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A Year to Forget: MLB Pitchers Who Will Rebound for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

Lucas Giolito - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

We are into our fantasy baseball offseason content now, and we will be bringing you stuff all Fall and Winter long. I started it off with this piece about hitters who I expect to rebound in 2023. Check that one out if you haven't already!

Today, we will do the same thing for pitchers - locating players who burned us in 2022 and finding the ones who are a good bet to rebound in 2023. This is much harder to do with pitchers as compared to hitters, given the frequency of injuries and the smaller data sample we get on pitchers - all of that allows more room for randomness to creep in and bite us.

I will re-iterate that the most important thing while drafting a fantasy team is to be price-sensitive. Humans are reactionary creatures, even the ones who are as intellectually sophisticated as us fantasy baseballers. We constantly value players wrongly based on what happened in the most recent season. One season of data is a large amount, but it's not large enough to be used by itself.

I have dug up a bunch of names that I think have a great probability of bouncing back, and this time I have divided them into two sections - injury-related and non-injury related. The injury-related pitchers will be more obvious names that I think plenty of people will be on - I wouldn't expect their draft stock to fall as much as people are somewhat forgiving of injuries. The second group will just be pitchers that flat-out pitched poorly in 2022, but I see light at the end of the tunnel for improvement.


Injury Related Bounce-Backs

Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers

Peralta could not replicate his breakout 2021 season in 2022, but there is no doubt that the blame should almost entirely be placed on injury. He threw just 78 Major League innings, adding on 5.1 in rehab appearances in AAA. That is after 144 innings in 2021 while posting a 2.81 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with a sick 33.6% K%. The numbers in 2022 were still good (3.58 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 27.1% K%), but not quite as dominant.

The injury is not one you want to see for a pitcher - a shoulder injury. He missed two months early in the year with a right lat strain, and then missed another couple of weeks in September with shoulder fatigue. The good news was that he did come back and make three appearances before the regular season ended, and he even made a start and threw four innings on October 2nd. Now he has all the time he needs to rest and ramp back up, or do whatever the smart thing to do is for a professional thrower of a baseball.

Will I be on Peralta? No, probably not. The shoulder issues are something to consider, and there's also just the fact that he couldn't do much as a starter until 2021 and has yet to post a walk rate we really like - so there are concerns outside of the injury situation as well. That said, Peralta's ceiling is massive and he will likely be affordable with everybody sharing the same concerns that I just laid out.

Lance Lynn, Chicago White Sox

It took until June 13th for Lynn to make a start in the Major Leagues. He also just didn't pitch well in June, July, and some of August - putting up a 6.36 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP in his first 13 starts. So we have a 35-year-old coming off of an injury-riddled season that didn't even pitch that well after the injury - and we're talking about him as a guy to target in 2023? Have I gone nuts?

Well, what Lynn did from August 14th on was truly great. He made 10 starts and posted a 2.18 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP, a 24.7% K%, and a 3.2% BB%. The strikeout rate for the year was 24.2%, a pretty big step down from what we had seen in recent years, but it came with an elite 14.9% SwStr%, and the walk rate finished the year below 4%.

I don't want to draft Lynn as one of the first three starters on my team next year, but I don't think I will have to. I imagine this guy could fall towards pick 120 or so next year, and I think he could really do some damage at that cost.

Aaron Civale, Cleveland Guardians

Civale is no fantasy ace, and he has never been profiled as such. That said, he was basically free in 2022 and he's going to be super-free in 2023 given his bad showing in 2022 when he put up a 4.92 ERA over just 20 starts. There is plenty of reason for optimism here. He improved on a bunch of key metrics in 2022, and he is currently just 27 years old.

Season K% BB% SwStr% CSW%
2021 19.2% 6.2% 10.2% 26.6%
2022 24.1% 5.4% 11.4% 28.7%

If you like a deep pitch mix, Civale is a guy you'll love. He threw six different pitches in 2022:

You look up and down the list and you don't see many whiffs coming out of anything but the curveball, which makes it harder to believe he's going to be anything but a low-strikeout guy, but the deep pitch mix does come with certain upside. He has more arrows in the quiver, and more pitches to possibly improve on and refine. He could also just really dedicate himself to improving the cutter and then featuring that pitch and the curveball at a higher combined rate - there are a bunch of doors to potentially open when you have this much variety.

I don't think we will be sitting here next year calling 2023 a huge breakout season for Civale, but I do think he will beat his draft price in 2023 and I'll be adding him to a lot of my deep league rosters.

Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles

I believe we would have seen the debut of the game's best pitching prospect in 2022, but he missed time with a right lat strain. That's some bad news, but there is good news falling off of it because he returned in September to make six starts before the year ended - and that was after many people predicted his season would be ended after that early June injury.

So what did Rodriguez do for the year?

75.2 2.62 0.99 36.6% 9.4% 27.2% 0.2

The 27.2% K-BB% was the fifth-best mark in all of minor league baseball for pitchers that exceed 75 innings. In four seasons in the minors, he has a 2.47 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and a 36% K%. He's really, really good.

The Orioles crushed expectations in 2022 and may be ramping up for a go at it in 2023, which could really incentivize them to have Rodriguez on their Opening Day roster. If they play the clock manipulation game, I would still imagine he has earned his way into a May or June promotion. I never want to invest too heavily into a prospect, because the jump from AAA to MLB constantly proves to be overwhelming for young players - but Rodriguez's numbers are really convincing and I think his upside will justify the draft cost. I'll be on Rodriguez.

Non-Injury Related Bounce-Backs

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

Few people expected Giolito to be an ace in 2022, but fewer people thought he would be as bad as he was. Over 161.2 innings, he posted a 4.90 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. Only five pitchers threw more than 150 innings and put up an ERA worse than that. Those names:

Of that group of pitchers, however, Giolito's strikeout rate tops the list (25.4%), as does the K-BB% (16.6%).

Going further under the hood, Giolito posted a pretty decent 30.4% CSW% (league average is 28.6%) and a strong 13.5% SwStr% (league average is 12.2%). His walk rate was worse than average at 8.7%, but it's hard to call that terrible, and it actually beat his career average of 9.0%. Let's compare his ERA to the ERA indicators.

ERA 4.90
xFIP 3.66
FIP 4.06
SIERA 3.79

A big differential across the board there.

So there was some bad luck here for Giolito, that much is clear, but what else might explain this? Well, right-handed batters absolutely crushed Giolito in 2022. He allowed a .912 OPS to righties last year, the second-worst in the league.

Worst Pitcher OPS Allowed vs. RHB

Mike Minor .316 .389 .581 .970
Lucas Giolito .312 .370 .542 .912
Yusei Kikuchi .256 .370 .535 .905
Patrick Corbin .320 .371 .526 .897
Austin Gomber .304 .346 .534 .880

Being on a list with Patrick Corbin and Mike Minor is not a good place to be. Giolito is the only righty in the top eight. I think this is directly related to his reliance on his changeup. In general terms, pitchers like to use the changeup against batters of the opposite handedness, and a breaking pitch like a slider against batters of the same handedness. Giolito does throw a slider (31.2% usage against righties), but those righties slugged .462 against the pitch.

The silver lining here is a pretty decent 15.8% SwStr% and a low 4.0% Brl% on the pitch. He really got in trouble throwing his four-seamer to righties, they slugged .535 against the pitch and swung and missed just 8.3% of the time while posting a 10.2% Brl%.

So Giolito clearly has some work to do against righties, but I think it's far from a lost cause. In 2021, righties slugged .423 against Giolito - still not great but much better than in 2022.

What we have here is a pitcher with a solid track record, and box score results that don't match the advanced metrics. I think Giolito can really put in some work this offseason and improve drastically in 2023. He will be extremely cheap given the horrid results from 2022, and I think he's a superb buy in drafts next year as potentially your SP4.

Frankie Montas, New York Yankees

I don't Montas has the upside to make him a league-winning pick next year, but I do think that his price is going to be reduced after how his 2022 season went.

All 144.1 4.05 1.25 23.4% 7.1% 1.1
OAK 104.2 3.18 1.14 25.8% 6.6% 1.0
NYY 39.2 6.35 1.54 17.8% 8.1% 1.4

The main reason I am calling Montas a bounce-back candidate is that line he posted with the Yankees. I believe that is what people will remember about his 2022 season, and since Montas has never really put together a fantastic season for fantasy purposes, I don't think there will be much enthusiasm to draft him.

Montas is just 29 years old, has a strong four-seam fastball (96.1 mph average velocity, 14.0% SwStr%), and an elite splitter (20.2% SwStr%). He throws three other pitches on top of those two, so there are a lot of ways that Montas can go as his career progresses. Yankees Stadium isn't a great place for anybody to pitch, but it will come with some more run support and maybe some extra motivation for him as he competes for a starting job on the rotation of a team that will likely have World Series aspirations.

Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins

I have been riding the Lopez train for a few years now and it has been more bad news than good. The 26-year-old posted a fine 3.75 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 2022 over a career-best 180 innings. Those are decent numbers, and they should keep Lopez's price somewhat competitive, but there is no doubt that the 2022 season was a little bit underwhelming for those fantasy managers who drafted him as their SP2 or SP3 and didn't get a ton of great starts from him.

The strikeout rate came down to 23.7% in 2022, down from a big mark of 27.6% in 2021, and his walk rate also came up a whole point to 7.1%. The good news is that his SwStr% also came up a point to 14% - a really strong number, and that gives me plenty of optimism that he can post a strikeout rate above 25% again in 2023.

What people might overlook is how good of a sign it was that Lopez pitched those 180 innings - that goes down as a full season pitched by today's standards, and the ability to stay on the field was something Lopez has struggled with in the past. What I like most is the depth of his pitch mix.

I really like to see pitchers with the three different fastball variations in their arsenal (four-seamer, cutter, and sinker). This really strengthens the fastball as hitters are kept off balance by the pitch tunneling there and the different movements of those fastballs. He also has this great changeup, which did perform a bit worse in 2022 than in 2021.

Now, Lopez did focus more on the four-seamer and changeup combination in 2022, as those two pitches accounted for 75% of his pitches. He may be better served mixing in the sinker a bit more again, or maybe he won't be, I'm not a pitching coach - but it's encouraging to know that he has these options.

Lopez is probably not a guy that has an SP1 ceiling, but I think the floor is solid and I imagine his price will fall despite a full year on the mound and relative success.

Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

Rogers was one of the most frustrating fantasy pitchers of the 2022 season. He was drafted pretty high after the elite first half of the 2021 season he had but fell flat in 2022 - to say the last. He posted a 5.47 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP over his 23 starts in 2022, missing some time due to injury. The fact that he has not put together a full season in the Majors yet has me overall pretty uninterested in the guy, as I prefer more safety in my pitcher selections - however, Rogers is likely to be basically free in drafts next year.

Here are his stats by month:

Apr 4 5.09 1.41 18.4% 11.8%
May 5 5.33 1.48 21.% 6.5%
June 5 7.06 1.98 19.6% 14.0%
July 5 5.84 1.50 22.7% 9.1%
Aug-Sep 4 3.72 1.09 29.9% 5.2%

I really don't think it's good practice to look at the last few starts of a guy's season and weigh those out of proportion and then plant a flag that the guy will improve next year because of that. I suppose that is part of what I'm doing here, however.

In those final four starts of the year, Rogers pretty much ditched the slider (less than 10% usage) and threw more fastballs and changeups. That idea worked out, and those two pitches are good ones for him. I will not be leading the Rogers hype train in 2023, and I somewhat doubt I draft him - but I also won't be surprised at all if he has a nice year and crushes his inevitably very, very cheap price tag.

So there you have it, eight pitchers that I think have a great chance of a bounce-back season in 2023, and guys that will be very interesting given their likely depressed draft cost. Hope you enjoyed it, and hope this helps!

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