, Anthony DeSclafani, Steven Matz, Eric Lauer, and so many others are easily attainable on the wire in season. Why chase them at the start of the year when Carlos Rodón, Adam Wainwright, and Trevor Rogers could be added in April instead?
It’s in your best interest to use the Ms. Frizzle method: “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!” Grab four pitchers you trust, and go HAM on the upside after that. Just be ready to let some of them go in April if their skills aren’t there.
5. Unlike previous years, I’m not taking early schedules into account (blame the lockout)
This will be the biggest change from these rankings & March’s rankings — I can’t predict the opening two weeks of baseball rotations because of this dang lockout. It means too many free agents are unsigned + I’m not sure if the current schedule is the actual schedule.
However, when everything is all ready to go, make sure to read our early SP schedule article when it’s live and get a sense of who could be streamable in the first two weeks. If you need an extra starter or two early on, target those pitchers and maybe you’ll run into something that helps for the opening few weeks as the rest of your rotation stabilizes.
6. One Last Thing
One very last note. No, I am not going to rank Trevor Bauer. I don’t want to acknowledge him at all, honestly, but I need to say something to save time spent on comments and tweets. You don’t need to take a shot on him returning to the majors. Seriously. Make yourself happy and don’t think about it at all.
OKAY. You get the idea now. Get your four reliable starters, chase upside plenty after, be ready to cut them early if it’s not working out, and don’t draft a “Toby”. Here we go.
Tier 1 – The Seven Deadly Sins
I find it entertaining each year as I sit down and wrack my brain as to how I’m going to rank these elites at the top of your drafts. We debate endlessly about #4 vs. #5 yet, here I am, outwardly telling you that I’m not drafting any of them. It’s just not where my skill set lies – I think there’s so much pitching depth where you don’t need a bonafide ace + I find it easier to find legit SP talent on the wire than any other position.
But hey, we gotta rank them and I’m sure so many of you disagree with my philosophy. So here they are, the picks I’d make if I were drafting a stud early in drafts.
1. Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees) – As I just said in the tier description (yes, I’m being redundant. Sorry, it’s important!), I usually don’t draft pitchers from my first tier unless they fall to the late third/early fourth. Why? Because personally my strength is finding pitching talent in the mid-to-late rounds + scooping up arms off the wire. Meanwhile, hitters are cardboard cutouts to me and I don’t want to think about them mid-season. So I grab hitters early.
ANYWAY, if you’re going to take a pitcher in the first or second round, my favorite is Cole. You’re looking for ace stability for the full year if you grab a pitcher early, and Cole is the safest there is. 30%+ strikeout rate, high volume, great Win chance, stellar ratios, you have it all. There was some worry after the Spider Tack ban and Cole did shift his approach to fewer elevated fastballs because of it, leading to a poor stretch in July. He recovered, because he’s Gerrit h*ckin’ Cole, and if it weren’t for a hamstring injury in early August, he’d have hinted at a sub-3.00 ERA and 200 frames. Fastball is elite. Slider is elite. Curveball gets a ton of called strikes. Changeup gets whiffs against lefties. Don’t overthink this, we don’t call it the “King Cole” for nothing.
2. Corbin Burnes (Milwaukee Brewers) – The dude was ridiculous last year — 2.43 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 36% strikeout rate — and it propelled him to a Cy Young. His stuff is crazy good, beginning with a 95 mph cutter that held a 72% strike rate and 37% CSW tossed nearly half of the time at a stupid high 18% SwStr rate. All of those numbers are elite. The funniest part to me is that 18% SwStr is lower than all three of his secondaries — curveball, changeup, and slider — where the slide piece holds a 28% SwStr rate. It’s unreal and I still can’t believe he throws that breaker just 10% of the time. It all speaks to more of the same, though it came across just 167 frames last season. I’m not saying I don’t believe in his ability to stick, but his history is far shorter than of his relative C. Montgomery. And with him still residing in Milwaukee, he’s prone to getting Camp Counseled, resulting in few games past six frames with the Brewers’ stellar pen and micro-management. Don’t forget that.
3. Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers) – You see Burnes above? Take him, add a few more frames at the cost of some strikeouts, and you essentially have Woodruff. The stuff isn’t quite as elite, but Woodruff’s four-seamer is as good as you’ll find, earning a 70%+ strike rate and limiting batters to a sub-.220 BA for four straight years. You just don’t see that on fastballs, especially those thrown over 60% of the time. The concern over the years has been the secondaries — a curveball and changeup. 2021 brought a massive surge in hooks, featuring the pitch nearly 20% of the time to phenomenal results (34% CSW! .153 BAA!), while the changeup held a career-best 33% CSW and 22% SwStr rate. In other words, he’s figured it out. Maybe both pitches take a step back this season, but after years of being babied by the Brewers, this feels like the year he can push 200 frames and be the #1 workhorse for the club. Sign. Me. Up. If. I’m. Drafting. A. Starter. This. Early. SMUIIDASTE, of course.
4. Zack Wheeler (Philadelphia Phillies) – I’m so proud of you, Wheeler. I had dreams of you leaving Wilson Ramos and the Mets to get proper direction for your fastballs and slider. 2020 … wasn’t it, with a sub-20% strikeout rate and a drop in slider usage, but the breaker finally established itself in 2021, jumping to a career-high 25% usage, fanning more batters than ever and finally giving his heater a proper complement (curveball and changeup, you had your chance). I don’t expect an ascension to lead the league in ERA/WHIP with the horrid Phillies defense, but the skillset and opportunity is everything you’re looking for here — without any of the risks of the next three arms. Enjoy the safety.
Sidenote, his sinker has returned over a 40% O-Swing each of the last four years and that’s just dumb. DUMB. I get excited when I see sinkers eclipse 30% O-Swing (essentially, they’re throwing it off the plate and batters swing & either foul it off, whiff, or weakly get themselves out), but 40%?! H*ck, it was over 50% in 2020. Man, that’s so stupid.
5. Walker Buehler (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Has there ever been a 2.47 ERA/0.97 WHIP across 201 frames so universally shrugged off like Buehler’s 2021? He was my personal Cy Young pick and now I get a sense many don’t believe he has the ability to repeat. While I’m in the same boat for the most part, I still see 190+ innings of ratio excellence, paired with a hope he can hint a 30% strikeout rate again. Oh, and the Wins are going to be there aplenty. I believe the biggest concern is the spin rates dropping after the sticky-stuff ban (which may have been why his fastball dropped to a sub-9% SwStr this year), but his cutter and slider were magnificent after a dip in quality in 2020, and I think there’s room for more in his curveball, featuring its highest zone rate of his career in 2021. He’s #5 because he doesn’t carry the same injury bug as Scherzer or deGrom, and I hope he makes a push for the #1 spot again this season.
6. Max Scherzer (New York Mets) – Funny story, I originally had Scherzer at #4 before last year’s ranks until I lowered him due to injury risk and I still regret it. But here you are, lowering him for the same reason again! That’s … very fair, but I think his fastball is a bit too susceptible these days, which is why he still carried a hefty 1.15 HR/9 last year. The slider is still among the best out there (36% CSW!), his curveball steals as many called strikes as any, and his changeup continues to work against lefties, it’s just the home run issue + a 38th summer birthday on the horizon (and a high LOB rate that should fall). You can’t ignore these factors when you have the talent above who come bearing fewer signs of tragedy. And no, you cannot claim that band name. Signs of Tragedy will make its debut record next winter, titled The Lower Release Point.
7. Jacob deGrom (New York Mets) – He was so dang good last year in those 92 frames. He averaged 99.3 mph fastballs at a 71% strike clip while his slider — a pitch thrown a third of the time — returned a 35% SwStr rate. That’s higher than the CSW rate of the heavy majority of breaking balls. The pitch allowed just 11 hits across 409 thrown. IT WAS REALLY DUMB. This may be the one time I will openly acknowledge a ranking being different in H2H vs. Roto. In the latter, I could be convinced sticking him at #3 given how incredible the quality will be, regardless of the missing volume. Missing volume? Like The Traveling Wilburys Vol 2.? No, I mean like the inevitability of deGrom’s IL stint(s). Rationalize all you want, it will happen this year, the only question is how detrimental it will be. When he’s pitching, he’s the best on the planet, but those in H2H leagues will suffer in August/September and I can’t push drafting him in those leagues above the others in Tier 1. It’s pain you can simply avoid. Will I squeal with glee when he pitches? Absolutely — you simply don’t get it if you don’t. You just have to play the odds right.
Tier 2 – Three Kings (Maybe)
I can see a case for all three of these guys to make the leap into the top tier after what they did last season, but they don’t have the same track record. Like riddles in The Hobbit, time is the answer. Meanwhile, all three of these make better cases for your draft picks than the tier after and I felt they deserved the bump to their own tier for it. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually roster one of these this year. Maybe.
8. Sandy Alcantara (Miami Marlins) – Last preseason, I saw Alcantara as someone who reminded me of Zack Wheeler — an arm with an incredible fastball (98 mph!), high volume potential, and could blossom with his slider and/or changeup to become a legit #1/#2 SP. Well, it took some time in the first half to get there — displaced by a pair of nightmare outings in Coors and against the Dodgers — but from August 11 through the end of the year, Alcantara shifted from a fastball/changeup arm to fastball/slider and it clicked — 2.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 29% strikeout rate, across nearly 70 IP (That’s a 7.0 IPS) as he tossed the sweeper 31% of the time and reduced his slowball to an 18% clip. It was the #2 pitch Alcantara needed and batters didn’t know what to do — seriously, across the full season, it held a 36% CSW. It’s really good.
And that Wheeler comparison? It came to fruition after all when the aforementioned slider blossomed. So yeah, I’m giving this complement a compliment, displaying the comp I meant. Don’t look at the sub 30% CSW and 24% for the full year and be deterred. Alcantara has all the makings of a SP #1 … just without the Win chances. Silly Marlins. It lowers his ceiling + there’s some risk he doesn’t have the same breaker he established in the second half. I’m a believer in the stuff and command — he’s gotten better every year — but I have to put him in the second tier because of that track record.
9. Julio Urías (Los Angeles Dodgers) – We had been waiting since 2016 and 2021 gave us the season everything we expected — 2.96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 26% strikeout rate across 186 frames — and it’s hard not to expect a lot of the same. The WHIP will still be excellent with his low 5% walk rate and even a H/9 around eight will keep that WHIP among the best. Nothing in the “HOTEL” suggests massive regression, he transformed his curveball + slider approach into one phenomenal hook that found the zone 57% of the time at 34% usage and still held batters to a minuscule .151 BAA. Yes, all of that is superb.
So what’s the problem? Well, two things. First, I wonder if Urías is able to endure his large workload bump. It truly was an enormous leap from 78 innings to 200+ including the postseasons of 2020 and 2021. I wonder if it may be a little too much too quickly. More importantly, though, is I think his changeup over-performed (24% CSW but a .194 BAA) and his fastball was inconsistent, allowing for a bit too much volatility for my taste. Even typing this out now, it seems like I’m standing on a platform made of Kleenex with its fragility and I actually moved Urías up to #9 after writing this sentence. 180 innings coming from a fastball that can be better, an elite #2 pitch, and a decent changeup that, hey, maybe repeats on a winning ballclub is exceptional. I guess I’ll be jonesing for Julio in drafts this year.
10. Robbie Ray (Seattle Mariners) – This is a polarizing one and I think my high ranking is rooted in the fact there isn’t a de facto #10 arm to me, so why not go for the guy that just had a full season of being better than the #9 SP? But his 1.54 HR/9! The elevated hard contact! The 90% LOB rate! And yet he held a 1.04 WHIP with a 3.21 SIERA. The 32% strikeout rate is real, his 6+ IPS is absolutely returning and I truly believe his new approach of not nibbling in the zone and simply chucking heaters over the plate mixed with sliders has elevated him to stardom. That 7% walk rate may easily be the new standard and you should be thrilled about that. This wasn’t a typical small sample, it lasted the entire season. The approach will stick. The home park is miles better than the Toronto trio last year, the West is far less frightening than the East, and I think it’s harsh to expect a regression to 3.80 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Sure, not sub-3.00 ERA, but it’ll be fine as he could hit 250 strikeouts. I don’t think anyone else does that outside the Top Tier.
Tier 3 – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Look, just because you don’t have a legit Top 10 stud out of the gate doesn’t matter. You should be thrilled the quality of pitcher has risen so high that waiting on pitching returns so many legit options as your ace. Jack Flaherty was inside the Top 10 starters entering 2020 and what has changed? Nothing. I’ll often be waiting until the ~6th/7th round in my 12-teamers for my first starter and snagging one of the names here, if not two if they somehow fall. They all have some issues, sure, but you’ll be pumping your first with these guys constantly this year.
11. Shane Bieber (Cleveland Guardians) – What do we do about Bieber? He was struggling before he missed over three months with a rotator cuff injury, and then returned with poor command and diminished velocity (91 mph vs. 94 mph in 2020) — albeit for a pair of three-inning starts totaling 84 pitches. Those last two starts have me spooked, I have to admit, since Bieber is built on his fastball command, allowing him to steal called strikes and set up the stellar breakers out of the zone. I’m not joking about my fears, just watch this video of his final start. It’s pain. And yes, even with the rocky spring, Bieber’s curveball and slider still carried 20%+ SwStr rates for the year with 36%+ CSW rates. They’re still stupid good.
Then again … all of this happened before the sticky-stuff crackdown and he wasn’t the same in those final two starts. Nick, you’ve gotten nowhere. Welcome to my indecisiveness. I’m leaning on the side of “avoid” for the sake that his fastball was the root of his pre-injury troubles — and if the command is faltering with the diminished velocity, you’ve got yourself a trouble stew right there. Still, the strikeout rate soared above 30% once again, the ERA was lovely, and save for his shoulder barking again, Bieber will pitch to his heart’s content in Cleveland. That elite ceiling makes him the top of the third tier — a tier that encapsulates my anxiety in a relentless barrage of BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS — and all it will take is one spring training start sitting 94 mph for me push him back up to #8.
12. Kevin Gausman (Toronto Blue Jays) – Toronto really has us all terrified, doesn’t it? It’s possibly the worst place for Gausman to land outside of Coors, creating a “fun” narrative of diminishing performance after leaving San Francisco for the northern border. It’s tough to properly weigh the impact of his new home exactly right, but what I can tell you is Gausman’s 2021 was a whole lot like his 2020. His fastball still had one of the highest strike rates in the majors at 75% and its lost SwStr rate was made up by his splitter, coming in hot with a 24% SwStr rate and all the wonderful poor contact you want. That’s all there is to it — effective fastballs still at 94/95 mph + the most consistent splitter in baseball. There was a lull in August surrounding the moments he welcomed his second daughter, but he needed a few starts to recalibrate and greatness returned (for the most part).
The biggest question you’ll see is the home run rate — a .94/9 clip last year was startling given his 1.21 HR/9 career mark and there’s plenty of belief he’ll return near that rate in Toronto. So fine, for the sake of discussion (no arguments here, only good discussions) let’s turn that 2.81 ERA into a 3.50 because of it. He’s still going 180+ frames on a winning ballclub with an exceptional WHIP due to his low walk rate, flirting with a 30% strikeout rate. Don’t act like
Moira Catherine O’Hara by leaving Kevin behind. You’re better than that. Side note: I can hear Moira saying her actress’ name in my head and I adore it.
13. Lance Lynn (Chicago White Sox) – For a guy who held a 2.69 ERA, 27.5% strikeout rate, and a 1.07 WHIP, I’m pretty surprised he’s not regarded a little better. Sure, his innings per start took a tumble, becoming dramatically less efficient with his slider (67% strike rate down six points to 61%) but his pair of heaters were just as effective and he pounded through outings. He had an odd blow-up at the end of the year, allowing 6 ER with a near 2 -tick drop in velocity … then rebounded against a decent Detroit lineup at normal velocity. Everything’s fine here. Sure, he isn’t a CSW darling because he doesn’t have an overwhelming secondary pitch (sliders/changeups/curveballs have better CSW marks than heaters) but his heater is that good. The highest of ceilings isn’t quite as attainable given lower IPS, but he’s the most well-rounded option in this tier. You could say Lynn is the fleece blanket you sling across yourself while finding your couch groove inside a winter cabin. Would I rather be in a home with central heating? Sure, but this works just fine.
14. Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox) – Giolito reminds me of José Berríos in that he finds a way each season to settle near the same ERA and WHIP. It doesn’t feel that way in season, but you can anticipate something close to a 3.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, hovering a 30% strikeout rate. That’s fantastic, just don’t anticipate more than 180 innings.
Oh, you want more? Fine. Giolito was hit a bit harder both with his fastball and changeup through the year, but adjusted effectively as he lowered his fastball usage in favor of more sliders. The breaker took strides forward, jumping 10 points in strike rate as it zoomed from a 29% zone rate to a 41% clip. There are few things better than a pitcher not only improving a pitch across the board, but also increasing its usage by 50% in the process. I do have two concerns for the year ahead. First, let’s hope the fastball doesn’t continue its downward trend for a second year. And then that glorious changeup. It held a dramatically low 30% ground ball rate after soaring above the 40% mark in previous years, leading to a career-high nine longballs with the pitch. I don’t expect these to be worse in 2022 and the final package is a pitcher who theoretically could take that new slider and reclaim his fastball + changeup of old to truly soar into the Top 5 SP. If not, hey, you have a strong SP #2 for 175 frames. That’s cool.
15. Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – I was harsh on Nola back in October. We were fresh off six months of frustration, watching a man with a solid 1.13 WHIP and 30% strikeout rate return a, don’t make me say it, 4.63 ERA. A bevy of home runs, a poor defense, arguably a worse bullpen, and a horrific LOB rate doomed Nola, despite still holding one of the best curveballs in the majors at a 40% CSW and a bonkers 73% strike rate. It’s wise to expect the ERA to fall back under 4.00 for the season as the strikeouts stay afloat and the WHIP should come down with it, though it wasn’t all bad luck. His changeup failed to be a CSW darling, while his fastball command was a touch more volatile. In the end, you’re expecting over 30 starts and a flirtation with the seductive 200 IP milestone, a WHIP to lead your staff forward, strikeouts piling high like treats from a successful child’s plastic jack-o-lantern, and a season-long ERA bearing a striking resemblance of a rickety, battered ship at sea. There will be storms to endure, but you’ll arrive fully intact if you hold your head high, and I assure you, you’ll be happy you did it.
16. Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals) – Here’s the story of Flaherty. Breaks out in 2018, struggles in the first half of 2019, goes bonkers in the second half, and looks like a legit SP #1, deals with the Cardinals’ COVID situation in 2020 where his 4.91 ERA comes from one start accruing 40% of his season’s ER (3.16 ERA otherwise), acts like an SP #1 with a 2.90 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 26% K rate for the first two months of 2021, gets an oblique injury, returns, has a shoulder strain, and relieves the rest of the way. Like Manson’s ruling, that was a massive sentence. Fair, but I needed to get it out. When healthy, I don’t think Flaherty needs to do anything more to showcase himself as an SP #1 — especially with the best team defense in the majors behind him (hello small BABIP).
The only question is health and if his velocity will return to 94+ mph from spring 2021 instead of the 93+ from the fall. That seems like a pretty significant question. Yeah, it makes this tough. It seems like it was a rough moment and Flaherty needed more time to rebuild strength after the oblique injury. A full off-season removed, it should point to a stellar 2022 campaign — his slider still misses a ton of bats, his fastballs perform well, and his curveball + changeup … well they need to be better, but that doesn’t matter. I’m believing in the skills and a strong 2022 ahead, but I understand if you don’t want to risk another injury-riddled season.
17. Max Fried (Atlanta) – I’m a bit surprised how much I adore Fried for this season — and maybe it’s the Playoff Tax affecting me — but here I am, insisting you give him serious consideration. His 3.04 ERA and 1.09 WHIP last year sparkle, especially when they are weighed down heavily by his first three outings. His ratios seem legit, buoyed by a curveball that took another positive step forward last year and a fastball that isn’t quite overpowering, but is commanded well enough to get outs. The biggest knock on Fried is his middling strikeout rate in the low 20s, which could push closer to 30% if his slider comes through. And that’s really it. Will the slider take the leap forward? It’s hovered around a 16% SwStr rate the past few years and dramatically dropped its O-Swing down from 43% to just 34% in 2021, but if we’re writing about the ascension of Fried in the summer, you can bet it’s on the back of that slider pushing those strikeout numbers north. Worst case, you still get a great ratio arm you’ll coast through the full year (maybe 190+ frames?). You can’t go wrong with that.
18. Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox) – Why can’t all of the former aces who have recently gotten the injury bug return to full form like they used to? Sure, that was a terrible sentence, but this is a terrible occurrence, as the past few seasons have displayed Kluber, Taillon, Price, Strasburg, and Carrasco failing to grasp their former glory, and now Sale has waltzed into the building bearing a smile for simply being on the list (Clevinger, Severino, Syndergaard, Verlander … good luck). That’s not to say his 2021 was bad — a 3.16 ERA with a 28% strikeout rate is certainly helpful — but the nine starts we saw came with an atrocious 1.34 WHIP and a 93/94 mph fastball that didn’t have the same kick reminiscent of better times. That heater returned a poor .267 BAA (though the .370 BABIP should improve), while his world-famous slider held a subpar 14% SwStr … but came through with a 35% CSW and .158 BAA.
And finally, the changeup. This slowball is engrained in my mind for this sole moment and I was aghast to find its former 41% CSW days fell to … 25% in 2021, with a .457 BAA. Yeah, that’s really bad. So on one hand, you have a great strikeout rate and a clear positive regression with his .358 BABIP (a 9.49 H/9? That’s coming way down), but on the other, he’s not the same overwhelming arm of old, is a tick down on his velocity, needs to improve each of his three pitches, and now has a troubling injury history. This seems a bit risky, doesn’t it? Being “On Sale” has never seemed wrong.
19. Freddy Peralta (Milwaukee Brewers) – This is awkward. I’ve been pretty vocal about my Peralta concerns, stemming from a somewhat violent delivery (read: a lot of moving parts that generally make for difficult repeatability) and a heavy reliance on a closed step toward home that forces him to throw cross-body. And yet, despite my blathering through 2021, Peralta cruised across 144 frames, boasting a 34% strikeout rate, 2.81 ERA, and 0.96 WHIP. His fastball was one of the hardest pitches to hit with authority (a .164 BAA and 34% CSW is fantastic) while the addition of his slider fueled his ascension. It makes me truly wonder how much stock I should be putting in his mechanics and instead just point at the numbers and shrug. About that, there is one thing we should talk about — his 9.5% walk rate. It stems from a mediocre 61% strike rate on his slider, as I wouldn’t say command is Peralta’s strong suit. It outlines a 2022 with a much higher WHIP — the walk rate stays high while the 5.24 H/9 & .230 BABIP are laughably low and are destined to rise — which, in turn, means the ERA soars comfortably above 3.00. But hey, even with significant steps back, Peralta is still a legit #2 SP, especially now that he can hint 180 frames. Let’s just hope my Chicken Little-esque concerns about his mechanics stay where they are — in a world of make-believe.
20. Joe Musgrove (San Diego Padres) – We waited so long for Musgrove to leave Pittsburgh. In 2019 and 2020, he gave us Septembers that hinted at greater things, and it’s rare to see your dreams come true. His first season on the West Coast returned a 3.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate across 181 frames, and I’m trying to figure out why we wouldn’t believe in more of the same. In fact, I think Musgrove is still figuring it out, as he would fluctuate start-to-start with his approach, nibbling a little too often with sliders, cutters,
changeups (Musgrove, stop throwing these) and hooks as he tried to find the right time for his fastballs. I’m all for the breaker-first mentality when his curveball and slider both returned BAAs under .160 last year, and I don’t see why he would move away from their combined 50%+ usage this year. I do have some concerns about his cutter that isn’t nearly as effective as we want it to be — I actually wonder if he can step forward with his four-seamer instead, turning into a prime Shane Bieber with sliders and curveballs mixed with a well-commanded fastball that steals strikes effectively. Let’s hope he can solidify his approach and soar in 2022.