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Fantasy Baseball: Value Gainers From a Delayed Season

I did not want to write this article; I REALLY did not want to write this article. Yet, we are headed toward the end of February still during a lockout. The inability for the owners to be able to come up with a suitable compromise to negotiations likely means we are headed toward a delayed season. The second one in three years. As fantasy managers, we are forced to factor a shortened season into our projections. A shortened season is going to impact everybody from prospects to big leaguers. The biggest impact will be on starting pitchers. This article looks at five pitchers set to gain value from a shortened season and how fantasy managers need to adjust accordingly.

Things look bleak now but there will be baseball in 2022! Why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

Pitchers to Benefit from a Delayed Season

Carlos Rodon

Rodon came out of nowhere and had a career year in 2021. The former first-round pick threw the most innings he has thrown since 2016. Everything finally seemed to click for Rodon as he posted a 4.9 WAR with a career-high in strikeouts. Virtually off any fantasy manager’s radar last season, Rodon rewarded those who took a late-round flier on him becoming an ace for fantasy teams. Although the results have been spotty, the primary issue with Rodon throughout his career has been health. Even last season despite throwing 130 innings it seemed like Rodon wore down during the second half. After throwing 89.2 innings during the first half, Rodon was only able to throw 43 during the second half. This is no doubt that before the lockout there was uncertainty as to what kind of contract Rodon would receive during free agency.

Not only has his inconsistent past led to concerns from real-life GMs, but it also seems to be taking a toll on his draft position in fantasy. According to NFBC ADP data from January forward, Rodon is being selected as the 35th pitcher off the board. After the season Rodon had during 2021 there is no reason his value should be this low. The likelihood of a shortened season should further elevate his value. The table below shows where Rodon ranked amongst pitchers who threw at least 130 innings last season.

CategoryK/9K/BB RatioERAxERAFIPWhiff %xwOBA
MLB Rank8th8th1st3rd4th5th3rd

When trying to decide on a list of pitchers to write this article about I looked at well-known projection systems. I formulated a list showing a pitcher’s projected WAR/IP. This would put a reduction on the value of innings pitched and focus primarily on the productivity of the innings they do throw. According to The Bat projection system, Rodon would rank third in all of baseball. The only pitchers Rodon would rank behind are Corbin Burnes and Jacob deGrom. Right ahead of Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole. A pretty great list to be a part of.

There is no reason that you should project Rodon to throw more than 150 innings. I understand the durability concerns and agree with not taking him inside of the top 15 pitchers in a normal season. However, I believe Rodon could provide huge surplus to your team in a 162-game season going as SP35. Factor in the season likely being delayed and his surplus becomes even larger. Rodon has a chance to be a top 10 pitcher in terms of quality. A shortened season reduces the need for quantity and makes Rodon a steal in fantasy drafts. All managers need to be moving him up their board the longer this lockout lasts.

Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw is one of the best pitchers this generation of baseball fans have had the chance to see. Perhaps what has been his greatest accomplishment has been his ability to reinvent himself as he has aged. As a pitcher gets older, they tend to lose their velocity and struggle to maintain success. Control has never been Kershaw’s issue, even from 2018-2020 when he seemed to struggle a little bit. Without the velocity it was easier for hitters to square Kershaw up. Since 2019, Kershaw has dropped his fastball percentage by 7.2%. His already-dominant slider got even better in 2021. During the 2021 season, Kershaw posted his highest K/9 rate since 2015. In addition, he posted a career-high in whiff %.

In addition to posting great on paper stats, the sabermetrics backed up 2021. Kershaw ranked in the 85th percentile in both xERA and xwOBA. A 94th percentile whiff rate and a 90th percentile chase rate show that Kershaw is still one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Is it possible that we as a fantasy baseball community are making too big of a fuss about his age? Kershaw is going as SP53 in fantasy drafts right now. A pitcher as dominant as him should not be going anywhere near that late. Even in a 162-game season, the upside with Kershaw is still somebody who should be going inside of the top 30 pitchers.

Kershaw’s age and durability are some concerns that could be alleviated with a shortened season. Not being required to stay healthy for 162 games means that there will be limited restrictions on his innings. Kershaw’s talent and ability is still at an elite level, even if it looks a little bit different than it used to. Fantasy managers need to recognize this and move him up their boards with the increased likelihood of a season delay. According to The Bat projection system Kershaw projects to have the 6th highest WAR/IP amongst all pitchers. Durability is less of a concern in a shortened season which is why Kershaw needs to be valued more than he is being.

Noah Syndergaard

Does everybody remember Noah Syndergaard, Thor, or the guy on the Mets, well now the Angels? That player is Noah Syndergaard who has not really pitched since 2019. Before the lockout, he signed a one years $21 million dollar deal with the Angels. He came back at the very end of 2021 and threw 2 innings for the Mets. All signs point to Syndergaard being completely healthy and ready to go in 2022. Although it has been a few years, it is important for people to not forget how dominant he was when healthy. From 2015-2019 Syndergaard posted a 3.31 ERA with a 2.92 FIP. Still only 29 years old, Syndergaard could be a huge value to your fantasy team if he can stay healthy.

That is exactly where the shortened season comes into play. With the arm injuries of Syndergaard’s past projecting a full 162 game season is always difficult. An abbreviated season would be perfect for him. Instead of asking him to build up to 180 innings, the Angels can try and aim for 140. An innings restriction would cap Syndergaard’s value. A shortened season levels the playing field. It is unlikely anybody will be throwing 180 innings, and this gives Thor a chance to throw as many innings as the other top pitchers.

In terms of starting pitchers, ZIPs projection system ranks Syndergaard 19th in terms of WAR/IP. Syndergaard is currently going as the 61st starting pitcher off the board. Even in a 162-game season I think he is a phenomenal value that late. Shortening the season and reducing concerns over his durability only further emphasizes that sentiment. The talent is not a question, durability is. Syndergaard stands to benefit from the lockout and fantasy managers who take him likely will too.

Shane Baz

The first three players in this article all have durability concerns. This is not the case with Baz. In case you missed it, Baz came up at the end of 2021 and fired 13.1 innings, posting a 12.15 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, and a 2.03 ERA. His fastball would have ranked in the 85th percentile in spin rate and the 95th percentile in average velocity. He has a curveball that generated a whiff percentage of 50% and would rank him in the 83rd percentile for spin on his curveball. In case you missed my previous article, these rankings would satisfy the criteria for being an elite pitcher. We can assume that based purely on his stuff Baz should have a significantly lower ERA than the league average. Obviously a very small sample size, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Baz is projected to be one of the best rookies in baseball next year. The biggest concern is how often the Rays are going to let him pitch. Like all young pitchers, the Rays will likely want to protect their young arm with an innings restriction. However, the Rays’ plans for Baz will likely shift if the season is shortened. The Rays are in a pennant chase in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Every single game matter and becomes especially important with less games. With Tyler Glasnow likely to miss most of 2022, Baz very well could be the Rays best pitcher. Not only would a shortened season mean that the Rays do not have to worry about Baz’s innings, but it also means that they want their best pitcher on the mound as often as possible.

Baz is a pitcher that could have instant success. His value should be high in both dynasty and redraft leagues. He is currently going as SP39 in fantasy drafts. My biggest concern with Baz headed into draft season for 2022 was never talent, but how much the Rays would let him pitch. The impending announcement of a shortened season removes any concerns I have for Baz and could easily see him finishing as a top 25 pitcher in fantasy. It is imperative that fantasy managers consider the impact a shortened season would have on Baz’s fantasy value.

Freddy Peralta

Peralta Percentile Rankings

The image above from Baseball Savant shows we are talking about one of the best pitchers in baseball. Peralta burst onto the season in 2021. His path to success is like that of teammate Corbin Burnes one year earlier. After Burnes breakout season, the fantasy community was not fully convinced that he was for real. He was drafted as SP18 on average, but he managed to get even better. Burnes is now a consensus first-round pick and some including myself even have him ranked as the number one pitcher in fantasy. The same exact thing is happening to Peralta in 2022. According to NFBC data, Peralta is currently going as SP16.  There is real skepticism over whether Peralta will be able to sustain his success. I see no reason as to why Peralta will not continue to be one of the best pitchers in baseball for 2022.

During 2021, Peralta had his innings restricted by the Brewers. He threw only 46 innings during the second half of last season. There is no doubt this is resulting in a lower ADP for 2022. Even with this, Peralta still threw 144 innings last season. This is 115 innings more than he threw in 2020. People are seeming to ignore that the Brewers also capped Corbin Burnes’ innings during 2021. He only threw 108 more than he threw in 2020. For the 2022 season, Peralta is going to be another year older. A year removed from throwing 144 innings. That is not to say the Brewers will not look to save their young arm, but I imagine they will let him throw at least 160 innings.

160 innings is the key number. The 2022 season is going to likely be shortened. With this, there is a good chance Peralta does not face any innings restrictions at all. This should instantly move him up several spots in ADP. I am not saying that Peralta is going to be as good as Burnes has turned out. Their paths to success are very similar and I believe that the Peralta we saw last season is the real deal. Drafting Peralta at his current ADP is an excellent value. The shortened season directly impacts Freddy Peralta. He has a strong chance to be a top 10 pitcher without inning restrictions and needs to be drafted as such.

Honorable Mentions

Some other names that fantasy managers should likely boost in their rankings because of a shortened season are:

  • Luis Severino
  • Jacob deGrom (yes, boost him even higher)
  • Chris Sale
  • Nick Lodolo
  • Logan Gilbert
  • Joe Ryan
  • Mike Clevinger
For more great analysis and rankings, make sure to check out the 2022 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!
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