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Known-Skill Starting Pitcher Rankings - Predicting Future Stats for Fantasy Baseball

Tyler Glasnow - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

There is a lot of guesswork that goes into fantasy baseball. This is especially true when we're talking about starting pitchers. And all of this despite the fact that we have more metrics than we can even count about pitchers.

You will see a ton of talk this year about fancy advanced pitch metrics. Spin, velocity, release points, tilt angles, oh my! The problem with all of this is that it can mislead you just as easily as it can help you. We have to be very careful talking about all of that stuff.

In fact, I don't even spend time getting into the weeds there. Sometimes the right answer is the simple answer, so that's what I'm here today to talk about.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Predicting SP Future Stats

The three most important metrics for predicting what a starting pitcher is going to do in the future:

  • Strikeout rate
  • Walk rate
  • Ground ball rate

I have talked a lot about this on RotoBaller this offseason (here and here to start with), but most of the stuff people look to besides the three things above are not very reliable. Statistically, we cannot rely on pitchers controlling what happens after contact is made from year-to-year. What we can rely on (at least much more so) are these three things.

Here are some year-to-year correlations to help nail home my point.

Stat YOY Correlation
K% 0.84
GB% 0.8
BB% 0.61
Brl% 0.32
Hard-Hit% 0.35

This is to say that K% and GB% usually stay the same, BB% one year is pretty predictive of the next year, and that you can know almost nothing about what barrel rate and hard-hit rate a pitcher will allow next year by looking at last year's.


Known Skill Rankings

So those are the facts I'm working with. I wanted to take all of this and build a pitcher rankings list just based on K-BB% and GB%. I don't want to weigh them evenly, however, so I took K-BB% and weighed in twice as heavily as GB%. I would much rather have a high K-BB% with a low GB% as compared to a high GB% with a low K-BB%. I can live without a high GB%, I cannot live without a high K-BB% - so that's why I weighted it this way.

The data I used was my pitcher projections for 2023. Since these stats are so steady year-to-year, my projection mostly mirrors what the pitchers have done in their last 50 starts or so, with some special calculations for guys that spent time in the minor leagues or guys that had smaller samples. I feel good about these granular projections being very close to right - so I think they're useful. I used a z-scoring system to get one final score for each pitcher.

Let's go through the top 10 pitchers here, and then we'll skip around highlighting interesting names and eventually provide the full list.


The Top 10

Rk Pitcher Team ADP K% BB% K-BB% GB% Score
1 Jacob deGrom NYM 34 39.4% 3.4% 36% 41.2% 3.02
2 Corbin Burnes MIL 16 32.0% 6.1% 25.9% 47.9% 1.72
3 Gerrit Cole NYY 20 32.6% 6.1% 26.5% 43.3% 1.63
4 Shane McClanahan TB 39 30.0% 6.0% 24.0% 49.8% 1.50
5 Kevin Gausman TOR 68 29.3% 4.5% 24.8% 44.2% 1.40
6 Spencer Strider ATL 36 34.1% 8.4% 25.7% 40.6% 1.40
7 Tyler Glasnow TB 92 33.1% 7.9% 25.2% 42.5% 1.40
8 Shohei Ohtani LAA 10 32.0% 7.0% 25.0% 42.6% 1.37
9 Max Scherzer NYM 55 31.6% 4.5% 27.1% 33.9% 1.35
10 Clayton Kershaw LAD 132 28.4% 4.6% 23.8% 46.7% 1.35

This isn't all that much different than the top ten pitchers this year, with these exceptions.

  • Kershaw & Glasnow: Certainly these guys would both be drafted much, much higher if people felt better about their chances of throwing 170+ innings. Kershaw just can't seem to do that anymore, and Glasnow is coming off of Tommy John surgery and hasn't cleared 100 innings pitched in a single season since 2018.
  • Kevin Gausman creeps up the list with his elite walk rate (3.9% last year). He is a screaming value at SP this year as the 17th (!!) starter off the board on average
  • We do not see Sandy Alcantara anywhere, and he's the third SP off boards in the average draft this year. He has proven to be a bit of an exception to the rule, constantly able to deliver ace-level ERAs and WHIPs without a great strikeout rate (I project him for a 24% K% this year).


Other Rankings Standouts & Explanations

Rankings 11-20:

11) Aaron Nola
12) Chris Sale
13) Shane Bieber
14) Brandon Woodruff
15) Garrett Whitlock
16) Shane Bieber
17) Jeffrey Springs
18) Sandy Alcantara
19) Zack Wheeler
20) Max Fried

There is some potential value here! Whitlock is probably one to disbelieve since he put up most of his good stats in a bullpen role and hasn't looked nearly as good as a starter - but the ADP on him is way down after pick 300 so he may very well be worth a flier. The other values here are Sale and Springs. The problems there are obvious since Sale can't stay on the field and Springs has really only pitched well as a starter for three-quarters of one season. But again, neither guy is expensive (Sale at ADP 173 and Springs at 178).


Scatter Plot

You know I freaking love a scatter plot, and we have another opportunity here to pop one in. So let's do it. Here's every pitcher's score compared to their ADP.

Bigger view of the plot can be found here.

What we are looking for are dots closest to the top-right of the chart. Whitlock is probably the closest to that top corner, but we've already dumped the bucket of water on him. Andrew Painter already stands out, but he's a guy who hasn't even seen AAA yet and will not start the year in a Major League rotation, so he's not all that interesting for fantasy. Some of the names I'm actually taking seriously here:

  • Andrew Heaney. He was incredible when on the mound last year but once could not stay off the IL. He has signed on with the Rangers for the 2023 season as Texas has gone full YOLO with their free-agent signings. It's hard to imagine a full season from Heaney, who has maxed out at 129.2 innings ever since 2018. But if we can get a close to a full season from him, he will likely smash his ADP as he showed off an astounding 29.4% K-BB% last year.
  • Nathan Eovaldi. Hey, another Ranger! Eovaldi went for a sweet 20.9% K-BB% and 42% GB% in 2021 and was repeating that in 2022 before the wheels fell off in the second half. I'm chalking that fall-off up to injury, so I really like buying him low this year with hopes that renewed health put him back in 2021 form.
  • Dustin May. A ground-ball pitcher that missed most of both 2021 and 2022 due to elbow surgery. In 23 innings in 2021, he had a sick 37.6% K%. That came way down to 22.8% in his 30 innings in 2023, but the GB% was above 50% in both cases. His SwStr% over these last two seasons is 13.5% - a very good number, so I do believe he'll put up a strikeout rate above 25% with a non-awful walk rate and a high GB%. Sign me up.
  • Steven Matz. Hasn't been able to stick in a rotation, but did show some improved swing and miss last year (26% K%, 12.1% SwStr%).
  • Carlos Carrasco. Still getting whiffs (12.9% SwStr%) at age 35 and brought the BB% down to 6.4% last season.


Full Rankings

Here you go, the full table! I took every pitcher projected for at least 15 starts, 167 SPs in all.

Thanks for reading, we'll be back soon!

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