Remember when it was July and we were all watching Stranger Things for the first time and getting Covid for the fourth time and I mentioned that a lot of fantasy baseball leagues were a matter of weeks away from the playoffs? Hey Siri, tell me what I said a few weeks ago. Weird thing is, Siri could actually do that, but Siri just doesn’t want you to know they could do that. Just like I could tell you that Grey has been wearing the same pair of “lucky” socks since 2007, but he doesn’t want you to know that. ENYWHEY.
As we look into the crystal ball that reveals the pitchers of the future, let’s take a special look to see which pitchers might take a breather along the way and become less useful for fantasy managers in the playoffs. Before we get too far, it’s worthwhile to note — this kind of discussion isn’t an exact science. However, there are factors that clue us in to which pitchers will be less or more useful to fantasy managers in the playoffs.
News and Notes
Tony Gonsolin: Gonsolin is perhaps the least interesting 13-1 pitcher in MLB history. Even his 1.9 WAR recognizes this. I mean, Jose Quintana is 3-5 and has a higher WAR (2.2) than Tony Gonsolin (1.9). We’ve seen Gonsolin come back to earth recently, and he sports a 5+ ERA with a FIP near 4 over the past month. Probably more relevant to the fantasy playoffs, is that Gonsolin has made it to the 6th inning only once in the past month and in 3 out of his last 8 games. Gonsolin’s fastball is still doing its thing and he’s not exhibiting ridiculously obvious levels of “give me a break,” but Gonsolin hasn’t pitched more than 120 combined innings in a year since 2018. His IP count in 2022 so far? 110. What’s more, is the Dodgers will have a handful of starters coming back from injury who will need to get some innings under their belt before the real MLB playoffs. Those extra mouths will chomp IP, and whether they come at the cost of Gonsolin’s appearances remains to be seen. From a fantasy perspective, if your team has relied on Gonsolin this year, I recommend diversifying your pitcher portfolio fast. Dustin May is available in a ton of leagues and has a similar K/9 profile as Gonsolin. May will be back in MLB any minute — add him to balance out Gonsolin.
Nestor Cortes: If there’s a classic profile for “load management,” it would be a guy like Nestor Cortes. Cortes has multiple years topping out around 110ish total IP, and Cortes just reached 112IP for 2022. But what’s really, really special about Nasty Nestor? His fastball is increasing in velocity as the year goes on. There are some weeds in the Nestor nest — a mere 7.7 K/9 over the past month with an xFIP above 4.00 — but the stats are suggesting that Nestor should finish out 2022 well enough for fantasy managers. With the recent announcement that Luis Severino will be on the IL until mid-September, the Yankees’ rotation is uncongested for the bulk of the foreseeable fantasy future. Stay nasty, Nestor.
Shohei Ohtani: Clearly, Ohtani’s never missed arm day. Whatever is going on with those limbs, I want some of that. Last year, when Ohtani was still “recovering” from Tommy John surgery, the Angels never quit Ohtani. They practically walked him up the mountain in denim and cowboy hats and made us want a sequel. So, 2022: the Angels are completely out of the running for a playoff wild card spot, and Trout and Rendon are hurt again. The Angels already discussed trading Ohtani at the deadline, and have indicated they’re interested in trade talks during the off-season. Even if the Angels decide that they’re holding Ohtani oh so close, then they still have to consider that Ohtani is up for arbitration this winter, and allowing him to pitch more could increase his wages. Perish the thought! But we saw something similar-ish happen last year when Shane Bieber said he was healthy enough to come back from injury, but the Guardians kept him away from the mound for most of the second half of the season. The fishwraps reported the “bonus” that Shane Bieber received when the Guardians rewarded a $6-million contract to their Cy Young-award winning, 2-time All-Star pitcher. Just so we’re clear, Antonio Senzatela — who is the same age as Shane Bieber and has half of the career WAR in roughly the same innings — makes $7.2 million per year. ENYWHEY. Think about the Bieber situation in the context of Ohtani. You’re the Angels, and you’re rebuilding around Ohtani via trade or via commitment. Do you keep Ohtani working hard in 2022, when there’s zero chance of the playoffs and a veritable cornucopia of arms willing to finish out 2022? Or do you let the face of your franchise –and the reigning MLB MVP — take it easy down the stretch and protect your investment for whatever you chose to do in 2023? This one could go either way. You choose your own outcome here, but I would be suspicious of pitcher Ohtani’s value in the fantasy playoffs.
Justin Verlander: This [waves arms around at Justin Verlander being #1 on the Razzball Player Rater] wasn’t supposed to happen. 39-year-olds coming back from Tommy John surgery aren’t supposed to be the best pitcher in fantasy baseball, not when there’s guys like Miles Mikolas around. So, how ya doin’ Verny? Oy vey. Let’s get the Tiger out of the room: much of Verlander’s 2022 value has come from luck: he’s got 15 wins in 20 games started. He’s got an ERA that’s 1.20 points lower than his xERA, and 1.70 points lower than his xFIP. His SIERA — which is the most predictive stat once a volume of IP accumulates — is 3.30, which is [does napkin math] way higher than his 1.70 ERA. Mind you, 3.30 is still very good. It’s just not Pedro Martinez-levels of good. You know what they say: Red sky at night, Astros delight. Red sky at dawn, Astros take…prawns. I dunno. What’s clear is that Verlander should be tiring out soon, but there are some factors that come into play, like the fact that this could be his last year pitching. Verlander has a player option on his contract after 2022, but what are the odds he comes back? Not a lot of starting pitchers past 40 years old in MLB: Rich Hill and Adam Wainwright this year, and then the previous one was 45-year-old Bartolo Colon in 2018 (memories!). Verlander has $300+ million in career earnings, an MVP, 2 Cy Youngs, and a World Series ring. He could literally pitch until his arm fell off in 2022. But truth is, the Astros need a guy like Verlander in the playoffs, and they have a 12-game lead in the AL West. Perhaps the most likely narrative is that Verlander eases a bit on IP in the regular season (bad for the fantasy playoffs) and then cranks it up for the MLB playoffs (irrelevant for fantasy). That said, we’re dealing with a first ballot HOF’er — Verlander can call his shot. He’ll want to go out on top, and fantasy managers will ride along no matter what.
Logan Webb: Fastball in his last start was down 2MPH over his season average, and he’s approaching his career max IP. Tread cautiously.
Adam Wainwright: Not that he’s a velocity monster, but he’s lost over 1.5MPH from his fastball in the past few starts. Watch out for pain, right?
Shane Bieber: Fastball is still there, but it’s also 2-3 MPH lower than where it was in 2020/2021. If I’m Bieber, there’s not a ton of motivation to throw as hard as I can: the Guardians jettisoned a bunch of their top talent, and they’re still in second place in the worst division in MLB. What’s more, Bieber is still not eligible for free agency, and he won’t be for another fraking 3 years. Bieber’s been pretty good recently, but it’s worth pointing out that he’s 30IP over his 2021 volume already.
Shane McClanahan: For fracks’ sake people overreact to natural variations in performance. Long-time readers will remember that Gerrit Cole regularly goes through really tough spots every year. Like, Gerrit Cole has a 5 ERA over his last six starts and I’m still watching touts cheer him every outing. Over McClanahan’s last six starts, he has a lower ERA (3.41), lower FIP (2.76), and higher swinging-strike rate (16%) than Gerrit Cole. Why do people lose faith so quickly? McClanahan’s fastball is struggling a bit, but there’s no major sign of worry. Sure, he’s matching his career-high for IP and he plays for the Rays — tons of opportunities for IP limits coming up. But McClanahan’s style of pitching is efficiency-based, and he needs only 150-160IP to put up the same fantasy value as 180IP+ pitchers. Keep rolling with McClanahan through your fantasy playoffs. Variance is natural — there will be better performances and worse performances, and sometimes the timing of this variance is inconvenient for your fantasy success. But the far worse mistake is to doubt the stats behind a player’s success.
I’m cutting down even further — I think there’s only Garrett Whitlock remaining for the Roleless Robs. Feel free to start players in favorable matchups regardless of their ranking. Good luck!