2024 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Preview: Ranking the top-12, sleepers, breakouts, busts, ADP data, more

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You should think about starting pitchers in Fantasy Baseball in much the same way you think about running backs in Fantasy Football. They are often the most valuable players in the game, but they are also some of the most difficult to predict. They suffer injuries at much higher rates than the general population of the sport, their success is highly team dependent, and there are always seemingly fewer of them than you need at any given time. 

The concept of the “RB Dead Zone” has become widely accepted in Fantasy Football, and we should apply similar principles here. Because, as with running backs, there are a handful of starters who have proven they can not only pitch like an ace but also provide ace workloads consistently, and those are the guys who are worth early-round picks every year. They tend to provide the best return on investment, and tend to make the biggest difference in terms of winning Fantasy leagues.

After that? Well, that’s where the idea of the dead zone comes in. Pitchers who look like they could be aces if a few things break right – they take a step forward, or they stay healthy, or they fix whatever flaw it is that’s holding them back – tend to get pushed up draft boards as Fantasy players convince themselves they have to pay a premium to avoid getting stuck with the dregs of the position. But that doesn’t tend to work out as well as you would think or hope. 

Last season, there were three starting pitchers drafted in the first two rounds of NFBC leagues, on average, and all three of them provided at least $11 in value, per FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator. Then, there were three drafted in the third round on average, and two of them provided negative value. 

Here’s the average return provided by pitchers in each round of ADP in 2023: 

  • First two rounds: $19.01 (Three players)
  • Third round: $0.29 (Three players)
  • Fourth round: $7.61 (Four players)
  • Fifth round: $-6.41 (Four players)
  • Sixth round: $-7.03 (Six players)
  • Seventh round: $2.42 (Three players)
  • Eighth round: $5.32 (One player)
  • Ninth round: $2.32 (Two players)
  • 10th round: $5.76 (Four players)
  • 11th round: $-5.22 (Five players)
  • 12th round: $-19.17 (Two players)
  • 13th round: $-7.89 (Five players)
  • 14th round: $0.53 (Five players)

Now, in fairness, it was kind of a disastrous season for higher end pitchers, as the offensive landscape around baseball shifted in ways that seemed to make every pitcher even more unpredictable than usual. Plus, we’re dealing with small sample sizes across the board, which is why your takeaway here shouldn’t be something like, “Well, obviously, I’ll just skip the fifth and sixth-round pitchers and focus on the eighth-rounders.” 

The specifics of last year’s results are less important than the general trend, which is one we’ve seen for a long time in Fantasy baseball, which is that, once you get beyond the true, proven aces, investing more in a starting pitcher doesn’t really guarantee much of anything. There will always be examples that run counter to this, because we’re dealing with samples of a few dozen players being drafted in this range in any given year, but the larger trends have held surprisingly consistent when I’ve done this type of analysis in the past. 

The way I’ve put this data into action in the past is pretty straightforward: I try to invest a few early picks in guys who have a proven track record of throwing 180-plus innings with good peripherals – either your aces like Gerrit Cole and Spencer Strider, or else the Framber Valdez and Aaron Nola types – and then I try to avoid that middle class at the position. There will always be exceptions, but generally speaking, I’m going to invest two of my first four of five picks in starting pitchers who fit that profile, and then I’m steering clear of the position for the next 8-10 rounds. 

I want those two innings eaters at the top to provide me a solid, dependable base of strikeouts and ratios, and then I’m looking for upside arms in the double-digit rounds to complement them. Like I said, there will be exceptions – I like drafting Eury Perez if he falls outside of the first 75 picks, for instance – but the general shape has held true for years, and it has led to some pretty great pitching staffs over the past few years. 

Of course, it’s not the only strategy that can work, and it’s certainly not guaranteed to work, either. But it’s the one I thing the data suggests will serve you the best when you’re picking your pitchers. Now, you just have to pick the right guys. How hard can that be? 

  • Position Strategies: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
  • Position Previews: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
  • Position Tiers: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
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2023 Draft Prep

Starting Pitcher Top Prospects

Head here to read Scott White’s full top-100 prospects list. 

Age (on opening day): 25
Where he played in 2023: Japan
NPB stats: 17-6, 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 171 IP, 28 BB, 176 K
Between his 1.16 ERA last season, his three-year run as the best pitcher Japan, and the scouting reports that read like a greatest hits compilation for every other pitcher in the game (Spencer Strider’s fastball, Kevin Gausman’s splitter, George Kirby’s command, etc.), you can understand why the Dodgers gave Yamamoto the biggest contract for any pitcher in history. Even if the transition isn’t totally seamless this year, he has his whole career ahead of him at age 25.
Scott’s 2024 Fantasy impact: pencil him in

Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, Low-A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 10 K 
Though you’ll see some hand-wringing over the shape of Skenes’ fastball within analyst circles, its pure velocity should make it no worse than respectable — and likely better than that when offset by his wipeout slider. He’s under more scrutiny as the No. 1 pick in a loaded 2023 draft class, but he dominated the college ranks and offers the ideal combination of ceiling and floor.
Scott’s 2024 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring

Age (on opening day): 20
Where he played in 2023: did not play — Tommy John surgery
2022 stats (minors): 6-2, 1.56 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 103 2/3 IP, 25 BB, 155 K 
Some are quick to bury a pitching prospect who undergoes Tommy John surgery, but Painter’s talent is so off-the-charts spectacular that it’s worth the wait and then some. His fastball is a one-of-a-kind offering that generates whiffs at the top of the zone, peaking at 101 mph with a shorter path to the plate because of his 6-foot-7 reach, and his command is almost unheard of for a pitcher his size.
Scott’s 2024 Fantasy impact: don’t count on it

Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, Low-A, High-A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 2-4, 2.81 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 64 IP, 6 BB, 84 K 
Renowned mostly for his 3,000-rpm slider, the third pick in the 2021 draft revealed another jaw-dropping characteristic in 2023: a 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Between that and Jobe’s full arsenal of swing-and-miss offerings, an ace outcome is now in the offing, but that’s only if he can achieve the necessary durability, being limited by back issues to 64 innings last season.
Scott’s 2024 Fantasy impact: late-season look

Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2023: Rookie, Low-A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 0-5, 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 44 IP, 23 BB, 82 K 
Last season brought some concerns to light for what was thought to be a rock solid pitching prospect, the most obvious being durability but the most serious being a incompatibility between Tiedemann’s fastball and changeup — two pitches whose wipeout characteristics require different release points, almost as if he’s tipping his hand. Then again, he had 16.8 K/9.
Scott’s 2024 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful

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