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Red-Hot Fantasy Baseball Pitchers: Second Half Studs, Or Sell High Candidates?

Justin Steele - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

The All-Star break is almost here. The break is a good time for fantasy baseball managers to assess their rosters and consider potential areas that need improvement for the stretch runs.

There have been plenty of disappointing fantasy performances up to this point, but let’s try not to dwell on those. Let’s instead turn our attention to some red-hot starting pitchers who have exceeded expectations.

Can these five starters continue their current level of success, or will they be in line for some regression during the second half? Let’s dive in.

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


Kutter Crawford, Boston Red Sox

After posting a 4.04 ERA last season, Crawford entered Tuesday with a 3.20 ERA this year. Oddly enough, he has exactly the same FIP as last year at 3.83. Looking at his supporting stats, a lot of them are very similar to last season. He had a 25.6 percent strikeout rate and a 1.11 WHIP in 2023, compared to a 24.8 percent strikeout rate and a 1.07 WHIP this year. After giving up 1.2 HR/9 last year, he has also allowed 1.2 HR/9 this season.

Crawford was probably a little unlucky last year to finish with a 4.04 ERA. Given his FIP and supporting stats, there’s no reason to think that he can’t remain successful during the stretch run. The only concern is how many innings will the Red Sox let him throw? He only logged 129.1 innings last year and has already reached 107 innings this season. If the Red Sox were to fall out of the playoff race, he could get shut down at some point in September.


Justin Steele, Chicago Cubs

After having a breakout 2023 campaign, Steele suffered a hamstring injury in his first outing this season. When he initially came back from the injury, he looked rusty. Over 20.2 innings, he allowed 16 runs (15 earned) and six home runs.

Steele has settled in since then, giving up 16 runs (10 earned) over his last 54 innings. The biggest difference is that he was taken deep just two times during that span. That’s been more the norm for him, considering that he has allowed 42 home runs over 428.2 career innings in the majors.

With his hot streak, Steele has a 2.95 ERA for the season that is supported by a 3.33 FIP. Don’t let his bad stretch in his initial return from injury cloud your judgement. He’s one of the more reliable starting options in fantasy baseball.


Bailey Ober, Minnesota Twins

Ober entered Tuesday with a 4.12 ERA and a 3.94 FIP for the season. Most of the damage that has been done to his ERA was provided by the Royals. In two starts against them, he allowed 14 runs over 6.1 innings. Over his last six starts since he last faced the Royals, he recorded a 2.92 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.

The plus side with Ober in fantasy is that he has a 1.10 WHIP this season that is right in line with his career 1.10 WHIP. His strikeout rate sits at 26.5 percent this season and at 25.2 percent for his career. As long as he can steer clear of the Royals, Ober should be in line for a valuable second half.


Reynaldo Lopez, Atlanta Braves

After beginning his career as a starter, Lopez was relegated to the bullpen in recent seasons. He hasn’t thrown more than 66 innings in a season since 2019. Still, with the Braves short on starting pitching options, they took a chance and inserted him into their rotation right from the start this year.

To say that Lopez has adjusted well to being a starter again would be an understatement. Over 16 starts, he has a 1.71 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. His FIP is considerably higher than his ERA, but it’s still good at 3.10. His strikeout rate is down compared to last year, but he’s not exactly struggling in that department with his current 25.8 percent strikeout rate.

The question surrounding Lopez is how many innings will the Braves let him throw? It’s not as if he is a young prospect, and he did log at least 184 innings in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Still, he is already up to 89.2 innings this year. Asking him to throw much more than 150 innings might be pushing it. It might not be a bad idea to shop him in trade offers to see if another fantasy manager might be willing to overpay for his services.


Jake Irvin, Washington Nationals

Irvin was a disaster last season, finishing with a 4.61 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. However, that didn’t deter the Nationals from keeping them in their starting rotation this year. Their faith in him has been rewarded as he entered Tuesday with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.

Irvin has lowered his FIP from 5.30 last year to 3.38 this season. He has shown more command of the plate, dropping his walk rate from 10.2 percent last year to 5.8 percent this season. Another noteworthy improvement is that he has given up only 0.9 HR/9. Last season, he gave up 1.5 HR/9.

A key adjustment that Irvin has made is lowering the usage of his sinker, while also adding a cutter to his arsenal. Last year, he threw his sinker 28.7 percent of the time and opponents had a .400 wOBA against it. He has only thrown the pitch 16.7 percent of the time this year. He has also relied more on his curveball, which opponents only have a .228 wOBA against this year. With his new pitch mix, Irvin has the potential to remain valuable down the stretch.

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