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In 2016, a Pair of Aces is a Winning Hand

For the longest time fantasy baseball conventional wisdom declared that waiting on starting pitching was the way to go, but that conventional wisdom has been turned around, and now drafting starting pitching early is all the rage. In most competitive drafts almost all the elite starters are gone by the end of round four.

Last year I suggested that you wait on starting pitching, but only after drafting your ace – someone like David Price or Zack Greinke. Once you had someone like that to anchor your staff, I thought you could wait out most of the next tier and take whoever remained. Players like Jeff Samardzija (told you so!) and Jake Arrieta (oops!) seemed too risky to reach for.

For the most part, the established aces like Price, Greinke, Bumgarner, etc. delivered on their draft day prices. The lowest performing ace was probably King Felix, and even he didn’t tank your team. At the same time, pitchers like Dallas Keuchel and Chris Archer emerged to become fantasy aces themselves. As a result, I don’t think one ace is enough anymore. I would try to draft two aces to anchor my team before waiting a while to find the breakout stars of 2016 (more on that next week).

Who are these aces I am talking about? Let’s take a look.

The Man

We all know that there is one ace above all others, and that is Clayton Kershaw. There’s nothing to dig into here. He’s the best pitcher in the world and should be the fourth player taken in your draft. If you draft him, I wouldn’t take too long before backing him up to make sure your investment is worthwhile. It doesn’t have to be Max Scherzer, but it should be one of the players discussed below.

Safest of Aces

  • Max Scherzer
  • Chris Sale
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • David Price

Numerous notable fantasy experts would say that pitchers, as a whole, are injury-prone and unreliable when recommending drafting hitters with as many top picks as you can stand. They must have been putting these guys out of their heads. While anything can happen in the coming season, these horses offer fantasy owners security year in and year out. We’ve heard about Sale’s herky-jerky mechanics and concerns over Bumgarner’s workload, but they keep on plugging along. Scherzer has started at least 30 games for seven years running, while Price has missed that mark once in the past six years.

The appeal of these players is not just that they stay on the field; it’s that they deliver video game numbers while they are. All of them can be relied upon to clear 200 strikeouts with ease, with Scherzer and Sale likely to deliver close to 250. A sub-three ERA and WHIP right around 1.0 are reasonable expectations, and not things to hope for if everything breaks right. So the upside here matches the highest hopes of anyone who might take the league by storm. If I don’t get Kershaw, I want someone from this group.

In a couple of drafts I’ve seen a strategy that struck me as admirable. The person who picked first chose Trout first overall and then when it got back to him he took Bumgarner and Sale back to back. That’s throwing the gauntlet down and leaving everyone else to play catch up. I’m finding that there is enough hitting talent to go around, and those bats available in the fourth and fifth rounds are not downgrades compared to the pitchers at that same point.

Young Guns

  • Matt Harvey
  • Jose Fernandez
  • Jacob deGrom
  • Gerrit Cole
  • Chris Archer
  • Noah Syndergaard

I am looking at Matt Harvey first out of this group, but I bet he can be had after deGrom and Cole. There was a bit of a soap opera around Harvey, but if you cut out all the drama you see a pitcher every bit the equal of Price, just over fewer innings. Perhaps he adds to his workload and cracks the top 5. deGrom was amazing for a second straight year. The minor league numbers don’t support what is happening, but this is clearly a different pitcher. At the same time, I can’t expect improvement. The same goes for Cole, who is also battling a rib injury this spring. Cole had some good fortune last year and slowed down a bit in the second half. Archer will go after all of them, but has filthy stuff and a strong defense.

A limited workload is a valid concern for Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard, but I think they can perform at a level worthy of a high draft day price tag. Fernandez is coming into his first full season after Tommy John surgery, but he showed no ill effects in a dominating stretch last year. His ratios and K rate will be great, so you’re coming out ahead even if he doesn’t reach 200 innings. Syndergaard went into uncharted territory last postseason, but was a stud all the way through. I wouldn’t want him as my sole ace, but paired with someone a little more reliable gives you a nice combination, potentially a dominant one.

Have We Seen Their Best?

  • Steven Strasburg
  • Jake Arrieta
  • Corey Kluber
  • Carlos Carrasco
  • Zack Greinke
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Dallas Keuchel

Anyone from this group is a find – possibility as an ace. If you take two of them you can mitigate some of the risk you are taking on (Again, pairing one of them with a Price-type is even better). My targets here are Strasburg and Carrasco. I’ve said it before that I like taking players who have a reasonable chance at finishing at the top of the player rater until they are gone. In spite of a roller coaster career so far, Strasburg still has that kind of talent. He is going 13th among starting pitchers, but his dominant second half leads me to believe that he can finish higher. Carrasco emerged as an ace last year, but the breakout is hidden by a high ERA. The underlying numbers suggest a better pitcher.

In the other cases, I feel like we have seen the best of Arrieta, Keuchel, and Greinke. How could we not have?!? Arrieta’s 2015 was off the charts, but he had fortune on his side, as well as good health. My concerns about injury prevent me from going all in. Greinke is durable and reliable, but last year’s Maddux-like numbers will not be maintained, plus he is moving into a less pitching-friendly environment. Kevin Jebens stated the case the other day for Dallas Keuchel when he covered the Astros rotation, but I’m not sure that he holds the strikeout gains or the innings gains for that matter. I wouldn’t fault you for jumping in, but I won’t be with you.

King Felix and Corey Kluber had a fierce competition for the Cy Young Award in 2014 and were due to regress. Kluber’s underlying numbers were actually similar, though the wins were not there and the ERA was not sexy. But he still had great stuff and command. The potential for profit is there, even if we split the difference between 2014 and 2015. As for Felix, he is getting older and his velocity is declining, but it is foolish to count him out. We forget that we have been through this before, and the King has come roaring back every time. I wouldn’t blame you for steering clear, but realize you may be torturing yourself all summer.

Those are the pitchers I consider aces, and the insights I have on some being more ace-like than others. You might feel ok with Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, or Cole Hamels as the aces of your staff, but as great as their track records are, they are missing the strikeouts and upside that I want. Meanwhile, Tyson Ross and Francisco Liriano lack the control to be truly elite. Sonny Gray had a great season but I will let him prove me wrong until I’m right. Actually the pitcher I think is most qualified to graduate is Danny Salazar, who is still young, has shown control gains, and can strikeout the world.

What do you think of the pair of aces plan? Who are the aces you want? let me know in the comments.

 

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Michael Zakhar

Michael Zakhar

Michael lives in New Jersey with his beautiful wife Virginia and his adorable son Johnny. We enjoy going to see the Lakewood BlueClaws, who play 20 minutes from home. In addition to baseball, Mike loves reading, music and professional wrestling.

12 comments on “In 2016, a Pair of Aces is a Winning Hand

  1. I just did this and feel real good about it. Currently in round 3 of NFBC draft champions.

    Took Trout at 1.1 and Sale-Fernandez at 2.15, 3.1

    • Thanks for reading, Pun. I like the move. In drafts I’ve seen the teams that do this get a big edge in pitching and usually have a competitive offense. Good luck with the rest of your draft. Let me know how it works out.

  2. I am in an AL only. 5X5 Roto , 3 yr contract, dynasty league… 28th year..
    Salary cap of 400 …OK …Coming off a championship last year, my team is depleted so I’m thinking of cornering the pitching category, the way hunt brothers cornered silver in the 70’s.
    Pitching quality in the AL just seems to be especially scarce this year and drops off very fast to a big pool of mediocrity.
    Thoughts on this assessment of 2016 AL Starting Pitching Talent?

    • Thanks for reading, Mike. I’d say there are 8-10 high end AL options, most of whine are mentioned above. (FYI: I’d value Hamels more in AL only). Then I’d say there are 12 or so pitchers in the AL that make up a next tier. They have warts but they have high end stuff too (Tanaka, Pineda, Ventura, etc.). Then we are looking at Ian Kennedy and Clay Buchholz as top 30 options, so yeah it goes down hill fast. At that point you are to ably getting better value from relievers.

      You know the room best, but I would try to win the first couple of aces that are nominated to get the best value. Then other teams will pay more to play catch up.

      Is this in line with your take on AL pitching and the strategy you’re looking to employ? Or are looking to get even more pitchers discussed in this article? Let me know and thanks again for reading.

  3. 12 team h2h points defending champ. Keeping Arietta rd 3, Abreu rd 4, and Pollock rd 8. Torn on my early round strategy….best bats left after keepers on the board at pick 11 & 12 are Betts, Votto, Marte, JD Martinez…best SP left are maybe Bumgarner, Price, Cole, Degrom, Greinke. Would it be better to double up on two SP or one of the aces and a bat. I have keepers in rd 3 & 4, so I don’t pick again till rd 5, when guys like Beltre, Kemp, K Seager, Stroman, Richards, should still be there…What strategy would you take and who would you pick from those guys? Thanks!!!

    • Of all the hitters – actually all the players, I’d take Betts if he is available. That will give you 3 stud hitters and enable you to absort the hit of not having those picks in rounds 3 & 4. Since you pick 11th and there are 5 listed potential stud pitchers you can wait to get one of these guys on the wrap around. Bumgarner is the obvious choice, but I don’t see him lasting. Of the remaining I love Cole if he is fully healthy by the start of the season, but would have no issue taking deGrom followed by Price or Greinke (no preference).

      When round 5 rolls around I wouldn’t mind taking an unsexy stable bat like Seager, and potentially Stroman on the wrap around as he could be a top 25 pitcher this year.

  4. Thanks! I meant rd 12/13 but, it’s still that double tap wrap around…like the strategy if Betts is there. JD and Crush strike out too much for points and Votto is going to get nothing to hit, which he won’t swing at anyways…I like Marte, but am targeting Polonco for later as a sleeper.
    If Betts is gone, Bautista or Miggy didn’t fall, and just those other bats are left, I’d probably take those 2 best SP and let my pitching carry me a bit this year…

    • Hi John. Thanks for reading. I thinking you could somehow get Betts and Bumgarner you are off to a great start. I generally agree with Jims comments on who to take and in what order, though I have Proce ahead of Greinke.

      If you read the outfield ranks you know I am high on Polonco as well, so he’d make a great addition.

      Thanks again for reading and good luck.

  5. Hello,

    Awesome article. Two things:

    One- what do you think the odds are that Salazar is better than he was last year? I still don’t really trust him.

    Two- I just joined a 14 team dynasty roto league. It is auction with a $300 budget. The team has a few bright spots but the owner I took over for finished in the bottom 3. One of those bright spots is BRYCE HARPER who I have for $52.

    There is obviously interest in him and so far the best offer I’ve gotten for him is $10 arietta with a $5 eaton and joe ross. I am sort of close on this deal b/c I worry about harper’s health. I also save $32 and get some upside guys. Do you trust aretta enough for a deal like this or would you push for sale at a higher price tag? Or take arietta but more paired with him?

    I am REALLY with you on the pitching in points leagues especially, but I don’t know as much about dominating pitching with roto. In my home points league I already have sale/scherzer and am fixing to add at least 2 more aces.

    Again, great article.

    Best,
    Mike

    • I don’t know about Zak, but I wouldn’t do it. Arrieta pitched over 100 innings more than the previous year and is now 30, two big negatives for me. I also don’t trust Eaton’s power last year. Ross is a throw in at this point. He may be good, but the two main pieces don’t add up to make him worth the gamble. I’d aim for the pitchers 28 and under who might have a lower salary (Gerrit Cole, deGrom, Sale). The same goes for hitters. I get wanting to shed some salary, get some upside players and crawl out of the bottom, but if you’re gonna do it do it the right way for the right players. Let the league know he is available and see what is offered, but before that, make a list of your own of players you would want and see if you can work out your own deal for what You want. Maybe a better deal comes along, maybe not; at least you’re the one steering the ship.

      • Hi Mike! Thanks for reading.

        I would hold off on that particular trade and look for something better. Arrieta is coming off the year of his life it you would be better off with someone younger. Jim’s advice on getting the most out of your dynasty trade is top notch to me.

        I guess I am a Salazar fan. I know I am more of a fan than you. You might be taking a risk by selling, but if you are not a believer then definitely make a move. I would want a pretty solid return for moving him though. He’s a solid SP2 in my mind.

  6. Thanks gents,

    I actually didn’t see your reply til after I decided to do exactly what you suggested. Great minds! haha. I don’t mind Harper at $52 and am only gonna deal him for a blow away deal. It’s a deep league so I’d love to add some depth but I can always keep a few $1 guys like volquez and colon to save some money that could be good streaming options during the season for roto.

    And I have to decide on Salazar vs Ortiz tomorrow night. Jim has heard me whine about this conundrum for a month plus now haha.. I love Ortiz and it’s a points league so he’s top 12-15 hitter annually, but as Jim has told me a zillion times- he’s old as heck. And there’s a ton of pitching in the draft, but pitching also tends to be overpriced b/c again- points league. Salazar costs $7 vs Ortiz for $1 and less hitting in draft.

    Anyway, you guys are awesome and thanks for all the help. Excited to be playing In more leagues and different formats this year. I won 2 points and a categories league last year. First time really playing roto and some leagues with more than 5×5.

    Best,
    Mike

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