Since 2015, the average innings pitched per starting pitcher has dropped by over 18%. This gives more fantasy baseball relevance to middle relievers and holders, but it certainly hurts the pool of potential starters who can log wins and get more strikeouts.
With that in mind, here are five bold starting pitcher predictions for the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
1. Mitch Keller’s ERA drops by 40% this year to a sub-4.00 mark.
Justification: In his first year at the big league level, Keller had a 7.13 ERA. This improved to a 2.91 ERA in Year 2, but he had quite a bit of luck in that season as his BABIP dropped to .104 (it was a 21.2 inning sample). Last season (2021) things swung the other way, as he posted a 6.17 ERA with a .388 BABIP, despite an expected ERA of 5.73. The 5.73 ERA is still not great, but markedly better than the 6.17 he had. The problems were across the board. He couldn’t locate his fastball, his slider was missing the strike zone, and his curveball lost much of it’s vertical movement. This is ALL BAD. The good news, Oscar Marin has been the Pirates pitching coach for a few years and he increased an analytics approach prior to last year. As Keller faltered, they started to adjust his approach to improve his command, His ERA subsequently dropped from 7.04 to 5.40. In a nutshell, the new approach means that Keller can be a solid option as a very late draft pick.
2. Jose Urquidy’s ERA increases above 5.00.
Justification: Jose had a VERY respectable 3.62 ERA last season after having a 2.73 ERA the season before. Both of those seasons his expected ERA was above what he achieved. Perhaps this will remain the norm going forward, but there are a few red flags. First his fastball saw a half MPH decline between 2020 and 2021. Second, his curveball and changeup vertical movement each declined over that same time period. Urquidy turned to his slider, which had improved movement and better success against hitters. Unless there is serious correction, we could see another decline this season.
3. We have more 20-win pitchers In a shortened 2022 season than we had in 2021.
Justification: Who would have thought going into last season that the only 20-win pitcher would be Julio Urias? Not Gerrit Cole, not Jacob DeGrom, not Max Scherzer, not Shane Bieber, not Lucas Giolito...just crazy. In the shortened season of 2020, we saw shortened total pitching among the pitchers and subsequently some elite results. 2020 records: Shane Bieber (8-1), Max Fried (7-0), Clayton Kershaw (6-2), Gerrit Cole (7-3), Tyler Glasnow (5-1). I think under a shortened total pitch count we see some better in-game results from the stars, such that even with 80-90% of a full season we see two of them crack 20 wins.
4. Hyun-jin Ryu becomes a top 20 SP again.
Justification: After three straight seasons of a sub-3.00 ERA he had a step down to 4.37 in 2021. What changed? He got hard hit 50% more of the time as his barrel rate skyrocketed. He leaned into his fastball much more and while it improved with regard to batting average, he got hard hit more. The good news is he still has four pitches that are all solid, and by and large he held onto his elite command, only walking 5.3% of hitters. He improved his fastball, and if that continues and he decides to return back to his sinker—which got hit but not hit hard—then he instantly returns back to his previous self. Here’s more from the great SP Streamer:
Hyun Jin Ryu going as the 82nd pitcher off the board (including RPs) seems like a steal.— Michael Simione (@SPStreamer) November 15, 2021
- Affected by family issues in 2021
- Moving from a hitters park to a pitchers park
- Unusual HR/9 should come down
- 2 months of a bad ERA and one came with a 3.83 FIP. pic.twitter.com/utgmlJnLlg
5. Eli Morgan is a top 40 starter by year’s end.
Justification: Starters are getting injured at an increased pace, and either that or continued struggles with Triston McKenzie provide an opportunity for Morgan to step back into the rotation (not to mention delivering at Triple-A repeatedly could earn him a promotion). Morgan had a rough start to 2021, having a an 8.44 ERA in the first half but dropped it down to a 4.37 ERA in the second half. He has a good record of steady improvement, too. He went from a 3.91 ERA in 2018 to 1.87 in 2019—and across his two seasons in Triple-A he improved from a 5.40 ERA to a 4.03 ERA. We could see the same improvement at the MLB level. He uses his slider and changeup a combined 50% of the time, and both are showing strong movement and whiff potential (25% plus on both). Work will need to be put in on improving his fastball, which is average...but top 40 is attainable.