In retrospect, ever doubting Houston Astros RHP Justin Verlander was the mistake so many fantasy baseball managers foolishly made. Verlander has been among baseball’s elite pitchers for 15 years, but especially since joining the Houston Astros late in the 2017 season. When he missed all but one outing in 2020 and all of the next season recovering from Tommy John surgery, it was easy to be skeptical. C’mon, this guy is 39 years old. He’s thrown more than 3,000 big league innings. Indeed, how could fantasy managers expect ace-type production for the 2022 season?
Verlander is the easy call as the fantasy pitching MVP for the 2022 season, as he enters the final weeks leading the league in ERA and WHIP, with 16 wins and among the top 20 in strikeouts, despite a recent injured list stint for a calf strain. Verlander was hardly ignored on draft day, but barely a top-100 pick in ESPN average live drafts. He was No. 28 among starting pitchers. Looks pretty silly today, how anyone questioned the future Hall of Famer. He leads all pitchers on ESPN’s Player Rater. It is tough to say Verlander’s magical season, which may end with him earning his third Cy Young award, teaches fantasy managers a lesson. Perhaps he is just special.
Certainly there’s little case to be made that all the older starting pitchers recovering from injury flourished this season. Boston Red Sox LHP Chris Sale made two starts. Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw and New York Yankees RHP Luis Severino have each made 16 starts. New York Mets RHP Jacob deGrom debuted in August. Verlander has made 24 starts, and expectations are promising he will make a few more. He’s just a special player, one fantasy managers should thank for years of championship-level performance, even at 39.
As we finish up the 2022 fantasy baseball season, it’s time for reflection, to look forward and back on what we learned, and trusting Verlander is near the top of the list. Today we focus on starting pitchers, with other groups to follow later this month.
Fantasy SP MVP: While Verlander provided significant value, Chicago White Sox RHP Dylan Cease, Toronto Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah and Tampa Bay Rays LHP Shane McClanahan each were golden seventh-round picks that have been among the best pitchers in the league all season, too. Houston Astros LHP Framber Valdez was a fantastic 12th-round selection and 13th-rounder Zac Gallen from the Arizona Diamondbacks hasn’t allowed a run in more than a month.
Several non-entities from draft day were also terrific. A late-round fantasy pick at best, Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Tony Gonsolin pitched only 15 times in 2021 due to several shoulder injuries. This season, he is 16-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 23 starts, and top-5 among starters on the Rater. His teammate LHP Tyler Anderson, who entered 2022 with a 4.62 ERA in six forgettable seasons, was ignored on draft day, but is among the top-20 starters today. Same with Atlanta Braves RHPs Kyle Wright and Spencer Strider. When in doubt, invest in pitchers on good teams.
Fantasy SP LVP: Look, durability matters. We knew Sale would miss quite a bit of the season. We assumed Dodgers RHP Walker Buehler would not. Buehler was a second-round choice by many on draft day, the sixth pitcher chosen, and he made only 12 mostly erratic starts before eventually succumbing to Tommy John surgery. If only we knew in March, but alas, it’s impossible to know. For Chicago White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito and Toronto Blue Jays RHP Jose Berrios, health has not been an issue, as far as we know. Each were top-15 starters on draft day and unlike Buehler, they continue to weigh down rosters. Neither is among the top 130 starters on the Rater, with their bloated numbers in ERA and WHIP.
New York Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole is not a bust. This first-round pick in many leagues does have a higher ERA than expected — though it nearly matches his 2021 number — and he probably won’t win 15 games, but c’mon, he hasn’t been bad. He’s a top-20 starter on the Rater. Milwaukee Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes ranks right next to him, with nearly identical numbers. No, not top-3 numbers, but very good. None of this should dissuade a fantasy manager in investing in a pitcher in the first two rounds though, I admit, I rarely covet starting pitchers early.
The Ohtani factor: Los Angeles Angels RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani remains a true unicorn for baseball and fantasy baseball, incredibly valuable but, to some extent, it also depends on your particular league’s rules. As a pitcher, Ohtani has had his best season, knocking half a run off his ERA and upping his strikeout rate. He didn’t exactly fall apart as a hitter, either. Make the case that Ohtani is the most valuable fantasy option due to his unique skillset as a hitter and pitcher, for roto and points formats, and I will not argue, especially if your league rules permit you to enjoy all his amazing numbers at the same time.
Rookie watch: Certainly we all await the promotion of Baltimore Orioles RHP Grayson Rodriguez, whether in 2023 or later this month. Other right-handers unlikely to debut until 2023 include the Dodgers’ Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller, Cleveland Guardians’ Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams, Tampa Bay Rays’ Taj Bradley, Philadelphia Phillies’ Andrew Painter. Keep an eye on lefties Ricky Tiedemann of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kyle Harrison of the San Francisco Giants, too. Painter’s situation is particularly interesting, for he doesn’t turn 20 years old until April 2023. The Phillies may be aggressive in promoting Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry. The Cleveland organization always seems to develop young pitching well. The Dodgers are the Dodgers.
Sophomores to watch: Cincinnati Reds LHP Nick Lodolo came into the league with less fanfare than hard-throwing teammate Hunter Greene, but only one of them is trending in the right direction. Lodolo projects as a top-40 starter soon. Minnesota Twins RHP Joe Ryan — still a rookie — has more strikeouts than innings, too. So polished. These fellows aren’t Spencer Strider, but they should help fantasy managers. I think I’m in on Los Angeles Angels LHP Reid Detmers, too.
Veterans I seem to look for each season: Beyond the obvious, top-20 options, I invested in Seattle Mariners RHP Luis Castillo yet again, and that has worked out nicely. I also sought out numerous other Astros pitchers, including Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy, and keep going with Atlanta Braves RHP Charlie Morton and Minnesota Twins RHP Sonny Gray. I’ll likely be right back in on Twins RHP Tyler Mahle and rejuvenated New York Mets RHP Carlos Carrasco. Age is not a factor. As for St. Louis Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright, on just about literally all my fantasy teams this year and last, if he retires, well, then I guess I can’t invest any longer. I may cry.
Veterans I will not look for next season: I did trade for San Diego Padres LHP Blake Snell in an important league recently, and there obviously is top-10 upside again when he has control, but walkers still scare me. They scar me. I prefer more consistent pitchers. Boston Red Sox RHP Nick Pivetta is not consistent. As solid and surprising as the Dodgers’ Tyler Anderson and Texas Rangers LHP Martin Perez have been, it’s hard to forget their past. Same with Boston’s Michael Wacha.