Different metrics favor different pitchers. Justin Verlander led qualified starters with a 1.75 ERA in 2023. Gerrit Cole led baseball with 253 strikeouts. Carlos Rodón was the best qualified starter with his 2.25 FIP. Shohei Ohtani’s 2.73 SIERA was #1 on the qualified leaderboard. Not all of these pitchers can be considered the best pitcher in baseball, but they all have a clear case because of these favorable metrics.
With PLV, also known as Pitch Level Value, we can reach a more granular level and examine pitchers on a per-event basis. In the same way that CSW% can be used on a per-pitch, per-start, or per-season basis, PLV can be used across different timeframes. It also opens up many other applications because of the subversive process (compared to traditional stats) it uses to describe baseball events. If you’d like a more in-depth breakdown of PLV and its applications, read “What is PLV?”
What does this mean for identifying great pitchers and how does it affect our fantasy leagues? Well, due to the granularity of PLV, we are able to delineate a pitcher’s skills more effectively and accurately. Additionally, with this metric, we are taking a step back and looking at a pitcher’s performance by the pitches they threw instead of the results. ERA and its common estimators all attempt to subtract luck from the equation in different ways, but all of them rely on what happens after the ball has been hit or crossed home plate. With PLV, not only can we quantify luck in a distinct fashion, but we can also completely avoid talking about luck and just focus on what the pitcher can control – the pitches he throws.
As for fantasy, having a more specific, effective, and accurate metric with which to identify players should, in itself, describe its worth. We’ll be able to generate improved projections and opinions of pitchers, and thus, have a better idea of who to avoid and who to draft. In the same way analysts have graduated from relying on a disparity between WHIP and ERA to predict breakouts or identify unlucky pitchers to utilizing xFIP and xwOBA to identify exactly the same, PLV is the next step in the evolution of pitcher and pitch evaluation.
Using this new metric, one that wouldn’t be available without the incredible work done by the ambitious baseball minds at Pitcher List, we can identify some pitchers that you should be targeting in your fantasy drafts because of the positive light PLV has shone on them. First, we must elucidate the process with which we used to unearth these PLV darlings.
PLV itself is pretty straightforward. You get a number that is between 0-10, where five is equal to the league average. So, it’s simple enough to just sort the PLV leaderboard, yank the first five names, and discuss those as pitchers PLV loves.
However, that’s much too simple. Where’s the value there? That would be like sorting a leaderboard by xFIP and identifying the top five pitchers as sleepers. I guarantee you, nobody is sleeping on Shane McClanahan, Shohei Ohtani, Kevin Gausman, Aaron Nola, or Gerrit Cole.
The value of a stat like xFIP—or in this case PLV—is using it to compare against a more surface-level stat like ERA. For example, José Berríos‘ ERA was 1.02 runs higher than his xFIP. Given what we know about Berríos and his talent level, a bounce-back would already be expected, but with the numbers backing it up, we can have more confidence in believing that Berríos will have a better season in 2023 (and probably should have had one in 2022).
We can also do this looking forward. Rather than comparing different metrics from last year to predict future performance, we can utilize projection systems to do so more accurately. There are many projection systems on the market and they get better and better each year. One man, Ariel Cohen, recognized this. Instead of making his own competing projection system, he combined the best aspects of each one to create an aggregate projection system that is historically more accurate than any other. We are extremely lucky to be able to partner with Ariel to bring you a new projection system that utilizes his ATC projections and influences them with PLV data. You can learn more about the PLVxATC-powered Pitcher List projections here and can gain access to them by signing up for PL Pro.
The Pitcher List projections will be a major factor in identifying our PLV darlings. With ATC as the baseline, we can compare it to the Pitcher List projections. The point of this is to pinpoint the effects PLV has on the ATC projections. Once we’ve identified the differences, we can select the names that are impacted positively and recognize them as pitchers PLV loves. I used a rudimentary process comparing the ERA projected by both ATC and Pitcher List (among pitchers with at least 100 IP) and sorted by the largest positive (or negative depending on how you look at it) differences.
There were a lot of names that were affected positively by the inclusion of PLV into the ATC projections. To narrow this list down to five names, I used a combination of subjective selection and a comparison with the overall PLV leaderboard. Before getting to the list, let’s provide a space to honor the players that narrowly missed the list and deserve a mention.
Pitchers w/ a Large ERA Differential
These starters had large differences between their ATC and Pitcher List projected ERAs. Some missed the list solely because there wasn’t enough room, while others barely pitched in 2022 and thus had a small sample size of PLV affecting their outlooks.
|Name||Projected ERA Differential|
This is the complete list of pitchers that had a difference between their projected ERAs larger than 0.30 (min. 100 IP).
Matthew Boyd and Dustin May barely pitched in 2022. Mike Minor’s and Ryan Yarbrough’s improved Pitcher List projected ERAs were still around 4.50, and Minor is still a free agent. Tyler Wells, Michael Kopech, José Urquidy, and Nick Lodolo, however, are all very intriguing pitchers in 2023 drafts and may deserve even more love than they are already receiving.
Pitchers w/ a High Overall PLV
These starters were among the league leaders in overall, season-long PLV. They didn’t make the list because the difference in their ATC and Pitcher List projected ERAs wasn’t large enough.
This is a complete list of pitchers that had a PLV above 5.28 (min. 100 IP) that didn’t make the list.
There isn’t much analysis needed. These are some of the best pitchers in baseball. Shohei Ohtani, Shane McClanahan, Kevin Gausman, and Aaron Nola all received Cy Young Award votes last year. Zack Wheeler was the runner-up for the 2021 NL Cy Young Award. Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young Award in 2018. Spencer Strider became the fastest pitcher ever to 200 strikeouts in a single season in his rookie year. The lone standout is Jeffrey Springs. He is already receiving some hype in leagues where his relief pitcher eligibility gives him an extra edge. Now being placed among these elite aces, he should only be more coveted in fantasy drafts.
These relievers were among the league leaders in overall, season-long PLV. They didn’t make the list because their small sample sizes would allow them to dominate the list. For now, we’re just looking for starters.
This is a complete list of relievers that had a PLV above 5.35 (min. 20 IP).
Analysis is, once again, not really needed because these are some of the best relievers in baseball. Pete Fairbanks is surprisingly atop the list, but he had a 22-inning scoreless streak to close out the year. Emmanuel Clase led MLB in ERA (min. 70 IP) in 2022. Edwin Diaz had the most strikeouts by a reliever last year. Andrés Muñoz and Jhoan Duran broke out with some of the most dominant stuff in baseball. Devin Williams has long been one of the best strikeout artists in baseball since his 2020 breakout. Collin McHugh, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. Even at the age of 35, McHugh had a sub-1.00 WHIP and one the best sliders in baseball. He won’t ever be a closer, but he’ll be a great option in holds leagues.
If you want more relief pitchers that stood out with PLV or are desiring more in-depth analysis, check out the episode of the In The Pen Podcast where Rick Graham, Callen Elslager, and I discussed PLV standouts.
Five PLV Darlings
Let’s avoid burying the lede by beginning with PLV’s favorite starter. Greene is known for his electric fastball, but according to PLV, his slider is equally as effective. Those two pitches propelled the 2017 #2 overall pick to a 4.44 ERA (125.2 IP) and a 30.9% strikeout in his debut campaign. The ERA was inflated by a litany of home runs that ATC expects to regress to the mean in 2023. However, he didn’t make this list because of how highly ATC thinks of him.
Greene is identified as PLV’s biggest crush because his Pitcher List projected ERA of 3.28 gave him the largest disparity (-0.45) in projected ERA when compared to the root ATC projection. On top of that, his overall, season-long PLV of 5.34 was fourth-best among pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2022.
Nearly 2 Minutes of Hunter Greene's Ks at 100 mph or over. 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/EFUdb2pVC8
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 23, 2023
PLV is madly in love with Greene’s skills and who can blame it? His heater sits at 99 mph. His slider is used exceptionally to keep hitters off balance. He executes the Blake Snell Blueprint, pumping his fastballs high in the zone and keeping his sweeper low. Even from a more generic level of analysis, Greene underperformed his xFIP by 0.80 runs. His PLA (pitch level average – a PLV-based ERA estimator) shows an even wider disparity, suggesting he underperformed by 0.86 runs. If you were a fan of the Spencer Strider show in 2022, we could be seeing something similar in Cincinnati in 2023.
It’s not hard to envision a monster season from Greene in 2022 as he hones his skills and continues to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of his pitch mix. The only things holding him back are a terrible home ballpark and a lack of run support. He has the ability to overcome those deficiencies and PLV completely agrees. If you don’t love Greene heading into 2023, PLV would like you to reconsider.
It was a rough end to 2022 for Eovaldi as he dealt with injuries and watched his fastball velocity crater, a skill that has defined the right-hander’s career. The multitude of secondaries Eovaldi employs suffered as the declining fastball became easier to hit. A 3.16 ERA (68.1 IP) and 25.8% strikeout rate through the beginning of June quickly soured as he pitched to a 5.05 ERA (41 IP) while striking out just 17.1% of batters across his final eight starts after the All-Star break.
In spite of those struggles to close out the year, PLV still absolutely loves Eovaldi and paints his season in a better light. First off, his 2.82 PLA was in the 97th percentile, painting him as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Even with the second-half falloff, his four-seamer PLV was still in the 92nd percentile. The velocity and horizontal movement were still above average, but he threw it over the middle of the plate a bit too often; an easy fix for someone with impeccable command (4.3% BB%). As for his secondaries, the splitter (86th percentile) and curveball (91st percentile) were elite according to PLV while the slider (72nd percentile) was above average. It’s hard to argue with a pitch mix that features four well-above-average options.
The PLV affection manifested itself in a Pitcher List projected ERA that was 0.35 runs lower than its ATC counterpart, making him a top-five improver with the inclusion of our metric. In terms of overall PLV, he was tied for a top-10 spot with his 5.28 season-long mark.
Assuming he's 100%, Nathan Eovaldi is a pitcher to buy at his ADP (248, SP 72).
He wasn't fully healthy last year and it showed.
2021: 182.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.35 xERA, 1.19 WHIP, 4.6% BB, 25.5% K
Misses bats w/ CU, SL, SPL
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) December 29, 2022
Now headed to Texas on a new free agent deal, Eovaldi will hope to parlay his success in underlying metrics into a successful on-field performance. It is yet to be seen if he has fully recovered from his late-season slide and pitching for a new organization can be difficult. With so much talent surrounding him in that rotation, success is inevitable. Health will be the biggest factor holding him back from a wonderful 2023. If you’re on the fence about Eovaldi’s 2023 bounceback, let PLV be the deciding factor that has you leaning toward loving him.
How could one of the most successful pitchers in recent seasons possibly be underrated by projection systems? This is a case of a player that always outperforms his projections and underlying metrics. Since the beginning of 2019, Urías has pitched to a 2.63 ERA (495.1 IP) which has severely outperformed his 3.99 xFIP during that timeframe. This is due to the fact that the left-hander doesn’t strike out an inordinate amount of batters and doesn’t make up for it by limiting walks at an exceptional rate. Where he does stand out is contact suppression.
— LasMayores (@LasMayores) March 1, 2023
While I have to admit that he’s not my favorite player off the field, there’s a time and place for separating a player from controversy and focusing on his fantasy outlook. A 13% hard contact rate put Urías in the top 15 among starters in 2022, revealing how he has avoided pitching closer to his ERA estimators. From a PLV perspective, the Mexico native avoids hard contact by utilizing an above-average fastball (73rd percentile PLV) and throwing it for strikes more than 92% of MLB starters. Paired with that four-seamer is one of the best curveballs in baseball. Not only does he also throw it for strikes often (71.7%), but it also has the sixth greatest horizontal movement and recorded a 5.52 PLV (97th percentile) in 2022 because of it.
That yacker earned him PLV adoration that played out in a Pitcher List projected ERA 0.34 runs below his ATC projection. That put him in the top 10 of improvers from metric to metric. His 5.29 overall, season-long PLV was also tied for eighth among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. While his 3.42 PLA isn’t close to the ERA numbers he’s been posting, it’s much closer to reality than what other estimators believe.
In his final season before free agency, Urías will be doing his best to earn the largest contract he can get next offseason. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to draft him. I for one will be crossing him off my list for non-baseball-related reasons (not because I’m a Giants fan), but you can’t ignore the fact that he has historically outperformed his projections. The rudimentary ERA estimators are unable to account for what PLV sees in his pitch mix and his ability to limit hard contact. Trust the PLV-influenced Pitcher List projection here and use your draft pick as a sign of endearment.
Cole is going off the board as the third pitcher in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform since Valentine’s Day. At this point, it’s difficult to suggest that Cole be drafted any higher, but if his placement on this list is any indication, he should be the #1 pitcher in fantasy baseball. After leading baseball with 257 strikeouts while surpassing 200 innings with a WHIP near 1.00, there isn’t much for the UCLA product to improve upon. Attentive readers will recognize that I purposefully left out his ERA because it doesn’t fit the narrative of his 2022 dominance. However, his inflated 3.50 ERA can easily be explained by a home run rate that was obscenely unlucky.
Home runs have long been the Achilles Heel of one of baseball’s most dominant starters, but that doesn’t mean they are completely deserved. PLV definitely doesn’t think they are and the bullets he releases from his right arm should result in better outcomes. While Cole technically throws five pitches, only three of them are thrown more than 10% of the time and only two of them are his bread and butter. His curveball is a great pitch, sporting a 79th percentile, 5.15 PLV, but it’s only thrown 11% of the time. As for his fastball and slider, they combine to create one of the best one-two punches in baseball. Both are in the 97th percentile or above in PLV and both induce swinging strikes like no other. The right-hander subverts common practice by throwing his fastball low, but it works to limit homers and allows the slider to play off it even further.
There’s no denying that Cole has a god-like arsenal, but most projection systems can’t seem to ignore his home run problem. That was the case until the Pitcher List projections produced an ERA mark that was a third of a run lower than his ATC projection. Not only did it put him in the top 10 of ERA disparity, but it also dropped his projected ERA below 3.00, something only two other starters in baseball can say. This is all thanks to an overall, season-long PLV of 5.32 that was in the top five among pitchers (min. 100 IP). Those metrics are equally supported by a 2.84 PLA that wasn’t even as impressive as his 98th percentile, 2.70 xFIP.
14 strikeouts for Gerrit Cole tonight 🚂🔥
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 8, 2022
I’ve been having trouble all offseason deciding who my number one pitcher for fantasy baseball is in 2023. PLV’s adoration of Cole helped me push him to the top spot and gave me the confidence to draft him early in fantasy baseball drafts. If you don’t believe all of these bogus stats, just blame the home runs on Aaron Judge getting a bunch of juiced balls to hit 60-homers and inadvertently affecting Cole in the process. Either way, you should have no doubt when taking the first starter off the board.
Touted as a sleeper prior to 2022, fantasy managers were rewarded handsomely when Rasmussen duplicated his 2.84 ERA across 146 innings. Now, after back-to-back successful seasons, it’s reasonable to wonder if he can do it again. He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, his innings are capped, and he once again outperformed his ERA estimators. So what does PLV see that we don’t?
For the easy part, Rasmussen features two amazing fastballs with a PLV in the top 13% of the league – a four-seamer with a 5.07 PLV and a cutter with a 5.36 mark. His third pitch, a slider (66th percentile PLV), isn’t quite as good, but it works as a change of speed. The former pitches are used nearly 80% of the time, so they make up a majority of what PLV is evaluating. One is thrown high in the zone and the other is thrown low. They work well together and help him avoid free passes. Outperforming ERA estimators is not always about limiting hard contact, and in Rasmussen’s case, it’s likely because he’s getting the most out of his skill set.
Nobody's perfect, but he's gotta work it.
Drew Rasmussen retired the first 24 batters he faced today. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/cVKuv8gcvU
— MLB (@MLB) August 14, 2022
It’s not the most stunning repertoire, but it resulted in a 5.23 overall, season-long PLV that was in the top 20 among starters (min. 100 IP). As for the case study, Rasmussen was in the top 10 in projected ERA disparity, with a Pitcher List projected ERA a third of a run lower than what ATC projects. The cherry on top is a 3.23 PLA which is in the 93rd percentile.
Can Rasmussen parlay his status as a PLV darling into another year of success? Absolutely. It’ll just require the Rays to squeeze every ounce of talent out of his right arm. Look for him to continue deploying a similar set of pitches while adding 10-15 more innings to his workload. He may not be a fantasy ace, but you can definitely rely on him to be a rock in your rotation throughout the year. Join PLV in displaying your fondness of Rasmussen by taking a chance on him in your 2023 fantasy drafts.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)