Mound Musings: Gazing Into the Crystal Ball for 2024

Mound Musings: Gazing Into the Crystal Ball for 2024

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

This year, there have been even more (than usual) young and veteran arms posting surprisingly ugly numbers. Of course, some pitchers have enjoyed incredible success, and that always leads to decisions on whether they should be pursued on draft day. Others, who were being counted upon by their fantasy owners to anchor their staffs, have been just that – literally, an anchor. For the new guys who have been turning heads, even with those good beginnings, most won't post long term value as the hitters build a book on them, and uncover their flaws. However, some will likely take advantage of the opportunity, and so should you. The trick is deciding which to pursue.

That said, I would like to feature a few pitchers who have impressed me, some with solid numbers, or maybe just with future potential for next season. Maybe they have just arrived on the MLB scene, or perhaps something has changed, making them potentially much more valuable than anyone really anticipated. Then, I'll flip the coin and throw out some pitchers who have posted impressive numbers, but might be risky propositions going forward. Watch the warning signs on these guys.

On draft day 2024, you might consider pursuing these arms: 

Spencer Strider (Braves) – Occasionally a young pitcher fools me and that's the case with Strider. When I first saw him, he was generally pitching shorter outings, rarely facing hitters more than once in a game. He relied heavily on an electric fastball, and when the

This year, there have been even more (than usual) young and veteran arms posting surprisingly ugly numbers. Of course, some pitchers have enjoyed incredible success, and that always leads to decisions on whether they should be pursued on draft day. Others, who were being counted upon by their fantasy owners to anchor their staffs, have been just that – literally, an anchor. For the new guys who have been turning heads, even with those good beginnings, most won't post long term value as the hitters build a book on them, and uncover their flaws. However, some will likely take advantage of the opportunity, and so should you. The trick is deciding which to pursue.

That said, I would like to feature a few pitchers who have impressed me, some with solid numbers, or maybe just with future potential for next season. Maybe they have just arrived on the MLB scene, or perhaps something has changed, making them potentially much more valuable than anyone really anticipated. Then, I'll flip the coin and throw out some pitchers who have posted impressive numbers, but might be risky propositions going forward. Watch the warning signs on these guys.

On draft day 2024, you might consider pursuing these arms: 

Spencer Strider (Braves) – Occasionally a young pitcher fools me and that's the case with Strider. When I first saw him, he was generally pitching shorter outings, rarely facing hitters more than once in a game. He relied heavily on an electric fastball, and when the team moved him to the rotation, I was concerned he would suffer from overexposure. It hasn't happened. In fact, he has thrived on the added workload, for example, ringing up 259 strikeouts in just 169 innings. He's been a little unlucky, contributing to a mediocre 3.73 ERA, but strikeouts cure a lot of evils, and he averages almost 14 per nine innings, far outpacing the nearest competitor in that category.

Luis Castillo (Mariners) – I'm going to make a rash prediction that Atlanta and Seattle will meet in the 2024 World Series. That's why there are two from each team on this list, and I could easily add more Mariners behind Castillo. Using my scouting metrics, he probably should be the top starting pitcher in the game today.  He can be just a little erratic at times, but it usually fades quickly, and he gets right back on track with his electric stuff. Over the last couple years, he has become less of a groundball pitcher, working up in the zone more often, and that has made a positive impact. I think his elevated homerun rate is a bit of an anomaly, so expect that to improve.

Justin Verlander (Astros) – It's not every day I suggest targeting a 40-year-old starting pitcher, and the dramatic decline in innings pitched by starters (only 10 pitchers are on pace to eclipse 200 innings this season) should make it even more rare. Okay, but then there is Mr. Verlander. He has logged more than 200 innings 12 times, and would likely be close again but he missed more than a month at the beginning of the year. Like every pitcher these days, he has had an occasional bumpy ride, but he comes right back. With one of the cleanest deliveries I have ever seen, he's the Energizer Bunny of baseball, and think about it – if you needed a win today, who would you prefer to hand the ball to?

Walker Buehler (Dodgers) – He missed the year as he recovered from a couple different procedures on his elbow, including Tommy John surgery. He was good before 2021 but that was his coming-out season, as he went 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 207 innings. He got off to a similar start in 2022 before the injuries set in. Buehler made a very encouraging rehab outing earlier this month, but then the Dodgers inexplicably indicated he would not return this season. That is certainly a bit worrisome, but they could just be focusing on prepping for 2024. I drafted him last spring with an eye on 2024, and unless something unforeseen pops up, he'll be a key part of my rotation.

Bryan Woo (Mariners) – This is something of a super sleeper. His 2023 numbers are fair, but certainly not great (4.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), but the Mariners have been judiciously monitoring his workload.  He's over 119 innings between Double-A Arkansas and Seattle after tossing only 57 innings in 2022. He has good stuff, and he's not afraid to throw any pitch in any situation. I think that's what I like best. He has smooth mechanics, his poise and maturity on the mound really impress me given his relative lack of pro experience, and he's always in the game. He fits nicely with this team's mound corps, but with everyone being healthy in 2024, he'll need to be sharp.

Michael Soroka (Braves) – This is an extremely high-risk-hoping-for-a-high-reward pick. When Soroka first arrived in 2018, I touted him heavily, and in 2019 he paid handsome dividends. Then it all came crashing down. Due to multiple injuries, including more than one surgery to his Achilles, he has logged a total of just 46 innings in five years. This year he went 2-2 with an ugly 6.40 ERA, but he made just six starts before being shutdown with right forearm inflammation. It won't require surgery, but he needs a solid spring next year and good health throughout the season. Just don't overpay.

I'm probably staying away from these pitchers:

Tanner Bibee (Guardians) – Don't get me wrong, Bibee has posted an impressive season. He's 10-4 with a 3.03 ERA and a solid 1.19 WHIP. The Guardians needed someone to step up, and he did just that. My concerns are about the future. He has good, but not great stuff, and he relies quite a bit on a rather deceptive motion. That often leads to him being more hittable as batters become more familiar, and I think that's beginning to happen. Sometimes pitchers fool me and they adjust enough to keep hitters honest, but more often than not, the peripherals suffer somewhat. I believe he will remain a solid starting pitcher, but you might be expecting too much looking for an expanded 2023 next year, and that could drive his draft price a bit too high.

Cole Ragans (Royals) – Call me a pessimist. Ragans has posted pretty respectable peripherals (3.01 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP) this year and even has a decent record of 6-4 while pitching for a weak Kansas City team, but I don't see it lasting. He has, IMHO, rather mediocre command of just so-so stuff, he doesn't miss quite enough bats, and he gives up a few too many hard-hit balls. Other than that, he's an ace. His home games take place in a pitcher-friendly park, but that sketchy command – not so much missing the zone but missing his spots in the zone – is likely to catch up to him. He's not for me.

Chris Bassitt (Blue Jays) – Bassitt is an interesting study. His four-seam fastball isn't overpowering (92.0 mph), but he does generate relatively good movement with it. His secondary pitches are average or perhaps even a bit better. That may be enough to get by in a starting role, but I keep thinking teams will start recognizing the fastball and sit on it until they get something in the hitting zone. He does throw strikes, which helps a lot, but his pedestrian stuff, and general inability to miss that many bats overall, bring up red flags for me. There have been a few pretty successful pitchers in the past with a similar profile, and I wasn't a big fan of them either. Yes, it's hard to doubt his success, but I do.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Let's add another name to our 2024 draft day targets. Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes in Japan is expected to be available to MLB teams this offseason, and he has the tools to make an immediate impact. In fact, he just threw a no-hitter last week, lowering his microscopic ERA to 1.34 on the year.
  • The Orioles welcomed southpaw John Means back earlier this week. He was their best starting pitcher in the days immediately before they became a pretty good team, but he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery early last year. The first start back was a mixed bag, but having him back in the stable is great.
  • I almost included the Mets' Kodai Senga on the possible pitchers to pursue list above. It seems like every time I watch him, he has improved, and what more can you really ask for. He is adapting well to pitching in the United States, and his stuff works when he throws strikes, especially that filthy forkball he features.
  • I watched one of the more dominant outings by a starting pitcher last weekend as Minnesota's Pablo Lopez simply mesmerized the Mets. He allowed just two hits, albeit he did hit a pair of batters, while striking out 14 (and most swings weren't close). He's been on quite a roll. Nice to see someone is still capable.
  • Jesus Luzardo of Miami is the latest poster child for inconsistency. He recently turned in three consecutive quality starts after three starts in which he generated a horrid 11.68 ERA. Then he was shelled by Milwaukee earlier this week. I think he has excellent stuff and a very high ceiling, but which Luzardo do you get?

Endgame Odyssey:

The Angels are probably set at closer for the rest of 2023 with Carlos Estevez, but their likely closer of the future, Ben Joyce, just returned from a three-month absence following an elbow injury. He has one of the best arms in the game, so monitor him. The Nats' Kyle Finnegan has not been the most reliable closer of late, which could possibly lead to Hunter Harvey reclaiming the job, or – sleeper alert – Tanner Rainey is close to returning from the injured list. The Cardinals' Ryan Helsley picked his first save since being activated from the injured list last week. I anticipate him seeing the lion's share of save chances down the stretch. The Cubs have been pushing into the playoff picture, and closer Adbert Alzolay has been a big part of that, so his recent forearm strain could be a huge hurdle to overcome. My guess is we could see either Julian Merryweather or Michael Fulmer in the ninth inning for the foreseeable future. Boston's Kenley Jansen has apparently tested positive for COVID-19, meaning he will be on the shelf for at least a week. My best guess for a fill-in would be Chris Martin. Is Kirby Yates taking the reins in Atlanta?

It's that time. Next week we'll take a look at my annual selections for 2023 awards!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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