Targets and Avoids: Starting Pitchers

Initial disclaimer: the following paragraph is based on personal experiences and memories. Fantasy is inclusive. Guyhood is not required or recommended, especially if it means you won’t be a stereotype.

I’m that guy. You know the one… there’s one in every league. I’m not the trash-talker. I’m not the guy who offers you his final 3 picks and a minor leaguer in A-ball for your best player. I’m not the guy who counters every trade offer, and vetoes every trade that doesn’t involve him. We’ve all been in leagues with that guy. But there’s another guy we’ve all been in league with too. It’s the inaugural draft. It’s one hundred picks in and the last consensus top 100 bat just came off the board – and you think to yourself “Wait, isn’t that the guy who drafted Mookie and Stanton and . . . man, his team must be insane.” So you go and take a look at his team, and you’re right. His offense is amazing. Then you scroll to his pitching staff – and it’s empty.

I’m that guy. So fair warning, this article is from that guy. Pitching has its merits and uses, and I recognize my own tendency to under-utilize it. I just can’t entirely escape my bias toward bats.

There’s a bit of logic behind my preference for bats. There are 2 types of stats in fantasy: cumulative and collective. With cumulative stats, there are no negatives. Either a guy did homer or he didn’t. If he did, and you played him, you get his home run. If he didn’t or you didn’t play him, there’s no negative statistic, just a missed opportunity. Most offensive stats are cumulative, with the exception of batting average and on-base percentage – runs, home runs, RBI, steals, total bases, hits and or extra-base hits – all of these are cumulative (okay, net steals is now a thing, but my point stands).

Pitching stats run a bit differently. Wins or quality starts is cumulative. Saves, holds, strikeouts – these are cumulative as well. But walks are a negative cumulative if your league counts them. And all the pitching ratios are collective. ERA, WHIP, K/9, BB/9. In collective stats, you’re not getting anyone’s actual numbers, but rather the numbers for the team as a whole. So yes, Max Scherzer helps you. But all your other pitchers who aren’t Max Scherzer can either boost Scherzer’s impact or erode some of it. That’s the gamble of fantasy pitching.


Zack Wheeler

Finally healthy, Wheeler broke out and began to fulfill his promise in 2018. After missing all of the ’15-16 seasons with injury and struggling upon his 2017 return, Wheeler pitched even 100 innings for only the 3rd time in his career.

I could rattle off a long list of numbers here, but I won’t. Mostly, I’m here to tell you that Fantrax has Wheeler being drafted around pick 92, the 27th pitcher off the board. Yet Wheeler threw 182 good innings of sub-4 ERA ball, with almost a strikeout per inning and the best control he’d ever shown (2.71 bb/9 or 7.4%). If he could do that in his first fully healthy season in four years and the improved control sticks, he could be a borderline ace still available near pick 100.

Jack Flaherty

I’m placing Flaherty in Targets, though I don’t necessarily love where he’s being drafted. What I do love are his strikeouts, namely 182 in 151 innings last year.

In 2018, Flaherty had a better k/9 ratio than Corey Kluber, Aaron Nola, Clayton Kershaw, Luis Severino, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Walker Buehler, Mike Clevinger, and Stephen Strasburg – all of whom are currently being drafted ahead of him. I’m not saying Flaherty is better than those guys, though with his strikeout potential I’m not ruling it out. I am saying that his career is off to a very interesting start, and I think he might be good enough in his own right to be your plan A.


Disclaimer: Avoid is not some big, glaring “DO NOT TOUCH THE RED BUTTON” sign. It’s more me whispering Vanilla Ice in your ear “Alright stop, collaborate and listen.” Both of these guys are fine players and worthy additions to your team. That said, I’m wary of both.

James Paxton

Paxton has filthy stuff. I’m not denying that. It feels almost hypocritical to put him here after praising Flaherty’s strikeouts – yet here we are. I’m not docking him for his health either – as good as his stuff is, even 150 innings could get you 200 k’s.

Paxton has a fantastic arm. I just have one concern. For as great as his stuff is, and for all the improvements he made in 2018, I feel like people are expecting him to take yet another step forward in 2019. He might. I am definitely not saying he lacks the talent to do it. But I feel like he’s being drafted based on that expectation instead of based on the idea that his excellent 2018 season is what to expect.

My hang-up with Paxton is that last year, with Seattle as his home park, he gave up fly balls over 40% of the time and allowed 1.29 HR/9. Seattle is not a small park or a hitter’s paradise. Yankee Stadium, on the other hand . . . Let’s just say I’m concerned considering the contrast in dimensions compared to SafeCo . He’ll be plenty good (he already is), but maybe hold off on the magical leap expectations.

Mike Foltynewicz

As a Braves fan, I hope every result Folty earned in 2018 was real. As a fantasy player, I’m seeing if he falls before I take the plunge.

My biggest issue with Foltynewicz is that 2018 was a perfect storm. He got better and the team got better. He posted the highest strand rate of his career, as well as the highest K/9. Any of that might hold. It also might not. SIERA suggests his ERA should have been a run higher. His walk percentage crept up for the 3rd year in a row. He pitched fewer than 6 innings in 16 of his starts, drastically lowering the number of quality starts he could provide.

Basically, Foltynewicz was a mixed bag statistically in 2018, and I don’t know which of the stats to buy. Maybe all of them are real. Tom Glavine outpitched his expected ERA by a wide margin for his whole career – some guys can. But a career-high strand rate, rising walks and a propensity for shorter starts make Folty a high-risk, high-reward gamble. I don’t blame you if you take him, I just want you to know every potential outcome.

Targets and Avoids


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Seth Bias

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I'm Seth. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and rock n' roll on vinyl. Books, sandals and tacos too, though I find most of my money for those things going to vinyl these days. Once turned Prince Fielder into Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt in a dynasty league. Also ashamed to say I once cut Jose Ramirez. I don't hate your favorite team unless your favorite team is the Nationals or Phillies. May or may not have cried when David Justice hit that home run in game 6 of the 95 World Series - though if you actually ask me, I'll claim I did not.