Buy and Sell - American League Starting Pitchers

Now that the calendar has flipped from 2021 to 2022, it feels like we've turned a new leaf in the fantasy baseball season. Even though Major League Baseball is still under lockout, a new year means a new season, and we'll choose to ignore any thoughts that may pop into our heads about a skipped season orchestrated by Lord Manfred himself. We can't look towards the future without keeping an eye on the past however. In this new series, I'll look to start examining a handful of players, along with aspects of their profiles that I'm willing to buy and sell on. Each player will have a buy and a sell, along with some accompanying figures and notes. I'll also be trending towards players that aren't as obvious, as well as players that may be off our radars in fantasy, because nobody needs to be told that Juan Soto is a great hitter. This week, we'll tap into some starting pitchers from the American League.

Buy: Bailey Ober as a rosterable asset on a competing team

The somewhat unheralded prospect from the College of Charleston has surpassed expectations at every level. Despite being drafted in the 12th round, Ober has pitched well in each of his stops along the way in the minors. In his first three, albeit brief, seasons in the minor leagues, Ober had a K/BB ratio of 9.78 or higher across his first 180+ innings of work. These are the kind of numbers that usually jump out to us when identifying high-end talent, but gets glossed over with older prospects who dominate lower minor league levels. Despite a missed season in 2020, he returned to action with AAA St. Paul in 2021 and looked good in four starts. Ober spent a majority of the rest of the season with the big club in Minneapolis where he turned in 20 starts for the Twins.

Though he pitched to a 4.19 ERA in only 92 innings over those 20 starts, there are a few indicators for why I like Ober as a backend rotation piece. First, he continued to maintain a strong K/BB rate, as he rung up 96 batters while issuing free passes to only 19 hitters. Despite having an above average fly ball rate, Ober's BABIP was only a few points higher than league average, indicating that he was the victim of some bad luck inflating his ERA, as the Twins had an above average defense according to advanced metrics. Finally, Ober was above the league average in limiting opposing offenses in RA/9, a stat that is magnified by the fact that 12 of his 20 starts came against above .500 in the standings.

Sell: Bailey Ober as anything more than a backend rotation piece on your fantasy roster

While there are reasons to like Ober, there are a few red flags on buying him. Firstly, there are certainly durability concerns. Though he had success in the minor leagues, he never appeared in more than 14 games in any of those seasons. 2021 is the first season he topped that plateau, yet he only threw 108 innings between 24 starts. Because of this, it's hard to imagine Ober, even in his age 26 season in 2022 throwing more than 150 innings. Because Ober is a fly ball pitcher, he's prone to harder hit contact which he demonstrated last year with higher exit velocity, hard hit, and HR rates than ML average despite playing in pitcher friendly Target Field. The last reason is his situation with the Twins, who were sellers at the deadline last year. With an aging offense and little offseason activity pre-lockout, there is reason to reconsider what kind of run support he'll see this season. Whether in a roto league or points league, this can be a careful consideration in starting pitchers. This makes matters worse when he has had difficulty pitching deeper into games to begin with.

Buy: Jon Gray will be better in 2022

Though it may be a surprise, Jon Gray has been in the Major Leagues since 2015, and has pitched for the Rockies to varying degrees of success. What has been constant about Jon Gray's game has been his solid K/9 rates that he's posted throughout his career with a mark of 9.2K/9. Gray has mixed in some strong annual performances with bouts of inconsistency, but this year he moves to the AL West with a rebuilt Texas Rangers team. Because of this, we can be optimistic about a change in run support, as well as a change in home ball park factor. Since it's inception, Coors Field has been a bastion of life for hitters as we've seen even relatively average hitters achieve career highs here, the latest being C.J. Cron. With an average park factor of 114, it's no wonder that pitchers tend to struggle here, particularly those that pitch for the home town team for a season. Globe Life Field, albeit in a one year sample, was considerably more friendly with a park factor of 98, lending towards a positive regression in his career lines. What's more, he'll have the luxury of a stronger defense and lineup behind him when he takes the mound in 2022 with a lineup adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and former gold glover Kole Calhoun.

Sell: Jon Gray will be an "ace" for more than the Rangers in 2022

For the same reasons we expect Gray to perform better this year, we can sell on him as being a fantasy all-star as well. Jon Gray has failed to appear in more than 29 games in every season but one over his career, and has never thrown more than 172 innings in any season. There are two concerns here: one being his durability and inability to stay healthy for stretches of the season, and secondly being his inefficiency when he is on the mound. While injuries are hard to predict, we can look at Gray and see that despite possessing an average walk rate, he gives up an exceptional number of H/9. While we expect that number to be higher in ground ball pitchers typically, Gray struggles to consistently put batters away early in the count frequently enough to pitch deep into games. While we should expect his K rate to remain status quo, and his wins and ERA to improve over a full season, his inability to keep runners off the bases will continue to prevent him from being more than a candidate for positive regression.

Buy: Hyun-Jin Ryu had a down season in 2022

This one is fairly straight forward, in many respects, as Ryu posted career lows (disregarding small sample sizes). While an inflated ERA, a falling K/9 rate, and climbing H/9 rate jump off the page, he also had a dramatic change in his exit velocity rates and hard hit rates in 2022. Despite recording a career high in games started, he failed to pitch as deep into games last year, and was touched up by the long ball at his highest rate since 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sell: Hyun-Jin Ryu will return to his dominant form

There are a number of factors that are trending against Ryu here, none of which are to say that a pitcher can't be dominant at age 35 (looking at you Max Scherzer). When digging into some of the advanced numbers, Ryu wasn't a victim of bad luck last year, as his BABIP was well within his career norm, which was still strong for a ground ball pitcher. Though he maintained a consistent BABIP, however, his batting average against rose to it's highest level since the 2017 season. Digging in deeper, this is the first year that Ryu has failed to post an ERA better than his FIP, his RA9 climbed by 1.5 runs and was on par with what opposing teams posted on average as well. While pitchers of his kind have regularly pitched with success deep into their careers, few have had the success with stats that have mattered for fantasy purposes like Ryu has. For that reason, I think that he can still be counted on as a contributor on your roster this year, but expectations should be tempered quite a bit. He'll likely rebound a bit, but we won't see the dominant ERA numbers, the K/9, and WHIP rates we saw at his peak.

Buy: Cal Quantrill's breakout in 2022

After an unsuccessful debut with the Padres in 2019, Quantrill came over to the Cleveland Indians mid-2020, and was largely utilized in a relief role until the middle of this year. Over 40 games and 22 starts, Quantrill posted a sparkling 2.89 ERA while tossing 149.2 innings for the Tribe this season. Despite lacking strong K/9 ratios, he was successful in limiting base runners this season with a career best in H/9 while staying in line with his career walk numbers. We also saw him at his best in the second half of the season where he went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA over 14 starts. The icing on the cake here is that Quantrill's line against him seemed to get better as the game went on, with opponents OPS dropping with each successive plate appearance against the young pitcher.

Sell: Cal Quantrill as the next Indians breakout SP

While we're used to seeing the Indians seemingly generate SPs out of thin air with names like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and recently, Shane Beiber, Quantrill is not one of those names. Indeed, Quantrill is a likely candidate for regression based on several leading advanced metrics. Despite an exceptional BABIP rate, Quantrill has an average ML ground ball rate, and the Indians possessed a below average defense in 2021, suggesting most of this was luck-generated. Despite his second half success, he brought his BABIP and batting average against to even lower, unsustainable, levels in the second half with .248 and .204 lines accordingly. Combined with a K/9 rate that doesn't match the names listed above, expectations should be reasonably tempered. While Quantrill looks to be a mainstay in the Indians rotation at this point, we also don't expect his strong stats to stay the course heading into 2022 either, but he should be a serviceable pitcher nonetheless.

Buy: Nathan Eovaldi realizing his potential in his 30s

Seemingly for forever, we've waited for Eovaldi to showcase what made him such a promising young prospect. After an injury, and missing all of 2017, Eovaldi emerged as a brand new pitcher, one capable of positing consistently strong K/9 rates while limiting the free passes that plagued him in his youth. Over the last two campaigns with Boston, Eovaldi has posted a K/BB rate of 5.88 with an ERA of 3.75 while limiting the long ball exceptionally well, despite pitching in Boston. Over the same span, we have seen his opponent exit velocity and hard hit rates fall as well, leading to his continued success on the mound. With a strong offensive team behind him, he's a strong rotation piece, regardless of format, with his strong K and WHIP numbers, and an ERA and win-loss total that advanced metrics indicate should have been stronger than they were in 2021.

Sell: Nathan Eovaldi as a fantasy ace

Unfortunately for Eovaldi, his durability will always be a concern. Though he topped 30 starts in 2021, this was the first time he has done so since 2014. On top of that, he failed to average more than 6 innings per start, and, in fact, has only done so once in his career. Though he remained strong in limiting opposing lineups in 2021, he saw his opponent batting average dip well below his career average, despite maintaining a BABIP above his career average. And, while he has had a great deal of success in limiting the long ball during his time in Boston, the sample size is still small enough to question whether this is sustainable given his previous track record. While Eovaldi is indeed a compelling case of revival in fantasy baseball, and a strong SP on any fantasy baseball roster heading into 2022, he lacks the upside of a true fantasy ace because of his durability issues, and the likelihood that he meets regression.

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