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New York Mets starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) throws against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a baseball game on Sunday, Sept.12, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)


Mike Shara

Now that we finally can be certain that we’re actually going to have an MLB season this year, we can all start to look forward to fantasy baseball without having to wonder if it’s all going to  be a huge waste of time. The fact that they were able to come to an agreement with relatively little change to the schedule is a blessing for those of us who love the game – and love betting on it. After two years of a pandemic, ruthless inflation and lots of other things to make our day-to-day lives a challenge lately, no one wanted to hear any more about billionaires and millionaires arguing over relative pennies. Instead, we can focus on five pitchers that I think are primed for a return to form after struggling in 2021. That’s way more fun.

Let’s be clear : a 3.35 ERA and 1.14 WHIP are hardly numbers he needs to ‘come back’  from. He’s on this list because he only threw 40 innings last season, losing nearly two months after spraining a finger on his pitching hand. Alex Colome started last season as the Twinkies’ closer and struggled mightily in April and May, allowing Rogers to step in and get 9 saves before his injury. Colome rallied to lead Minnesota with 17 saves but he’s a free agent and unlikely to return, meaning there may be more closing opportunities for Rogers this year. With saves being such a hard category to predict right now and elite closers going so (too) early in drafts, Rogers looks like a nice fallback play. Beyond saves, his other numbers will likely improve, too – he managed those respectable numbers despite a very unlucky .366 BABIP last season. With a little bit of better luck, he could have 30 saves with an ERA under 3.

The good news, if there is such a thing, about the shoulder injury Bieber sustained last season is that he was back on the field late in the season and looked pretty close to his old self. The 2020 A.L. Cy Young winner pitched six innings in September, allowing just one run with good body language and mechanics and his radar gun readings returning to normal. The shitty news is that he probably didn’t pitch more innings because the Guardians likely limited him due to service time manipulation more than anything else. Aren’t baseball owners the best??!! If everything looks good in Spring Training, I have no hesitation taking him in the third round and even being my stretch SP1 – as long as I take a really good SP2.

When discussing potential comeback pitchers, I think it is worth noting that Chris Sale is a full year younger than Jacob deGrom and is being selected much later than deGrom in drafts, even though he has pitched effectively in an MLB game more recently. He wasn’t quite as great as he’d have liked to be when he returned – I know, I kept him in my Injured Reserve spot all year in a lot of leagues – but a 3.16 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 42 innings is pretty tolerable, no? After a full offseason and a proper spring training, Sale is a good bet to be close to his old self. One caveat: Boston has him under a very costly contract for three more years so draft him knowing that they’ll probably be careful with him – he’s likely going to throw closer to 160-170 innings than 200-210.

Before you snicker, this isn’t about Carrasco being a guy you need to draft in the third or fourth round. It’s more about “Cookie” having real potential upside as a late round pick. Remember that last year’s injury was not an arm, elbow or shoulder. He severely injured his hamstring, ruining what he hoped would be a triumphant 2021 return after he successfully overcame a leukemia diagnosis a year earlier. He was a steadily above-average pitcher in Cleveland for years and the Mets have lost Marcus Stroman, Rich Hill and Noah Syndegaard this offseason. Max Scherzer can’t fill all those innings on his own and the Mets still have Carrasco under contract for two more years, so he’ll be given plenty of chances. 120 innings of solid peripheral numbers on a competitive team is a nice add late in drafts. 

HYUN JIN RYU, Toronto 
Before you dismiss him as being too old (he’ll turn 35 just before this season starts), remember that 34 year-old Ryu was having his typical strong season for the first half of 2021 – at the end of June he was 7-4 with a 3.41 ERA. He fell apart a bit in the second half, allowing 7 earned runs in three different starts in August and September. However, there is a factor in his struggles that most folks aren’t aware of, and it isn’t age. Because of stricter Covid restrictions in Canada, Ryu was not able to see his wife or children for the final four months of the season. He quietly admitted that their absence wore on him mentally as the season dragged on and that he was struggling to focus on the game. He is too proud of a competitor and his feel for the art of pitching is too good for him to just suddenly fall apart. Velocity has never been his calling card anyway. I suspect his ratios will improve somewhat as he finally gets to play his first full season in Toronto and with the Jays’ powerful offense supporting him he could be a sneaky 15 game winner. 

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