2024 Fantasy Baseball: 14 potential draft busts at pitcher

Fantasy baseball analyst Dalton Del Don offers up a series of draft-bust candidates per position — he ends things with the pitchers.

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Corbin Burnes, SP, Baltimore Orioles

Consider Burnes more overvalued than a “bust,” because we're talking about a pitcher in decline who often costs a top-15 pick thanks to Gerrit Cole’s injury. Burnes has seen his K% drop and his BB% jump each of the last three seasons and recorded easily the lowest CSW of his career last year. He’ll now be drafted as fantasy’s SP2 despite having a 4.02 SIERA that didn’t rank top-20 among starters last season. Moreover, Burnes will be losing the league’s best defense after being traded to Baltimore — he had by far the lowest BABIP among starters last season, nearly 40 points lower than his expected BABIP. He’ll also be playing in a far tougher division and in a new home park that will help suppress homers but hurts in strikeouts — Milwaukee has increased Ks by 10% over the last three seasons.

Brayan Bello, SP, Boston Red Sox

Only five qualified SPs posted a worse CSW than Bello’s 25.5% last season, while just six finished with a worse K-BB% than he did (11.7) during the second half. Bello is a low-K pitcher with projections calling for a WHIP around 1.40, so it’s highly suspicious he has a higher ADP than Kyle Harrison.

Tanner Bibee, SP, Cleveland Guardians

Bibee’s 2.98 ERA wasn’t supported by his 4.19 SIERA last season, so he needs to take a big step forward to live up to his 2024 ADP; he’s being drafted as a top-25 (!) fantasy starter in Yahoo leagues, ahead of too many intriguing arms to name. Cleveland projects to have a bottom-five offense this season, so wins are going to be an issue even if Bibee avoids his expected ERA jump.

Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros

Verlander is a good enough pitcher to get by without his old stuff, but the cliff could be coming at age 41. He recorded his worst K-BB% (14.8) since 2014 and was hit harder than ever last season. His K rate fell to 7.98, and Verlander’s CSW (25.9%) ranked 38th among 44 qualified starters. Moreover, a shoulder injury will delay Verlander’s start to 2024 until “at least early April.” It’s wild he’s being drafted as a top-35 SP.

George Kirby, SP, Seattle Mariners

There’s an argument Kirby has a wider margin of error given his immaculate control, but there’s a counter that things could go south given his inability to miss bats should his walk rate regress; Kirby’s 2.5 BB% last season was the best by a starter since 2014. He’s being treated as a top-12 fantasy SP despite ranking 30th in K% and 29th in CSW last season. THE BAT projects an 8.1 K/9 with a 3.73 ERA. There’s a good chance Kirby finishes as Seattle’s third or fourth-best starter in 2024.

Ryan Pepiot, SP/RP, Tampa Bay Rays

Pepiot somehow tallied a 2.14 ERA last season despite an 8.1 K/9 rate thanks to an almost unfathomable 99.2 LOB percentage (Blake Snell led the league with an 86.7 LOB%). Pepiot’s .189 BABIP was also 50+ points lower than MLB’s qualified leader. If that’s not enough alarm bells for major regression, Pepiot’s BB% (3.1) dropped dramatically from his career mark (10.0%). He now must pitch in the AL East while becoming a full-time starter and without LA’s run support.

Chris Bassitt, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Bassitt is a fine pitcher who’s projected to record a modest K rate (7.9) and an ERA in the low 4s. But fantasy managers seem to be pricing in him winning 16 games last year, drafting him in the first 10 rounds. Bassitt’s ADP (119.3) is ahead of Hunter Greene, Bailey Ober, Michael King, Chris Sale and Hunter Brown, all of whom I’d prefer straight up.

Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Gallen is a very good pitcher who’s being drafted as an elite one thanks in part to his 2023 volume. He threw the most pitches in a season last year since 2019 — and 200+ more than any other pitcher. Fantasy managers may want to proceed with caution, but he’s being drafted as a top-10 starter. For what it’s worth, Gallen had a 4.03 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP after the All-Star break and finished with an average exit velocity in the bottom 3% of the league last season.

Charlie Morton, SP, Atlanta Braves

Morton could prove to be a nice source of wins anyway, but a closer look at 2023 reveals a decline in the 40-year-old. His 3.64 ERA was accompanied by a 4.44 SIERA that ranked bottom-10 among all qualified starters. Morton’s CSW (30.7) was the third highest, but his K-BB% plummeted to 10.7 in the second half, which is Jordan Lyles and Miles Mikolas territory.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Atlanta has multiple pitching prospects ready and waiting for an opportunity should age continue to catch up with Morton.

Alexis Díaz, RP, Cincinnati Reds

Díaz enters 2024 locked in as Cincinnati’s closer with no clear alternative, but there are red flags suggesting he’s a poor fantasy pick while being drafted as a top-10 RP.

Sonny Gray, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

Gray finished as the AL Cy Young runner-up last year, but his 2.79 ERA came with a 3.95 SIERA, as he was incredibly fortunate when it came to surrendering homers. Gray reached 180 innings pitched in the final year of his contract last season for the first time since 2015 and has been sidelined in spring with a strained hamstring, so he also carries an abnormally high injury risk.

Michael Wacha, SP, Kansas City Royals

Wacha's 3.22 ERA came with a 4.43 SIERA last season when he also recorded an ugly K-BB% (11.4) outside of Petco Park. Wacha now moves to a favorable hitter’s venue in Kauffman Stadium, and his projections aren’t kind.

David Bednar, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bednar clearly enters the season atop the Pirates' closer depth chart, but Aroldis Chapman is now breathing down his neck after signing in Pittsburgh. Chapman’s elite fastball returned last season, when he posted a 2.95 SIERA (top-10) and the third-best K-BB% (26.9) among relievers. Meanwhile, Bednar’s K-BB% fell to 17.6 in the second half. And while he’s dealt with lat tightness throughout spring, it seems he's set for the season, but still — there are warning signs for the incumbent.

Alex Lange, RP, Detroit Tigers

Lange’s 4.41 SIERA ranked 141st among 162 qualified relievers last season, so it’s safe to question whether he’s Detroit’s answer to close again in 2024. His 15.6 BB% was the second highest among RPs, and his K-BB% (7.8) in the second half was downright scary. Lange is a ratio risk who plays on a team projected to finish under .500, so he’s a fantasy fade.