“Cheap” can mean many things depending on the style of league you’re drafting for. For this list specifically, we’ll look for cheap strikeouts from starting pitches with an average draft position (ADP) after 300. In a regular home league, some of these names will go undrafted but they could play an important role in deeper leagues or as streaming options throughout the season.
*Note: All listed NFBC ADPs are for the month of January
The season is not here yet, but 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!
Finding Strikeouts Late in 2023 Drafts
Carlos Carrasco – 313.2 ADP
Just barely missing the top 300 overall, Carrasco is the highest-drafted pitcher on this list. The veteran righty posted exactly a 9.0 K/9 last season, racking up 152 strikeouts in 152 frames. It was the first time he crossed the 100-inning threshold since 2018 and he did it while going 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA (3.53 FIP). There’s potential for that ERA to dip in 2023 as Carrasco gave up a .338 BABIP during the 2022 campaign.
Of course, there’s a reason why Carrasco is being drafted this late. Entering his age-36 campaign, his velocity has slowly but steadily dropped from 95.2 MPH to 92.9 MPH since 2015. He relies much more on location than stuff, which makes sense given his age and ability to limit walks. Assuming he can stay healthy for the second straight season, Carrasco should be a low-variance pitcher with a high floor and low ceiling. Recording a 3.56 ERA at home compared to a 4.57 ERA on the road in 2022, he can be a matchup-based play at worst.
Josiah Gray – 441.1 ADP
Gray’s first full MLB season was a brutal one. He registered a 5.02 ERA (5.86 FIP) while giving 38 home runs (worst in the majors) and issuing 66 walks (worst in the NL). The 25-year-old was even worse at home, going 2-7 with a 6.12 ERA in 13 starts. Gray posted a 4.40 ERA and a 10.5 K/9 in the first half compared to a 6.04 ERA and 7.6 K/9 in the second half. Surprisingly his fastball velocity actually went up throughout the year but he saw a higher walk rate and lower swinging strike rate, which may have been the result of a mental/confidence issue as the team limited his innings down the stretch.
Based on Steamer projections, Gray is projected for 171 strikeouts, the most among any pitcher going after pick 300. As a large piece of the Max Scherzer trade in 2021, and with little internal competition, he should have no workload concerns in 2023. In fact, Gray actually may be the rebuilding Nationals’ ace this season. The floor for his innings and strikeouts feels safe but his ratios will need to be monitored throughout the season with matchup-based decisions.
Nick Pivetta – 467.8 ADP
Pivetta has struck out exactly 175 batters in each of the last two seasons while logging 334.2 total innings. Unfortunately, that comes with a 4.54 ERA (4.36 FIP) and a 1.35 WHIP, hence the low draft cost. He’s always struggled a bit with his command and that resulted in a 13.2% K-BB rate in 2022, the second-lowest of his career. Despite that, Pivetta actually showed flashes of dominance last season. Through 12 starts in May and June, he registered a 2.18 ERA with a 75:19 K:BB.
Pivetta comes in just behind Gray with 169 projected strikeouts on Steamer. Throughout the year, he found most of his success with the slider. Pivetta routinely forces over 30% whiffs with the pitch but he used it less than 20% of the time in 2022. Higher usage of that pitch could boost his strikeout numbers as well as improve the ratios. He’ll turn 30 before spring training and is coming off a season in which he recorded an average exit velocity of 90.7 (5th percentile) and a career-high 45.6% hard-hit rate. With an ADP near names such as Michael Wacha and German Marquez, Pivetta will provide sufficient strikeouts but shouldn’t be used on an every-start basis.
Kyle Bradish – 407.3 ADP
Bradish made his MLB debut on April 29, 2022, and posted a brutal 7.38 ERA through 10 starts before being sent down. He rejoined Baltimore at the end of July and posted a 3.28 ERA with a 65:28 K:BB over his final 13 outings. Bradish’s fastball was his worst pitch last season and his better results correlate with him using it less while relying more heavily on the slider. In September, he actually threw the slider more than the fastball (33.5% to 30.5%). Opposing batters hit just .211 with a .421 slugging against the fastball that month, compared to the .329 average and .539 slugging during the full season.
If you’re interested in velocity and movement comps, some names above that graph should get you excited. Bradish looked better as the season went on until the very end when he noticed a slight velocity dip likely due to fatigue. The 26-year-old enters the 2023 season with a near-guaranteed spot in the rotation. He racked up 111 strikeouts in 117.2 MLB frames as a rookie. That number could grow as he’s allowed to accumulate more innings and potentially get closer to the double-digit K/9 numbers he posted at every MiLB level.
Brandon Pfaadt – 418.6 ADP
Pfaadt is a rare pitching prospect that doesn’t appear to have any workload restrictions before even reaching the majors. Over the last two seasons, he fired 298.2 innings across four minor-league levels. His ability to limit walks is a big contributing factor. During that two-year stretch, he registered a K-BB rating of at least 20% at each level. Pfaadt’s 218 total strikeouts last season were the most in a minor-league campaign since Brandon Claussen in 2001. No pitcher has even reached the 200 mark since 2011.
There’s no question that Pfaadt is ready to see big-league action. The only issue now is whether or not he’ll actually crack Arizona’s rotation in 2023. He’ll likely compete for the last spot in the rotation with Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson, who were both terrific in their short time at the MLB level in 2022. Pfaadt is the youngest of the trio, though neither of the other two has displayed the same ability to control the strike zone. Arizona’s situation will be interesting to watch this spring. If Pfaadt can carve out a role at the MLB level, he should have a fairly high floor for strikeouts.
Got a favorite pitcher of your own for late-round strikeouts? Let us know about them in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!