Whether it’s because they’re recovering from injury or are a potential candidate to see a decline in production, veteran starting pitchers can sometimes have lower ADPs than their track record might suggest. Sometimes the lower ADP is due to a down season. For Charlie Morton, Adam Wainwright, and Hyun Jin Ryu, one or more of those things might be pushing them down draft boards.
However, the flip side to that coin is that all three qualify as potential steals given where they’re going in drafts.
In standard scoring, ESPN head-to-head leagues, all three were top 50 starting pitchers, with Wainwright and Morton finishing in the top twelve at 10th and 11th respectively.
Yet, all three are being selected after the first 95 players and outside the top 35 pitchers overall according to NFBC.
Morton currently has the highest ADP of the trio at 96.73 with Wainwright and Ryu checking in at 200.17 and 203.92 respectively.
All three could be incredible value picks at those points in drafts.
Charlie Morton – 96.73 ADP
Much of Morton’s fantasy and real-life success is due to his ability to register strikeouts at an above-average rate while keeping the ball in the yard and limiting hard contact.
That was certainly on display during the 2021 season when the veteran pitched to a 3.34 ERA and a 3.18 FIP in 186.2 innings last season while striking out 10.47 batters per nine innings. He also surrendered just 0.78 home runs per nine frames.
His walks per nine innings rate isn’t quite as pristine, as it was at 2.78 last season, but it’s certainly not a problematic metric, especially when considering how elite the hurler is in other areas.
Morton was one of just four pitchers to finish in the top 15 league-wide among starters with at least 150 innings in strikeouts per nine innings, home runs allowed per nine innings, and hard-hit rate.
The other three?
Corbin Burnes, Zack Wheeler, and Brandon Woodruff.
Of course, this recipe for success is nothing new for Morton, who has been particularly elite with his strikeout numbers, as well as the ability to limit home runs and hard-hit balls, since the start of 2019.
The veteran’s season was ended in 2021 during the World Series due to a right fibula fracture sustained from a ball hit off the bat of Yuli Gurriel.
The injury came at an unfortunate time as Morton had just topped 185 innings for the second full season in a row. He’s one of just five starters – Wheeler, Sandy Alcantara, Luis Castillo, and José Berríos are the others – to top at least 185 innings in both 2019 and 2021.
It would appear things are trending in a positive direction with Morton from an injury standpoint. According to a February 15 article by David O’Brien of The Athletic, he reported that the pitcher said “he’s “mostly caught up” to where he would be normally at this point of February, but added that he wouldn’t know more until he gets into the rigors of spring training.”
Later in the spring, on March 13, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Justin Toscano tweeted: “Charlie Morton said he threw a 20-pitch bullpen today. He’s thrown to hitters a few times this spring. It seems like he feels he’ll be able to do anything asked of him going forward.”
If Morton is healthy, a heavy workload should, in theory, once again follow.
That’d certainly be good news for fantasy managers, especially because of his ability to provide elite production in some categories like strikeouts and ERA. It’s also good news for fantasy managers drafting him in such a relatively late round.
But, it isn’t just the strikeouts, the few home runs allowed, and the low hard-hit rate. It’s the wins too.
Pitcher wins is obviously a stat that has seen its real-life relevancy flounder, but the metric still holds plenty of value in the fantasy game. And, with places in rotations on contending teams in Houston, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta, Morton has had no trouble racking up wins with his effectiveness on the mound.
Even without Freddie Freeman, Atlanta should be plenty competitive and proficient at providing run support. Matt Olson is coming off a breakout year in Oakland and Ronald Acuña Jr. should eventually return. Elsewhere, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, and Dansby Swanson are all still around, bringing depth and quality to the lineup.
This team won’t struggle to score runs.
Logging a heavy workload for Atlanta next season should once again allow Morton to reach double-digit wins. If that’s the case, it should surprise no one if he ranks near the top 10 at his position come the end of the season.
Adam Wainwright – 200.17 ADP
Speaking of high pitcher win totals, Adam Wainwright has had a late-career resurgence in St. Louis. He has the third-most pitcher wins in the sport (36), behind only Cole and Max Fried since the beginning of the 2019 season.
The 40-year-old was excellent in 2021, pitching to a 3.05 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 206.1 innings while striking out 7.59 batters per nine innings and walking 2.18 batters per nine frames.
He won’t overwhelm with strikeout numbers as Morton might, but the starter’s skillset works perfectly in St. Louis, both for the Cardinals and fantasy managers.
That skill set includes inducing a bunch of ground balls and weak contact and letting St. Louis’ elite infielders convert said ground balls into outs. Three Cardinals infielders (Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tommy Edman) had a DRS higher than five, no other team had three players with a DRS north of five, let alone three infielders.
Wainwright was one of just seven pitchers in the league to finish in the top 15 in both ground ball rate and hard-hit rate.
Part of the reason Wainwright was so successful in 2021, at least in those standard scoring, ESPN head-to-head leagues, was due to his healthy workload. Even if he doesn’t throw 206.1 innings and finishes somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 frames, there’s still top 30 upside here. And with nearly 200 players being drafted ahead of him, the right-hander might be one of those late-round value picks that once again helps fantasy managers to championships in 2022.
Hyun Jin Ryu – 203.92 ADP
Hyun Jin Ryu’s fantasy outlook is very much a good news, bad news situation.
We’ll start with the bad news, to get that out of the way.
The veteran’s strikeouts dropped. And significantly. After four straight seasons with a strikeouts per nine inning rate north of eight, Ryu finished with 7.62 punchouts per nine innings. He also served up 1.28 home runs per nine frames.
Rather predictably, fewer strikeouts and more home runs led to a higher ERA for Ryu. The 34-year-old’s 4.37 ERA was the highest mark of his career and his 4.02 FIP was the second-highest he’s turned in during a full season.
So that’s all less than ideal.
The good news, however, to counterbalance all that is that he’s still pitching for a stacked Blue Jays team that should finish with at least 90 wins.
Generally, pitching on competitive teams has led to high win totals for the left-hander.
In the four full seasons in which Ryu has thrown more than 140 innings (2013, 2014, 2019, and 2021) he’s won exactly 14 games each time. Despite Toronto losing Marcus Semien to free agency, the starter should be in a good spot to reach a similar number of wins if he can keep his ERA down.
And while the run prevention numbers were some of the worst of Ryu’s career, his FIP suggested he was better than his ERA would indicate. Yes, FIP isn’t necessarily a common scoring stat in fantasy, but his 4.02 metric was just percentage points off Yu Darvish (3.90) and Chris Flexen’s (3.89) metrics in the category.
The trio were wildly different pitchers statistically speaking, but if Ryu can turn in an ERA in line with his 2021 FIP, he’ll be well on his way to a solid fantasy season.
It also doesn’t hurt that the former Dodger was once again stellar at limiting walks.
Speaking of Chris Flexen, Flexen’s 2021 season seems like an entirely reasonable outcome for Ryu in 2022, albeit with a few more strikeouts. If the veteran can produce at a similar rate to Flexen, he’ll bring plenty of value at a low ADP. In fact, for what’s it’s worth, FanGraphs’ Dan Syzmborski’s ZiPS projections currently project Ryu’s 2022 season stats to be fairly similar to Flexen’s 2021 numbers. The Mariners starter finished the season as the 39th-highest scoring pitcher in standard scoring, ESPN head-to-head leagues. Ryu is currently being drafted as the 74th pitcher off the board per NFBC.
*ZiPS projections per FanGraphs’ Dan Syzmborski.
Ryu might not be the starter he was earlier in his career with the Dodgers. And he probably doesn’t have the high fantasy ceiling of fellow later-round starters like Tarik Skubal and Tanner Houck, but he has a high floor thanks to his double-digit win potential and reasonable ERA upside.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)