2023 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Preview: Top-20 rankings, sleepers and draft strategy
Pitchers betray us every fantastic season, no matter when we pick them. It’s shameful. This place is full of scammers. Fraudsters. Charlatans. Deceivers. Injury rates and volatility are high; workloads are in a multi-seasonal slump. There is little honor in the profession of a pitcher, especially in our time.
I, for one, am glad that Major League Baseball has finally put an end to the egregious waste of time by these monsters. Pitchers are bound to disappoint us in the end, so the least they can do is work fast.
It’s been over ten years since any major league player hit 250 innings in a single season (Justin Verlander in 2011), which should be regarded as a national scandal. Not so long ago, 250 was not enough to make the leaderboard. Today, this is an unimaginable sum. Martin Perez played 196.1 innings last season, finishing 10th in MLB. Back in 1974, eight different pitchers threw 300-odd frames, led by Nolan Ryan with 332.2, and the 10th-place guys, Steve Busby and Andy Messersmith, threw 292.1 frames.
Draft strategy for this terrible position
Given how little starting pitchers are required to do in the modern game, it’s no surprise to learn that none of these guys are selected as first-round fixed players in terms of ADP. Ideally, if you’re going to pick someone from this four-category position in the first place, you want to make sure you’re getting not just an ace, but a guy who can pitch a huge percentage of your team’s total innings. However, in recent years, 200 is the best-case scenario, almost a wild outlier. It’s not an amount you can reasonably predict for any pitcher.
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In addition, we clearly do not have vintage. Clayton Kershaw or Pedro Martinez in the pool of players in 2023, someone who clearly belongs to their own level. Corbin Burns And Gerrit Cole are excellent, but they are undeniably no better than, say, Aaron Nola or Shohei Otani or Jacob de Grom or Verlander. If you’re determined to get one of these signature starters at the start of the bottling…well, good. But please limit yourself to one. The only thing dumber than drafting a pitcher in the first round is drafting pocket aces. Remember these guys actively trying to harm us.
Each year, several of fantasy baseball’s most valuable starting pitchers are not selected for the standard mixed leagues. Nestor Cortes, Spencer Strider And Tony Gonsolin last season, so it’s okay to leave the draft with an unfinished rotation. Eat a lot of viable ways to attack this bad spot on the roster, so don’t feel like you need to build your portfolio in the first half of the draft.
Personally, I don’t mind going 10 rounds before considering starting pitch options, but the ZeroSP approach isn’t for everyone. Most of you cowards don’t want to get involved in pitching chaos. Alas.
Regardless of how you rotate your fantasy lineup, there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a few fliers at the end of the round. Here are five preferred options:
• Hunter Brown it’s kind of like the 12th member of the Houston Astros and the third dude named Hunter who was selected in a typical draft, so the demand is relatively low. But its ability cannot be denied. It offers elite speed, an evil cutter, and evil breaking things. Brown hit 11.4 batters per nine innings in Triple-A last season at an outstanding odds and then carried that level of scoring into the big leagues for another 20.1 innings (22 R, 7 BB, 2 R). His year is likely to be divided between primary and secondary relief, but with Lance McCullers Jr. already dented, there is a clear path to rotation at the start of the season. Whether it’s a start or a replacement, his features will be of the highest quality and he’s tied to a winning environment.
• Ross Stripling made huge strides last season with Toronto, posting a career-best 3.01 ERA (3.11 FIP) and 1.02 WHIP. It has since moved to an overwhelming energy home park in San Francisco, but fantasy creators don’t seem to be thrilled. Stripling isn’t some kind of flamethrower outing machine, but he’s also not a major hindrance in Ks (22.4 K% career). He lacks Brown’s (or that next guy’s) ceiling, but is extremely safe and playable in mixed leagues.
• Edward Cabrera has been a highly regarded player over the past few years, but injuries have delayed his arrival. Last year, he struck out 54 batters in 38.2 minor league innings in the Miami system (mostly Triple-A), posting 0.98 WHIP along the way. Cabrera then threw another 71.2 innings for the Marlins, eliminating 75 major league hitters while providing useful odds (3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). Control may be a problem, but lack of bats is not. He has ace potential.
• Hayden Wesnesky starts spring training in competition to open as the Cubs’ fifth rookie starter, which is mildly annoying because I’d say he’s no worse than the team’s third-best starter. His six-game cameo at the end of last season was extremely promising as he posted a 0.94 WHIP hitting 33 batters and passing seven in 33.0 innings. His slider was brutal and sometimes he was untouchable:
You probably don’t draft Wesnesky in the mixers, but if he makes noise at the start of the season, be prepared to pounce on the rejection wire. In September, he showed great potential.
[2023 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]
• Roanci Contreras is in rotation in Pittsburgh and has a promising first season (95.0 IP, 86 K, 3.79 ERA). Contreras upped the pace significantly in 2021, diving into fantastic conversation with a massive breakout season in senior junior (12.7 K/9, 0.93 WHIP). We can’t promise a big win, but Contreras needs to collect Ks with his vicious fastball/slider combo.
Top 20 starting pitchers (as of February 24)
1. Corbin Burns
2. Gerrit Cole
3. Aaron Nola
4. Sandy Alcantara
5. Shohei Otani
6. Jacob de Thunder
7. Spencer Strider
8. Justin Verlander
9. Brandon Woodruff
10 Shane McClanahan
11. Shane Bieber
12. Max Scherzer
13. Dylan Stop
14. Julio Urias
15. Carlos Rodon
16. Zach Wheeler
17. Frambert Valdes
18. Luis Castillo
19. Yu Darvish
20. Alex Manoa