So in honor of the All Star break, which is just beginning as I write this before heading off the grid with the family for a few days, and will be just ending by the time you read this, I thought I’d take this opportunity to see which players made the biggest leaps in value so far this year. Since starting pitching has been so wonky this year, I decided to concentrate on pitchers, to see who the biggest over-performers were in a sea of disappointing under-performers. These aren’t just guys who’ve outperformed their ADP, though; to make this list a player had to be what I’d consider a true deep-leaguer. In this case, I’m defining that as having a 2023 ADP outside the top 550 overall based on NFBC data encompassing their first drafts at the end of October, through the day before the season started. I’m also looking at the current CBS player rater rankings for 12-team standard 5×5 leagues, and only including players who are ranked within the top 100 (pitchers+hitters), and what follows are the players who had the biggest differential between their pre-season ADP and their current ranking.
I always like to see off-the-radar guys who emerge as mixed-league threats, and with pitching seemingly getting harder and harder to predict, I thought maybe I’d unlock some interesting patterns or hints that we should have seen these breakouts coming. As it turns out, though, only two pitchers qualified for this list, so instead of slow-rolling, we’ll get right to it:
#2: With a 665 ADP and an overall first half ranking of 91, for a differential of 574, the second most valuable pitcher using my little system is… Bryce Elder, of your Atlanta Braves. He heads into the break with a 7-1 record, a 2.45 ERA/1.14 WHIP, and 80 Ks in 102.2 innings. If we’re wondering why more people didn’t see this coming a la 2022 Spencer Strider (not that Elder has reached those heights), let’s not forget that as the season was beginning we did figure the Braves would pull another pitching rabbit out of their minor league hat, but much of the fantasy community was arguing whether it would be Jared Shuster or Dylan Dodd. Kudos if you jumped on Elder early and rode the wave, but should you sell high? I think it’s worth considering. His last outing was his worst of the season, and it seems rather ominous that he didn’t record a single strikeout. Most projection systems guessed he’d have an ERA of around 4.00, so even if he beats that by a half a run or so, he’d still have some major regression coming.
#1. Tyler Wells. Wells’ ADP was 649 and his first half ranking is 73, so he beats Elder by two ticks of differential, at 576. While I did pick Wells up fairly early on in one 15-team league, this one hurts a bit. I didn’t draft him on a single team, including all of my draft and hold leagues where he was, as that ADP points out, basically free. The reason I’m extra frustrated is that I not only owned him in a couple leagues last year, he helped me in a huge way in my AL-only league and also in at least one 15-teamer. So why wasn’t I able to see that he’d take another step forward this year? This one I’m going to chalk up to caring too much about his K rate, which wasn’t great last year (he had 76 Ks in 103 innings) but is significantly improved this year, where he’d at almost exactly a strikeout an inning. I thought he wasn’t missing enough bats to take a step forward, but in this case, I think I should have trusted his minor league numbers and metrics more than a small MLB sample size. Of course, his could still regress (and is likely to at least some extent, after all his WHIP currently stands at 0.94), but unless he has a complete collapse I have a feeling I’ll be rostering him a lot next year. He’s been particularly solid lately, with three starts in a row where he gave up just 2 runs in 6 innings.
There’s a big jump to the next set of “honorable mention” pitchers who all made the top 100 in the overall rankings but were drafted way too high to make my outside-the-top-550 cut off. As opposed to the huge, 574/576 differentials Wells and Elder have, their differentials range from 335 – 214: Michael Wacha, Zach Eflin, Justin Steele, Nate Eovaldi, and Marcus Stroman. Seeing these names, the only one I drafted in multiple leagues was Eflin, and I’m realizing what the rest of them (and I can add Wells to this group) have in common: they have all disappointed me in the past. Even Steele, who is the least experienced of the lot, was on one of my NL-only teams last year, and while he had his moments, I couldn’t get past that 1.35 WHIP he ended the season with and it kept me from drafting him on a single team this year.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to always find this year’s Logan Webb or Spencer Strider, but if there’s one thing this exercise taught me, is that I’m probably still putting too much importance on past results, especially when those results have negatively impacted my fantasy teams in the past. Obviously, they can be important, and there’s no projection system that’s come very close to accurately predicting all future stats when it comes to major league baseball pitchers. Some things are not necessarily going to be easily explainable no matter what; it still doesn’t seem right to see Wacha’s name on this list, for instance. But I do want to try to keep finding better ways to combine actually watching guys pitch and reading about their metrics and analytics, to find a happy medium where I’m not relying on just the eye test or just a set of numbers on a screen. And in the meantime, a little luck being in the right place at the right time when it comes to free agent pickups wouldn’t hurt either. Anyhow, I hope everyone enjoyed the break and is ready for another few months of grinding away as we wait to see who’ll emerge as the MVPs of the season’s second half!