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Starting Pitcher Breakouts To Improve for Fantasy Baseball (2024)

Cole Ragans - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

The 2023 season was the year of the rookie starting pitcher. Those young guns and some resurgent mid-career hurlers make for an interesting starting pitcher landscape going into the 2024 season. With some guys changing clubs and others with more or less support behind them, it is time for a fresh appraisal of the starting pitching breakouts from 2023.

Which rookie studs will continue an upward trajectory? Which guys had strong second-half performances in 2023? Which post-hype arms and mid-career resurgences merit attention for the upcoming season?

Ben Ueberroth (@UeberMD) takes a look at some of last year’s studs who are likely to continue a meteoric trajectory into 2024.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:


Post-Hype Fantasy Baseball Breakouts

These names have been around the fantasy baseball block but showed significant promise to close out 2023 and build an even stronger 2024.

Tarik Skubal - Detroit Tigers

Skubal is an ideal target for an SP2 with his current ADP around 50. Statistically, he is far and away the best pitcher on this list. He led the MLB with a 2.04 FIP in the second half of the 2023 season with second place being Cole Ragans, an entire galaxy away with an FIP of 2.49. He managed to be fifth in second-half K% at 32.3% thanks in large part to a 32.2% CSW%, also a top-five second-half statistic.

The nuts and bolts of Skubal’s approach in 2023 suggest he has turned a corner with his pitch choices and mechanics. In 2022, Skubal’s most frequent pitch was a slider accounting for 30.9% of his pitches, a four-seam fastball close behind (26.6%), and a changeup only 14.9% of the time. In 2023, Skubal led with his four-seamer at 36.0% of pitches, not to mention he is averaging 95.8mph compared to 94.1mph on that pitch in 2022. His changeup is now also his clearcut second pitch at 24.5% of pitches and brings with that a 50.6% Whiff% and 31.3% PutAway%.

With a change in his approach to support his significant improvement from 2022 to 2023, Skubal is here to stay. While it would be ideal to have a bit more run support, Skubal should keep the Tigers in every game he starts and be a great candidate for quality starts. Draft him as a confident SP2 with a real chance of ace upside.

Zach Eflin - Tampa Bay Rays

Eflin had what was easily his best MLB season in 2023 with the Rays, compiling 16 wins over a solid volume of 177.2 IP. Under the hood, his 3.01 FIP was good for a top-ten finish across the MLB in 2023. The most obvious reason for the improvement was a jump in K% from 20.8% in 2022 to 26.5% in 2023.

Eflin increased his CSW% from 27.6% in 2022 to 30.2% in 2023, a large jump in a very telling statistic. Eflin improved his location and ability to get whiffs significantly from 2022 to 2023, further supported by an increase in SwStr% from 9.9% to 11.1% year over year. Eflin was a bit of a one-trick pony in 2022, throwing his sinker 39.9% of the time, a pitch with an abysmal 13.5% Whiff%. In 2023, he still led with his sinker but only 31.9% of the time.

The subsequent increase in his curveball rate from 20.1% of pitches in 2022 to 26.5% in 2023 likely explains at least some of Eflin’s increase in K%. His curveball in 2023 had a 34.9% Whiff% and 24.9% PutAway%. While these numbers are similar to 2022, he threw this effective pitch much more frequently in 2023. Furthermore, his sinker PutAway% increased from 17.3% in 2022 to 26.2% in 2023, likely a result of varying his pitches more. Eflin is an easy SP3 with SP2 upside.

Nick Pivetta - Boston Red Sox

Amongst the top 25 second-half starting pitchers for 2023 by WAR, Pivetta is the only one with fewer than ten starts in the second half. On one hand, that could be concerning if he spends more time as a bullpen arm for the Red Sox. On the other hand, Pivetta managed to make that top 25 WAR group as a mixed starter/bullpen arm, so what is he capable of as a full-time starter?

Pivetta was second in the MLB (behind Freddy Peralta) for second-half K% led by a stellar 31.4% CSW%, granted time in the bullpen can inflate those numbers slightly. His sweeper is lethal, boasting a 44.4% Whiff% and 37.1% PutAway%. Pivetta defines “the post-hype sleeper”, as he was once the darling of many starting pitcher lists in his rookie year. He seems to be putting it all together; if the word from Boston is true and Pivetta will be their second or third starter for the entire season, the sky is the limit.


Early Career Risers

Amongst a long list of stellar rookie arms, these names are most likely to build a strong sophomore season.

Eury Perez - Miami Marlins

Eury came back to earth from his otherworldly first half punctuated by a couple of particularly bad outings. Despite those blemishes, what is clear about Eury is that he is a power pitcher who can blow by batters. His 15.7% SwStr% was second across all of 2023 behind only Spencer Strider. Despite an overall regression in the second half of 2023, his SwStr% was higher in that time at 17.6%. This translated into a top-10 finish in K% in 2023.

Eury will continue to challenge batters with his fastball, averaging 98mph. When batters do connect, it tends to be solid contact with a 40.3% HardHit% in 2023, but those swinging strike and strikeout numbers suggest a high-ceiling arm capable of boosting a fantasy squad’s strikeouts with potential ace upside going into his second season. He is easily worth the ADP price tag around pick 100, if not a round earlier.

Cole Ragans - Kansas City Royals

Ragans has been a darling of this fantasy baseball offseason and for good reason. In Kansas City, he now has a clear path to being a full-time starter, and his advanced stats suggest under-the-hood dominance. Ragans was fifth in the MLB for second-half K% at 31.1%, behind only Nick Pivetta on this list (who spent plenty of time in the bullpen to bolster that K%, unlike Ragans).

Ragans leads with a classic four-seam fastball and changeup combination. The similarity of these pitches out of his hand fools batters, particularly with his changeup, manifested by an insane 20.0% HardHit% for his changeup. Unlike some other changeup-forward pitchers, Ragans maintains serious power strikeout upside with his 97mph fastball and slider, in particular. Ragans brings significant strikeout and ratio upside with his only main weakness being wins in pitching for the Royals. Take him at or before his ADP.

Bobby Miller - Los Angeles Dodgers

On talent alone, Miller should be higher on this list, but Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, James Paxton, and Walker Buehler do not leave much room for the young pitching talent the Dodgers possess. If Miller holds onto a rotation spot for most of the season, his stuff is dominant.

His four-seam fastball tops out over 100mph with regularity and he finishes batters off with a curveball showing a 36.0% Whiff% and 28.2% PutAway%. It might be wishful thinking, but if the Dodgers want to explore Miller’s future ace potential, this may be the year to do it. Their run support and bullpen will offer Miller significant support to accrue wins for those in category leagues, and any pitcher who can hold a long-term rotation spot with the Dodgers is worth a roster spot. Let’s see if Miller can do it.


Honorable Omissions

These hurlers have been significant topics of offseason discussion, but for one reason or another are not currently worth their ADP.

Grayson Rodriguez - Baltimore Orioles

Ironically, second-half G-Rod was the far superior G-Rod in 2023, making one think he would be on this list. His second-half FIP was 2.76 compared to a grotesque 5.90 FIP in the first half of 2023. Too much of that was fueled by batting and fielding variability (.372 and .293 BABIP in the first and second halves, respectively) for me to buy in when K% went down from 26.5% to 24.0% from the first to the second half. He just is not quite worth the SP2 ADP that he is currently getting around pick 70.

Kodai Senga - New York Mets

I had Senga on this list intentionally when I was first writing it. Then, as I put together comparisons, he dropped lower and lower. When his forkball is working, he is an above-average pitcher with solid strikeout potential. Outside of this, his fastball and changeup are hittable and do little to lead to strikeouts without the finishing forkball. Senga as an SP3/4 is a solid fantasy squad, but not as an SP2 where his ADP currently has him.

Kyle Bradish - Baltimore Orioles

We would all like him to be towards the top of this list but the injury concern is too great.

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