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.
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.
- 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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