Hidey-ho neighborino! Is that phrase trademarked or just very, very old? Fine, let’s dismiss the formalities and get straight to the nitty-gritty: men who throw balls. Hard. We’re at the point in the pre-season where we understand that the MLB and MLBPA are definitely far, far away from any sort of agreement on a contract. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s actually a “realistic” contract that’s been shared between the groups and we’ll see that contract appear the first week of March, just in time for a shortened spring training and perfectly-timed Opening Day. But that’s just me spitballing labor negotiations, and what do I know other than the chords to every song on Green Day’s Dookie album? I suppose I know pitchers somewhat well, and wouldn’t you know it — I’ve got a pitcher listicle for you! A Pitchsticle!

Draft Strategy

I wrote like 97,000 words and a spec script for a Star Trek: Baseball in Space spinoff (why didn’t I call it Spaceballs? smh) last year and here’s the summary:

  • Drafting a pitcher in the first round almost never wins your standard 12-team league or industry tournament.
  • Pocket Aces (drafting two SP to start your draft) is basically the worst popular draft strategy to use, other than being purposefully sub-optimal by drafting non-consensus top players or two closers.
  • The consensus Top 10 starting pitchers — both by ADP and expert consensus — are 60-80% wrong on a year-by-year basis.
  • Most industry tournaments can be won with status quo or slightly sub-average pitcher rosters.
  • Most pitcher flops due to injury come with sufficient warning from previous injuries.

So what’s my pitcher draft strategy? Here’s how I would recommend drafting pitchers based on your fantasy baseball drafting experience:

  • It’s My First Standard League: Take your first pitcher in the third round — somebody like Aaron Nola or Shane Bieber — the second pitcher in the fifth round, and then take 1 starting pitcher for every four-ish rounds thereafter. Finish your draft with 5 starting pitchers. Use the waiver wire in the season to find good matchups for free agents.
  • Fantasy Baseball is My Bag, Baby: Take your first pitcher in the fifth round — somebody like Jose Berrios — and then take your second pitcher at value sometime before round ten. Wait until round 15 and then clean up on starters.
  • I Spent $1750 on a Main Event Team and My Spouse Wants to Divorce Me: Take your first pitcher in the third round — somebody like Aaron Nola, Shane Bieber, or a falling Jacob deGrom — and then wait until after the 15th round while stocking up on everybody else.

Variance and its Discontents

Why are there such dramatically different pieces of advice? Because confidence. Confidence is the most we fantasy baseball players can have about a player. Fantasy baseball lives on variance, which the common folk call “luck.” Statistically speaking, variance is the numerical swing experienced between time periods. Quick, math majors — what’s the average of 1 and 20? 10, right? What about a batter who goes 50-for-50 at the plate followed by a 0-for-50 streak — what’s their overall average? .500. That player that just went 15 games without a hit would still blow Ted Williams out of the water with their overall batting average, but you’d be yelling at your local fantasy analyst saying, “That bum has no business being in the league, he hasn’t had a hit in a month!”

Such is the fickleness of our favorite game.

Let’s try an exercise. Which of these situations are less appealing to you as a fantasy manager:

  • A period of 56 plate appearances in which the batter drops .100 from their batting average while hitting 3 home runs and 4 doubles out of 16 hits.
  • A period of 126 plate appearances where your premier slugger hits .202 while having 4 home runs, 10 RBI, and a .194 BABIP.
  • A period of 4 games (15% of the pitcher season) where your elite starter goes 1-2 over 21 IP with 17 walks, 16 strikeouts, and allows 13 runs with an FIP of 4.09.

So, what would you rather have: Ted Williams’ 1941 season where he batted over .400, Barry Bonds’ 2001 season where he hit 73 homers, or Nolan Ryan’s 1973 season where he struck out 383 batters? These are all historic seasons and you would argue that any of them could compete for “best individual performance in MLB history,” but here we are, taking the cynical route and wondering how that period of .333 batting average from Ted Williams ruined what could have been a campaign where he hit .430, or how Barry Bonds spent 25% of his historic season putting up Mendoza line numbers. As I point out every third article, Gerrit Cole spends about 20-30% of the season being completely unusable for your fantasy team, with ERAs and FIPs nearing the 5.00-6.00 range, yet people run to draft him in the first round.

So rather than fighting variance, we need to embrace it, and understand that projections are merely a glimpse into “likelihood.” Baseball isn’t your quality-controlled factory processed frozen dinner that looks the same meal after meal. Baseball is your New York kitchen on a Friday night dinner rush, with the kitchen staff doing their damndest to fight through that third highball to make a product you’ll enjoy, but sometimes the execution will fail. Maybe the fish supplier has a bad batch, or the spinach was a day past prime, or the chilis weren’t at their expected Scoville units. The meal was still edible but you weren’t thrilled. Either way, you still paid $90 and said, “It was OK, but we know it could be better, so we’ll try again.”

Because you know that the difference between a fantasy-poor hitter at .250 and a fantasy-rich hitter with a .280 average is…wait for it…3%, right? Over 100 at-bats, the “plus” hitter got on base 3 more times than the “minus” hitter. 28 vs 25. That’s it. That’s your wilted spinach. It was still acceptable. You still paid for it and said, “maybe next time.”

That’s variance, and that’s our game. We can be confident that players will be varied. We can be confident that bad outcomes will happen, even to good players. We can also be confident that some players will perform a certain way over the majority of their time at the metaphorical baseball kitchen. That 7 out of 10 times, they will cut the fish properly, put in the garlic at the right time so it doesn’t burn, and pick out the bad spinach from the pile. But even the best chef has an off-night, and sometimes those off-nights come all in a row.

This literary exercise aside, the lesson is: we can’t give up on pitchers after a few bad starts, and we also can’t buy-in on small sample sizes. The more evidence we have on a pitcher and their performance, the more confident we can become that they will reach their projected stats.

2022 Top 100 Starting Pitchers

Here’s the nutshell version: I take the stats that are most highly correlated with success on the Razzball Player Rater, and then I weight them using my own secret herbs and spices to create my confidence score. Last year, my confidence score slightly outpaced its inspiration model, Carlos Marcano’s speX. Because Carlos is trying to describe real-life MLB value and I’m trying to describe fantasy value, this is to be expected. However, our correlation scores among the top 100 SP were both in the 0.70 range, and by nudging the analysis in specific directions, we could improve our correlation even better. After I receive my confidence score, I then normalize it over a 200 IP sample, to get confidence per inning pitched. Lastly, I used Rudy Gamble’s IP projections as my innings multiplier, which gives us our best estimate of how a pitcher should perform over the course of the season.

Let’s pre-emptively answer questions: The confidence scale is based on an ideal pitcher ranking tops in all the categories that affect your usual fantasy baseball league. Yes, we should read confidence on a numerical scale, meaning that I am roughly 3 times more confident that Corbin Burnes will be the top performer as, say, Joe Musgrove. However, my confidence ranking is also affected by things like low-innings pitched totals in the previous year, thus the lowered confidence on Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. Lastly, because I have incorporated Rudy’s IP projections, you are not seeing my raw confidence totals; the raw numbers are a bit messier and need more explanation. What I aim to give the public is a simple, understandable ranking of confidence.

You’ll notice that there’s a space at spot 39, which serves to show a cutoff where your “top” pitchers are. Ideally, your fantasy baseball team will have 4-5 of these top 40 pitchers. How you acquire them is up to you. But given the current ADP of players like Adam Wainwright and Sonny Gray (170+), you can easily run a standard fantasy baseball draft without having to scroll way down to the bottom.

Eagle-eyed readers know that many of my pre-season touts appear to be pretty mundane on this list, and that’s perfectly fine. My list aims to take existing data and show who we have the most confidence in reaching that top performance; to project an outlier — like Luis Castillo or Noah Syndergaard — we have to, by definition, work outside of the matrix of expectation. Would I personally take Luis Castillo higher than SP41? Yes, I would. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he turns in a dud performance on the year. After all, he did finish 2022 as SP72, which was a waiver wire player in most standard leagues. I find it more than reasonable that I have Castillo ranked nearly twice as high as where he finished last year. Same goes with the likes of Chris Sale — certainly, he’ll probably outperform his lousy 71 ranking, but we don’t have enough recent data to be as confident about Sale as we are about, say, Chris Bassitt. Justin Verlander, meanwhile, benefits from his outstanding 2018 and 2019 performance combined with an under-weighted 2020 penalty; thus, we see him much higher than his injured/not-appearing colleagues past the cutline. Because I love you, I included a tab of the current NFC Average Draft Position (ADP), so you can quickly determine which pitchers are a value and which pitchers might be over-valued. You can probably see that I am extremely high on some pitchers (cough, Charlie Morton), so my system best serves players who are following a hitter-heavy draft and taking starters later than consensus.

That’s it friends! Have an awesome week, and I’ll see you in the comments.

Rank Name 2022 Pre-Season Confidence Current NFC ADP
1 Corbin Burnes 3663 10.91
2 Gerrit Cole 3231 8.2
3 Max Scherzer 3113 18.31
4 Aaron Nola 2391 40.5
5 Kevin Gausman 2252 66.56
6 Charlie Morton 1982 96.37
7 Brandon Woodruff 1956 19.57
8 Robbie Ray 1742 48.48
9 Julio Urias 1654 36.63
10 Zack Wheeler 1478 23.77
11 Walker Buehler 1456 16.57
12 Nathan Eovaldi 1440 133.19
13 Freddy Peralta 1428 55.93
14 Joe Musgrove 1421 78.5
15 Lucas Giolito 1393 42.8
16 Logan Webb 1322 62.14
17 Yu Darvish 1309 98.95
18 Jacob deGrom 1277 24.34
19 Clayton Kershaw 1263 182.75
20 Jose Berrios 1249 76.17
21 Shane Bieber 1175 31.5
22 Dylan Cease 1171 83.96
23 Tyler Mahle 1156 127.88
24 Frankie Montas 1082 88.57
25 Alex Wood 1078 222.87
26 Sean Manaea 1001 148.16
27 Trevor Rogers 999 94.1
28 Sandy Alcantara 986 40.66
29 Carlos Rodon 967 131.23
30 Justin Verlander 939 109.75
31 Lance McCullers Jr. 896 #N/A
32 Sonny Gray 894 176.76
33 Adam Wainwright 894 198.87
34 Eduardo Rodriguez 834 153.93
35 Marcus Stroman 820 177.75
36 Shane McClanahan 818 111.63
37 Max Fried 800 72.69
38 Chris Bassitt 799 140.08
39 Cutline
40 Luis Garcia 763 151.2
41 Luis Castillo 757 85.6
42 German Marquez 747 250.57
43 Shohei Ohtani 745 8.51
44 Jordan Montgomery 702 214.42
45 Jon Gray 672 256.61
46 Alek Manoah 653 94.74
47 Huascar Ynoa 640 241.5
48 Framber Valdez 631 142.56
49 Alex Cobb 630 264.61
50 Lance Lynn 625 64.8
51 Pablo Lopez 605 132.9
52 Anthony DeSclafani 601 212.68
53 Kyle Gibson 587 366.94
54 Brady Singer 584 413.11
55 Patrick Sandoval 579 214.94
56 Blake Snell 577 118.07
57 JT Brubaker 575 489.78
58 Steven Matz 554 257.55
59 Madison Bumgarner 545 454.08
60 Zach Eflin 538 476.7
61 Tanner Houck 530 201.57
62 Andrew Heaney 525 305.48
63 John Means 521 224.14
64 Zac Gallen 518 137.71
65 Austin Gomber 516 517.91
66 Michael Kopech 494 172.05
67 Bailey Ober 493 270.39
68 Nick Pivetta 492 360.39
69 Jack Flaherty 489 73.33
70 Mike Minor 479 461.2
71 Chris Sale 472 55.45
72 Adbert Alzolay 462 347.89
73 Dane Dunning 460 408.48
74 Trevor Bauer 446 296.9
75 Jose Urquidy 445 206.94
76 Merrill Kelly 443 462.69
77 Ranger Suarez 440 174.3
78 Michael Pineda 434 413.71
79 Logan Gilbert 427 154.13
80 James Kaprielian 426 344.7
81 Ryan Yarbrough 418 509.23
82 Corey Kluber 418 364.92
83 Jameson Taillon 416 306.54
84 Zack Greinke 409 324.6
85 Aaron Civale 403 264.5
86 Triston McKenzie 402 234.39
87 Ian Anderson 400 149.12
88 Yusei Kikuchi 394 340.27
89 Hyun-Jin Ryu 390 #N/A
90 Shane Baz 384 139.51
91 Domingo German 380 400.38
92 Wade Miley 377 429.86
93 Chris Flexen 370 375.37
94 Elieser Hernandez 370 335.6
95 Kyle Freeland 366 589.43
96 Antonio Senzatela 365 629.05
97 Hyun Jin Ryu 364 200.84
98 Kyle Hendricks 363 280.59
99 Joe Ryan 362 211.9
100 Rich Hill 351 431.13
101 Cole Irvin 348 524.32
102 Taijuan Walker 347 361.66
103 Luke Weaver 340 456.78
104 Cal Quantrill 333 258.1
105 Tyler Anderson 329 553.06
106 Tarik Skubal 321 190.62
107 Johnny Cueto 320 663.11
108 Eric Lauer 320 315.69
109 Dylan Bundy 308 446.94
110 Casey Mize 306 266.61
111 Mike Clevinger 305 197.23
112 Jordan Lyles 303 623.22
113 Patrick Corbin 298 408.03
114 Luis Severino 291 174.89
115 Jose Quintana 289 609.73
116 Carlos Carrasco 289 303.28
117 Joe Ross 285 718.01
118 Zach Plesac 284 324.55
119 Marco Gonzales 284 307.58
120 Nestor Cortes 283 #N/A
121 Cristian Javier 282 319.73
122 Jose Suarez 280 481.33
123 Chris Paddack 277 398.89
124 Stephen Strasburg 273 320
125 Tony Gonsolin 271 320.17
126 Tylor Megill 268 315.84
127 Michael Wacha 268 510.26
128 Kwang Hyun Kim 268 580.5
129 Zach Thompson 266 508.46
130 Adrian Houser 266 425.11
131 Drew Rasmussen 265 279.73
132 Noah Syndergaard 264 213.31
133 Danny Duffy 248 620.58
134 David Price 247 634.24
135 Miles Mikolas 245 462.83
136 Erick Fedde 244 614.37
137 Drew Smyly 243 580.86
138 Dallas Keuchel 240 587.75
139 Brad Keller 237 603.04
140 Spencer Howard 236 596.63
141 Taylor Hearn 235 618.36
142 Dan Straily 234 669.25
143 Alec Mills 231 681.4
144 Yonny Chirinos 230 735.92
145 Josiah Gray 227 282.03
146 Vladimir Gutierrez 225 592.14
34 Comments
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martinrostoker
martinrostoker
5 months ago

I have a chance to get Justin steel, Josh Fleming, Brad Keller and Tyler Anderson. Would you pick all or any of them? Are they better than Mike Mikolas?

martinrostoker
martinrostoker
Reply to  everywhereblair
5 months ago

Thanks!

J Laabs
J Laabs
7 months ago

Great analysis. I play In a 10 team yahoo weekly H2h categories league. 1st overall pick. 7×6 format:
W
L
ERA
WHIP
K/BB
SV
*30 inning weekly minimum
*50 waiver wire moves

I’m Going to wait on SP until at least 4-5 round if Nola falls to me. Otherwise wait until the next round. Any thoughts on this? Who should I target?

I’m also thinking about basically punting saves. Maybe grabbing one putting them away from the body second-tier closer and then fill the rest of my staff with one of them sent to him my ratio middle relievers. I can usually get my weekly innings by stating 4 SP / week.

Todd
Todd
7 months ago

Great article, and I understand for the most part how you got to your list. But I’m not quite sure how to interpret a couple specific guys.

I’m trying to decide on my fourth keeper for my points league (other three keepers are hitters), from among Alcantara, Gausman, Peralta. I was surprised to see Gausman so high here and Alcantara so low, given other rankings I’ve seen.

Can you explain briefly how these two ended up where they did? Thank you!

Todd
Todd
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

Totally makes sense. Thank you!

slappyJ
slappyJ
7 months ago

Lance Lynn looks out of place

End the lockout
End the lockout
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

I have reservations about Lynn, but I was surprised to see him that low too. You have Bassit, Stroman, Wainwright don’t exactly miss a lot bats either and they are ranked several spots higher. What did your system reveal about them over Lynn?

Ray
Ray
7 months ago

What is the difference between pitchers #89 and #97?

Badfantasymanager
Badfantasymanager
7 months ago

Great list! I normally wait on pitchers despite playing in a 14-team league that LOVES to take many pitchers early. My league doesn’t follow the traditional ADP, but this gives me hope to get a good SP relatively late.

But I’m thinking of loading on bats, hopefully Morton or Musgrove drops to the 4th round and then pair one of them with Eovaldi on the 7th/8th. Is this pairing good? Or which other one would you target?

Btw, I love the ranking of Alex Wood. Give me all SF pitchers!

End the lockout
End the lockout
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

I’ve never heard of pCRA. Where can I find player data using this measure? How does it compare to the other ERA predictors? I usually use SIERA as a measure to support in-season ERA.

rsimon11
rsimon11
7 months ago

Same with Ryu and Cortes.

rsimon11
rsimon11
7 months ago

Great article! Looks like your vLOOKUP didn’t recognize McCullers.

Dan
Dan
7 months ago

Great work! I don’t think I’ve seen Joe Ross ranked this high. No concern about a second TJ? If the rankings pan out he’d be a great late round steal.

brianb4233
brianb4233
7 months ago

Awesome write-up.

In a 4-team keeper league (plan is to keep Trout, Trea T., Vlad, & either Rutschman or Austin Riley) and, I suppose, we are effectively starting the draft at what would be round 5 – sort of. That’s the way I’ve thought of it anyway. The top tier pitchers will be kept – Scherzer, DeGrom, Cole, Burnes, etc. – so should I be treating my 1st round pick as really the 5th and take a Woodruff or Buehler there?

I do have Woodruff and my plan, as of now, is to not keep him.

Brianb4233
Brianb4233
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

*Smacks head* 4 player keeper in 12 team league.

Jolt In Flow
Jolt In Flow
7 months ago

You’ve done it, EWB; I think this article, combined with a few others this pre-season, puts me over the top to win a few of my leagues. My pitching’s always my pain. Excellent article that nicely ties up alot of loose ends I’ve had.

Much appreciated as always.

Jolt

Malicious Phenoms
Malicious Phenoms
Reply to  Jolt In Flow
7 months ago

I agree so much with Jolt on this, EWB. Fantastic writeup and, packed with info on a lot of late pitchers I am on the fence about. Razzball never disappoints. Over the years it is the only site I use for rankings and FB info. Grey and yous guys are the best!

Malicious Phenoms
Malicious Phenoms
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

Absolutely!! Couple of Questions. How far would Cristian Javier move up if he starts? Thoughts on Carlos Martinez?

Malicious Phenoms
Malicious Phenoms
Reply to  everywhereblair
7 months ago

Thanks Man!!