[dusts frost off shoulders and fixes hair into a bowl cut]
Gentlemen and ladies and enbies and everyone in between, welcome to 2023 fantasy baseball! Usually, I’m semi-hilarious in these posts (at least according to my Mom’s Yelp review), but I figure this article is one of those “bookmark it”-types that you’ll load during your drafts. Quick! You’ve got 30 seconds to draft a player, and you just got sniped on Manny Pina. This draft is out of control! Put your hand on the wheel and drive into the sunset CowPlayer — I’ve got your next draft pick slotted up in this here bonanza of an article.
Here’s the outline of this article: 1) Why I’m the sugar to your ant colony, 2) Pitchers to draft in 2023, 3) Pitchers to avoid in 2023, 4) the whole dang list.
I value your time and your ability to use the search function in a timed-draft setting, so if you want to know more about specific pitchers, come back each week and read my updates throughout the pre-season.
Trust Me, I’m an Expert
At least according to FantasyPros’ stringent vetting process and Grey’s opinion (He said I’m cute! And not to talk to HR!), I’m sort of kinda good at this ranking thing. Here’s why you should trust me over other internet rankers:
- 3 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Finalist nominations in 3 categories, including Baseball Writer of the Year (2022) and Baseball Article of the year (2021).
- 6th place overall points in the 2021 RazzSlam and 16th overall points in the 2022 RazzSlam.
- I’ve given you fantasy gifts like Robbie Ray Cy Young (2021) and Spencer Strider when he was still a Roleless Rob (2022).
- I know that products in Dollar Tree are actually priced $1.25.
2023 Pitchers to Target
First things first: Don’t draft starters early. Here’s a giant article about fantasy baseball starting pitcher draft strategy. Here’s a follow-up article that The Lineup Builder wrote about it last week. For regular 12-team ESPN drafts, I probably won’t draft a SP before round 7. For NFBC drafts, I’ll draft 2-3 starting pitchers in the first 10 rounds. But here’s the list of targets that I’m taking in as many drafts as possible in 2023.
Aaron Nola: There are certain unassailable truths: Steven Wilson has never written a bad song, Grey smells like garlic and onions, and Aaron Nola is undervalued. At the time of writing, I will be the only ranker on Steven Wilson’s green earth to have Nola as SP1. All Nola has done is pitch every start 5 years straight while shaving his BB/9 and HR/9 thinner than Grey’s pastrami. Also, have you seen the Phillies’ lineup this year? Like, Nola could pitch 150 IP and get 30 Wins. Don’t even ask me how the math works. I’m here for my good looks! Compared to the other bozos that Chuck from
the Larceny Department Accounting will draft with his first three NFBC picks, you’re drafting two bats and Aaron Nola. Nice!
Brady Singer: Let’s be blunt [rolls up a dollar bill and folds it into an origami t-shirt]. Singer is SP15 on my pre-season board, which makes me the most aggressive ranker on Singer by a factor of 3. If you look at the overall consensus on Singer, he’s a pitcher that is drafted only in the deepest leagues. You 10-team players (how do you live with yourself?) won’t even get to his ADP of 166 in most drafts. But here I am, telling everybody that Brady Singer is the one that you want (John Travolta is having fits rn). In 2022, Singer put up as much WAR in 150 innings as Kyle Wright did in 180. Wright also led the majors with 21 wins. Singer had more K/9, fewer BB/9, and a better SIERA than Alek Manoah. Manoah has gone as early as pick 30 in the NFBC. And you thought people who pay money to play are the superior players! I kid. You know EWB loves you all equally and without regard to your ability to pay $1900 for a league. If you make a half-billion off of Singer this year, make sure to send a couple frappucinos my way.
Charlie Morton: Here’s a heartbreaker: our favorite former Pirate is now 39, which puts him one step closer to being in the same “senior breakfast” category as Rich Hill. Generally, pitchers near 40 years old simply don’t perform well. I mean, have you seen all the Viagara and Cialis commercials out there? Morton was one of the most reliable starters for years prior to 2022, where he recovered from a broken-shin-comebacker. Morton’s home/away splits were enormous in 2022 and not terribly indicative of his previous performance. In short — in basically every meaningful year in his career, Morton had even(ish) home/away splits. In 2022? 3.05 ERA / 3.47 FIP at home and 5.72 ERA / 5.09 FIP away. Yeesh. Aight, I won’t pretend to know how somebody feels secure when 40,000 ATLiens are chopping at you, but clearly Morton felt the love last year. Morton’s ADP is currently 1 round before Brady Singer. Uhhhhhh. Morton in 2022: 3.48 SIERA, 4.11 xERA, 3.60 xFIP. All those stats that teams love? Morton did them all. And he’s basically free in 12-team drafts and is like SP10 for most NFBC best ball teams. BUT WHAT ABOUT IAN ANDERSON AND MIKE SOROKA? You ever walk as many batters as you strike out? Knock that shizz off. While Dale from Business Analytics is starting his draft with 10 pitchers and you’re feeling pressured — don’t worry. Singer and Morton and Chill.
Corey Kluber: Guess who had a higher WAR than Brady Singer last year and isn’t drafted in any league except those insane 50-rounders? Like, what are we doing friends? Trying to lose money? Kluber’s slated to be SP2 in Boston and that’s not a terribly favorable matchup, but at ADP 506…like what are we doing? Kluber’s getting drafted after Mitch Keller and Tylor Megill and if you put those chumps together, you barely reach Kluber’s 2022 WAR. Megill won’t even be in the Mets rotation for the love of chocolate oat milk. Over the past 2 years, Kluber’s pitched 240 IP of sub-4.00 FIP baseball, with a SIERA of around 4, and a nearly 30% CSW%. Meanwhile, the consensus ranks him as an undraftable pitcher in 16-team leagues. You know who had that honor in 2020? Robbie Freaking Ray before he won the Cy Young.
Here’s my complete list of Draft These Guys Everywhere. If you’re in a best ball, I want you to draft a bajillion bats and then hammer this list in rounds 15-30.
Avoid These Pitchers in 2023:
When I say “avoid,” that’s not to say “don’t draft under any circumstances.” Just lower your expectations and exposures and don’t draft at ADP.
Sandy Alcantara: OK, let’s do that thing where we compare anonymous players:
|Player||2023 ADP||2022 IP||2022 K-BB%||2022 SIERA||2022 CSW%|
Come on, this ain’t even fair. You know Sandy is Player B because of that ADP and IP. Who are the other schlubs that you can get in round 10 or later? Player A is Kyle Wright, Player D is Robbie Ray. If you didn’t guess it from my previous blurb, Player C is Corey Kluber. Imagine Sandy gets a splinter or a comebacker or Covid or visits the Injured List, and you’ve got a Round 10 pitcher. Why is everybody so high on Alcantara? Remember when he didn’t top 8 K/9 for several months in 2022, and finished June 2022 with a sub-6.50 K/9? Last time I checked, fantasy baseball uses strikeouts as a scoring category. Now we’re barely into draft season and Sandy’s been picked in the first round in an NFBC league, if you’re wondering how I feel about the level of competition there. Let’s put it this way: Sandy with less IP is Kyle Wright, who is being drafted 120th overall. Kyle Wright with more IP is…Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara. When the industry drafts get rolling in the next month, Sandy’s ADP will soar towards 20 or earlier as the Pocket Aces tribe shows up in force. Sure, if you’re in a points league where IP is a thing, start with an Alcantara/Nola combo and never look back. For the rest of us playing in actual leagues where IP don’t matter, just remember that Sandy has 700 career MLB IP with an xFIP of 4.00, a sub-8.0 K/9, and a 34-43 record. He has fewer Wins since 2018 than Mike Minor, Jordan Lyles, Merill Kelly, and Brad Keller. Kelly and Keller play for the Diamondbacks and Royals! I mean, you don’t have to be a front office maven to see the warning signs. I’m a broken record on Alcantara, but if he returns SP1 value in 2023, it’s not because the stats told us it would happen.
Jacob deGrom: Now I’m just hating on everything good in the world! DeGrom isn’t bad and there’s nothing wrong with him other than his ADP of 31. He’s been taken as early as the first round over on NFBC, and the general consensus is that he’s somewhere between SP3-SP5 depending on the ranker. DeGrom has also pitched fewer IP in the past two years than noted starters Glen Otto, Casey Mize, Austin Voth, Keegan Thompson, and Tyler Rodgers. ACKSHUALLY, Tyler Rodgers is a setup man. Nothing wrong with deGrom, other than finishing 2022 by giving up 6 HR in 4 games and sporting a 6.00 ERA and 16% barrel rate over that period. Max EVs topped 110MPH in every game. The opponents? The Cubs, the Pirates, the Athletics, and the Braves. Oh yeah, deGrom is on the Rangers now, too. I don’t hate deGrom. I really don’t. But do I think he’s your first-round draft pick, or your SP1? Oh heck no. You want to live in flavor country? Go pocket aces with deGrom and Alcantara and see if I ever talk to you again.
Luis Castillo: Castillo’s getting picked in the 5th round or so, good for SP2 in most 12-team leagues or SP3 on a pitcher-heavy team. I feel somewhat like a traitor, given that Castillo was my pre-season dark horse pick to win SP1 honors in 2022 fantasy baseball. Castillo’s trade away from Cincinnati did wonders for his mood and he finished the season with a great 2.99 ERA and 10 K/9. I’m nitpicking here, but Castillo’s stuff appears more on the decline than on the upswing. In 2022, Castillo posted the worst swinging strike % rate of his career, and his CSW% put him just above Nestor Cortes. Cortes is being drafted 60 picks later. Castillo’s barrel % and hard hit % each reached highs not seen since 2018, and he allowed nearly 10% more flyballs than his career averages. There’s a lot to like about Luis Castillo, but not necessarily as your SP2.
Rookies: I say this every year, but rookies generally don’t return value on draft investment. The rookies who shine tend to be surprises. In 2022, we were welcomed to Spencer Strider, who was a 4th-round draft pick. FanGraphs had him at a 45+ ranking. Baseball America ranked Strider the #99 prospect overall going into 2022. So, you could draft nearly a full starting lineup of fantasy baseball prospects before getting to Strider last year. Nobody saw that coming. As much as we liked George Kirby coming into 2022, he finished as SP55 — Jacob deGrom surpassed Kirby in half the amount of IP. Joe Ryan finished as SP39, which was nice. But for every victory lap we take on Joe Ryan, we’re reminded of how Casey Mize, MacKenzie Gore, Nate Pearson, and Spencer Howard. While we’re at it, who remembers Kohei Arihara? Some of these things just aren’t meant to be. Don’t forget that most of these rookies don’t show up until May or June due to playing time manipulation. George Kirby — a first-round draft pick and a top 12 MLB prospect going into 2022 — was available on the waiver wire for months in every fantasy format except those 50-rounders. So, if rookies aren’t appearing for the first 8 weeks of the season, then why are you drafting them? You’ll be able to snag them on the cheap during in-season waiver wire plays.
Trevor Bauer: Some team will give him a redemption tour at some point, but just like DeShaun Watson was useless as a fantasy quarterback after two years off the field, don’t think you’re some kind of ethics maven when you draft Bauer. Just, nope.
Mike Clevinger: Clevinger was already pretty fantasy useless after his return from TJ and now we’ve got reports that MLB is investigating him for domestic violence. Gross. Don’t draft.
The 2023 Draft Confidence List
Per my years of writing and statistical analysis, please believe me when I say, “Don’t view this list as hierarchical.” This is a list of how much confidence I have in each player as compared to other players. It’s based in deep statistical evidence (or maybe I just asked ChatGPT, I dunno). You’ll notice at a certain point, players are all more or less equivalent. That’s a feature, not a flaw. Your job is to draft outliers. You’re not going to win your league or tournament by drafting the safest player on the board. You’re going to win because you’re looking for the next Robbie Ray or Spencer Strider — that player who everybody has completely ignored but comes into MLB and absolutely dominates. You can see by my handy-dandy ADP column that I AM AGGRESSIVE. ADP is not a function of a player’s performance value, but of when you can draft a player. Fantasy baseball is 90% social engineering. The rest is luck. Maybe some skill, too. At least when I win, I call it skill.
The list will change as the pre-season goes on. And take note that a couple of Roleless Robs appear at the bottom — the Michael King’s of 2023! For all those early drafters — here you go!