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Breakout Starting Pitchers Who'll Be Even Better for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

Spencer Strider fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers starting pitchers

After a breakout season, it's not always a guarantee that fantasy owners will get the same player the year after. Every year, fantasy managers bank on a sequel the next season, but several of those players can't back up their breakout and bust.

During the 2022 season, dozens of starters broke out with their best season to date. However, not all of them can sustain their play. That's not to say some can't continue to improve, though. Whether they deserved better numbers, are playing for a better team, or will see an uptick in volume, you can count on a handful of starting pitchers to keep progressing and provide better value in 2023.

Below, I will highlight five pitchers who broke out in 2022 that I think will match or surpass their fantasy value from last season.

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Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

ADP: 35

The Atlanta Braves rotation produced the seventh-best WAR in the league in 2022, and a lot of that is thanks to Rookie of the Year runner-up Spencer Strider. Even after beginning the season in the bullpen, the 24-year-old was one of the most valuable pitchers in the league, posting a 4.9 WAR. And after joining the rotation on May 30, Strider was too good to keep in the pen.

Over 20 starts and 31 appearances, he pitched to a 2.67 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 38.3% strikeout rate, and 11 wins over 131.2 innings. Strider's 1.83 FIP, 2.30 xFIP, and 2.41 SIERA ranked first among all pitchers with at least 130 innings, as did his strikeout rate and 29.7% K-BB%.

He used virtually two pitches, a four-seamer and a slider, but also mixed in a changeup 4.8% of the time. Strider's fastball, which had a 67% usage rate, averaged 98.2 MPH, a 76th-percentile spin rate, and a 27.7% whiff rate. The 24-year-old's best pitch, the slider, was used 28.2% of the time and generated whiffs at a 52.2% rate.

Overall, Strider's discipline numbers were outstanding. He posted a 15.5% swinging strike rate and a 30.9% chase rate, and though his 8.5% walk rate was in the 40th percentile, his strikeout rate will make up for the base on balls going forward.

It will be hard for Strider to repeat what he did in 2022. Only 6.8% of his fly balls left the park in 2022, and he isn’t much of a groundball pitcher (career 39.9 GB%). But Strider has the stuff to be one of the top strikeout pitchers in the league. Just look at his Baseball Savant page!


A full season in the majors will help the former fourth-rounder earn more than 11 wins on one of the best teams in the league. Strider's ERA estimators prove his 2.67 mark is less fluke than skill, and fantasy managers can expect an increase in WHIP, but his ATC projection predicts a 1.09 WHIP in 2023. Altogether, he will provide a ton of value in every category and will be a stud again this season. 

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

ADP: 151

After a deadline trade that sent Jesus Luzardo from the Oakland Athletics to the Miami Marlins in 2021, some in the fantasy industry were pegging him for a breakout last season, despite posting a 6.61 ERA across 95.1 innings. Though a forearm strain limited his season to 18 starts, he pitched to a 3.32 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP with 120 strikeouts and four wins over 100.1 IP.

Luzardo now enters 2023 healthy and should be able to build on what he did last season with a full campaign. His 3.12 FIP and 3.11 xFIP support his solid ERA, as he posted a 30.0% strikeout rate and an 8.8% walk rate, giving him the 17th-best K%-BB% among pitchers with 100 innings. Luzardo's 13.8% swinging strike rate was 16th, and he got ahead in the count on the first pitch 65.3% of the time, a career-high.

The former top prospect always had an impressive arsenal. His curveball and changeup have been outstanding his entire big-league career, including a 41.3% and 44.8% whiff rate, respectively, in 2022. Luzardo's four-seamer is also electric, never registering an average velocity below 95.5 MPH in a season, and sat at 96.3 MPH last year. But his fastball did him little good in 2021, his worst pitch by run value. So it wasn’t a bad idea to cut back, going from a 32.6% usage rate in ‘21 to a 27.2% usage rate while making the curveball Luzardo's most popular pitch and increasing his changeup rate.

He'll continue pitching in the home run-suppressing Marlins Park, which is great for someone who's had long ball issues before. Also, you can't ignore the improvements made to the offense during the offseason with the additions of Luis Arraez and Jean Segura, while Jazz Chisholm Jr. is returning from injury. Luzardo's 4-7 record isn't a good representation of how he performed last season, and he'll see an uptick in the victories this season.

Fantasy managers have to be encouraged by his outlook heading into 2023. Luzardo's improved his game with one of the most successful pitcher development organizations in the league in the past few years and should reach a new career-high in terms of innings with a full season's workload. Fantasy managers should view Luzardo as a pitcher heading into his prime with at least three-category contributions.


Pablo Lopez, Minnesota Twins

ADP: 168

After a fantastic 2021 campaign, there was no question about Pablo Lopez's talent. The only questions were about his health. He posted a 3.07 ERA and a 27.5% strikeout rate two seasons ago but started just 20 games and pitched 102.2 innings. During his fifth major league campaign, Lopez finally had his first full season on the mound and was a productive fantasy option. He ended with a 3.75 ERA and a 23.6% strikeout rate while posting 10 wins with a 1.17 WHIP over 32 starts. Lopez wasn’t as dominant as in 2021, or even 2020, but the volume was paramount, and the underlying metrics imply he’ll be even better this year.

The right-hander posted a career-best 28.1% whiff rate, up from 25.7% in 2021. His chase rate took a bit of a hit after a 94th-percentile mark two seasons ago, but still placed in the 70th percentile. Lopez's strikeout rate shouldn’t have fallen below 24%, and I would be surprised if he isn’t a strikeout contributor again in 2023. Also, Lopez's control remained above average, with a respectable 7.2% walk rate, just above his 6.7% all-time mark.

He boasts a loaded arsenal, with a four-seamer, changeup, cutter, sinker, and curveball. Lopez throws his fastball the most, at 38.8%. It’s a decent pitch, with a 93.5 MPH average velocity and 23.1 whiff%, but it’s his changeup that earns him his paycheck. He used it 35.3% of the time, a career-high. It produced a .233 xBA and a 33.9% whiff rate. If Lopez throws his fastball less often, like he did in ‘21, and continues using his great changeup, he’ll thrive in 2023.

The 26-year-old's 1.05 HR/9 was still impressive, though it doesn’t compare to his 0.84 HR/9 from 2020-2021. The trade to the Minnesota Twins during the offseason keeps Lopez in a pitcher's park and the offenses in AL Central don't compare to those in the NL East. His 23.8% fly ball percentage was bloated, up from his 20.8% career rate. If Lopez can find a way to get that down, there’s reason to believe he'll boast another can HR/9 below 1.00.

The Twins should be a better team than the 2022 Marlins, with a superior batting order. 10 victories is probably the floor for Lopez, but there will be many chances for him to increase his victory total from last season. With the new team and a good pitch mix, Lopez is in a prime position to be even better in 2023.

Jeffrey Springs, Tampa Bay Rays

ADP: 176

After making just two starts in the majors in his first four campaigns, Jeffrey Springs joined the Rays rotation in May, making 25 starts. Over 33 appearances and 135.1 innings, he broke out with a 2.46 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 26.2% strikeout rate, and nine wins, guaranteeing him a spot in the rotation this season. There are several reasons to believe Springs will continue his dominance in 2023.

Clearly, an ERA that low will be hard to replicate. However, his 3.04 FIP and 3.27 xERA are still solid numbers, and any fantasy manager would take an ERA in that range. Springs' strikeout rate was much lower than the 32.7% mark he managed the previous two seasons, partly due to his transition into a starter. But, his whiff rate ranked in the 76th percentile, while his 95th-percentile chase rate was a career-high, so he can easily improve in that department.

One of the biggest reasons for Springs' success this year was his pitch mix change. The southpaw threw his fastball a career-low 40.4% of the time and had a slider usage of 24.8%, the lowest of the past three seasons. They've both been hit hard throughout Springs' career, and they don’t generate enough swing and misses to make up for that. Instead, he started using his best pitch, the changeup, more often, reaching a career-high 34.7% usage rate. The offering posted a .205 xBA and 38.1% whiff rate.

The change in fastball usage also allowed Springs to produce a career-best 41.2% ground ball rate, compared to his 36.8% all-time mark. The graphs show a correlation between fastball rate and ground ball rate, so he can maintain the ground ball improvement.








The more balls on the ground helped Springs post a HR/9 below 1.00 for the first time in his career (0.93). Although a 9.6% HR/FB rate helped him out, I don't think we'll see another 1.81 HR/9 as we did in 2021.

Further, the Springs has shown decent command in recent years but really improved it last season with a 5.6% walk rate. The 30-year-old can thank his incredible chase rate and career-best 64.1% first-pitch strike percentage for that.

Fantasy managers may be concerned about his volume heading into 2023. Springs averaged just five innings per start in 2022, but as he keeps more attuned to a starting role, he’ll be able to go farther into games. Seven of Springs' final 12 starts last season were at least 5.2 innings, a trend that should continue. The Rays are gunning for another playoff appearance, giving Springs plenty of opportunities to win double-digit games. Springs' fantasy relevance has just begun.


Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels

ADP: 216

Patrick Sandoval had a mini breakout in 2021, where he posted a 3.62 ERA, but that was in just 87 innings. Then he concluded a full breakout last year, pitching to a 2.91 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 23.7% strikeout rate with a 6-9 record over 27 starts. Things are only going to get better for the 26-year-old.

Although Sandoval's strikeout rate dropped from his 25.9% rate in 2021, his whiff rate remained in the 76th percentile (29.5%), and he managed a career-high 31.8% chase rate. He’s always had trouble with command, but he likely won’t do worse than his 9.4% mark due to his increased chases and a first-pitch strike percentage that improved for the second consecutive season.

Sandoval's arsenal has been good throughout his time in the big leagues, but he finally perfected his pitch usage. His fastball, which has never owned a whiff% over 17.6% and posted a .558 xSLG in 2021, declined by 1.6% in usage, while his sinker, which is hardly a swing-and-miss pitch and managed a .454 xSLG last season, decreased by 4.5%. Sandoval kept throwing his changeup, which owned a 44.5% whiff rate, using it 24.6% of the time. And his best pitch, the slider, went from being thrown at a 17.2% clip two years ago to his most used offering at 29%.

The lefty's ERA is likely to see a rise. Although Sandoval's 3.09 FIP is impressive, his 3.76 xFIP is less so after he allowed a very minuscule 6.3% HR/FB while pitching home games in a great home run park. However, his WHIP should be similar, especially with better strikeout and walk rates to come. An ERA and WHIP of around 3.60 and 1.30, respectively, is acceptable.

We need to assume Sandoval will provide more volume in 2023. The native of California threw a professional-high 148.2 innings last year, but with a healthy season, he’ll start more than 27 games. The Angels also look better on paper (yes, we say this every year), and even if they don't improve their 73-win total, six wins from a solid arm is hard to sustain.

Sandoval isn't that flashy, but his 2022 campaign proved he has the talent to be a fantasy-relevant pitcher for years to come. And all things considered, he'll have a better fantasy season this year.

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