What this time?

After the juiced ball era had us selling out for aces, the de-juiced ball was supposed to bring about the return of the middle class to this position. And it looked that way in 2022, but what followed was a year of volatility throughout the pitching ranks that forced us to question all of our prior assumptions while learning to live with a phenomenon known as The Glob.

The Glob is what happens when the league endeavors to generate more baserunners (via the so-called shift ban) and more base activity (via the so-called pickoff limits), all while introducing a pitch clock that forces pitchers to maintain a certain tempo when things begin to snowball. And snowball they did, for every class of pitcher, all season long.

It led to an erosion of the ace class, by which I mean today's aces aren't as dominant as yesterday's aces, but even more afflicted were those comprising that so-called middle class. So vulnerable were they to the vicissitudes of any given start that they became almost like random number generators, their ERAs fluctuating as wildly as their fortunes.

This is the effect of The Glob, reducing the middle ranks at starting pitcher -- the bulk of the position, really -- to an indistinguishable mass of volatility. Maybe some of them are better than others over the long run, but each of them is only as good as his last start. And for all of them, the bad starts are frequent enough that a full season isn't enough to straighten it out.

Or at least that's how things played out last year. Maybe a year of exposure has better equipped these pitchers to navigate their new environment. Maybe the distinctions will return.

But for now, I only know The Glob, and what The Glob tells me is that once we reach that stage of the draft, the only thing I can trust in is strikeouts. The Glob is mostly an affliction of ERA and WHIP, of pitchers putting runners on base and failing to strand them there. It doesn't change their ability to miss bats, and in fact, missing bats is a valuable skill for preventing baserunners in the first place.

But ideally, the bulk of my pitching staff will be formed outside of The Glob, and it begins with those we generally regard as aces.

Generally regarded as aces

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

#NPB stats

Not all aces are equal, of course, and if you compare this group to my starting pitcher tiers, you'll see that parts of three tiers are represented here. Spencer Strider is emerging as the most dominant pitcher of his era, ranking a distant first in strikeouts and wins last year despite some bad ERA luck (The Glob!), and Gerrit Cole has long occupied a spot at the top of the starting pitcher rankings. They're the only two in the discussion for Round 1, but outside of deeper leagues, where the demand for quality pitchers is much higher, it's not a real consideration for me.

No, I'm not looking to take a starting pitcher until all the MVP-caliber bats are off the board, which is usually somewhere in the middle of Round 3, the dividing line by ADP being Francisco Lindor and Gunnar Henderson. If the choice comes down to Henderson and Kevin Gausman, I'm taking Gausman. And yes, I specified him because of his strikeout prowess. Even in the upper reaches of the pitcher rankings, I'm trusting the bat-missers over the non bat-missers, with apologies to Logan Webb. Not only is it the safest pitcher contribution in a volatile pitcher environment, but also, if you're going to pay early-round prices, you really need an early-round strikeouts total. This is of course less of a concern in Head-to-Head points leagues, which is why I rank Webb so much higher there.

But I have yet to address the three most interesting names here. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the most decorated pitcher ever to come over from Japan and yet is somehow only beginning his prime at age 25. With his pristine control, history of durability and full arsenal of swing-and-miss pitches, I'm willing to trust in him as an ace right away, particularly with the Dodgers backing him. Pitch-for-pitch, Tyler Glasnow is nearly as dominant as Strider, but his 120 innings last year represented a career high. The shallower the league, the more likely I am to make that gamble, though it's not my preference either way. Grouping Tarik Skubal with the aces is a bold choice, but he ranked a distant first in FIP and xERA for the 80 1/3 innings he pitched last year and is my sneaky pick for AL Cy Young.

You see how Cole led the position with 18.85 points per game last year? Yeah? Four starting pitchers had more than that in 2022, which serves as just a quick reference for how The Glob kneecapped even the elites at the position.

Could also perform like aces

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

@: as a starter

Some might be willing to classify these pitchers as aces, but I'm not willing to go quite that far. Still, it's not uncommon for me to make one my SP1 if the hitters are too good to pass up in Rounds 3 and 4. My preference is the last one listed here, Cole Ragans, who showed down the stretch the sort of big strikeout potential I want from an ace. You can see that his point-per-game average in just his starts was bettered by only Gerrit Cole and Spencer Strider.

His being drafted the latest on average while being the one I want the most puts me in a bind since it's not like I only want one of these pitchers. Between this group and the last, I'd like to have three total, if not four. What I've decided in 5x5 categories leagues is to prioritize Blake Snell and Freddy Peralta over Ragans, giving me a chance at multiple candidates for 200-plus strikeouts in this range. In points leagues, where volume is of greater priority, it's Aaron Nola and Framber Valdez that I prioritize over Ragans. I'm not especially concerned with George Kirby and Max Fried, who are drafted this high mostly for their contributions in ERA and WHIP. Again, I'm not so trusting of ERA and WHIP in this new globby reality.

But is trust the right word to use for Snell, who struggled with control even in his Cy Young season?  Is it for Peralta, who has a 3.77 ERA over the past two years? Is it for Ragans himself, who has all of 21 career starts to his name and two Tommy John surgeries in his past? Well, no, but trust had already begun to run out with the previous group. There just aren't many pitchers who are both good enough and reliable enough to fit the description of ace. I'd rather err on the side of "good enough," which for me right now translates to "more strikeouts."

Apart from Ragans, you'll notice that Zach Eflin and Justin Steele go quite a bit later than the others in this group. They're not huge strikeout guys, but one inevitably winds up being my No. 3 starter just because of the relative value. In fact, Steele might be my most-drafted pitcher this year.

Show many ace-like qualities

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

This group represents the last line of defense before The Glob. None of them performed quite like an ace last year, but some (Grayson Rodriguez, Eury Perez, Bobby Miller and Tanner Bibee) have ace outcomes in their future while others (Dylan Cease, Joe Musgrove and Justin Verlander) have ace outcomes in their recent past.

The exceptions to those two categories would be Sonny Gray and Merrill Kelly, and I'll admit they're in real danger of being consumed by The Glob. Neither has the sort of upside normally required to resist The Glob, but both managed to escape it last year, to the point that Gray was actually (albeit uninspiringly) the AL Cy Young runner-up. Was their reliability a fluke? Were they simply the lucky dopes left standing at the end of the horror movie? I have my suspicions, but if I don't already have four starters by the time they're being drafted, I might just roll the dice.

The one I haven't mentioned yet is Mitch Keller, who had four starts so bad last year that if you remove them, his ERA drops from 4.21 to 3.13. In a way, that makes him as globby as they come, but I'm counting it as a point in his favor since it was only four. He had four times as many starts that weren't just decent but up to the standards of an ace, so I'm counting him alongside Rodriguez, Perez, Miller and Bibee as having ace outcomes in his future.

The Glob, but with hope

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

^2022 stats
#NPB stats

@: as a starter

Note that Kodai Senga was added to this group later in response to the shoulder injury that will cost him the start of the season.

Are you feeling the effects now? Your movements stilted? Your vision hazy? Your soul tied up in knots? You've entered The Glob, my friends, and in The Glob, you can hardly tell which way is up. What little direction I can offer is to split The Glob in two: those with some hope of transcending The Glob and those forever stuck in its clinches. The above names represent those with hope, and what gives them hope, you may not be surprised to learn, is their capacity for strikeouts.

That's not universally true. Pitchers like Bailey Ober, Ryan Pepiot, Nestor Cortes and Cristopher Sanchez probably aren't giving you more than a strikeout per inning, which isn't bad but isn't the sort of strikeout upside normally required to transcend The Glob. What gives me hope is the other ways they excel, namely with control. You can read more about Pepiot and Sanchez in my Sleepers 1.0.

You can also read about Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale there. They, along with Walker Buehler and Shane Baz, would almost certainly have freed themselves from The Glob already if not for injuries. That's easier to say for Buehler and Baz, who are both on the mend from Tommy John surgery and didn't even pitch last year, but for however Rodon and Sale fell short last year, the skill indicators are still popping for both. And neither is far removed from being an ace.

Others who I tend to prioritize in drafts include Gavin Williams, Nick Lodolo and especially Nick Pivetta, who is yet another featured in my Sleepers 1.0.

The Glob, but likely stuck

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

Hoo boy. Glob City here. While some may have been reliable enough in past years, I think they're too vulnerable to the vicissitudes of The Glob. Too vulnerable to contact and too vulnerable to baserunners. That's not to say they won't have starts where they make you proud, but right about the point when you get comfortable with them, they're liable to pop you with an eight-run disaster. And then what do you do? Probably, you move on.

That's harder to say for the top nine on this list, those drafted within the first 200 picks, and in a 15-team league, it's impossible to say for even more than that. And maybe that's fine. Chris Bassitt and Jordan Montgomery have a pretty good track record that willl probably compel you to stick with them. To a lesser degree, the same could be said for Shane Bieber and Jose Berrios. Yu Darvish and Charlie Morton are well into their decline but should still give you a pretty good strikeout total. And you have to like the team context for Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi.

Still, the point is that your best hope for this group is mediocrity, and the age of The Glob, the line between mediocre and disastrous is particularly thin.

The Sleepers

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 ERA2023 K/9

^2022 stats
!: KBO Stats

@: as a starter

While at the hitter positions, The Sleepers section still included players that were perfectly startable, that's not the case here. These are merely extra names to fill out your bench, and your draft will likely end before you've exhausted them all. Of course, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are slightly different, only slotting this low because you'll have to stash them in an IL spot for half the year, but that's reason enough for them to go undrafted in some leagues.

The two names I most want to highlight here are Emmet Sheehan and Erick Fedde, both of whom you can read about more in my Sleepers 1.0. Sheehan flat-out dominated the minors last year and began to flash some of that same swing-and-miss potential for the big club down the stretch. Fedde, meanwhile, remade his arsenal in the mold of Logan Webb and then lit up the Korean league, winning its equivalent of the Cy Young and MVP with a 20-6 record, 2.00 ERA and 209 strikeouts. He's a must for me at the end of every draft.