I admit: I’m living in a massive contradiction. I tell y’all about pitchers who limit runs, but I’m a glutton for offense. I’ve been around baseball for the better part of three decades, and there’s nothing I find more boring than a 1-0 game. I know defense wins championships, but every time there’s a close play at the bag, I root for the runner. I get to be a part of the baseball blogging community, and I can’t say I have a true favorite pitcher from the modern era. I’m old enough to have watched Nolan Ryan’s farewell tour in person, and who was my favorite pitcher growing up? Jimmy Key. Efficient. No walks. Quick games. Favorite team? The Twins. Efficient. See ball, hit ball. Coming of age in Minneapolis, you could get a student ticket, a beer, and two hot dogs for $10. But that dang fortress of an outfield in the Metrodome — the trash bag in right field, and the plexiglass in left field — that was a nightmare for offense. Y’all remember Kirby Puckett jumping up the plexiglass in the World Series, don’t cha? Nah? Guess we gotta get those copies of This Week in Baseball transferred from VHS.
Enough about my youthful pining for Jimmy Key — a pitcher who cataloged nearly 2600 innings of MLB work while striking out fewer than 6 per 9. By my own algorithm, he’d be Tier 4. Tier 1 in my heart, but ready to let your fantasy team down, eh?
News and Notes:
Corey Kluber: Let’s check in on my pre-season bold prediction: 2-0 with 3.86 ERA over his last three starts with a Jimmy Key-esque K/9 of 6.06 and a 2.20 BB/9. The 2.3+ HR/9 on the year makes his stat line look a lot like batting practice. Am I worried? Nah, this guy’s ADP was 500 in March. His swinging strike rate has been abysmal over the last month, and his fastball isn’t quite reaching its workman 2022-levels. Plenty of pitchers with Kluber’s stat line can be valuable for your fantasy team, but if you’re in a 12-teamer and hoping against hope that my pre-season champion will be your SP5, I give you permission to stream away. Kluber looks like he’ll still show a massive ROI compared to that 500 ADP early in the year, but you can do a lot better on the waiver wire right now.
Robbie Ray: Good night, sweet prince. We’ll always remember the pants. Ray underwent Tommy John surgery and we’ll probably see him toward the end of 2024. For you standard league managers, you know the drill: drop Ray, add the highest K/9 player you can find, and hope it works out.
For dynasty managers, you’ve got a more complex situation. What’s the economy of holding a Tommy John recovery on your IL? It’s pretty brutal, to be honest. The average pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery takes about 14-16 months, assuming everything goes well. That would put Ray on track for summer 2024 at the earliest, where Ray would return mid-contract to the Mariners. Clubs tend to go somewhat easy on their notable TJ returnees — Tyler Glasnow pitched in relief late in 2022 before returning to full time starting duties in 2023. Luis Severino missed basically all of 2021 as the Yankees eased him back from some leg issues he experienced during rehab. So, a “median” return scenario for Robbie Ray is actually spring 2025. Can I go this long as a Razzball writer without my favorite subject?
So from a dynasty standpoint, you need to look at it as if you’ll be without Ray for two fantasy seasons: 2023 and 2024. That’s a long time to spend on the fantasy IL. You’re probably best-served trading Ray for whatever upside prospects you can get at this point, or dropping him. When Ray returns — whether it be late 2024 or early 2025 — his acquisition cost will be undoubtedly cheap. In other words, think about what moves you can make in the next two years that add value to your team in ways that surpass the declining value of Robbie Ray.
Farewell for the season, Robbie. My heart will go on.
Luis Garcia: Same story as above but with less gravity. I mean, Robbie Ray has several Top 10 Fantasy Starter finishes and a Cy Young award. Luis Garcia has yet to top 160 IP in a year. Garcia is a mere four years younger than Ray, so it’s not like you can use the “he’s super-young!” rationale to save Garcia on your IL. Garcia is a promising prospect, but he’s going to miss roughly the 2023 and 2024 seasons, meaning he’ll be a 28+ year old pitcher with 300 MLB innings under his belt when he returns. There’ll probably be 20-30 equally intriguing pitchers to come through MLB in the time it takes Garcia to rehab — would you rather take a chance on them? That’s your call, dynasty managers.
Matt Strahm: You know what’s really, really smart to do when you’re finally making it in your job and you’ve got a bevy of competition? Getting kicked out of a game because you’re pranking your teammate:
— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) May 6, 2023
Strahm was moved to the bullpen, which was a move discussed in the comments section last week. The Phillies are saying that they want to preserve Strahm’s arm, which is fine. Strahm has a lengthy career as a Roleless Rob, and his success as a SP in 2023 was surprising. The Phillies rotation has basically nowhere to lose a member. Bailey Falter has one option left…and that’s it. Everybody else is uncuttable. Logically thinking, the Phillies are probably saying the following internally:
- Strahm does need to chill out a bit, lest his arm go the way of Jeffrey Springs. So, they rest him now and let the next bulletpoints sort out:
- Falter needs to perform better than his 0-6 record with a 5.75 ERA and 4.75 FIP. If he improves, he stays. If he [ahem] falters, then he’s got an option and he spends the rest of the year in AAA.
- Ranger Suarez becomes arbitration eligible in the off-season. If he wants starter-level money, he’ll need to stick in the rotation this year. All he has to do is…that’s right…fend off Matt Strahm.
So if you’re in an RCL and need those efficient IP, Strahm is probably a “roster” candidate for now. If you’re in a standard 12-league or dynasty, I probably move on from Strahm right now but keep him at the top of the waiver wire stash.
Strahm still appears near the top of the rankings because, well, Spencer Strider. I’m not saying Strahm is 2023’s Strider, but I am saying…that a Roleless Rob who’s just waiting for a rotation spot is a lethal thing. Strider didn’t make his first start until May 30, 2022. Strider’s first 6 IP outing came in on June 26, 2022. What came to those who were patient? An 8-3 record with 130 strikeouts in 84 IP with a 2.25 ERA. Patience, young padawan.
Dane Dunning: Here’s where we separate the algorithm from the analyst. Long-time readers know that I’m pretty “meh” on Dunning. Yet, I load up the ol’ Whiffonator this week and go through the rankings, and here is one of our favorite Roleless Robs thrust into the Top 50. Double-D is SP5 on the Rangers right now, and my system loves his efficiency. Dunning has a 0.79 WHIP on the year to go with a 2.7% barrel rate. Line Drive percentage? 13.3%. Jimmy Key-esque stats if you ask me. His ERA is at a stellar 1.42, but we’ve got some worrying traits to think about as well. His K/9 is also Key-esque, sitting a 4.97 on the year with a swinging strike rate you could count on one hand if you were polydactyl. But this is all outside of his career norms — usually, he’s an 8ish K/9 pitcher with a 4+ ERA. We’re still very much in the realm of noisy data, but the early returns suggest a nice return on investment from Dane Dunning. Honestly, Dunning’s career stats aren’t too far away from Luis Garcia. Heck, they both play in Texas, too. If you’re feeling lucky, take an aggressive shot on DD, although know that he’s slated to pitch against SEA and ATL next. Frustrating, given that the Rangers also face OAK and COL coming up. Good news for Jon Gray, though!
Ian Hamilton: Roleless Rob alert! Has allowed 1 run over his last 13 IP with a 9.45 K/9 to a 2.70 BB/9. Even notched a save this weekend. Although he’s part of the four-headed closing apparatus in New York, he made more appearances than the other fellas this week. RCLers take note.
Blake Snell: I’ve been focused on Alek Manoah’s troubles this year and have barely pointed out that Blake Snell struggling as well. This seems to be par for the course. In 2022, Snell started 0-5 with a 5.60 ERA through May. He finished 2022 with an 8-5 record and a 2.23 ERA to go with a stellar 12+ K/9.
Snell in 2023: 1-5 with a 4.89 ERA. Snell over his last 22IP though? 3.68 ERA with a 9.4 K/9. He’s kind of like the anti-Kyle Gibson — Snell needs time to warm up. Keep starting and rostering.
Dang, Mitch Keller in the first tier, eh? Looking at things from a data-driven point of view is eye-opening. I suppose I’m writing this down here to reward the readers who read between the lines. I first mentioned Keller about three weeks ago when he was rostered nowhere. Now he’s in Tier 1, sporting a 3-1 record with a 10.6 K/9. We can’t say that this is particularly certain to be sustainable. Keller has 300+ IP of MLB adequacy with a 5+ ERA coming into this season. But you want aggressive rankings, don’t you! Behold: The Whiffonator foretells the arrival of Mitch Keller, SP1 for your fantasy team.
I know what you’re thinking: there are a lot of relievers on this list. I went to double-check the data. In the past three weeks, 250 MLB pitchers have returned 0.1 WAR or greater. 134 of those pitchers made zero starts. So, if you’re just looking primarily to not hurt your fantasy team, it’s more likely that you’ll find that in the form of a reliever/Roleless Rob.
And you know what’s really interesting? The average number of IP to earn a Win among the reliever/Roleless Rob corps? 14.7 IP. Now, how about the average number of IP to earn a Win among the starter corps? 15.6 IP.
So, at this moment, if you just needed a Win, you’d be more likely to snag a W from a non-starter than a starter. Thus, the importance of re-conceptualizing how we consider “starters” for our fantasy formats. We’ll have to think more on this as the season unfolds.