Welcome to the Top 400 Starting Pitchers For 2024 Fantasy Baseball. This is an update to my Top 200 Starting Pitchers For 2024 from October last year.
After shoving all my strategies and write-ups of all 400 players + something close to 300 videos into one article, I quickly found out it crashed phones and browsers, and I felt like an idiot. I’m so sorry everyone, I really should have just done these individually spliced articles first.
Here’s what we’ve done:
- All ranks are now spliced into groups of 20, 25, and 50
- Rankings Philosophy article to read separately
- Left the main up for those who can handle it
Please read the Rankings Philosophy article before reading the rankings. I cannot express enough how it outlines my thoughts on drafting in 12-teamers and why I have ranked these players as I have.
Thanks for your passion and enthusiasm for this article – it pushes me more every year, and I already have new ideas for next year to make this easier a better presentation for all of you.
Tier 4 – Savings Accounts (Cont’d)
I’m likely going to live in this tier a bit as I see plenty of safety in ability where I’d be shocked if I felt as if I didn’t get value from them in 2024.
21. Kodai Senga (NYM, RHP)
Senga Senga Senga. The man who was horribly inefficient for the first 12 weeks of the year then cruised afterward for a 2.74 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 30% strikeouts rate, and 9% walk rate across 101.2 IP in 17 starts. That’s the good stuff. I find it awfully difficult to assess Senga as it felt too good to be true. His 6.8 H/9 for the year is an obvious peak (or is it a trough?) that is sure to worsen in the year ahead; his splitter is deadly, but its low strike rate puts pressure on his four-seamer and cutter to find strikes and avoid damage (again, hit rate has to rise); and said cutter performed too dang well for a pitch that was often located well inside the zone for me to believe it’s destined to avoid damage regularly through another season.
I also have concerns about Senga’s overall command. Watching him pitch on both stellar and poor days, the unreliability of location makes the pitching fan in me squirm. Each at-bat comes with at least a pitch that wildly misses its spot, and while he often can execute the pitch that gets the out, it’s a tightrope traversal similar to Blake Snell that I don’t like trusting for the full year.
All of that said, I do wonder if his skills can improve to combat these signs of regression. His four-seamer should be earning more whiffs than it currently does, but his inability to elevate and take advantage of its shape holds it back, allowing right-handers to slug it for an ICR over 50% in 2023. Ouch. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done on the slider – if it takes off, then Senga may become a more reliable arm who doesn’t need to rely on his daily feel of the Ghost Fork or hope that batters still fail to wrangle his cutter in the zone.
There’s a thought his second season will be smoother after needing time to get used to pitching in the states, including tossing a different ball than overseas. In addition, Senga could have the stamina now to start every five days, opening the door for a 180 IP season, if he’s able to keep the efficiency he had in the second half. I have my concerns that he’s destined for a 1.20 WHIP and a 3.60 ERA or so, but the strikeout rate will continue to be 25%+ with the filthy Ghost Fork, and considering Senga shouldn’t be a detriment for your ratios, those strikeouts elevate him into a sturdy arm that helps each team he’s on. Sadly, I’d rather chase a pitcher with a higher ceiling that doesn’t carry the baggage of an inevitably high walk rate and far worse hit rate.
Update: Senga is dealing with a posterior shoulder issue and will not be ready for opening day. It’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined for, though he should be considered out until May at the earliest.
22. Max Fried (ATL, LHP)
Fried is one of the more underrated command specialists in the majors. Armed with five pitches, Fried dances across the plate with four-seamers gloveside that carry cut-action, sinkers armside, a big hook that held batters to a stupid low 22% ICR in 2023, a changeup that has woken up for two seasons with a 20% SwStr rate, and a reliable slider for strikes that batters fail to punish. It’s why his highest ERA of the last four seasons is 3.04 as he continues to produce WHIP rates below 1.15 and a strikeout rate that pushed 25% in 2023. The man is a rock…when healthy. He started just 14 games last year after a forearm strain took him out for months + a blister formed at the end of the season. All signs point to a healed arm, though the concern is sure to linger through draft season.
Picking Fried is a pick for quality per inning. You’re going to get strong ratios + Wins with a strikeout per inning when he does start, the only question is how much we’ll actually see. It makes him a better play in shallower leagues than deep, but if all signs are green in March, you have to imagine his “baked-in injury risk” will suddenly fade.
23. Freddy Peralta (MIL, RHP)
Quality hasn’t been the concern for Peralta since 2019 – it’s always been the health and 165.2 IP from Peralta was a glorious surprise that we shouldn’t expect for another season when injuries have haunted him for years. That said, Peralta’s 2023 wasn’t smooth sailing. We saw a 4.73 ERA and 1.36 WHIP for Peralta across his first thirteen games before he went berserk and turned into one of the best pitchers in fantasy across the next four months: 3.21 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 36% strikeout rate across 95.1 IP and 17 starts. There he is.
The question will always come down to rhythm and earning strikes. Peralta’s cross-body delivery helps him get extra deception on his slider while amplifying the low arm angle for his high heater, though it’s not that simple. Peralta is mostly a two-pitch arm against right-handers, where his fastball doesn’t land upstairs nearly as much as it does against left-handers, and where his slider can’t be relied upon as much as he needs it. Meanwhile, left-handers get a filthy changeup that earned plenty of outs last year even with a pedestrian 60% strike rate, and a curveball that did its job (mostly) inside the zone. The canvas is splattered with effective at-bats against left-handers and a grind against right-handers who can mostly guess against the two-pitch pitcher.
I’m not buying the second-half surge of Peralta due to the same complications arriving against right-handers and his necessity for health and rhythm to produce at the high level we saw last year (with the early floor still present). He’s obviously going to be great for a portion of the year and he’ll help any roster he’s on, though the nickname of Professor Chaos still reigns, and unfortunately I have to pass on jumping for a pitcher in the early rounds who is destined to come with anxiety.
Tier 5 – The Shiny Squirrels
They get a ton of buzz, but the floor is lower than it may seem, forcing me to place them underneath a collection of pitchers who I have much more faith to produce consistently when they start in 2024
If Pérez is the same pitcher in 2024, I think we’ll be a bit disappointed. His curveball and slider showcased elite SwStr and ICR rates, but their shape is highly suspect while their low strike rates forced his four-seamer to boast a 70%+ strike rate and allow over 50% ICR to right-handed batters. That is horrendous and awfully surprising given the pitch’s fantastic shape, velocity, and low arm angle. The problem lies in its approach with a 15th percentile hiLoc% of just 41%. Ahhh, so batters are sitting four-seamers and getting them comfortably in the zone? Exactly. Wait, that can be exploited. Now you understand – if Pérez adjusts to go “BSB” and focus on keeping his four-seamer upstairs instead of East-West, he could get a massive upswing in whiffs from his ~10/11% SwStr to 15% and above.
But it’s not that easy. Pérez’s youth is not just in his age (Gasp), but his skill level to locate effectively around the zone. I’m very guilty of expecting that to come easily for Pérez over time, but upon reflection of the year ahead, I reluctantly have been rescinding my love for domination in 2024. I watch some Eury and have concern that his fastball command is far from polished, while the breakers don’t have the same electricity as other secondaries around.
It’s absolutely possible Eury elects the BSB route and develops the command to do so, but will his breaking ball shape improve with it? And are the Marlins an organization that embraces high heaters? I’m not sure, but I sure hope so. He could be SP #1 if he unlocks the command, especially if he figures out how to get on top of his changeup in the process (that slow ball was terribly inconsistent in 2023). There’s more risk than I’d like with this pick, forcing me to sit on my hands in most cases for one more season.
25. Tarik Skubal (DET, LHP)
Here I was in October, fawning over Skubal. His four-seamer’s results were legendary across his small 80-inning sample, and his 29% SwStr + 40% CSW changeup was a farce saved for party small talk. How could he not be a clear Top 20 SP next year with these skills? Because they may not be true. WHAAAAA. Yeah, after looking more into Skubal and watching his games, I’m less encouraged. I’m still a believer that he’s a solid add for your teams and will help throughout the year, but nothing close to the ridiculous marks of 2023.
Let’s get it out of the way – Skubals’ final opponents were: @CLE, CHC, NYY, @CWS, CWS, @LAA, @OAK, and KCR where he held a 1.88 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 37% strikeout rate, and 4% walk rate. Yes, you need to take advantage of the opportunities given to you, but these matchups are heavily influencing our perception of Skubal’s skill set, which isn’t as formidable on paper. His four-seamer’s 96 mph velocity fell closer to 95 mph at the end, and it doesn’t come with elite iVB, VAA, or extension to suggest it’s deserving of a 99th percentile O-Swing & Strike rate. His changeup was unreal and will still be a great weapon, just not that good. And the slider? Well, that’s a work in progress. It held a 12% SwStr rate with below-average movement and is a major need for polish in 2024.
What I saw was a pitcher who overperformed, has good but not exceptional command, needs to improve his breaker, and will not overwhelm batters nearly as often with his four-seamer in the year ahead. This is awfully harsh, Nick. I know, I’m sorry. I don’t like it either and I hope the healthy off-season allows Tarik to weld his seams and cement himself as a Cy Young candidate in 2024. He’s not there yet.
26. Logan Gilbert (SEA, RHP)
What a weird season for Gilbert. His 2022 featured a four-seamer that boasted a 15% SwStr to LHB (just 10% to RHB…?) as he was grasping at straws to figure out a changeup and any reliable breaker. He flipped everything on its head in 2023, with a worse four-seamer (9% SwStr to both LHB and RHB), but he suddenly transformed a slider that was struggling to hit a 60% strike rate into his ole reliable, as it boasted a strike rate about 70%, limiting its ICR massively, and it was suddenly thrown half of the time in some contests. An introduction of a splitter in the first half helped as well, creating not only another weapon against left-handers, but a 21% SwStr pitch for right-handers as well.
Anxiety coalesces around that four-seamer, unfortunately. It lost an inch of vertical movement, and carrying a sub 10% SwStr without good command as it gets consistently pummeled is not the Gilbert we signed up for. I’m going to believe that he’ll work on the pitch this off-season and make some tweaks, though the ceiling of a dominant six-frames at least once a week from Gilbert seems a bit more difficult to envision at the moment. Even if the four-seamer returns to 2022 form, will the heater + slider be enough to carry him? Nick, the splitter. It disappeared in the second half and we know how volatile they can be.
In the end, I think what Gilbert gives you will be good enough to roster all year, but it’s asking a little too much for him to be a legit SP #2 in your 15-teamers. SP #3 in 12-teamers sounds about right.
I’m torn on Luzardo. On one hand, his hot stretches are electric as any, with a 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 30% strikeout rate across a fifteen-game stretch in the heart of 2023. This performance is supported by a 96/97 mph heater that he spots upstairs and gloveside (ideal for a southpaw), as well as by a pair of secondaries in his change and slider that both miss plenty of bats. However, his command can be finicky, without the stuff to demand results when he leaves them over the plate. His four-seamer is a sub-10% SwStr offering even with its above-average locations, while the slider was often hung in the zone and crushed to the tune of a 48% ICR – 6th percentile among all sliders. Sure, its .494 BABIP and .517 BACON will improve next year, but it won’t be a massive pendulum swing to bring his 8.2 H/9 dramatically down to its 6.2 mark in 2022. There’s also Luzardo’s health history that he overcame in 2023 for nearly 180 frames and it’s no given he can go 32 starts for another season. The end result will help managers with his strikeout rate at the very least, though the ratios may take many turns along the way. Maybe feature more changeups, fewer zone sliders, and stop throwing four-seamers away to left-handers?
28. Blake Snell (FA, LHP)
Even in a Cy Young year with a 5.8 H/9, Snell had a 1.19 WHIP. I was as large of a voice as anyone outlining why Snell deserved the Cy Young last season and how his 13% walk rate was by design, but the fact of the matter is that the skill and rhythm required to pull it off just doesn’t get repeated for a full season. Will Snell help your fantasy teams? Absolutely. Will it be nearly what we got last year where he held a 1.20 ERA across nineteen games to end the year? …No? Nothing gets past you.
How did he get it done? Snell’s near seven feet of extension help, especially on his heater that comes in with a terrible VAA, but paired with 96 mph velocity and 17.5 inches of iVB, the pitch does excel when he locates it upstairs, executing the, ahem, BSB, but you know what’s bonkers? Snell’s four-seamer’s hiLoc% was just 43.5%, good for 18th percentile among all four-seamers. HE COULDN’T DO THE THING HE COINED.
And that four-seamer, despite its iVB, velocity, and extension, returned a blistering 49% ICR on the year due to its scattershot command and steep angle to the plate. And somehow, this whole thing worked. This makes no sense. I know. I KNOW.
The other half of the BSB is traditionally a curve or slider and Snell certainly got those pitches low – each returned 98th+ percentile loLoc% – while their contact rates were best in the majors. He kept it down, batters swung, and rarely made contact. However, they earned few strikes. Snell’s slider? 45% strike rate. Curve? 56%. No wonder he walked so many batters.
Over the years, the one pitch I’ve been against is Snell’s changeup. The pitch routinely held poor strike rates without the SwStr marks of his breakers and I was thrilled to see it reduced to just 6% against RHB in 2022. But here was Snell, struggling to earn strikes on his breakers in early 2023 and the slowball came out of the cage to have far-and-away its greatest season with a 25% SwStr and 66% strike rate against RHB, refusing to throw a single one against LHB. The savior of 2023.
What does it all mean? My interpretation is that Snell’s four-seamer and breaking ball command is better than the zone rates will tell you – he’s intentionally nibbling and avoiding the heart of the plate – but it’s not good enough to walk this tightrope another season, especially one that isn’t a contract year and without the strong Padres defense behind him. Throw in the likely anxiety-riddled spring as he tries to find his footing + the health track record that held him underneath 130 IP every year from 2019 onward until last year’s run. It’s just too much risk for me to take, especially when ceiling comes with a WHIP of at least 1.20.
Tier 6 – The Road Not Taken
You’re going to regret drafting and not drafting some of these names and that’s just the nature of the beast. I can see how many have breakout seasons, and while their realistic floors are still being rostered on your teams, they are just a step or two away from being sent to the wire.
29. Justin Steele (CHC, LHP)
I’m out on Steele because of one number. His four-seamer (it’s a cutter dangit. Seriously, the most glove-side movement and drop on any four-seamer. IT’S A CUTTER) in 2022 and 2023 were both crushed by left-handers. What, like a 40% ICR? 45%? Ummmm, 56% ICR. It’s a cutter, after all, and unless you have a wonderful one like Aaron Civale, cutters generally don’t work well against same-handed batters. His slider stepped up for a slightly higher strike rate and better mitigation of damage, but left-handers are a major problem for Steele, and outside of a new pitch entirely for him to master, I don’t see how that problem goes away.
But he just had a great season with left-handers crushing his fastball! That’s a great point and maybe I’m overreacting. That cutter was well spotted to jam right-handers, as it should, while the slider was solid (not elite) against them, too. It’s just not enough and thus overly reliant on the Cubs defense to bail him out – he’s a groundball pitcher given his emphasis on cutters and sliders and downward movement – and that ICR is translating more to burners than lifted flyballs, but hot dang it feels so precarious.
He’s not an elite strikeout arm, either. It was good and relied on volume to flirt with 180 strikeouts this year, but why not go for José Berríos or Merrill Kelly instead for far cheaper? I see 2023 as a peak for Steele with a massive flaw that doesn’t have a path toward getting fixed. He tossed far more strikes and earned more chases out of the zone with the cutter inside to right-handers to stave off the walks, and when he was gassed by the end of the year, the wheels heavily fell off. It seems like too little reward for the risk.
30. Sonny Gray (STL, RHP)
Sonny is a perfect example of why I am forcing myself to split analyzing pitch-type metrics based on LHB & RHB. David Cone emphasized it with Gray constantly, and the numbers show two different stories.
With cut action on his four-seamer, Gray was able to steal 25-30% called strikes with sinkers over the plate far more than your typical starter. It looks like poor location on paper as he rarely jams them inside, but when combining it with his four-seamer and cutter (the cutter acts like a standard slider, really), batters have difficulty pulling the trigger when Sonny’s sinker starts along the outside edge or further.
Once fastballs navigate Sonny deeper into counts, he whips out his devastating sweeper, a pitch that gets featured in two-strike counts almost 2/3 of the time, and has massive sweep and drop, boasting a huge 23% SwStr rate. The trick is getting to that count, however, and I wonder if incorporating more than 11% curveballs can get him there – even if it had a poor 44% ICR rate last year. Just don’t hang as many, too.
LHBs get a wildly different look. Four-seamers rule the land, leaning on its cut-action to glide along the inside corner, stealing called strikes and making for a difficult early hack. His curve does a ton of work to keep batters honest about a quarter of the time, allowing the sweeper, once again, to be the star of the show and earn its 21% SwStr rate to punch-out batters. And if they are sitting breaker, he’ll sneak a front-hip sinker in there – 97% of all sinkers thrown by Sonny to LHBs in 2023 were in two-strike counts. Every so often, a changeup or cutter will find its way into the approach, but those four offerings are the lead spices in the cauldron.
It’s not a typical approach. When equipped with Sonny’s slider, we often encourage pitchers to throw more of them, often inside the zone, and earlier in the count. However, Gray is comfortable with his fastballs and curveball to progress effectively, even if it means more volatility in the end given the reservations of his best pitch – if he doesn’t get to two strikes, it means batters are connecting on easier-to-hit pitches. In the end, I see Gray as a stable arm who will continue to suppress hits and carry a strikeout rate that flirts with 25%. You’ll want to start Sonny when he’s on the bump this year, just stay healthy, alright?
31. Yu Darvish (SDP, RHP)
I don’t think I’m ever going to feel confident in my view of Darvish. On one hand, I can see multiple shifts in his approach that could benefit him massively as his stuff is far from lacking. On the other, I’m concerned about his ability to command his wide arsenal, preventing him from executing even the greatest game plan. There’s a sense that Darvish figures out what he has working for him in each start and adapts from there instead of rooting himself onto a specific approach with minor tweaks.
That said, there are simpler adjustments that I think can return major dividends. He already knows to save his four-seamer for two-strike counts, but the pitch often lands low in the zone. Given Darvish’s elite VAA and above-average extension + iVB on the 95 mph heater, there’s room for its sub 10% SwStr rate marks to climb as high as 15% in 2024 if he can locate it above the zone – not at the top of the zone, above it.
Meanwhile, he features three sets of “sliders” – a proper cutter, a gyro slider, and a sweeper. Currently, the cutter isn’t getting much love, oddly thrown more to RHBs than LHBs, both sub 10% of the time. That cutter should be Darvish’s fastball focus against LHBs as the sinker gets pummeled, and the four-seamer works best as a surprise two-strike pitch than an in-zone offering. With a cutter working inside, it opens up the gyro slider (not sweeper) underneath the zone, front-hip surprise sinkers late in the count, and the splitter that can appear depending on the day.
With the gyro slider used more for lefties, the sweeper can dominate righties, especially if its near 50% zone rate drops and turns into more of a chase pitch out of the zone. Utilize the curve as an in-zone strike pitch, the sinker to jam batters inside (not backdoor called strikes, please. It gets crushed), then four-seamers upstairs, even outside two-strike counts.
That sounds like a lot and I’m just wishcasting over here, but the excitement for me is the fact that Darvish has these weapons. They are right there! So many pitchers dream of having the ability to manipulate the baseball like him and it’s more plausible to me that adjusting the mentality behind each offering can induce larger steps forward than the average pitcher. Is Darvish’s command good enough to make this work? I’m not sure. I do like the idea of him focusing on select use cases instead of the massive variety, which hopefully can fine-tune his craft and squeeze the most out of what he does. At the very least, I don’t think Darvish has hit the cliff of his career. His stuff still moves and has great shape, and he carries 95 mph heaters and tossed max starts (read: 30+ and 12 in 2020) in four straight years, save for last year’s 24 starts. The hits-per-nine will improve, the strikeouts will still be hovering at 25%, and the ratios will improve with it. Just don’t draft him as an SP #3…or maybe not your SP #4. The floor is still lower than the Top 40 starters, especially with moments that will likely force you to take an aspirin, but he’s far closer to productivity than most pitchers after the SP 50 mark.
32. Shōta Imanaga (CHC, LHP)
The Cubs are signing Imanaga and I personally believe they got a steal. Imanaga’s four-seamer grades incredibly well with elite iVB and VAA, while his approach in the NPB suggests there is room to grow with a better approach up in the zone. Making that adjustment could be the simple answer to quell fears of longball troubles in Wrigley, while he also sports fantastic command of a wide arsenal that includes a splitter, curve, sweeper, and cutter, limiting walks and boasting the best Stuff+ of all starters in the WBC (yes, better than Yamamoto and Shohei). For a detailed look at Imanaga, I highly recommend this video from Lance Brozdowski.
I’ll likely have Imanaga on many of my teams as a Holly arm, expecting solid ratios, the ability to go six frames, and flirtation with a 25% strikeout rate. If he takes the direction to lean into the high heater, Imanaga could be the very best FA signing of the off-season and a sneaky stud for your fantasy teams as a reliable arm throughout the entire season.
33. Joe Ryan (MIN, RHP)
I was initially much higher on Ryan and now that I’m more well-versed in pitch shape (PLV Pitches app!), splitting RHBs/LHBs, and ICR rates, Ryan’s warts are larger than ever. Against RHBs, not a single pitch thrown by Ryan last season fared better than a 45% ICR, yes, including his four-seamer. Ho boy. And that’s the real crux of the issue.
Ryan has a fantastic low arm angle that allows his four-seamer to overwhelm batters upstairs, which he certainly does at a 97th percentile 17% SwStr rate. However, his splitter is so often in the zone and his sweeper is so far out of the zone that batters are comfortable inside the box, as against Ryan, batters are swinging at pitches more than any other starter in the majors. In other words, Ryan had a 100th percentile swing rate and it makes sense. Batters would step up and get ready to thwack at high heaters, intimidated by the splitter that would still land in the zone below the heater, and convicted in their ability to lay off the slider as it would often ride out of the zone.
It means he needs help. I’m in the camp that the splitter isn’t the right pitch for Ryan’s arm action – his lower arm angle makes it difficult to get on top of the splitter, making a traditional circle-change pair better with his pronation – while he needs to find a better breaker than the current sweeper. Other arms whose approaches he can follow would be Nola and his big spiked curve, Castillo and his slider, or Webb with his sinker (wait, why doesn’t Ryan have a sinker for RHBs?) and I’m going to believe Ryan is figuring this out over the off-season to add something else to the mix.
I’ll be worried if we see the same three-pitch mix entering camp. It’s uncommon for a pitcher to have the foundation of Ryan’s heater, and with his increased velocity last season, it’s not out of the question Ryan takes another step forward this winter. The strikeouts should still be there with his heater’s whiffability, though I may be wishcasting a bit that his home run rate will fall (and thus his ERA) as it’s not a given he makes a significant shift in his arsenal. That said, a 4.00 ERA arm with a 1.15 WHIP and 200 strikeouts with double-digit Wins is still helpful, especially with a ceiling for more.
34. Bailey Ober (MIN, RHP)
Here’s a fun stat. Across Ober’s three pitches (four-seamer, changeup, sweeper), just one of them held an ICR above 40% against either LHBs/RHBs and obviously it’s the sweeper against LHBs. The good news? He throws it just 10% of the time there as his four-seamer and changeup clean UP.
I call him Bailey Oberizzi for a reason – he paints the top of the zone with four-seamers and batters can’t do anything about it. His 6’9″ frame allows him to get an elite extension at the cost of a steeper VAA and mediocre iVB, but getting so close to the plate and landing upstairs with such precision allows Ober to get whiffs upstairs and make his changeup’s legit fading action steal all the strikes while preventing hard contact consistently.
It’s why Ober has a term named after him – The Bailey Special – granted to an arm who can go six frames with at least a strikeout per inning and about 2 ER. The man coasts with hard-to-hit strikes, and while he is missing that super mega whiff breaker, the four-seamer and changeup do enough, while the sweeper certainly helps with a 32% CSW against RHBs.
Imagine if Ober improves that slider, now that he’s been given the chance to pitch every five games for a full season. We’re talking 170+ frames with a 25% strikeout rate, a 3.50 ERA, a 1.10-1.15 WHIP, and double-digit Wins. Uhhhhhh yes please.
35. Michael King (SDP, RHP)
King is what Brady Singer wants to be. It’s a legit sinker that he can spot backdoor and inside to RHBs mixed with a legit sweeper, a solid changeup, and a four-seamer that surprises batters upstairs at 95+ mph when they expect the big breaker or bowling ball riding fastball. I generally don’t encourage chasing pitchers who are so reliant on backdoor sinkers like King is, but to see a 36% called strike rate on the pitch to RHBs is astounding, to say the least, and while it will regress in 2024, you don’t earn a mark like that across 400 pitches without having it as a legitimate skill.
There are some warts to be aware of. Having a sinker focus creates trouble against off-handed batters, and King was noticeably worse against LHBs, especially with his breaker coming in the form of a sweeper (gyro sliders > sweepers for off-handed batters). The nullifier here is the changeup, a pitch that can develop into a proper force in time, but will need to accelerate its development a bit to ensure he can navigate a tough LHB-heavy lineup. In fact, I’d even encourage him to feature the pitch more against RHBs when they are geared for his sinker as the slowball does a great job mimicking the sinker and can steal plenty of strikes under the zone.
He’s going to get all the innings this year, health permitting, thanks to his pitch efficiency (sinkers = faster outs, usually) and great defense behind him. I’m surprisingly in on King and expecting myself to be less encouraged initially by the sinker, but even his dud start against the Royals wasn’t concerning – it was more a product of two hung sweepers & a single poor sinker over the plate; it happens and he handled the rest of the lineup effectively. If King can wrangle that changeup, he’ll have the mix we want to see in a proper workhorse and produce consistently.
36. Bryan Woo (SEA, RHP)
I’m a Woo girl. Wait, why do you have Woo slotted above Miller? I just told you. I spent a good amount of time on both Woo and Miller and settled on Woo as the safer target for 2024 and it comes down to polish. Both pitchers have four-seamers that are sure to have success (for different reasons and with surprisingly different results…?), though Woo has already flexed more breadth in his arsenal, while displaying a higher ability to locate across his arsenal. In short, Woo battles the batter rather than himself more often than Bryce. That’s a huge deal in my book.
An oddity here is how both pitchers have dominating four-seamers, yet they win with different aspects. Woo’s heater has below-average iVB (shockingly so), but his VAA is one of the best in the majors, making an incredibly flat angle at the top of the zone for his four-seamer. That helped the pitch earn a ridiculous 20% SwStr rate against right-handers in 2023, an achievement catalyzed by a sinker he developed mid-season, with which Woo does a solid job of keeping arm-side and jamming batters. I actually think there’s a better balance to be had with four-seamers vs. sinkers against RHB (more straight balls please), but that’s likely a game-by-game situation.
Woo’s secondaries are also better. There’s still work to be done – the sweeper’s locations are laughable as they carry 95th percentile hiLoc% and his cutter isn’t always there – but the promise is there and I trust Woo’s development with those pitches moreso than Miller’s based on Woo’s more reliable command.
I worry a little about Woo against left-handers, which requires him to find a better rhythm with his secondaries to thrive (all three of his secondaries were crushed against left-handers, but the four-seamer and sinker worked well enough to survive), but all of that comes with time. After throwing 121 frames last season, I imagine the Mariners will rely on him every five days, ideally pushing him closer to 85-90 pitches per game than the 80 PPG we saw in his rookie year. The skills are there, he just needs a little more development time.
37. Chris Sale (ATL, LHP)
The move to Atlanta is obviously a positive for Sale – better Win chance, home park, team defense, all of it – though does it do enough to quell our concerns? Sale’s health is not the only volatile element of his game after oscillating fastball velocities across the season, sitting 94/95 at times and dropping all the way down to 91 mph for multiple outings. We haven’t seen Sale settle into a rotation spot since 2019, and even then we saw him struggle to exert himself fully, with many hiccups along the way. Who’s to say 2024 will be any different after barely eclipsing 100 frames?
The skill set has its warts as well. While LHB are doomed as they endure his wicked slider and sinkers that destroy bats inside (a new feature last season for Sale), RHB have it easier than ever. His four-seamer is still effective at its lower velocity, but the slider and change were battered for a 40% ICR, lacking the same consistency we saw in previous years. It makes me a touch concerned that his stuff will degrade further in his 35-year-old season.
However, there is hope. The mental aspect of the game shouldn’t be ignored completely, and introducing a competitor like Sale into the successful Atlanta clubhouse could reinvigorate the southpaw for a return to form. After all, he’s been open about not playing up to his contract in Boston and a fresh start with a healthy off-season could bring the very best of Sale for 2024.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe you’ll bench Sale across the season, where he starts should help more than they hurt, with an obvious ceiling of legit production when he’s on the bump. The major downside is drafting an arm you don’t see a whole lot during the year, preventing him from taking steps toward redemption as father time tightens its grip, creating a HIPSTER on your squads. As long as you’re not over-extending to draft Sale as your SP #3, I’m all for adding him to your teams – it’s cleaner production than Cherry Bomb types – just make sure you’re not turning down a safer arm with similar skills.
38. Nick Pivetta (BOS, RHP)
I can’t believe I’m typing this. I’m in on Pivetta. BUT NICK. I know I know, I was so high on him back in, what, 2018? 2019? And now five years later, it’s as if I haven’t learned my lesson.
But he’s a new man. You see, for years Pivetta has had elite extension and iVB on his four-seamer, but with a poor VAA, he couldn’t use it as a true dominator that masked poor secondary offerings. It had to do too much and was consistently blasted for high ICR marks and life was rough, save for the days his curve or slider were able to be properly located for strikes.
2023 was different. Not all of 2023, but two distinct moments occurred that vaulted Pivetta in a new direction. First, introducing a hard 89/90 mph cutter in early July allowed him to find reliable strikes separate from his heater. He could spot it down-and-arm-side against right-handers far better than his slider, propelling two ridiculous games (with an opener) that tallied 23 punchouts between them.
August 20th saw another step forward for Pivetta. He began throwing “the whirlybird” sweeper mid-season and leaned into it for 20% usage against the Yankees and never let up after that. Watching his final nine games of the year showcased the pitcher I always dreamed of. Four-seamers returned a 16%+ SwStr rate instead of the 11% prior as they effectively tunneled with low sliders, cutters, and curveballs – Pivetta finally had an approach that worked, with a legit feel for his secondaries. We’re talking 40 IP of a 3.29 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with a 35% strikeout rate and 5.6% BB kind of rhythm.
That is a small sample and given Pivetta’s history of unreliable secondaries, it does feel strange to endorse him for a full season. That said, you don’t need to draft him inside your Top 40 SP, instead allowing yourself to get a foundation of starters you trust before taking a chance on Pivetta’s cutter and slider returning for the full year. I’d love to do it after I have my foundation set and if the secondaries aren’t there, well, we move on. Give me that upside over the arms who have innate volatility across their arsenal where you can’t believe them even when things are going well.
39. Tanner Bibee (CLE, RHP)
Bibee will be drafted in your league higher than I’d suggest chasing him. I see a pitcher who can have a true four-pitch mix working, but in the end, it’s a great slider, an over-performing changeup, a decent fastball, and an inconsistent curveball from a pitcher who doesn’t excel with command. There are innings and sometimes full games where Bibee can locate his fastball inside to left-handers and get his curve at the bottom of the zone, though it’s not a skill to be trusted throughout the year, and that worries me when his fastball has terrible VAA and a sub 10% SwStr rate in 2023. He’ll have to nail down its locations to demand success with the pitch. The slider is great with potential for much more if he can locate it better, with many starts featuring sliders that float just into the zone for strikes instead of being a consistent threat in the zone or down-and-gloveside. Bibee’s slowball excelled due to its dramatic 10 mph drop from his fastball, though it stays up in the zone frequently and is unlikely to hold its 92nd percentile putaway rate again.
It seems awfully weird to be this negative about a rookie with a 24% strikeout rate and who carried many teams last year, and I could be very wrong here about Bibee. His slight cross-body stride speaks to his shotgun-blast locations, and a strong 2024 season is asking for growth in both the stuff and command, which is too much of an ask. Bibee isn’t going to have a 0.82 HR/9 again, bringing his 2.98 ERA far closer to 4.00 as the WHIP is sure to follow, as holding a sub 8.0 hit-per-nine and sub 8% walk rate will be a difficult task.
40. Shane Baz (TBR, RHP)
I’m writing this at the end of November, at a point where we don’t know the status of Baz. My gut tells me we’re going to see the elite-PLV-slider-and-four-seamer Baz, not the pitching-with-a-poor-UCL-tendon of 2022…who still graded out well and produced for your fantasy teams. Take the ability of Taj Bradley and give it to a pitcher who can actually command his fastball and breakers + a changeup that was starting to show some life and that’s Baz. He’s the real deal from a skills standpoint and as long as he’s on the healthy side of a TJS (which we are seeing more often than not these days), then Baz should light up the stat lines consistently.
Volume, not skills, is the biggest concern for 2024 and with few definitive arms in the mix, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Rays quickly pushed him to five innings after his first start or two, with six coming shortly after. 150 frames is the typical “post-TJS season” clip and with Baz’s skill set, I trust his production more than many other young arms.