Pocket Aces?

It’s really cool how Major League Baseball has done this whole retro late-70’s throw back thing the past couple seasons. Hitters are really doing a bang up job of imitating hitters from the pre-steroids era. Seriously though, if these hitters get any better at mimicking what hitting was like in the late-70’s they may not find themselves in the MVP discussion but an Academy Award could be up for grabs. I’m sure some Astros players may object but perhaps hitters could leave the throwback thing to those awful uniforms they have to dawn every now and then and get back to scoring some runs. This truly is a modern-day dead-ball era. Check out how much the average runs scored per team has dropped dating back to 2006:

Year Avg Runs Scored Per Team
2014 659
2013 675
2012 701
2011 694
2010 710
2009 747
2008 753
2007 777
2006 787

Given that run scoring has dropped in eight of the past nine seasons it’s probably a safe bet to expect more of the same in 2015. It’s amazing to think that 3,840 fewer runs crossed the plate this past season than were scored back in 2006. The last time there was such a shortage of runs scored in the game was 1981.

So what does all this mean for fantasy purposes on the pitching side of things? Is there simply so much pitching to go around that we should be waiting longer than ever in drafts before we start plugging away at building a pitching staff? Look no further than the four Japanese pitchers who just no-hit the MLB All Stars to support that claim. Or does it mean just the opposite and in order to get an edge on your opponents you almost have to pocket an ace early in your 2015 draft?

For starters, let’s look at the difference between snagging an ace on the level of Felix Hernandez or Max Scherzer to head up your 2015 staff versus waiting a bit and going with a solid performer such as Jordan Zimmermann or Zack Greinke. It’s probably safe to say that we know what to expect from each of these starting pitchers and for the time being each of them seem to be in good physical health.

The biggest difference can be seen in the Ks and innings pitched you could get from a true ace like Hernandez or Scherzer versus the solid reliability of a Greinke or Zimmermann type. Greinke and Zimmermann are likely to settle into the 170-200 K-range whereas Hernandez and Scherzer can push into the 220-250 range. On the innings pitched side of things, Greinke and Zimmermann appear likely to come up around 20 innings short of what you can expect to get out of Hernandez or Scherzer. This really comes down to determining what it means to get an extra 50+ Ks and slightly more upside across the board.

For me, this exercise could be more easily understood by putting it into a hitter perspective. Since starting pitchers are really four-category contributors we should also look at hitters who are basically four-category contributors. Looking at the leagues I played in this past season which featured the highest activity levels, a K has 69% of the value of a Run or an RBI. 50 Ks is worth approximately 34 R + RBI. Put another way, this would be like passing on a hitter who nets a .288/93/18/78/3 line such as what we got from Freddie Freeman in 2014 for a hitter who posts a .288/76/18/61/3 line. A look at ESPN’s player rater shows that Freeman had a 2014 ADP of 30 whereas Felix Hernandez sported an ADP of 26 and Max Scherzer came in at an ADP of 31. It’s reasonable to think that Greinke and Zimmermann could once again be had in the 54-86 ADP range in 2015 and I feel quite confident I could get better than a .288/76/18/61/3 hitter at that point of the draft.

Even if you think Freeman came up a little short of what you hoped to get from him in 2014, consider this; the .285/90/25/90/2 line you probably hoped Freeman would produce in 2014 gets reduced to a .285/73/25/73/2 line when you take away a combination of Runs and RBI that are equivalent to what it means to pass on an all but certain 50 additional Ks. I still like my chances of being able to uncover at least that much value in a hitter later in the draft.

In trying to come up with a pitcher outside of the elite ace group who could possibly come up with a sub-3.00 ERA, sub-1.15 Whip, offer decent win potential, and come within reach of 235 Ks in 2015, I’m a little stumped. I could see Samardzija pulling it off and maybe one of Darvish, Tanaka, or Wainwright slide down far enough and overcome their injury trouble to maintain their elite level but that’s about it. Sure enough someone will ultimately come out of nowhere and pull it off but your guess is as good as mine as to who that mystery ace will be.

Getting into the 235 K range is an elite skill and even more enticing when it can be attached to a pitcher who can give you an elite performance across the board. The deeper the format you play in, I believe the more important it becomes to lock down an ace who can get you into the 235 K range with elite potential across the board.

Some of you are probably reading this and wondering if I’d even consider going against the grain to pass up a big first round bat and pick Clayton Kershaw in the first round. Fantasy Assembly’s own Kevin Jebens made that an easy call for me in his most recent write-up where he pondered the question: Is Trout or Kershaw the Top Pick of the Draft? For me, Trout is still numero uno. Thanks Rosetta Stone. After that, Kershaw belongs somewhere in the group of Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gomez, and Jose Abreu. If I’m picking anywhere after the 7th or 8th overall pick in first round and postseason stats don’t factor in, Kershaw is a no-brainer.

I’d like to point out how pocketing an ace can actually allow you to skip the tier featuring Zimmermann and Greinke and continue piling on the offense to go with your early round ace. It’s far more believable that you could find a later tier pitcher who could pitch on the level of Greinke or Zimmermann. You’ve got your high pedigree guys like Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Alex Cobb, Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and others who are all destined to get on Greinke and Zimmermann’s level eventually. Maybe you want to go a more veteran route to try and get a tier-two performance. Solid vets who could pull off a tier-two performance in any given year include Gio Gonzalez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Shields, and Homer Bailey among others. If you want to wait even longer there’s always the under the radar guys like Tanner Roark, Collin McHugh, and Jacob deGrom types who could get there as well. I have named a lot of guys who could give you a performance on par with what most of us are expecting from a solid tier-two pitcher and I truly believe I only scratched the surface on the names who could accomplish such a performance.

There seems to be a fairly even split between those that’ll tell you to wait on pitching and others who say you must snag at least one legitimate ace. There have been seasons where I would have told you that you’d be fine to wait on pitching but things change and we must adapt. In general, I fully believe there are many different winning approaches to fantasy baseball. With scoring in baseball slowly creeping towards something you see in soccer though, I’m telling you that an ace is a must have and specifically an ace with huge strikeout potential. If you don’t end up with at least one of Kershaw, King Felix, Sale, Bumgarner, Scherzer, Price, Strasburg, Kluber, or Cueto, good luck! If you opt out of the run on aces, you’re going to be hard pressed to uncover a Kluber or Cueto type to carry the front end of your rotation. Pocket that ace!

22 thoughts on “Pocket Aces?”

  1. Great stuff as always.
    I think we are on exactly the same page, in a 12 team 5×5 dynasty with 8 keepers (no contracts) I drafted Cueto in the early non keeper rounds last year and dealt for Kluber this offseason. I took it a step further and dealt for both Kimbrel and Chapman during this past season, though I’ve never kept a closer before and now I have two. In addition my 4 hitters are McCutchen, Rizzo, Posey and Donaldson so I think I’ve built a pretty strong core.

    1. Max, appreciate the comment. Your pitching staff is locked in for success. I like Cueto again in 2015, especially since he’s in a contract year. He’s out to get paid and the success he’s had the past four seasons likely means more greatness from the Cinci ace. Kluber has mastered the sinker and ever since he got full control of that thing he’s been incredible. There’s little reason to believe he can’t continue his success. Mixing those two with your high-K closers is going to be fun for you to sit back and watch in 2015. As for your hitter keepers, each of those guys are solid top 40-50 picks to anchor your offense. Well done, Max and good luck to you.

  2. so if you had the 2nd pick in a 15 team 5×5 (trout taken), who would you be selecting?

    Kershaw, McCutch, Cabrera or Stanton?

    1. In a 15 team I think it would be more important to grab that ace since the talent is spread out over more teams.
      Last year I had the third pick in a 12 team 5×5 with Trout & Cabrera going 1 & 2. I grabbed Kershaw with the first pick and took wainwright with the next. My hitting was missing that big name bat, but was solid all around so things worked out nicely.

    2. Thanks for the comment, bmax311. Kershaw has been so predictably dominant the past four years that I would go with him that early in a 15 team league. In a 12-teamer I would not. An early pick of Kershaw may be a tough pill to swallow given that you’re going to pass on such a great hitter to start your team with but it’s going to allow you to wait on pitching later on as you go hitter-heavy with most of your next 10 picks or so. I’m all for going Jim’s idea of locking up another high-end ace early on and really setting the standard for pitching in your league. Two aces in the form of Kershaw and Bumgarner will allow you to build the back end of your rotation with predictable but boring veterans that people usually pass on for lack of upside. A rotation of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Lohse, THudson, Lackey, would allow you to plug away at offense after your initial two aces are in hand and that rotation has a solid shot at leading your league.

      1. Ok guys,, I grabbed Kershaw with the 2nd pick.. It will be interesting to see the ripple effect this may cause in our 15 team NFBC type league.. Is there a good place to keep y’all up to date or maybe you could care less…

        1. Feel free to comment anywhere, we see all the recent comments regardless of where you post them.

          Oh, and Ron is currently in a 15 team slow draft. He selected Kershaw in round 1 and took Bumgarner on the wrap around. Sounds like you two may be on the same page with draft sizes and strategies.

        2. bmax,

          As Jim mentioned. I also took Kershaw at #2 overall in my current NFBC Slow Draft. I’ve honestly never taken a pitcher in the first round before but see it as a more reasonable thing to do than ever before.

          I did follow Kershaw up with Bumgarner and even that took me by surprise. I’m working on reaching offensive targets of 980 R, 240 HR, 960 RBI, 160 SB, and a .270+ average. Each of those stat targets would place my team in the top 15% in each offensive category. After my back to back aces, I’ve gone nothing but hitting through the next 7 rounds. Right now my offense features (in order from the 3rd round on) VMart, Longoria, Cruz, DOrtiz, Wong, Andrus, and RCastillo. Even though I went back to back aces to start I see no reason I won’t be able to reach my offensive category goals. If anything is in major jeopardy it might be the SBs. RCastillo is a major wild card though and could come up big in that category.

          Feel free to drop us some questions and we can do our best to give you our two cents as you make your way through your draft.

  3. If you had the sixth pick in a 10 team three keeper league with three solid offensive keepers, who would you lean towards?

    1. Scullysmyhero, this is a tough one to answer not knowing the parameters of the league or who has been kept. I’m guessing with three offensive players in hand already, starting pitching would be the target.

      1. I have Rendon, Dozier, and Brantley all late teen keepers. 6th overall pick, snake draft, in a roto, five by five standard with qs and sv/hld. I have never finished in the top five in five years in this league. Just looking for some tips to improve.

        1. Okay, you’re set up pretty well at 3B and your first OF slot. Dozier is an okay option at 2B in a 10 team league. I’d still say you probably need to get an ace in the first round if one is available. Any of Kershaw, King Felix, Sale, Bumgarner, Scherzer, Price, Strasburg, Kluber, or Cueto who might be available would be a nice choice to head up your pitching staff.

          1. Other than Clayton, no one else is worth a sixth overall pick. Should I grab a bat if he is gone and snag a top tier at the 15th?

          2. In a ten team, I might wait longer for an arm. There will be a few aces left in the 3rd, 4th, 5th rounds even. If no Kershaw, I’d go bat, bat for sure. No other arm worth pick 15 in my opinion.
            Good luck

  4. I’ve been in a keeper league the past 6 years and we`ve slowly grown from 3 keepers to now 7 keepers. 10 x 10 H2H. No salaries, just keeping your guys. I’ve had Evan Longoria for a few years now, but I’m pretty sure I’m throwing him back. This will be because I want to keep pitching. Its been my bread and butter the past few years, and I’ve won back to back titles with Kershaw at the helm. Also get to keep Bumgarner and Sale, so I couldn’t ask for better. On the offensive side I still have Tulo, Goldschmidt, Abreu, and Kemp. Sad to lose Longo but I don’t trust the Rays anymore and pitching is taking shape the way it is. Everyone has good pitchers, its kinda hard not to. So I like to separate myself from the pack and trust my ability to draft offense.

    Having elite pitching is more important than ever

    1. Matt, thanks for the reply. Looks like a solid keeper group to start with and I agree that given the eight players you’ve named, Longoria is the one you should throw back for 2015. You could almost put three Colorado pitchers with those three starting pitchers you’re keeping and you’ll still dominate the league in pitching.

  5. I’m in a keeper league (12 team, points, H2H) where we can keep up to 9. I’m looking to build my pitching staff around Kershaw, hoping to add a couple of dependable aces. This past year, as commissioner, I took the advice from this website and split up the W points between W and QS (50/50), and I like that move. Guys still get decent points for a QS ND or L, and lucky W’s don’t get as many points. So I’m looking for guys who will give me a lot of QS with not a lot of really bad ones. I’d potentially like to keep 3, maybe 4 SP’s, if these guys can develop into Kershaw-lite’s.

    I think Cole is a no brainer, though he was off and on this season. One intriguing guy who fell into my lap at the end of the season is DeGrom. (A fellow playoff team inexplicably dropped him with 2 1/2 weeks to go thinking he wasn’t going to have another 2 start week. I saw that he was getting bumped back a day so I picked him up and he rewarded me with 2 great starts, helping me get into the championship game). As I examine his #’s, he really could be a keeper. I recently ran some comps of the pitchers who I could keep (Cole, Stroman, Fister, DeGrom, and Cobb), and DeGrom topped the list in QS%, bad start% (meaning fewest bad starts), and K/9. He also had the best points/IP the way my league is set up.

    My question is, is he legit? Is that who he is, or is major regression coming?
    I also like Stroman and Cobb a lot from that group, but they both have a few more off starts than the others. I think Fister is out, since he is not as good as he was in 2014.

    I have a conundrum on offense as well, in that I have too many guys I want to keep, so I’ll probably end up going with 3 SP’s. There are always plenty of solid pitchers available later.
    Is Kershaw, Cole, DeGrom my best bet?
    thanks!

    1. Hey Brian,
      In just 33 hours we’ll be posting our top pitchers for keepers/dynasty leagues, so instead of giving my opinion (ahem Cobb) you can have all of ours then 🙂
      Good luck and thanks for being a loyal reader.

    2. Brian,

      I think keeping Kershaw, Cole, and Cobb sounds like the makings of a dominant top half of a rotation for 2015. I like Stroman too, but if your hitter options are as strong as you say they are then maybe you could toss him back.

      1. Thanks. So you guys are both higher on Cobb than DeGrom. I was too, until I really analyzed DeGrom vs. the other guys. Cobb does have more of a track record, and really got locked in once he settled in after his early injury. That’s probably a safer pick.
        thx!

        1. Oh yeah, and on offense I have some tough decision as well.
          my OF is:
          Bautista
          Braun
          Soler
          JD Martinez
          Myers

          I’d kinda like to keep all those guys, but could keep and play 4 of them (1 Util slot). Obviously Braun is a wait and see how he looks in Spring after his weird thumb surgery

          I also have Rizzo and Desmond as definite keepers, Matt Carpenter as a maybe

          1. Of those hitters, I’d let Myers go. He still has a high ceiling, but he has slipped down the rankings and wasn’t very good in 2014. He’s the kind of player you can release and then scoop back up.

            Bautista is a keeper for me despite his age and possibility for injury. Soler as well, he has similar upside to Myers but hasn’t disappointed anyone yet and has a lot of hype surrounding him. He’ll get taken quick if you release him.

            As for Martinez, he’s a coin flip for me. I like what he did last year but I’m not sure how he’ll do moving forward. Maybe you can find a trading partner for him.

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