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Crossed Up: ‘My Guys’ for 2024 — Pitchers

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After discussing “My Guys” on the hitter side last week, we’ll be climbing the mound for the pitcher version in this week’s Crossed Up here on FTN Fantasy. I’ve found myself targeting the below pitchers heavily this season due to being undervalued, possessing a high ROI possibility, or both. Usually both. These names are at various price points throughout drafts, and I even threw in my favorite relief pitcher target this season as well.

 

All ADP references below is from NFBC Draft Champions drafts since Feb. 1.

‘My Guys’ for 2024 Fantasy Baseball: Pitchers

Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

ADP: 49.8

This ADP might seem a smidge high given the shorter track record of elite performance, but I’m 100% fine using a top-50 pick on Tarik Skubal and making him the ace of my fantasy teams this season. After not debuting until July, Skubal did his best to make up for lost time by posting a stellar 2.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 4.5% walk rate and a 32.9% strikeout rate. The only other six pitchers in the 21st century to post an ERA under 3.00, WHIP under 1.00, walk rate below 5%, and a strikeout rate above 32% in a season with at least 80 innings pitched are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander (2x), Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw and Pedro Martinez.

But wait, there’s more!

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Skubal looks absolutely dominant so far this spring with improved velocity. In his third spring outing on Monday, Skubal averaged 97.4 mph on his 4-seamer while finishing with six strikeouts and a 64% whiff rate in three scoreless innings. Skubal’s ability to miss bats at an elite clip, combined with his low walk rate, and 51.8% groundball rate checks off many boxes I look for in my fantasy ace. Draft with confidence and enjoy the ride.

One of Grayson Rodriguez (BAL), Bobby Miller (LAD) or Eury Pérez (MIA)

ADPs: 66.5 (Rodriguez), 71.8 (Miller), 78.0 (Pérez)

Even without Kyle Bradish and Kodai Senga, the SP2 landscape is still filled with exciting arms with three in particular possesses an extra level of intrigue. Why? Well, the trio of Grayson Rodriguez, Bobby Miller and Eury Pérez all have the talent and upside to finish the 2024 season as top-10 fantasy pitchers and cement themselves as fantasy aces for years to come. 

  • Grayson Rodriguez: After early-season struggles which caused a late-May demotion to Triple-A, Rodriguez finished the season strong with a 2.26 ERA, 1.05 ERA and 17.5% K-BB rate over his final 12 starts. This is also the guy that had a 35.9% strikeout rate and 27.1% K-BB rate in 333.1 minor league innings. All three of Rodriguez’s secondary offerings had a .201 BAA or lower with a whiff rate above 28%. He’s also been working on his fastball shape and command this spring. 
  • Bobby Miller: If you watch Miller pitch for longer than 3.5 seconds, it’s easy to see ace levels in his future. Miller features a 4-seamer that averaged 99.1 mph along with a sinker, curveball, slider, and changeup, with the latter three all having a whiff rate about 29%. With elite stuff along with the ability to limit walks and hard contact, the sky is the limit for Miller this season with a realistic chance of cutting his ADP in half for next season.
  • Eury Pérez: While I’m a bit surprised Pérez has the lowest ADP of the three, I’ll take the one-round discount all day in drafts. In 2023, there were only two pitchers with a whiff rate above 45% on three different offerings. Pérez was one of them, and the other is the reigning National League Cy Young award winner, Blake Snell. You have to go back to Dwight Gooden to find a better rookie season by a 19-year-old pitcher. If the Marlins let Pérez go 150-plus innings in 2024, the upside is a top-five pitcher for fantasy.

Michael King, San Diego Padres

ADP: 137.4

There seems to be a pretty split camp on Michael King right now. It’s not hard to see why with King transitioning to the rotation late last season and dominating in the process. Can he stick as a starter? Were his late-season heroics fluky? My personal answers to those questions are yes and no, respectively. 

In King’s final seven starts of the season, he recorded an impressive 2.02 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 5% walk rate and a 31.9% strikeout rate. Even the King skeptics would likely say their skepticism is mostly centered around King’s ability to handle a starter’s workload and not about the talent level. King possesses a starters arsenal with four pitches he used at least 14.5% of the time last season. When he moved into the rotation, King used his sinker more and sweeper less, but that’s to be expected with a role shift like this.

Given how King ended the season along with his ability to miss bats, limit walks, and limit hard contact in the air, I’m more than willing to use a top-140 pick on him this draft season. If he can get over 150 innings, we’re likely looking at a top-25 starter and top-100 overall pick next spring.

Gavin Williams, Cleveland Guardians

ADP: 165.5

I’m downright shocked that Gavin Williams’ ADP is still outside of the top 150 overall as we enter the final few weeks of draft season. I’m a Tanner Bibee fan as well, but I’d much rather draft Williams a few rounds later and secure the additional upside.

Williams pitched very well in his 16 starts with Cleveland last season, finishing with a 3.29 ERA in 82 innings. You might look at the 23.5% strikeout rate and 12.8% K-BB rate and wonder what additional upside I was referencing last paragraph, but we’re talking about a pitcher who posted a 33.5% strikeout rate and 24.2% K-BB rate in 175.1 innings. Both of Williams’ breaking balls can miss bats consistently and did so in 2023 with a 31.8% (slider) and 35.2% (curveball) whiff rate while also having a BAA under .200 and wOBA under .300. There’s additional upside for those whiff rates to approach or exceed 40% as well.

Ultimately, I believe we’re looking at a Top 20 starter as early as this season that is capable of posting a low-3s ERA and a strikeout rate approaching 30%. I’ll take that all damn day in the ADP 160-170 range.

Taj Bradley, Tampa Bay Rays

ADP: 245.8

Something I learned a long time ago is that surface stats don’t always paint the full picture. If you looked at Taj Bradley’s 5.59 ERA across 104.2 innings last season, you’d probably wonder why I’m targeting him so heavily in drafts this season. Well, when we look at the underlying metrics, Bradley pitched much better than that 5.59 ERA would indicate.

To start, Bradley’s ERA indicators were all much lower, highlighted by a 4.55 xERA and 3.83 xFIP. You can partially thank a slightly elevated BABIP and HR/FB rate for that. And for rookies with at least 40 innings pitched in 2023, Bradley ranked second in K-BB rate, ahead of Rodriguez and Miller, and only trailing Perez.

The main issue for Bradley last season was his inability to limit hard contact. He was able post a 28% strikeout rate and a league-average walk rate, but Bradley also allowed a 10.7% barrel rate, 91.2 mph AVG EV, and 46.4% hard-hit rate. All three of those QoC metrics were in the bottom 11% of pitchers last season. If he’s able to limit hard contact better in 2024, we could see a nice breakout from Bradley.

Hunter Brown is another great value pick that fits this mold too.

Kutter Crawford, Boston Red Sox

ADP: 255.8

In 2023, only five pitchers with at least 120 innings recorded a sub-3.50 xERA, sub-7% walk rate and a strikeout rate north of 25%. Four of those were Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Pablo López and Zach Eflin. Three of those are being drafted as aces, while Eflin is also a top-100 pick. And then you have the fifth member of this club, Kutter Crawford, who is going outside the top 250 picks on average. 

Fast forward to this spring and Crawford looks just as good as last season or even better. His fastball velocity is up from last season, even hitting 97 in his last spring outing, and Crawford has allowed only one run in five innings with five strikeouts through two spring outings. 

I’m not expecting a massive breakout from Crawford, but he could certainly finish as a top-50 SP and isn’t being drafted as such so far in 2024 drafts. Let’s split the difference between his ERA and xERA from last season. You’d have an ERA around 3.65 with an above-average strikeout rate. There’s a lot of legitimacy in what Crawford did last season as a starter and I’m buying this draft season.

Tanner Scott, Miami Marlins

Let’s fittingly close out this article with my favorite closer target this year, Tanner Scott. While his ADP has risen a bit throughout draft season, I’ve still been targeting him in as many drafts as I can as the profile is mighty fine. 

In 74 appearances with the Marlins last season, Scott posted a 2.31 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7.8% walk rate and a 33.9% strikeout rate. On top of that, he ranked in the top 10% of pitchers in xERA, xBA, AVG EV, barrel%, hard-hit%, chase%, whiff% and K%. Hopefully you’re not part bull and get triggered easily by the color red. If you do, don’t open up Scott’s Baseball Savant page.

Scott dominates with a 96.8 mph fastball and near 90 mph slider, both of which he can miss bats with. Scott posted a .215 BAA, .298 SLG and 31.1% whiff rate on his four-seamer last season and a .173 BAA, .237 xSLG, and 40.3% whiff rate on the slider. If you don’t want to invest in one of the elite relievers, targeting Scott could net you a potential Top-5 fantasy reliever without the same price tag. 

Note: Mason Miller would have made this article if he was going to be the closer for Oakland to open the season. Keep an eye on his role over the next month.

Other Pitchers I’m Targeting Often This Season

Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals
Jordan Montgomery, Free Agent
Hunter Brown, Houston Astros
Bryce Miller, Seattle Mariners
Emmet Sheehan, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryan Pepiot, Tampa Bay Rays
Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds
AJ Smith-Shawver, Atlanta Braves
Michael Wacha, Kansas City Royals
A.J. Puk, Miami Marlins

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