A look back at some 2021 performances that you may not want to count on for 2022
Written By: Jake Floriolli
Blue Jays' Robbie Ray named AL Cy Young Award winner / https://sports.yahoo.com
It is never too early to begin strategizing and researching for your 2022 fantasy baseball draft, and what better way to start than deciphering the 2021 statistics to determine which fantasy breakouts were legit and which performances you should be skeptical about. Well luckily for you, I have started the groundwork and found 3 starting pitchers that may have been a little lucky in 2021 based on their underlying metrics.
1. Robbie Ray, SP Seattle Mariners, NFBC ADP of 45th overall, 16th Among Pitchers
Mariners’ 5-year deal with Cy Young winner Robbie Ray made official / https://sports.mynorthwest.com
Robbie Ray was a pleasant surprise for the fantasy baseball community in 2021 as he won the American League Cy Young Award by posting a 2.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 248 strikeouts in 193.1 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays. Now with the Seattle Mariners, Robbie Ray’s 2021 performance has skyrocketed his 2022 average draft position as he is currently the 45th overall player off the board in drafts and 16th among pitchers.
But looking further into Robbie Ray’s 2021 season, how much of his breakout can be construed as sustainable changes in his game, and what might have just been luck? Well first of all when looking at Ray’s 2021 line, one thing that stands out is an eye-popping 90.1% LOB (left on base) percentage, meaning that only 9.9% of baserunners that Ray allowed ended up scoring. For comparison, the MLB league average LOB% is typically between 70-75% in a given year. Additionally, in 8 seasons, Robbie Ray’s career average LOB% sits at 76.9% indicating inevitable regression to the mean.
In addition to Ray’s left on base percentage, there are other alarming statistics that may indicate Robbie Ray’s 2021 was more of a mirage rather than sustainable change. When looking at data from Statcast, Robbie Ray ranked in the 17th percentile or worse in hard hit percentage, average exit velocity, and barrel percentage. Not to mention that in 2021, Ray also posted his 2nd lowest career BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Now I am not saying that Robbie Ray isn’t worth drafting in 2022, but as the 16th pitcher off the board, I wish I could believe that his 2021 season was an indication for what’s to come, but I’m skeptical to say the least.
2. Jack Flaherty, SP St. Louis Cardinals, NFBC ADP of 62nd Overall, 23rd Among Pitchers
Cardinals place Jack Flaherty on 10-day injured list with shoulder strain / https://theathletic.com
Jack Flaherty had a good, albeit shortened, season In 2021 as he posted an impressive 3.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in just over 78 innings last season. On a per-game basis, Flaherty was a valuable asset for his fantasy managers, however an oblique strain in June and then a strain of his throwing shoulder in August limited him to just 78.1 innings last season.
Despite the limited playing time, there is no denying that Jack Flaherty was impressive in 2021, but just how legit was his production and can we expect these statistics to be sustained in 2022? At first glance Jack Flaherty’s traditional statistics are glowing, however what immediately stands out is his career low 0.233 BABIP and second lowest strikeout percentage of his career. Additionally, Jack Flaherty’s Statcast page does not reflect the metrics of a top 50 fantasy pitcher, let alone top 25 like where he is currently being drafted.
Out of all qualified pitchers in 2021, Flaherty had the worst differential between his actual wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) and xwOBA (Expected Weighted On-Base Average) as well as his batting average against and expected batting average against. Not to mention that Jack Flaherty ranked in the 27th percentile or worse in average exit velocity, expected ERA, hard hit percentage, expected slugging percentage, and barrel percentage.
And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you that Jack Flaherty may not be worth trusting in 2022, he also demonstrated a drop in velocity of his fastball, curveball, sinker, and slider after his oblique strain in May. Now If Jack Flahert is fully healthy coming into 2022 and can regain his velocity, he could absolutely be a fantasy asset. However I feel that as the 23rd pitcher off the board, his price is just a little too high for a pitcher that will probably provide a mid-to-high 3’s ERA and won’t give you much more than one strikeout per inning.
3. Jose Berrios, SP Toronto Blue Jays, NFBC ADP of 72nd overall, 28th Among Pitchers
Blue Jays, José Berríos agree to 7-year, $131 million contract extension: Source / https://theathletic.com
Jose Berrios has been a topic of fantasy baseball discussion for more than 6 years now with constant highlights of his electric curveball to go along with his All-Star potential. However, Berrios has never really been able to put together that breakout season we have all been waiting for as he never posted an ERA below 3.68 until 2021.
With both the Minnesota Twins and then Toronto Blue Jays in 2021, Jose Berrios posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, just over one strikeout per inning, earning himself a seven-year, $131 million extension with Toronto. While Berrios provided great value to fantasy managers in 2021, I am not sure the same can be said for 2022.
Looking into the statistics, Berrios had his 2nd lowest BABIP of his career last season to go along with a career high barrel percentage. And just as with Ray and Flaherty, looking at the Berrios’ Statcast data does not provide us with much optimism that his 2021 statistics can be repeated as he ranked in the 50th percentile or worse in expected wOBA, expected ERA, and expected batting average with an expected ERA 0.6 runs higher than his actual ERA in 2021.
I think what we have seen from Berrios over the last 5 years prior to 2021 is more likely the sort of production we will see in 2022. An ERA around 3.75, a 1.20 WHIP, and about 1 strikeout per inning is a realistic projection for Jose Berrios next season and as the 28th pitcher off the board, I think his cost is a little too rich for my blood.