TDG 2022 PLAYERS TO TARGET: STARTING PITCHER
When it comes to pitchers during a dynasty draft, I am the team that usually avoids drafting the top tier. The potentially inconsistent results and risk of long-term injuries outweigh the floor. So I’d typically target my hitters early and then take upside play pitchers a few rounds later. Below are two pitchers that fit the mold of who I target when taking part in start-up drafts.
Blake Snell, San Diego Padres
Snellzilla was the wrong type of scary for the first part of the 2021 season. For the first 19 games in a Padres uniform, Blake Snell had a 5.44 ERA and a 135 ERA-. This is a league-adjusted ERA where lower numbers are better and 100 is league average. So having a 135 ERA- means he was 35% worse than an average pitcher. More descriptive of the scary state, Snell walked 55 batters in 84.1 innings and his HR/FB ratio was 17.6%. He was putting people on base and letting a lot of them hit home runs. Not a wise combination if you want to continue being employed.
But as anticipated, Snell turned into the monster we know he can be. From his August 3rd start and later, his numbers were scary good: 1.83 ERA, 45 ERA-, 14 walks in 44.1 innings, and a much-improved HR/FB ratio of 9.1%.
Regardless of the level of success, Snell maintained his straightforward fastball-heavy approach. This allowed him to continue striking out batters even with control issues of his secondary pitches. Over the course of last year, he still struck out a total of 170 batters in 128 innings. We’ve seen Snell’s ceiling when he won the Cy Young in 2018. His stats that year were numbers similar to those in the tail end of 2021. That upside alone is worth reaching a bit at his current SP3 placement in our rankings.
Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees
Jordan Montgomery is somewhat the anti-Blake Snell in his approach. Despite this different approach, Montgomery’s final month of the 2021 season was also extremely appealing. It too isn’t getting the love that it should deserve.
Originally coming up from the minors as a sinkerballer, Montgomery threw his fastball only 16% of the time last year. He relied on both his changeup and curveball almost 25% of the time each, while also still throwing the sinkerball (22% of his pitchers) plus a cutter (13.8%). His changeup and curveball were particularly dangerous. Montgomery was able to get batters to whiff 39.2% of their swings versus his changeup and 42.9% of the time on his curveball over the course of last season. Those rates are in elite territory yet he didn’t rely on only them to get strikeouts. When set up with 2 strikes, he also used his cutter and its 20.3% whiff rate to get the out.
This dominant, two-pitch Whiff-Rate in addition to his improving PutAway-Rate are the most intriguing aspects of Montgomery’s development. As the season progressed, he leaned away from his old bread and butter sinkerball/fastball combo. The combo was effective in getting outs, but not effective in getting strikeouts. Using it as his main portion of the repertoire for much of the year resulted in K% in the low 20’s for over 3 months.
In September is when it really clicked for Montgomery. He started relying on his old sinker/fastball combo early in counts and then finished the batters with either of his elite Whiff pitches. Resulting in a K-Rate of 29%, this change in pitch approach really should catch everyone’s eye.
Montgomery pitched a career-high innings in 2021 and was consistently effective throughout the year. Overall, his BB-Rate and FIP were equal comparing first and second halves and he faced a similar number of batters month over month. This shows me that he’s ready for an increased workload as he gets further from his Tommy John surgery in 2019. The boost in innings pitched with continued success from his dominant secondaries sets Montgomery up for a big year. We have him ranked around SP5 territory in our Dynasty Rankings. I see this as his floor and similar to his 2021 as a whole. Do not hesitate to reach a bit earlier as September showed us, Montgomery’s upside is at least an SP3, potentially a top 30 pitcher year over year.