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|
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!