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Top 400 Starting Pitchers For Fantasy Baseball 2024: Full Article

SP Rankings for 2024 Fantasy Baseball: 1-400 Starting Pitchers

I’ve updated my Starting Pitcher Fantasy Baseball Rankings for 2024 for the first time since my October ranking of the Top 200 SP and instead of ranking the Top 300 SP, I somehow went overboard and made it the Top 400 SP this year. Sorry about that.

We made it. After going through all thirty teams meticulously with the community during my Playback.Tv livestreams, doing far more prospects research than I ever have, and taking nearly an extra two days past the deadline to polish these ranks to make sure I didn’t miss anyone, and add on another 100 pitchers at the end, we finally have the Top 400 Starting Pitchers for 2024 Fantasy Baseball.

Before we get to the rankings, I want to outline how we’ve set up this post a little differently this year. Instead of simply one MEGA POST like you see below, we’ve also separated them out into many smaller chunks for easier access to what you’re looking for.

In addition, I’ll be adding specific articles for my targets, sleepers, and category focuses that pull my analysis here and sorts them for a quick look-up before your drafts. I apologize in advance that it’s the same text.

And finally, I’ve attached my strategy section from the Top 200 Starting Pitchers into this article as well – it reviews the principles of my rankings, early schedules, and how to best utilize the information below to best craft your draft.

Good luck! I’m excited to chat more about them before I give my first officially update to these rankings in early March.

AGA,

-Nick

How To Use These Rankings

 

It’s important to take a moment to express my general philosophy for drafting starting pitchers. It remains unchanged from years past in case you’ve heard me say this before. My strategy comes in two parts. First:

  • 1. Draft THREE starting pitchers I trust to never drop during the season

Essentially, you don’t need to get two of the Top 15 starters to excel. Instead, develop a foundation of three starters who won’t be so bad that they deserve a drop. This year that speaks to the Top 36 starters or so, but creeps into the 50s as well. It doesn’t mean just get three and call it a day, it just means having three starters allows you to have a foundation, even if it’s not including a top 10 starter. I heavily encourage grabbing three and then aiming to fill up the next two or three within that Top 50 if you can – generally, SP value lies in the middle of the draft, anyway.

  • 2. Chase upside & pitchers you can drop early instead of middling decent pitchers

This is I Don’t Draft Tobys in a nutshell and is rooted in how much opportunity there is on the waiver wire in April & May. You need to put yourself in a position to take chances on pitchers early in the season as so many of them hit and become legit foundation starters through the year. Make sure your final pitchers are guys you can move on early in April if it’s not panning out, and if you draft middling arms instead, you’ll likely hold onto to a 3.70 ERA guy instead of taking the chance on a true league winner. Don’t be that manager.

Don’t believe me? Here are Starting Pitchers who had a 2023 ADP of #290 or later and could be snagged in your leagues:

 

 

And that’s not even including this rag-tag crew containing many pitchers you were able to grab at specific points of the season for legit value:

 

 

Now you understand. That’s where I’m coming from with these rankings and it’s important to not treat them as a “Best Ball” ranking – you’re not drafting a team you hold for the full year, instead you’re drafting a team with anticipation that you’re burning and churning at the back-end of your roster. It’s the way you win your leagues.

 

Early SP Schedules

 

One element that I often don’t discuss this early when doing rankings is the expected opening weekend schedule. It doesn’t have much of an impact on these rankings, but as we get closer to the start of the year and rotations become clearer after trades, signings, and injuries, it may reveal some late-round targets to sneak in a start or two in your head-to-head leagues that may turn into season-long holds (like Brayan Bello and Tyler Wells in 2023).

First, here are the individual offense ranks:

 

Nick’s Terrible Too Early 2024 Offense Ranks

 

In essence, we should only be considering being conservative against the Top tier offenses (and maybe some Solid tiers as well), while take a chance here or there against the Poor offenses (I’m sure some will surprise us!). Everything else in the middle is up for grabs.

 

And here is how the start of 2024 shapes up:

Early 2024 Team Schedules

 

Here are my thoughts on these opening schedules:

  • Does Rockie Road actually apply if the Rockies offense hasn’t actually played in Colorado yet? Part of their decline on the road is being used to how the ball moves in Coors and if they aren’t acclimated to it yet, the offense may perform better in Arizona and Chicago than expected.
  • These offense rankings were created in October and will obviously change once the season begins.
  • I personally love chasing late-round starters who pitch the opening weekend. You can steal a productive outing, then drop them for whatever upside pitcher you were considering who hasn’t pitched yet. It’s just an extra hint of value you can steal at the beginning of the season.
  • The Padres and Dodgers are playing a two-game set (each with one game as the home team) in Seoul, South Korea a week before Opening Day. It makes me wonder if there’s a little extra value for having one of these four stud pitchers (possibly Joe Musgrove & Yu Darvish vs. Bobby Miller & Walker Buehler) toss one more start than everyone else.
  • Then again, Yahoo is apparently not including those two games in their leagues. Take note of your situation.
  • In addition to this, the Padres fourth matchup is @SFG. while the Dodgers get @ CHC. Both of these act as the normal third matchups given rotations will reset week between the Korea series and opening day.
  • ARI, CIN, MIA, CHW, CLE, DET, OAK each have seemingly favorable matchups to kick off the season. Here are a few pitchers who could go by Sunday who and provide sneaky draft value:

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like this strategy is all too helpful for 2024. That said, offenses will change, rotations will shift, and spring brings new excitement. Refer to this table in March.

 

Alright, let’s get to it now. Remember, these ranks are based on a 12-teamer, 5×5 roto format. Adjust accordingly to your situation.

For those unaware:

  • Cherry Bomb = A volatile pitcher who is either super sweet or blows up in your face. There are few middle grounds.
  • Toby = A middling pitcher who you can’t decide if they do enough to stay on your team and give you the itch to drop every single day. Named after Toby from The Office. Don’t draft them.
  • HollyThe better version of a Toby – essentially a starter who will be in the 21-24% strikeout range with decent ratios instead of the 20% strike rate or fewer of Toby types.

 

Read The Notes

 

  • This is your reminder to please read these notes as they’ll tell you plenty about my thought process and why I’m ranking guys in a certain way.
  • The initial plan was to write one or two sentences on everyone. I found myself writing extensive outlines instead, leading this article to come out a full week later than intended. Sorry.
  • I shifted from heavy blurbs to short reviews halfway through as I had to get this dang thing out already. Remember, these are my early thoughts and I’m looking forward to solidifying my 2024 outlook across the next six months.
  • Seriously. Read the notes.

 

Tier 1 – Ace Workhorses 

If I’m going to spend on an SP this early, give me those who have track records, high expected volume, and expected elite marks.

 

1. Spencer Strider (ATL, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Y’all know he’s dope and going to be dope. Probably. I have no issue with anyone who lists Strider as their SP #1 given the high Win potential and favorite to lead the league in strikeouts. I have a small worry about a few things. First, it’s a two-pitch mix where his command is not as pristine as others, making for times when batters can sit on the heater when the slider doesn’t find the zone, and the four-seamer isn’t perfectly placed upstairs. I actually wonder if he can move to a Fosh changeup grip that may be the nullifier he’s been searching for in addition to being another option to keep batter’s honest off the four-seamer.

The other issue is contact. He misses more bats than any in the league at a 20%+ SwStr rate – a mark I haven’t seen outside of the short 2020 season or Jacob deGrom – but his ICR? 27th percentile at 41%. He forces batters to guess 50/50 on what’s coming, which can be manipulated to take advantage of hitters, though it makes contact do more harm than other stud arms, especially with the higher velocity.

It’s a major reason why Strider had a 3.86 ERA last year. But his FIP is 2.85! That assumes all balls in play are equal and I just told you that it’s not for Strider. Ohhhhh. That doesn’t mean he should be avoided – of course not – it just means I don’t expect him to lead the league in ERA. The four-seamer and slider are still going to be filthy and rack up all the strikeouts, the WHIP could improve from 1.09 if he has fewer innings without the loss of command, and the Wins will be there. It’s not the same historical floor as Cole but that’s fine, right?

 

2. Gerrit Cole (NYY, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Can I just write “he’s the most consistent SP in baseball and don’t overthink this”? Because I’m overthinking this right now and I’m kinda scared…? I often wave aside Cole in fantasy analysis since it’s such an early pick and your time is better spent elsewhere, but there are actually weird things happening and I need to tell y’all about it.

Cole’s pitches were demonstrably worse in 2023 and yet he had his Cy Young year with his best ratios since sticky stuff. Cole’s VAA and iVB marks, merged with 97/98 mph velocity, have made his four-seamer elite since his arrival, yet they all fell last year. His VAA went from elite to above-average, he lost almost a full inch of iVB since last year, and he lost over a tick of velocity. Sure, but the pitch still dominates! Did it? It’s awfully weird to see Cole hold ~9% SwStr rates against RHBs across the years with his four-seamer (I DON’T GET IT), but its 27% called strike rate fell to just 18% last year, returning a 28% CSW overall, preventing him from earning a single King Cole last year. You know, the term he coined for his elite CSW marks.

The pitch also took a step back against LHBs. Cole racks up the whiffs with his four-seamer against LHBs, but the pitch has gone from a 21% to 18% to now 13% SwStr rate across the last three seasons. That’s still good. It is, but it’s not “the greatest four-seamer in baseball” good.

I’m worried about that heater and hope he can regain it, while there’s an equal concern with his slider. Cole has routinely held 33%+ CSW marks on the pitch against LHB,s yet it fell to just 28% last year as it dropped six points in SwStr to 18%. It’s still solid, but he failed to land it under the “Nitro Zone” of LHBs consistently last season, bringing its O-Swing to a pedestrian 33% clip. This is COLE we’re talking about here, he’s not supposed to flirt with plebs.

His cutter has helped him find some extra strikes and navigate lineups better, but hot dang, I want the old Cole back. I’m not sure I can trust his HR/9 to sit comfortably below 1.00 again, especially after the demonstrative 1.48 clip he featured in 2022. He’s obviously going to be an ace for your squad, but hot dang, are we starting to see mortality from the SP king of fantasy baseball?

 

3. Corbin Burnes (BAL, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I have so many thoughts and I’ll try to keep it succinct (Spoiler Alert: I don’t). In short, I’m not concerned about Burnes as his 2023 “down” year can be condensed to “hey, he struggled against right-handers with all his pitches, but I’m still the dopest against left-handers.” Considering Burnes is still a ratio stud with 200 strikeouts (and just 10 Wins…), I’m encouraged about a better 2024 season ahead. But how will he improve against right-handers? I’m glad you asked.

One stat I’ve been using incessantly this off-season is ICR – a stat that best outlines “when a pitcher allows a ball in play, is it good or bad for them?” Allowing higher than a 40% ICR on a fastball is poor (35% for a secondary pitch) and sub 35% for a fastball is excellent (sub 30% for a secondary with the rare 25% ICR being legendary). Why bring this up? All four of Burnes’ major offerings held a 35%+ ICR against right-handers, while his major three against left-handers were all below 32%. Again, he’s really good at taking down left-handers with back-door cutters, a filthy changeup, and his big hook.

ANSWER MY QUESTION, NICK. Right, right. The cool thing about Burnes is how each of his four pitches against right-handers – cutter, slider, curve, sinker – can be feasibly better. First, his bread-and-butter, a cutter that earns all the strikes. Its 70% strike rate last year against RHB was stupid high because none of his other pitches held a 60%+ rate. It messed with its locations, which moved the pitch from its fantastic down-and-away spot to more centralized, where it was clobbered more often than usual. Reclaim that focus away, and better results should follow.

The breakers are a different story. I’ve been an old man shouting at a cloud for years watching Burnes neglect his slider, featuring it sub 20% of the time to right-handers (just 8% overall last year!) despite absurd SwStr numbers to die for. I truly believe Burnes needs to lean on it more, which may help him remove its mistakes over the plate. After all, you throw it more, you generally get more comfortable with a pitch. The curve is a different story. Its putaway rate was cut in half last year as he simply threw too many mistakes in the dirt with it. I think this may be more of a sequencing/feel situation and it shouldn’t be living in the 54% strike depths once again. This is more of a “believe me, bro” than any here, but, um, Believe me Bro.

Oh, and there’s also a sinker in the mix that he doesn’t command high enough, nor does it have a vicious horizontal break to be a massive difference-maker at the moment. If he can get the pitch to be more inside-up or inside-middle instead of down, it could be another strike-earner he desperately needs against right-handers.

I have to mention that the move to Baltimore should only help Burnes. I initially had Burnes and #4 and moved him to #3 with the move as the increased Wins, pitching for a WS contender, and moving away from Miller Park to Walltimore are solid tiebreakers over Wheeler. It’s going to be fun watching Baltimore rally around the Orange Burnes.

Hi. We made it to the end. Burnes has areas to improve, but at the end of the day, he’s one of the best mitigators of hard contact in the bigs. His overall ICR was 92nd percentile last year while still earning a 13%+ SwStr rate. This will keep the ERA and WHIP down, especially with the walk rate falling as he earns more strikes to right-handers. As one of the workhorses around with sparkling ratios and 200+ strikeout potential, he’s a clear stud for the year ahead.

 

4. Zack Wheeler (PHI, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Wheeler’s fastballs are incredible and keep his production floor as high as any. Righties suffer to the whim of his four-seamer’s 20% SwStr rate and 41% CSW  against them, mixed with an elite sinker that barrels into the handle of the bat 75% of the time for a 30% ICR and fantastic results. Those two pitches deflating the ambitions of RHBs is the cause of Wheeler’s incessant appearances in the seventh inning, even if the absurdity doesn’t carry over to LHBs to the same degree – Wheeler’s signature heater is only a 36% ICR there with an 11% SwStr rate. How dare he.

You may be surprised to know that Wheeler’s four-seamer doesn’t have great iVB at a pedestrian 14.1 mark. It’s his elite extension, VAA, 95/96 mph velocity, and high locations that make the pitch so dang difficult to deal with. It’s the full package, not just iVB, y’all.

The rest of the arsenal has always been a work in progress, and their lack of electricity illuminates the dominance of his fastballs. RHBs were served mostly sweepers to counteract the heater and despite having all the favor of batters focused on the fastball, Wheeler’s sweeper vastly underperformed, returning just a 53% strike rate across 22% usage. The pitch had reasonable success in two-strike counts, though finding a rhythm as a strike pitch in and out of the zone will help Wheeler distance himself from the occasional clunker.

With the introduction of the sweeper, Savant has classified last year’s slider into this year’s cutter, which was reserved for lefties to take the place of his sinker, which only appeared as a surprise front-hip offering in two-strike counts. It’s another area for growth as the cutter allowed a mediocre 43% ICR, though it fared far better in 2022 and could return next season. For a proper off-speed look, Wheeler leans on his curveball, which he gets down incredibly often, but doesn’t see the results you’d want – 59% strike rate, high ICR rate, and a shockingly low 25% CSW.

A belief in Wheeler is a belief in his heaters dominating for another season. There’s still room for upside with the mediocrity of his secondaries, and figuring just one of them out transforms him into another level of dominance, especially with his workhorse resume. There are few safer than Wheeler to target in drafts.

 

Tier 2 – Aces With Small Flaws

It’s weird to talk about flaws at #5, though each of these pitchers have a hole or two that may reveal themselves in season. That said, all have Top #5 SP ability and are expected to carry every week of the year.

 

5. Pablo López (MIN, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

After living in Miami and trying to figure out a proper #3 pitch to complement his deadly changeup and well-commanded four-seamer, López was a new man in Minnesota. Pablo went to Driveline last off-season, and he returned not only with a new sweeper that earned a 32% CSW and minuscule ICR% against RHBs but also with two extra ticks on his four-seamer, transforming it from an 11% SwStr rate pitch to 17% SwStr in 2023. Whoa. Just a cool 98th percentile SwStr four-seamer that destroyed RHBs for a 22% SwStr and won the hearts of many. I still have some small concerns about that four-seamer as it can find the zone a little too much at times, resulting in a high 44% ICR, though its near 40% CSW and 78% strike rate absolutely make up for it (maybe there’s a small adjustment of not giving in as much with the pitch?).

His gains didn’t stop there. Having a strong breaker against RHBs opened the door for the curve and change to dominate in two-strike counts, each returning 20% SwStr marks of their own. And the sinker? Pablo uses it perfectly. He utilizes it 90% of the time early in counts or when behind to surprise batters inside to earn quick outs. We’re talking an elite 42% O-Swing and 27% ICR against RHBs. Pure bliss.

Unfortunately, there’s still a touch of work to be done against LHBs. Sweepers are not nearly as effective when breaking into batters, while four-seamers generally perform worse against opposite-handed batters and López is no exception. The fastball misses far fewer bats, and without the sinker’s ability to earn quick outs, nor the sweeper acting as a proper weapon, López often finds himself going between his changeup and curve alone. That changeup is excellent (you’ll hear him say in this 90-minute interview I had with him how he tells himself “The Change Is Always There”), but it can make mistakes over the plate, while the curve isn’t the destroyer of worlds we want it to be. Imagine if López develops a cutter at Driveline…

In the end, López is a command pitcher with clear workhorse ability for a winning club with a boatload of strikeouts expected to return next season. I see his 3.66 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with a raised eyebrow of skepticism as both should be lower across another season with his skill set. There’s even more upside if he can find a better attack to LHBs, though there is concern that his former injury history catches up to him. I’m less concerned than others after two seasons of consistency and his new skills look like they’re here to stay. He’s safe with the ceiling you want. Get him.

 

6. Luis Castillo (SEA, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

His four-seamer is a weird one. Despite having terrible vertical break and extension, the pitch is so often located upstairs with elite VAA that it became one of the best pitches in the majors. He gets a 20% SwStr rate to right-handers with only a small dip to lefties while earning plenty of strikes and great ICR rates. It may also be amplified by his sinker usage, a pitch he effectively gets inside to right-handers with a phenomenal 37% O-Swing rate, opening the door for his four-seamer to surprise with straighter action. Y’all know I love a good same-handed inside sinker.

The biggest change over the years is arguably his move away from the changeup toward sliders, which destroy right-handers but has some polish left to add against lefties. Castillo, please get the pitch away from the danger zone, where left-handers drop the barrel and easily crush the pitch. It’s why lefties returned a 40%+ ICR on sliders this year and if Castillo can avoid those mistakes on the breaker, he’ll soar even further.

His slowball isn’t completely gone, though. It finds its way against left-handers a decent amount of the time, but it’s more of a lateral break than dip these days, making it harder to pair with the four-seamer, diving outside moreso than the ideal location under the zone. It’s still effective, just not like that of Pablo López, whose mantra is “the change is always there“.

Repertoire aside, he has health and a solid situation in his favor as the ace of the Mariners. Expect another 30+ starts with contention for six frames consistently and a boatload of Wins as he piles on the strikeouts for yet another season. There will be days where the command isn’t quite there, but hot dang, he’s one of the sturdiest workhorses around. Security in early picks is everything.

 

7. George Kirby (SEA, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Kirby makes all the sense and none of them. Wait. His four-seamer is the prime example. It carried a 22% SwStr rate to right-handers, but also allowed a whopping 54% ICR to them as well – batters swung plenty and while they missed a ton, the mistakes were demolished. It was the opposite on the other side of the plate, however. Left-handers whiffed just 13% of the time to the four-seamer, but held a far smaller 36% ICR. It’s awfully weird.

Even stranger are the pitch’s characteristics. Kirby’s four-seamer features poor extension, poor iVB, and middling VAA, and yet its SwStr rate was 99th percentile. Location, location, location. And, you know, 96 mph heat. I actually think there’s another step here for Kirby’s approach with too many heaters falling middle-away to right-handers, while also finding the zone a little too much. His elite 42% O-Swing on four-seamers could be exploited more if he just pulls up everything just a touch more. And this is Kirby we’re talking about, one of the best command artists out there. He can do it.

The Mariners as a system seem to have a philosophy of pairing sinkers with four-seamers against same-handed batters and Kirby is no exception. The sinker appears just as often as the premier four-seamer when facing right-handers, and I’m massively impressed by its ability to generate outs and weak contact. There’s something to that philosophy and it’s a major reason for Kirby’s low walk rate and efficiency to go deeper into games. Its 39% O-Swing is bliss.

The breakers are where the true growth can be found. Kirby’s slider came along this year to jump nearly ten points in strike rate as it earned far more swings out of the zone, and I think there’s more in the future as his slider jumped to a 15% SwStr (not 10/11%!) in the second half of the season. It’ll get there.

The curve is fine. It’s a big hook that earns strikes early in the count and helps him save his fastballs as surprise pitches. I don’t anticipate a ton of growth here, but it helps, just like the splitter that had its moments and was introduced to help against left-handers. But ultimately, I don’t believe the curve should be leaned upon as a major option he’ll rely on consistently.

On that topic, Kirby suffers the same problem as his brethren: He struggles against left-handers as he’s without a proper changeup and lacks the skills to dominate gloveside with his full arsenal. It makes me wonder if a Kirby will experiment with a cutter to jam up-and-in, which would tunnel so well with his four-seamer upstairs. H*ck, we saw moments where his slider was THE FILTH and if he can pull the deGrom of landing that pitch down and inside consistently, the pitch will jump massively from its current sub 10% SwStr rate. If any pitcher can figure that out, it’s Kirby.

The low WHIP should return with his low walk rate and general skill of inhibiting hard contact, which could improve with a four-seamer adjustment next season + likely growth in his slider/nullifier to left-handers. That 23% strikeout rate has the potential for 30% if the slider jumps massively, though a 25/26% rate is more likely as he piles on the innings once again. Draft him with confidence – the floor is so dang high.

 

8. Kevin Gausman (TOR, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Gausman is going to allow plenty of hits and that alone makes him outside the Top 5 for me. Excuse me?! I understand why I’ve seen Gausman as the third SP off the board – 31+ starts in three straight seasons, averaging about 185 IP in each season, low-3s ERA marks, and 200+ strikeouts each year as well. The problem? A 1.24 WHIP and 1.18 WHIP the last two years and I don’t think it’s going away. Gausman is a simple man – he throws a four-seamer well into the zone for 70%+ strike rates and relies on his filthy splitter to fall out of it and demoralize batters everywhere.

That heater gets crushed, though. Left-handers boasted an ICR near 55% (Gasp!) on the pitch last year, while the 45% mark for RHBs was still a weight the splitter had to counteract. This issue isn’t going to disappear – it has haunted Gausman for a long time and catalyzes his poor BABIP marks each year. Yes, that splitter is filthy and keeps Gausman very much an ace, but Gausman needs another pitch to earn strikes as its sub 60% strike rates make it difficult for Gausman to keep pitches off barrels.

A small wrinkle is 2023’s stellar 31% strikeout rate that should fall with his four-seamer’s putaway rate climbing to a peak 24%+ clip last year (95th percentile!) despite similar CSW and SwStr rates. With his walk rate regressing after its astounding 4% rate in 2022, fewer strikeouts will translate to more walks and hits as well, compounding the issue.

I ask a simple question. What is the difference between Kevin Gausman and Aaron NolaNola’s ERA is much worse! But Gausman’s WHIP is much worse. Oh snap. They’ll both have double-digit Wins and over 200 strikeouts. Is the gap between Nola and Gausman’s ERA more important than their WHIP difference? Sit with that and let Gausman go to someone else.

 

9. Zac Gallen (ARI, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Gallen’s entire approach stems from an unusual four-seamer. With its above-average vertical break mixed with a touch of cut action, the four-seamer thrives down in the zone as Gallen can place the pitch at the knees with ease, even surprising batters as the pitch slides back over the arm-side edge for frozen strikeouts. His consistency extends to all four of his secondaries, which have specific roles and stick to them. Both the changeup and curveball feature elite loLoc rates as they tunnel well with his fastball, creating havoc for hitters failing to recognize if the pitch will stay afloat in the zone or dive into the dirt. His slider and cutter are routinely gloveside with few errors, though there is room to grow (especially with the slider) to incorporate them frequently in each start. What does it mean for fantasy? That Gallen has the toolset to go 6-7 frames every game with a strikeout-per-inning and upside for more if at least one secondary is cooking. He’ll have stretches of both highs and lows, but with the Arizona defense supporting him and a history of high volume, Gallen should be an all-around producer once again. He’s safe without the “#1 fantasy pitcher” ceiling others inside the Top 15 carry.

 

10. Logan Webb (SFG, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Webb is the best version of a sinker/changeup guy you’ll find. What about Hendricks?! What about having more velocity, a changeup that moves more, and a decent slider? OKAY FINE. The slowball gets all the attention, though the sinker is what makes it so great. Webb earned 30+% called strikes with the pitch against both LHBs and RHBs, living glove-side and mostly down, as the pitch looks exactly like his changeup out of the hand. With his elite extension, batters can’t decide between the 92 mph heater or 87 mph changeup, resulting in a ton of stolen strikes and a whopping 50% O-Swing on his changeup to both sides of the plate. It’s stupid good.

Now that Webb has embraced that changeup to the levels of 50%+ usage (we saw multiple games where threw over 60 changeups and they hold a special place in my heart), Webb is earning more swings out of the zone, raising its strike rate to massive 70%+ marks and effectively bringing his walk rate to a minuscule sub 4% clip.

It was brilliant though he still had some warts. Webb’s hit rate is still high at 8.4 H/9 as his BABIP is destined to hover around .300 with his massive groundball tendencies. If you’re like me and believe his changeup and sinker won’t perform quite at this level, then expect the walk rate to rise as the hits keep coming like 90’s radio. Meanwhile, there’s still concern about his slider turning into a sweeper last year as he’s lost the gyro pitch of 2021. I hope Webb can find a slider that works well against righties and at least decent against lefties, though I’m not sure we’ll see it.

Workhorses are hard to come by and Webb looks destined to go 200 IP again, health permitting (can we say he’s out of the woodwork there?), making his low strikeout rate manageable given how deep he goes into games – he did earn 194 strikeouts last year, even if it took 216 innings to eclipse 190. That changeup and sinker will make Webb a high-floor option but sadly without the ceiling of the elites as he lacks a third pitch to help him miss bats. Given the slew of concerns across the Top 25 starters, Webb has risen up slowly in my ranks due to this high floor. Get the assured production.

 

11. Aaron Nola (PHI, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

We should expect Nola to be better than his 4.46 ERA and 1.15 WHIP last season, though I’m a bit conflicted on how much. You could point to his career-high 1.49 HR/9 and call it a day, but there was much more going on than a handful of longballs ruining his day. Nola’s strikeout rate dropped from routine flirtations with 30% to ~25%, while he allowed hits at a higher rate and saw his SwStr rate fall below 13% for the first time since 2019. There’s some stuff to discuss.

I loved watching Nola feature sinkers inside plenty more to right-handers (jumping from a sub 20% rate to 40%+) as he increased its usage, helping him keep batters off his four-seamers, a pitch that jumped from a 40% ICR to 53% last year. There’s yer problem. Sure, the four-seamer allowed more extra-base hits and was punished more often, but that may have been a product of his curve, cutter, and change all degrading as well. The curve lost horizontal bite and featured an average CSW after years of being the poster child of CSW success, his cutter was used more in two-strike counts, but struggled to earn punchouts, and his changeup was pummeled in its rare appearances.

The weirdest part of Nola? He insists on keeping his four-seamers away from batters on both sides of the plate, yet he features elite extension and elite VAA marks on the pitch. He could elevate it with success. Sure, the iVB isn’t what you want it to be, but like Wheeler and even without the same velocity, I’m surprised Nola settles from the called strike game outside so often – it’s not a shock he allowed so much poor contact with those locations.

I should clarify, this tactic worked against lefties with a sub 35% ICR that paired nicely with a curveball that had batters fishing out of the zone over half the time. Changeups are still a weak spot, but it’s clear right-handers were the problem and that four-seamer adjustment upstairs paired with sinkers inside (and out, sure) and cutters + curves away should do the trick.

I’m not confident we’ll see that version of Nola, though, and with his changeup still fighting for relevancy merged with that cutter failing to be the solution to his problems, I have some worries about Nola. That said, he’s another workhorse destined to flash 200 strikeouts again with double-digit Wins and a productive WHIP, and there are few pitchers with that security. Draft him as your SP #2 and be prepared to endure passing headaches. He’ll balance it out, don’t worry.

 

Tier 3 – The Risky Aces 

This tier and the next are all about what you’re looking for. I generally want to favor the safer floors of Tier 4 when chasing SP early in drafts, however these arms all have stronger paths to finishing comfortably inside the Top 10 SP, or at least are expected to have a higher level of quality per inning and can pair with a replacement arm off the wire if they fall to injury.

 

12. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (LAD, RHP)

 

 

It’s hard for me to write about Yamamoto since I don’t have the same data to refer to, nor have I had the chance to watch him nearly as much as everyone else inside these ranks. From what I gather, Yamamoto sports a great 95+ mph four-seamer, a legit slider, curve, and splitter, excellent command, and at the ripe age of 24 years old, he’s in his prime to excel over the course of the season. Throw in a fantastic situation with the Dodgers and you have yourself a relatively safe arm who can carry a 25%+ strikeout rate with strong ratios and a bucketload of Wins. The biggest problem is his volume: The Dodgers are sure to implement a six-man rotation as much as possible to give Yamamoto rest and likely limit him to roughly 150 frames (remember, they signed him to a ten-year deal and Japanese players are used to longer rest). The capped volume is my biggest concern about Yamamoto as he’ll have to be 33% better than another pitcher tossing nearly 200 frames to match the value. Considering that we’ll likely see some growing pains in the transition as well, I’m likely a little tepid on Yamamoto relative to the market, but it’s clear he’ll help your fantasy teams plenty in the year ahead.

 

13. Bobby Miller (LAD, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

One of my tenets for finding value starting pitchers is finding a pitcher who does three things: 1) Has a strong floor where you know you won’t drop them during the year 2) Has a ceiling they haven’t reached yet to make them a top tier SP, and 3) Is primed to go six-innings per start, every five days. Miller ticks all of these boxes…except for the “every five days” part, though that may change as the season develops. After all, six-man rotations are like The Fellowship of the Ring – it starts with a large crew with idealistic ambitions, and by the end, it’s just two guys barely surviving.

I absolutely adore Miller’s floor. He pumps a pair of 99 mph heaters with a trio of secondary offerings that could potentially expand to four if he distinctly separates his gyro slider from a low 90s cutter, in addition to a legit curve and developing changeup. That’s a six-pitch mix where each weapon could improve in a second season. The Dodgers have this whole thing with preventing their pitchers from throwing their four-seamers upstairs, even when they come with all the pitch shape marks that would indicate success upstairs. Miller has it – velocity (duh), elite extension, above-average iVB, and above-average VAA – and yet his hiLoc% to RHBs was under 40%. WHY. Because the slugging percentage of his lower fastballs was better than his high fastballs. I DON’T CARE. Miller should be throwing high heat, leaning on the sinker to continue earning 40% O-Swing inside to RHBs, then focusing on refining his slider down-and-glove-side.

Ah right, the slider. It’s a pitch that was shockingly pedestrian last season despite absurd Stuff+ and PLV marks (5.45 PLV vs RHBs, 5.77 vs. LHBs yet neither held a 15%+ SwStr) and as a gyro slider, Miller can go the Gerrit Cole approach to LHBs while also sporting a better curve and changeup to support it. Hot DANG. Just get the slider a little more tempting under the zone than inside and you’ve got yourself a strikeout stew.

Against RHBs, Miller constantly tugged the pitch away and failed to get into a proper rhythm to devastate batters. I wonder if making a specific distinction between the pitch as a cutter for strikes and the gyro for whiffs may help him here, and with Miller’s arsenal and ability to throw a ton of strikes, the ceiling is sky high.

I didn’t even mention the curve, the pitch Miller turned to most often as his ole reliable when keeping guys off his heater. He kept it low about 70% of the time and it helped plenty, though I think the slider has more potential as a debilitating offering. In fact, making the slider the main breaker would amplify the effect of the curve as well, and hooooo boy there’s so much potential here.

Against LHBs, there is a heavy serving of changeups as well, a pitch that can have great results, though Miller does struggle to earn enough strikes with it to truly take down batters. Miller could simply be elite if he’s able to raise its 57% strike rate close to 65% while chucking it closer to 25-30% of the time as its sub 20% ICR was dastardly to LHBs. It makes sense – his heaters came in 11-12 mph harder and batters weren’t prepared for the slowball.

There’s so much to like about Bobby and I can’t help but rank him higher than others given the wide range of pitches and the massive potential in his sophomore season. The true ding is the expected volume, though he threw 140 frames last year (including minors and postseason) and the Dodgers may be looking to Miller to become the “every five days” workhorse during the year when injuries arise. I’m going for it and not looking back.

 

14. Cole Ragans (KCR, LHP)

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Swoon. How I adore you. Ragans is The Unicorn to me with five different pitches that all excel when executed effectively, and it allows him to take a repertoire filled with sub 5.00 PLV pitches (and a glorious 5.46 on his slider) and get more out of them as he intertwines them across at-bats. The 10%+ walk rate is the most common gripe against Ragans and it should be – walks are bad, obviously – though it’s not as much of a product of volatility than it is Ragans’ desire to nibble around the zone instead of firing pitches inside the zone with reckless abandon.

That said, Ragans is missing polish on his command that would take him to the next level. His four-seamer’s sub-65% strike rate got him into more holes than ideal, while the curveball needs to find the zone a little more often. The safe bet is that we see more of the same here, though given Ragans’ absurd growth last year (velocity bump and new slider in July and NOT because of the Royals), these tweaks may come from more work with Tread Athletics this off-season.

I implore you to watch this video covering his breakout start against the Red Sox. You’ll see the cutter dancing inside, surprise changeups in unorthodox counts, elevated upper-90s heaters, backdoor curves, and that vicious slider. It’s so dang fun.

But the health! And the Royals! Ah, yes. Health is weird as the “two TJS” isn’t quite right – he underwent Tommy John surgery, they screwed it up, so he did it a second time – and he’s been healthy otherwise. I’m not quite sure I’d ding him more than others just for that.

But the Royals…that’s a legit point. The defense isn’t the problem – they ranked fourth in Outs Above Average as a crew last season – and, to be frank, Ragans was unfortunate last year with some plays in the field that made some of his starts linger. Linger…ah! Like the managers letting him pitch too long! RIGHT. It’s weird for me to give a negative connotation to a long leash, but the Royals ruined many Ragans starts by keeping him in games far longer than he should and it’s maddening. You have to hope that gets corrected…right?

And lastly, I have zero faith in the Royals as a crew to help fix Ragans in-season when things go awry. It’s possible Tread Athletics can still be in his ear and make those tweaks with him, but it’s a big unknown at the moment. In the end, Ragans carries more risk than others in the same range, though his ceiling of an SP #1 is very real if he’s able to iron out some command kinks. It was a small 66.2 IP sample of Ragans as a comfortable starter and armed with his new slider, but a 2.70 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP and 32% strikeout rate should give you a proper glimpse of what could be. Sigh, make sure to get your rAGAns shirt before his first start and join the fun.

 

15. Grayson Rodriguez (BAL, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Those who want to talk about Grayson and his 2023 as a whole are not going to jive with me. If you recall, Grayson got the call in the spring, struggled immensely, then was brilliant after he returned on July 17th, including his shaky first game back: 2.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 24% strikeout rate across 76.2 IP and 13 starts. I’m not saying those numbers are what we should expect, but the floor of spring can easily be handwaved and understood as jitters and getting acclimated to the bigs. Use the second-half Grayson as your baseline.

That version of Grayson has all the weapons, and I’m simply not sure how he’ll use them. His four-seamer passes the eye test with elite velocity (occasionally above 100 mph) and elite extension + great VAA, though I worry about his approach and mediocre iVB, which made the pitch return a sub-12% SwStr during his hot stretch, even with an average 98 mph velocity. I was a bit surprised to see Grayson utilize the pitch over half the time, while also turning away from a pure hiLoc approach, though when he did eclipse 60%+ high locations, whiffs came with it.

Meanwhile, his changeup is so dang good and could be even better. It has a 14+ mph difference from the fastball at just 84 mph, and when he was able to get the dang thing in the lower third or below, the pitch thrived. Its 23% usage isn’t justified to me when it carries a 48% O-Swing and near 70% strike rate with an elite 23% ICR. That’s stupid. It needs to be thrown more, which will also help the heater as batters become more threatened by the slower velocity.

And yes, I’m going to add a fourth paragraph for Grayson because there’s too much to discuss. There’s even one more area of growth: his breakers. I’m shocked to report he went slider just 14% of the time in those thirteen starts, with 9% curves as well. A combined 23% breaking ball usage for a power-arm when both pitches express legit whiffability (and higher than 60% strike rates!) is baffling, to say the least. It all makes for a pitcher who is growing in the major leagues and has another ceiling to hit, as long as he can make the right adjustments with both approach and locations to take full advantage of his repertoire. My biggest concern lies in that heater, though. If we see Grayson continue to rely on it over half the time, it makes for a bit of worry as it didn’t miss bats at an elite level (and, you know, was tagged quite often). Believe in the sophomore improvements for young, promising arms and you’ll generally succeed, especially when those adjustments are more tangible than “throw harder” or “learn a new pitch.” I’m going for it.

 

16. Tyler Glasnow (LAD, RHP)

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Glasnow is legit and we all know it. Even with immense cut action, his four-seamer still misses bats when elevated…which shockingly happens less than 40% of the time (remember when he was the poster boy for “I want to throw high fastballs”?). His slider is the real winner of the arsenal, saving Glasnow from the heater/curve days of inconsistency with not only a 65%+ strike rate, but also a 20% SwStr rate. His curve gets a lot of discussion with its minuscule BAA, but it’s a product of its usage. Used over 60% of the time in two-strike counts, it returns far more strikeouts than balls in play, especially with it bouncing in the dirt for a ball nearly half the time. In the end, the strikeouts and low WHIP will be there, and it’s a matter of not losing his fastball and slider command start-to-start, opening the door for punishment – despite the whiffability, his pitches have middling ICR rates. That is, when batters actually make contact, they fare well against Glasnow, and it’s irritating.

Of course, the real discussion is volume. Glasnow’s 120 frames in 2023 was the peak of his career, with much more than his TJS holding him back over the years. With the Dodgers known for being careful with taxing their arms, it would be unwise to expect 150 frames in the year ahead. And yet, he tallied 162 punchouts in those limited 2023 innings, making the floor (paired with the arm you get off the wire!) a much more palatable experience than most. I wrestled with placing Glasnow up at #12 or down here at #16 with the former argument being that in 12-teamers, the replacement level is high enough to justify the time he spends on the IL. However, I prefer the higher ceiling of innings from the young arms about, while each sport 30% strikeout potential as well. Please trust your own gut here and don’t listen to me if you believe I’m overthinking the injury risk on Glasnow. Gosh dang I hate predicting injury risk & volume in the preseason. IT’S NO FUN Y’ALL. Like rostering Glasnow in August when he’s on the IL? Ayyyyyyy yoooo.

 

Tier 4 – Savings Accounts 

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.

 

17. Kyle Bradish (BAL, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Bradish can be better and it’s been swirling in my mind all off-season. Think peak Kluber and you have something close to Bradish with a 90 mph slider that is disgusting as one of the best pitches in the game and a curveball that should be thrown far more than it is now. What shocks me is the low strike rate on his slider, hovering 62% instead of 65-70% like his curveball. Up the usage on both (curves are more used for LHB, sliders for RHB, and all I ask is ¿por qué no los dos?) and feature that slide piece for strikes and you’ll have yourself a glorious time.

Meanwhile, his four-seamer shouldn’t be called as such. It’s a cutter dangit, and I really hope Bradish begins to realize he should be treating it like one. His current gameplan is to backdoor it against left-handers (which is fine, but he can really soar like Mariano’s if he finds the skills to bust batters inside and saw off bats), while right-handers see the pitch far less often, and it normally reside upstairs…the place a pitch like Bradish’s shouldn’t live. Instead, why not go down-and-away to set up the breakers or get the end of the bat? The sinker is used more for right-handers, and it lands upstairs more often than you’d want and instead needs to sit inside and off the plate more.

I should mention, this entire discussion is post-May Bradish, where he realized Oh dang, I should stop leaning so hard on my four-seamer and was brilliant thereafter (Starting June 8th: 2.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 27% strikeout rate across 120.2 IP in 20 starts. Yeah.). Change is clearly possible, especially for a fella still early in his MLB career. Throw in a winning club and a blank check to go as long as he wants each start, well you’ve got yourself a nice stew brewing. There is 30% strikeout upside if he leans more on those breakers and adds that last lick of polish while figuring out the proper way to utilize the odd attributes of that four-seamer cutter.

 

18. Zach Eflin (TBR, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I went back and forth on Eflin writing this blurb. On one hand, it was a true peak season with his 31 starts equating his previous seasons combined, while his WHIP fell to a glistening 1.02 and he boasted a 26%+ strikeout for just the second time in his career. The Rays certainly helped his case – 16 Wins, improved defense, a new cutter, and reliable pitching development – but the question remains: Is this a lookout point on a plateau or a precarious hike? I’m beginning to lean into the former. Eflin’s command is clearly there with a phenomenal 4% walk rate mixed with an ability to mitigate hard contact. In fact, there are few pitchers in the majors who can boast an 80th+ percentile ICR and 95th percentile strike rate.

The arsenal is as refined as we’ve ever seen from Eflin. He flounders right-handers with a flurry of weapons: sinkers busted inside, an elite cutter and elite curveball, and a wise choice to take his poor four-seamer and save it just for surprise two-strike elevated heaters, returning a 92nd percentile putaway rate on the pitch. Left-handers give me a little more concern:  Cutters are dastardly up-and-in, but the rest of the arsenal doesn’t cast fear. The hook does a fine job, but the sinker is questionable and without a strong changeup, left-handers can lean pull against Eflin and fight off more pitches than ideal.

What I see is a command arm who has found ways to put away batters better than ever. I imagine he’s quality as long as he’s on the bump, though his WHIP and strikeout tallies are likely taking a small hit in 2024, making room for his 3.50 ERA to climb closer to 4.00 with some worse luck. Throw in a history of questionable health (who doesn’t at this point?) and Eflin is a solid arm but not a “must-have” for the year ahead.

 

19. Joe Musgrove (SDP, RHP)

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What a weird year for Musgrove. Odd injuries prevented him from gathering a groove and limited him to under 100 frames, making his issues with his slider early in the year last longer than ideal, while finding strikes with his curve became a season-long task that he never quite wrangled. It forced a dramatic upswing of cutter strikes, an attack that worked against LHBs (small sample?) but was granted few favors against RHBs.

His fastballs are a curious bunch, too. Musgrove does exactly what you should do with your sinker – throw it exclusively to RHBs and only inside/off the plate – and was gifted a brilliant 19% ICR across 66% strike with it as a result. I adore this, even at just 10% usage. It’s such a valuable weapon, especially when you have Musgrove’s four-seamer, a pitch with atrocious pitch shape. When uncovering its abysmal iVB, extension, and VAA, I expected to find demolition against right-handers and I was correct: 50%+ ICR rates in 2021 and 2022. And yet, that mark fell to 29% ICR in 2023. WHAT. Yeah, I know. Weird.

Musgrove’s secret was his command and utilization of it. He saved the four-seamer for two-strike counts often and did a fabulous job elevating it as a surprise offering, tunneling exceptionally well off the common cutter and his two breakers to squeeze more from the pitch than anyone could imagine. Against lefties, the pitch painted the inside edge and above the zone elegantly, boasting a magnificent 33% ICR – a rate any starter would dream of for their four-seamer against off-handed batters. I’m not ready to expect this level of performance across a full 180 IP season in 2024, but I believe that Musgrove is finding a way to use his four-seamer better to prevent another 50%+ ICR season. H*ck, I’d take a 40% ICR with his other pitches picking up the slack.

I paint Musgrove as a safe pitcher in 2024, even if he endured an array of injuries from shoulder soreness to elbow bursitis – I see that as more of a result of his wonky throwing schedule that forced his body to do more than usual. His slider should be a solid offering once again, his changeup + curve will do work against left-handers, and his cutter + fastballs earn all the strikes to keep the walk rate low and, hopefully, hold a sub 8.0 hits-per-nine like he had the previous three seasons.  It may be too much to ask for 180 IP given the bombardment of injuries last year, but 160 IP, a strikeout per inning, and solid ratios as he’s healthy and good to go for Opening Day seems right to me. Just nibble a little better with the cutter and get that curve back in the zone, okay?

 

20. Framber Valdez (HOU, LHP)

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Valdez is relatively safe. His situation is ideal as the ace of an Astros crew that will back him up both with the glove and the bat, while getting as long of a leash as any to go deep into games consistently as one of the true workhorses in the majors. I just wish I could be more enamored by his arsenal, which is powered by a sinker that consumes LHBs with ease, but took a large step back against RHBs in 2023 as the pitch lost a significant amount of sink in favor of horizontal ride. It resulted in far fewer grounders, a leap to a 42%+ ICR, and swapped many singles for doubles.

That concern would be nullified if his curveball, changeup, or cutter took steps forward, but none of them particularly excite me. The big hook still holds an impressive 20% SwStr rate, but a 60% strike rate with a 35-40% ICR isn’t the elite breaker we want it to be. It’s a solid #2 pitch, just not the offering that Framber needs to elevate him into Top 10 SP territory.

Meanwhile, the cutter has its moments acting as a back-foot slider, though he made mistakes with it that turned him away from the pitch in the second half. I’d absolutely love it if Framber developed a proper Miley-esque cutter to get inside to right-handers, then use the more gyro-slider version to earn whiffs to both lefties and righties (for what it’s worth, Framber did have two distinctly different cutters last year as you can tell by the massive range of vertical movement here).

His changeup may improve as well. He upped its usage to near 18% against right-handers and while it needs to land under the zone more often, it was a solid offering to add to the mix.

Put together, Valdez has little issue against left-handers (even if his cutter should earn more strikes) and can run into stretches during the year when he can’t land his secondaries resulting in right-handers lacing sinker after sinker. As a whole, Framber will go through highs and lows and likely hover in the 1.15 – 1.20 WHIP range with his groundball tendencies + unreliable secondary pitch to carry a 65%+ strike rate. He’s safe and there’s always room for safety.

 

21. Kodai Senga (NYM, RHP)

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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.

 

22. Max Fried (ATL, LHP)

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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)

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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

 

24. Eury Pérez (MIA, RHP)

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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)

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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)

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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.

 

27. Jesús Luzardo (MIA, RHP)

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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)

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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 Path 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)

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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 Civalecutters 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)

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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)

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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. Shota 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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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I’m a Woo girlWait, 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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

 

Tier 7 – I Have To Put Them Somewhere

This is mostly your Holly/Toby tier of guys who are hopefully going to be consistent enough to separate from the traditional Toby pack, while there is some fun upside in the mix. Oh, and Cease who I don’t like enough for Tier 6, but Tier 8 just felt too low and ignores his ceiling too much.

 

41. Dylan Cease (CHW, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

You’re drafting Cease because you believe he can get back to his 2022 form and I’m here to tell you that’s a path of discomfort and anxiety. Is it possible? Absolutely, and if Cease winds up on a team that can work with him to squeeze the most out of his four-seamer and slider, or better yet, find something else to properly complement the two weapons (the curve ain’t it, y’all), then I can see how Cease rises back to the Top 15 SP in your fantasy leagues.

But 2022 was a weird year where Cease both overperformed and peaked, with 2023 carrying more of what we should expect in the year ahead. There’s talk about the Stuff+ of Cease’s four-seamer dictating far better times ahead, though that mark is rooted in his elite iVB (18 inches!) and I worry about his low extension and VAA marks that can explain why the pitch hasn’t held a SwStr rate above 13% in his career against RHBs (and far worse against LHBs), in addition to the pitch crossing The Plane of 1,000 Cuts – the X-axis of horizontal movement. I don’t get it. When you cross the X-axis as a four-seamer, it means you have cut action. I hate cut action on four-seamers that we hope to earn whiffs with, as the ball finds the bat more often than pitches that feature more arm-side movement.

Back to that fastball’s performance. In 2022, Cease shockingly dropped its fastball strike rate to left-handers massively to sub 50%, but doing so prevented a ton of contact, and with Cease, it’s in his best interest to walk batters and aim to strike them out instead of relying on balls in play (hey, that’s the Snell method! See how precarious it is?). That fastball returned to a 66% strike rate in 2023 and subsequently got pummeled. Go figure.

However, the four-seamer held the fort against right-handers (as a mediocre option with a sub 13% SwStr as he stayed up-and-away, refusing to jam batters for whatever reason), and it was the slider that let him down there. Far fewer strikes resulted as the pitch induced fewer chases out of the zone and found the zone far less. That slider is everything for Cease and if he can’t overwhelm RHBs with sliders, then the whole thing falls apart.

I don’t believe a team can take a look at Cease and fix him overnight to return to his 2022 form. A rebound season requires Cease to demolish RHBs with his slider again while ensuring LHBs stay off his four-seamer, as I have little faith his ~55% strike rate curveball will have a ton of influence on his next six-month campaign. In addition, it’s hard to imagine “unlocking” his four-seamer for something more without great extension and VAA, merged with the cut-action that needs to get axed. You’re going to get a fair number of strikeouts with that slider still on his side and it’s well within reason to expect a better season ahead, but the volatility is sure to stick around even with Cease arguably breaking the Huascar RuleNo thanks.

 

42. Justin Verlander (HOU, RHP)

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I’m more encouraged about Verlander than I expected to be. On paper, his declining SwStr rates on both his four-seamer and slider are troublesome (9% and 15%, respectively), pushing his strikeout rate close to 20% in 2023 and spelling further degradation for his upcoming 41-year-old season, especially after missing all of April last year. Combine that with a curveball that had far worse results, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict a proper fall off a cliff this season.

And yet, there’s hope. The hook was poorly commanded last season, and returning to form with an emphasis on getting the pitch lower for 2024 would have a ripple effect across his arsenal, giving him more flexibility with his fastball and slider, alleviating the tendency to go two-pitch at times. Verlander’s four-seamer still has elite iVB and he’s excellent at locating the pitch high enough to keep balls in the park (for the most part), with his only weakness coming against LHBs where the pitch fell into the zone more than ideal. And his slider, despite its pedestrian 15% SwStr rate, is still phenomenal at keeping hitters at bay.

Throw all of that into a pot and I don’t think you’ll bench Verlander in 2023, given his legit Win potential and a great WHIP with a strong defense behind him. Strikeouts and total volume are the biggest concerns, with a floor of a 4.00+ ERA if he’s unable to keep his four-seamer elevated (a skill he’s had, I don’t know, forever.). Oddly enough, that’s cool with me, just be careful leaning on Verlander if you’re already lacking punchouts.

 

43. Chris Bassitt (TOR, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Bassitt gets overlooked for obvious reasons: He doesn’t have the WOW factor, featuring a sinker that doesn’t feel like it should have a 27% called strike rate, or the secondaries that win you over on paper or with the eye test. But you’re the wise fantasy manager and you know there are many ways to earn success as a pitcher. What Bassitt does is one of them.

How does his sinker earn so many called strikes? Two reasons. He spots it decently well around the zone and mixes in a bevy of secondaries that keep batters tepid from sitting on the riding heater. It’s a dance of cutters, sliders, curves, and even changeups, mixed with the occasional high four-seamer in two-strike counts (that was far less efficient in 2023, but could return if he spots it better).

I could go on about his slider’s increase in SwStr rate, the curve that wasn’t as effective as previous years, the high cutter effectiveness, but the real champion is that sinker. With its routine 30% ICR against RHBs (and often lower), Bassitt is able to see the sixth frame often, granting him a solid WHIP and a handful of Wins. The only concern is its effectiveness against LHB, with hopes that his cutter can be a touch more precise in 2024, while possibly including more sliders and curves into the mix.

Bassitt is safe and reliable, though he’s likely not going to exceed a 25% strikeout rate. He’s a rock for 15-teamers and a good stabilizer for 12-teamers if you’ve taken a boatload of risk early on.

 

 

44. Brayan Bello (BOS, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I see Bello and I see potential for something more. After tossing 28 starts and 158 frames in 2023, Bello is primed to be a 180 IP volume arm in the year ahead, rooted in his sinker/changeup approach that should help him keep his walk rate down and hold a lower pitches-per-out than his contemporaries. I imagine the fatigue he showcased in his final two starts (13 ER that moved his ERA from 3.71 to 4.24) is a process of development and will be ironed out across another year.

Those two pitches will keep him afloat, even in Boston’s offense-fueling home park, and the question becomes What’s Next? Bello has hovered at a 20% strikeout rate while lacking a four-seamer to bully upstairs (not for lack of trying, though), nor a major breaking ball to demoralize RHBs. Bello’s slider for the season was pedestrian at best, though it woke up in September with four whiffs a game in his final outings, and he’s expressed the desire to increase its usage in 2024, likely after improving the pitch over the off-season.

With a proper slider, he could become a danger for RHBs who saw the breaker record just a 54% strike rate and just 15 strikeouts in 2023. However, it doesn’t quell my fears against LHBs, where Bello elected to favor more four-seamers than sinkers, which did him few favors with its high 44% ICR rate and unsightly -15% Quality-Bad pitch rate. Yikes. That heater nullified the massive success of his changeup, while the sinker was far better than we usually see them perform against LHBs, likely a product of mirroring his changeup so well at nearly 10 mph harder and with elite horizontal movement. Bello will need to slash four-seamers from his LHB approach for something else and I’m not entirely sure what at the moment. Maybe just throw 40-50% changeups?

What we see from Bello in 2023 is likely not the guy we get in the year ahead as the soon-to-be 25-year-old is still shaping his approach and arsenal for his second full year in the bigs. It outlines improvements in both ERA and WHIP, while possible strikeout gains are attainable. A draft pick in Bello likely results in a hold through the full season, though the sizeable chance of Bello making only a small improvement holds me back from elevating him up my draft boards.

45. Merrill Kelly (ARI, RHP)

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Kelly is the perfect example of a pitcher that we all want to believe is safe after two years of nearly identical seasons, yet his 1.19 WHIP with a rising walk rate (9.4%?!) makes it awfully precarious. Then again, his strikeout rate rose to a near 26% clip due to his changeup flirting with a glorious 50% O-Swing that we only speak of in ancient myths, suggesting a play for 200 strikeouts if he’s able to go a full 32 starts. The stellar defense behind him has been the catalyst for his low hit rates the last two seasons and should stick around again, but I’m not sure I buy into his four-seamer returning an 11-12% SwStr rate for another season. Meanwhile, the cutter/sinker/curve are mediocre fail-safes if the changeup isn’t inducing chases at an elite rate. That slowball’s new 2022 grip makes me believe the 2021 floor isn’t present, and I generally think those drafting Kelly will hold him throughout the season, I simply hate how close he is to regressing massively and becoming a Toby at best. Just throw 40% changeups and I’ll be happy.

 

46. Cristopher Sánchez (PHI, LHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Sánchez is pretty remarkable. His sinker gets a ton of horizontal movement and a fair amount of drop, allowing it to sit away from lefties and still give them fits at an unsustainable sub 20% ICR rate. He’ll allow more hits across a larger sample next season, but we shouldn’t expect a massive swing of the pendulum. Even without his slider acting like the traditional southpaw silver bullet to dispose of left-handers, Sánchez’s sinker will grant him the advantage in same-handed matchups.

Against right-handers, it gets a bit weird. The changeup is a monster at near 40% usage and 21% SwStr rate, mirroring the sinker well but at 11 mph slower that has the bottom fall out from under it. But that sinker plays a delicate game of 25-30% called strikes and a 50% ICR. It’s a dangerous affair, though his +8 Hit Luck suggests Sánchez already saw its floor, while gaining a touch of command polish (inside half locations were favored, oddly enough) could also hint at improved performance in 2024.

There’s also the question of his slider. There were times Sánchez was limited to just two pitches when his feel for the slider disappeared, either leaving it too far inside the zone or missing for an easy take, and its 40%+ ICR against righties is a showcase of its unreliability.

This makeup isn’t an arm primed to return another 3.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP season. However, Sánchez’s efficiency on the bump, as he consistently earns outs with sinkers and whiffs with the changeup, does suggest he can be stretched out to six frames more often, while settling inside a 20-25% strikeout rate with digestible ERA and WHIP ratios. His sinker and changeup are strong enough foundations that he can be trusted enough to roster in 12-teamers, though the wheels could fall off if his sinker doesn’t improve against right-handers.

 

47. Walker Buehler (LAD, RHP)

2022 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

It feels weird ranking Buehler and I’m likely going to jump back and forth throughout the pre-season. Buehler shouldn’t be expected to be pitching for the squad until the end of April at the earliest, especially with the signing of Paxton, as the Dodgers are trying to do everything they can to preserve him for their playoff run at the end of the year. Does that mean he’s on the IL to start the year? I’m okay with that. Honestly, I don’t know…? It may mean he’s in the minors instead and that would be all kinds of annoying as he steals a roster spot for the most critical weeks of the season. Maybe he forces himself into the rotation in April? It’s possible, but not necessary and I’d imagine having Buehler ramp up and never slow down during the season is preferred over a start-stop-start mid-way through, especially when they have a clean bill of health across their other arms at the start of the year.

With all that out of the way, what can we expect of the quality of Buehler’s outings? This is where I have more hesitation than I expected. Buehler’s four-seamer was absolutely bananas in 2021…before the sticky stuff ban as it went from 18.5 iVB to just over 16 inches by the end of the year and early 2022. Losing two inches of iVB on a four-seamer is a big deal, and paired with Buehler’s propensity to not elevate the pitch (Dodgers, GET IT TOGETHER), I have to wonder if that heater will be a golden offering post-TJS or not. I’m inclined to believe Buehler’s arm will feel better than it did in 2022 when we had our concerns about his performance, though it’s unclear right now where his skills are.

The slider, curve, cutter, and change were all solid offerings that made Buehler a complete pitcher, though he showed many signs of struggle commanding them before going under the knife – a problem that may be rectified with a healthy elbow. I have little doubt that Buehler will help teams this year as long as he’s healthy with this arsenal, but a 3.00 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP and 25%+ strikeout rate may be out of the cards without the old fastball.

Buehler has the makings of a pitcher you’re absolutely thrilled to have rostered in June while he induces all the anxiety in April, wondering why you have this stuck roster spot for at least a month. Buehler may not even give you production the moment he returns, either, with the Dodgers possibly ramping him up at 3-4 innings for the first few games. My feelings toward stashing players have shifted over the years, and I now see a curmudgeon in my reflection as I favor the short-term value moreso than the stash/long-term value of the seasons (get your value now and worry about next month later), which has me leaning toward skipping Buehler in drafts – it’s not a 100% lock he’s a stud! – and yet, I just can’t turn him down at this point. The chances of Buehler helping you across 140 frames are higher than those getting drafted behind him, even if you have to wait a little longer to get it.

 

48. José Berríos (TOR, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Don’t treat Berríos like he’s an average of his 2022 and 2023 selves. He completely overhauled his approach and it worked well for him, though there are still some glaring issues that make me a bit concerned moving forward.

In short, Berríos’ four-seamer does him few favors and he wisely axed the pitch for well-spotted sinkers and changeups, while finding consistency with his curveball against right-handers. The sinker now sits glove-side against both LHBs and RHBs and does so incredibly effectively, though I wish he was able to jam RHBs more often to at least flirt with the 40% O-Swing it had during its heyday. Meanwhile, that hook landed perfectly down and glove-side in 2023 and I imagine his general embrace of the glove side with his sinker and curve allowed both to find their spots better.

Right-handers also get a taste of the changeup, normally saved for two-strike counts and it works reasonably well, save for some mistakes in the Nitro Zone that batters are able to pummel. However, the problem lies mostly against right-handers. Berríos’ does a great job stealing called strikes with front-hip sinkers, but the four-seamer still gets hit hard over the plate, while the curve can’t figure out a home to earn whiffs or called strikes on demand without risk of punishment. José gave his changeup a nod to find more strikes in the zone as a result, which didn’t lead to the desired results, either. Something else needs to get tweaked here – either finding a rhythm nailing down-and-away four-seamers (probably not), figuring out his curveball down and middle-out of the plate, or getting a better feel for that changeup.

In the end, Berríos has a solid enough approach now against righties with a better fastball to deal with lefties, which will make him The Great Undulator once again, hovering a 3.70 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Paired with consistent volume and a strikeout every inning he hits the bump, Berríos is likely to be the same arm we’ve been accustomed to – a HIPSTER at worst and a Holly at best.

 

49. Jordan Montgomery (FA, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I don’t expect to roster Montgomery in any of my leagues after the playoff tax is sure to inflate his draft stock. Passan, calling his pitch “The Deathball” has done things to this fantasy community. The Bear is sure to help your fantasy team, but his mix of sinkers, curveballs, and changeups (with the occasional cutter and four-seamer) simply isn’t enough. His changeup is the best offering agaisnt RHB, but its sub 60% strike rate showcases its eye-rolling inducing behavior that makes me curl inside dreaming of watching a pitcher who can execute and not beg for whiffs so often. This is a gross exagerration. Sorry, you’re right…when JorMont is pitching in the playoffs or has that one magical stretch every August or so. Otherwise? It’s a take on the Neckbeard approach with a few more strikeouts. That’s not for me.

I have to give him credit against LHB, though. Montgomery does a solid job jamming his sinker inside to consistently induce poor contact as much as any sinker out there, especially for a high 77% strike pitch. It’s a rare sinker with a PLV over 5.00 for that very reason…but sadly it falls to 4.53 PLV against RHB. Bleeeeggggh.

He will have runs of strong command where he can avoid mistakes over the plate with fastballs, allowing him to lean into hooks for strikeouts and changeups for surprise outs, though he doesn’t have that pitch to turn to inside the zone to demand success. He’s a nibbler who doesn’t nibble as well as the elites. He’s a strikeout pitcher who doesn’t have a go-to whiff pitch. He’s a volume pitcher who lacks efficiency. A jack of all trades, master of none. And I get it. He’s pretty safe for a sub 4.00 ERA with a WHIP around 1.20 or so and about 160-170 strikeouts. He’s sure to sign with a team that’ll give him a solid chance at double-digit Wins as well and there’s legit value in that. I just want to chase for more, in life.

 

Tier 8 – $100 At The Mall

I consider Tier 7 where the cliff should be in 12-teamers as you should have at least four starters you trust to anchor your rotation throughout the full year. That means you can go ham wild chasing ceiling at this point, thorwing injury concerns or lack of track record out the window. Knock yourself out.

 

50. Carlos Rodón (NYY, LHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

After taking an hour to sit down with injury specialist Stephen Lyman during PitchCon (watch the chat here!), we discussed Rodón’s health track record, which included a forearm strain in 2023 that prevented him from starting until July 2023. Lyman outlined how strains rarely recover in full, suggesting it’ll pop up again in 2024, not to mention Rodón’s fall from 96 mph in two starts of September down to 93/94 mph in his final two, which ended the year. Yikes.

BUT, let’s say Rodón is A-Ok and fully healthy in the spring with a normal schedule expected for the season ahead. His horrendous 2023 marks can be explained by two factors: his slider against LHBs and the aggression of RHBs against his four-seamer. The LHB problem should be eradicated in the year ahead as we shouldn’t anticipate a replication of its horrific 51% strike rate for another season. That’s simply unheard of and something we should expect to improve for 2024, especially when small sample is in the mix merged with recovering from an arm injury that allowed for little time to regain a groove.

The RHB issue is a little more nuanced. Batters had massive swing rates against Rodón’s four-seamer, especially on first pitches, which resulted in one of the lowest True-First Strike rates on the heater & 1st percentile Early-Called Strikes, which tells you batters are seeking the heater on the first pitch constantly and punishing it. It lowered Rodón’s confidence and led to more balls on first pitches, which got him in worse counts, increased his walks, and messed everything up.

In addition, his four-seamer was objectively worse. Its iVB dropped from an elite 17.6 mark to 16.9 (still great but not sooo great), weighing down his SwStr from a strong 14/15% clip to just 12% against RHBs and creating a ghastly 47% ICR for RHBs off his heater. Blegh. The hope here is proper health will keep his velocity up closer to 96 mph more often, which would increase the iVB, prevent batters from effectively seeking out heaters early, and make life good again for Rodón.

The path to an SP #1/#2 for your fantasy squads is shockingly close for a guy who just had a 6.85 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Stay healthy, regain the minor decline of the heater, and normalize the slider against LHBs. That first element of health is the major domino that needs to fall and while I’m not banking on it, a strong spring will make me more inclined to chase him in drafts. All I ask is to not pass on legit production for your teams before taking the gamble on Rodón.

 

51. Nathan Eovaldi (TEX, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

This one took a while. Eovaldi was able to drop his hits-per-nine dramatically in 2023, shaving off over two hits from his time in Boston. How? A few factors: 1) better team defense in Texas, 2) improved cutter and splitters, especially against left-handers, 3) no more sliders, and 4) somehow returning out of nowhere in September with his velocity back.

That last part is the real issue with Eovaldi: his health. Eovaldi had an incredibly weird 2022 where his velocity fell off a cliff and he was banished to the IL soon after. The Rangers picked him up for 2023, and everything was more than gravy in the early months, sitting in the dugout after his June 4th start with a 2.24 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 25% strikeout rate, including a five-game stretch tossing 41.2 innings. In FIVE starts. Yeesh. However, the heater sat 95.8 mph across his first twelve starts, and the signs were beginning to show on that last game with a 95.2 mph heater. It fell to 93.8 by June 20th, leading to Eovaldi’s final 13 starts returning a 5.37 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 20% strikeout rate. But his last two starts were an atrocity! Fine, a 4.23 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with a 19% strikeout rate in the eleven games after. Better? Thanks. 

I’m worried about Eovaldi’s arm/shoulder/whatever you want to say is the cause of two straight seasons ending in fatigue that clearly affected the playoff hero – don’t forget, Eovaldi suddenly had 95-97 mph in the playoffs and led the Rangers to their first World Series titles, an act that he’ll have forever, and I’m willing to wager it was him giving everything he had at the sacrifice of 2024.

I’m terrified of the arm, even if his velocity looks alright early in the year. The overall approach of four-seamers (great VAA, terrible iVB) that get hit hard + cutters that nullify lefties and struggle against righties, and a splitter that kills LHB and can work against RHB screams massive regression ahead. He really isn’t as good as the playoffs or the early spring performances suggest – Eovaldi is much more like his 2021 and 2022 of high-3s ERA and ~1.20 WHIP with a strikeout rate hovering 22% than the workhorse ace we saw for eight weeks.

 

52. Gavin Williams (CLE, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

It’s the four-seamer. Williams’ fantastic extension paired with a good VAA allows his 95/96 mph four-seamer to thrive when located at the top of the zone, even with league-average iVB. He’s not as precise with the pitch as we want it to be on a start-to-start basis, though we’ve seen the ridiculous results when he finds a groove for the offering.

However, how elite is it? Considering Williams’ curve returned a horrid sub 50% strike rate last year (it should get better but by how much?) and that he has a slider that was effective in the zone but doesn’t have the same bite as other breakers from his peers, most of Gavin’s future success leans on that four-seamer dominating at-bats. This isn’t a Strider heater, sadly, and it’s not a Bryce or Woo heater either. Without a reliable third pitch or a #2 pitch that can take over a game, it turns Williams into a high Cherry Bomb candidate for 2024 and that has me slotting him behind the stable Holly types in drafts.

 

53. Cristian Javier (HOU, RHP)

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It’s all about the spin. Which spin: his slider or his spin rate? Yes. No I mean–YES. Javier lost over 100 RPM on both his four-seamer and slider in 2023 (and regained a lot of it in the playoffs…), which may have been a catalyst for his fastball’s struggles, along with losing a tick on the heater (maybe that’s the reason for the spin drop?). Javier still missed a ton of bats with that four-seamer against RHBs at an elite 18%+ SwStr rate, and even with a much lower SwStr rate against LHBs (down to just 11%), Javier’s four-seamer held an impressive 35% ICR against those batters and that gave him a chance.

But hot dang, that slider failed him against RHBs. The pitch was either floated too high or tugged far out of the zone as it dropped from a 60% strike rate to just over 50% against right-handers in 2023. Wait, how did Javier hold nearly the same 9% walk rate as 2022? I DON’T KNOW. Well, kinda. Javier adjusted by serving fewer sliders to RHBs in favor of more heaters, which worked effectively to generate more outs as he lifted a bit more out of the zone to induce even more flyball outs. In fact, Javier’s 52% overall flyball rate was 99th percentile once again, with grounders turning into more line drives. Back to that slider, at least it showed up for a solid 63% strike rate and a sub 30% ICR against lefties that we’ll take despite the low 7% SwStr rate, but he needs that pitch against righties. Badly.

And there’s the difference, really. Javier’s four-seamer was a bit worse to lefties, while the slider completely failed him for a heavy majority of the year against righties. It meant batters returned more liners, fewer two-strike rates, and a lower putaway rate as Javier didn’t have the same slider to feature off the heater. A pick in Javier is leaning in on his slider to lift itself out of the land of 50% strike rates against right-handers, while hoping to reclaim a bit of velocity or whiffablity on his four-seamer to left-handers. That seems like a decent bet to make given how much of a dip the slider took last season, leading me to place Javier in the Cherry Bomb crew I’d aim to grab after I have my first four starters secured.

 

54. Ryan Pepiot (TBR, RHP)

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I like Pepiot far more than I thought I would and a move to the Rays could very well unlock the best version of him. But he was on the Dodgers! Don’t we like them for pitching development? We do for breaking balls but four-seamers? Kinda not…? One thing I’ve discovered about their staff is their hesitation to take four-seamers with excellent properties and lean into them upstairs. Buehler, Miller, Pepiot, each of these arms have four-seamers that would destroy for 14-15% SwStr rates routinely upstairs (if not more) and yet they’ve historically sat low in the zone, often down-and-gloveside instead of leaning into their strengths. Take a moment and reflect: Who was the last Dodgers pitcher with a four-seamer that bullied batters? Lance Lynn…? OH COME ON.

Back to Pepiot. His four-seamer has far better attributes than I realized given its 6.6% SwStr rate to LHB – a mark that masked its strong 14% SwStr to RHB, even without great command of the pitch upstairs. Pepiot gets excellent extension, allowing for an above-aveage VAA and pairs it with nearly 17 inches of iVB on that heater. Wait, and he’s going to TAMPA BAY! That’s right, the very team that started the high-fastball revolution. I’m excited to see how Pepiot approaches that heater in 2024 and it’s the foundation of this rank. Surely they squeeze the most out of that pitch, right?

There is a downside to it. I’m not completely sold on Pepiot’s command. All of his pitches are more shotgun-blast around the zone than I’d like, suggesting that he has trouble replicating his mechanics and preventing him from becoming that hiLoc% stud on his four-seamer like Bailey Ober or Joe RyanI don’t see anything incredibly alarming in his mechanics to suggest this volatility and while the incredibly low 3% walk rate may have you in fits, remember that there is a difference between control and command. Pepiot shoved all his pitches into the zone, but not along the edges nearly as well as we need him to be.

His changeup and slider both made plenty of mistakes over the plate last year, though the former is an elite pitch that he overthrew in his rookie year and found a much better feel as he became accustomed to the bigs in his second season. It’s why I’m not afraid of his performance against LHB and maintains a larger floor against RHB with his 25%+ changeup usage. It’s really that good.

The slider needs work. It currently acts as a tight cutter without pronounced depth with rare moments when he can locate it down-and-glove side that it gets sharp action out of the zone. I wonder if he keeps it as a proper 90 mph cutter and develops a true sweeper for RHB, without the need for it to excel against LHB given his excellent changeup. I believe in you Tampa Bay.

Speaking of which, there is a negative about heading to Florida. The Rays are notorious for short leashes and the hopes of a consistent six-frame effort from Pepiot dwindle with the trade. You may see many five-and-dives given Pepiot’s lack of arsenal depth at the moment, even if he pushed 90+ pitches multiple times last year. I’m willing to take that chance given the great situation, possible growth of both his fastball and breaker, and the team context of solid defense + Win chance. Sign. Me. UP.

 

55. Kutter Crawford (BOS, RHP)

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I’m a fan y’all. Crawford has a high iVB four-seamer with good (not elite) VAA and decent enough extension and velocity to let that thing soar upstairs. And guess what? LHBs saw the pitch far upstairs and held a 16%+ SwStr rate against it. Wait, aren’t same-handed batters supposed to whiff more against upstairs heaters? They are! But Crawford doesn’t elevate as effectively against RHBs, still keeping it upstairs near a 60% hiLoc, but far more hittable than ideal, near a 55% zone rate. In other words, if Kutter goes further up the ladder with the pitch instead of settling inside the top third of the zone, he should earn more whiffs, more strikeouts, and fewer hits as its ICR rate is sure to drop from its 48% rate.

And that’s it. Seriously, from a skills standpoint, it’s the only noticeable flaw. Sure, he could be a bit better with his curve and changeup (especially to LHBs), but the kutter and slider are both fantastic pitches at earning strikes and mitigating hard contact to both lefties and righties, while the slider is a huge whiff pitch against righties. In fact, it’s filthy with the holy trinity at play – sub 30% ICR, 65%+ strike rate, and 20%+ SwStr rate – which may be a product of its 20-25% usage against RHBs, but hot dang do those numbers suggest throwing it more.

With a four-seamer that dominates upstairs and should become better with an adjustment, a slider that earns whiffs to propel strikeouts, and a reliable cutter that does exactly what it should against both righties and lefties to earn consistent strikes, Crawford has the skills you want to be a legit starter. There are two problems: The Red Sox & the volume. It’s not a great situation pitching in Fenway and the offense isn’t quite as potent as it once was, denting Crawford’s Win potential. Another blow comes in the form of Crawford’s workload. The right-hander tossed 90+ pitches just five times last year and we haven’t seen him get the long leash of 6+ innings quite yet as he tallied roughly 130 frames in 2023. That’s not to say he can’t, but there is haze in the leash we’ll see from the Red Sox.

The Red Sox have made a pair of great moves behind the scenes with Andrew Bailey and Kyle Boddy joining their development staff and I have to believe they’ll see the same thing I do with Crawford’s four-seamer. Here’s my #1 sleeper pick of the year. With @SEA + @LAA as his likely first two starts of the year, you’re going to want to take a shot on this.

 

56. Louie Varland (MIN, RHP)

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Please let him start. Please let him start. There’s even more concern that Varland won’t get a rotation spot after the Twins added Anthony DeSclafani to the rotation, but if I had my way, the Twins would leave Paddack in the pen and give Varland the chance to go every five days. Why? Because his four-seamer is DOPE.

Varland has great extension at nearly 7 ft along with an elite VAA that allows his 94/95 mph to excel upstairs, even with middling iVB at 15+ inches. However, the pitch was walloped a ton last season as Varland struggled to get it consistently upstairs. It’s clearly an approach he’s aiming to have and one I believe he can harness over time.

His secondaries aren’t lacking, either. He doesn’t carry a demonstrative weapon to match with the best, but many at-bats see a solid 90 mph cutter that earns strikes consistently and makes batters question his four-seamer’s veracity when he can establish it around the zone. There’s room to grow with Varland’s slider, though, as the pitch failed to eclipse a 60% strike rate while its lackluster SwStr rate left much to be desired. However, Varland tugged the pitch too far out of the zone down-and-away with shocking precision, granting hope that he can make the adjustment to pull the pitch closer to the plate with a simple tweak rather than a massive overhaul.

The arsenal speaks to 5/6 innings of consistency far more than that of Paddack, with legit upside if he can get the heater upstairs and add a touch of polish to his slider. The risk here is not just a demotion to the pen, but a dent to ratios if his 2.00+ HR/9 returns, which we should know soon into the season as we monitor his overall command.

Circle Varland as a legitimate sleeper to target at the end of drafts, especially given he’s a cut candidate if he fails to earn a rotation spot out of camp. Let’s hope Minnesota does him right.

 

57. Bryce Miller (SEA, RHP)

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If you read my thoughts on Woo, you’ll understand that I’m cautious about Bryce. On paper, he has excellent attributes that should outline a decent floor – an overwhelming four-seamer focus with excellent iVB and VAA attributes – though I worry about his consistency. Command isn’t Miller’s greatest asset, and his cutter & slider (I’m calling them two different pitches) each have had their moments, but are not ole reliables to be trusted upon. It makes his time against left-handers a struggle, with his four-seamer, sinker, and breaker all having returned 40%+ ICR rates. That’s not good. No, it’s not. In fact, his four-seamer’s SwStr held a 12% SwStr against left-handers, which should make you a bit queasy given that heater is everything for Miller. There was a changeup flipped in about 11% of the time, but a 19% CSW makes me a bit hesitant to give its 36% ICR a big thumbs up. (Translation: batters make a ton of contact with it and you want to see something closer to 30% ICR).

In the end, I see a pitcher who was able to throw a ton of strikes with his four-seamer to promote a low walk rate, though his high 42% ICR (19th percentile!) is what caused his 4.32 ERA to balloon further than ideal. More growth is required in both command and arsenal to take the next step and I’m less of a believer he can do so than Woo. I still like Bryce – the four-seamer will keep him afloat and there will be many days where the secondaries work well enough – and the tiebreaker for me is the higher likelihood of a Cherry Bomb outcome than a reliable SP #2/#3.

 

58. Yusei Kikuchi (TOR, LHP)

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Kikuchi is shockingly close to being a legit starter. 2023 saw a large improvement in two areas as the season developed, and there’s a part of me that wants to take a shot on Kikuchi taking that final step forward to becoming a stud arm.

The first shift is an obvious one. On May 7th, Kikuchi began moving away from his changeup in favor of a curveball that allowed him to cut his walk rate tremendously as the pitch returned a near 70% strike rate – far better than the 51% clip his changeup held against RHBs. While his curve still has room to grow (please, get just a little bit lower and find the zone more often against LHBs), it was a major improvement from his cutter and changeup of previous seasons.

The second is a trend for Kikuchi to throw more high heaters. His sub-40 % clip against righties in previous seasons climbed to 47% last year, which is still below average but possibly a sign of more to come in the year ahead. But Nick! He’s allowed so many HRs, why do you want him to throw more high pitches? Because his struggle to get the ball properly elevated is why he’s allowed so many home runs. Kikuchi’s four-seamer would be elite if he were able to locate it at the top of the zone or higher at will, featuring one of the best VAA marks of any starter in the majors and thrives with its 95+ velocity + excellent extension (its 15″ of iVB is low but doesn’t matter when paired with such a good VAA and extension at 95+ mph). Seeing Kikuchi have a mental approach shift to feature more high heaters (which makes sense to tunnel with the new curveball) could indicate that he’ll lean into more in the year ahead.

Mental approach isn’t everything, though, and if there has been one criticism of Kikuchi over the years, it’s been his command. Kikuchi’s fastball plots often look like shotgun blasts, while his slider and curve often land well over the plate and far from their intended locations. It very well could be a rhythm situation that we’ll only see for bunches during the year (he did hold a 2.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate across 77 IP and 14 starts in the heart of the 2023 season, after all), though I’m all for taking a shot at Kikuchi in drafts in the hopes he can get that four-seamer hiLoc% closer to 60% as he continues to lean on his slider and curve for strikes.

 

59. Luis Severino (NYM, RHP)

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Severino is weird and simple at the same time. His four-seamer was crushed last season despite lower velocity and it’s pretty easy to see why – he lost 1.5 inches of iVB on his four-seamer. It could be that simple of a story, but then again, his slider and changeup were also far less effective and that’s where things get confusing. His slider lost 10 points of SwStr rate against RHBs and was crushed by LHBs, while his changeup was horrific against LHBs and the only saving grace he had against RHBs (phew).

There’s talk that Severino was tipping last year (I also noticed some myself with the speed of his delivery, but that’s a hard one to lean into as a hitter) and it’s possible that tweak will save his secondaries, though his missing iVB on the heater is the one that scares me the most, even if batters were more aggressive on the heater than ever before. Are the Mets a good enough crew to get it all ironed out? I’m not entirely sure. I also wonder whether he can nail down the low-90s cutter into his mix as well. I absolutely adored that pitch when it was cooking in late 2022.

At the very least, Severino’s price tag in drafts makes him an admirable late-round flier. After all, his velocity is still up, which showcases a lack of physical decline that is normally the hurdle for those cascading down from their peaks. Take a shot and see if Severino is able to miss bats again with both his heater and slider – if so, you suddenly find yourself having an SP #3/#4 for the cost of very little at the draft.

 

60. Lucas Giolito (BOS, RHP)

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I feel like he’s so close yet we can’t trust him in drafts, nor do I believe we’ll see something brand new in April to convince us he’s a changed man on whom we can depend throughout the season. At the very least, his changeup is still a glorious offering at just 81 mph, getting batters to bend the knee frequently, and it is the lifeblood of his approach. Giolito injects a gyro-slider to earn strikes as well, which can be a stabilizer in his pitch mix at times, but sadly we saw too many starts in 2023 where it wasn’t as reliable as it needed to be. That leaves the four-seamer and that’s the big question mark for the future.

The crux of it all is a four-seamer that gets a ton of vertical break, but has such a high VAA, that it doesn’t miss as many bats as we’d like up in the zone. It means the pitch needs 94/95 mph and good command upstairs to get over the hump of success or failure. Yes, that’s why we saw so many home runs and why we don’t know what to expect moving forward. I do wonder whether Giolito can adopt a low fastball approach with his odd fastball characteristics – the Gallen approach! – though leaning on that outcome is too much wishcasting. The most likely ideal scenario is a season with 94+ mph heaters that carry a ton of hiLoc% as he pushes his changeup usage toward 40% instead of 28%. I have my doubts, but that’s what you’re hoping for from Giolito to avoid another cataclysmic 4.00 ERA season.

I should also add – now that he’s with the Red Sox, he’s sure to get the leash that you’re looking for with 90+ pitches per start and the team’s desire for a workhorse. In addition, Andrew Bailey & Kyle Boddy could be new additions to the coaching staff that give Giolito more assistance than he’s had on previous squads. However, will the Wins be there? Will Fenway’s dimensions inflate his ERA further? I’m willing to call it an overall wash, where his skill growth or lack thereof will matter far more than the situation.

 

61. Hunter Brown (HOU, RHP)

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Hunter needed some time to figure himself out. Is he a low-ball pitcher? How should he use his slider? What about the curve? We saw ebbs and flows since the explosive debut at the end of 2022 and the poor end-of-season result was a product of fatigue, inconsistency, and experimentation.

Now it’s 2024 and I can see how this works, but it’ll take some tweaking. Brown’s four-seamer lost almost an inch of iVB from 2022, unfortunately dropping down to a good-not-great 16 iVB mark, which makes his elevated heaters a bit more hittable than ideal. But does he actually elevate them? That’s a great question. I sure hope he takes direction from Javier and Verlander to keep the pitch upstairs properly as his slider and curve play so well off that pitch when he locates effectively.

I’m not sure how well he can do that, though. Brown has days when he’s able to spot the heater, but there’s polish left with heaters to open the door for proper sequencing across his three-pitch mix (the splitter is saved for rare moments and the sweeper was a month-long experiment). What I find most interesting is his slider: It’s a pitch that can be downright nasty to LHBs with cutter-like velocity and horizontal bend along the inside corner, while sporting more gyro drop to right-handers. I love it when he attacks LHBs with it, though there’s still room to grow in utilizing the pitch effectively against RHBs down-and-away. If he can nail that + the high heater, then the curve he already saves for two-strike counts will be even more devastating, using both the tunnel of the heater and the window of the cutter to get chases out of the zone.

There’s a sense that it’s only a matter of time for Hunter and I’d love to take a chance on him in re-draft leagues given his youth at 25 years young with clear room to grow. That cutter is destined to debilitate batters for a long time.

 

Tier 9 – This Is Fine

They don’t belong in Tier 11, but you’re far better off chasing upside than settling for these, even if one of them could quietly put up a productive year across the board.

 

62. Aaron Civale (TBR, RHP)

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The move to Tampa Bay was fantastic for Civale. Not only is the team context better, but they seem to have extracted the best elements of Civale, with possibly more to grow. There’s a new slider in the mix that carries fantastic PLV grades, his four-seamer has elite iVB (somewhat counteracted by low extension and poor VAA) that could be incorporated more as a two-strike pitch à la Zach Eflinand the Rays have helped Eflin lean into high cutters with his massive hook landing low.

It all works and I’m surprised to find myself in a position where Civale could break the Toby mold into Holly territory with a potential 25% strikeout rate, evidenced by four of his final seven games tallying 34 strikeouts between them. There are some concerns, of course. Civale has failed to toss 25 games in a season across his five-season career, and I wonder if he can turn his cutter into the reliable hard-contact mitigator it should be – his command is good, but not among the greatest in the league. I see the nights of bliss being more rarities than consistencies, with sprinkles of frustration as well. The positives should outweigh the bad, and while I’d normally overlook him in drafts as not a major needle pusher, I’m warming up to Civale as a potential breakout candidate if the Rays can keep improving his strengths this off-season.

 

63. Shane Bieber (CLE, RHP)

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My original assessment of Bieber back in October was simple. His 91 mph four-seamer was still over a tick down from his 2021 peak, his curve struggled with a sub 60% strike rate, the slider wasn’t a monstrous whiff pitch, and his new cutter helped, but ultimately turned him into a Toby who could continue to decline in 2024, especially with his recent injury history. Today I’m a little more optimistic. I underrated Bieber’s ability to do the Gallen approach: low four-seamers with a massive called strike rate (28% and 30% the last two seasons!) that allow him to go under the zone with breakers. He doesn’t have Gallen’s changeup, and the curveball command needs to improve to entice more than a 15% SwStr rate, but there is a world where he finds more strikes with curves and keeps the new cutter inside the zone to survive games. I see a pitcher who could improve to be more of a Holly in 2024, with command that should keep him off the wire for the most part. Let’s just hope the velocity doesn’t get worse next year.

 

64. Marcus Stroman (NYY, RHP)

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As long as Stroman is able to find enough strikes, he should be fine. The Yankee infield defense is a touch worse than what Stroman had behind him with the Cubs, though I wouldn’t expect a dramatic increase in hits allowed, so that makes his rising walk rate of 9% the real issue of 2023. You may see a change of slider to curve in the data, but it’s the same pitch with a different name, which he features in tandem with his sinker as a nearly exclusive 1-2 punch against RHBs, while spreading the secondaries around against LHBs. And I hope that changes.

You see, Stroman’s cutter is actually legit. He’s able to command it deftly just inside the inner edge, inducing foul balls nearly 30% of the time while maintaining a low ICR, resulting in a fantastic 70% strike rate. THAT’S GOLD. It sure is, and sadly he’s turning to it under 20% of the time against LHBs. Axe the splitter that returned an abysmal 45% strike rate, save the curve just for back-door called strikes, and pair that sinker away (and surprise front-hips) with that dastardly cutter and you have yourself a deadly combo.

I see Stroman as a solid Toby arm with the potential to climb into Holly range if he’s able to harness his breaker against RHBs – a 60% strike rate with a sub 15% SwStr ain’t cutting it. In fact, I’d love Stroman to use that same cutter as a strike pitch over the zone away to RHBs, lean more on the sinker inside to RHBs, then use the breaker more under the zone to induce whiffs more often. Many of his contemporaries dream of having a 90 mph cutter with Stroman’s command and there’s more to unlock here.

Don’t reach for Stroman with the expectation of these adjustments, but consider him in your drafts as a solid volume arm who will likely hover at a 1.20 WHIP with a solid ERA.

 

65. Brandon Pfaadt (ARI, RHP)

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If Pfaadt can command his pitches like this postseason game against the Phillies, he’ll dominate every time he pitches. Problem is, he rarely does and it’s a huge ask when entering your drafts. That said, Pfaadt’s sweeper is such a great offering that if he makes any sort of improvements across the off-season, there’s productivity every five days waiting. Maybe it comes in his four-seamer that carries a great low-arm angle and can excel when elevated, even with its middling iVB. Add some extra rise or heat or even consistency upstairs and that may be all he needs. The sinker we saw in the post-season to jam RHB hopefully makes its return as well, while the curve or change could take a step forward – h*ck, why not a cutter for free strikes? However, if it’s the same guy we saw in the second half last season, I worry. The elite sweeper can only do so much and relying on batters to stumble over hittable four-seamers is too tall of an order. Consider Pfaadt as a late pick in hopes of a clear step forward early in the year.

 

66. Eduardo Rodriguez (ARI, LHP)

 

I still think about that 2021 season where Erod carried a 15.5% SwStr on his four-seamer. The pitch returned horrid 8% and 10% marks the following two years, and the answer is simple: He stopped elevating it. Eduardo’s four-seamer went from a 59% HiLoc% to flirting with 40% the last two seasons and as a result, his 27% strikeout rate of old has shifted fallen as well, to 18% and 23% strikeout rates.

But that’s not completely fair. 2022 was as strange of a season as any with an injury and personal issues that kept him off the field and last year came with an explosive first half that suggested there’s a plateau to potentially hit for a full season. After all, the end result of a 3.30 ERA and 1.15 WHIP is incredibly acceptable and now pitching in front of the Arizona defense, there’s hope Rodriguez can maintain the 7.6 hits per nine he displayed last season.

Mmmm, I highly doubt that. Rodriguez returned a 99th percentile Hit Luck of -30 last season and his lack of four-seamer dominance reinforces the notion of his changeup and cutter feel working early + a fair amount of good fortune to return a marvelous six game stretch of 41.2 IP with a 0.43 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and 28% strikeout rate. Wait, is that just 2 ER allowed?! Yeah, it was something wild. He also returned -17 Hit Luck in those six games alone and yeah, Erod isn’t this good.

Against RHB, Rodriguez’s changeup can be a strong nullifier, but it constantly goes in-and-out of rhythm. The cutter is mediocre in every sense of the word, hoping to land it as a called strike outside or jam inside just enough to return an out, and turns into a slider for LHB, a pitch that was able to jump to a 19% SwStr in 24% usage, but its 60% strike rate meant the four-seamer and sinker have to do everything else. The primary heater gets pummeled while the sinker had a…14.8% ICR rate?! Oh. Under 30 balls in play and Rodriguez uses it 2/3 of the time in two-strike counts as a back-door surprise pitch. That’s not the proper complement his slider needs.

The move to Arizona should help Rodriguez and I get the sense he’s going to be drafted in your 12-teamer and held throughout the season, whether it’s the right thing to do or not. In my view, he’s a Toby with moments looking like a Holly when the changeup and cutter come together + balls in play go his way. With his ceiling being a decent plateau and his floor being a destructor of ratios, I’m electing to pass on Erod for the guys in the next tier in many cases, though he’s an arm to consider when needing to pad your Wins or Quality Starts.

 

Tier 10 – Is This An Ace?

You want some late round upside? Here you go. Choose wisely – all of these could crash and burn or we can be looking back at this tier with regret for our hesistance.

 

67. DL Hall (MIL, LHP)

 

 

I completely thought Hall was destined for the pen with the Orioles and neglected to think about Hall much at all. However, now that he’s suddenly in the running to start for the Brewers (it sure seems like they traded for him to let him start), Hall becomes the kind of arm you go for at this range. Could it be disastrous? Oh, absolutely, but I was absolutely shocked to see him with just a 6% walk rate in 2023 across his short 19-frame sample. That alone should get you amped because, let me tell you, the stuff is good enough to be a legit impact SP in any league. It’s just about command at this point.

As a reliever, Hall was pumping 95/96 mph heaters, which could very likely fall down to 94 mph as he stretches out to be a starter, though I’m not concerned if it does. Why? Because he features both elite extension and elite VAA. We’re talking seven feet of extension and a 1.5 adj VAA, and those marks are glorious. Pairing that with a high strike rate makes me excited for his potential as the SwStr rates are massive behind that offering.

At first I thought Hall lacked a reliable secondary pitch against RHB, and while the small sample may be the true catalyst, Hall’s changeup performed well across the 61 he tossed in 2023. Batters struggled to make strong contact; he earned many strikes with a 31% CSW, and this allowed him to not rely on a slider he’s still figuring out how to locate.

Speaking of which, there’s polish left to add on that slider to LHB as well. It has solid gyro movement, but Hall is still refining its consistency to spot it down-and-glove side. It’ll earn whiffs galore when it’s located, it’s just a question of that feel will arrive.

And that’s really the big question with Hall. The arsenal is strong enough to be a Top 50 SP easily, but the large concern over the years has been his command. The low walk rate last year can be hand-waved given the low sample, and I need more convincing that his four-seamer is actually a 65-70% strike pitch. Wait, what gives you such hesitation? His delivery. Hall is a southpaw slinger, featuring a 97th percentile horizontal release point from the left side, which means he’s attacking the zone at a sharp angle that generally speaks to inconsistent locations and lower overall strike rates. It’s not a death sentence + I’m happy to report he doesn’t land cross-body, speaking to potentially more consistency than we traditionally see for extreme release points. It means that we draft Hall and watch closely. Is Hall able to locate well enough in the zone to get through at-bats or is he consistently fighting against himself instead of the batter? Don’t hang onto this too long if it looks apparent that Hall doesn’t have the command to make it work. Sidenote: I’m so excited he gets the Milwaukee camera angle that is PERFECT for lefties like him.

 

68. Triston McKenzie (CLE, RHP)

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The thoughts we have on McKenzie should be exactly what they were entering 2023 as he missed nearly all season with a teres strain in his shoulder. What about the injury risk? Okay, fair. OUTSIDE OF THE INJURY RISK, McKenzie has a skillset that can grow into more as he gains time on the mound. You may be surprised to hear his four-seamer had the most iVB of any starter’s four-seamer in 2022, and paired with excellent extension, the pitch has been able to get away with more than the standard 92/93 mph heater. If he’s able to keep the pitch upstairs 60%+ of the time, it’ll jump from its 11% SwStr rate in 2022 to excellent marks.

Consistency has plagued him, though. The curve held a massive 22% SwStr rate with an elite 31% putaway rate as it fell off the table when paired with the heater, but there were many games where the pitch refused to find its location. When paired with a slider that needs more separation from the fastball and better command, it made for tough days on the hill.

A draft pick on McKenzie is all about growth. Hopefully he’s gained more lower-half mass to help create stability in his mechanics to consistently find his release points, which would turn him into a BSB darling. The foundation is there for dominance, it’s just about ironing out the Cherry Bomb tendencies and, you know, health.

 

69. Nick Lodolo (CIN, LHP)

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You likely already know the ridiculousness of Lodolo’s 2023 season. Arguably the most unlucky pitcher of the season (even before getting a stress fracture in his left tibia that limited him to just seven games), Lodolo held a .440 BABIP, 13+ H/9, and a 2.6 HR/9 and it was a joke. Hilarity. Dumb. Push it all aside as you grasp who he actually is: a lefty slinger who may have a better ability than his contemporaries of locating his fastball inside the zone. His fastball (sinker turned four-seamer) has held excellent 22%+ called strike rates in both 2022 and 2023, utilizing his elite horizontal movement to nab the gloveside edge consistently against lefties and right-handers alike.

Normally I worry about side-arm southpaws, but I wonder if Lodolo’s heater is more reliable than the likes of Heaney and Manaea before him. Meanwhile, his breaker routinely earns well above a 20% SwStr rate, opening the door for a third pitch to be the glue that seals his approach. If his changeup takes form or a reliable cutter enters the scene, I can see Lodolo carving up batters as they guess which direction each pitch will go. I believe in this more than the wonky command of Greene or the questionable skillset of Abbott, and I’d love to take a shot on Lodolo early to see how he’s progressing. That said, I can see this progressing into a HIPSTER situation if the park does him more harm, the defense is still in question, and the offense doesn’t spark enough Wins. After all, Lodolo’s Hit Luck last year still had him at an 8.5 H/9 – still a bit too high for the WHIP to become a pleasant addition.

It’s all about where he goes in drafts. If the room is terrified, snag Lodolo in the later rounds when you have reliable starters in front of him. If you have to grab him as your SP #4/5, then Lodolo is too risky to take on.

 

70. Edward Cabrera (MIA, RHP)

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Y’all. I don’t know what to do. When Cabrera is doing his thing – getting his four-seamer close enough to the zone at 97+ mph and not left over the heart of the plate, his breakers (I think most are sliders, not curveballs, but that’s just me) landing at the bottom of the zone, and 92 mph changeups not wildly missing arm-side – the dude is as filthy as they come. In addition, I don’t think his mechanics are so bad that command can’t come in the future. However, he just hasn’t done it yet. And as of right now, a pick on Cabrera is more likely to be a “HIPSTER” on your team rather than a reliable starter every five days. That said, if he’s able to make that tweak to find reliability in location, his ceiling is MASSIVE. We’ve seen leaps in walk rate in the past and his pitches innately have low ICR rates. It could be as simple as a shorter arm circle, or ensuring he stays true with his shoulder. Or those could be far off and he can’t make the tweak. It’s a gamble and I think with Cabrera particularly, it’s important to watch his spring and first start of the year. Understand whether he’s grown in command across everything and go from there. Does that mean you’re in on Cabrera? I guess I am now. Huh. I should also note, I’m not sure I believe in the Marlins development to get this sorted out – they have been great with changeups, but not with overall command. Keep your ear to the ground about Cabrera’s off-season workouts.

 

71. Hunter Greene (CIN, RHP)

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I can’t do it. The strikeouts are destined to be there as the upper-90s four-seamer will continue to miss bats and set up an 87/88 mph slider that throws batters for a loop as they try to gear up for heat. The problem? Greene’s command is finicky, while the heater’s shape is pedestrian. It means that when batters are able to time the heater, its characteristics make it easier than others to square up and smack into play – not a great trait when you pitch in Cincinnati. It’s a major reason for Greene’s 1.5+ HR/9 in each of his two seasons and I don’t see it getting much better in 2024.

The slider is a great asset that will keep him in the majors and winning weeks for managers, though it’s not exceptional on its own and needs the fastball to thrive. I have less faith than with others that Greene will find a third offering or improve his consistency/fastball shape (cough extension cough) enough to bring down his walk rate and reach sub 8 hits-per-nine. The WHIP and ERA are sure to hurt once again without a bevy of Wins, and you should ask yourself, are the strikeouts worth it?

 

72. Nestor Cortes (NYY, LHP)

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Health health health. He strained his rotator cuff early and was put on the IL, only for him to have one game and get sent back to the IL for the same issue. Yeaaaaah, shoulder injuries should not be taken lightly, especially rotator cuff injuries, and I have few expectations of seeing Cortes throw a hefty number of frames this year.

Skills-wise, Cortes’ four-seamer is still elite. The pitch returns elite iVB at 19 inches in concert with an above-average VAA that allows the pitch to chill at the top of the zone without fault. It’s a properly elite pitch and the reason for Cortes’ dominance in 2022.

It still performed well last year, with the real fault coming from his slider’s inconsistency, possibly a product of his barking shoulder. I dig his cutter inside to RHBs a ton and if you were able to tell me Cortes’ shoulder is fine this year and he goes every five days, I’d have him ranked somewhere in the Top 30 or so, if not higher. Sadly, I have little faith in that shoulder and I hate anxiety in my drafts. That said, if he’s hovering around the draft after you already have six starters or so, what the h*ck, go grab him and hope he’s healthy in the spring.

 

73. Aaron Ashby (MIL, LHP)

2022 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

He missed all of 2023 with a shoulder injury and aims to make the rotation out of camp. I feel for the lefty in the summer of 2021, though his 2022 campaign taught me a valuable lesson of fastball shapes and what makes a strong foundation as a left-hander. Ashby’s sinker jumped from an elite 26% ICR in 2021 to a middling 39% clip in 2022, a likely regression given the unsustainability of a sub 30% ICR for a primary fastball year-to-year. Nevertheless, if the slider was able to keep its elite marks of 2021, it would have mitigated the damage. Sadly, the pitch was far less tempting to chase out of the zone, dropping its strike rate by nearly eight points, while batters shellacked the pitch to the tune of a 37% ICR. Yikes. Yeah. That slider was everything for Ashby in 2021 and without it to lean on, the sinker had to do more. His changeup is still great, but the one-two punch of sinkers and sliders isn’t the viable combo we want, let alone the lack of whiffs from his sinker that require the slider (and changeup, for that matter) to push over a 20% SwStr rate to be a consistent 25%+ strikeout arm.

Now that he’s returning from a shoulder injury, the possibility of a full year should be out the window, and we can only hope his walk rates fall if he can get his slider back to its former self. Don’t count out Ashby if he earns a rotation spot. Just understand that he lacks that overpowering fastball to blow past arms, forcing his slider and changeup to be the reliable pitches late, and needing the Brewers’ defense to step up for all his sinkers that will be hit into play – his near 60% groundball rate is sure to be repeated, making that .325 BABIP and near 9.0 hit-per-nine the true culprits of his high WHIP. In summation (I miss ya Fast), Ashby doesn’t have SP #1 ceiling as he’s too reliant on weak contact ala Stroman types, doesn’t have two overwhelming secondaries, and doesn’t miss bats with his fastball, though he has a chance to go 25%+ strikeouts and allow more weak contact than his peers.

 

74. Kenta Maeda (DET, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Maeda is the perfect example of a pitcher who is getting overlooked inside the Top 60 arms, and simply because his rank is lower, we’re introducing a bias against him. And yet, he’s had 27%+ strikeout in three of his last four seasons. That’s it? Of course not. After battling injury, he returned on June 23rd and held a 3.36 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP over nearly 90 frames. His splitter and slider combo were working as well – the splitter had an absurd 46% O-Swing in that time – and now that he doesn’t have the same inning stipulations in his contract, I imagine the Tigers will let Maeda face the third time through the order more often than previous seasons, especially as the young Tigers will need all the innings help they can get.

 

75. Emmet Sheehan (LAD, RHP)

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I kinda love Sheehan, but the problem I have is the comedy routine the Dodgers are sure to give him in April, mimicking these frustrating ice cream vendors. Will Sheehan start this week? Nah, that’s an off day. Okay how about now? Yeah sure. WHAT?! FOUR INNINGS?! You didn’t ask for more. I’m not sure I want the ice cream anymore.

But hot dang, if they let Sheehan properly start, I think he can be great. His low arm angle grants him excellent VAA on his four-seamer with solid extension that helped his four-seamer return just a 34% ICR against RHBs as Sheehan actually elevates his four-seamer. Dodgers, please keep your hands away from this approach. Sheehan’s heater also fared well against LHBs with his ability to land it inside often, though he may have gotten a bit fortunate as the pitch leaked out over the plate frequently.

His secondaries are where I’m hoping to see growth in 2024. Sheehan’s changeup flashed plus against LHBs with a 21% SwStr, though he struggled to wrangle it, resulting in many poor misses on and off the plate. He’ll need to bolster its 58% strike rate while bumping its usage to become a consistent producer against lefties.

We saw two different sliders from Sheehan last season, a rare sweeper scattered throughout the season, and a gyro slider that improved across his last three starts to become more of a weapon. In fact, it wasn’t until his final start of the year that we saw that slider look like a legit strikeout pitch, returning 7/28 whiffs and properly fueling a nine-strikeout effort in just 4.2 frames.

I love taking a shot on Sheehan at the very end of drafts as a pitcher who I’d like to monitor early in the year. If Sheehan is getting a helping of Dodgeritis as he either gets skipped or is limited heavily, then I’m moving on quickly. However, pay attention to his pitch mix and approach. If Sheehan continues to rack up slider whiffs while keeping elevated fastballs and polishes his changeup, he’ll be a hold for the full year for all your 12-teamers.

 

76. Jordan Hicks (SFG, RHP)

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The Giants signed Hicks to add him to the rotation and I’m awfully curious what comes of it. The biggest hurdle is his strike rates: Hicks’ sinker barely climbed out of the sub-60% strike rate hole last season, while his sweeper hasn’t hit the 60% plateau before – and I’m not ready to throw that out the door in a transition to starter. There is hope that the new four-seamer he’s working on over the off-season will let him live more in the zone, where his elite 100 mph velocity (maybe more around 98+ when not coming out of the pen) can survive despite not featuring elite extension, iVB, or VAA.

All of that said, Hicks’s flashy heaters have routinely featured elite ICR marks that keep batters at bay. Even the simple adjustment of finding the zone more often with his sinker would result in solid results with a digestible walk rate and WHIP. His slider seemingly breaks the space-time continuum as it comes in 15 mph slower, but it may be too slow as batters have casually walloped the pitch, outside of 2022 against RHBs in a small sample. I can’t help but worry that the pitch needs more polish in order to suggest he can hold a 25%+ strikeout rate in a rotation spot.

I’m all for taking a chance on Hicks at the end of drafts to see how his control shapes up early and if he’s getting a long enough leash to go at least five frames early on. I’d still encourage a short leash in April if we’re seeing the same ole “thrower not pitcher” that is sure to induce a headache or ten, though Hicks may be one of those guys who finally finds his groove in June and stuns us for a few months. There’s potential here that shouldn’t overlooked in 12-teamers.

 

77. Taj Bradley (TBR, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
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If you’re drafting Bradley, be ready to jump ship early in your 12-teamers. But he has so much potential! He does, but it comes down to command and he struggled with it all season, and the odds of Bradley having poor command in early April and finding it shortly after isn’t worth the roster spot. Watch any game Bradley tossed in full and monitor your subconscious reacting to Bradley’s pitches. Is he controlling at-bats by spotting pitches? Do you have confidence he’ll throw a strike with the next pitch? Will it go where he wants it to? Bradley has fantastic stuff with one of the better rising four-seamers in the majors, and yet struggles to get it upstairs with frequency. His cutter has massive potential, but it becomes hittable far too frequently, while the deadly hook can’t sit low often enough.

The off-season is sure to be a time for Bradley to try every tweak imaginable to find consistency pitch-to-pitch, which means I’m not ready to completely write him off as a PEAS for the year ahead, but if the spring comes with the same fluctuations, I’m going to look elsewhere. The ceiling is immense as a Tyler Glasnowlite, but you don’t want to be the guy who’s a year early.

 

78. Mitch Keller (PIT, RHP)

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I want to love Keller. I really do and it’s difficult. His four-seamer earns whiffs, though it’s saved half the time for two-strike counts, propelling its whiff rate and lowering expected averages (strikeouts do that). Keller mixes in a sinker as well that doesn’t jam batters enough and often floats too far over the plate. The real winner of the repertoire is his cutter, a pitch that makes or breaks his starts. It’s the only offering with a sub 40% ICR rate while it earned strikes 2/3 of the time last year. When that 90 mph pitch is nailing the corner, batters are helpless, creating those double-digit strikeout games as it suddenly becomes both an early and late offering. There’s also a filthy slider that should dominate consistently as one of the premier sweepers, though he struggles to locate it well, often over-throwing it when trying to put batters away.

In the end, it’s possible Keller takes another step this year by figuring out his breaker while developing more consistency across his four-seamer/cutter/sinker mix. His hittability is a major issue that will stick around without an improvement somewhere and the Win totals are sure to be depressed pitching for the Pirates. I’m looking elsewhere in my drafts.

 

79. Alek Manoah (TOR, RHP)

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What happened? His fastballs got obnoxiously worse and he struggled to earn strikes. In 2021 and 2022, Manoah dominated right-handers with his four-seamer and sinker. These pitches routinely allowed weak contact with stupid high strike rates while the four-seamer returned fantastic SwStr rates as well, allowing his slider to thrive down and away. He still had some issues with left-handers, but as long as he could continue to bully RHBs with fastballs, everything was fine.

He lost a tick of velocity in 2023 and the dam broke. Suddenly his 33% ICR four-seamer returned 52% ICR (oh no), forcing him to turn to sinkers instead, which were still decent but regressed as well.

Meanwhile, his struggles against LHBs were amplified, with all of his pitches failing him with low strike rates and demolition inside the zone. It’s refreshingly straightforward and believable that Manoah could return to form if he’s able to get his fastball velocity back (the shape is still good!), which should, in turn, give him the confidence to earn over 70% strikes on his fastballs again (not the 60% he had in 2023).

However, there is the intangible aspect of Manoah himself, who was inconsistent off the field as well. I hate to assume a pitcher is unable to focus and do the work needed for them to get back to their former self, though Manoah’s 2023 suggests it may be a bigger ask for him than others. It makes for a last-round flier you can assess in the spring (is he bullying with 94 mph heaters again?) and take it from there.

 

80. A.J. Puk (MIA, LHP)

 

The Marlins have made it clear they will stretch Puk out in the spring in hopes of having him as a starter, and I’m kinda stoked for it. Puk features elite extension and Adj. VAA that allowed the four-seamer to boast a 14% SwStr rate last season, despite not locating it with precision inside the zone (Puk, stop chucking it 62% in the zone at just 37% hiLoc! GET THAT THING UPSTAIRS as its iVB is terrible and needs the VAA to work best). It’s the foundation for Puk’s big sweeper that batters held just a 33% ICR against and routinely earned strikes, though I’d love to see that mark climb a little higher than 60%, especially considering that’s about all Puk has to offer.

A transition to starter seems great with those pitches, but with Puk’s questionable command, an expectation for worse four-seamer performance given the typical velo dip moving from pen to rotation, and lack of third option make me skeptical it’ll pan out consistently enough to avoid the dreaded Cherry Bomb level at its peak. And keep in mind, the Marlins rotation is technically full with Trevor Rogers‘ expected return.

All of that said, take a shot on it. Watch Puk have a new changeup to stave off RHB, embrace the BSB mentality, and run away with the job in the spring. The upside is tantalizing enough to reserve him as a late-round flier you can easily drop early without worry.

 

Tier 11 – Deeper League Toby

I don’t encourage chasing this for 12-teamers, but I recornigze they could jump to Tier 9 and are safer to grab in deeper leagues than Tier 10. To each their own, you grab what’s best for you.

 

81. Michael Wacha (KCR, RHP)

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The changeup is unreal and his command + approach is fantastic, making me surprisingly dig Wacha more than I thought I would. His four-seamer has a ton of iVB, though its steep VAA does hurt it, making it more of a surprise upstairs pitch and something that can work low for called strikes instead. This is the Zac Gallen approach: If you have a steeper VAA on your heater with a high iVB, then you can steal low called strikes on your four-seamer, then pair it with changeups and curves effectively. And what do you know, Wacha holds a 21% called strike on four-seamers – good for 80th percentile in the majors.

There are small adjustments to be made with pitch selection here and there, and he does feature a much higher ICR% than I’d like across his arsenal, but 33% dope changeups will keep him afloat throughout the year (70% strikes, 33% ICR, 21% SwStr, 32% CSW… incredible. It can do no wrong). Like Lugo, the move to Kansas City should work for Wacha, especially given their tendency to let pitchers extend past 85 pitches and fight for six full innings, not to mention the drop in infield defense shouldn’t affect a fly-ball arm like Wacha as much.

Health is always in question for Wacha, though health matters far less past SP #50, where you’re happy to get any productive innings from the starters you draft at this point. If health is the biggest problem, then enjoy the production you get before the time on IL – far better than those whose quality is the question at hand.

 

82. Seth Lugo (KCR, RHP)

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Lugo’s sinker is a lively pitch that destroys batters when it doesn’t leak over the middle of the plate. It’s rare to see whiffs on fastballs away and off the plate, but Lugo’s sinker can do that against left-handers, while it earns many chases on the handle of bats to right-handers. The big hook and sweeper do their part as well, though I wish I had more praise for his four-seamer and changeup.

Seriously, that four-seamer is not great. We’re talking a whopping 50% ICR last year, which means its incredibly high 71% strike rate may not have been the best approach, especially with its locations being well over the plate. It does have solid iVB and VAA marks, but there’s some tweaking to be made here to prevent damage, especially without the San Diego infield defense behind him to scoop up the near 50% groundballs he’ll induce.

Lugo is missing that one last piece to solidify the arsenal when his sinker can’t spot the edges, preventing him from elevating into Top 40 SP territory. The groundball focus makes his WHIP a touch higher than ideal (stupid grounder BABIP) and those needing volume should feel relatively safe with Lugo, especially with the move to Kansas City – the Win chances may be slightly depreciated (the Royals should be a better offense in 2024, though), while the park and division should help, even if there is a more balanced schedule than years past.

 

83. Braxton Garrett (MIA, RHP)

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The 23%+ strikeout rate is unlikely to stick for another season as it was fueled by a ridiculous three-start run of 30 strikeouts in June. At his core, Garrett is a mini version of Cole Ragans, featuring a fastball (sinker) and cutter he uses to jam right-handers, a slider that is used half of the time as a strikeout offering, a curveball exclusive for early called strikes, and a changeup that…isn’t great. Obviously, Ragans’ stuff across the board is better, but his command is as well. Garrett has his moments like any “Toby” where he can get into a rhythm locating sinkers and cutters perfectly on the inside edge to right-handers, landing low sliders, and getting outs away with sinkers and changeups, but to expect him to run through a full season isn’t wise. He’s the perfect streamer or mid-season add when looking for some extra volume.

 

84. Jameson Taillon (CHC, RHP)

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When considering Taillon, it’s best to throw away a lot of his 2023 season. His first half came with plenty of struggles, from losing confidence in his cutter, to injuries and lacking any sort of rhythm. I had the opportunity to sit down with Taillon in December (listen to the chat on our podcast network), where he opened up about his four-seamer, developing his sweeper, and adjustments he plans to make for next season.

It’s weird writing this blurb as I feel the numbers from 2023 don’t paint the picture of what to expect. His four-seamer was battered by right-handers as he left it out over the plate far too often, though I don’t expect the pitch to act the same next season. The potential is there for him to soar consistently across six frames, demolishing right-handers with a bevy of options – cutters down-and-away, sweepers off the plate, sinkers inside, and surprise four-seamers upstairs – while the key will be to create a game plan against left-handers. Taillon could return to the cutter inside, mixing in a new splitter, more sweepers, and four-seamers upstairs, it’s a matter of getting the work done this off-season to execute it next year.

What’s fun for me is understanding how Taillon could surprise many early in the year, allowing us to draft him late and paying close attention to his skill set early on. I really hope that four-seamers find their way upstairs consistently once again.

 

85. John Means (BAL, LHP)

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Each year, there’s hidden value in the draft that goes to pitchers who deliver “Relevant Volume”. Not your guys who have a 3.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, but who make 30 starts, give you 12-15 Wins, close to a strikeout per game, and an ERA and WHIP combo that is better than what’s on the wire. Means could be that guy…if health allows him. The team context is on his side, he has the tools in his arsenal to string together six innings comfortably (it’s a fantastic changeup, a four-seamer that can earn whiffs upstairs, and a slider + curve that we’ve seen steal strikes in the past), it’s simply a matter concerning about his elbow inflammation in late September after a return from not only TJS, but a back injury as well.

Sadly, the raw skills don’t scream “breakout” like they used to. His velocity came back at 91/92 mph, not the 93+ we saw in 2021, while the development we were anticipating on his breakers back in the spring of 2022 was back to square one. I have some small concerns about location consistency as well, rooted in Means’ delivery tilting him toward third base, forcing a bit of wobble on release instead of geared straight toward home plate. It prevents him from getting on top of his changeup, while also affecting his ability to locate high-and-tight fastballs to right-handers. It’s something that can be overcome in time once he gets into a rhythm, though.

Means is an arm to consider to pad the end of your rosters, someone may find himself sticking around far longer than you expected. The home run rates of old will be lower given Walltimore’s existence, while the Wins could pile up quickly. The moment health gets in the way, though, it’ll be wise to cut your losses.

 

Tier 12 – The Possible Spring Pickups & Some Old Guys

Monitor all these pitchers in the spring to see how their abilities have changed since last year + check if they’ve earned a spot out of camp.

 

86. Tanner Houck (BOS, RHP)

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Houck has it set against right-handed batters. It’s a sinker/slider combo that eats up batters on both sides of the plate. Sinkers go backdoor and inside to earn called strikes and weak grounders as its elite drop and exceptional horizontal ride make it a worm-burner that nullifies power bats easily. They set up his two-plane slider that carves up strikeouts down-and-away with ease, while confidently landing over the plate as well. It’s filthy and RHBs are in trouble against Houck.

However, those are the only skills Houck brings to the table, which doesn’t quite work against left-handed bats. He’s tried a splitter, but that pitch was demolished and returned a poor 53% strike rate last year – a mark I wouldn’t expect to rise given the pitch’s difficulty to perfect. His four-seamer is a pitch that should be permanently shelved in all but two-strike counts when he can surprise batters up and out of the zone, and his cutter doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s possible the latter can be refined with time and turn into a reliable strike offering against LHBs, while the slider could become the back-foot threat Chris Sale made famous from the opposite side.

The Red Sox seem determined to give it a shot with Houck and we’ll see in the spring if he’s able to find a good plan of attack against lefties as the sinker/slider should continue to keep him afloat against the majority of hitters. I wouldn’t classify Houck as a stellar command arm, though, and it makes me concerned he won’t be able to find the right groove to rid himself of the dreaded Cherry Bomb label. However, to his credit, that sinker helps him generate quick outs, which helped him reach the sixth more often than expected. Just figure out a better cutter or changeup, please. That’s the last piece Houck needs to keep him locked in the rotation indefinitely.

 

87. Charlie Morton (ATL, RHP)

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Morton’s walk rate jumped plenty last year and it’s a product of his cutter taking a major step back from a near 70% strike rate pitch to just 59%. Throw fewer reliable strikes –> you’re gonna have a bad time. That 1.43 WHIP is ridiculously high, though, and it’s hard to believe Morton is going to return as a 40-year-old without making some adjustments.

Here’s what I would do. Morton’s four-seamer is rough. It’s a dead-zone heater that found too much of the zone, allowed a ton of hits with a high ICR, didn’t get whiffs, held a middling 29% CSW, and is sure to disappoint again. Instead, I’d lean into the arm-side movement of his sinker and do everything to get the dang thing inside to right-handers, while keeping curves in the zone and cutters away. Reverse the plan for left-handers: cutters gloveside and curves for strikes, while utilizing the changeup more as it carries plus drop and fade.

Nick, what do you know? Yeah, that’s a great point. I’m not sure what we’ll get from Morton, but he’ll likely have a strikeout rate above 20% and flirt with 25% as he’ll go 40%+ curveballs once again, while I can only hope he figures out the rest of his repertoire to improve his walk rate without making his hit rate climb. Few places are better to pitch for than in Atlanta though, right?

 

88. Erick Fedde (CHW, RHP)

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Look who it is. Don’t Trust The Feddes, right? I think so? If we get the Fedde from 2022, obviously we want nothing to do with this. However, he spent a year in the KBO where he was the best pitcher in the league, to the tune of 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 209 strikeouts in 180.1 frames. But that’s the KBO! Very fair, though Fedde is not the same pitcher of old. Eric Longenhagen broke down many of the changes Fedde made, including better control, an improved slider feel, a new splitter for whiffs, a sinker that generates more sink and grounders, a cutter to jam left-handers, and a four-seamer that can hit 96 mph, creating a complete five-pitch mix. That outlines a Toby in my book and if you’re searching for volume, Fedde is sure to get a ton of innings for the White Sox, especially with what should be a much-improved strike rate (and thus walk rate). I’d be kinda intrigued about it, though the Wins will be difficult to come by. Not the worst last-round pick, especially if Fedde goes the opening weekend – he’d get the Tigers and be a super sneaky stream. If Fedde looks mediocre there, you can swap him out at the first FAAB period to a younger arm who hasn’t even made a start yet.

 

89. Trevor Rogers (MIA, LHP)

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Rogers should not be ignored. He had just four starts in 2023 and then disappeared to injury for the rest of the season. Injury risk Nick! At the price point of drafts (read: FREE) injury risk means nothing. If he’s starting out of spring and inside the Marlin’s rotation, chase the upside. His 93 mph four-seamer could return to its 94/95 velocity from 2021 and I adore that he split his fastballs into high four-seamers and low/LHB-jamming sinkers with elite arm-side movement in the few games we saw. His changeup is still fantastic and his sweeper could be a reliable strike pitch. The tools are there, it’s more about health than anything. Watch for him sitting 94 mph (and hopefully a reliable slider?) in the spring. If it’s there, I’m circling him in drafts.

 

90. James Paxton (LAD, LHP)

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Paxton to the Dodgers makes all the sense. Sign a pitcher to take over for April while Buehler ramps up, and then by the time Paxton inevitably gets hurt or fatigued, Buehler slides in to take his place. I kinda love taking Paxton in my drafts given his showcase of quality in his early starts each season before his body fails to keep up with his desires to pitch six frames. The team situation is great, he’s likely to pound 95/96 mph heaters that effectively dodge damage due to elite extension, and if he has his curve and/or cutter working, you’re going to get bankable production while you’re searching for long-term options on the wire in April. Just don’t hold on too tightly once he stumbles, okay?

 

91. Ricky Tiedemann (TOR, LHP)

I remember seeing Tiedemann last spring training and believing in his 99 mph heater paired with a vicious slider that can go back-foot to RHBs. I’ve since cooled down a bit on him given the questionable shape of his 95 mph heater (it was a max velo of 99 mph, sadly) that features extremely low iVB marks, and I worry that he doesn’t have the pristine command required to maneuver it around the zone to set up his deadly breaker and his changeup that returned fantastic Stuff+ marks in Triple-A. The Jays have been slow with Tiedemann throughout the minors (justifiably so after he was impacted by a shoulder injury last season), which splashes cold water on the idea of Tiedemann appearing in the rotation early in the season. That said, the moment he appears later this year – who else do they have to replace a starter in the rotation? – he’ll be an instant pick-up. I sure hope that when the time comes, he throws enough strikes and is able to keep the velocity up without shoulder soreness impacting him. Is he someone to stash in 12-teamer drafts? I’m leaning away from the idea given how long you’ll likely be waiting and sacrificing a valuable roster spot in April. That’s up to you, though.

 

92. Reese Olson (DET, RHP)

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Olson is super fun. His slider is filth McGee and is sure to carry him again in 2024 as his go-to pitch in any situation, while I can see him take another step forward with his changeup, a pitch that falls off the table and has massive whiff potential. Expect a better strike rate in the year ahead as he gets more opportunities to get its feel.

The real question is his heaters. The four-seamer just isn’t good at all – poor break, low extension, terrible locations – while the sinker performed well as its aggressive arm-side movement was able to land on the inside edge roughly half the time. If Olson can favor the sinker more and create difficult at-bats as he avoids the heart of the plate, you may find yourself rostering a shockingly efficient starter with a 25% strikeout rate in the depths of the draft. I generally don’t like going for pitchers without strong four-seamers, but this sinker/slider/change combo looks legit, especially when baking in general development.

 

93. Garrett Whitlock (BOS, RHP)

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Unlike Houck, Whitlock has both elements he needs: a devastating two-plane slider that destroys RHBs and an elite arm-action changeup that comes with a 10-inch drop vs. his sinker – all that allows him to handle RHBs and LHBs alike. The problem? His sinker isn’t nearly as good as Houck’s. He’s battled injuries. His slider and changeup make too many mistakes. That’s three problems. WHATEVER. That sinker was a better offering in the past, but Whitlock’s tendency to stay away for called strikes instead of jamming inside doesn’t help the situation, nor does its mediocre movement and dip in velocity from ~95 mph to 93/94 last year.

Whitlock does carry some of the best extension in the game, though, which allows him to get more out of that sinker than the usually low-to-mid 90s heater, and amplifies the effectiveness of his secondaries as batters have less time to react to their aggressive movement. Rhythm is truly what Whitlock needs most at the moment, and it pains me that I feel the Red Sox will not give him the security of a #5 spot out of camp. It’s possible Whitlock soars and forces Houck (or Koufax forbid, Crawford) to the pen, but we’ll likely have to wait for an opportunity to arise elsewhere before Whitlock gets another shot. When that does happen, we can only hope he’s given a long enough leash to find that rhythm of his secondaries while spotting sinkers well enough to turn into a pitcher reminiscent of the peak Cleveland Guardian days, destroying batters with two 20%+ SwStr pitches and a “good enough” fastball.

 

94. Lance Lynn (STL, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Lynn is simple. He’s fine against LHB with a four-seamer, cutter, and changeup mix that doesn’t make us swoon, but it generally survives and that’s far better than many other starters outside the Top 50, and even some inside it. If you’re familiar with Lynn, you know it’s all about the four-seamer and let’s talk about that thing, specifically against right-handers.

He’s throwing the heater 1.5 ticks slower with a steeper VAA and more cut action and it’s killing him. He still misses an exceptional number of bats with it – 20% SwStr rate with the precision of keeping it just above the zone – but when it misses his spot inside the zone, batters are punishing it far more than they used to. 2021 featured a sub 30% ICR for his heater, leading to a magnificent 2.69 ERA and 1.07 WHIP campaign that even came with stumbles out of the gate. The number grew in 2022, but it ballooned in 2023 to 46%, which can’t happen for a pitch that earned strikes over 70% of the time. The gamble of throwing strikes didn’t pay off, leading to more harm than help, and the real difference is that the velo is down to 92.5 instead of 94+ while the pitch shape has made it easier to pummel inside the zone.

We can talk about his cutter and sinker all we want, or even the slider, change, and curve that constantly fail to earn enough strikes, but the heart and soul of Lynn is a heater that incessantly bullies batters upstairs without the massive risk when he misses his spot. With a degrading four-seamer and not much else to lean on, I can’t get behind Lynn for 2024. There’s more to change than approach or mentality, sadly, and it’ll likely get worse before it gets better.

 

95. Kyle Harrison (SFG, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I’m terrified. Harrison’s four-seamer has some great attributes, including an elite VAA with great extension that makes his 94 mph heater perform exceptionally well when elevated properly – 55% hiLoc against RHBs led to a 14% SwStr against them and there’s still room to grow. The pitch fares far differently against LHBs, though, with an astonishing 4% SwStr as he featured the pitch arm-side a bit too much while not nailing his spots around the zone nearly as well.

That can get better, right? Maybe, though his mechanics suggest a slinging southpaw and y’all know how I don’t like those. Harrison comes across as more of a “thrower” who is battling his mechanics rather than the batter in the majority of at-bats. This makes it tough for me to expect massive growth in his second season. Sure, he’ll have those games like the Reds start (and he didn’t even locate that well there), but he has Cherry Bomb written all over himself given the volatility of each individual at-bat.

There are other offerings here, and there’s a chance there’s development in his curve or change or even a brand new offering that allows him to stay ahead of batters. Sadly, that hook isn’t impressive enough to be a proper complement to the heater and that changeup is as rough as it gets. A pick in Harrison is believing the four-seamer will take another step forward this year, including its polish around the zone, and I’m not ready to do that.

 

Tier 13 – The Only IL Stashes To Consider

I’m not one to do IL stashes at all, but if you have IL spots and unlimited moves, you have nothing to lose. Shallower situations, I’d tell you it’s not worth it.

 

96. Jacob deGrom (TEX, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

He’s the best pitcher on the planet. Seriously. His command is fantastic, even if it’s mostly just four-seamers and sliders, but both pitches are the best in class and are spotted brilliantly to make the start feel like it should be a historic one. It’s unclear when deGrom returns, though he’s worth the IL stash simply for the clear swing in your favor if he’s able to return before the season’s end. But how good will he be when he returns? Even if it’s not the far-and-away SP #1 as he was before, there’s so much room before “not worth it” that we shouldn’t be asking that question.

 

97. Max Scherzer (TEX, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

It’s four-seamer/slider with a sprinkle of changeups against RHB, four-seamer/cutter/change/curve against LHB, and it’s getting worse each year. The changeup used to be a major nullifier against LHBs pre-2020 and has since struggled to earn the same whiffs, though it still mitigates hard contact well as it fights with a 60% strike rate. His slider took a massive hit last season, falling from its standard 26%+ SwStr rates against right-handers to a mortal 19% in 2023, with far higher ICR as well. It may have been a product of batters jumping on the pitch earlier in counts (21% Early Ball In Play rate is awfully high), as the pitch’s attributes and locations were in line with career norms.

I dig Scherzer’s cutter against LHB and his curve can be flipped in for strikes against both batters, though that four-seamer isn’t the destroyer of worlds it used to be. An 11% SwStr to RHB in both 2022 & 2023 after a history of 14%+ rates (18% in 2018!) is a huge part of Scherzer’s degradation process, while it still allows too many home runs.

With Scherzer now missing half of the season recovering from back surgery, he’s already going to fall to the end of drafts as an IL stash. I have no problem drafting him – he should help your team when he does return – though keep in mind that there is a lower and lower floor every year with the soon-to-be 40-year-old Scherzer. You may get two months of top-of-the-line production as he lays it all out of the field, but without the fastball and slider of old, he’s not the same guy.

 

98. Drew Rasmussen (TBR, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

Rasmussen didn’t undergo TJS in favor of a hybrid internal brace that will allow him to return sooner than a traditional TJS procedure. However, it still speaks to a mid-season return, and you can expect many to stash him coming out of drafts. His cutter is supreme with stellar marks across the board, and he sports a rising heater with exceptional cut that destroys left-handers and a slider that looks destined to rack up whiffs. He’ll likely get the “Tampa” treatment upon return, though, limiting him to just five frames or so for a fair number of starts. Be prepared for it if you elect to tuck him away for months.

 

99. Robbie Ray (SFG, LHP)

2022 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

We don’t expect Ray back until July at the earliest after undergoing TJS in early May 2023. I’d be a little cautious of his ability when he comes back given Ray’s breakout came when he finally learned how to throw his fastball inside the zone after years of struggles. The last element to return from TJS isn’t velocity but command, which could mean your season-long investment as an IL stash may be fruitless for another few weeks even after he returns.

 

100. Clayton Kershaw (FA, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

NICK, HE’S NOT ON THE DODGERS. Pfffft, he’s gonna sign with them in like June or something and don’t act like you think otherwise. I’m fine stashing Kershaw at the end of your drafts if you want, but I guarantee you there will be a time during the year you’re going to need that IL spot and drop Kershaw. Don’t forget – the Dodgers will likely limit him in his first start back and you won’t even want that start after the long wait, making an even harder situation of “do I hold for the next start or drop him?” after holding him for months while he repairs his shoulder. I’d rather take a flier there instead.

 

101. Dustin May (LAD, RHP)

 

Instead of traditional TJS, May underwent UCL revision last July with the hope he returns near the All-Star break. You can IL stash him if you like, I wonder if it’ll be too much of a hassle, though if he’s able to wrangle his cutter and sinker out of the gate, he’s sure to help in September when the Dodgers will want to ramp him up for the playoffs.

 

Tier 14 – GIVE THEM A JOB

These are mostly prospects who become pick-ups if they get confirmed for a starting gig. Some at the bottom are more suspect then others, and sadly, I don’t believe any of them have a positive chance of actually starting out of camp..

 

102. Paul Skenes (PIT, RHP)

Skenes is an auto-pickup the moment he hits the majors. His four-seamer sits in the upper 90s and is complemented with a true sinker and a big sweeper that excels with his lower arm angle. I have some worry about his mechanical consistency that could return command questions upon entering the big leagues, but his build and obvious skill set make this a “pick up and find out” the moment he arrives. Drafted in 2023 and with two games in Double-A already, I imagine the Pirates could call him up as early as May – there’s little reason to rush his arbitration clock with a spot out of camp. You can stash if you like, just be aware the Pirates have many reasons to be patient here.

 

103. Cade Horton (CHC, RHP)

Here’s the Cubs prospect you should care about. As Geoff outlines below, Horton’s 94/95 mph four-seamer has great spin efficiency (12:15 is the time on which his fast-seamer spins, 12:00 = perfectly spinning in the direction of four-seamer = best for iVB), with a filthy slider he relies on plenty. There’s still room to grow with his curve and changeup, though these two pitches set a fantastic foundation that Cade is sure to build upon.

 

104. Sawyer Gipson-Long (DET, RHP)

 

I really like Gipson-Long… when he gets the chance to start. I see him as the clear #6 at the moment with Olson’s extended look in 2023, even if SGL was able to accumulate 119 frames across the minors and majors last season. He’s got a sinker he can land in the zone for strikes, a decent four-seamer that can be elevated, a fantastic jack-of-all-trades slider, and a changeup that can demolish batters when it’s working. Think a Logan Webb type without the same level of polish and less reliance on the changeup. He’s a possible stash out of the gate and a clear pick-up once he gets a gig.

 

105. Prelander Berroa (CHW, RHP)

Here I was, demoralized and resigned to my fate to watch Berroa turn into a relief arm for the Mariners in 2024. There’s no room. They said. Why would they let him start? They said. And then the light shone through. Suddenly hope appeared as Dipoto gave me a blessing I never anticipated. Berroa not only was traded, but he was dealt to a team in dire need of something electric in their rotation as they piece together a season, twiddling their thumbs until their front office actually does something good for the team. The Chicago White Sox.

Let me tell you all the good things first. When I watch Berroa, I see Cristian Javier with more velocity and a better slider. His heater comes in at around 96 mph (maybe 94/95 in the rotation?) with great iVB and a flat VAA with good extension (the FAN-tastic Four qualities that outline a potential four-seamer to elevate to fan batters) that forces me to emit noise when it blazes by bats, and then he mixes in a devastating slider in the upper 80s. Wait, did I say mixes in? My apologies, I mean wants to throw it more than 50% of the time. Hey, when it’s a filthy slider and you can land it in the zone decently well, you throw it a lot.

But, um, the dude walks guys a ton. We’re talking 14%+ traditionally in the minors and when we talk about prospect pitchers, a major red-flag is a high walk rate. But we’re also talking about 35%+ strikeout rates, too. It makes Berroa out to be a maddening Cherry Bomb type, AND YET I’M EXCITED. Look, I get it. You don’t want to chase Berroa because A) There’s no guarantee the White Sox even stick him in the rotaiton B) Berroa pitched few than 100 frames last year and C) That command is clearly suspect. That’s absolutely rational and fair and you’re likely right.

HOWEVER, I watch Berroa and see less mechanical disaster than expected with those walk rates and hot dang, he feels far closer than other mega-walk fellas I’ve seen to find a balance to get that heater upstairs while that slider is the stabalizer in and out of the zone. It’s possible and sitting here, outside the Top 100 SP, you have nothing to lose. Take the chance, make it happen. POP THAT CORK, FINGERS SNAPPING.

 

106. Tylor Megill (NYM, RHP)

 

I still wonder if Megill can turn into a Bailey Oberizzi type of arm with a heavy emphasis on his four-seamer upstairs and a decent slider and changeup underneath it. He gets such good extension that is unfortunately paired with a decline in both iVB and VAA from 2022 that his four-seamer featured ghastly marks on both, and that limited its effectiveness. That said, he was able to perform better with it down the stretch of 2023 and if he’s able to have a strong off-season and develop further entering 2024, we may see him force his way into the rotation early in the season. Don’t ignore Megill based on his horrific 2023 marks – if he’s painting the top of the zone red with heaters, there’s hope for a strong six-inning arm with a strikeout per inning.

 

107. Mick Abel (PHI, RHP)

He’s good, but not the kind of prospect that interrupts your evening to pick him up when he gets the call. His heavy reliance on a slider/cutter (it’s a filthy pitch) mixed with a 93/94 mph fastball can work (97/98 in the spring, but that was adrenaline), which suggests he can be more of a Toby to Holly arm as he mixes in changeups and cutters as well. That might work well for fantasy purposes when he arrives – I consider Abel the true 6th option for that – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came with a fantastic start or two that inflates his value a little too much in the small sample. Keep your expectations tempered and hope he can handle the bigs decently enough when he gets his shot.

 

108. Max Meyer (MIA, RHP)

When I watched Meyer’s MLB debut in 2022, I wasn’t too impressed. His four-seamer came with cut action (yikes) and his approach of 50% sliders was good but not great. It’s not the kind of pitch that bowls you over, instead being used as a strike pitch, destined to be a decent whiff pitch that is more of a table-setter than a dominator. I am curious whether we see a new version of him now that he’s healthy again, and I have to imagine the Marlins will give him an early shot in the rotation once a spot opens up. Not a terrible spec add when that happens, but not someone I’m jumping over the mountain for when the time arrives, let alone stashing him in my drafts.

 

109. Robert Gasser (MIL, LHP)

He’s a lefty with a low arm angle but without the slinging tendencies of someone like Heaney, Manaea, or Harrison. The highlight is a fantastic slider that debilitates left-handers, though he struggles with right-handers, who hit all 12 of his allowed longballs in 2023. The solution may be the four-seamer, which sits at just 92 mph but can explode at the top of the zone with Gasser’s low arm angle. It doesn’t get the ideal iVB, but the elite VAA may make it a pitch to bully batters. He’s working with a cutter as well that could develop into the nullifier to right-handers, though a changeup is likely the missing tool to complete Gasser’s approach. Hopefully, the walks stay low, comfortably under 10%, and with a touch of development with the heaters and secondaries, Gasser could earn a rotation spot early for the Brewers. There’s some intrigue, even with the Shag Rug ever-present.

 

110. Drew Thorpe (SDP, RHP)

Thorpe is the fourth pitcher here who came over from the Yankees in the Soto deal (How will we replenish our rotation? Aha! Get all of them for Soto!) and after pitching Double-A this year, you may see him aggressively promoted by the Padres if he’s comfortable in Triple-A early in the season. As a command-focused, changeup-first pitcher, I generally avoid prospects like these in their rookie year – the heavy majority of impact arms in your 12-teamers carry either a dominant four-seamer that bullies batters or high-velocity breakers – though the reports on Thorpe are glowing, including Eric Logenhagen’s review, labeling the elite changeup as similar to those of Hellickson or Estrada. Even at the lower velocity, Thorpe may be a sneaky Toby play with the defense behind him, and if he develops another secondary to confidently get strikes (or dare I say whiffs against RHBs!), I can see how he earns your pick-up relying on low-90s sinkers instead of powerful four-seamers.

 

111. Connor Phillips (CIN, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Here’s the thing. Phillips’ four-seamer ranked just below Hunter Greene’s four-seamer in Stuff+ and ranked better with his slider. Why aren’t you using PLV instead? Because his locations were terrible. The four-seamer has brilliant pitch qualities – 96/97 mph velocity, elite VAA, elite iVB, solid extension – but the fella struggled to get the dang thing upstairs. If Connor can consistently elevate, it will demolish batters, while his slider’s shape is fantastic and – guess what – also wasn’t well commanded. The curve can help and fall into the zone at times and is a strong offering when it works, but you get the drill.

I included Phillips into the “Expected Starters” (along with Williamson) despite having five (Update, now SIX. Ugh.) arms already locked in because he’s a step up from the Fringe arms and will absolutely get playing time this year. When Phillips gets the chance, I hope we can throw away the small 20 IP sample we saw in favor of an improved approach and command (yes, approach. It didn’t seem like he embraced his four-seamers’ potential for elevation), turning him into a legit arm for fantasy managers everywhere overnight.

 

112. Joe Boyle (OAK, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Here’s the thing. You’ve seen the 98+ mph four-seamer and know that pitch is legit. It has the iVB, solid extension, and surprisingly decent VAA to go with it and yet…just an 11% SwStr rate in his small three start sample. Why? Because the fella can’t command consistently. His minor league walk numbers are laughable (we’re talking 19%+ y’all. That’s BANANAS) and watching him pitch his three games displayed incessant struggles to execute. If he can somehow find a way to make this fastball carry a 60%+ hiLoc, it’ll be a stupid overpowering pitch, especially paired with an 89 mph slider that falls off the table to make a phenomenal BSB that Tyler Glasnow dreams of.

There’s even a curveball in the mix in attempt for early called strikes as well, creating a package that is all ready to go if only the command could be relied upon. Put the Athletics as a team aside, if Boyle can execute reasonably well, this is a starter you want on your team. Do I believe he will? Sadly, no. He’s likely a HIPSTER at best for 12-teamers and a desperate dart throw for 15-teamers, where his low win chances are sure to keep him off many draft boards regardless of the potential.

 

Tier 15 – Grab Bag Of Intrigue

I can see all of these starters returning value in some way in 2024, though most of them are headaches where you can’t tell if it’s working out, or they have too many questions to answer that make it a low chance to come through to justify a draft pick.grab bag

 

113. Andrew Abbott (CIN, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I see how it can work. Abbott’s four-seamer isn’t an elite offering, but when he’s able to attack right-handers inside with it, the pitch opens up his deadly slider, while a developing changeup (31% putaway rate last year?!) can stabilize into a routine gavel to propel outs and send batters strolling back to the dugout.

The biggest worry is that heater. Even during his absurd start to his MLB career (1.90 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 28% K rate, 8% BB rate, 96% LOB rate lol), there were many moments of questionable fastball command that burned him in August and September. Is that fastball enough of a foundation in a poor home park to allow his slider and changeup to thrive? I think so…? I have seen far worse command in my day and while his heater doesn’t jump off the page with its shape, the four-seamer is still above-average enough that he can elevate it with two strikes effectively. Generally, rookies have better command in their second season and I wonder if Abbott comes into himself more in his sophomore campaign, making an intriguing late grab in leagues. This feels like a higher floor than other arms at this point in drafts.

 

114. Griffin Canning (LAA, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

It’s rare to find a solid four-pitch mix late in drafts, especially paired with a 25%+ strikeout rate. Canning’s well-rounded arsenal pairs a 94 mph heater with a stellar low-80s curveball, a lateral 90 mph changeup, and an upper-80s gyro slider, all of which can earn whiffs when executed. There are a few warts, however. None of these pitches are exceptional mitigators of hard contact, a product of questionable command that has Canning fighting with his arsenal often, hoping to execute the right pitch but falling behind or allowing his heater to fall into the zone at inopportune times.

I love Canning’s reluctance to throw heaters and I hope it continues. He dropped the four-seamer to just 33% usage in 2023, though I was surprised to see his curveball fall to just 13% usage – I consider the big hook his best offering, as his favored breaker (his 29% usage slider) isn’t as sharp and held a near 40% ICR last year. At the very least, a more even split makes the most sense in my view.

All in all, there is a world where Canning gets into a rhythm with all four pitches for a long stretch, prompting solid ratios and strikeouts, though I worry that his propensity for the longball + inconsistent health will make it difficult to trust him outside of great matchups. If only there was a little more dependable electricity in his four-seamer or breaking balls.

 

115. MacKenzie Gore (WAS, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Hey look, another pitcher I’m awfully conflicted about! On paper, Gore has all the things of a sleeper: a four-seamer with excellent shape that can explode if he tweaks its approach (great extension and iVB, good VAA, 95/96 mph velocity) + a big hook that lands low + a slider that can be relied upon to find strikes and whiffs. However, there are two major problems in his way. First, there’s a touch more polish left to apply to his command which has him battling himself more than the batter in some games. It’s sure to make him more of a volatile pitcher than a true “breakout” pitcher if he were to come into his own. Second, he pitches for the Nationals. And this devastates me.

As I mentioned with Josiah Gray, I have a theory the Nationals encourage their starters against throwing high four-seamers. It means Gore held a ~50% hiLoc on his fastball when it should be 60%+, if not higher. This pitch was MADE to be elevated, especially with his slider and curveball falling underneath. And the Nationals aren’t letting him do it. IT’S MADDENING.

That could change on a dime, though. And if Gore embraces it, that 25% strikeout rate could turn into 30% overnight, while the walk rate could keep falling from 12% in 2022, 10% in 2023, and possibly 8% in 2024. The potential mixed with volume is there (well, the Wins that normally come with volume may not), it’s just a matter of that approach shift that I’m not sure we’ll see.

 

116. Casey Mize (DET, RHP)

2021 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Mize is an unknown as he returns from TJS and should earn a rotation gig out of camp. I’d be disappointed if he had the same skillset we saw in 2021: zero pitches above a 13% SwStr rate with his slider acting as an overall strike pitch, a middling 93 mph sinker, a four-seamer that was often saved to elevate in two-strike counts (inefficiently), and an occasional splitter that held a 20% CSW. It’s an exciting time in March when we get a first look at the new man after healing from TJS, though I’d temper expectations. He has a whole lot to change to become a stable fantasy arm – I don’t expect his .254 BABIP-driven 1.14 WHIP to get replicated with his sub-20% strikeout rates. Something has to make us move up in our chairs.

 

117. Jon Gray (TEX, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Gray breaks the Huascar RuleIt’s that simple. His four-seamer is simply not good enough, even at 96 mph, for us to believe it’ll avoid damage on a given night – near 50% ICR against right-handers – even if his slider is a legit offering. It performs better against left-handers as he elects to feature a changeup over 15% of the time, which keeps batters a little more honest on the heater.

That paragraph alone should make you terrified of drafting Gray, let alone all of the interruptions he’s had over the years that have stunted his mini-stretches of looking like an ace (you know, the times when he’s able to spot his fastball well enough to avoid punishment, allowing his slider to destroy). I can see myself jumping in when he’s sitting 96 mph and spotting the heater around the edges while the slider racks up whiffs, then dropping him once he falters or misses a start for whatever reason, and I’d avoid in my drafts as he’ll be a headache out the gate.

But the new slider! Ah, right. He did change its shape a month into the season, turning the slower sweeper into a tighter, 87-89 mph gyro. The thing is, it had similar results regardless of the shape and movement. Its new movement did increase grounders, which limited home runs but increased his overall hits allowed (that’s the trade-off of flyballs vs. groundballs, y’all), and it’s a wash in my book. I’m still out on this.

 

118. Reid Detmers (LAA, LHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I wish I still had the same enthusiasm for Detmers that I had in the spring. Unfortunately, I’ve become pessimistic that his four-seamer can be the dominant pitch we want it to be. Its shape is mediocre, which explains the drop of SwStr this year to 10% despite 87th percentile hiLoc% and an extra tick of velocity. His curveball does a great job of limiting hard contact (27% ICR!) with a 35% CSW, though he doesn’t command it incredibly, acting more like a surprise pitch than a big chase pitch (low 23% O-Swing rate). Meanwhile, the pitch that got me excited initially – a gyro slider that he featured 32% of the time in 2023 – simply isn’t reliable enough. Its 19% SwStr in 2023 showcases the pristine moments, but it gets pummeled constantly. We’re talking 11th percentile ICR at a whopping 46% rate paired with a scary sub-10% called strike rate. In other words, when the pitch is in the zone, batters are swinging aggressively at it and doing damage. Not a good combination.

There was some hope in September for Detmers. A new changeup was introduced, utilized over 20% of the time across four games where he returned just six runs in 24.2 IP. The offering gives some much-needed balance to Detmers’ approach, though it’s not enough for me to suggest he’s found the last missing piece to outline stable success. His command + questionable four-seamer make for too much worry to chase in drafts, unless there’s something new for us to latch onto in the spring. Nick, he had something to latch onto in the spring for two years. Okay that’s fair. Good luck.

 

119. Chase Silseth (LAA, RHP)

If the Angels don’t add a fifth starter, I believe Silseth will start the season in the minors or as a long reliever now that Ohtani is gone, limiting their need for a six-man squad. Many of you recall early August, wondering whether Silseth had become a star after fanning ten Yankees, then twelve Mariners just two starts later. Sadly, he returned just fifteen strikeouts for the rest of the season, starting three games before a terrifying comebacker to the head had him on the sidelines until September 29th. 2023 aside, Silseth’s success comes from a slider and a splitter, the latter of which appeared in the 12-K game and rarely otherwise (12/29 whiffs came from that game alone), while his four-seamer and sinker lay a rough foundation to build a reliable starter. He’s a Cherry Bomb with the poor heater and over-reliance on two breakers to get it done and y’all know by now I hate relying on those for my rotations.

 

120. Matt Manning (DET, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I was fortunate to go on the Detroit Free Press podcast and Mark Darosh said something that didn’t sit right with me at the time. “I think of Zack Wheeler when I see Matt Manning.” It didn’t make sense – Wheeler’s four-seamer is one of the best in the game and Manning’s is…blegh? Well, I see it now, but in the end, we’re both right. Manning’s mechanics are similar to Wheeler’s, with similar elite extension and great VAA on his heater. The problem? It comes in 2-3 ticks slower than Wheeler’s while boasting a sub 40% hiLoc% – good for 5th percentile in the majors. Yikes. It does mean that if Manning can nail down an upstairs approach and find a little extra velo, then there is a legit ceiling to be had. That’s something, right?

The slider is arguably better than Wheeler’s, too. Its 99th percentile PLV isn’t rooted in its whiffability but its immense zone rate, along with a low 32% ICR that enabled Manning to get through more games than his currently pedestrian four-seamer would dictate for other pitchers. Sadly, the curve and change do little to affect the rest of the approach and you have a pitcher who had a massively fortunate season (98th percentile BABIP, 85th percentile HR/FB) with a 16% strikeout rate that requires a large shift in ability for growth. Oh, and he hasn’t started 20 games in the majors yet, almost forgot that one. If he’s sitting 95+ in the spring, he has my attention, but I doubt we’ll get there.

 

121. Clarke Schmidt (NYY, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Schmidt has all the tools he needs to have success as a starter and hold rates under a 4.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP – a mark he held in the valley of the season from May to September across four months. Righties have trouble dealing with his cutter and sweepers over the zone, while they whiff often against the lateral breaker and a big curve that could improve with another season in the bigs. I wish he would save his sinker a bit more, turning away from the pitch over the plate and simply sitting inside as the only pitch that goes the opposite direction. Its 31% usage against righties last year is a touch too high and a cut to 20% for jamming batters would allow his secondaries to dominate more frequently, while amplifying his inside sinkers more than ever.

The real issue is against lefties and I hope Schmidt can take a step forward with his approach to fix it. Without a four-seamer or changeup (that 3% usage slowball doesn’t count y’all), Schmidt features away sinkers around 20% of the time (blegh) and his sweeper gets pummeled when it doesn’t get taken for a strike. That leaves his cutter to do most of the work getting strikes, while his curve is mostly saved for two-strike counts down-and-in, which wasn’t as successful as you’d like to see.

That said, he’ll certainly get another full year in the rotation, given the haze around Rodón and Cortes, unless both are healthy out of the gate and the Yankees add another starter. At the very least, he’s incredibly likely to get regular starts at some point before the end of May. I think this regular playing time can do Schmidt a ton of good to get into a groove with that curve and cutter, helping him dampen his biggest weakness. Maybe throw more curves outside two-strike counts and focus on them a little more toward the middle than hugging down-and-glove-side?

If we see Schmidt every five days with the Yankees, he’s a solid 15-teamer play, with Toby consideration for your 12-teamers given his 20-25% strikeout rate + solid Win chance with the Yankees. They’ll need him for at least five frames if not hoping to get six consistently. You could do far worse at the end of drafts than Schmidt.

 

122. Nick Martinez (CIN, RHP)

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JUST LET HIM START. I say it tongue-in-cheek, but Martinez’s final 22 frames as a “starter” came with goose eggs, led by a Marco Estrada tribute of a changeup that returned a near 50% O-Swing and flirted with a 30% SwStr rate. It’s stupid good, while the days when his curveball hit the bottom of the zone were bliss. His high 80% iLoc (inside location) on his sinker is what you want as he went either front-hip to LHB or jammed lefties, but sadly there’s one last piece missing. Those three offerings are solid, but he’s missing either a four-seamer or cutter/slider to dominate the zone. His cutter was atrocious with a 52% ICR (I didn’t know they went that high) while the four-seamer wasn’t much better.

If Martinez can unlock a mid-80s slider or find a way to steal effective strikes with fastballs, he could be gold. Maybe he goes Logan Webb and pushes the changeup to 50% usage, sporting rare sinkers and curves, and calls it a day. Just stop throwing the cutters and four-seamers, okay?

 

123. Jhony Brito (SDP, RHP)

 

Brito is an interesting one. His sinker does a great job living inside with 96 mph velocity and excellent arm-side run, and I adore his command to sit there consistently. He saves the four-seamer for two-strike counts, which doesn’t work since his delivery is incredibly over-the-top and the pitch has poor vertical break, leaving the changeup and curve as his only options as a putaway pitch. Sadly, the curve is a 12-6 without the depth you want to see, forcing his changeup to do all the work. If he can become more consistent with the slowball against RHBs, there’s some upside there, though it soars against LHBs and should continue to do so at 40% usage. In short, he’s a sinker/change guy who needs a cutter for LHBs and a sweeper for RHBs, neither of which I have faith in given his arm-side break on his four-seamer and high vertical release point that makes a sweeper difficult to get around properly. I wonder what development we’ll see on a breaking ball, though if he unlocks one, there’s legit upside to be had as an innings eater. The sinker and change are a solid foundation, he just needs that whiff pitch against righties and one more option against lefties.

 

124. Logan Allen (CLE, LHP)

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If you’re looking for an innings eater at the end of your drafts, Allen could fit the bill. There are times when his 90/91 mph heater finds the edges, allowing him to set up an at-times devastating changeup and a big breaker, which allows him to earn about a strikeout per inning in the process. However, that heater can get tagged a fair amount, forcing him to lean more on a cutter halfway through the season, a pitch that few would write home about.

All in all, it’s just a bit boring. We don’t draft Toby types and I imagine Allen will be drafted in QS leagues, but his high hit rate merged with a likely dip in strikeouts will make for a frustrating experience unless he finds a rhythm early.

 

125. J.P. France (HOU, RHP)

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The assumption is that France has the #5 SP spot above Urquidy entering the season, and if that holds, there’s value to be had. Despite France featuring four-seamers nearly 50% of the time and the pitch getting torched by batters on both sides of the plate, his secondaries make up plenty of the slack to keep his head afloat in a great situation for the Astros. RHBs are served cutters for a 70% strike rate that keep batters at bay, while sprinkling in a slider that carried a shockingly low 53% strike rate against those batters last season. Expect France to make the adjustment to not bounce as many slide pieces and get more out of the pitch to help stave off RHBs against his struggling heater.

LHBs get a different look of changeups and curveballs, each boasting a phenomenal sub 30% ICR. I adore France’s confidence in his changeup, frequently taking advantage of aggressive batters when behind in counts, while the curve’s sub 60% strike rate leaves me wanting a bit more from his best breaker.

France isn’t primed for a breakout campaign ahead of him. His four-seamer is far from a foundation to build upon, while his quartet of secondaries lacks the electricity needed to ascend the ranks, likely keeping his strikeout rate comfortably under 20%. However, the Astros provide all the benefits of potential Wins and solid defense that can turn France into a decent streaming play, if not a back-end option for 15-teamers in desperate need of volume.

 

126. Frankie Montas (CIN, RHP)

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The Reds added Montas in a surprise signing, suggesting they may move into a six-man rotation for the spring – it makes sense given the massive injury history across the staff, the limited workload of Martinez as a starter, and Abbott’s youth – or Montas may not even be fully healthy himself given his long recovery from his shoulder injury and the fact he was sitting 2-3 ticks down in his brief appearance at the end of 2023.

But let’s say Montas looks like his 2021/2022 self in the spring. Who is that guy and what does he bring to the table? Right-handers saw sinkers inside, four-seamers saved for two-strike counts (down-and-away with a near 17% SwStr rate, oddly enough), sliders that don’t bite like the slider you want it to be, and Gotcha! splitters that missed plenty of bats when executed well in two-strike counts. Even during the down year of 2022, Montas still kept right-handers in check with this approach, with that sinker doing so much work earning outs with a 70% groundball rate as it sat inside and off the plate.

Left-handers are the problem and will likely be so again for another season. His sinker is used too often away – y’all know I hate away sinkers to opposite-handed batters – and it returned a 45% ICR, while his splitter’s usage ramped up to 33% (standard affair for opposite-handed batters) but returned a sub 60% strike rate in the process, while dropping from a glorious 26%+ SwStr in 2021 to sub 20% in 2022. He’ll have to retain that splitter and hopefully find the precision of his four-seamer to go up-and-in to keep batters off that sinker.

The Yankees introduced him a cutter in hopes of keeping LHBs at bay, but Montas failed to locate the pitch consistently, while his slider tried to be a back-door offering for called strikes. It never locked in and it’s hard not to have doubts that Montas will struggle in this department once again.

If we see Montas smoking 95/96 mph heaters with ease in the spring, there’s hope he can be a massive value in drafts as many are quick to label him as a boulder tumbling down the peak. Montas is at his best when he pairs these heaters with a consistent splitter and a slider that finds the zone often enough, which can come in waves as well. It’s unlikely Montas finds a rhythm for the full year, though there could be pockets of gold along the way, with 6+ starts and solid ratios. Don’t overlook it just because injuries have tormented him.

 

127. Sean Manaea (NYM, LHP)

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Manaea is a weird one. He went to Driveline the previous off-season and found himself with a major velocity spike to 93/94 mph (even hit 97!) after years of struggling to keep his head above 90 mph. However, he struggled in the rotation early for the Giants and was banished to the pen until September, when he was brilliant. His four-seamer had a 17% SwStr rate out of nowhere across 24 frames of 2.25 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP with a…oh. 19% strikeout rate. At least that four-seamer held a 14% SwStr rate with a 70% strike rate over the full year against RHBs, though its 44% ICR leaves a lot to be desired. It needs to be more than it currently is and that’s a big ask.

His slider and changeup still need work, as well, with the slider failing to dominate LHBs as you’d want it to and the changeup held a sub 10% SwStr rate against RHBs. It’s a product of Manaea’s wonky overall command like your standard slinging southpaw. Some may be hyped that the Mets are giving him a proper shot in the rotation, though it’ll likely come with a small dip from his peak velocity while it’s asking too much for the secondaries to take a step forward without anything else regressing. He has HIPSTER written all over him and that’s the best-case scenario.

 

128. Jack Flaherty (DET, RHP)

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I ask you a question. What is Flaherty’s best pitch? It’s obviously his slider. I think so too, and yet, it’s had just one season of his four where it carried an ICR below 40%, and even that was a pedestrian 37% clip. Its SwStr rate fell to just 13% last season and the rest of the repertoire needs work. Flaherty’s four-seamer has cut-action and little iVB, which means its flat VAA has to do too much heavy lifting, and may work better to jam left-handers while staying low and away to right-handers in hopes to freeze them when looking for the slider. Honestly, it’s hard to find the path for Flaherty that isn’t “throw a better slider, find a better third pitch than your curve, and try to sneak in more four-seamers for strikes and out of the heart of the plate.” That just sounds like general advice and something he’s tried to do for years. Sure does. Uh oh.

I’m not sure what role he plays. The signing implies that the Tigers will give him a chance, putting him over Mize or Olson in the rotation, allowing the Tigers to get the most of their money before pushing arms they still have options on. Get ready to be upset.

 

129. Michael Soroka (CHW, RHP)

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I don’t really know what to say about Soroka. We’ve barely seen him since his 170+ IP 2019 season, dealing with injury after injury, then just 32.1 IP last year that were all kinds of weird. He suddenly earned four-seamer whiffs with 60% hiLoc despite terrible shape on the pitch across the board. He’s still jamming RHBs with sinkers as well, with a decent slider away, and a changeup that should perform better over a larger sample against LHBs.

The big pro here is the situation: Soroka is going to get all the opportunities to eat innings for the White Sox, finally getting the canvas he’s been seeking for the last four years. I loved him back in the day as a young arm in a great situation and absurd command for someone his age, suggesting he’d develop better than your typical rookie. However, now that he turns 27 in August, time is running out and the skills aren’t there yet. He’s an arm to be aware of for 12-teamers as a possible early pick-up if he’s hitting the edges effectively and working more than a two-pitch mix for each side of the plate (changeups vs. LHB, sliders vs. RHB). 15-teamers, I’d consider Soroka as a dart throw near the end as someone who could surprise us with decent ratios and a 20%+ strikeout rate. The White Sox will win some games, right?

 

130. José Urquidy (HOU, RHP)

 

 

Urquidy is the only arm truly on the fringe (I apologize, but I refuse to write about Brandon Bielak) with Garcia and McCullers both resting on the sidelines and Shawn Dubin waiting in the minors (he may see some frames here and there but I wouldn’t anticipate as a proper starting option with his high walk rate). As for Urquidy, his four-seamer used to be a solid offering, earning flyballs galore and avoiding massive punishment, but it returned a horrific 51% ICR vs RHB last year. It’s a product of two problems: Urquidy’s struggles to earn strikes with his slider against RHBs, which allowed batters to sit heater constantly + his massively increased hiLoc% from near 50% to well over 60%. But wait, he has 19 iVB on his four-seamer! That’s BONKERS! It does and is the catalyst for his high flyball rates, but even with the elite iVB, his ghastly VAA and extension mixed with low-90s velocity degrade its potential. I’d actually suggest Uruqidy go the Zac Gallen route of low four-seamers, stealing called strikes low in the zone and setting up the changeup, as the heater is too hittable upstairs even with the vertical movement. It makes me wonder if we can throw away the poor 2023 campaign and specifically look for his slider to find the glove-side edge more often in concert with low heaters to make it all come together again for a solid year. Keep an eye on this.

 

131. Yariel Rodriguez (TOR, RHP)

Instead of reading my blurb on Yariel, you should read this fantastic debut piece from Shawn Spralding, outlining Yariel’s journey. He’s mostly a mid-to-upper 90s four-seamer arm with a legit sweeper, though there is a curve and change in the mix as well that suggests Yariel could be the sixth option for the Jays this season as he’ll likely work in the long relief role initially. That said, with the haze around Alek Manoah and Ricky Tiedemann coming out of camp, Yariel is a dark horse candidate to steal the SP #5 role if he looks ready to limit walks as a rotation piece instead of returning to the power reliever he became prior to the WBC. Pay attention to Yariel in March.

 

132. Garrett Crochet (CHW, LHP)

There’s some hype around Crochet getting an audition for a rotation spot in the spring and I’m waiting to see more from Crochet. Back in 2021, before he got TJS, Crochet’s four-seamer had some promise, featuring elite extension and 97 mph paired with a high 16.8 iVB…but its low VAA and poor locations made it return a sub 10% Swstr against RHBs. That pitch was worse in the brief 13 IP sample was saw of him, featuring 14 iVB with the same extension, VAA, and velocity. Considering the pitch was already missing polish, I’m concerned it will hold back Crochet across starts frequently. The allure is in his filthy slider, which should still miss plenty of bats, but without another secondary pitch to support the four-seamer (he has expressed zero command of his changeup thus far), it’s easy to classify Crochet as a Huascar Rule and move on. All of that said, we may see Crochet in the minors to start the year as he stretches out as a starter, and we could have the luxury of getting a look at his fastball and #3 pitch development before making a decision.

 

133. JP Sears (OAK, LHP)

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A PLV darling who Kyle Bland calls “the lefty Paul Sewald“, Sears receives a favorable grade on his four-seamer due to a super-flat arm angle, and the pitch explodes at the top of the zone. The thing is, Sears is still working on locating that four-seamer consistently upstairs, with just a 50th percentile high-location (hiLoc%) in 2023. We’ve seen games where the pitch earns double-digit whiffs when he can pound the top of the zone with the offering. His mechanics are far more centered than other southpaw slingers, suggesting more growth for consistency than the typical “just locate it better!” young arms.

He backs it up with a poor changeup that doesn’t get enough drop and finds too much of the zone to be reliable, though if its zone rate drops below 35% (maybe even 30%?), it could turn into a putaway offering or a nullifier against right-handers who are aggressively trying to get out in front of his four-seamer. The true #2 is a big sweeping slider with a movement ranging from cut action to massive back-foot Sale-esque break. There’s high whiff potential here as well, making the heater/slider combo a very legit one given more time on the bump. There are worse dart throws for 2024, especially with Sears comfortably locked into the rotation for an entire season in a low-pressure environment. The Wins are unlikely to pile on, though you should expect at least five, with an outside chance at 10 if he can string enough six-inning starts together (the Athletics are not going to get shut out every game, y’all). Consider him more for 15-teamers instead of 12-teamers given the volatility here.

 

134. Brady Singer (KCR, RHP)

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I’m not a believer in Singer and honestly, I’m flabbergasted by his approach. He’s a sinker/slider guy nearly exclusively, relying on sinker called strikes glove-side (to both RHB and LHB) while he does a fantastic job of keeping his slider down consistently, mostly glove-side. What does he throw arm-side? Nothing. What. Okay fine, a changeup 13% of the time to LHB, but it has a 48% ICR and 45% strike rate. Wait, so a higher ICR than strike rate… THAT CAN HAPPEN?! I didn’t know either.

Singer does a solid job against right-handers given how good his slider command is. If you can consistently spot that thing out of the zone and right on the corner away, you’re going to make your fastball better as batters are so conscious of that slider. Both pitches return well under a 40% ICR there, even without his sinker jamming batters. It’s kinda weird that more right-handers don’t lean out and focus intently on taking away the outside corner, but hey, it works.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I went into this expecting two things: Singer’s two-seamer to have elite arm-side movement and his slider to be elite either in glove-side or vertical movement. IT IS NONE OF THOSE THINGS. Honestly, I actually wonder if Singer should be focusing on a four-seamer instead of a sinker. He carries a great VAA and elite extension, while the lack of horizontal run on the sinker and higher-than-average iVB on the sinker makes me wonder what his four-seamer shape could be (he didn’t throw a single one last year and the few in 2022 may be misclassified).

I don’t expect that to happen, which means it’s gonna be more sinker/slider for another year, with little promise of that changeup becoming anything legitimate. Start him against right-handed lineups, sit against quality lefties. It’s that easy.

 

135. Ryne Nelson (ARI, RHP)

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As little excitement as I had for Nelson during the second half of 2023, I can see how he could easily flip the script in 2024. Despite the sub 10% SwStr numbers, his four-seamer carries excellent vertical break at 94/95 mph, which could outline dominance if he’s able to raise its 37th percentile high locations – get that pitch upstairs (maybe with a tick of more velocity?) and suddenly he’s bullying batters left and right. His slider also speaks to far more success if he brings it out of the 12% usage dungeon, which we did see across three of his September outings with 20%+ usage. The breaker’s elite 24% ICR, solid PLV, and 60% strike rate speak to being the proper #2 Nelson needs moreso than the cutter and changeup. I do worry a little about his command, though more time on the hill making small tweaks with the timing of his front shoulder could smooth things out quickly. With the Diamondbacks likely needing Nelson every five days out of the gate, I’d pay attention to his development. He’s not a lost cause as we see with many other young arms after a season or two.

 

136. Tyler Wells (BAL, RHP)

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Technically, I should have Wells in the next tier as the Orioles could continue to keep him in his September bullpen role for the year ahead, especially with three (if not four including Kremer) arms with inside tracks to a starting spot + the high chance of the Orioles adding one more arm across the winter. BUT HE SHOULD START. The fella was fantastic through the first four months of the season with a 3.18 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 25% strikeout rate through his first 104.2 IP until fatigue set in, affecting his mechanics and it led to an option to Triple-A until he returned in a relief role.

The stuff is good but not the catalyst for his success. Wells’ pitch separation is key with a four-seamer he elevates more than most and carries exceptional rise, paired with a filthy changeup armside, a cutter to backdoor left-handers and steal strikes away against right-handers, and a slider + curve to steal strikes down-and-gloveside. Wells is able to move around the zone well, though mistakes with the 92 mph heater in the zone can burn him, as well as the cutter that floats into barrels and changeups that don’t get low enough. Still, we saw what he can do when he’s in rhythm – it was deserved success, for the most part – and I truly hope he demands Baltimore to give him another shot as a starter. He fits there far better than in relief with his wide arsenal.

 

137. Chris Paddack (MIN, RHP)

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Think back to 2019. What was Paddack’s best attribute? His fastball. Great answer. Some may say it was his Vulcan changeup (read: split-change), but it all went through the heater. And hey! He returned from TJS and was throwing 95/96 mph out of the pen! THE SHERIFF IS BACK IN TOWN. Spoiler alert: He’s not.

Sadly, PLV had that heater last year at an abysmal 4.44 PLV, a product of the pitch’s mediocre pitch shape. Wait, I thought it was elite! Sadly, it’s not. Paddack features solid extension, but its iVB and VAA do it few favors and let’s be honest, Paddack isn’t going to be firing 95/96 mph bullets after moving from the bullpen to the rotation.

At least he still has a good changeup, though we still don’t like the breaker and I’ve lost the energy to go more into detail. I sincerely hope the Twins give Varland the chance before Paddack to start, as Paddack seems best suited for the pen with his lack of arsenal depth and pedestrian four-seamer. This ain’t it.

 

138. Graham Ashcraft (CIN, RHP)

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Oh Ashcraft, the perfect example of a PEASHis slider grades so dang well as the pitch can come in at 91 mph with above-average drop and sweep, making it a premier breaker when he’s able to spot it properly. What about the rest of his repertoire? He throws a 96 mph cutter! Yeah, it’s really a four-seamer with a lot of cut and he doesn’t know how to wield it. If Ashcraft could get the pitch gloveside to left-handers or back-door it low, merged with down-and-gloveside against right-handers, he’d be filthy.

But he can’t. Ashcraft has these moments of bliss where the cutter isn’t elevated (please, stop trying to make that a thing. It’s a gift for batters as it falls into the barrel) and he pairs it with the vicious slider. There’s also a sinker that has little to no horizontal movement, turning into a dead-zone heater that grades as one of the worst pitches in the majors despite the 96/97 mph velocity. Oh about that. Ashcraft’s poor extension takes off about two ticks (give or take) off his pitches, making said sinker the meatiest of meatballs when it isn’t perfectly spotted just off the edge.

In short, if Ashcraft can actually stay low, he’ll be a groundball fiend in the exact park you should be a groundball fiend, with potential for strikeouts with that amazing slider. But that’s a massive IF as command has never been a skill of his – even when he was performing well last season (and let’s not talk about when he wasn’t performing well…that was the roughest May I’ve ever seen). This is too much of an ask, but if you want to take a shot and watch his first game, go right ahead. There’s always a chance.

 

139. Ryan Weathers (MIA, LHP)

You know, there’s some intrigue here. Back on the Padres in the spring, his iVB (induced vertical break) numbers were stellar, before they declined rapidly through April. Coming to the Marlins, he posted a phenomenal final outing of the year against the Pirates where he was able to pound the zone with 94/95 mph heaters (he hit 96.7!), earned plenty of whiffs on a slower breaker, and displayed a solid changeup. We often ask “How do we find the next [2023 stud] in 2024?” and Weathers is a perfect example of needing to grow just a bit here and there to become something legitimate. It’s a huge ask, but it’s possible if he works across the off-season to add a tick of velo with a focus on limiting his arm-side run and more iVB on the heater. His new slider works, while the changeup’s velocity gap in concert with a similar look to the fastball makes it outperform its PLV. Pay attention in the spring to see if Weather’s fastball took a step forward or not.

 

Tier 16 – Volume is Volume

Oh look, you have a job and you can actually give me some value sometimes. Also, if you haven’t already, it’s wise to start ignoring the actual ranks now. I’m going through and grouping mostly, and if you disagree with a grouping, let alone a few number ranks, I get it. It gets much harder to properly rank when the expectations for everyone are so low.

 

140. Wade Miley (MIL, LHP)

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I have to hand it to Miley. The approach works and I think because he’s not going to strike out 20% of batters, he gets overlooked a bit. There’s a reason he’s held a sub 4.00 ERA in all but one of his last six seasons (14.1 IP of 2020 is the only exception) and his WHIP fell to a fantastic 1.14 mark last season…with a glorious .236 BABIP that should rise, though his 34% overall ICR was 95th percentile in the majors.

He does it with fantastic command. His cutter busts right-handers inside and surprises back-door while against left-handers, he lands it comfortably in the zone; he saves four-seamers to shock right-handers inside and left-handers down-and-away; his slider takes down left-handers; his changeup earns all the outs down-and-gloveside to right-handers…it’s all there for the crafty left-hander, save for the big hook that only shows up a handful of times. There is one major downside, however: his pitch counts. The Brewers limited him to just 81 pitches per game in 2023, forcing him to go just over five innings per start. It’s frustrating for those in QS leagues, while it also limits his Win potential. Consider Miley as a deep 15-team add to help with ratios and hope he sees the sixth inning more often this year. For 12-teamers, he’s just a streaming option and nothing more.

 

141. José Quintana (NYM, LHP)

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Quintana is a command-focused arm, who made a few changes in 2023 as batters adjusted to his 2022 approach. After using four-seamers upstairs to both LHBs and RHBs, Quintana was forced to put the heater back in the zone against LHBs, while his four-seamer was suddenly destroyed by RHBs as it lost a tick of velocity, jumping from a sub 40% ICR to north of 50%. Rough times.

It forced him to incorporate more changeups against right-handers at the cost of a few extra walks, while the curve against left-handers also took a step back, with a dramatic plummet of its SwStr from 24% to just 11%. Fortunately, the sinker stepped up to take more of the burden of outs, though it cut into his strikeout rate.

It’s possible Quintana finds that hook again and can regain some velocity, but as a 35-year-old, it’s a tall order to get extra hop on your four-seamer. This is likely going to get worse before it gets better, making his 3.57 ERA look like an idealistic goal rather than a reasonable task. Those viewing Quintana as a conservative arm in 12-teamers will likely be disappointed, especially when they’ll be able to snipe him off the wire for a weak opponent or two during the summer months.

 

142. Zack Littell (TBR, RHP)

At the moment, Littell has a fair shot at the Rays’ rotation, though he’s at most a desperate streaming option for a Win chance and not in consideration for 12-teamers and questionable for deeper formats. Littell leaned into his slider as a starter, featuring it 40% of the time despite not boasting elite marks (10% SwStr rate?!). He pairs it with a decent heater that he elevates well and an occasional splitter that held just a 42nd percentile SwStr rate and…that’s it. There are days he can go BSB with the heater and slider and go six frames of decency, though I have to imagine there’s more to chase here.

 

143. Cody Bradford (TEX, LHP)

He was given some opportunities when the Rangers badly needed it in 2023 and you can feel their heavy sighs months away when they inevitably give him the pearl in the first inning when there’s no one else to turn to. He features excellent extension and excellent iVB on his heater, but its 90 mph velocity and horrible VAA weigh down its ascension, making the pitch Bradford’s foundation, but requiring help from his secondaries to soar. If his changeup took a step forward to silence right-handers, the four-seamer can do the work almost all on its own against lefties (no, not the slider. Definitely not the slider). That’s an easier path toward success than I expected, but there’s also a solid chance his sub 30% ICR on four-seamers vs. LHB goes north in the year ahead.

 

144. Dean Kremer (BAL, RHP)

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Pitch Repertoire Table

 

Kremer is a slinger from the right side. It makes his four-seamer earn a fair number of whiffs when elevated with two strikes (near 14% SwStr last year!), though getting there and executing it properly is the issue. His sinker isn’t used to jam batters but to live down-and-low while his money maker is a cutter that he hopes to sneak around the zone. When that cutter is nailing the zone, it opens up the changeup late with the aforementioned high heater, and when he’s lucky, the big breaker can be a factor as well.

If this approach seems ehhhhh to you, it’s because it is. There are times when it all clicks and the solid Orioles team backs him up, though it can be frustrating to watch him open his shoulder too soon, resulting in missed locations on nearly every other pitch. The cutter is the closest he has to a “back-pocket” offering when he’s backed into a corner, but it’s not the elite weapon others have to preserve ratios and save the day. He’s a decent two-step option against poor teams when he starts as the Orioles will let him go 90+ pitches, and he offers some whiffability, though the volatility is destined to frustrate many.

 

145. Dane Dunning (TEX, RHP)

2023 Stats Table
Pitch Repertoire Table

 

I understand how he works as a