The other day I was suddenly fascinated by the history of the band Rush. Here’s the joke: Rush has the album Moving Pictures, and you probably know the song Tom Sawyer (de do de do doo doo, de do dee du doo) from that album, and now we’ve got Moving Pitchers in Free Agency. Hah! I tell funny jokes that need schooling in prog rock history to understand. But the band that would claim a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and feature three dudes that many would consider Top 10 at their instruments in the history of loud music (that’s Rush, bee-tee-dubya), they began from some guys playing street hockey. Geddy Lee’s parents survived the worst concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and Alex Lifeson’s parents were immigrants from behind the Iron Curtain. Neil Peart failed as both a busker and a bar circuit drummer before joining Rush, which at the time was a glam rock band. And they go on to be Hall of Fame prog rock musicians. Sometimes, it’s not about how somebody starts their career — it’s about getting that chance and then making the most of it. Nobody would have predicted the guys from Canada would become one of the most respected rock acts of all time, inspiring other heavy-hitting glam rock bands like Pantera. But they stuck with it, and now you can enjoy laser light shows in 7/4 time.
Just like Rush was completely unassuming to start their careers, here are a bunch of those Moving Pitchers that the field of fantasy baseballers don’t really care about — or are even scared of! — but they could make an impact for your 2022 fantasy team.
Zack Greinke: It’s back! I get to use the Greinke graphic without it being outdated now. Everybody’s favorite floor pitcher, Zack Greinke, signed to play for the Kansas City Royals this year. Now, there are a bunch of you out there that just turned old enough to vote (please don’t vote for Kanye) and smoke and get a credit card and buy crypto on margin. You 18-year-olds quite literally have never lived a day of your life where Zack Greinke hasn’t been an MLB player. And believe it or not — Greinke’s only 38! He’s younger than Justin Verlander and older than Max Scherzer. That makes him…Maxin Sherzander! Greinke’s the usual story of “crafty veteran” — his velocity has plummeted over the past few years, and he’s basically a guy who eats innings. But the thing is, a 7 K/9 guy (that’s Greinke) who pitches 200 innings will be just as effective for most fantasy teams as a 9 K/9 guy who throws 150 IP. OK, the math isn’t quite there but I’m being dramatic to make a point: your league went nuts grabbing Shane Baz and Huascar Ynoa and you’re left wondering double-you-tee-eff to do at the end of your draft when you thought you could get some quality SP. Well, Greinke’s not exactly quality SP, but he’s good enough. With his FIPs/SIERA sitting in the 4.20-4.50 range in 2021, that’s totally status quo. And in 2022, he gets to play against the Tigers, the Twins, and Guardians more often than not, and that’s good enough to sneak some W onto your roster, especially if the Royals decide to trot out Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez and make a run for the AL Central. So, Greinke is an end-game grab in drafts, a $1 salary cap add, and a nice streaming candidate for your team. Just make sure not to talk back if he yells at you.
Carlos Rodon: Lands with the Giants of Saint Francis and we can all see the prophecy coming true: Cy Young 2022. The only people who know the health of Rodon’s shoulder and elbow are Rodon himself and a handful of trainers, but if the reports were positive enough that the Giants were willing to give him $44 million over 2-years, I’d jump in feet first in all leagues and take the risk. As I noted earlier in the year, Rodon finished as the fantasy SP10 in 2021 despite throwing only 130 innings. Whereas hitters almost always need to top that 550AB mark to make a dent in your fantasy team, starting pitchers can be much more effective in fewer innings by virtue of ratios and win luck. Rodon finished September with 23 innings on the month and his velocity was down a worrying amount, but he still had nearly 10 K/9 and swinging strike rates above 11%. So, even when he was tuckered out (poor little guy!), he was still producing at above-average fantasy rates. Be like the Fed and raise the rates on Carlos Rodon over the next few weeks of draft season. I’m pretty bold when it comes to SPs, but I’ve got important leagues where Rodon is my SP2, and I feel…sort of OK about that? OK, I feel queasy, but if you’re not risking anything, you’re not winning anything.
Jakob Junis: Another fresh Giants find, Junis is an intriguing option for extremely deep leagues or best ball rosters. Junis had nearly a 10 K/9 last year, a 3.90 SIERA, and a 3.88 xFIP…over 40 IP. Yeesh. But let’s look at his April starts: 10.1 K/9, 2.51 FIP, 12% swinging strike rate. Small sample size, but if you want a deep dart throw, Junis is a nice option. Of course, follow the news to see if he slots into the rotation at all, but the Alex Wood/Alex Cobb/Carlos Rodon combo in SF is has more than a fair chance of turning into 12 starts for Junis this year.
Clayton Kershaw: Back to the Dodgers, pitching in spring training…sounds like we’re A-OK to draft! Statistically speaking, Kershaw was one of my top pitchers to roster this year, but you’ll need to stomach the fact that he missed time in 2021 with forearm issues, which is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery.
Yusei Kikuchi: Becomes the new Robbie Ray in Toronto. I’m still a Kikuchi fan, and it seems kind of dumb to list his previous stats here because we know Toronto is going to fiddle with him like they did Robbie Ray in 2021. Wait, did the Blue Jays fiddle with their Robbie? Uh oh. Whatever happened last year in Seattle doesn’t really matter because Kikuchi basically has two fast pitches and a slider, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that become one fast pitch and a slider in 2022. Just like 2021 Robbie! Sounds like a sweet NFT to me. Kikuchi is best served on your team as an SP5 or bench arm, and he becomes an intriguing cheap dynasty arm with the move to Toronto. With a 95 MPH fastball and 91 MPH cutter, his ceiling could be…2021 Robbie Ray. Or Kikuchi’s floor could be…2020 Robbie Ray. Either way, somebody in Toronto sees something in Kikuchi, and I’m excited to see what it is. Roll the dice at the end of your draft or watch the waiver wire in May.
Drew Smyly: Signs with the Cubs and will slot in as the 5th starter. Hasn’t had a full season as a starter since 2016, which is about the same as my resumé. He’s fine for 50 round best ball teams but otherwise a streamer/DFS play.
Michael Pineda: Arrives to the Tigers, which basically means that Pineda/Casey Mize/Tarik Skubal are filling out the most intriguing upside rotation. Pineda’s got the same profile as Smyly — hasn’t played a full year as a starter since 2016 — except with a lower K threshold. On the upside, the Tigers seem like they want to win under A.J. Hinch, and a potential innings eater like Pineda could provide some Win or Quality upside for teams that are streaming SP.
The Injured List
Dustin May and Tyler Glasnow: You know they’re coming back from Tommy John surgery, and there’s zero guarantees either of them touches the mound this year. That said, I know a lot of people are in draft and hold leagues, and there’s enough chance that May or Glasnow get a call up in September. So just like we all bet on the return of Chris Sale (worked out) and Luis Severino (didn’t work out) last year, you can make your risk bets on May and Glasnow this year.
Joe Ross: One of my pre-season darlings, Ross underwent surgery for bone spurs and will miss the Vietnam War…I mean the start of the season. No need to draft Ross…can I get out of this without making another WAR reference? Maybe just Platoon me with Coolwhip…
Danny Duffy: Here comes another Dodger! Duffy signed with the Blue — the team that traded for him last year and then gave him a comfy sofa to sit on while rehabbing for the rest of the year — and was promptly sent back to said sofa. Now on the 60 day sofa king IL, Duffy could show up sometime in June at the earliest. Set your waiver wire clocks! Duffy could be that kind of pitcher who saves your playoff run, assuming he touches the mound this year.
Mike Soroka: I dunno why everybody wants to know whether they should draft Soroka. No. There are like 100 other pitchers that are available for you to draft and you’re looking at the guy who tore his Achilles — twice I might remind you — like you’ve never read The Iliad. Luckily Soroka’s nowhere near Paris right now. However, Soroka is on the 60-day IL, so you’ll just have to find somebody else to fight your wars this year.
Adbert Alzolay: Off to the 60-day IL, probably won’t return ’til June…or given his command…2023. No draft, no keep, no sleep.
OK, folx! Who are your favorite signees or risky IL picks for 2022? I’m living on this Carlos Rodon action for this year, so fingers crossed for 140 IP!