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2022 Starting Pitcher Sleepers

Another year, another set of starting pitcher sleepers. Major League Baseball might be in the middle of a lockout, but that doesn’t mean your fantasy baseball prep has to be. They can’t lock us out of drafting! While nailing your early-round selections is always important to fantasy success, identifying, targeting, and cashing in on mid to late-round sleepers is nearly as crucial. One of the goals in a fantasy draft is to find value in each pick in some way, and that’s especially true as you submerge deeper into the draft. Today, I’m going to discuss some pitchers going after pick 200 on average that I believe can provide solid value for you this season.

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2022 Starting Pitcher Sleepers

Jordan Montgomery, NYY

Fantrax ADP: 200.5 | NFBC ADP: 224.6

It feels dirty for me as a Red Sox fan to begin with a Yankees arm, but I’m all in on Jordan Montgomery in 2o22. Montgomery had a solid showing in 2021, posting a 3.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 24.5% K rate across 30 starts, but there are some underlying metrics that have me targeting him in drafts with hopes of an even better 2022 performance. To start, Montgomery’s two most used offerings — his changeup and curveball — both had a whiff rate around 40% in 2021 with a BAA under .200 and SLG under .305. These are two offerings he combined to throw 48.2% of the time in 2022 and helped him post the 8th best SwStr rate in baseball for pitchers with 150+ innings at 13.7%, right behind Gerrit Cole and Dylan Cease.

And as Ryan Bloomfield pointed out, Montgomery was also one of only 10 pitchers in 2021 with two pitches recording a SwStr rate above 20%

On top of that, JoMo’s 16.8 K-BB% ranked 27th in baseball, right behind Sandy Alcantara and Max Fried. Obviously, I’m not saying that he’s going to be just as good as that duo, but Montgomery certainly has the ability to vastly outperform his current ADP which sits outside the top-200 overall on both Fantrax and NFBC. Montgomery also posted above league average marks in zone swing%, zone contact%, chase%, and whiff% while finishing in the top-third of pitchers in AVG EV and hard-hit rate. There’s a lot to like in Montgomery’s profile, making him a great target after pick 200 in your drafts.

Aaron Ashby, MIL

Fantrax ADP: 229.3 | NFBC ADP: 269.0

Aaron Ashby is becoming a popular breakout pick in 2022, and for good reason. In fact, I’ll give you three good reasons. Reason #1: Corbin Burnes. Reason #2: Brandon Woodruff. And reason #3: Freddy Peralta. You could even take it a step further and list Josh Hader and others, but you get the gist. Now, I’m not saying that Aaron Ashby is going to become yet ANOTHER fantasy ace like those three, but his stuff paired with the recent success of Milwaukee’s pitcher development is a beautiful combination for fantasy purposes.

In 2021, Ashby mainly relied on a trio of offerings in his sinker, slider, and changeup while sporadically sprinkling in his curveball and four-seamer. That slider was one of the best in baseball last season with a .077 BAA, .154 SLG, .148 wOBA, and 42.4% whiff rate with expected metrics just as stellar. Ashby’s changeup was also an effective offering with a .167 BAA and 34.6% whiff rate. And while he allowed a .333 BAA on his sinker, that came with only a .118 ISO and helped him post a groundball rate north of 60% overall. Ashby had a tendency to leave his sinker over the heart of the plate too frequently, which could stand to improve in 2022. A more effective sinker could unlock new levels for Ashby as he transitions into the Brewers’ rotation in 2022.

Overall, it’s best not to go overboard with Ashby as his innings will be limited, likely even more than Peralta’s were in 2021. However, the ingredients are there for a big 2022 campaign. If Ashby can post an ERA and WHIP around 3.50 and 1.20 respectively over 125+ innings with a 28+% strikeout rate, he can easily outperform his current 250+ ADP.

Jon Gray, TEX

Fantrax ADP: 227.8 | NFBC ADP: 273.4

Finally! Many of us have been clamoring for Jon Gray (and German Marquez) to get out of Coors Field and it will finally happen for Gray in 2022. And not only will he be getting out of Coors Field, but he’ll also be pitching around half of his starts in a pitcher-friendly environment. Not facing the Dodgers or Padres is a plus as well, although, he will still draw the Astros a few times. But back to the point, getting out of Coors is huge. In the 2nd half of last season, Gray posted a very solid 19.8 K-BB% but a 1.71 HR/9 and .354 BABIP pushed his 2nd half ERA up to 5.71, nearly two full runs above his FIP and xFIP.

On top of Coors Field running a higher BABIP, it changes how a pitcher navigates each start there. This article on Fangraphs by Adam Maahs is a great breakdown of this, especially how Coors Field affects the movement of certain pitches. Out of all pitch types, four-seamers and curveballs are ones that are more heavily affected. Gray has always had a good fastball velocity and a curveball that misses bats (above 30% whiff from 2016-2021 except for 2020) so the hope is that getting out of Coors Field will help increase the effectiveness of each offering. If that happens, Gray should take a sizeable step forward in 2022 with those two pitches improving to go along with his great slider.

Jesús Luzardo, MIA

Fantrax ADP: 261.5 | NFBC ADP: 299.4

As I’m writing this, I’ve completed three drafts on NFBC and only have one player I’ve taken in all three. That’s right, it’s Jesús Luzardo. With an ADP outside 250 on Fantrax and outside 300 on NFBC, it’s silly not to take him honestly. Whether you’re in a standard draft, best ball, or DC, the potential reward vastly outweighs the risk at this point in your draft. Yes, Luzardo was absolutely terrible on the surface in 2021. Over 95.1 innings, he posted a 6.61 ERA and 1.62 WHIP between Oakland and Miami with the worst strikeout rate and walk rate of his three-year career. Due to that, it’s not surprising to see his ADP where it is and created a golden buying opportunity in 2022 drafts.

A lot needs to improve for Luzardo to even sniff the level of production we expected from him when he debuted, but there are some positive building blocks already in place. Luzardo features two secondaries (CB & CH) with a whiff rate north of 35% and has premium velocity from the left side, averaging 95.9 mph on his four-seamer and 95.1 on his sinker. Velocity isn’t everything of course, as evident in his .330+ BAA and .600+ SLG on both offerings. However, if Luzardo can locate both pitches better, we could see improved results in 2022. As you can see below, both his location and command of his fastballs in 2021 weren’t ideal.

Luzardo also had the 21st best SwStr% in baseball last season at 13.2% among the 146 starters with 90+ innings. In 2022, Luzardo will be navigating through his first full season in one of the top pitching development organizations in baseball that have produced the likes of Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez recently with many more on the way. Miami has especially excelled with changeup development which could help Luzardo’s already solid changeup into an even better pitch. Even if Luzardo simply returns to 2020 levels (4.12 ERA, 23.8 K%), that’s a solid return on investment for his current ADP. When you get this late in your drafts, always bank on the talent.

Josiah Gray, WAS

Fantrax ADP: 235.6 | NFBC ADP: 281.9

A lot goes into being successful as a Major League starter, two of which being limiting hard contact and missing bats. Well, Gray has a chance to stand out in the latter. In 2021, there were only nine pitchers to record a whiff rate above 45% on two different offerings with a minimum of 50 thrown. Gray was one of them. This is an impressive list to be on, headlined by Jacob deGrom, Blake Snell, Dylan Cease, and both Cy Young Award winners (Ray and Burnes) along with Dustin May, Tyler Glasnow, and Luis Garcia. Gray also recorded a 14.3% SwStr rate, good for 17th in baseball among starters that exceeded 70 innings in 2021.

Both of Gray’s breaking balls were highly-effective offerings in 2021 with each recording a BAA under .200, SLG under .400, and a wOBA under .260 to pair with the high whiff rates. In fact, the expected metrics on all three were considerably lower. Missing bats is nothing new for Gray either as the 24-year-old right-hander posted a 29.2% strikeout rate in the minors to pair go along with a stellar 2.41 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 198.0 innings. In addition, Gray’s 10.7% walk rate was well above his minor league mark of 6.4%. Gray was a prospect that garnered above-average to plus grades on his command and control, so I’m expecting that walk rate to drop in 2022.

However, for Gray to take that next step, he’s going to need to improve his four-seamer. He’s shown good velocity at 94.6 mph on average last season, but Gray’s heater got hit around to the tune of a .282 BAA and .620 SLG with expected metrics nearly as bad. His 12.2 barrel rate is also an area that will need to improve. But with those elite breaking pitches and a strong chance of a lower walk rate, Gray is a great value and upside selection where he’s being taken in 2022 drafts. You can thank a bloated 5.48 ERA for that, but Gray’s xERA was around a full run lower and it wouldn’t shock me to see him post a sub-4.00 ERA and 25+% strikeout rate over 140-160 innings in 2022.

Deep Leagues: Nestor Cortes Jr, NYY

Fantrax ADP: 302.1 | NFBC ADP: 364.7

In a season where the New York Yankees desperately needed pitching behind Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes Jr rose to the occasion. The 27-year-old southpaw pitched to an impressive 2.90 ERA and 1.08 WHIP across 14 starts and eight relief appearances last season with an equally as impressive 6.7% walk rate and 27.5% strikeout rate. His 20.9% K-BB was good for 20th in baseball (min 90 IP) and tied him with Nathan Eovaldi and Charlie Morton. K-BB% isn’t necessarily everything, but it’s a solid indicator and rarely fluky. If you can limit walks and miss bats well, that’s a great place to start.

When looking at Cortes’ five-pitch mix, you won’t see any massive whiff rates, but what you will see is a whiff rate of 21.7% or higher on all five. Again, that’s certainly not sexy, but it will get the job done. Cortes doesn’t possess premium velocity (90.7 mph on 4-seamer) so he has to command his fastball well, and that’s exactly what he did last season. The end result was a .196 BAA, .365 SLG, .268 wOBA, and only five homers allowed on his 652 four-seamers thrown. See kids, velocity isn’t everything.

There is likely to be some regression in 2022 with the ERA and he’s going to need to cut down the FB%, but even with regression to the 3.50 ERA & 1.20 WHIP range, Cortes is a good value pick at his ADP outside 300 on both Fantrax and NFBC. Even at 3.80/1.25, I’d still be buying as long as the K rate stays in the 24-26% range, which I believe it can. With all that said, the Yankees could bring in a couple of arms to push Cortes out of the rotation, but as of now, Cortes is penciled in as the Yankees’ #4 starter with Jameson Taillon not due back until some time in May.

Media Credit: Ryan Bloomfield (@RyanBHQ), Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire, Baseball Savant, Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja)

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