2024 Fantasy Baseball: Polarizing pitchers who'll make you think twice in drafts

Fantasy baseball is a game of opinions, and often those opinions don't reach a consensus. This is a good thing, this is why we play.

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Today's assignment — let's discuss some of the most polarizing pitchers on the board, try to explain both sides and see what we can figure out. And like so many fantasy discussions these days, the chat gets started in Los Angeles.

Go here for Scott's polarizing hitters

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, SP, Dodgers (Yahoo ADP: 35.1)

Yamamoto comes to America with a staggering resume in his back pocket. He was named both the MVP and the best pitcher in the Nippon Professional Baseball League the past three years. He's thrown a couple of no-hitters. He's only 25. And he should get plenty of support from the loaded Los Angeles lineup.

But buzzy players are usually expensive in drafts. Yamamoto has been a top-35 pick for most of the Yahoo draft season, so the market is expecting stardom right away.

Generally, I like to allow for an adjustment period before I cut a big ADP check to a foreign player. There's not a definitive fits-all rule with these types of players, but I find it interesting that Yu Darvish had a 3.90 ERA in his first MLB season (he was also 25). Shohei Ohtani had elbow problems in his rookie year and only made 10 starts. Hisashi Iwakuma was much better in his second season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka's best season by far was his second one.

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

There are contrary examples. The best season of Hideo Nomo's underrated career was his first. Masahiro Tanaka also peaked early. Hiroki Kuroda posted seven seasons that had a very tight dispersion; consistency for the win.

Culture change requires an adjustment period. The cadence of American pitching rotations is different from what's used in Japan. I expect I'll have plenty of fun fantasy times with Yamamoto in future seasons, but it probably won't be this year.

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Dodgers (Yahoo ADP: 43.6)

While my recommendation of Yamamoto probably comes down as a soft fade — I will consider him at the right ADP — Glasnow is a player I'm unlikely to draft. Glasnow has an eight-year career in the books and it's been more tease than anything else. He's won all of 30 games. Last year's 120 innings represent a personal best. All pitchers carry heavy injury risk, but the pitfalls are likely greater when you're 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds as Glasnow is, and strain your body with a constant fastball in the high 90s.

OK, maybe this is the year Glasnow magically proves healthy and unleashes his awesome stuff on the league. But pitching for the Dodgers can be both a fantasy feature and a fantasy bug. The supporting cast is lovely, but this is also a team that knows it already has one foot in the playoffs. Los Angeles is unlikely to heavily push its starting staff in the regular season; the goal is to have everyone healthy and ready for the playoffs. Last year's gone-in-60-seconds playoff, on the heels of an awesome regular season, surely left a mark.

With that in mind, I expect the Dodgers to pull back from Glasnow with every hiccup encountered. This is a prized arm they'll likely handle with extreme caution. Glasnow's current ADP asks the righty to push his volume into new areas, and that's a bet I'm uncomfortable making.

Michael King, SP, Padres (Yahoo ADP: 136)

King's one of the trickiest calls of the spring. His last two years with the Yankees were too good to be true: 2.60 ERA, 1.099 WHIP. He missed bats (11.2 K/9) and hardly walked anyone (2.8 BB/9). He kept the ball in the park, too.

Of course, most of those stats came in a relief role, and now King is a full-time starter. Apples and oranges. The difficult thing is trying to project how his skills will relate to a permanent rotation switch.

King picked up eight starts late last year and the wipeout stats followed — 1.88 ERA, 48 K, 9 BB over 38.1 innings. But I hope that short workload sticks out to you. New York was careful with King when he was first stretched out, but even when King was ready for longer outings, he seldom worked deep. Only two of his starts lasted longer than five innings.

I'm a New England guy and I'm especially rooting for King, a Rhode Island kid, a Boston College product and an alum of the Cape Cod League. The key is how many innings to forecast. The major projection systems range from 140 to 161 innings for King; my draft price will assume something on the lower end of that scale.

George Kirby, SP, Mariners (Yahoo ADP: 48.9)

I was surprised to see the market a little split on Kirby. He's had a steady and consistent liftoff to his Seattle career. The Mariners took him in the first round of the 2019 draft, he landed in the rotation two years ago and he led the majors in K/BB ratio and walk rate last year. He limits home runs and works in a pitcher's park. What's not to like?

Kirby had a modest strikeout dip last year, even as his swinging-strike rate rose and his fastball jumped to 96.1 mph. I suspect he'll probably be back at his strikeout level of 2022. And the plus-plus control is a lovely thing; it means Kirby is one of the easiest pitchers to watch, painting the corners and working ahead in the count. Maybe your stomach can handle pitcher wildness in stride; mine sure can't.

Perhaps Kirby is slightly underrated because he's part of the American League's best rotation. I want shares of all five of these guys.

Framber Valdez, SP, Astros (Yahoo ADP: 61.4)

I'm among the highest Valdez rankers on-staff and industry-wide, so I suppose I should explain the side. Maybe the market is concerned that Valdez's ERA rose to 3.45 last year, while his hard-hit metrics were concerning.

Plenty of his under-the-hood trends look fine, to be fair. Valdez pushed his fastball up to 95.3 mph last year, bumped his strikeout rate slightly, trimmed his walks. His ground-ball rate wasn't quite the elite level of past seasons, but at 54.2% it was still well above average.

Valdez will be drafted as an SP2 in many leagues, but maybe this is an SP1 hiding in plain sight. The Astros provide a winning backdrop. The majority of the major projection systems expect between 189 and 197 innings pitched; this is a horse. Valdez has always been outstanding at limiting home runs, and K/BB rate, the purest of pitching metrics, is always in his corner.

I'm not spooked by a brief slump to end 2023; I still view Valdez as one of the safest fantasy pitchers to target.