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2024 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Busts

Sometimes a successful fantasy baseball draft isn’t just about knowing who to target, but recognizing the players to avoid. In this case, we’re talking about starting pitcher busts.

We expect and depend on, a lot of production out of our first few draft selections. It’s often said you can’t win a fantasy baseball league in the first half-dozen rounds, but you can most certainly lose it. With that in mind, we here at Fantrax find it super important to provide a list of players at every position who we feel are unlikely to offer value relative to where they’re being drafted. Players who, for a variety of reasons, carry significant potential for bottoming out and/or leaving big holes in your roster. Or to put it simply: a bust list.

Below are the three starting pitchers on my bust list. They’re all from the early rounds of the draft because expectations are so high there and managers can’t afford to get too many of those picks wrong. The ADPs are based on NFBC’s last 30 days. Have a look.

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Starting Pitcher Busts for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Dodgers – APD 42

2023: 21 GS, 10-7, 120 IP, 162 K, 3.53ERA, 1.08 WHIP

OK, I’d like to state the obvious first: Tyler Glasnow is really good. How good? Like one-of-the-best-pitchers-in-baseball-on-a-per-inning-basis-over-the-last-few-years good. Since 2019, he’s sporting a 3.03 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and a spectacular 12.5 K/9 rate. The underlying stats more than back it up, too. His 2.89 FIP and 2.77 xFIP during that stretch even say he was a little cheated. And Statcast is very kind to him. It says he throws really hard (88th percentile average fastball velocity in 2023), misses a ton of bats (his 35.3% whiff rate was ranked in the 96th percentile, while his 33.4% K rate was ranked 97th), and is excellent at keeping balls in play on the ground (ground ball rate ranks in the 84th percentile). Talent-wise, he belongs in the top tier of starting pitchers.

So why is he on a bust list? Simply, because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Forearm issues confined him to just 12 starts in 2019. Tommy John surgery wiped out half of 2021 and all of 2022. An oblique injury kept him on the shelf for the first two months of last season. And even as recently as August, he was forced to miss two weeks with back spasms. We all know pitchers carry higher inherent injury risk, but this is excessive even by those standards. Plus, the veteran righty is now 30 years old and will turn 31 later in the season. That’s not usually when injury-prone players turn things around.

With Glasnow’s ADP placing him in the fourth round of 12-team drafts, that’s just too much risk for me. Even with the additional upside of the Dodgers offense backing him up. I’d rather have the high floor of someone like Pablo Lopez. He’s going in the same round, has back-to-back 32-start seasons, and has just as much red in his Statcast page.

Aaron Nola, SP, Phillies – ADP 53

2023: 32 GS, 12-9, 193 IP, 202 K, 4.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Quite the opposite of Tyler Glasnow, Aaron Nola is an amazingly consistent innings eater. For six seasons in a row, the 30-year-old has given fantasy managers a full complement of starts. And, until recently, he was providing a nice ERA to match. Even as late as 2022 the righty had one of his best fantasy seasons. He set career-high marks in strikeouts (235), WHIP (0.96), and BB/9 (1.27) while maintaining a 3.25 ERA. Two out of the last three years, though, not so much. 2021 saw the righty’s ERA balloon to 4.63. Last season, it was an equally disappointing 4.46. Those are some pretty bad outcomes for a high-floor pitcher.

Despite metrics that say he deserved better (3.35 xERA in 2021 and 3.77 xERA in 2023), results are still results. The truth is, Nola was one of the bigger starting pitcher busts of last season for managers in standard categories leagues. Out of his 32 starts, almost half (15) resulted in four earned runs or more. That’s the kind of thing that derails ratios in weekly matchups. The high-inning totals end up being a detriment if they’re not effective innings.

But that’s not reflected in the veteran’s ADP. He’s going in the fifth round of standard 12-team drafts. Personally, that’s when I’m starting to take on a little more risk if it comes with a first-round upside. Tarik Skubal’s ADP is one spot behind Nola. Though he comes with injury risk, he literally had the best xERA of any starting pitcher last year over his 80 innings. Or, if you’re still looking to keep things safe, how about Framber Valdez (ADP in the same round)? Though his K/9 over the last three seasons isn’t as impressive as Nola’s (8.75 vs. Nola’s 10.25), he has a much better ERA (3.13 vs. 4.09), HR/9 (0.71 vs. 1.2), more wins (40 vs. 32), and only yielded four or more runs seven times in 31 starts last season. Bottom line: whether you’re after high floor or high upside, there are better options at that price.

Blake Snell, SP, Free Agent, ADP 64

2023: 32 GS, 14-9, 180 IP, 234 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

It’s not often a two-time, reigning Cy Young Award winner who is currently healthy will fall to the 7th round of 12-team drafts. But Blake Snell isn’t your typical Cy Young winner. Despite the great overall numbers in 2023 (2.25 ERA/234 strikeouts in 180 innings), the southpaw’s walk rate of 13.3% was last among starting pitchers. It led to a very ugly 4.95 BB/9 rate. That’s probably why his expected stats (3.77 xERA, 3.62 xFIP) didn’t come close to the results. And why his WHIP (1.19) was very inflated compared to other award winners.

This was also just the second time the 31-year-old compiled at least 180 innings. Part of that is the result of inefficiency (career 4.09 BB/9), but mostly it’s the result of an extensive injury history. Groin pulls, arthroscopic elbow surgery, illnesses, and a broken bone have led to just under 25 starts on average in the years between his awards (from 2019 to 2022, excluding 2020).

Complicating things further, the eight-year veteran is still without a team. It’s not time to panic yet that free agency will cut into his season, but the uncertainty of home ballpark is a consideration. As of now, the Blue Jays are rumored to be most interested in Snell’s services. Even though their stadium, the Rogers Center, grades out even according to Park Factors, it’s still a big step down from his home the last three seasons. Petco Park is the 2nd best pitcher’s park by the same metric. There’s only one way to go from there.

That’s a lot of concerns for a player coming off a great season. Is that baked into his ADP already? Maybe. But rostering Snell can be a big headache. There’s a high variance from start to start and season to season. Last year everything went right. This year is anyone’s guess. That’s why he makes the bust list. I’d rather take a shot on Tarik Skubal’s upside a round earlier, or go with the much higher floor of Logan Webb in the same round.

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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