Hot Second-Half Pitchers Who Deserve Your Attention

These pitchers could be difference makers on 2023 fantasy teams.

Sometimes the season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story. Here, I’m going to look at four pitchers who I think showed us something in the second half that maybe wouldn’t be apparent if we just looked at their full-season statistics. As the title says, these guys deserve your attention. I’m not sure if I’m sold on each of them achieving their highest potential in 2023, but I believe that there’s more to the story than the narratives we’ve been hearing. At the end of the article, I’ll also give you a list of starters I considered with some quick analysis about them.

 

Carlos Rodón

 

Carlos Rodón certainly already has the attention of pretty much everyone in the fantasy baseball community. He’s going somewhere between the 10th and 15th SP overall based on the ADP data we have so far and that’s about where he’s ranked in most lists as well. When I was gathering ideas for pitchers to focus on in this article, I didn’t expect to talk about a guy being drafted so highly, but something stuck out immediately. My go-to when casting a wide net is looking at K-BB% and seeing if anything stands out. Here’s the first thing I saw:

Jacob deGrom and Spencer Strider, despite concerns about how many innings they’ll give you in 2023, are universally being drafted and ranked ahead of Rodón. In fact, over the past month in NFBC leagues, they’re the 4th and 5th overall starters respectively. Steamer has deGrom as the most valuable starter by far. However, one thing that Steamer doesn’t approximate very well is playing time. It has him throwing 172 innings and, if you could guarantee 170+ innings from deGrom, he’d potentially be a consensus number-one overall pick. In any case, those two, deGrom and Strider, are seen as having league-winning potential due to their strikeout rate and dominant ratios. There were only a few starters who were able to keep up with them in the second half and one of them is rated as the third most valuable starter by Steamer going into 2023. That pitcher is Carlos Rodón. If you’re looking for a guy that has the potential to be the number one pitcher in fantasy baseball if they hit 180 innings, Rodón, based on Steamer’s projections and these second-half numbers, should be considered in the conversation. If we’re valuing Rodón lower than Strider and deGrom, it must be because we see some combination of the risk/reward profile favoring them over Rodón. My theory on this is that people are still attributing durability and longevity concerns to him even though he nearly put up 180 IPs in a fully healthy 2022. Should we really be discounting him when guys like Shane McClanahan and Spencer Strider, guys who have never thrown 150 innings in the majors are consensus top-10 fixtures? Or perhaps we think this was just a hot streak that will cool off once he starts pitching in Yankee Stadium? Well, let’s take a look at where this second-half improvement came from.

Rodon’s 2nd half improvement came mainly against RHH
4 seam Slider Curve Change K-BB%
1st Half vs RHH 62.23% 31.04% 5.51% 1.22% 21.80%
2nd Half vs RHH 61.08% 27.49% 7.39% 4.04% 31.90%
1st Half vs LHH 61.79% 35.52% 2.69% 0.00% 25.90%
2nd Half vs LHH 54.43% 40.93% 4.22% 0.42% 28.60%

Rodon made slight changes to his pitch mix including using his curve and changeup more against righties. The change didn’t perform that well, but perhaps throwing a few per game kept hitters on their toes more. But he continued to rely on his four-seamer for success even down the stretch into the second half. His velocity did dip a little bit, but the one mph difference clearly didn’t affect his performance. While he didn’t hit the 180 IP threshold, he was among the league leaders in total pitches thrown (15th) and total fastballs thrown (14th) (total fastballs includes 4-seamers, 2-seamers, cutters, and sinkers combined). He threw more four-seamers than anyone in the league. Despite this volume, he still rode his fastball to not just continued success, but increasing success down the stretch. Is this really someone who should be giving us concerns about volume and ability to pitch the whole year?

If we forget the injury troubles that Rodón had earlier in his career and evaluate him on just the past two years, where does he go? Since the beginning of the 2021 season, Rodón is t-6th in wins, 7th in total strikeouts, 13th in WHIP, and 11th in ERA among starters with at least 100 IPs. Only he and Max Scherzer are in the top 15 of all four major fantasy categories for starters since 2021. Removing injury concerns, you could make the case that Rodón should go as the fourth overall starter based on his per-inning performance and volume of pitches he was able to provide in 2022. Yes, Yankee Stadium is a different, more homer-friendly environment than Oracle Park in San Francisco, but don’t confuse the home run environment with the overall run environment. Statcast has both stadiums as virtually equally balanced assigning Oracle Park a park factor of 100 (completely balanced between hitting and pitching relative to the league) and Yankee Stadium an overall park factor of 99 (one percent favored towards pitching) over the past three years. He may not be able to rival the volume of Sandy Alcantara, Corbin Burnes, and Gerrit Cole, but he has game-breaking strikeout potential like some of the younger, exciting pitchers going around him and more of a track record of recently pitching effectively for a whole year than other per-inning darlings around him like deGrom, Strider, and McClanahan. There’s even a world, I think, where he’s in the conversation for the first overall starter off the board next year if he crosses 180 IPs. I think the second half of 2022 is when Rodon showed us his injury problems are behind him for now and I don’t think the market believes that fully yet.

 

Blake Snell

 

Blake Snell has been a pretty frustrating pitcher to manage since his Cy Young campaign in 2018. He’s not logged more than 130 innings in a season since then and has been flirting with a 5.00 ERA at the All-Star Break each of the past two seasons. He’s made a habit throughout his career of starting slow with a career 4.01 ERA and 16.3 K-BB% in the first half and finishing strong with a 2.74 ERA with a 22.0 K-BB% in the second half. He delivered his best half-season of pitching since 2018 in the second half of 2022 finishing with a 2.19 ERA in 78 IPs supported by a 27.3% K-BB% and 2.23 FIP. Will 2023 be the season he finally puts it all back together again? If it is, it’s likely because he finally shelved his changeup for good.

Blake Snell does better when he shelves his changeup

For one reason or another, Blake Snell‘s changeup has been knocked around hard for the past few years and, tinkerer that he is, he’s been trying to fix it and make it work again ever since. He may be finally ready to shelve it for good. He claimed he’s “learned his lesson” and wants to start better in 2023, so I think it’s certainly possible he means that the changeup stays shelved and he keeps a pitch mix similar to the second half of 2021 and 2022 for the full season.  He was 7th in K-BB% among starters in the second half when he did this, so there’s still quite a bit of potential hidden in there. He matched his highest average fastball velocity of his career last year at 95.8 mph and his slider remains an extremely effective weapon, so there’s no reason to think he can’t recreate this success if he stays healthy and around 80% usage of fastballs plus sliders. At the 36th overall SP right now, he’s one of the few at that point in the draft who could very easily make the jump to the top 15 and be drafted there next year, but that comes with a fair share of injury risk and potential for volatility due to his tinkering and sometimes shaky command. Even if he does start slow again, I’d keep him in mind as a buy-low option in the midseason if you need a boost to your pitching staff in the second half. However you choose to target him, he’s a potential staff ace that’s being overlooked a little bit right now because of a couple of disappointing first halves in 2021 and 2022 and that could mean opportunity for managers willing to stay patient in 2023.

 

Jesús Luzardo

 

Jesús Luzardo is one of those exciting young pitchers that’s being buried a bit due to the amazing depth of starting pitching available in the league nowadays. He’s currently being drafted around the 38th overall starter, but his 2022 showed that he had the pieces to put together a season much more impressive than SP number 38. He missed a big chunk of time in the middle of the year but showed some very intriguing skills both pre-injury and post-injury that, if he were to put it together, could lead to Luzardo leaping forward into the upper echelon of pitchers in the league.

Here are his pitch mixes (combining his four-seamer and sinker) and a few numbers pre- and post-injury.

Pre-Injury – 46.3% FB (97 mph), 38.2% CU, 15.4% CH   (21 % K-BB, 3.73 FIP)

Post-Injury – 47.9 % FB (95.7 mph), 26.4% CU, 25.8% CH (21.4 % K-BB, 2.87 FIP)

In the first half, he rode a 97 mph fastball and heavy reliance on the curve as a secondary pitch to success, but his FIP was done in by a high walk rate. He had better command after the injury with a small dip in fastball velocity which allowed him to drop his walk rate from 13.4% to 6.8%. The strikeouts also dipped a little, but the changeup took a big step forward over the break, and plays extremely well off his four-seamer which led to a lot more weak contact. Let’s take a look at how the changeup is so effective.

Alex Call got so fooled here because his changeup looks extremely similar to his four-seamer and features similar run. Notice how Call pulls his hands through the zone first anticipating a fastball on the outside part of the plate that he can flip into right field for a hit. However, the changeup drops a foot farther than his four-seamer and leads to Call swinging right over it. On this day, he threw 20 changeups for a 45% CSW in a dominant start. He also had games where his curve was completely dominant. On October 3rd against Atlanta, he threw 31 curveballs for a 48% CSW including this one to Ronald Acuña Jr. I encourage you to freeze that about three frames after it leaves Luzardo’s hand. It becomes exceedingly apparent why Acuña could not swing at it. Out of his hand, it looks like it’s going over the catcher’s head, but it drops four feet and dives into the strike zone leaving the batter to only shake his head.

Luzardo showed the potential to have a 97 mph fastball and two elite secondary pitches last year and, the scary part is, he showed he really only needs two out of three of those to be effective. He’s going into his age-25 season and he already put up an amazing second half in 2022 with a 3.03 ERA on a 2.87 FIP and 21.4 K-BB% in 71.1 IPs. If he’s able to extend that out to a full season, this could be the last year you’re able to get Luzardo outside the top 15 SPs for a while. Pretty good upside for a guy going 39th among starters.

 

Justin Steele

 

Unlike the previous three guys in this article, I don’t think Justin Steele necessarily has the stuff to be drafted in the top 15 starters for 2023, however, I do still think he deserves a bit more attention than he’s been getting. His last seven starts were kind of crazy with a 0.98 ERA and 31% K-rate across 36.2 IPs. The FIP over that stretch (2.76) and K-BB% (22.4) hint at something really good, but not quite so dominant as the ERA would initially indicate. Steele is quietly among the toughest starters in the league to barrel up as his 3.9% barrel rate last year was second among starters with 100 IPs. His fastball was almost historically difficult to barrel.

 

 

Justin Steele nearly made history last year for the most fastballs thrown without allowing a homer. He didn’t get this record as Kyle Schwarber broke the streak in the very next game, but it’s another piece of evidence that there’s more than meets the eye with Steele. His fastball only tops out around 93-94 and his slider, while sporting good movement, isn’t otherworldly. Why is he so deceptive, then? Part of the answer is possibly seam-shifted wake. One way of analyzing how much Steele is benefitting from seam-shifted wake is by looking at the difference between spin-based movement and observed movement on his fastball.

 

 

Steele’s fastball movement deviates more than any other starter in the league and it’s only rivaled by Julio Urías. He talks in this article about how he can slightly adjust the movement of his fastball by varying where he throws it and how hard he throws it. This ‘consistently inconsistent’ fastball makes it nearly impossible for hitters to barrel him up because of the lower-than-expected arm-side run and deviation in movement versus what they’d typically expect based on the spin profile. His slider has remained a solid complementary piece that is able to get outs with a 16% swinging strike rate and .178 wOBA, so that one-two punch allows him to miss barrels, generate a good rate of ground balls, and still miss a decent amount of bats. He’s acknowledged how a third pitch would be important for him, so I imagine he’d try to increase the usage of his changeup going into 2023 to start the year. If it pairs well at all with the fastball, I think Steele could be a great source of good ratios while providing an average strikeout rate due to his ability to avoid the barrel of the bat. He’s currently being drafted around the 80th overall SP, but he’s being ranked a bit all over the place. I’ve seen him as high as 43 and as low as 99 among starters. I imagine he’s going to settle in the low 60s, but even at that price, I think he’s a guy that deserves your attention and he’s a guy I’ll be targeting a lot.

 

Other Guys I Considered For This Article

 

Lance Lynn – Lynn was elite after a rough first 7 starts. He’s being drafted as SP38 and that still seems like a discount to me.

Nick Lodolo – He had a great second half and I like his stuff, but home park is pretty terrible and his team won’t win many games.

George Kirby – 1.88 FIP in the second half, but he’s already being drafted in the top 30 with a lack of track record or massive strikeout upside. He deserves his spot, but pushing him any higher would be a reach.

Reid Detmers – Increased his K-BB% from 11.3 to 17.1 on a 2.57 FIP in the second half. He has intriguing potential and still comes at a pretty low price tag, but there’s a good chance there’s some volatility this season.

Jeffrey Springs – 2.48 FIP second half, but the Rays limit innings and his strikeouts are likely to stay down as a starter. Seems to have a high floor given he won’t often be asked to go too deep into a game, but a fairly low ceiling.

Sonny Gray – He fought through a couple of injuries in 2022, but gave a 2.38 ERA in the second half in what was a quietly good first season in Minnesota. If he stays healthy, he could be sneaky good value.

Hunter Greene – I already wrote about him here. His reliance on elite fastball velocity makes him a risky play given his price point.

 

Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller @kurt_player02 on Instagram / @KUwasemiller on Twitter

Eric Dadmun

Eric is a Core Fantasy contributor on Pitcher List and a former contributor on Hashtag Basketball. He strives to help fantasy baseball players make data-driven and logic-driven decisions. Mideast Chapter President of the Willians Astudillo Unironic Fan Club.

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