Revealing one’s pitcher rankings is a vulnerable moment, much like walking out to the beach and showing all of your friends what you really look like when you’re not wearing three layers of hoodies over your Pokemon onesie. Last week, I debuted my 2023 draft rankings, and despite my placement of Brady Singer in the Top 15, I had more questions about Kyle Wright. What the audience wants, I deliver! So let’s wander down to the ocean’s edge, get a little campfire going, and see how the fireballers in the MLB are faring so far. I’ve got the rum if you’ve got the tin cup!
News and Notes:
Jacob deGrom: Got so excited for the first day of school that he’s already out of energy. Apparently, deGrom pitched extra in the off-season to get ready for spring training, much like I eat extra before Thanksgiving to prepare for the bucket of gravy that will become my circulatory system. And much like myself after eating half a Turducken, deGrom says he’s dealing with left side tightness. Having watched 13 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, I feel qualified to state that “side tightness” is probably going to lead to the reveal that deGrom has a secret evil twin! Generalized soreness is probably better than our previous identifications of deGrom’s anatomical worries, which were pinpointed in his shoulder and elbow. Basically, if we travel in time back to 2021 [wavy lines], we can remember that deGrom was struggling with a UCL sprain. For those who haven’t watched Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll define a sprain: “A stretching or tearing of ligaments…”. Most pitchers who strain their UCL end up with Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom (or the Mets trainers?) opted to rehab the ligament, which means that he didn’t pitch for a full year’s worth of MLB baseball. Often, pitchers choose to rehab their UCL instead of having it surgically repaired because, in theory, doing rehab will allow them to play more. Because the Tommy John recovery period is between 12-18 months, there are some super-humans out there who would prefer to use the Superman sleep schedule and expose themselves to copious amounts of moon radiation in the hopes that the ligament heals naturally. Recent examples of starters who had successful elbow sprain rehab stints and came back for fantasy-useful stints include: Zac Gallen. And Masahiro Tanaka, but he’s not in the MLB anymore. I’m not saying “left side tightness” means “Don’t draft,” but we’ve gotta look at the data that indicates deGrom is massively risky at his current ADP. If you’re in a best ball league, then you might be able to compensate by getting a bunch of streamers at the end of your draft. But for those head-to-head players, deGrom brings a sizeable risk — what if he’s on the bench half the year like he’s done in 2020 and 2021? Fantasy managers can make their own decision, but I’m generally avoiding deGrom this year.
Clayton Kershaw: Although he swears he’s healthy, Kershaw couldn’t get insurance on his contract due to his history of back injuries and won’t play in the World Baseball Classic. I mean, getting things insured for multi-millions of dollars isn’t exactly my expertise, but those people who are experts are basically saying, “There’s a high enough risk factor that Kershaw will be hurt by extra IP that we’d have to pay off that contract.” What is that risk factor? 1%? 5%? 20%? We’ll never know. Kershaw’s become more like deGrom in terms of IP in recent years. You know what’s funny? Kershaw has more IP and WAR than deGrom over the 2021-2022 span. Kershaw’s also 2 years younger. BRB, I’m gonna see if I can get Rudy to project Kershaw for 230 IP and see what happens.
World Baseball Classic: There’s a fair critique of pitchers getting overworked early in the World Baseball Classic, and that it affects their performance in the MLB season. As a counterpoint, for the majority of the existence of organized baseball, pitchers often traveled throughout the winter playing in the Cuban / Caribbean / Mexican / Negro leagues. Many minor league players still play in extended fall or spring training or in foreign leagues. Because there’s a non-zero chance that MLB-heavy countries make it to the finals, the whole tournament is a moot point for early fantasy drafts. I mean, what if the final is Japan vs Korea? Are you worried about your pitchers if they’re knocked out in the first round or the semi-finals? We’ll pay close attention once the competition starts, but it already sounds like players with an injury history (Clayton Kershaw) or who are injured (German Marquez) will be sitting out. If anything, you can move your most important drafts later in the draft season — this is generally a good strategy anyway.
2023 Pitcher Profile: Kyle Wright
It’s my first profile of the preseason, and I’m giving it to the guy who has the following pedigree: FanGraphs prospect rating of 40, Rotoballer called him a “Chump,” and PitcherList said they weren’t convinced he’d be a starter. I’m not here to bury the competition, just to point out all Kyle Wright did in 2022 was lead the Major Leagues in Wins and get a few Cy Young Award votes. Going into 2023, the expert consensus from 26 FantasyPros rankers is that Kyle Wright is SP36, with a high rank of SP23 coming from Dalton Del Don. Triple D knows his stuff. There are two rankers who have Kyle Wright in undraftable territory for 12-team leagues. And yet here I am, putting Kyle Wright ahead of Sandy Alcantara and calling him SP19 in my pre-season ranks. If I was a FantasyPros ranker, I’d be the highest ranker on Kyle Wright in the country — 4 spots higher than DDD. Who’s the crazy one — them or me?
If we time-travel back to 2017, MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs considered Kyle Wright a top 3 pick. Wright went fifth overall in the 2017 MLB draft, ahead of Shane Baz, Trevor Rogers, Tanner Houck, and Nate Pearson. Half of those guys you’ve already broken your dynasty teams to acquire. For the first 5ish years of professional baseball, Wright tore up minor league batters while getting utterly dominated in the Majors. That’s fine. How many of you at age 22 can perform in front of 40,000 people?
From 2018-2021, Wright pitched 70 IP of MLB ball with nearly as many walks as strikeouts — and his walk rate was above 6 per nine! His ERA matched his FIP, but unfortunately, that was 6.56. By 2022, Wright had dropped off every prospect list. From a fantasy baseball standpoint, that’s donezo. I mean, look at the links that start out this blurb — subpar prospect rank, “chump,” and “not a starter.” My friends, this is why you come to Razzball for your information.
Take it from EWB: Wright’s 2022 was very sustainable and very similar to his 2021 minor league lines. It’s so similar that I don’t even need to line it up in table format — it’s so obvious that inline readers can see it:
Wright’s 2021 AAA line: 137 IP, 9 K/9, 3 BB/9, 3.02 ERA, and 3.32 FIP.
Wright’s 2022 MLB line: 187 IP, 8.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.19 ERA, and 3.58 FIP.
Sometimes, you need the spotlight taken off of you to really shine.
Although Wright’s splits were pretty typical — better at home than on the road, better in the first half than the second half — nothing was terribly worrying. His seasoning in the minors — and indeed his rough 2020 season where the Braves kept him on the Major League roster to keep him playing, rather than idling on a fake mound — kept his arm strong. Wright’s fastball velocity settled in at 94/95 MPH throughout the entire 2022 season and rarely dipped. His pitch mix remained the same over the course of the season, although it varied depending on what he needed for each outing. Wright experienced remarkably few blowouts, with about 10% of Wright’s 2022 season resulting in a blowout with 6 ER or more. Meanwhile, over 30% of his starts resulted in 1 ER or fewer. If we extend his ER limit to 2ER, then he finished an astonishing 70% of his starts with 2 ER or fewer.
How is this guy considered undraftable?
There’s risk with Kyle Wright, as with any player. As reported in numerous sources, the former top prospect Wright dealt with confidence issues. When the spotlight went away, Wright felt more comfortable and began to shine. He’s 27 now and slotting in as SP2/3 on the Atlanta Braves. For all the people that loooove the control-based IP eaters who play on high Win teams — like Julio Urias — Kyle Wright should absolutely be in your sights.
The best aspect about Kyle Wright, from a fantasy standpoint, is that you can target him pretty late as your SP2. His current ADP is around round 10. So, for example, you can open a 12-team mixed head-to-head league with a combo like Urias and Wright and have W/ERA/WHIP fairly locked down, and then supplement with high-K relievers and high-K dart throws later. If you are brave enough to draft Sandy Alcantara at his ADP of round 2, you can create a min/max return with Kyle Wright in round 10 — these guys might give you 400-ish IP of 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which would make a great foundation for all leagues. Did I mention the best part? You’ve got 7 bats, 1 reliever, and 2 starters with a high certainty of fantasy value. Or, would you rather roll with Zac Gallen and Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell and Logan Webb? Your call.
Let’s state this outright, so writers in 2024 can look back and celebrate the errors of their ways: Kyle Wright is a starting pitcher to target in 2023, and I would recommend drafting him in any format. With industry leagues starting over the next few weeks, I expect Wright’s ADP to jump toward the 90/100 range in the next few weeks, and he’s a value even at that point.
Have an awesome week, and I’ll see you down in the comments!