Here’s the reason why us residents of the Bold North, USA (ZIP Code issuance pending) never supported that whole Marie Kondo trend of paring down our clothes drawers: this past week, we’ve gone from a 17 degree low, to a supposed 80-degree high next Wednesday. I have four seasons’ worth of drawers, and I’m not talking about storage. I just did an easter egg hunt and there was still ankle-deep snow, at the same time as the Twins had their home opener series. Great baseball weather, eh?

This is all to remind you that early April baseball is soothing to the soul, but not always reflective of performance. Shohei Ohtani had a 4+ ERA in April 2022. He was your first-round pick this year. Blake Snell had a 5+ ERA through May 2022, and y’all drafted him as your consensus SP3 (100th overall) for 2023. Kyle Gibson went 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in April 2022. Some of these things are not like the other…

The top of the pitcher leaderboards are filled with the usual suspects and Kyle Freeland. Freeland is on pace for 200 IP and 0 ER allowed all season. “No way!” you shout, “There’s no possible scenario in which a Rockies pitcher with a sub-5 K/9 and a nearly 5.00 ERA over the past 4 seasons finishes the year allowing zero runs. Not gonna happen.”

Well, we can invert that thought process and apply it to the “known quantity” pitchers who are struggling right now.

Is Chris Bassitt really a 10+ ERA pitcher? Is he toast for 2023? Bassitt has been one of the most consistent pitchers from 2019-2022, and the Blue Jays dropped a cool $60ish million to acquire his services until the second half of the decade. Would you trust his previous 96 starts of 2019-2022, or his current two April starts of 2023? If we say that Bassitt is toast already, then we might as well say that Freeland is destined for a 0.00 ERA in 2023. Gentlemen and lady reader, your 2023 Most Valuable Pitcher: Rockies’ superstar Kyle Freeland!

Let’s recap our starting pitcher best practices:

Don’t Panic

As I said last week, the worst enemy of a fantasy player in the early stages…is themselves. You second-guess your draft picks, you drop your good players, and hold on to your bad players. You spend massive FAAB dollars or waiver wire priority on backup catchers or spot starters. I’ve been there. My 2021 RazzSlam race to the top was stymied by early waiver wire bids that spent 90% of my FAAB on Huascar Ynoa and Yermin Mercedes. Sigh. I’m not perfect either.

Don’t touch your team SP1-3 right now — you drafted them to be your stars, so let them fall into their orbits. In 2001, the year Barry Bonds set the MLB Home Run record with 73* bombs, he went a full month with a .216 batting average and 5 homers. His BABIP during that span? .194. Even the greats hit cold / unlucky streaks. Imagine that kind of year happening in the fantasy sports-saturated media environment of 2023 — how many times would armchair social media mavens tell you to drop your history-making hitter because of their cold month?

From August to September 2022, Sandy Alcantara — my favorite pitcher! — went 2-3 with a 4.70 ERA. Y’all took him as the 3rd SP off the board in 2023. From the end of July until the end of September 2022, Gerrit Cole — everybody’s favorite pitcher! — went 1-5 with a 3.90 ERA. Y’all took him as the first SP off the board in 2023, often in the first round.

Chug a beer, grab a towel, and don’t panic.

News and Notes

Sonny GrayDeath, taxes, and old guys yelling at Statcast. As long as sports are played, we’ll have the national pastime of arguing on the internet whether a player’s statistical performance is as good as we think it is. So, here’s the discrepancy: Sonny Gray has a 0.75 ERA, and a 9.06 xERA. So, his “baseball card stats” with a 0.75 ERA look like he’s an ace, especially for your fantasy team that uses ERA as a scoring category. But the cameras and measuring tools that evaluate player performance — those things that actual MLB teams use to evaluate player performance — indicate that Sonny Gray is just about as bad as Chris Bassitt’s awful 2023 start. I’m generally OK with Gray’s profile for fantasy — his CSW% is still sitting in the 30% range, which is great and typically indicative of strong forward-facing performance. But we can’t deny that batters are absolutely teeing off on him early in the season — his line drive rate is tied for the highest in his career, and his ground ball rate has plummeted. Yet, of those hard hit balls into the air…none of them have been home runs. Yet. Gray’s “true skill” stats still look pretty reasonable, but we’re awfully early in the season to see anything predictable. Gray’s a nice SP3/4 option going forward in 2023, but DFS players might want to stack against him during his scheduled start against the White Sox next week — if some of those hard hit line drives cross the fence due to the warmer weather, then you’ve got a nice payday!

Jeffrey SpringsFine, let’s overreact here. Springs’ 2022 numbers were tilted because he evolved from a Roleless Rob into a starter. Many of my 2022 readers enjoyed Springs’ success on their roster as he finished out the season 3-1 with a 2.41 ERA. Take that Gerrit Cole! But can 2023 Springs (be) eternal with his K%? As of writing, Springs has K’d 41% of batters, which is approaching Jacob deGrom levels of insanity. Most SP don’t carry that kind of K rate for very long; RP sure, but the IP volume for starters necessitates — at some point — a regression phase. Followers of my 2023 rankings are probably reveling in my aggressive ranking — I asked you to draft him as your SP3 while his ADP was at the end of the draft. I’m not going to victory lap yet because, well, read the first 700 words at the start of this article. The Rays are notorious for limiting IP — only a handful of their SP have passed the 180 IP threshold in the past few years — so if you’re in a points league where IP matter, then you might want to sell high. If you’re in an RCL, you’re probably dancing in the streets right now because Springs has been — and probably will continue to be — an absolute cheat code. Keep starting.

Mike ClevingerRight behind my Sandy Alcantra broken record is my Mike Clevinger cracked record: he’s a bad person and a bad pitcher. Clevinger has 2 Wins on the season and a 3.48 ERA…and an 8.73 xERA and an xFIP way above 5.00. Sometimes a guy escapes a bad outcome, right? He can’t get batters to whiff and when the weather warms throughout the country, those balls are going to start leaving the park. Clevinger finished 2022 with ERA/FIP numbers near 5.00 and a sub-7.00 K/9 rate, and he’s basically done that since 2020. Are you waiting for some sort of redemption arc? I wouldn’t start Clevinger in 12-teamers even in favorable matchups at this point.

Adam OllerWhy am I fascinated with this guy this year? Not fascinated in a good way, like I actually want to watch him pitch. I first pointed him out when I tried to highlight how bad pitchers can still make 15 starts per year. Then Oller went and led spring training pitchers in Ks and turned heads. Now he’s two starts into the 2023 season with an 0-2 record, a sub-6 K/9, and a 4.66 ERA and 6+ FIP. If you believe in the power of spring training, I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems on my roster, but Oller ain’t one.

Kyle GibsonWhile we’re playing memory games, look up 700 words and see what I wrote about Gibson’s 2022 start. In 2023, Gibson is 2-0 with a quality start. He has allowed a 14% barrel rate (that’s hideous) and his expected stats have him as a nearly 5.00 ERA pitcher. I’m still bitter from when the Twins drafted Gibson over Mike Trout. Nice job! ENYWHEY. Just pointing out more early season nonsense. Stats at this point in the season matter very little, and Gibson continues to demonstrate why.

Logan WebbI turned on my in-season algorithm and it’s showing Webb as the biggest discrepancy between “bad” baseball card stats and “good” true skill stats. Webb has a 6.55 ERA through two starts, despite one of those starts coming with a whopping 12Ks. Chug a beer and don’t panic.

Mason ThompsonHere’s the first oddity that my algorithm is telling me to pay attention to. Let’s see: a Roleless Rob with 8IP in 4 appearances…on the Nationals. Gulp. But in his last two appearances — and this is what my system is screaming at me to pay attention to — he has a 30% swinging strike rate. Holy whiffing balls. It’s a small sample size, but Thompson and his 1.13 ERA and 0.33 WHIP are something to pay attention to. Is he translating those whiffs into Ks? Not quite yet. Is his track record legit? Not really. But in this world filled with Kyle Gibsons, do you want to Watch List a guy who has a swinging strike rate as high as Jeffrey Springs and as many IP as Blake Snell? RCL’ers might have found their Michael King of 2023.

Mitch KellerIs my boi Corbin Young out there? Corbin and I talk more than we let people know. Like the time I went through his hometown, ate mac and cheese, and then texted him about it 12 hours later when I was halfway across the planet. I’m a great friend! To know me is to love my takes on pitchers. And, uh…my system…which, again, is using hardly any reliable data…is telling me that Mitch Keller is…possibly rosterable. Keller’s always had a few good pitches but has never put together spurts of control long enough to really be meaningful for fantasy. And 2023 is really no different — his BB/9 hovers near 5 for the early season, and there’s basically no example of a good fantasy pitcher maintaining having that level of wildness and succeeding. But…his hard hit rate is below 20%. That’s astonishing. Again, small sample size. Don’t panic. Chug beers or whatever. But if you’re a pitcher with a nearly 12 K/9 rate who limits damage…then you can get away with a BB/9 profile that resembles my little league stat line. Pirates pitchers aren’t exactly the top of your FAAB list, but it might be worth a speculative add in deeper leagues to see if Keller has figured himself out.

Roleless Robs: Here’s the list of names that my system likes for speculative Roleless Robs (keep in mind, it usually takes until May for these guys to start solidifying stats): Mason Thompson, Tyler Alexander, Adbert Alzolay, Jose Alvarado, Tanner Houck, Aroldis Chapman.

As noted before, next week will be the first time I publish “the list.” I’m only responding to comments on Mondays and Tuesdays now — after Wednesday, it’s EWB time! As always, you’ve got a friend in Grey for roster moves, and you’ve got the Streamonator for the Razzball Premium Tools.

Let me know how your early plays are going!