Well well well, if it isn’t my yearly post on which starting pitchers to target and which you may want to avoid in your fantasy baseball drafts. If you’ve been following my updates on Twitter, or if you read my introductory 2022 post, then you know that things have been flipped upside down in my life. For that reason, it brings me great joy to present my sleeper pitchers to you again this season.
As I also have mentioned on Twitter, I’m a filmmaker in my daily life and I’m in a contest run by the state of North Carolina. I’m one of three people up for a final spot to get their film idea made. If I get selected, I’ll be given a big budget to make a short film and it may end up on national television. Pretty cool! But, I need your help with that so please take two seconds to vote for my film idea called The State That Heals on this site here: VisitNC Firsts That Last Film Festival. You can vote once every 24 hours too so please don’t just vote one time.
Now, back to baseball and these sleepy, sleepy pitchers!
How Do I Select My Sleeper Pitchers?
I’ve never claimed to be a baseball scout. I’m not going to be able to look at a guy’s mechanics and tell you which pitcher had done some minor thing to his delivery that will make him into a superstar. That’s just not how I roll. I’m a data-driven, results-driven kind of guy.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of personal research and analysis into which stats are most predictive for pitcher success moving forward. We all look at ERA and WHIP for our roto leagues, generally, but those stats are sometimes fluky and not predictive for the next season’s ERA and WHIP. I turn to other stats that I have found to be more predictive of future success instead.
In general, I analyze the pitch-by-pitch statistics for pitchers to determine if they were pitching well despite whatever their ERA or WHIP told us. From there, I’ve identified a grouping of statistics that seem most predictive and, based on league averages in a given year, I set benchmarks each year for the following statistics:
- K-BB% – In my research, this is the stat had the strongest correlation to the next season’s ERA, WHIP, and K/9 in my tests. It is the percentage of strikeouts per PA minus the percentage of walks per PA.
- Contact% – For each pitch that a pitcher throws, this stat tells us how often the hitter made contact with the pitch. As with all the stats I will list, it was found to be predictive of future success in my testing.
- Swinging Strike% – This is a bit of the opposite of Contact% as this calculates how often a hitter swings and misses at a pitch that a pitcher threw.
- Ball In Play% – Of all the strikes thrown by the pitcher, this looks at how many of those were from balls hit into play. (from Baseball-Reference)
- Strikes to Balls Ratio – This is my own statistics where I take the number of strikes the pitcher threw and divide by the number of balls thrown.
- 0-2 Counts Forced% – For each batter that a pitcher faces, this statistic measures how often the plate appearance went to an 0-2 count. (from Baseball-Reference)
- Hard Hit% – Of balls hit against the pitcher, this is a measurement of the quality of contact for each of them and how often the ball was hit hard. (from Fangraphs)
To start my sleeper selection process, I gather all of those stats for the previous year. I then calculate the league averages and standard deviations for those stats that year. I then set benchmarks for each stat that are a certain amount of standard deviations above league average, depending on how predictive the stat is. These are the benchmarks that I set for this year:
- K-BB above 17.0%
- Contact under 73.9%
- Swinging Strike above 12.5%
- Ball-in-Play under 26.9%
- Strikes-to-Balls Ratio above 1.70
- 0-2 Counts Forced above 25.4%
- Hard Hit under 32.3%
Of these seven benchmarks, I narrow my list down to the pitchers who qualified in at least six of them. This creates my magical little list of pitchers to investigate.
Does It Really Help Find The Best Pitchers?
Here are the mid-to-late round pitchers that I had on the list last year, and how they fared in 2021:
It ended up being more of a mixed bag than usual, I would say. I honestly blame that on the pandemic-shortened season giving me a weirder set of data to work with than usual. The good news is that, even with that weird data set, there were some absolute gems that you could have gotten in 2021 like Joe Musgrove, Kevin Gausman, and Trevor Rogers.
In general, the pitchers who had met my benchmarks perform way better than those that don’t in the season ahead. This graphic below shows the comparison of fantasy starting pitchers over the past few years:
So, yes, the system works as a whole. No system is perfect though. There will be duds in my list of sleepers, and there will be stars in my list of busts. You know, take this stuff with a grain of salt.
The good news is that, with a full season of 2021 data, I think we’ll have an even better list in 2022 than we did last year. Let’s check it out.
2022 Undervalued Pitchers To Target
It’s not a super long list this year. It’s ten solid pitchers that I feel really good about. They’re spread throughout a few different points in the draft.
100 to 175 ADP Range
- Carlos Rodon (SF, SP2, 29 years old) – 111 ADP
- Shane McClanahan (TB, SP1, 24 years old) – 115 ADP
- Nathan Eovaldi (BOS, SP1, 32 years old) – 133 ADP
- Clayton Kershaw (LAD, SP2, 34 years old) -156 ADP
This is a fun little list of guys to grab in the middle rounds.
Let’s start with Carlos Rodon. He had his breakout year in a contract year, and now he finds himself in San Fransisco. That’s a good thing as it’s a park that should favor him even more than Chicago. As I do sleeper calculations each year, there are often players that always pop up on my sleeper lists but fail to deliver until suddenly: it clicks. Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman and Joe Musgrove are just a few examples of that. Carlos Rodon is another one of those kinds of dudes. Look, there are many reasons why he overperformed a bit last year, so don’t expect that again, but do expect some really decent numbers close to a 3.00 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Another thing going for him that I like is the move from AL to NL. History has shown that pitchers often see an uptick in numbers during their first year going through a new league. Yeah, I like Rodon a lot this year.
If you don’t want a veteran pitcher and want the possible next-big-thing, look no further than youngster Shane McClanahan. In his rookie year, Shane threw 10.3 K/9 with only a 2.7 BB/9, and that’s no fluke since that’s what he did year-in and year-out in the minors. Projections are a bit soft on him this year but McClanahan is a great lottery ticket at his price point. He has SP1 potential at a spot where you’d be probably drafting him as your SP3 or SP4.
I mentioned how Rodon is a name that popped up in my sleeper calculations for years. Nathan Eovaldi is another one of those as I have had him on my sleeper lists dating back to 2019. The key with these types of guys is to not lose faith. Eovaldi is finally having health and success all come together and I have no issues taking a shot on him this year to keep delivering and maybe be our next Kevin Gausman.
Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw and even if he is not the Cy Young winner that he once was, he’s a damn good pitcher. Health is always a concern so tread carefully but, at this price, I’m taking the risk.
176 to 250 ADP Range
- Trevor Bauer (LAD, SP?, 31 years old) – 180 ADP
- Jordan Montgomery (NYY, SP2, 29 years old) – 182 ADP
- Tanner Houck (BOS, SP3, 25 years old) – 213 ADP
- Alex Wood (SF, SP4, 31 years old) – 224 ADP
- Huascar Ynoa (ATL, SP4, 23 years old) – 249 ADP
I like most of the guys in this range a lot. I mean, not as people… especially that first guy. I see a lot of good value here though and I’ll be targeting each of these pitchers.
Look, the only reason Trevor Bauer is this low is because of the whole situation he’s in. That uncertainty makes him a dicey pick. If he pitches, he’ll pitch well. You decide how comfortable you are with the risk of his situation.
Meanwhile, Jordan Montgomery makes his second career appearance as a potential sleeper on my list. I said it before about Rodon and Eovaldi, but I look at it as a good sign when guys keep appearing on my lists because it just feels like their breakout is about to happen. Montgomery had a 3.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 9.27 K/9 last year and I see him only improving this year.
Tanner Houck and Huascar Ynoa represent good options, especially if you are in a keeper league as they have youth on their side and are currently planted in the middle of their rotations so they have a lower profile. I think Houck is ready to break out in a big way based on the data. With Ynoa, I really like his value because his 4.00+ ERA from last season would scare off the casual baseball fans, I’d think. These are great later-round options to target.
Alex Wood is another guy I’ve written about almost yearly as he first appeared on my sleeper lists in both 2014 and 2015. For that reason, it boggles my mind that he’s still only 31 years old. He’s had two off-years in his career but seemed to start to put it back together last year with the Giants. I love his value at this spot.
300+ ADP Range
- Corey Kluber (TB, SP3, 36 years old) – 321 ADP
Hey! It’s Corey Kluber, remember him? He’s back, in a Rays uniform now. I had written off Kluber the past few years, not because of talent but because I needed to see him healthy again and that seemed far-fetched for a while there. The health seems to be there now. The opportunity seems to be there too. The advanced data likes what he was able to do last year with the Yankees, and I’m definitely grabbing many shares of Kluber at this value.
- Danny Duffy (LAD, SP/RP, 33 years old) – 690 ADP
There’s always a handful of pitchers that meet the criteria but have some major strikes against them, no pun intended. Danny Duffy looked good based on the data last year but… he won’t pitch until June this year. And, when he does, what is his role with the Dodgers even? Too many questions to draft him, but keep an eye on him later this season.
In the past, I’ve always included some lists of potential dud pitchers that are being drafted too early but I find that list is a bit too hit-or-miss for my tastes. But, if you’re curious, the four pitchers being drafted early in drafts this missed the most of my benchmarks were Jack Flaherty, Max Fried, Chris Bassitt, and Jose Berrios. I’m not saying don’t draft them but I’m just a little dubious of them.
All in all, I think we’ve got a great list of undervalued sleeper pitchers for 2022 though. I got more excited about the players the more I dove into it, and I think we’re all going to find some great value here!
In closing, if you hadn’t voted at the start of this article, make sure to vote for my film idea called The State That Heals in this contest here: VisitNC Firsts That Last Film Festival. You can vote once every 24 hours and it would mean a ton to me.