Mound Musings: The 2022 Pitching Awards Issue

Mound Musings: The 2022 Pitching Awards Issue

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

We're close to completing a full season, which is great news, but workloads in both rotations and bullpens have certainly had an impact on performance, and perhaps more importantly, have strained organizational depth. To put it bluntly, we've seen pitchers on MLB mounds who probably should have remained in the minors. On the plus side, we've seen several new arms make a big splash. Fantasy baseball in general, and the pitching aspects of the game, continue to rapidly evolve — or digress, depending on your perspective. And for fantasy owners, roster management became more and more of a challenge. Still, there are always standouts, and it's time to see who they are.

That said, let's get to my list of the 2022 award winners:

Newcomer Award – Spencer Strider: I don't keep a count, but my gut instinct tells me there have been more newcomers to the mound than usual this season. Some have been good, most not so good, but I don't think anyone can deny that Strider has been nothing short of spectacular. I have to admit I kind of missed on this one. I liked what I saw initially when he was pitching in relief, but I wasn't totally convinced his repertoire would play in the rotation. I think Atlanta had similar concerns. Man was I wrong. He is 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and a sparkling 0.99 WHIP, but what stands out is his strikeout rate. With 202 punchouts in just 132.2 innings, he is

We're close to completing a full season, which is great news, but workloads in both rotations and bullpens have certainly had an impact on performance, and perhaps more importantly, have strained organizational depth. To put it bluntly, we've seen pitchers on MLB mounds who probably should have remained in the minors. On the plus side, we've seen several new arms make a big splash. Fantasy baseball in general, and the pitching aspects of the game, continue to rapidly evolve — or digress, depending on your perspective. And for fantasy owners, roster management became more and more of a challenge. Still, there are always standouts, and it's time to see who they are.

That said, let's get to my list of the 2022 award winners:

Newcomer Award – Spencer Strider: I don't keep a count, but my gut instinct tells me there have been more newcomers to the mound than usual this season. Some have been good, most not so good, but I don't think anyone can deny that Strider has been nothing short of spectacular. I have to admit I kind of missed on this one. I liked what I saw initially when he was pitching in relief, but I wasn't totally convinced his repertoire would play in the rotation. I think Atlanta had similar concerns. Man was I wrong. He is 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and a sparkling 0.99 WHIP, but what stands out is his strikeout rate. With 202 punchouts in just 132.2 innings, he is truly elite in that category. He has a very balanced delivery which bodes well for the future, too.

Biggest (Pleasant) Surprise – Kyle Wright: So, Atlanta goes back-to-back in my awards this season. Wright was a first-round pick in 2017, so there was pedigree, but his initial results were less than was hoped for, so much so that he was generally ignored in fantasy drafts this spring. Then, after watching his first couple starts, I immediately noticed a major change in approach. More confident and composed, he transformed from a nibbler to a pitcher, and with his skillset, he became a viable starter. I touted him heavily in Musings and pursued him where possible in my own leagues with success. Wright still occasionally forgets how good his stuff can be, leading to higher pitch counts and some struggles, but he leads the majors in wins at 19-5.

Biggest Disappointment – Jose Berrios: Okay, there have been quite a few big disappointments this year including guys like Lucas Giolito, and Sean Manaea, but for me it came down to Miami's Trevor Rogers and Toronto's Jose Berrios. Berrios won in a photo finish, but perhaps I should have just given the award to a pitcher in each league. Berrios defines frustration. He has the raw stuff to be an elite fantasy pitcher, and he teases us every now and then with pure dominance. Then, inexplicably, he loses focus, loses command, and effectiveness deserts him in a big way. Will he ever step up and establish himself as a consistent star? I can't really say, but he's been around long enough now to make a 4.99 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP nothing but a distant memory.

From the Ashes Award – Justin Verlander: In July, 2020 Verlander went down with a forearm strain. He attempted to rehab the injury but eventually underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed all of last year, too. Jump ahead to spring 2022. Can a 39-year-old return to his former level of performance after missing nearly two years? Nah. He just comes back better than ever. He may not be quite as durable, and even though his velocity is back, he isn't missing quite so many bats these days. That's okay though — he's foxier than ever, compiling an MLB-best 1.78 ERA to go with a microscopic 0.83 WHIP while crafting a 17-3 record. The man defies the laws of nature. I've been watching him since 2006 and I never get tired of it. One has to wonder when he'll get old. Can he keep pitching like this until he's 50 years old? I seriously doubt it, but you don't see me rushing to the window to bet against him.

Kevin Gregg Award – Gregory Soto: This is my annual award for the least-closer-like relief pitcher who collected saves. This year I feel like the manager of any of about 20 teams in MLB. Write the names of a huge list of relief pitchers on slips of paper and throw them into a hat. When the ninth inning rolls around, draw one out. Could I have a little drumroll please? And, the winner is … Mr. Soto. He actually has pretty good raw stuff, probably borderline closer stuff, but he can't consistently throw it for strikes. With 30 walks in 55 innings, he regularly litters the bases with runners. However, if you receive enough chances, you'll collect a few saves — 26 of them in his case. I do understand the problem in Detroit. Would you prefer an even more erratic Joe Jimenez? How about lefty Andrew Chafin? Okay, never mind, here's the ball, Greg.

Closer of the Year – Edwin Diaz: A couple months ago this award was a done deal. Even the elite closers simply could not match the performance of Milwaukee's Josh Hader. He hadn't allowed a run as the season headed into June, but then the world started coming apart. It was ugly. Real ugly. Hader moved to San Diego, but nothing good happened, at least not right away. He just got out of sync and couldn't locate his pitches. It happens. It looks like things are returning to normal, and an ERA that bottomed out at 6.52 is coming down, but Hader cedes his 2022 Closer of the Year title to Diaz. That's not to take anything away from him. He's 31 for 34 in save chances with a 1.42 ERA and 110 strikeouts in just 58 innings, bringing back memories of his 2018 banner season. There have been fewer and fewer "elite" closers in recent seasons as teams juggle bullpen roles either because they don't have a true closer or because they often can't afford to save the one reliable reliever they do have for the ninth inning.

Pitcher of the Year – Dylan Cease: This was again officially the hardest one to call for me. I decided on Cease, who was among the MLB leaders in strikeouts — 214 in just 167 innings — and recorded an outstanding ERA and WHIP. He needed every one of those strikeouts pitching in front of the worst defensive team in MLB. That's a stressful spot to be in, and he handled it incredibly well. Cease gets the nod in part based on this being a "fantasy" baseball award. His numbers were equivalent to those of the other contenders, but he gets the edge based on his draft-day price tag. He was clearly the value buy among the leaders.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • These Ramblings might be seen as an honorable mention category. Even though I named Cease my Pitcher of the Year, the best pitcher in baseball (when he's healthy), imho, is Jacob deGrom. He hasn't pitched more than 92 innings in a season since 2019, and he's still considered a truly elite starting pitcher.
  • I think the hardest guy to leave off the 2022 awards list was Houston southpaw Framber Valdez. A groundball machine, he didn't quite have the strikeout rate of Cease. Still, 16-5 with an incredible string of 25 consecutive (and counting) quality starts is guaranteed to get you into the Pitcher of the Year discussion.
  • A serious contender for the Newcomer Award was the Dodgers Tony Gonsolin. In fact, his ERA (2.10) and WHIP (0.86) were better than the winner's but I gave the nod to Strider based on his incredible strikeout rate of 13.8/9.
  • If home runs hit was part of the Pitcher of the Year equation, Shohei Ohtani would be difficult to top. I sometimes think fans can lose touch with what he actually does day in and day out. I have been an avid follower of the sport for over 50 years, and I have seen some great ones, but nothing compares to him.
  • I admit it. I am a strikeout junkie. Baseball wants more "action" with faster games, more home runs, more offense and less pitching. Not me. Give me more fresh arms like Cincinnati's Nick Lodolo, who corkscrews batters into the ground. He still needs more consistent command, but I love his future with that stuff.
  • Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan was also a worthy contender in the Pitcher of the Year category, but I'm a bit worried about him possibly wearing down. He missed about three weeks with a shoulder impingement, then left his last start with neck spasms. The Rays are downplaying it, but this scenario is a concern.

Endgame Odyssey:

Back in April, I suggested taking a look at Domingo Acevedo as the possible closer in Oakland. It only took the A's until mid-September to get the message. I suppose better late than never might apply here. The more I see of the Cardinals' Ryan Helsley the better I like him. He even chipped in an immaculate inning last week. I had my doubts about ever saying this, but I am going to designate Pete Fairbanks the primary closer in Tampa Bay. He's clearly the best of a good bullpen. I have seen a couple recent outings by San Diego's Josh Hader, and while he isn't quite all the way back, he's close. With Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy both proving to be unreliable, the Diamondbacks may be holding open auditions, with Reyes Moronta perhaps getting the first look. Decent stuff, maybe he has suddenly learned to throw strikes? A longshot.

Next week we wrap up an exciting (and hopefully productive) season of Mound Musings with the annual Kids on Parade edition. Don't miss it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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