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5 Must-Have Pitchers for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

The following five players are my must-have pitchers for 2024. I am willing to reach for them ahead of their ADP for various reasons detailed below. I have divided the group into Early-, Mid-, and Late-round targets.

It was difficult to only choose five pitchers here, especially for the middle rounds. They are full of great value options and there are so many I like. Here are a few of my favorite must-have SPs.

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5 Must-Have Pitchers for 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Early-Round Pitchers

Kevin Gausman – TOR SP

I am higher than consensus on Gausman, who I rank as my SP3. He has been so consistent the last three seasons, and his floor is a reason he should be a major target early.

Gausman has averaged 10.8 K/9 since 2019. That comes in at 10th best among pitchers with at least 400 IP during that span. Gausman also has the second-most innings pitched out of that group. And last season, he struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings, third best among qualified starters.

For those that prefer to use K% as a measure of strikeout success, Gausman had a 31% K rate last season. That was third behind Spencer Strider and Blake Snell. But Gausman’s K-BB% was second only to Strider. And since 2021, only Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole have better K-BB rates.

Gausman has been a model of consistency in other ways as well. His fastball velocity has essentially stayed the same over the last three seasons. His LOB%, GB%, and BABIP from last season nearly matched his career averages. Those factors legitimize his 3.16 ERA from last season, seventh among qualified starters. His 3.22 xFIP and 3.34 SIERA were both fourth.

Gausman also consistently limits home runs and walks. He has been top-15 in HR/9 each of the last three seasons. He has also been top 25 in BB/9 each of the last three seasons, including fourth best in 2022. Much of his success comes from a top-notch splitter.


Gausman presents much less risk and much more consistency than some of the other pitchers going early. And he seems to have a more narrow range of outcomes. This makes him a must-have early round pitcher.

Mid-Round Pitchers

Kodai Senga – NYM SP

Senga finished last season with 166 IP and a 2.98 ERA. He had a 3.77 xFIP and a 4.00 SIERA, and his projections for this season reflect those numbers more than what he actually produced.

Part of the issue with the inflated xFIP and SIERA, and this year’s projections, is a high walk rate. He had a 4.1 BB/9 rate last season and projects between a 3.8-4.2 BB/9 rate this season. That is a risk, but he could easily improve this. Senga induced a 27% chase rate last season, which was below league average. One big issue could be his forkball, which he consistently threw low, out of the zone. Getting more batters to bite on that, rather than spit on it, could make a huge difference.

What should not change in 2024 is his ability to induce strikeouts. He had a 10.9 K/9 rate last season, fifth among qualified starters. Senga also had a top 15 GB rate, and a HR/9 rate better than league average.

Much of Senga’s strikeout success comes from his nearly untouchable forkball. That pitch had a .110 BAA, a 59% whiff rate, and a 28% putaway rate. He is one of four pitchers who threw a pitch in at least 150 PAs and had at least a 50% whiff rate on it.

Senga’s ability to induce swings and misses and put batters away also helps him when behind in the count:

This is a must-have pitcher in the middle rounds. He is absolutely worth reaching for.

Jesus Luzardo – MIA SP

Take a look at the following blind resume.

2023 Player A: 178 IP, 10.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, .311 BABIP, 75% LOB, 40% GB, 3.58 ERA, 3.72 xFIP, 3.69 SIERA

2023 Player B: 194 IP, 10.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, .313 BABIP, 76% LOB, 45% GB, 3.66 ERA, 3.28 xFIP, 3.37 SIERA

These players are extremely similar in a number of ways. Both strike out 10 batters per nine innings, though they used different pitches to get there. Both had similar walk, LOB, and GB rates last season. Their ERAs are within eight points of each other.

What surprises me is that Player A is SP24 with an ADP of 88, while Player B is SP6 with a 42 ADP. Even more surprising is that their projections are not far off from each other either.

Player A is Jesus Luzardo, and Player B is Pablo Lopez. Why can’t Luzardo be Lopez? They were nearly identical players last season and could be this year.

Of course, fantasy managers factor in the injury risk with Luzardo, who put together his first season of more than 100 IP last year. If he can stay healthy again, he could certainly add 10-20 innings to his 2023 total.

Luzardo possesses an excellent arsenal as well. His fastball had a .230 batting average against last season. Like Senga, Luzardo is also one of four pitchers who threw a pitch in at least 150 PAs and had at least a 50% whiff rate on it. Luzardo’s slider had a 51% whiff rate and a 30% putaway rate. Only Spencer Strider’s slider ranked better in both categories.

Luzardo also has a nasty changeup to get righty batters out. It had a .248 BAA, a 36% whiff rate, and an 18% putaway rate last season. If he can improve those totals to what he did in 2024 – .190/44%/25% – he could be a top-15 pitcher at least.

I am fully in on Luzardo for 2024. He is a must-have mid-round pitcher for me this season.

Merrill Kelly – ARI SP

The case against Merrill Kelly is that he is old (35) and that his 2023 results were out of character. Outside of 2020, last season was his second professional season with a K/9 rate of at least nine. He also outpitched his xFIP and SIERA, finishing with a 3.29 ERA.

What those metrics did not take into account was that Kelly adjusted his pitch mix. And his projections take into account his age, but not his “mileage.” He has 1,480 IP including his time in Korea. For reference, Gerrit Cole is two years younger and has nearly 400 more IP.

While it is true that last season was somewhat out of character, it came with adjustments that led to improvements. His 9.4 K/9 was the best of his career. His K% also hit a career-high 25.9%. Those increases could be due to changes to his pitch mix.

Kelly tossed more changeups, curveballs, and sliders. He threw cutters and sinkers at a lower rate. This likely is because his changeup and slider were nearly unhittable. They had 32% and 41% whiff rates respectively. Four of his six pitches had a 20% putaway rate or better.

His HR/9, LOB%, GB%, and HR/FB% were all in line with his career norms, so I buy the ’23 ERA. I even think he can do it again.

Kelly is not an aging pitcher in decline. His fastball velocity barely changed from 2022-2023. Last season, his fastball velo averaged 92.3 MPH, higher than in 2019-2021.

Kelly is hugely undervalued in 2024 drafts and is a must-have pitcher in the middle rounds.

Late-Round Pitchers

MacKenzie Gore – WAS SP

Despite finishing with an unflattering 4.42 ERA, MacKenzie Gore flashed great potential. He had a much more palatable 4.11 xFIP and a 4.21 SIERA. Those land close to his projections from ZiPS, Steamer, and ATC. However, only Steamer projects Gore for an increase of more than 10 innings after tossing 136 IP in 2023.

Part of the reason for an inflated ERA last season was some bad home run luck. He had an 18% HR/FB rate, and his HR/9 was half a home run worse per nine innings than league average.

Some positive trends for Gore include improvements to his K/9, BB/9, LOB%, and GB% from his debut to last season. Yet, nearly all of his projections factor in major regression, some to even worse numbers than his 2022 totals.

Gore has some insane numbers on his pitches. He throws four – a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. His fastball was his only pitch with a whiff rate under 37%, and a putaway rate under 21%. That arsenal explains his 29% chase rate, which was above league average.

If Gore can continue to improve his command, allow fewer walks, and have some better home run luck, he could be one of the most undervalued pitchers this season.

Gore is a must-have late-round target.

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