Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Pitchers

by Josh Stevens
2023 Fantasy Baseball Year In Review: Pitchers

2023 was one of the most exciting years for baseball in recent memory. Record-breaking seasons and surprisingly dominant teams stole the headlines this year. This excitement carried over to the ever-growing world of fantasy baseball. Welcome to our 2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Pitchers.

Pitchers are completely different than any other position on the diamond, and this carries over into fantasy. While one bad game by a position player won’t necessarily hurt your team too badly, a bad start by a pitcher can derail an entire week, just like how a good start can win a week.

Just like every year, some pitchers turned in unexpectedly stellar years, while others failed to meet expectations.

Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Pitchers

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Overachievers

Blake Snell, San Diego Padres

Is Blake Snell a true ace?

The common answer before 2023 would have likely been no. Snell was dominant in 2018, going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, a WHIP under 1, and a league-leading 5.6 hits per nine. Snell was all set to become one of MLB’s premier arms.

Unfortunately, this just didn’t happen. That isn’t to say Snell was bad from 2019-2022, as his ERA+ was usually a touch above league average. However, Snell hadn’t stayed at the level he was at in his 2018 Cy Young year.

This is why Snell’s dominance in 2023 kind of came out of the blue. After hovering between a 3.3 and 3.5 ERA over the last few years, Snell posted a league-leading 2.25 ERA and 5.8 ERA.

However, Snell had one of the odder years in recent memory. Despite being the front-runner for the Cy Young Award, Snell allowed 99 walks, which also led the league.

This obviously didn’t hurt Snell too much, as managers can’t complain about a league-leading ERA and hits per nine innings. However, Snell must work on his walk total if he wants to stay a premier arm.

Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

Webb is just one of those guys who never stands out, but does just about everything right. While everyone else is enamored with high velocity as a priority, Webb relies on movement to get ground ball outs.

In 2023, Webb had a very solid ERA at 3.25 despite having a negative record. However, Webb’s calling card is his reliability and control.

Webb led the league with 216 innings pitched after hurling 192 the year before. During these 216 innings, Webb only walked 1.3 guys per nine innings, with 6.26 strikeouts per walk. Both led the league.

Although he doesn’t have the fastball of someone like Spencer Strider, Webb provided a 98th-percentile run value via baseball savant. Webb’s excellent control and reliability make him a quality fantasy option for years to come.

These incredible numbers propelled Webb, a late-round pick on draft day, into the top ten by the end of the season, and an ace in most fantasy rotations.

Underachievers

Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays

Has a pitcher ever had a one-year drop-off as big as Manoah’s?

2021 and 2022 were such promising years. In Manoah’s rookie year in 2021, he went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA, striking out 127 batters in 111 innings while only allowing 6.2 hits per nine innings.

Manoah built off of this great start the following year in 2022. He posted a 2.24 ERA over 196 innings and a 6.0 WAR, both third among AL pitchers. This propelled Manoah to a top-three Cy Young finish in just his second year in the MLB. Big things were on the horizon for the right-hander.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the wheels just fell off in 2023. It was a disaster from the jump, as Manoah went 3.1 innings, giving up nine hits and five runs on opening day.

While Manoah had a couple of solid starts in the first half of the season, it was usually more of the same, and he was even sent down to the minors after a 0.1 inning, six-run outing on June 5th.

While Manoah struggled a bit in the minors, he was eventually called back up, where he had a 4.98 ERA in 29 innings pitched. Not awful, but certainly not up to the standard he had set.

Manoah finished the year with a 3-9 record, 5.87 ERA, -1.1 WAR, 9.6 hits per nine innings, and only 1.36 strikeouts per walk. After being sent back down again, Manoah refused to report for the triple-A affiliate.

Overall, it was a tumultuous year for Manoah, and he will be looking to get back to his 2022 form next year.

Carlos Rodon, New York Yankees

When you sign a six-year, 160-million-dollar contract, expectations are through the roof. These expectations are magnetized when this contract is signed with the Yankees. Unfortunately, Rodon fell short of just about every expectation set for him.

Rodon had been very solid in 2021 and 2022, posting an ERA under three in both years en route to two top-six Cy Young finishes. This led Rodon to be one of, if not the top arm on the market in free agency.

The problems began immediately, as Rodon began the year on the 60-day IL, and didn’t make a start until July. However, if he could provide a steady hand down the stretch, Rodon still could have been very impactful for fantasy teams who “draft and stash.”

However, Rodon just never got it going in Pinstripes. It took him seven starts to make it through six innings, which is unacceptable for someone who is paid (and drafted) like an ace.

While Rodons' 5.5 July ERA was nothing to write home about, some outings gave fantasy managers hope. However, after an August with an ERA above six, it was clear that it was a lost year for him.

This tumultuous 2023 was capped off with an ERA above eight in September, highlighted by Rodon’s final start, where he failed to record an out.

Why was Rodon so ineffective? Baseball savant tells us that he just routinely gave up hard contact. Rodon was in the second percentile for average exit velocity allowed, and the first percentile for barrel percentage allowed.

When a pitcher is giving up hard contact as often as Rodon did, their only saving grace is if this contact resulted in ground balls. Unfortunately for Rodon, he had a second-percentile ground ball rate. As a result, most of these hard-hit balls were hit in the air, where they became extra-base hits.

Prospects to Watch

Andrew Painter, Philadelphia Phillies

At just 19, Painter became the top pitching prospect in baseball after 2022, after making his way into AA in his first full years in the minors. While pitchers straight out of high school usually need more time to develop, it was clear that this was not the case with Painter.

Painter was absolutely dominant in 2022, as he ascended from Low A ball into AA. In these three leagues, Painter posted a combined 1.56 ERA, going 103 innings with 155 strikeouts to only 25 walks. Even as he made his way to AA as a 19-year-old, Painter still kept his ERA to around 2.5, with only two walks in 28 innings.

The strikeout-to-walk ratio is what is most impressive. Young pitchers usually take one of two routes. Either they have excellent control, or they throw hard with plus offspeed offerings.

Painter is one of the rare prospects who has both. The 6”7 righty sits around 95-96 and can run it up to 98. He also offers multiple above-average offspeed pitches and can control all of them.

After 2022, Painter was on track to ascend even further in 2023. However, a sprained UCL kept him out of action this year. Look for Painter to continue his dominant ways in 2024, and may even join the Phillies late in the year.

Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

Skenes was one of the best college pitching prospects in recent memory, and maybe even the best this century (although Stephen Strausburg probably has something to say about that).

This hype was well warranted, as Skenes was absolutely dominant for LSU, leading them to a national championship in 2023.

Per mlb.com, “He won Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year honors, led NCAA Division I in strikeouts (209, breaking Ben McDonald's school and SEC record), strikeouts per nine innings (15.3) and WHIP (0.75) and ranked second in wins (12), ERA (1.69) and opponents' average (.165). All of that led to him being taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates, who set a Draft record by giving him a $9.2 million bonus.”

The 20-80 scale is notorious for being slow to hand out 70 and 80 grades, but Skenes has two of them already. His triple-digit fastball earns him the maximum grade of 80, while his wipeout slider sits just below at 70.

Skenes showed it all at LSU, including his ability to work deep into games. Skenes would routinely go into the 7th inning or later, surpassing 100 pitches with regularity.

Assuming he doesn’t lose these skills (Space Jam style), there isn’t much for Skenes to show in the minors that he hasn’t already shown. Look for Paul Skenes to make an impact in 2024.

 

That's a wrap for our Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Pitchers. Who else did better or worse than expected? Let us know!

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