2015 is upon us and, with the New Year, of course, comes New Year’s resolutions. The talented Kevin Jebens (affectionately called “KJ”, by, well, no one at Fantasy Assembly) has already given us his 2015 fantasy resolutions, so I am not going to steal his thunder and write about mine….per se. What I will do is talk about something near and dear to my heart. No, not my arteries nor, for that matter, the song Barracuda by the band Heart. Nope, not today, anyways. What I am going to write about is pitching or, more to the point, drafting pitching.
The depth at starting pitching is much better than I recall it ever being in my time as a fantasy baseball player. In 2014, 21 qualified starting pitchers finished the season with ERAs under three. To put some perspective on that, that number is up from 12 in 2013 and ten in 2012. Batters are swinging away and pitchers are reaping all the benefits. Well, not all of the pitchers, but you see what I’m driving at, right? Bottom line is pitching, deeper. So how should this affect the way we draft starting pitching?
Now, I know what you’re asking, “Well, Will, how do you normally draft starting pitching?” Great question, glad you asked, happy to answer it for you. Personally, I don’t ever draft a pitcher until at least the fourth round but most of the time, depending on my draft position, I will wait until the fifth round. I usually manage to create a decent enough rotation with this “strategy”, but is this something that I should now adjust what with the increased depth at the pitching position and all? Well, the depth of starting pitching is sort of relative. I was going to throw some more vague sentences in here to really build some mystery, but I value your time, so let’s dig in and see what this increasing pitching depth means for drafting strategy.
So, we have ourselves some pitching depth, but do we really, for fantasy purposes? While ERAs are going down, strikeouts are going up, yada, yada, yada, the amount of pitchers atop the ESPN Player Rater is actually going down? Yes, that is correct. The number of starting pitchers in the top 50 of ESPN’s Player Rater actually dropped from 12 to seven, from 2013 to 2014. Five is not a drastic number, but think about it this way, that is actually over a 40% drop. Numbers are fun aren’t they? Now, if you look back at Fantasy Assembly’s Top 200 Dynasty/ Keeper Rankings, you’ll see that our collective brains ranked 14 starting pitchers in the top 50. That is roughly the first four rounds of a 12 team draft. So, in a simplistic manner, with a little maneuvering of numbers, it kind of seems like you don’t need to be drafting pitchers early. I mean, based on these numbers and, again, this is simplistic data manipulating, it looks like you’re better off waiting on starting pitchers, right? I would say so. The question now becomes, how long to wait?
First off, let me say, you don’t necessarily need a prototypical “ace” on your staff. I for one, will probably never have Clayton Kershaw, but last year, had top 50 player, and American League Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber on several teams. To be fair, I still managed to also get David Price, so some of this kind of depends on what you count as an “ace”, but then you can also see, that I had a nice 1-2 punch at the top of my rotation and I didn’t even grab a pitcher before the fifth round. Okay, small digression there, let us get back to the question at hand, “how long does one now wait to draft starting pitchers?”
Yeah, if you want Clayton Kershaw, you’re most likely gonna gave to draft him in the first round. The question is, do you need Clayton Kershaw? Probably not, but if you like the comfort of knowing you can count on a ridiculously awesome start each time out, well, then, by all means. Now, if you don’t need said comfort, you can certainly wait on starting pitching. Looking at the good old ESPN Player Rater from last season, only seven starting pitchers appear to have been worth a pick in the first four rounds. Is this kind of simplistic bare bones evaluation of the data? Well, sure, I suppose, but do you get the point? Well, maybe we should look at the aforementioned seven starters that finished in the top 50 on the old Player Rater. If I mention ESPN enough, you think they’ll give me free stuff? Anyways, back to the pitchers.
The seven starting pitchers that landed in the top 50 overall were, Kershaw, Cueto, King Felix, Kluber, Wainwright, Sale and Lester. Now, how many of those seven would you have picked in the first four rounds heading into 2014? Kershaw and King Felix are a given, but the rest of the group? Well, in my 12 team league, for example Sale and Wainwright also went in the first four rounds. Eleven, yes, eleven, starting pitchers went in the first four rounds, and four landed in the top fifty overall. That means almost two-thirds of those pitchers taken in the first four rounds were, well, not disappointments, per se, but maybe not worth wasting an early pick on. Now, hindsight is 20-20 of course, and injuries will take guys like Yu Darvish down on the rankings. It happens. To add to this though, take the fact I drafted my first starting pitcher in the fifth round and got Jose Fernandez. Obviously, the injury hurt me and, I guess, him too, but you can’t argue that is a perfectly reasonable “ace” at the 53rd pick. I added Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyson Ross and Michael Wacha with later picks. Again, injuries derailed some of my best laid plans for my rotation, but if you could have a rotation of Fernandez, Hamels, Zimmerman, Ross and Wacha for a full season, you wouldn’t complain, right?
Of course, this not all to say that I, myself, don’t project that more than seven pitchers are in the top 50. I believe I had 12, as it were. Basically, even though I think this, I am okay with grabbing starters outside the top 50. Someone has to grab these high ranked pitchers, but I am not one of them and neither should you, um, be, one of those, er, people. Well, that was an oddly constructed sentence. In any event, with the amount of pitching depth and the increase in Tommy John surgeries, which I didn’t even really touch upon, I think you can almost start your rotation in the sixth round and be fine. Plenty of very good pitchers went in the sixth round or later in my 12 team league last year. So what I am telling you, is pile up on the bats and wait a bit on your rotation. You’re welcome and happy new year!