In 2019, 50 pitchers made at least 30 starts. That number dropped to 31 in 2021. There were only four pitchers that threw 200 or more innings last season compared to 15 in 2019. Starting pitchers averaged 5.02 innings per start last year, which is not enough to qualify for a quality start and barely qualifies to earn a win.

There are already a few teams that have expressed interest in using a six-man rotation, especially early in the season, and the increase of bullpen usage is making starting pitchers’ value harder to come by. Rosters will be expanded to 28 in the first month and there are no limits on how many pitchers can be on the big-league team.

I have stressed in recent years to not invest in starting pitchers in the early rounds of drafts and it has worked overall. I’m continuing to advise this, as I really believe teams will be cautious early in the season due to the shortened spring training.

We spotlighted overvalued hitters earlier. Here are the pitchers who are going too high in fantasy baseball drafts.

Seattle Mariners Starting Pitcher Robbie Ray

The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner is currently being drafted as the 15th pitcher, according to FantasyPros.com. This is the perfect example of fantasy owners chasing last season’s results and believing it will happen once again the following year. Ray was drafted after Round 11 in 2021 but is now going in Round 3.

There’s no denying he was dominant and deserved to win the Cy Young in 2021. However, at the age of 29, this was clearly the best season Ray has ever had and it was due to him finally being able to throw strikes. The left-hander has never finished a season with less than 3.5 walks per nine innings until last year, when he finished with a walk rate of 2.4 BB/9. There’s only one question with Ray and it’s a big one — did he figure out how to throw strikes consistently?

This answer will be the difference in drafting an ace on your fantasy team or a back-end rotation option. That’s a huge question mark when investing in a pitcher being drafted as high as Ray. The strikeouts will always be elite, as he has averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings during his career. After finishing with a 2.84 ERA in 2021, the lefty will certainly regress in that category and be closer to 3.70.

Pitching in Seattle will certainly help, but there are still tough lineups in the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. I’m also not sold that Ray will limit the walks again, so that number will regress as well. This combination makes Ray untouchable at his current average draft position.

New York Yankees Reliever Aroldis Chapman

The lack of elite closers in fantasy baseball in recent years has pushed the average draft position of those who are secure in the closer’s role way too high. For example, Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader is being drafted in Rounds 3 or 4 in many drafts. Hader is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball, but there are so many factors that need to converge in order for him to get a save. I just don’t want to invest that highly in a pitcher who will only help our team for one inning. The strategy we will continue to deploy is drafting a closer later in drafts and being aggressive on the waiver wire.

This brings me to Chapman. The hard thrower currently has an average draft position of 88, which would have been considered a steal a few years ago. However, the left-hander is not the same pitcher he was then. The 34-year-old averaged 6.1 walks per nine innings last year, and his 1.31 WHIP was the worst of his career.

Plus, his ERA was above 3.00 for a second consecutive year. Chapman lost the closer’s job last year for a period and if he struggles again, that could happen again. Despite the strikeout rate remaining strong, it’s clear that Chapman is on the downside of his career. The signs are there that drafting Chapman could be a disaster, and I’m bailing now.

Cincinnati Reds Starting Pitcher Luis Castillo

Who is the real Castillo? The right-hander was a disaster in April and May of last season, as he finished with an ERA north of 6.00 in both months. Castillo settled down in June and July, as he posted ERA’s of 1.71 and 2.15, respectively. Castillo then had an ERA of 4.58 in August. The righty finished on a high note, with an ERA of 2.35 during his final five starts.

The roller-coaster ride is something we can’t afford as a fantasy owner. His strikeouts dipped below 10.00 in 2021, and his walk rate has been above 3.00 for three consecutive seasons. Castillo is now dealing with a sore shoulder. Opening Day is in jeopardy, and he could be out for even longer. This is a big red flag.

The Reds have also unloaded a lot of quality talent and don’t care about winning baseball games in 2022. I do believe Castillo could be traded at some point, which may give him a bump in fantasy value. However, for now this is a pitcher who won’t win many games, who is currently dealing with an injury, whose strikeouts have declined and who is putting a lot of hitters on base. That’s a bad combination. Castillo is currently being drafted as the 25th starting pitcher. I will look elsewhere to fill out my rotation.

Phil Backert

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