With so much focus constantly put on hitting, fantasy baseball pitchers deserve some love too.
Home runs are flashy, but much like defense, pitching wins championships. We’ve spent plenty of time covering hitters and it’s time we break down some pitching. Plenty of people go the streaming pitchers approach, which can be successful, but finding that waiver wire gem you keep all year is just so much more fun. This is a list of fantasy baseball pitchers owned in less than 42% of leagues on ESPN worth paying attention to.
1. Hunter Greene
(1-3, 6.00 ERA, 22 Ks, 41.3% Rostered)
After literally blowing past minor league hitters, Greene made his much anticipated debut in 2022. Although it hasn’t been as dominating as some people thought, there’s been plenty of signs that point to success in the near future.
Firstly, that monster of a fastball. This probably comes as a shock to nobody at this point, but the kid throws heat. Third in all of baseball in average fastball velocity at 98.3 MPH, he’s also got some life on the ball as well. Currently that fastball is generating a spin rate of 2371 RPM, dropping an average of 11.6 inches and breaking 10.3 inches horizontally. The horizontal break is 32% more than league average. He also throws a wipeout slider and changeup, but the changeup is rarely used.
Even though that fastball is by far his best weapon, it’s also been his biggest weakness. Throwing it 60% of the time with a 30% whiff rate is nice until you realize batters are hitting .413 against it. His slider has been incredibly dominant though. He’s thrown it 104 times to 30 batters and has given up no hits off it. With a whiff rate of 40%.
Greene currently has a 1-3 record with a 6.00 ERA. Despite that, he actually has a much more reasonable 4.46 xERA and 4.34 xFIP. Much of Greene’s inflated ERA comes from the fact that his first four starts of his career came against the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and the Rockies AT Coors Field. Not the most pitcher friendly way to start your career.
This season, Greene profiles very similarly to Logan Gilbert in 2021. Powerful fastball that he’s a bit over dependent on at times with a wipeout slider and a third pitch he’s getting comfortable with. Expect the strikeout rate to continue to be high (11 K/9 currently) especially since he has shown the ability to throw 39 pitches over 100 MPH in a single start. Greene should end the year around 10 wins and 170+ strikeouts depending on how many innings the Reds are comfortable letting him go. Easily worth a roster spot in 12+ team leagues.
2. Madison Bumgarner
(1-1, 1.17 ERA, 15 Ks, 27% Rostered)
Is he the perennial all star he used to be? No. But he doesn’t need to be. What Bumgarner has done this season is almost completely retool himself as a pitcher.
After never throwing his cutter more than 34% of the time in a single season, Bumgarner has started off 2022 throwing it 51% of the time. He’s actually added some velocity to it as well. It’s gone from 83.6 MPH in 2020, to 86 in 2021, to now 87.8 MPH in 2022. This bump in velocity and usage rate has resulted in an excellent -3 run value and .212 batting average against for his cutter alone.
Through his first five starts, Bumgarner is 1-1 with a minuscule 1.17 ERA with an xERA of 3.27. That xERA is his lowest since the 2016 season. His .197 BABIP against points to some eventual regression, but combine that with the fact he’s giving up the second lowest barrel rate of his career (5.9%) and highest ground ball rate since 2018 (39.4%), it’s not crazy to think Bumgarner may end the year around a 3.50 ERA, 12 wins and plenty of quality starts to justify a roster spot.
3. Josiah Gray
(3-2, 3.12 ERA, 31 Ks, 36.3% Rostered)
From top Dodgers pitching prospect to somewhat forgotten about in Washington. Even while flying under the radar, Gray has still shown flashes of why he was a top prospect.
Mainly a fastball pitcher (49%), but his breaking stuff is where he really excels. Both his curveball (.107 BAA, .141 xBA, 48% whiff rate) and his slider (.235, .177, 45%) have been elite secondary pitches this season. Because of this, not only has his strikeout rate jumped (10.7 K/9), but his batting average against has dropped (.215) as well as his hard hit rate (30.8%) and his BABIP is sitting at .288 which is very sustainable.
One noticeable change in Gray’s game this year is his drop in velocity. Down almost 2 MPH across the board, Gray seems to be focusing more on getting some more movement on his pitches rather than overpowering hitters. His slider gained three inches of vertical moment while his curveball gained almost 5.5 inches. His fastball movement has also jumped to 14 inches vertically and 10 horizontally which is 23% more break than the average fastball.
With the adjustments Gray has made and the production he’s getting, reminiscent of the minor league production that made him a top prospect, Gray has breakout written all over him. Especially after his last start (6 IP, 1 hit against San Francisco). As far as fantasy baseball pitchers go, he may be the most roster worthy right now on this list.
4. Chris Paddack
(1-2, 3.15 ERA, 16 Ks, 16.4% Rostered)
What version of Paddack you’ll get seems to change every year he’s been in the majors. Thankfully this season it’s changed for the much much better. The fact that he’s rostered in so few leagues both does and doesn’t surprise me. Committing to a guy who had a 5.07 ERA in 23 starts last season is never easy. Thankfully for Paddack, though, he does have some past 2019 success we can fall back on.
After three years in Slam Diego, Paddack gets a fresh start with the Twins. Four games into that fresh start and he’s put together some very appealing fantasy numbers. The most appealing of which is his K/BB ratio of 8. Yes, you read that right, 8. Throughout his career Paddack has always had an elite K/BB (4.87) but there’s just something about a fantasy baseball pitcher with a 16/2 K/BB ratio that is worth taking note of.
It’s not just been his command that’s excellent, either. Currently Paddack sits with a 3.15 ERA, 2.65 xERA, 1.92 FIP and 3.16 xFIP. All of which are career highs. One of the biggest contributors to that is Paddack’s fastball. In both 2020 and 2021 his fastball was worth +7 and +8 runs respectfully. That’s really, really bad. He also had a usage rate of 58.2% and 61.5% with it. This season, Paddack has dropped his fastball usage to only 51%, resulting in the pitch now being worth -2 runs. A 10 run difference from the year prior.
Overall Paddack has an above average whiff rate (26.3%), much better than average zone contact rate (73.7%, league average is 82%) and does an excellent job of creating ground balls (48.4%).
While some may be gun shy based on Paddack’s last two seasons, you’d be hard pressed to find a solid fantasy baseball pitcher so readily available in leagues. Stream him if you want, roster him if you like living on the edge. Regardless he’s absolutely worth a roster spot in 12+ team leagues.