2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Starting Pitcher Innings and Wins Falling Sharply

by Ryan Kirksey
Starting Pitcher Innings and Wins Falling Sharply

Today we will be looking at a trend in baseball that Starting Pitcher innings and wins are falling sharply.

In last week’s 2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends column, we examined the concept of streaming pitchers and if it's a better idea to employ the strategy in the current low-run environment.  It makes intuitive sense that with record-low offensive numbers so far in 2022, pitching would be up as a whole and usable pitchers would be plentiful.

However, with the increase in six-man rotations and specialized bullpens, how are starting pitchers being used in 2022? With shortened Spring Training and monitored pitch counts, it may not be as easy as we think to find a pitcher we can count on for a win. Every starting pitcher win in 2022 seems to be more valuable than in years past because of their scarcity.

This weekly column will look at some of the more intriguing 2022 fantasy baseball trends and provide actionable advice on how to handle the data we collected. For this week’s piece, we will examine the decline in starter pitcher innings and wins and how it impacts our fantasy teams.

Starting Pitcher Innings and Wins Falling Sharply

Considering the unusual offseason we had this spring, we should have expected pitching would be a little quirky to start the 2022 season. Consider all the factors. Spring Training was two weeks long. Pitchers couldn't complete their six-week ramp-up to the regular season. Pitchers had no access to coaches and trainers until the second week of March. No major league players had access to their team facilities. But it wasn't until I really dug into the numbers that I saw how drastic it is.

Below is a comparison of the 2019, 2021, and 2022 seasons, comparing pitcher data through May 16 of each season. When we look at things like innings pitched and batters faced, 2022 really starts to stand out.

SPs > 40 IPs
SPs > 30 Ks
SPs ≥ 4 Ws
SPs > 150 TBF
SPs ≥ 7 GS
Qualified SPs836959

(Pitchers are Qualified if they have thrown at least one inning per team game. IPs = innings pitched, TBF = total batters faced, GS = games started)

In this comparison, numbers like starting pitchers with more than 40 innings pitched and starting pitchers with more than 150 total batters faced are significantly lower. And it doesn't get better when even when you begin to look at averages per year.

In 2022, the average pitcher start is 4.96 innings through May 16. That means the average start this year comes up just short of even qualifying for a win even before we factor in performance. In 2021, the average start lasted 5.02 innings. In 2019 it was 5.18 innings. It gets even more drastic when you compare to less offensive friendly years like 2014: 5.97 innings per start.

We know managers are going to bullpen early and often these days, but it has become even more pronounced this season.

Six-Man Rotations Also Limiting Pitcher Innings

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As we have seen this year, teams like the Angels, Padres, Astros, and Braves have employed a six-man rotation to start the year. This, of course, may have no bearing on how these pitchers perform per start. But it has a huge impact on how many starts they will see.  The simple math of a 162-game season shows us that pitchers in a six-man rotation (27 starts) lose more than five starts per game to those in a five-man rotation (32.4 starts).

The fact that elite pitchers like Justin Verlander, Max Fried, Shohei Ohtani, Sean Manaea, Joe Musgrove, and Yu Darvish are impacted by this only complicates the situation.

Ohtani is a prime example. While several other team aces have already taken the bump for eight starts, Ohtani has six. In those six starts, he has managed to accumulate the third-most WAR in the American League this year. But the fact that the opening day starter for the Angels is two starts behind some of his counterparts limits the impact he can have on our fantasy rosters.

Add in a team like the Brewers who have a solid five-man squad. But every so often they let Aaron Ashby have a start and eat up some of those innings. What happens is you end up with players like Eric Lauer, Freddy Peralta, and Brandon Woodruff who all rank top-seven in strikeout rate in the National League among starters, but none of them are Qualified pitchers at this point.

How Should We Adjust Our Fantasy Rosters?

Embed from Getty Images

Like with many things this season, this phenomenon should lead to managed expectations. My most-rostered pitcher this year on any of my teams is Brandon Woodruff. Ignoring the high 5.35 ERA (he has a 3.15 SIERA), I am now only factoring in about five innings per start for Woodruff when I deploy him in leagues where I have an innings cap or start limits. I want the 12 K/9 in my lineup, but I know that the chances of a win or a quality start are much lower than in past seasons.

The hypothesis going into this investigation would have been that the historically low offensive numbers in 2022 would be leading to better results on the pitching side. But while we have plenty of pitchers excelling in their allotted innings (for example, 2022 has 22 qualified starters with at least nine K/9; 2019 had only 24), they are not getting the starts or the innings we are used to from past seasons. Will this adjust as the season progresses and most pitchers have built up 100-pitch stamina after a weird offseason? Hopefully, but for now we have to believe that six-man rotations and increased bullpen usage is here to stay.

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