Salutations on this wonderful May Day. I hope you, like me, are reveling in a break from work. Acktshually, BRB, I gotta handle this manufactured crisis about a shipment of widgets getting lost over the Pacifics. In the meantime, readers of Razzball unite and read what Reddit calls “The Third Worst Fantasy Baseball Listicle.”
Long-time readers will remember my penchant for Stranger Things, both in the soundtrack department and in the ways it teaches us to play fantasy baseball. Quick summary of a much longer post I wrote last year: what’s the best way to kill Vecna? Sure, playing the same 80s power ballad on repeat. But what if you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons and have a handful of dice and need to stop the Lord of the Liches from eating the brains of the living? Should you toss one twenty-sided die, or five four-sided dice? I’ll give you a minute to remember your high school statistics class and think about it.
The answer, is that the most opportunities to kill Vecna happens when you roll five four-sided dice. For the twenty-sided die, every number between 1 and 20 has a 5% chance of landing. Roll a 1? 5% chance. Roll an 8? 5% chance. Roll a 14? 5% chance. You get the idea. For your handful of four-sided dice, you’ll have a 0% chance of rolling a 1 — you’re rolling 5 dice after all, so the minimum you can roll is a 5 (if every die lands “1”). As for the numbers in the 10-17ish range, you’re much more likely to land one of those numbers by rolling five four-sided dice than rolling one twenty-sided die.
What does this have to do with fantasy baseball pitching? It has everything to do with Jacob deGrom.
The reason that I’m a proponent for more status quo starters in your roster in contrast to a stars and scrubs approach is precisely because I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons. This is why most pro DFS players submit hundreds of lineups a day. You have more opportunities to win with more pitchers. This is why so many NFBC champions have been crowned using non-elite starters — they diversify their rosters. They avoid early superstar pitchers; they don’t take the single twenty-sided die. Sure, a single twenty-sided die has a much higher chance of hitting a “20” than five four-sided dice — nearly five times as much. But do you need to roll a metaphorical “twenty” in your pitcher scoring categories to win your league? Almost never. This is why Rudy and Grey work so hard to calculate roughly how many points you’ll need to win your categories. This is why it’s better to have more dice (i.e. status quo pitchers) as opposed to a glass cannon (i.e. an elite pitcher who carries the team).
When Jacob deGrom falls and your next starter is Chris Bassitt, what do you do?
It’s time: let’s get to the news.
News and Notes
Jacob deGrom: To the 15-day IL with…elbow inflammation. [Screams in dimensional agony] Did you hear me, Panedmonium? Let me quote from last week’s article:
DeGrom left his start early in the week with wrist soreness and played on Sunday. You know how his last one-year absence from baseball began? You’re right! He played through an injury.
Flash backwards: the year is 2021. Project Warp Speed announced the return of Jean-Luc Picard (that season three tho where are my Trekkies at). Even though you were unemployed, you could still own a house. And pitchers left and right got hurt because their regimens were thrown off due to 60 IP in 2020. Jacob deGrom — possibly through his own willingness or possibly through the boneheadedness of the Mets trainers — pitched through multiple shoulder and elbow injuries. He pitched well. Watching him pitch was like watching Picasso draw squares where there should have been circles. The K rate? Like watching your 401K portfolio soar to the sky.
But appearances — and I’m not talking the baseball card stat — deceived. DeGrom pitched through injuries and wasn’t healthy. He sprained an elbow ligament. Sprains are the joke of the junior high gym class. We watched Patrick Mahomes win a Super Bowl on an ankle that was sprained eight ways from Sunday. You’ve probably gone on a hike through a sprain and swore at yourself afterward. A sprain is a tearing or extension of a ligament. A sprain is the first step on the journey to Tommy John surgery. You can either rehab the sprain or you can go under the knife. The most successful pitchers who have rehabbed their sprained ligaments in recent memory are Zac Gallen…and Masahiro Tanaka. Remember Dinelson Lamet? 2.09 ERA and 12 K/9 to 2.6 BB/9 in 2020. Sprained ligament. Chose rehab. He’s a Roleless Rob on the Rockies now with a 12+ ERA and nearly 8 BB/9.
Jacob deGrom missed one year of baseball the last time this happened. This is not me being an armchair doctor, although I am, legally, one of those. This is me having covered pitchers for one of the top statistical baseball sites, writing weekly, and getting nominated for “Baseball Writer of the Year” by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. This is me saying, “I told you to avoid.” This is me saying, “Uh oh.” I’ve seen the greatest arms of my generation felled by ligaments. Justin Verlander and Tyler Glasnow went under the knife, but deGrom played through.
I’m just a guy on the internet. I have no more information about deGrom’s elbow than you do. The Rangers don’t call me up and say, “Tell your readers that everything’s OK. It’s early. We got Zac Gallen’s trainer on FaceTime and we’re golden.”
But what I am saying, is that the odds — those dice that you hold — should probably unload deGrom now. Assuming you rostered him. In 2021, the greatest season ever put together by an NFBC player occurred when Phillippe Dussault jettisoned the injured Jacob deGrom from his roster, despite news reports indicating that deGrom would return. DeGrom did not, in fact, return. But Dussault did win the $150,000 grand prize.
It’s your turn to kill Vecna. He looks pissed. He’s pointing his finger at you, conjuring a spell. Do you attack with your sword and roll one twenty-sided die, or cast Magic Missile and roll five four-sided dice?
Jose Berrios: With all the caveats that we’re still in “noisy” data season, my algorithm is showing early-season trust in Jose Berrios. Berrios was nearly undrafted in 12-team leagues to start the year, and his baseball card stats still look kind of rough: 2-3 record, 4.71 ERA. But put on your SCUBA gear and let’s dive deeper. Here’s what I said about Berrios in the pre-season when I asked you to draft him as your SP5:
I’m not going to paint a pretty picture: Berrios’ fastball velocity plummeted in 2022, and at times his swinging strike rate looked more like a state tax rate (that’s bad) than a federal tax rate (that’s good…wait…). But despite the poor 2022 outing, Berrios’ true skill stats still looked tolerable: 4.13 SIERA, 4.21 xFIP, and a 12-game period with a sub 3.00 ERA and a 9+ K/9 rate. Problem was, that 12 game period was actually two separate 6-game periods with two blowouts in between. Berrios struggled, simple as that. He’s also just 28 years old going on 29, and he was one of the most reliable SP2/3 options in fantasy baseball for years before 2022. The Blue Jays have a lineup that will give plenty of Win luck to their pitchers — I think people forgot that Berrios’ nasty 2022 still resulted in a 12-7 record — and at the price of free in 12-team drafts or a mid-round pick in best balls, you’re hard pressed to find better value in that range.
Berrios sits in the Top 20 Starters on my sheet now. What’s to like? A 9.5 K/9 to a 1.6 BB/9 — the best ratio in his career. His FIP is 2.35, his SIERA is 3.38, and his CSW% is a stellar 31.7% propelled by a very nice 13% swinging strike rate. For those of you that skipped the pre-season blurb: Berrios has been one of the most reliable fantasy starters over the past five years, and it looks like he’s back in form. After a rough start to the season, he’s put up two quality starts in a row. Again, noisy data and all. But if you’re looking to recover from a deGrom injury, Berrios is a cheap SP with SP2 upside. He’s still available in 10% of leagues — maybe yours is one of them?
MacKenzie Gore: From the same pre-season article as above, but a few blurbs later:
While the Nationals are kind of a trash team now, it’s not the worst place in the world for a prospect to develop. Dave Martinez is 4 years removed from a World Series championship, and he’s worked with the likes of Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, and pre-injury Stephen Strasburg. Before Gore’s elbow turned to jelly in 2022, he had a streak of 40 IP with an 11.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and a 1.27 ERA / 1.78 FIP. Then June came and the yips returned and his arm fell apart…if you’re in a best ball like RazzSlam or a Best Ball 50, ADP 335 is practically the end of the draft. Snagging an SP with the potential for a 11.5 K/9 and sub-2.00 ERA for periods of the year is a no-brainer.
Flash forward to May, and Gore is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 3.51 FIP. His K/9 is 11.7…and his BB/9 is 5.3. OK, those walks are out of control. But we’ve seen plenty of top pitchers succeed in fantasy with BB/9 rates in the 3 range (Spencer Strider, I’m looking at you). Tee-bee-ache, high BB/9 lead to lower IP because pitchers get pulled from games earlier due to baserunners/pitch count. We all knew Gore’s yips could be a problem — that’s why he went undrafted even in deep leagues. But if we take a single walk away from Gore’s “yippy” starts, he’s got a 4.3 BB/9, which is still bad but less concerning. Here’s another very cheap target for those of you struggling to find an upside SP.
Vince Velasquez: Talk about a guy with the case of the yips finally becoming successful. Veleasquez has been a sub-par starter for years, but his BB/9 over 2016-2021 sat at about 4.0, which always limited his upside. Velasquez has allowed 3 runs over his last 25 IP, with a 10 K/9 rate and a 2.5 BB/9 rate over the same time. His true skill stats are showing some worry — his xFIP is nearly 4.00 over that time, meaning the balls are landing where the fielders ain’t. If we look a VV’s line drive rate this season, it’s well over 25%, which is a poor indication of continuing success. His season-long SIERA is 4.46, which is stunning given the fact that he hasn’t allowed a run in two games. In short, Velasquez is due for some regression, but he’s better than he was earlier in his career. He’s a worthwhile SP4/SP5 add in all leagues.
Alek Manoah: Is it time to give up? No. Do you wish you hadn’t drafted him as your freefall SP1? Sure do. We’ve got signs of life but his stat line is all over the place. Guy got blown up by Detroit. Most of his starts have a a 7+ BB/9 rate. True skill stats still sitting near 6.00 in all categories. Yeesh. Manoah’s worth very little on the trade market now, so either hold on and hope for summer velocity improvement, or cut bait and move on to a pitcher who has themselves figured out.
Dustin May: I get it, we all like the guy. Beautiful hair, great story. That K/9 of 6.0 and BB/9 of 3.7 with a 5.08 xFIP tho — woof. BABIP is under .200. May’s going to face some rough regression soon unless he can start missing bats. The swinging strike rate below 7% means — you guessed it — 93% of swings make contact. The launch angle of those balls is 13 degrees — over twice as high as career norms, and the hard hit % is also near career highs. His SIERA is 5.27, which is a full two points higher than his ERA. May is a “sell-high” candidate in my book
This is the usual part where I ramble about how I do rankings differently than literally every other analyst on the planet, and maybe 2-3 people read it. I see you Kevin! [Sammy Sosa fist to chest]
Yes, there are relievers in the rankings. I know that. They’ve been there for two years. People ask for it more than they ask about it. Thank you for reading the rankings closely, but like I say every week, the best thing I can do for your fantasy team is that strategy section at the top of the article. That’s why the rankings go at the bottom. Rankings are perception. This is my way of saying, “Here are the rosterable pitchers.” I weight the IP significantly. If there’s a closer or Roleless Rob above your favorite starter, it’s because at this point in the season with this amount of data, that closer would literally serve as a better starter, than your starter. [gives you a moment to think]
Aroldis Chapman has as many strikeouts as Wade Miley and Braxton Garrett, and more strikeouts than Marco Gonzales and Jon Gray. David Bednar has more wins and strikeouts than Cal Quantrill, Spencer Turnbull, Zach Plesac, and Griffin Canning.
Felix Bautista has as many wins and strikeouts as George Kirby, Max Fried, and Jeffrey Springs (RIP). Max Fried was drafted in the fifth round in most leagues. Jeffrey Springs was the leading starter until his injury.
Put another way: my IP cutline doubles the score of starters who surpass the threshold (which is currently at 20IP because that’s the top 45% of the league). If your favorite starter has their score doubled and still doesn’t surpass a reliever, then you’re in trouble.
So, when you’re thinking about starters, don’t worry about finding relievers on the ranks. They’re supposed to be there. Just like they’re on the Player Rater. Because if your starter isn’t better than a Roleless Rob or closer, you should think about finding a new starter. Or, maybe, streaming that reliever instead of the starter for a week. Hope this helps.
Here’s the nutshell rundown again:
- Tier 1 = Play every time; Tier 2 = the remaining 12-team rosterables; Tier 3: Everybody else who could be considered playable; Tier 4 = warm bodies
- Tier 3 is functionally the cutline — if your favorite pitcher isn’t in Tier 2, then you should wonder about rostering them.
- Confidence is relative and exponential: Strider and Gallen are virtually equivalent; Strider and Castillo have a wide gulf in performance expectations.
- Data is still very early. I build my sheets to “lock in” quicker than most systems. However, meaningful data will appear more toward the end of the month.
- Playing time is based on Rudy’s calculations. If you disagree with deGrom’s current ranking, it’s because Rudy still has him for 17 games started (which, bee-tee-dubya, is 8 fewer games than most of the other pitchers).