Strikeouts. The bread and butter of the modern-day pitcher.
Strikeout rates have shot up to historic levels over the past two decades, and last year’s 40,812 total punchouts were the fourth most in a single season throughout MLB’s history.
More pitchers are missing more bats than ever, but as you build your fantasy teams, it’s still just as crucial to find those late-round pitchers who can give your team the boost they need so you find yourself sitting atop the strikeout leaderboard come October.
Here you’ll find nine pitchers you may want to put in your draft queue so you don’t forget about them as you reach the later rounds. All of these players are sporting average draft positions of at least 200 in NFBC drafts that have happened since February 24th – two weeks leading up to the publication of this article.
Reid Detmers, SP Los Angeles Angels
I’m super happy that Reid Detmers wound up on this article’s featured image because he’s probably my favorite target on this list. The 23-year-old lefty is entering his second full season at the big league level and made strides in his performance at the end of last year that flashed his high-strikeout upside.
You may remember Detmers tossing a no-hitter in May and think his whole season was filled with consistently strong performances, but that wasn’t the case. Just over a month after no-hitting the Tampa Bay Rays, Detmers was sent down to Triple-A after posting a 4.66 ERA over his first 58 innings.
Whatever the Angels had him do in his one start for Salt Lake surely did the trick. Once he was back with the MLB squad he was a different pitcher. Detmers made his first start back with the Angels on July 8th and finished the year by tossing 71 innings with a 3.04 ERA and 2.51 FIP, plus he raised his strikeout rate over seven points from 18.6% before the demotion to 25.8% after.
After returning to the MLB club in July, Detmers started throwing his slider more often, bumping its usage from around 20% to 30-40% per start. Detmers’ slider is his second-best pitch according to its 5.10 PLV, so if he can continue to hone it, he could be in store for a breakout in 2023. I’d also love to see him throw his curveball a touch more – that’s his best pitch in terms of PLV, with a 5.15 mark.
Jon Gray, SP Texas Rangers
I was high on Jon Gray entering last season as he was finally getting out of every pitcher’s worst nightmare – er, I mean Coors Field – and I’m high on him again this year. Gray’s 2022 season started pretty lackluster as he pitched to a 5.28 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 24.1% strikeout rate over his first 46 innings, but then things clicked and he went on a great 56-inning run posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a 29.7% strikeout rate.
Unfortunately, that magical run was derailed by an oblique strain he suffered in his August 1st start that landed him on the IL for nearly six weeks. Gray was able to return to the mound before the season ended, making five starts in September and October to the tune of a 4.50 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and just a 19.4% strikeout rate.
Whether Gray can recapture the impressive form he was showing in the middle of last season is really the question here, and late in drafts I’m happy to take a chance that he can do just that, especially if you’re desperately looking for strikeouts. The Rangers have a nice track record of getting the most out of veteran starters and Gray could certainly be the next in line to show his best stuff in Arlington.
José Berríos, SP Toronto Blue Jays
Was there a single starter more volatile last year than José Berríos? The two-time All-Star posted the worst season of his career in 2022, finishing with a 5.23 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 32 starts.
Seeing those numbers surely doesn’t make you buy into the fact he’s worth a draft pick here, but hear me out, it’s not too farfetched to think the 28-year-old righty could bounce back to his pre-2022 levels and post another season with a 3.75 ERA and 10+ wins while flirting with hitting the 200 strikeout mark for the third time in his career.
Each of Berríos’ four offerings – a curveball, four-seamer, sinker, and changeup – all still rated as above average according to PLV even with such awful results. Plus, pitching guru Eno Sarris’ Pitching+ model rates him out as above average in both location and stuff. If his pitches are still that good, small tweaks and an offseason to iron things out could easily get Berríos back to his old self, especially considering he’s still in what should be his prime years.
On top of all that, the Blue Jays majorly upgraded the team’s fielding ability with the acquisitions of Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier to roam the Rogers Centre outfield, so the .328 BABIP Berríos allowed last year should come back down a bit.
Trevor Rogers, SP Miami Marlins
Trevor Rogers looked like a budding star with his breakout 2021 campaign, posting a 2.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 28.5% strikeout rate over 133 innings. Then 2022 happened. It was rough, to say the least.
The Marlins’ southpaw regressed hard across the board, finishing the year with a 5.47 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 22.2% strikeout rate. Looking at his pitch profile things largely stayed the same. There were minimal changes to his pitch mix, velocities, and movement profiles, but hitters weren’t fooled by what Rogers was tossing. His CSW% fell from 31.7% to 27.7%.
On a positive note, Rogers had a brief stint towards the end of last year when he looked like his old self. It’s a tiny sample, but after he returned from a month-long absence due to back spasms, his strikeout rate came back up to 29.9% over four starts in August and September and he went at least six innings in three of them. Unfortunately, in the one start in which he didn’t make it to the sixth frame, his back issues flared up again, and he never made it back to the mound.
Rogers is definitely not a safe strikeout pick by any means, but if you want to buy into him returning to his 2021 form, he’s a fun pick in this range. If things pan out well for the 25-year-old lefty, you could be buying a top-20 starter in the late rounds of your draft.
Justin Steele, SP Chicago Cubs
Quietly, Justin Steele had somewhat of a breakout season in 2022. In his 24 starts, Steele tossed 119 innings with a great 3.18 ERA and a solid 24.7% strikeout rate. The only real knock on Steele’s season was his 1.35 WHIP.
At 27 years old and entering his second full season as a starter, there’s some chatter brewing in the fantasy community that Steele has another level to reach, and if he does, he could be a great late strikeout guy for your fantasy squad.
Steele relies heavily on two pitches: his four-seam fastball (57% usage) and his slider (31% usage). His slider had great results last year, earning a 32.7% whiff rate and just a .178 wOBA against. The four-seamer is much more pedestrian, coming in at only 92 mph and allowing a hard contact rate of 23.2% and a .365 wOBA.
If Steele decides to bump up that slider usage to around 40% or finds an effective third pitch, there’s a good chance his success last year won’t just be a fluke. You can do a lot worse than Steele at this point in drafts.
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP Detroit Tigers
It’s been a weird four years for Eduardo Rodriguez. In 2019, at age 25, Rodriguez looked like a budding star. He had a 3.81 ERA over 203.1 innings and struck out 213 batters. Then 2020 hit and everything went crazy. Rodriguez came down with COVID-19 which then left him with myocarditis — inflammation of the heart — and he missed the shortened 2020 season. Rodriguez had a relatively strong return to the mound in 2021, throwing 157.2 innings with a 4.74 ERA and 27.4% strikeout rate. That was good for 3.9 fWAR which the Tigers liked enough to sign him to a five-year, $70 million contract.
Last year was Rodriguez’s first year in Detroit, and like most things for the Tigers in 2022, it didn’t go so well. He started the year with seven starts pitching to a 3.72 ERA, was hurt in the first inning of his eighth start, and while recovering from his injury he left the team for three months to attend to a personal matter. Rodriguez eventually made his way back to Detroit and started nine games, posting a 3.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, but just a 17.1% strikeout rate over that stretch.
Rodriguez’s fastball took a big step back from 2021 to 2022, dropping a tick of velocity and having its whiff rate nearly cut in half, falling from 31.3% to 16.7%. I think there’s a chance here that Rodriguez is able to work on his fastball and get it back to its pre-2022 form. If he does, he should be an innings eater in Detroit and could wind up as a boon to your fantasy team’s strikeout totals. Unfortunately, you have to stomach Rodriguez’s typically high WHIP to get those strikeouts. He’s never had a WHIP below 1.26 in his big-league career.
Hayden Wesneski, SP Chicago Cubs
Hayden Wesneski flashed exciting upside in 33 innings late last year, putting up a 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and a 25% strikeout rate. He has an absolutely nasty slider that headlines his repertoire, but his four-seamer showed strong results last year too (just a .136 wOBA against), and his sinker, cutter, and changeup round out a fun arsenal.
With that profile, you’d think Wesneski would be going higher in drafts, but playing time questions for the 25-year-old righty are holding his draft stock back. Kyle Hendricks will start the season on the IL which creates an open spot in the Cubs’ rotation, but it’s an open battle between Wesneski and Adrian Sampson to claim the job. Sampson has more experience, but Wesneski wins the upside battle pretty easily.
Wesneski’s looked great so far this spring and the Cubs’ active offseason puts them in a position to try to start winning again, so I think Wesneski opens the season with the fifth starter job. If he gets it, he could run with it and be a clear difference-maker very quickly.
Nick Pivetta, SP Boston Red Sox
We’re getting to two really deep strikeout targets to close out this article, with the first being Nick Pivetta. He doesn’t have “blow hitters away” kinda stuff, but he does have a very secure job in a rotation rife with injury risk and a good enough arsenal to finish the season a lot closer to 200 strikeouts than you’d probably predict.
In each of the last two years, Pivetta’s started at least 30 games and has finished his campaign with exactly 175 strikeouts. He’s not going to do it in a flashy way — he only struck out eight or more batters in six of his 33 starts in 2022 — but he should be on the mound every five days for a team that will need him to eat innings.
To reach those final strikeout numbers, you’ll have to stomach a 4.50 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but if you have a deep enough bench to stick Pivetta on against tougher opponents, he can be a solid late addition to your pitching staff.
Germán Márquez, SP Colorado Rockies
Like Pivetta before him, Germán Márquez is more of a volume strikeout pick than someone who really draws you in with their swing-and-miss stuff.
By now, the playbook is out on Márquez, and it’s pretty much the same as every Rockies’ starter. Don’t start him at home. If you’re in a league with a deep enough bench where you can afford to roster Márquez while only starting him in his road games, you can get some pretty good ratios and strikeout totals from him.
Here’s his stat line on the road last year: 3.34 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 18.3% strikeout rate. And here are his home numbers: 6.70 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and a 20.2% strikeout rate. I truly feel sorry for the Rockies’ starters.
He’s not a fun option, I know, but if your team is really hurting for strikeouts, Márquez is a great option this late. He’s got a guaranteed job to keep racking up punchouts, plus the balanced schedule should mean he’ll see the formidable lineups in Los Angeles and San Diego less often. Márquez’s name seems to come up every year at the trade deadline, and if 2023 is the year he’s finally moved, he would instantly become way more valuable if he didn’t call Colorado home.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)