The 2024 Most Polarizing Starting Pitchers

Last week, I identified and discussed the most polarizing hitters, according to NFBC ADP Min/Max Pick. Today, let’s shift over to starting pitchers. In general, I would expect more disagreement on a pitcher at a particular ADP than a hitter with a similar ADP, but the numbers don’t suggest that to be the case, at least this year. Let’s dive in.

The Most Polarizing Starting Pitchers
Player ADP Min Pick Max Pick Difference Super Secret Ranking Formula*
Spencer Strider 8 1 19 18 25.3
Kodai Senga 169 52 359 307 16.6
Lucas Giolito 275 157 741 584 13.4
Tarik Skubal 52 25 100 75 11.9
Kevin Gausman 33 16 59 43 11.2
Walker Buehler 190 82 299 217 11.1
Gerrit Cole 16 8 27 19 10.5
Zack Wheeler 29 17 56 39 10.3
Zac Gallen 43 20 65 45 10.1
Tyler Glasnow 45 26 84 58 10.1
Grayson Rodriguez 71 40 124 84 9.7
Corbin Burnes 23 13 40 27 9.7
Luis Castillo 35 18 55 37 9.6
Yoshinobu Yamamoto 40 22 65 43 9.3
*The difference in estimated auction price between the Min and Max Pick

Wow, that’s quite the pick disparity for Spencer Strider, the starting pitcher universally projected as by far the most valuable, no matter which projection system you use. I would never, ever, ever draft a pitcher first overall, but I can’t comprehend that at least one league allowed him to slip to 19th overall! I’m actually pretty impressed with fantasy owners that his 3.86 ERA last year isn’t scaring anyone away, as there must be at least one savvy owner in each league looking deeper at both his 2.86 SIERA and, of course, his insane mid-to-high 30% strikeout rate.

Clearly, Kodai Senga’s shoulder injury has crushed his ADP, while Lucas Giolito’s elbow injury may cost him the season. This is why it’s so risky to draft early, and even more frustrating when either of these names are on your team.

So, Tarik Skubal undergoes flexor tendon surgery that ended his 2022 season early and resulted in a late start to the 2023 season, then returns with significantly more velocity and becomes elite. Maybe everyone should undergo that surgery! The skills are great and I think he could close to replicating, assuming his velocity spike holds. But don’t forget that he still pitches in front of a terrible offense (wins could be hard to come by), the bullpen isn’t very good, and how many innings he’ll be able to throw is a real question mark. So while I think he absolutely has the upside to earn his Min Pick of 25, I ain’t gambling at that price, though his Max Pick of 100 is pretty absurd.

Since early March, Kevin Gausman has been dealing with shoulder fatigue and has since thrown a bullpen session. It’s likely that this injury has knocked down his price a bit and you never know how it will affect him or how long it could linger. When healthy, he has been elite now for four straight seasons, as he was finally able to translate his mid-to-high 90s fastball into strikeouts.

Walker Buehler is yet another whose price is being affected by his health status. His 2022 season was cut short when he ultimately underwent TJ surgery and flexor tendon repair, and he has only pitched two Triple-A innings since. He’s been throwing live batting practice, but his return date remains up in the air. And of course, even when he does return, it’s anyone’s guess how the long layoff and recovery affects his performance. Since he was never a big swing and miss guy and recorded strikeouts more through called strikes, I was never his biggest fan. Still, it worked for him and he obviously has fantasy impact potential. It really just depends on your other choices when deciding whether to draft him as a wait and see.

After Strider, Gerrit Cole is the second top 20 overall pick that apparently fantasy owners aren’t fully agreeing on. His 2023 performance is actually opposite Strider’s — he actually overperformed his SIERA, all the while his strikeout rate plunged to its lowest since 2017…when he was still with the Pirates. His SwStk% also hit its lowest since then, even though his pitch mix was the same. His velocity was down some, but still in line with his pre-2021 days, before it spiked for two seasons. I’m not sure what to think here, do you bet on the 33-year-old’s strikeout rate jumping back over 30%? If not, then he’s seemingly a weak pick at 16th overall.

Zack Wheeler’s ERA jumped above 3.00 for the first time since 2019 last year, and his SIERA jumped as well, supporting a decline in underlying skills. He’s another top tier pitcher I have never been able to fully get behind given his typically lackluster SwStk% and CSW%. It might explain why I’ve never owned him and this won’t be the year that changes.

Sheesh, Zac Gallen looks like a clone of Wheeler, who I just poo-pooed for meh SwStk% and CSW% marks. Gallen is no different, and yet I somehow ended up drafting him in LABR mixed. Of course, it’s all about price. I snagged Gallen at 53rd overall, versus an ADP of 43, so some additional downside was priced in there and there was too much of a drop-off to the next group of starters for me to go yet another round without rostering one. I’m not sure what’s driving the large discrepancy in picks, though the projections also aren’t sure what to expect, for both his strikeout rate and ERA.

The oft-injured Tyler Glasnow must be maddening to own. Last year’s 120 innings was actually a career best for him. But when he’s on the mound, man is he good, with strikeout rates well above 30%, supported by mid-teen SwStk% and over 30% CSW% marks. That’s a pretty big range for a pitcher everyone agrees is really good, which is likely a testament to a league’s risk aversion to injury prone pitchers. He’s the type of guy I love in shallower leagues where replacement level is higher and it’s less damaging if and when he lands on the IL.

It was a tale of two seasons for former top prospect Grayson Rodriguez. Over his first 10 games spanning 45.1 innings, he posted a bloated 7.35 ERA, but still struck out 26.5% of opposing batters and his 4.15 SIERA was much more palatable. He was then demoted to the minors at the end of May, before returning in mid-July. During his second go-around, he posted a 2.58 ERA/3.88 SIERA, but his strikeout rate actually fell to just 24%. SIERA suggests he didn’t actually pitch significantly better, but all his luck metrics (BABIP, HR/FB, LOB%) improved dramatically. So his bad fortune turned around, actually overcorrecting, and suddenly he finishes with an ERA not too much higher than his season SIERA. That’s exactly how this stuff is supposed to work!

I think that return from the minors performance is now raising expectations far too high though, but he’s seemingly got the stuff and minor league history to enjoy a true skills-based breakout to earn his cost. I just wouldn’t pay that price.

Corbin Burnes moves to a more pitcher friendly home park in Baltimore, which he needs given that his strikeout rate plunged last year, along with his SwStk%. He’s in a better position than Cole given that he’s still on the right side of age 30. His cutter velocity dropped below 95 MPH, after sitting just above the last two seasons, so that might be something to monitor in spring and early season. Perhaps he needs it at 95 MPH to maintain a 30% strikeout rate.

Luis Castillo enjoyed another solid year, though his GB% fell below 40% for the first time, leading to a significant increase in HR/9. His fastball velocity did fall last year, but it didn’t affect his SwStk% or strikeout rate. I don’t see any particular reason for a disagreement here about his value.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto joins the Dodgers rotation from Japan and it’s no surprise that fantasy owners aren’t in complete agreement about his value. Because really, we’re just taking an educated guess here. He posted pretty good skills in Japan, with a career 26.4% strikeout and 5.8% walk rate, with a 27.9% strikeout rate over the past four years when it spiked. He obviously ends up in an ideal landing spot and should at least be a good fantasy starter with upside for better. I can’t imagine selecting him as early as 22 and passing up more sure things, but seems like a good deal at 65.

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So tell me — which side of the aisle do you shop in when eyeing these polarizing pitchers, the bullish or bearish side?





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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EonADS
1 month ago

I’m surprised Tanner Bibee didn’t get on this list. I’ve seen people draft him ludicrously high (like, back end of the first round), and his ADP is 105 last I checked. I love him, but I would never take him that high.