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Fantasy Baseball Picks: Starting Pitcher Sleepers & Busts for 2023 DraftKings MLB Best Ball

Garion Thorne breaks down a few undervalued and overvalued pitchers for DraftKings’ new MLB Best Ball format.

Miami Marlins v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

MLB Best Ball is coming soon to DraftKings and that means it’s time to start dissecting rankings and ADP like it’s the Zapruder film. My colleague Zach Thompson released his Top 30 starting pitchers rankings earlier this week, but in this space we’ll be venturing to the always exciting world of busts and sleepers.

Disclaimer: Not every “bust” is the worst player on Earth. Not every “sleeper” was a farmer in Iowa who only discovered he could throw a baseball last week. They’re just words that the Google SEO Gods like. In fact, I like to think of these players more in terms of being either overvalued or undervalued, so that’s how I’m going to sort them. Sue me.

Let’s get into it.

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Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins

DraftKings ADP: 15.2 (P4)

I’ll say right off the top that Alcantara was deserving of the NL Cy Young last year. However, it’s undeniable that the right-hander is more valuable in a 5x5 rotisserie league than in Best Ball — a format that tends to reward ceiling over floor. One of the reasons Alcantara was such a season-long fantasy stud in 2022 was that his ratio stats weren’t just unbelievably good, but that the importance of his 2.28 ERA and 0.98 WHIP were amplified by the sheer volume of his 228.2 innings. Even if Alcantara were to recreate the magic in 2023, it wouldn’t have the same impact on DraftKings.

There’s also obviously a case to be made that Alcantara has some room for regression this coming season. First and foremost, no National League pitcher surrendered more opponent batted ball events (620) than the RHP in 2022, which opens the door for elements outside of Alcantara’s control to influence his results. The 27-year-old’s .262 BABIP was lower than the league-average. His 78.8% strand rate was relatively high juxtaposed to his peers. Even slight swings in those figures could have massive ripple effects. Take for instance Alcantara’s BABIP jumping from .241 in the first-half of last season to .291 after the All-Star break. That coincided with Alcantara’s posting a 3.09 ERA over his final 90.1 innings. In a vacuum, that’s a perfectly fine string of performances, yet when paired with a 23.2% strikeout rate, it doesn’t exactly scream first-round talent.

Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays

DraftKings ADP: 38.9 (P14)

Another pitcher that derives much of his fantasy value from being an absolute workhorse with elite ratios. I guess I have a type. Manoah was phenomenal for the Blue Jays in 2022, posting a 2.24 ERA across 196.1 innings of work — the fourth-best earned run average among all qualified starting pitchers. Still, much like the aforementioned Alcantara, Manoah’s dominance did not come on the heels of an elite strikeout rate. It was the result of an ability to suppress quality contact from opponents. To wit, Manoah ranked in the 92nd percentile of pitchers in opponent hard hit rate (31.5%) and the 80th percentile in opponent barrel rate (5.4%). In turn, that helped Manoah keep the ball in the park, as he allowed a paltry 0.73 opponent home runs per nine last season.

I’m not here to suggest that quality contact suppression isn’t a sustainable skill, but it isn’t nearly as sustainable as straight-up contact suppression. It’s one of the major reasons that most projection systems see Manoah’s ERA rising well-above 3.00 in 2023, with Steamer even going as far as projecting a 4.06 figure. That seems excessive, yet Manoah did have a 1.07-run differential between his ERA and xERA in 2022 — the sixth-largest negative discrepancy among pitchers with at least 250 batted ball events. Also, while Manoah’s .244 BABIP can maybe be justified to some degree by his opponent hard hit rate, an 82.6% strand rate — the third-highest qualified mark in baseball — is more difficult to comprehend with Manoah’s mundane 49th percentile strikeout rate (22.9%). This might simply be a classic case of a pitcher who is better in real life than in fantasy.


Cristian Javier, Houston Astros

DraftKings ADP: 50.4 (P19)

I’m all-in on Javier in any format, yet he might have his most value in Best Ball. Why? Well, the only reasonable critique I can see when it comes to the RHP’s stunning 2022 campaign is volume. Javier appeared in 30 games for the Astros in the regular season, but he started just 25 times, which means he finished the year with 148.2 innings to his name. That’s after starting nine times in 2021 and registering a then career-high 101.1 innings. You see where I’m going with this. Generally speaking, to be a Top 10 talent at the position, you need an asset to be able to throw 180.0 frames. Javier’s never done that and, inevitably, there’s risk in the unknown — though that risk is mitigated in Best Ball.

However, there were reasons outside Javier’s control for his innings cap last season. The truth of the matter is Houston simply had an embarrassment of riches in its rotation, which meant Javier didn’t have to fully transition from the bullpen to a starter’s role till mid-May. In 2023, there’s no more Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. is already set to start April on the IL. The plan is going to be giving Javier all the innings he can handle, which makes sense after even the quickest glance at his stats from 2022. Javier managed a 33.2% strikeout rate. The exact same rate as Shohei Ohtani. Javier owned the lowest opponent expected batting average of any qualified starter (.168) and he backed that up with a .244 opponent expected wOBA that was the second-best mark in baseball. He’s on the verge of making “The Leap” this season, and I want to be along for the ride.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

DraftKings ADP: 125.8 (P45)

You almost have to think of Best Ball in the same vein you think of DFS. While there’s certainly value in an asset that’s almost assuredly going to take the ball every five days and consistently provide you 18.0 DKFP, you’ll only be accruing points from your three best pitchers each week. Considering most teams will likely consist of 7-9 pitchers, you want at least a few of those arms to be all about upside. Enter Luzardo.

Once a top prospect in the Athletics’ system, Luzardo has battled injuries throughout his four seasons in the MLB. To that point, while Luzardo did set or match career-bests in starts and innings pitched in 2022, those figures were only 18 and 100.1, respectively. Much like Javier, there is warranted concern as to whether or not the left-hander can reach 30 outings in a single campaign. Still, when he was on the mound last year, he was absolutely electric. Thanks to 86th percentile fastball velocity and an 88th percentile whiff rate, Luzardo registered a 30.0% strikeout rate and a 3.39 xERA. Projecting ahead, Luzardo also gets to call the spacious loanDepot Park home in 2023, while he and the rest of the Marlins’ rotation should benefit from the league’s new flattened schedule, with fewer games against the Phillies, Braves and Mets. You can’t draft an entire team of Luzardos, but the 25-year-old should be extremely useful in this format.

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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.