Waiting Game: Comparing Starting Pitching Tiers


This series goes position by position, comparing the average production you get out of the top 5 ranked (or top 10 for OF and SP), the next group of players, and so on. We’re looking for where the value of players starts to drop, so that you can see how long you can wait on a position and what kind of hit in production you’ll take if you do. One thing to note is that I’m not restricting players to only one position for the stat information. If a guy qualifies at 2B, SS, and OF, his numbers are going to appear in all three sets.

There’s a lot of discussion about tiers in ranking players. Some fantasy managers live by it, because they like to make cut-off points where they feel the talent is noticeably different between one group of players and the next group. Other managers don’t like it and prefer a simple straight ranking. I’ve always enjoyed tiers, and depending on the format of your league, there really can be obvious gaps in talent level at a certain number of players. 

I’ve done two things here. First I use CBS’s ranking info for 5×5 roto leagues, and I show the average numbers for the top 10 players at starting pitcher compared to groups of 10 after that. Next I’ll take data from a private CBS points league and show the averages for the same breakdowns. Although it’s a custom scoring league, there aren’t major differences from CBS’s public points system, and anyway, a lot of times the points rankings are very close to the 5×5. The nice thing is that it boils down production to a common denominator (points) regardless of whether a player was more speed or power.

The 5×5 Roto Comparison

Here are your 5×5 averages of the top 10 starters, followed by 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, and 41-50. I’ve rounded to whole numbers.

  • #1-10: 2.52 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 17 W, 235 K in 32 GS, 222 IP
  • #11-20: 2.83 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 14 W, 187 K in 31 GS, 197 IP
  • #21-30: 3.04 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 14 W, 159 K in 29 GS, 185 IP
  • #31-40: 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 13 W, 158 K in 29 GS, 186 IP
  • #41-50: 3.34 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 13 W, 147 K in 29 GS, 177 IP

Fifty players deep, that ERA is still under 3.50, and the lowest average WHIP is barely above 1.20. Wow, what a golden age of pitching. At first glance, maybe you think you don’t have to rush to get pitching. However, there are some important differences in the top two tiers, and that’s in strikeouts and innings. More innings means those great ERA and WHIP ratios will have more of an impact on your team total. The strikeout bonus is self-explanatory: more is always better, and there’s a big drop-off after the top-20. You can still find a few SP over 180 K after that, but there are only six of them in the 21-50 range.

The Points Comparison

Here’s the breakdown. I didn’t compare tiers that were more than two apart. It’s obvious that there will be a very large gap from 1-10 to 41-50. Instead, I looked at the differences between closer tiers.

  • Range, 1-10: 671.5 – 887.5, avg. 786.4 points
  • Range, 11-20: 604 – 667.5, avg. 637.5 points
  • Range, 21-30: 556 – 601.5, avg. 578.3 points
  • Range, 31-40: 518.5 – 540.5, avg. 530.6 points
  • Range, 41-50: 490.5 – 515.5, avg. 504.1 points
  • Difference between avg. of 1-10 and 11-20 = 148.9 points = 23.4% more
  • Difference between avg. of 1-10 and 21-30 = 208.1 points = 36.0% more
  • Difference between avg. of 11-20 and 21-30 = 59.2 points = 10.2% more
  • Difference between avg. of 11-20 and 31-40 = 106.9 points = 20.1% more
  • Difference between avg. of 21-30 and 31-40 = 47.7 points = 9.0% more
  • Difference between avg. of 21-30 and 41-50 = 74.2 points = 14.7% more
  • Difference between avg. of 31-40 and 41-50 = 26.5 points = 5.3% more

 Even when comparing only the closer tiers, look at how much difference there is at the top. The average top-10 pitcher blows away even the average 11-20 guy. The drop of one level from the top-tier to the second tier is still more than the percentage difference of dropping from the second to the fourth. At least the last two tiers are pretty close, which emphasizes the general pitching depth that’s out there and allows you to fill a roster.

The Bottom Line: Yes, there are more elite pitching options. But do not ignore a top-10 arm when you build your team. If you go with the common (and now outdated) drafting strategy of “draft hitters for the first 7+ rounds,” there’s no way you’ll ever catch up in roto pitching points compared to top teams. There’s a reason our Assembly team is talking about taking Kershaw in the first round, and even in the top few picks. When it comes to points leagues, the same thing applies, and more emphasis is put on innings eaters and strikeout machines. You can’t ignore a top arm when it produces 25% more than the next tier. I’ll say this one more time: Get. Your. Ace. Or two, if you’re anything like me. Be sure to draft at least two and likely three arms in the top-25, because there is definitely a drop-off at that point. You can fill your roster with helpful, average SP after that, but what will make or break your pitching staff in relation to others is how many top arms you have… and whether you can avoid the TJS curse.

Compare tiers for the rest of the positions

CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird Base ShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelievers

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.