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A Year To Remember: Pitchers Who Had Career Years In 2022

martin perez fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers MLB injury news waiver wire pitchers

With spring training up and running, and fantasy drafts underway, it’s as good a time as any to rehash some notable 2022 pitching performances. We're looking to the guys who broke out with career years last season.

Declaring an active player’s career season is something of a backhanded compliment. Yes, it means they had a great year and likely realized their potential on the field. For that much, this distinction awards flowers. However, on the flip side, a career season assumes that we’ve already seen the best output they have to offer. The player may not perform worse going forward, but it’s unlikely they will ever surpass this alleged ceiling of a campaign.

This article explores five pitchers who showcased career seasons last year and lends some insight into how you should feel about them heading into the 2023 campaign.

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 Martín Pérez, 297 ADP

Let’s start with what feels like the most clear-cut case study. Prior to 2022, Pérez had only posted an ERA under 4.00 once in ten seasons at the MLB level. That came during a promising 2013 campaign that featured a 3.62 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.335 WHIP, and 2.68 BB/9. That was enough to land Martín a sixth-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Those numbers would also remain career-best figures for Pérez for nearly a decade.

Then last season arrived, and with it a wave of success well beyond anything we’ve ever seen from Pérez. He posted career-best numbers, like a 2.89 ERA, 136 ERA+, 1.258 WHIP, 3.27 FIP, .289 wOBA, 4.3 Barrel %, .346 xSLG, and a 20.6 K% across 32 starts and 196.1 innings pitched. He was a master of weak contact and the breakout performance netted Martín his first All-Star Game appearance.

While the acclaim is well deserved for Pérez, it’s a reasonable assumption that he won’t be able to top his 2022 output. For starters, despite the improvement, he did outperform many of his advanced metrics, such as a (still respectable) 3.59 xERA and .380 xFIP, while his 8.4 BB% and 88.2 MPH Average Exit Velocity fell right in line with his career average. He improved, but not as much as his surface numbers indicate. Further, with Martín entering his age-32 season, it only further bolsters his case for regression.

Fortunately, as a soft contact pitcher Pérez’s production shouldn’t fall off a cliff with age – just don’t expect a repeat of his 2022 performance. With an ADP presently sitting at 297 you won’t have to reach far if you want to roster Martín, though it is important to understand the limitations of his ceiling.


 Tyler Anderson, 242.3 ADP

If Martín Pérez was a master of soft contact in 2022, then Tyler Anderson was the king of soft contact. His 28.5 HardHit% and 85 MPH Average Exit Velocity were downright elite, ranking first among qualified starting pitchers. That paired with a minuscule 4.8 BB% and 95th percentile Chase Rate made Anderson a natural All-Star Game selection – the first of his career.

Seemingly across the board, 2022 featured career-best numbers for Tyler, including a 2.57 ERA, 1.002 WHIP, 163 ERA+, 3.31 FIP, .225 xBA, .275 xwOBA, and a 35.3% Chase Rate. Even by old-school standards (though largely meaningless), his 15-5 record was a pleasing sight and his 178.2 IP represented yet another career-high mark. It was a surprisingly robust output for Anderson at first glance, though perhaps spending four of his six prior MLB seasons pitching in Colorado, where his advanced metrics routinely outperformed his surface numbers, did his fantasy perception no favors.

All that said, Anderson may simply be a better pitcher than he was given credit for heading into last season. In fact, his 2016 rookie campaign, featuring a 3.14 xERA, 137 ERA+, 84.9 MPH Average Exit Velocity, 26.2 HardHit %, and a 3.64 xFIP across 114.1 IP, is not too dissimilar from his most recent output. Still, Tyler is entering his age-33 season, and with a career 20.3 K% and no history as a workhorse arm – which will only be exacerbated by the Angels’ six-man rotation approach -- it’s hard to get too excited about his upside. Anderson’s ADP sits at 242.3, which feels appropriate.

 Justin Verlander, 30.7 ADP

Here’s where this article takes a detour from obvious to controversial. Defining Verlander’s peak season is incredibly subjective. According to fWAR, Justin’s career year was his 2009 campaign. With respect to accolades, his 2011 production earned him the American League’s Cy Young Award and MVP honors. This guy has several “career years” that predate Statcast’s integration into MLB. In short, JV has no definite ceiling – but it seems we finally got it in 2022.

Perhaps the most widely accepted efficacy metric for pitchers is ERA and its derivatives. In that regard, 2022 was a breakthrough for Justin, cruising to a career-best 1.75 ERA and a staggering 220 ERA+ (previous career-high 179 ERA+ in 2019), illustrating just how much better than everyone else he was. His career-low 0.6 HR/9 and 1.5 BB/9 marks were further evidence of his success.

At age 39, and coming off a lengthy Tommy John surgery recovery, Justin’s performance was jaw-dropping last year. While he did sacrifice somewhat in terms of K% (27.8%) and workload (175 IP), the sheer dominance was undeniable. Verlander only surrendered more than 3 earned runs in an outing twice all season. It was consistent and unwavering production, and, of course, resulted in another Cy Young Award.

As we enter Verlander’s age-40 campaign, it wouldn’t be right to declare that he’ll finally hit his wall, because he is simply a different breed. Still, it’s not likely Justin will surpass what he did in 2022, and with declining strikeouts and a conservative workload, the fantasy ceiling peripherals are not ideal enough to suggest grabbing him too early. His ADP is currently 30.7, which isn’t unreasonable. Verlander’s floor seems relatively stable, though pursuing higher upside arms may be more advantageous.


 Tony Gonsolin, 132.7 ADP

Continuing with potentially spicy takes, Tony Gonsolin’s 2022 felt like a ceiling performance. Across 24 starts and 130.1 IP, he produced a phenomenal 16-1 record, 2.14 ERA, and 196 ERA+. At only 28 years old, a career year may be a premature declaration, but Gonsolin’s surface stats significantly outperformed most of the advanced metrics.

Though most of Tony’s numbers from last season look strong, they really don’t represent the significant step forward that his elite ERA would suggest. To illustrate this, acknowledge that many of Gonsolin’s 2022 numbers are in line with his career averages -- .220 xBA (.220 career xBA), 35 HardHit% (35.4 career HardHit%), .276 xwOBA (.284 career xwOBA), .342 xSLG (.352 career xSLG), 5.6 Barrel % (5.3 career Barrel%), 23.9 K% (24.8 career K%), 89 MPH Average Exit Velocity (88.7 MPH career Average Exit Velocity). You will notice that many of these figures are worse than his career totals. In fact, the only truly distinguishing improvement to Gonsolin’s game last season was a 7.0 BB%.

All this is to say, Gonsolin is a solid pitcher, but the results last season were more of an outlier than a genuine performance boost. He’s young enough to leave room for improvement, though regression from his 2022 output is almost a certainty. Further, Tony lacks strikeout or workhorse upside to make him a true fantasy stud. His current 132.7 ADP feels like a bit of a reach given the limited ceiling.


 Merrill Kelly, 253.3 ADP

It may not look as shiny as the examples mentioned above, but 2022 was a peak season for Kelly. Sporting a 3.37 ERA and 1.138 WHIP over 200.1 IP, it’s no wonder Merrill carried so much heat heading into last year’s trade deadline. A move to a contender never materialized, but his reputation as a reliable ace started to develop. It wouldn’t be fair to say that distinction wasn’t earned, though realistically there’s not a whole lot to get riled about with Merrill.

Kelly is a solid arm but projecting a front-end caliber of production from him is a bad bet. Most of his stats range from league average to slightly above league average. Perhaps Merrill’s most marquee metrics were his 36.5 HardHit%, .296 xwOBA, and .230 xBA. Those are respectable numbers. However, Kelly’s below-average 88.5 MPH Average Exit Velocity, .383 xSLG, 23.6 Whiff %, and 8.3 Barrel % are among many other indicators that undermine his surface-level success.

Entering his age-34 season, there’s no good reason to assume Kelly will repeat his 2022 performance. Counting on him to be a key rotational piece like he was last year is wishful thinking. Merrill’s 253.3 ADP is by no means egregious, just understand his incoming regression and middling strikeout stuff will hinder his ceiling.

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