Good morning, afternoon, or evening, friends and fellow deep leaguers, as we’re suddenly at the point where we can start measuring the remaining time of another Major League Baseball season in days rather than weeks. When it comes to fantasy, I have exactly one league where I need wins but have such a huge lead over the next team in both ERA and WHIP that for a couple weeks now I’ve felt comfortable streaming almost any pitcher who has two starts, or a decent-on-paper chance at a win. It’s a sense of freedom that is rare in our fantasy game, exemplified on my team earlier this week when I streamed Touki Toussaint and was left with a one inning, eight earned run performance. I didn’t get my win, obviously, but that devastating-in-most-leagues outing didn’t even put a dent in my ERA or WHIP lead.
I mention all this as a caveat that I’ve really been in a mode lately to throw caution to the wind when it comes to pitching, and this feeling has only been exacerbated by the weird season we’ve had where I keep getting better performances from my sketchy streams than my supposed studs (this week’s example: random pick up Paul Quantrill grabbing a win for me while Framber Valdez and the Astros somehow couldn’t beat the A’s). It doesn’t always work out: I also streamed Toussaint in my RCL which I believe cost me 3 or 4 points and at least one place in the standings. But depending on your league and your current place in it, risk taking and going big or going home at this time of year may be the sensible option. With that thought, this week will be an all-pitching edition, where we take a look at the little-owned pitchers — we’re sticking with a truly deep-league 5% owned or less in CBS leagues — who’ve still had a rise in ownership this week. We’ll worry less about skill set than opportunity, for anyone who is in the mode of throwing whatever we can find onto our fantasy wall just in case any of it sticks.
Kyle Hurt. In addition to basically writing this week’s lede for me, the Dodgers’ Hurt provides what’s likely the most legitimate upside on this week’s list of names. He’s also in the minors as I type this, but I’m still curious to take a quick look-see. Hurt has a video game-like strikeout rate on the farm this season that you may have read about: 145 Ks in 88.1 innings. That looks so ridiculous as I type it that I don’t see how folks still paying attention to fantasy aren’t grabbing him on that stat alone, but I suppose that whole “not with the big league club right now” thing is a factor. I told you this was caveat week! It sounds to me like he’ll be back up to cover bullpen innings as the season closes out, and I hope he is as I’d like to get a glimpse of him against major league hitters. He’s 25, though I’ve found myself sort of subconsciously pretending to shave a year or so off the ages of players who are making their major league debuts recently due to the lost Covid year. At any rate, I’ve grabbed him in a couple leagues, including at least one keeper league, because you never know. And if he ends up pitching in a bit of middle relief to close out 2023 and pitches well, he might be a better deep-league option than some of my actual top starting pitchers depending on the league parameters, logistics, and standings (still looking at you Aaron Nola… WTH, dude?!)
Jackson Rutledge. Rutledge’s MLB debut (for the Nationals against the Pirates) Wednesday produced about as ugly a line as one could imagine, as he gave up 10 hits and a walk (with 2 Ks) in just 3 innings. His minor league numbers are pretty mid, and I have to say I haven’t felt a ton of confidence in whatever the Nats are doing when it comes to young pitcher development after watching two guys that seem like they should be really good, Josiah Gray and Mackenzie Gore, verge on sucking for way too many of their starts for way too long. I will say that there were several fairly fluky hits in Rutledge’s disastrous first inning, though, so perhaps we should give him some credit for even making it through three. All this brings me back to the point above, which is that I’m so desperate for starts/wins in one very deep league that having said all this I may grab Rutledge if he makes his scheduled start against the White Sox next week and just sit back and make a sacrifice or two to the fantasy gods. Long term, though, there are way too many walks and not enough Ks in this profile to tempt me for now.
Joey Lucchesi. Lucchesi pitched an absolute gem against the sometimes-really good Diamondbacks this week; he’s made 16 starts in the minors this year, with an ugly 4.42 ERA/1.37 WHIP, and his typical lackluster K rate (83 in 89.2). If the walk rate was excellent that would be one thing (more on that later), but it never has been and I’m pretty sure it never will be, so I find it hard to believe there’s much to see here. Again, though, if you’re looking for starts and innings, one would think that he’s earned himself another start or two if nothing else (and if it feels like a tryout for next season’s rotation maybe he’ll be extra motivated to try to keep things rolling after his success against Arizona). I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a smattering of fantasy pickups as folks realize he’s up with the big club, but I’m already thinking about how I likely shouldn’t fall for him in 2024 if he manages to close out this season strong and follows that up with a solid spring.
Pedro Avila/Jose Butto. I’m combining these two even since though they play for different teams (SD vs. NYM), I’m looking at them as basically the same guy: a pitcher who has gained a bit of fantasy ownership of late (2 to 5% vs. 1 to 3%) and has have gotten a chance in the starting rotation. Butto actually has two decent starts in a row now, going at least five innings in both and allowing no more than two runs. He also has 18 walks in 26 innings which is basically a deal-breaker for me no matter the situation… but since in this case, the situation is scraping the bottom of the barrel for a deep-league starting pitcher, Butto gets half a blurb. Avila’s work has been a bit more uneven, to put it mildly, albeit against very good-hitting teams: he pitched 6.2 scoreless, 2-hit innings against the Phillies, followed by getting lit up for 7 earned in 2 2/3 against the Dodgers. The most disturbing stat of all comes from that “gem” against Philadephia, where Avila walked 6 against a single strikeout, and brings us back to the notion that these two guys could manage to defy the statistical odds and provide a little deep-league pitching help in the very near term, which is why we are discussing them. But it also leads me to a bigger thought that goes beyond trying to scrape rosters together over the next two weeks. Grey mentioned the other day, I believe it was in a blurb about Zack Littell, that he might eschew using K rate in favor of an impressive walk rate when selecting fantasy pitchers next season. I’d kind of been having a similar thought myself, so I’m going to do a little more research about how BB rate vs. K rate translated to pitching success or lack thereof in this topsy-turvy season.
Sawyer Gipson-Long. Gipson-Long is a Detroit starter who’s gone from zero percent to 3% owned this week on the heels of a great performance that included five innings of one-run ball, with 5 Ks and 0 walks. The big monition here is that this start was against the White Sox, so we have yet to see how Gipson-Long will pitch against a properly-functioning Major League Baseball team. He’s 25 and his minor league numbers this year were okay but far from awe-inspiring, and overall my guess for how his next start or two will go would be “not as well.” On the other hand, I’m kind of a sucker for anyone who can get through his first major league start without a walk, and speaking of teams that are having trouble functioning properly, his next start is scheduled to be against the Angels. So I’m thinking there’s a non-zero chance he could make a tiny deep-league fantasy contribution over the next two weeks, or may even be worth a look from afar in the future.
Kenny Rosenberg. Hey, we were just talking about the Angels, which turns out is the team that Rosenberg has been pitching for at the major league level. In March I think you could have given me 100 guesses at ‘guys who’d be in the Angels’ rotation in September’ and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have come up with Rosenberg, but here we are. He’s 28, had a 1.51 WHIP this year in the minors, and has walked 10 guys in his 15 major league innings… and yet his CBS ownership has doubled (okay, it was from 1 to 2 percent!) this week, showing just where we’re all at in terms of the state of starting pitching for fantasy these days.