THE DYNASTY GURU’S 2022 TOP 200 DYNASTY LEAGUE STARTING PITCHERS, #1-50
At the Dynasty Guru we continue highlighting our top players at every position, moving from Outfield last week to Starting Pitchers this week. If you value our work here, please consider donating to help the cause!
1. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 20)
Prior to the 2020 season, there was some doubt about whether Corbin Burnes was ever going to live up to the prospect status he reached in 2017-18. Burnes had struggled out of the rotation when given the chance and had an abysmal 2019 season where he made 4 starts out of the rotation before being designated to the bullpen in a long-relief role. During that 2019 season, close observers may have been able to look past his 7.76 ERA and stumbled upon his 3.92 FIP which pointed to a much more promising future. As we would soon learn, that future was much sooner than many might have anticipated with Burnes posting a 1.72 ERA over 31.1 innings as a starter in the pandemic shortened 2020 season. That small sample clearly changed some minds here at TDG as we had Burnes at number 20 following the impressive campaign. Despite our optimism that those 31 innings were more than smoke and mirrors we all clearly missed that Corbin Burnes was ready to take the Baseball world by storm on his way to a Cy Young award and the number one spot on this very list. If you’re wondering which of those is a higher honor, I will leave that for you to decide.
What catapulted Burnes from a fantasy afterthought to the most valuable pitcher you could have on your team was a “simple” pitch usage change where he went from using his 4-seam Fastball 53% of the time in 2019 to using it only 3% of the time in 2020 and beyond. Those fastballs became sinkers and cutters in 2020 when Burnes started to see some of his early success, but his sinker usage fell dramatically in 2021 and was replaced with more cutters. Now using this cutter 52% of the time, Burnes is able to mix this pitch with four other pitches to keep hitters guessing. These changes show an incredible ability to adapt and learn from success and failure. His 36% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate just show that Burnes dominated every aspect of pitching in 2021 and should be a staple around the top of this list for years to come. (Joe Garino)
2. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 2)
Starting Pitcher is arguably one of the hardest positions to effectively build a dynasty team around. There is so much year-to-year variability with the position due to the amount of stress pitching puts on a player’s body. Despite the position taking up close to half of your roster spots on any given team, there are often a plethora of position players found atop dynasty rankings and draft boards. If I was hell-bent on drafting a pitcher in the first round of a startup draft, I would have to lean towards Gerrit Cole as the safest option with the highest upside. Since 2018, no pitcher has accumulated more innings or strikeouts than Gerrit Cole. He has thrown more than 115 innings every year of his career with the exception of the pandemic shortened 2020 season (77 IP). Cole’s exceptional durability gives me confidence that I can feel reasonably safe drafting or trading for him in any league.
The problem with durability is that Cole has mileage on his arm that screams regression or injury concerns could be on the horizon for him. He has never had Tommy John surgery before and had three years in college where he threw a considerable amount of innings for someone his age. Across MLB, MiLB, and College, Cole has thrown 1809 innings without missing significant time throughout most of his career. The question for our crystal ball is whether Cole will start to slow down sooner rather than later. (Joe Garino)
3. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 4)
With Clayton Kershaw injured and unsigned the reigns of Dodger’s ace can officially be passed down to Walker Buehler. There is an argument I have seen some make that Buehler should have received more consideration for the Cy Young in 2021 as he had essentially the same ERA as Corbin Burnes but in more innings. Zack Wheeler and Max Scherzer received more votes than Buehler despite him having a similar workload to Wheeler and essentially the same ERA as Scherzer.
While I would not have voted for Buehler, I believe that run-prevention being one of the most important aspects of pitching is often understated in our world of advanced analytics. The problem with relying on run prevention in Fantasy is that it can go away at any given moment due to sheer randomness. Whether it is bad managerial decisions or batted ball luck, it is difficult to trust that a pitcher who does not also provide elite strikeout numbers can produce top-notch value for a fantasy team. Buehler has not had a single season with a strikeout rate above 30% whereas Burnes, Scherzer, Cole, and deGrom all surpassed that 30% mark in 2021. All four of those pitchers had a lower walk rate than Buehler as well so you aren’t gaining much in the control department either. I think Buehler is a great SP1, and I would not be shocked to see the strikeout numbers go up as he becomes more experienced. Buehler will help you in Innings Pitched and ERA leagues but you’re likely losing ground in strikeouts for where you would be getting him in drafts. (Joe Garino)
4. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 3)
When deGrom is healthy he is the best pitcher on the planet. Should deGrom throw 150-170 innings in 2022 you can expect him to be the number one starting pitcher in terms of fantasy value brought to a given team. Those statements start with words like “when” and “should” because no one really knows how many innings deGrom will throw in 2022. deGrom’s sub 2 ERA and FIP over his 92 innings in 2021 made him one of the most valuable fantasy players in the first half. After that, there was quite a bit of confusion over when deGrom would pitch again due to the Mets keeping their hand close to their chest. It’s tough to say what we can expect out of deGrom next year, from a dynasty perspective it is even more difficult to gauge just how much you will be able to get out of the 34-year-old ace in coming years. (Joe Garino)
5. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 1)
Our number one pitcher entering 2021 took a “step-back” during the season as his strikeout rate dropped roughly 8% from 2020 while only throwing 96.2 innings because of a rotator cuff injury. He came back to make two starts last September but only threw 3 innings in each of them due to Cleveland being out of the playoff race. It’s tough to get any feel for how much of an impact that injury might have had on him as we really have not seen the Bieber we know and love since the middle of June. Bieber’s swinging strike rate was essentially the same as it was in his breakout 2020 season with the big difference coming in his ability to strand runners coming back to earth slightly in 2021 (91.1% -> 80.5%). Assuming all is well with his rotator cuff, the 27-year old could be a steal at #5 on this list. (Joe Garino)
6. Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 10)
The second of the Brewers’ absolutely bonkers rotation, Brandon Woodruff had an absolutely stellar 2021 with career bests in IP, ERA, and FIP. Similar to Burnes, Woodruff also spent some time in the bullpen before breaking out in the 2018 playoffs and as a full-time starter in 2019. Woodruff is kind of like the antithesis of Walker Buehler in that he will throw fewer innings but strike out a few more batters. ATC projects Woodruff to strike out 28% of batters compared to Buehler’s 25% and I think that gap is a pretty good expectation of the difference between the two pitchers. If you are looking to build around pitching and want to stack the top of your board with solid arms, you could think about pairing Buehler and Woodruff to get the best of both worlds rather than going all-in on one of the categories.
Woodruff somewhat scares me if you are playing in a league with quality starts or wins as a category due to Craig Counsell’s willingness to tap into his bullpen early into games. Despite this, Woodruff went 6 innings or more in 22 of his 30 starts in 2021 which should be in line with most other SP1’s. It’s not a reason to skip out on drafting Woodruff in those leagues but it is something to keep in mind before your draft depending on your league’s settings. (Joe Garino)
7. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 35)
The biggest riser on this list so far, Wheeler certainly gave managers everything they could ask for with career bests in essentially every statistical category. After spending close to 10 years in the Mets system, Wheeler signed with the Phillies and clearly, the Phillies had a game plan in mind that would turn Wheeler into one of the most productive starters in the game. Wheeler stopped throwing his sinker to lefties as only 4.5% of the sinkers he threw in 2021 were to lefties. Compare this to 2019 when 44% of the sinkers he threw were to lefties and you can see the Phillies wanting Wheeler to make a change in his pitch tunneling.
His sinker became his primary pitch again right-handed hitters and his four-seam fastball became the pitch he threw to lefties. It’s not a complex change to think about but it seemingly made the world of a difference for a guy who was often outside of many top 100 lists in our industry. The change seems to be for real and I have and always will be a big believer in Zack’s ability to excel in this league. (Joe Garino)
8. Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 39)
After breaking into the majors at just 19 years old in 2016, Julio was plagued by injuries and often the last man out in the stacked Dodgers rotations of years past. 2021 represented Julio’s first opportunity to be a full-time member of the rotation for a full season and it went quite well. Shooting 21 spots up our list, it is tough to imagine being able to acquire a 25-year-old coming off a career year in almost any fantasy league. He still has his whole prime ahead of him and hopefully, the injury troubles of his past do not pop back up again. Julio is incredibly efficient with his pitches keeping the ball in and around the zone to avoid walks and let the great Dodgers defense go to work. This allows him to go deep into games and with the Dodgers offense being so great it is easy to see how he was able to accumulate 20 wins. If you’re in a league with QS or wins as categories he has even more value and should arguably be higher on this list due to his age. (Joe Garino)
9. Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 181)
From fantasy afterthought to one of the hottest names on the waiver wire, Freddy Peralta made some lucky owners champions in 2021. I was one of the lucky ones and I remember paying close attention to the Brewers’ fifth rotation spot as I live in Milwaukee and enjoyed watching Peralta out of the bullpen in years past. He has always had electric stuff but has never been able to put it all together. Towards the end of Spring Training 2021, Peralta got two starts in an audition for the fifth starter’s spot and ended up winning the spot going 10 innings with a 13:1 K to BB ratio. I drafted him in some deeper leagues and picked him off the waiver wire where I could because I knew if he could keep the walks in check then we were in for something special. Similar to Burnes and Woodruff, Peralta had been in the bullpen but after 2021 it is safe to say he is going to be a fixture in their rotation for the foreseeable future. With a 34% strikeout rate he has kept the electricity he has always brought to the mound and has made a great punch at the top of the Brewers rotation even scarier. I said on Join the Ranks earlier in the season that I think Peralta is better than Woodruff and I stand by that decision. (Joe Garino)
10. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 8)
Aaron Nola had arguably the greatest season of his career but also seemed to have the most unlucky season of his career. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Nola had the best strikeout rate of his career in 2021 while lowering his walk rate to a career-low 5.2%. Unfortunately, those shifts coincided with the lowest strand rate of his career and an irregularly high BABIP. His 4.63 ERA was certainly not fun to watch as a fantasy manager, but the peripherals give me enough to feel okay holding onto Nola and potentially swooping into other owners’ messages to check in on how they feel about him. I still view him as an SP1 and I would not be shocked if he was in the top 5 come this time next year. (Joe Garino)
11. Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins (Age:26, Previous Rank:56)
This was the breakout we’d been waiting for. We’ve seen how Alcantara’s electric stuff is for a few seasons but never generated into above-average strikeout numbers until last season, with a 22% K%. He got even better in 2021, striking out a career-high 24% of batters faced lowered the BB% to a career-best 6% with a sparking 3.19 ERA. All of his pitches improved, gaining career-high velocities and Whiff%. The overall pitch mix was also crucial to Alcantara’s improvement. His changeup (30% Whiff%) usage doubled, and a slight increase in slider (38% Whiff%) usage. While the strikeout numbers are good, they are not elite. But with the increased velocity, new pitch usage, and ability to keep the ball on the ground, there’s a chance Alcanatara can take the next step in 2022.
12. Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox (Age:27, Previous Rank:6)
Gioloito got off to a rough start in 2021, finishing the first month of the season with a 5.68 ERA. He shook off the rough start and returned to his usual dominant self from May onwards, with a 3.17 ERA and a 27.5% K%. Overall, he finished the season with a 3.56 ERA and a 27.9% K. The strikeout numbers are better than great, but they are the lowest of Giolito’s last three years. But the walks have also gotten to a three-year best at 7.2%. The drop in strikeouts and increase in fly balls allowed (18.3-degree launch angle) could be the cause for a slight decline in production. The excellent news is Giolito is still throwing hard, walking fewer batters, and still has the strikeout ability. I’m happily taking a discount on him if anyone is selling this off-season.
13. Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins (Age:24, Previous Rank:184)
One of the lessons I’ve learned playing fantasy baseball, especially dynasty, is that you cannot regret choices. Every time you decide to not pick up a player who ends up breaking out, every trade you make that turns into a bust, every decision that doesn’t work out your way needs to be a learning experience. Having said that, I regret dropping Trevor Rogers after his 2020 season. I focused too much on the 6.11 ERA and 10% BB%. So I dropped him. I didn’t look at the 30% K% in 28 innings, the great swing and miss numbers, and that his ERA estimators were over two runs lower than his ERA. Sure enough, Rogers turned into an ace in 2021. His 30% Whiff% was in the 80th percentile, the fastball velocity increased to 94.5 MPH, and his slider generated a ludicrous 40% Whiff%. Rogers is the definition of an ace, and I’ll always regret dropping him.
14. Max Scherzer, New York Mets (Age:37, Previous Rank:14)
Max Scherzer has canceled the decline. It was easy to look at the down year in 2020 as the start of a downward trend for Scherzer, but he went right back to being his elite self. The K% went up 3 points to 34.1%, the walks fell to 5.2%, and his ERA dropped almost an entire run to 2.46. His K% and BB% were both in the top 10% of the league. Scherzer is the type of pitcher I love to target in dynasty leagues. Despite the elite performance, owners are usually scared off by age, and you should be able to acquire him for relatively cheap. I fully believe that Scherzer will continue to age gracefully and be an anchor in any rotation for the next few years.
15. Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants (Age:25, Previous Rank:194)
Webb shook off a 5.47 ERA in 2020 and came into 2021 with a new pitch mix that turned him into one of the top pitchers in baseball. He almost completely ditched the cutter and 4-seam fastball while increasing the sinker and slider usage. The slider was elite with a nearly 50% Whiff%, which led to his career-best 25.5% K%. Webb’s sinker was also elite, generating lots of weak contact with a 60% groundball rate. The command also improved by almost 4%. Pitching in San Francisco, which was second-lowest in baseball for offense, just gives him a boost in value. Webb does everything you want to see a young pitcher do and has a solid foundation of skills to build on.
16. Max Fried, Atlanta Braves (Age:28, Previous Rank:17)
Max Fried is a good pitcher. He does everything you want from a pitcher – misses enough bats (23.7% K%), keeps the walks down (6.1% BB%), and keeps the ball on the ground (6.1-degree launch angle). Fried may not put up the big sexy strikeout numbers like some pitchers on this list, But he throws 5 pitches, all with good command. If you’re looking for an arm that can be a steady force in your rotation, and the price isn’t too high, Fried is your pitcher.
17. Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners (Age:30, Previous Rank:131)
It feels weird to have a Cy Young winner this low, but Ray’s disastrous 2020 season is still hanging over his head. In fact, his whole career has been a what-if tale. What if Robie Ray cut down on the walks? Ray finally found some command in 2021 and rode to a Cy Young aware. He bounced back from 6.62 ERA and career-high BB% of 17.9% and just dominated in 2021. Ray posted career-best 2.84 ERA, cut the walks down to a solid 6.7% while keeping the strikeout numbers elite (32.1%). I get the sense that most fantasy players are expecting Ray to regress back to his old ways, but I think this is the perfect example of “pitching progression isn’t linear.” Even if the command regresses, he should still be a great pitcher. If anyone is selling, I’m buying.
18. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals (Age:26, Previous Rank:5)
If you’re a Jack Flaherty owner, it might be time to start selling. The surface stats are solid, 26.4% K%, 8.1% BB% and a 3.22 ERA. He throws two pitches with great Whiff$, and his overall Whiff% is in the 65 percentile. But looking under the hood, there are some red flags. Namely, Flaherty gets walloped. His xwOBA was .337, in the bottom 20% of the league. His xwOBACON (expected wOBA on contact. Basically xwOBA with the walks and strikeouts removed) was one of the lowest in baseball. His xERA of 4.92 and career-low BABIP of .233 suggest there is regression coming. Combined with the oblique and shoulder strains last year, it may be time to move on. The upside is still good, so I can’t blame anyone for holding, but his name value should still be high, so you should still be able to get decent value back.
19. Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays (Age:24, Previous Rank:117)
Manoah’s hype train began in spring training and rode to an outstanding debut season. In 111.2 innings, Manoah struck out 27.7% of batters and posted a 3.22 ERA. His fastball and slider are both plus, with Whiff% over 30%. The slider’s Whiff% is close to 40% (37%). Manoah was also able to limit hard contact with an average exit velocity of 86.8 MPH and a 31.2% Hard Hit%, which was in the top 7% of the league. Manoah is doing everything you want a young pitcher to do. Some minor improvements may take him to the next level, but he’s still a very good pitcher as is.
20. Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds (Age:29, Previous Rank:7)
Castillo’s changeup sunk his first half of 2021. The pitch was elite in 2020 but lost a good amount of the swing and miss it had. Batters chased it less, made more contact with it, and Castillo didn’t throw it in the strike zone as much. It led to a 4.65 ERA in the first half, with a 1.41 WHIP. He was able to get more whiffs on the changeup in the second half and rode that to a 3.18 ERA post-All-Star Game, with 96 strikeouts in 85 innings. Castillo has gone back and forth between ace and number 2 pitcher for the last few seasons. The tools for the breakout to ace status are always there, but I would be more than happy with him as the second pitcher in my rotation.
21. Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 125)
Shane McClanahan has always had impressive velocity and strikeout stuff, but concerns about his command and the depth of his arsenal made it seem likely he would end up in the bullpen. He quieted those questions in a big way in his 2021 rookie season, going 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 27.3% K-rate in 25 starts. His slider and curveball were both effective, and perhaps most importantly his walk rate was just 7.2%.
McClanahan’s only issue is that when opponents did get the bat on his stuff, they clobbered it. His average exit velocity of 91.7, 10.7% barrel rate, and 45.7% hard-hit rate were all among the worst in the league, leading to a 4.60 xERA per Statcast. I wouldn’t ignore those numbers, but they’re not as predictive as strikeouts or walks. McClanahan excels in the stats that matter most and has the stuff to back it up. He could be a top-end SP for a long time. (Ben Sanders)
22. José Berríos, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 25)
José Berríos has produced good seasons with remarkable consistency, yet he always feels like a disappointment to those who draft him thinking this is the year he finally becomes a star. Sorry, no ace here – you’ll just have to settle for 12-14 wins, roughly 200 strikeouts, and a sub-4 ERA. His 2021 season was his best yet, with a 3.52 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, his K-BB% eclipsing 20% for the first time.
In theory, his move to Toronto should be a bad thing based on park considerations, but the Blue Jays seem to know what they’re doing with pitchers lately – look at what Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah did last season. Perhaps they’ve got the key to a Berrios breakout. If not, you’ll just have to settle for 12-14 wins, roughly 200 strikeouts, and a sub-4 ERA. (Ben Sanders)
23. Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 69)
Kevin Gausman wasn’t as good as his 1.73 first-half ERA in 2021, nor as bad as his 4.42 ERA post-break. On closer inspection, he was largely the same pitcher all season, with his batted-ball luck fluctuating wildly (.218 BABIP first half vs. .358 second half). His overall numbers were very good, and they legitimized a 2020 breakout season that looked like a small-sample fluke.
The question now is whether Gausman can have the same success outside of San Francisco. He returns to the hitter-friendly AL East, where he had many disappointing years with Baltimore. The best way to limit the influence of ballparks is to strike people out. He’s done that well lately thanks to his nasty splitter, which opponents have whiffed at on nearly half their swings the last two years. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, so there’s a risk he could fall apart again, but what he’s shown the past two years makes that gamble worth taking. (Ben Sanders)
24. Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 11)
Zac Gallen likes to nibble. His high walk rates aren’t due to a lack of command, but a desire to perfectly paint the corners. He did that well his first two MLB seasons, posting sub-3 ERAs that were well below what any estimators expected. It all fell apart during an injury-plagued 2021 which he finished with a 4.30 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. One of those injuries was a sprained UCL, which could be a long-term concern. Pitching for a terrible Arizona team in the stacked NL West doesn’t help either.
On the bright side, the Diamondbacks added highly-regarded pitching coach Brent Strom to their staff, and there’s optimism he can help refine the approach. Gallen’s strikeout rate remained solid last season, and he has a deep, effective arsenal of pitches. He’s still young with ace potential despite all the causes for alarm. (Ben Sanders)
25. Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 114)
“Yes, can deal” is an anagram for Dylan Cease. He proved it fits last season, striking out 226 batters in 165.2 innings in a breakout performance. His fastball averaged 96.7 MPH, and all three of his secondaries produced at least a 40% whiff rate, led by his wipeout slider at 50.1%. There’s no doubt he has ace-caliber stuff.
Command remains the one thing holding him back. Though Cease’s 9.6 BB-rate was the best of his professional career at any level, it’s still worse than league average. His ratios – a 3.91 ERA and 1.25 WHIP – were mediocre despite all the strikeouts. He can be absolutely maddening to watch, looking completely unhittable one inning and incapable of throwing a strike the next. Be patient, because if he starts finding the zone more consistently, his ceiling is virtually unlimited. (Ben Sanders).
26. Joe Musgrove , San Diego Padres (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 61)
Finally! After years of being a popular sleeper, Joe Musgrove delivered on his promise with a breakout 2021. His 3.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 203 strikeouts in 181.1 innings were a critical component in many fantasy championships. He was dominant in April and May, including a no-hitter in his second start. The early success kept his overall numbers looking nice, but his performance slipped as the season went on. He had a 3.73 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over the final four months, and his 3.69 SIERA and 3.70 FIP hint maybe that’s what we should expect going forward.
To be fair, Padres’ total team collapse surely impacted Musgrove, and it isn’t likely to repeat. He threw four different pitches at least 19 percent of the time and has good command, which is the type of profile that ages well. That hot start to 2021 may have been a bit of a fluke, but he still looks like a high-floor SP2 or SP3 for the next few years. (Ben Sanders).
27. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Age:27, Previous Rank: 46)
Shohei Ohtani took big steps forward as a pitcher over the course of the 2021 season. He walked nearly a batter per inning in April, but his control improved rapidly. In the second half his BB-rate was just 3.4%, leading to a 2.84 ERA and 0.96 WHIP post-break. He mixes triple-digit heat with a variety of effective breaking pitches. If he were only a pitcher, he’d be a fantasy SP2 on the cusp of ace territory.
Of course, Ohtani is far from just a pitcher, and his two-way superstardom complicates things. This ranking assumes you’re getting a pitcher-only version in a league where he’s treated as two players. If you’re in a weekly league where he’s just one player, you probably just ignore the SP in favor of the 46-HR, 26-SB bat. The Angels will likely keep his innings down to preserve him, and if there comes a day when he can no longer handle the two-way grind, the pitching could be sacrificed entirely. (Ben Sanders)
28. Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 16)
The term “glass cannon” fits Tyler Glasnow well, and not just because of his last name. He had Tommy John surgery in August and is expected to miss all of 2022. His career high in MLB innings is 111.2 for a variety of reasons, including early-career command woes as well as injuries. He was able to log a lot of innings in the minors, so perhaps the glass part isn’t entirely fair.
There’s no disputing the cannon. Glasnow added a nasty slider to his excellent fastball and curveball in 2021, the missing piece to his ace puzzle. The third pitch not only made him that much more untouchable, with a ridiculous 17.2% swinging strike rate, but also helped him average over six innings per start for the first time. He had a 2.66 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, and had he stayed healthy he might have a Cy Young and a top-10 spot in these rankings. If your dynasty team isn’t ready to contend this season but might be by 2023, Glasnow makes a really enticing trade target. (Ben Sanders)
29. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 22)
Chris Sale’s late-season return from Tommy John surgery produced mixed results. His 28.4% K-rate was still very good, if not up to his previous elite standard. His 3.16 ERA was solid, but his 1.34 WHIP not so much. Blame his .358 BABIP for the latter, but don’t assume it will automatically regress unless the Red Sox improve their defense; they allowed a .324 BABIP as a team. His fastball velocity was down at first but eventually returned to normal. Overall, it was an encouraging showing for a guy who hadn’t pitched in two years.
Sale will need to recapture his changeup to get back to ace level. Opponents slugged .667 off it last season and .517 in 2019. He can’t rely on just his fastball and slider against righties. His advancing age and the 1,672.1 innings he’s logged in MLB also must be considered. Sale seems like a solid bet to be a good pitcher again, but how good and for how long are tougher questions. (Ben Sanders)
30. Pablo López, Miami Marlins (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 55)
Pablo López missed almost the entire second half of the 2021 season due to a shoulder injury, returning only for a 1.2-inning cameo in October. Everything he did before the break was encouraging. His K-rate went up to 27.5%, his BB-rate fell to 6.2%, and his 3.07 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were both the best marks of his young career. He has plus command and a deep arsenal, led by an excellent changeup which gets both whiffs and groundballs. There’s a lot to like here.
López’s strikeout upside could be limited. Projection systems aren’t quite buying last season’s surge, perhaps because of his rather ordinary 11.8% swinging strike rate. Miami offers many advantages to pitchers, but run support isn’t one of them – he won just five of his 20 starts despite his great numbers. It’s also fair to wonder whether the shoulder issue is fully behind him. Overall, though, it looks like López has many years of very solid production ahead. (Ben Sanders)
31. TYLER MAHLE, CINCINNATI REDS, (AGE: 27, PREVIOUS RANK: 89)
Tyler comes in climbing up our rankings this year as he absolutely dominated in 2021. Mahle racked up 210 strikeouts in 180 innings of work this past season. He also worked in 33 games last year and came out as the winning pitcher in 13 of those outings. Those 13 wins account for half of his career wins which goes to show that Mahle’s success is newly found. Mahle also had the best FIP of his career in 2021 which goes to show just how great he was last season. Looking at the sabermetrics, Mahle was among the best in the league in not giving up hard hit. You love to see pitchers not getting rocked. Mahle is one that didn’t get rocked in 2021 and hopes for the same this season. (Brett Cook)
32. IAN ANDERSON, ATLANTA BRAVES, (AGE: 23, PREVIOUS RANK: 27)
The truth is that Ian Anderson didn’t pitch bad in 2021 but he also didn’t pitch great. He didn’t live up to the hype he left the world seeing in his brief stint to end the 2020 season. In those 6 appearances he struck out 40 in 32.1 innings. He finished with a 1.95ERA in that brief stint.
Compare what he did in that brief stint to what he displayed in 2021 and you will get where I am coming from. He did strike out 124 batters in 128.1 innings of work. He finished with a 9-5 record in his first full season. Trust me when I say that I am giving this kid a break. He is 23 for crying out loud! But sabermetrics were not kind to Anderson in 2021. Just look below for yourself. At the same time, don’t let them scare you away from him. (Brett Cook)
33. GRAYSON RODRIGUEZ, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, (AGE: 22, PREVIOUS RANK: 65)
Let’s just take a peek at what Grayson was able to do in 2021 at High-A and Double-A. Combining both stops, Grayson pitched a total of 23 times. This is more than he had ever pitched in a season. This was his first time to pitch 100 innings in a season. You can see that he is definitely making strides in his development with this information. What is fascinating is that Rodriguez came on the other side of the pandemic stronger as a pitcher. He stopped walking batters as much, evidenced by a BB/9 drop from a combined 3.35 average in 2018 and 2019 compared to a combined BB/9 of 2.21 combined average in 2020 and 2021. Not only did he walk batters less but his K/9 average improved dramatically in 2020 and 2021 in comparison to 2018 and 2019. The only negative I will mention is that with he also began to give up more long balls in this surge. (Brett Cook)
34. LANCE LYNN, CHICAGO WHITE SOX, (AGE: 34, PREVIOUS RANK: 29)
Growing old really isn’t fun. Just ask Lance Lynn. I mean here we are dropping a man who dominated the competition seemingly because he is getting older. Lance Lynn has basically recorded 10 wins in every season since 2012. The only reason he didn’t have 10 wins in 2020 was because there were only 80 total games in that season. If that would have been a full-season and he would have been healthy all year, he was on pace to win 18 games.
Lynn pitched in 157 innings. He posted a 2.69ERA. Opponents hit .209 against him. He struck out 176 hitters. One more thing to mention is that his sabermetrics were off the chart. Very reminiscent of his 2019 numbers for Texas, but, and that is a big but, with over 50 less innings pitched. Which brings the question. Are we dropping Lynn because of less “work” or are we dropping him for his great production in that less “work”? (Brett Cook)
35. LOGAN GILBERT, SEATTLE MARINERS, (AGE: 24, PREVIOUS RANK: 66)
Logan appeared in 24 games in 2021. In those 24 games he posted a 7-6 record. Logan also posted 127 strikeouts in 120 innings. Logan also kept his WHIP under 1.20 which makes fantasy owners happy. Logan ended up strikeout out a solid nine and a half strikeouts per nine innings.
When you look at the sabermetrics, you can see all the ways he struggled. He was getting hit hard. When Logan was on the mound the ball was getting barreled frequently. Hitters weren’t chasing a lot of his stuff out of the strike zone. What he did have for him was a very good walk percentage in the sabermetrics department, evidenced by his ability to stay in counts and get hitters out through any means. (Brett Cook)
36. SHANE BAZ, TAMPA BAY RAYS, (AGE: 22, PREVIOUS RANK: 116)
Shane may have the greatest Instagram Handle. If you haven’t seen it yet then go get a laugh! Baz is another example of someone who performed better after the pandemic. Baz moved from Double-A to the majors in 2021 and he basically struck the competition out at will in every promotion. His K/9 was 13.50 in seven Double-A appearances, 12.52 in 10 Triple-A appearances, and 12.15 in a very small 3 game major league sample.
Not only is he striking out more after the pandemic but he is also not walking hitters as much. This part of his game has dramatically improved. Oh and one more thing to mention. His ERA was also stellar with each 2021. The wizard that the Pirates drafted is now showing his former team what they are missing. You shouldn’t make the same mistake. (Brett Cook)
37. FRANKIE MONTAS, OAKLAND ATHLETICS, (AGE: 28, PREVIOUS RANK: 34)
Montas pitched in 32 games in 2021 and finished the season with 13 wins. In those 32 games he was also able to amass 187 innings. This was no doubt about it Montas’s best career season, seeing as he had never pitched over 100 innings in a season before. Comparing the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Montas dramatically reduced his walk rate while also improving in his HR/9 in that same time.
Montas also finished this past season with a very cool 3.37ERA. This isn’t where we stop tooting his horn either. When you look at his stuff according to sabermetrics, what you will see was his strong suit. Hitters chased what Montas was throwing. Montas is among the league’s top ten percentile in throwing stuff that hitters chase out of the strike zone. (Brett Cook)
38. CARLOS RODON, FREE AGENT, (AGE: 29, PREVIOUS RANK: 202)
Here is a corny joke for you. Why do fantasy baseball rankings have Rodon so low when he dominated in 2021? We love one hit wonders. Not one throw wonders. Did I just coin a phrase for pitchers who have one great season? Who knows! Probably not.
Let’s start with talking about the sabermetrics. Rodon’s stuff was pure in 2021. His stuff was so pure that only 10 percent of the league was able to get hitters to whiff at pitches more. Want more? His strikeout rate was better than 96 percent of all hitters in 2021.
Honestly I know why he was ranked this low. Rodon only pitched in 132.2 innings and he has had problems staying healthy. But one thing is for certain, he dominated in those 132.2 innings, evidenced by 185 strikeouts and a 2.37ERA in all that work. Let’s hope he can stay healthy. (Brett Cook)
39. LUIS GARCIA, HOUSTON ASTROS, (AGE: 25, PREVIOUS RANK: 280)
Garcia was able to start 28 games for the Astros in 2021. He also had two relief appearances. In all that work, Garcia racked up and 11-8 record and 167 strikeouts in 155.1 innings on the mound. Garcia also posted a very solid earned run average of 3.48 as well as a very appealing 1.17WHIP.
Garcia finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. It is no wonder why. The kid played well. You see the talent bleeding in the sabermetrics as well. There are only two areas that Garcia struggles in when you look at the sabermetrics. The first is that his fastball velocity isn’t among the best in the league and the second is that his curveball is very lacking in spin rate. That is it. And it is not too shabby! (Brett Cook)
40. MICHAEL KOPECH, CHICAGO WHITE SOX, (AGE: 25, PREVIOUS RANK: 52)
Let me just cut to the chase. I believe that Michael Kopech has top 20 starting pitcher potential. Don’t make me out to be a crazy guy. You know that he very well could. Kopech just has lights out stuff. You see that by his strikeout numbers as he struck out 103 hitters in 69.1 innings of work. The one question mark is will the White Sox give him more innings. Most of Kopech’s dominance came in the bullpen last year. Notice I said most. Kopech dominated when he started games, too.
When you compare his small sample as a starter to his small sample as a reliever, he was actually better. Opponents had a lower average, on-base percentage, and a lower slugging percentage. Don’t be surprised when Kopech jumps in next years ranking. (Brett Cook)
41. Lance McCullers Jr, Houston Astros (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 40)
In 2021 Lance McCullers Jr started taking the steps forward that I’d been waiting for. Pitching his career-high innings (162.1), he struck out batters at an increased rate (27%) but also walked them (11.1%) at a higher rate too. He keeps spinning his curveball at a near-elite rate even after the foreign substance ban. Maintaining that spin plus being able to get outs via his slider, change, and sinker means McCullers’s strike-out gains aren’t a mirage. If he can start getting the walks in check, and thusly increasing his workload, I’ll be all in. He’s had injury concerns previously and strained his forearm during the playoffs, so there is some level of caution here. At 28 years old entering Opening Day, he provides plenty of optimism for your dynasty roster. (Chris Knock)
42. Blake Snell, San Diego Padres (Age 29, Previous Rank: 9)
Speaking of keeping the walks in check, Blake Snell’s inability to do just that last season has been well documented. So much so, many people are picking 2021’s first half of results to think he’s lost his form. But where’s the recency bias when you need it? He had been striking out batters at average or better rates all year but didn’t stop walking them until after the trade deadline. In August his BB rate was 8.6% (plus a K-BB rate of 30.2%) and in September he walked even fewer batters, with a 7.7% rate (and a gorgeous K-BB rate of 34.6%).
It’s not good for pitchers to be Three True Outcome pitchers as Snell was for the first two-thirds of last year. But that last third of a season was awfully similar to his Cy Young campaign in 2018. As our 42nd ranked pitcher, I’m more than happy to take the chance he’ll continue this return to form. (Chris Knock)
43. Clayton Kershaw, Free Agent (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 13)
It feels like the last handful of years for Clayton Kershaw have been very similar. Health issues limit his innings compared to his workhorse years, meanwhile, he pitches effectively over the course of the season. 2021 was much of the same. This time, an elbow tendon injury limited the multiple Cy Young winner to only 121 innings. Yet still, Kershaw struck out over a batter an inning while throwing a 3.55 ERA. While wasn’t a bad year for a now 34-year-old, and it could have been better, per his xFIP of 2.87 and SIERA of 3.10. Kershaw is not the same pitcher he was during his years of dominance, he is still an above-average veteran to add to your SP mix. (Chris Knock)
44. Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 15)
Our third pitcher in a row to fall in the Dynasty Guru’s composite rankings, Yu Darvish was unable to relive his dominant 2020 season. And looking a bit closer, it appears to me that his 2020 Cy Young finalist results were more the “outlier” than 2021 was. Darvish’s 2021 BB/9 of 2.38 was the second-best of his career, second only to 2020’s 1.66 and well under his career 3.08 BB/9. He’s likely due for some positive regression upcoming in the 2022 season as his expected stats last year were better than his traditional. Unfortunately, he’s thrown over professional 2500 innings between MLB and Japan and I wouldn’t fully count on a revival at this point. (Chris Knock)
45. Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 45)
Finally holding the line in the slew of pitchers who have dropped in our rankings, Dustin May ends up keeping his spot from last year. This is despite going under the knife for Tommy John last spring and likely missing the vast majority of the 2022 season. Pre-injury, May was showing signs of being exactly the pitcher we had come to expect. His K-BB% of 31.1% in 23 early season innings was delightful and GIF eye candy.
May has been playing catch but typical TJS recovery timeframes are 12 plus months before returning to the mound. The Dodgers pitching depth plus his historical usage pre-2021 leans me away from counting on him this year. Long term he’s a buy, especially if your squad is not in win-now mode. Just be wary of a slow ramp-up of innings on his return. After the COVID shortened season, his historical usage, and now TJS recovery, it will be a few more years before he’s throwing 200 innings. (Chris Knock)
46. Max Meyer, Miami Marlins (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 62)
If you love wipe-out sliders, you’ll love Max Meyer. He’s only thrown 110 innings of professional baseball and his slider/fastball combo has been as beautiful as we imagined. 10 innings in Triple-A gave us 17 strikeouts. Yeah, it’s a tease of a sample size but his 101 innings in Double-A were not too far off from these results either when he struck out batters at a 27.2% clip. And yeah, he needs to further develop his changeup to avoid having that “reliever risk” stamp. But if being a ‘lights out’ closer is the risk, I would take the bet on Meyer. We have plenty of examples of this current Miami development staff maximizing their pitchers and he’ll succeed whatever role he ends up in. (Chris Knock)
47. Framber Valdez, Houston Astros (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 60)
Moving up into our top 50 is Framber Valdez, although 2021 was a mixed bag of results for him. He almost doubled his innings pitched despite a delayed start with a fractured finger during spring training. Although he threw more innings, he wasn’t able to build upon his fantasy counting stats and rates as many hoped. His K-Rate reverted to the pre-2020 realm of low 20s (21.9% to be exact), and his BB-Rate also bounced back to double digits (10.1%). With these strikeout and walk numbers, coupled with a 2022 projected ERA below 4, Valdez appears to be developing into a “human resources rep” fantasy profile type. He’s young (turned 28 in November), so if he can settle in as a quality bulk starter, there’s fantasy value for your roster in his safe floor. (Chris Knock)
48. Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 112)
It’s been a long time coming, but Nathan Eovaldi just had the season I first pictured way back in 2014. I am far from an Eovaldi hipster, but back when he was a Marlin I was baffled that he had such piddly strike-out numbers. One thing that helps is that he is throwing with a much deeper arsenal (5 pitches thrown over 10% each) now. This helped him strike out 195 batters (25.5% K rate) this past year. Coupling that above-average K rate with an elite 4.6% BB rate allowed him to maximize his efficiency and finally start 30 plus games since 2014. If Eovaldi is able to replicate those same numbers in 2022, he’ll be a great addition to your fantasy rotation for this year and beyond. (Chris Knock)
49. German Marquez, Colorado Rockies (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 53)
What to make of German Marquez? We all know that it’s tough being an upside pitcher for the Rockies. Let’s change that perspective though and look at Marquez as a high floor pitcher instead. He’s pitched full seasons (or the equivalent of) since his first full year in 2017. He strikes out batters at a career rate of 9 batters per 9 IP, while only walking 2.6 batters per 9 IP.
He’s had some positive and negative fluctuations around those career rates, with 2018 as his ceiling. When you have this big of a sample size (800 innings thrown) you know what you’re getting at baseline. Draft him here for the youth and floor, and know that you can gloat when he surpasses those average numbers in a tough pitcher’s environment. (Chris Knock)
50. Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 64)
Our 50th ranked pitcher will likely be listed in many sleeper posts leading up to the eventual start of the 2022 season (and already has been listed in a few). Seemingly all positive prognostications point to his expected stats of 2021 compared to his results, and I totally agree. Not only did he outperform his 4.74 ERA by over 1 run (3.50 xERA), his K rates and walk rates were both at career-best levels. Additionally, last year’s Red Sox defense didn’t do any pitchers service. They were the lowest-rated in Defensive Efficiency per Baseball Reference. Rodriguez now pitches in Comerica Park which will help stymie that ugly ERA. And not only is it a better park for him but the Tigers defense rates much better and it added El Mago Baez. All this makes Rodriguez someone you’ll be very happy with when he falls into your draft’s lap. (Chris Knock)