Rookie pitchers to the rescue?

April is in the books, and if your fantasy baseball team is struggling on the pitching side, you’re not alone. Before I go on, it’s worth noting that 30 games in a 162-game season is a small sample size. But what we’ve seen so far doesn’t feel like an anomaly to me. There have been too many starting pitchers drafted in the early rounds that are struggling.

Corbin Burnes, selected in the first round in many drafts, gave up 10 runs in his first two starts before settling down to pitch more like himself in his last four outings. But his 4.01 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are his worst since his awful sophomore year in 2019. He has also only struck out 27 batters across 33.2 innings – tied for 74th among all starting pitchers.

Aaron Nola, the third pitcher off the board in my TGFBI league, has been worse. Nola had a 4.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP heading into his start on Wednesday against the Dodgers. Spotted to a 5-0 lead, Nola couldn’t deliver, giving up four earned runs on seven hits across 6.1 innings.  He struck out five didn’t walk a batter and didn’t get a decision in the game.  

Sandy Alcantara, the fifth pitcher off the board in my league, was worse than either of them. I was fortunate enough to draft Alcantara on my TGFBI team last year, and he won the NL CY Young with a 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 207 strikeouts across 228.2 innings. Alcantara, 1-3, currently has a 5.09 ERA and 1.25 WHIP across his six starts. He has 31 strikeouts.

Four of the top 10 pitchers drafted in my league are currently on the IL – Brandon Woodruff, Carlos Rodon, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. The latter will reportedly be activated from the IL on Thursday to make his season debut in Detroit. Verlander, 40, the AL Cy Young winner, will have an injury risk albatross around his neck for the rest of his career.

With all the bad starts, some fantasy managers have added some exciting rookie pitchers. The first top 50 prospect to be called up was Taj Bradley, a 22-year-old Tampa sensation, who won his first game on April 12th. He went for $234 of FAAB in my league, won his next two starts and was rewarded by unceremoniously being sent back down to Triple A.

The following week, Oakland called up 24-year-old fireballer Mason Miller, who frequently touches triple digits with his fastball. Miller gave up two earned runs on four hits across 4.1 innings, but that didn’t deter one fantasy manager in my league from bidding $211 to land him. Unlike Bradley, the team context is a concern with Miller unlikely to win many games.

A week after Miller’s debut, Cleveland called up not one but two promising rookies – Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee. While Bibee was a highly regarded top 50 prospect, Allen flew in under the radar and made a splash with a win and eight strikeouts across six innings on April 23. Three days later, Bibee matched him with a win and eight strikeouts across 5.2 innings.

With pitching my TGFBI team’s rate limiting step, I wanted to land one of the Guardian pitchers.  After underbidding badly on Bradley and making only a courtesy bid on Miller, I made my most aggressive bid of the year for Bibee – $212. It was not only the highest bid of this year but my highest bid ever, but it fell short by $17. My $74 bid on Allen fell $60 short. 

Rookie hurler fever continues to rage this week with three more prospects getting the call from their respective teams – Bryce Miller, Gavin Stone and Brandon Pfaadt. Like Bibee, both Stone and Pfaadt were ranked in the top 50 in baseball, but both failed to impress in their debuts on Wednesday. It was Miller instead who pitched brilliantly the previous night. 

Miller didn’t allow a baserunner in the first five innings at Oakland but gave up a run in the sixth inning on two hits. Seattle went on to win, but Miller didn’t get the decision since his team was behind when he was lifted after six innings. While the A’s were an easy draw for his first start, Miller still gets credit for striking out 10 batters without walking a single one.  

Meanwhile, Stone only lasted four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits, walking two and striking out only one for the Dodgers. Pfaadt was even worse, giving up seven earned runs on nine hits, walking one and striking out three for Arizona. It will be interesting to see what the FAAB bidding is on this trio when Sunday night rolls around.

Bradley, Mason Miller, Bibee, Allen, Bryce Miller, Stone and Pfaadt are all still widely available in most leagues. Don’t get me wrong. You shouldn’t expect any of these pitchers to save your season. Michael Richards, last year’s TGFBI champion, gave me this piece of advice last year when he scoffed at the exorbitant bidding on untried rookie pitchers.

However, one or more of these rookies could help you get back on track. If you play in a deeper league like TGFBI, it’s likely all but the last three are not available. In the deeper leagues, you need depth in your starting pitching roster. I am currently rostering 11 starting pitchers on my team, and it’s likely one of this trio will be on my roster Sunday night.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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