2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Pitchers

by Corey Pieper
2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Pitchers

The 2024 Fantasy Six Pack Draft Kit continues with Sleepers for the 2024 Fantasy Baseball season, this time for the Pitchers!

Regarding fantasy sports, we tend to focus on the first few rounds. It makes sense. Those are the sports' star players. However, that's not really where fantasy drafts are won, but they can be lost there. You expect greatness from those players. When they return greatness, you just break even. If your early picks struggle, it can be very hard to recover. To win a league you need some of your later picks to hit.

This point can be illustrated using some of the 2023 ADP data which is still available from FantraxHQ.  Speaking of Fantrax, there is no better site to play your fantasy baseball leagues this season. Looking at last season's ADP, we can see that New York Yankees Gerrit Cole had an ADP of 8 and Detroit Tigers Tarik Subal had an ADP of 364. Gerrit Cole returned that value finishing as a top 3 pitcher overall. Skubal was not as valuable, but considering the draft cost, was much more likely to have been on winning rosters.

It's gems like that Skubal that lead to winning fantasy championships. Read below to see five sleeper pitchers for fantasy baseball in 2024.

2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Pitchers

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Zach Eflin, Tampa Bay Rays

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What if I told you that there was a pitcher who last season set career bests in innings pitched, wins, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP right as he entered his prime age of 28? The actual numbers were 177 innings, 16 wins, a 3.50 ERA, 186 strikeouts, and a 1.02 WHIP.  What if I also mentioned that this pitcher was one of the most popular sleeper pitchers last season? He more than delivered on that projection finishing as the SP6 overall last season. Sounds like a starting pitcher that is likely going very early. That's not the case.

Surprisingly, Zach Eflin's FantasyPros ADP is currently at 95 That still places him 28th among starting pitchers which makes him a fantasy baseball sleeper pitcher. Drafters may be expecting regression from Eflin in his second season with Tampa Bay. It makes sense. His time in Philadelphia led to a career ERA of 4.49 and 1.29 WHIP with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. It would appear though that the Rays pitching magic worked for Eflin.  The team had him throw his curveball and cutter more. The advanced stats don't expect regression at least in ERA.

Eflin's xERA was 3.14. His FIP was 3.01. His xFIP was 3.10. No matter which advanced stat you prefer, it expects more from him. Even if that doesn't happen and he just matches the rate stats from last season with his new strikeout baseline, he will more than return value outside the top 100 picks.

Brandon Pfaadt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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Brandon Pfaadt led all of minor league baseball in strikeouts in the 2022 season. The Diamondbacks called him up to the Major Leagues in early May to a lot of fanfare. His first six starts couldn't have gone much worse. At the end of June, he had pitched 25 big-league innings. He was 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA. He was sent down again to the minor leagues.

When he was recalled again in July, he looked more like the pitcher that we expected. From that point through the end of the playoffs, Pfaadt pitched 92 innings with a 4 ERA. Generally, he pitched even better than his ERA. The number is skewed by two poor starts. He also struck out 99 in those 92 innings showing the strikeout upside is there.

With Pfaadt's strong ending to the season, I expected his ADP to come in around 150th overall. Early FantasyPros data has his ADP at 225 overall which is 64th among starting pitchers. With young pitchers, the concern is typically how many innings will they pitch. That's not an issue with Pfaadt. He pitched 167 innings in 2022. Then, followed with 178.2 innings last season. Don't be afraid to go a few rounds ahead of ADP to get an improving pitcher with strikeout upside who also limits walks.

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

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On the surface, it appears to be a tale of two seasons for Mitch Keller. At the All-Star Break, he had an ERA of just 3.34, a WHIP of 1.10, and was striking out well more than a batter per inning. In the second half, the strikeout rate dropped, and the ERA and WHIPs ballooned to 5.24 and 1.41 respectively. But was it really that bad?

There were three massive blowups in the second half for Keller. On July 3rd, he gave up eight earned runs in six innings against the Cleveland Guardians. He also had two starts of eight earned runs in only five innings. One of those starts was against the Milwaukee Brewers and the other was against the Atlanta Braves. If you just cut the earned runs in half from those starts, his second-half ERA drops to 4.04. It's certainly not as good as the first half, but it's much better than the low 5's ERA he had.

Even with the 2nd half being a step back, there were still clear improvements in Keller's age-26 season which set him up as a sleeper fantasy baseball pitcher. He set a new career-high in innings pitched with 194 innings. Logically, he also set new career highs in wins and strikeouts. It wasn't only volume though that led to that. On a per-inning basis, he increased his K/9 and dropped his BB/9 to their best levels since 2019.

With an ADP of 182, Keller is a safe value. He feels like a lock for 180 innings pitched. If he keeps the strikeout percentage at the same levels as last season, it should mean a second straight season over 200 strikeouts.

Ryan Pepiot, Tampa Bay Rays

See Zach Eflin from above to see what the Tampa Bay Rays can do for a pitcher. It's not just Eflin who the Rays got the most out of. Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, Zack Littell, and Robert Stephenson are all pitchers who joined the Rays in just the past few seasons and proceeded to have their best seasons.  None of them had the pitching pedigree of their latest acquisition fantasy baseball sleeper pitcher, Ryan Pepiot.

For the last two seasons, Pepiot has bounced between Triple-A and the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hasn't been sent down due to struggling at the major league level. Quite the opposite. In the last two seasons, he has pitched 78 major league innings with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with more than a strikeout per inning. He now finds himself in Tampa Bay where there are no longer questions at which level he is going to be pitching.

It's hard to see the Rays getting even more production out of Pepiot than what he did with the Dodgers. With an ADP of 208, he doesn't need to be better. In reality, if he takes even a slight step back but pitches over 130 innings, he'll more than return value.

Cristopher Sanchez, Philadelphia Phillies

When a pitcher substantially lowers their walk rate, raises their strikeout rate, and gets oodles of ground balls, it's someone to take notice of. Let's start with the groundballs to show how they set such a high floor for pitchers. If you set the innings threshold to 90 innings, four pitchers had a groundball percentage over 57%. Those four pitchers were San Francisco Giants Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, and New York Yankees Marcus Stroman, and Cristopher Sanchez. While Cobb and Stroman may not be appealing picks, did you realize that each of them had ERAs under 4 while pitching over 130 innings? That's valuable in 15-team leagues.

The real value in Sanchez comes from his strikeout potential. His changeup dramatically improved last season. The swinging strike on that pitch jumped over 10% from the year before to 23.1%! Throwing that pitch more helped him to become one of the truly elite pitchers in the game at getting chases out of the zone by batters. His strikeouts jumped to almost one per inning which makes his underlying statistics look a lot like Logan Webb who is valued as a top-20 starting pitcher.

Sanchez's ADP at this point is at 289. That's a reserve pick in a 12-team league and one of your last pitchers in a 15-team league. Starting pitchers with similar ADPs include Washington Nationals MacKenzie Gore and Texas Rangers Jon Gray. I'll take the upside of Sanchez that late.


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