When it comes to starting pitchers there are three schools of thought.
- Avoid pitching early and focus on hitting.
- Get elite pitching early as you can always find value bats later.
- Try and get one or two top pitchers in the early rounds and fill out your rotation throughout the draft.
In the past the first one was true; there were only so many top arms to go around and elite bats were plentiful, so odds are your staff would resemble most of your league mates. The second was also true depending on how you looked at things; with only so many elite pitchers it is better to grab a few early to get a leg up.
Today there are quite a few elite and near elite arms, enough to go around for everyone, but the number of elite top-tier bats are somewhat limited. For this reason it is recommended to get a few top pitchers early. To some this may not make sense. “If there are plenty of arms then I should focus on hitting early, right?” Yes, and no. While it is wise to spend your first few picks on elite hitters, you don’t want to wait too long to fill out your pitching staff. Doing so will put you behind the 8-ball in the draft and potentially all season. Looking at the results from NFBC drafts will explain. Their top 10 pitchers are being selected within the first 35 picks – that’s the first three rounds in standard 12 team leagues. By the time you get through round five there will (theoretically) be 19 starting pitchers off the board.
If you focus heavily on hitting early on you’ll have virtually little chance of landing a top 20 pitcher. On the other side of the coin, if you focus too heavily on pitching early on you’ll miss out on a number of elite bats. The safe route here is to balance your draft with hitting and some pitchers sprinkled in. You could rationalize things by going with bats early and think you can get by with Cole Hamels and Tyson Ross as your aces, and then draft upside guys like Carlos Martinez, Steve Matz and Carlos Rodon later. That could work, but there is risk involved here (risk and reward). If it works you’ll look like a genius, but if it fails you’ll be playing the waiver wire game trying to catch the guy with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Harvey and either Sonny Gray or Jon Lester as their number three.
Pitching is as deep in talent as it has ever been, but elite talent, that dependable talent you can plug in, set it and forget it; those players are predominately exclusive to the top 20 or so. Don’t get left out in the cold due to the misconception you can avoid pitching early. Those elite arms will go quicker than you think.
Taking part in our rankings will be Tommy Landseadel, Kevin Jebens, Jim Finch, Ron Vackar, Michael Zakhar and Neil (Mister DFS). Our six experts each ranked their top 100 starting pitchers for the 2016 season. Players marked N/R were not ranked inside the top 100 by that particular person.
If you feel we overlooked someone or would like to debate a player’s ranking, feel free to do so in the comment section below.
Players that you would Reach for
Tommy: I love getting an ace or two early, but preferably not in the first two rounds. That means I am not getting Kershaw, Scherzer or Arrieta. I will reach for Jose Fernandez (who is simply amazing) Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Carrasco. They are my favorite SP values in the first few rounds this year.
Kevin: You have to get a top starting pitcher. It’s a deep field, but the elite names are too valuable to pass on. Get the guys who’ve been doing it for years: Kershaw, Bumgarner, Sale, Price, Greinke, Felix.
Jim: Gerrit Cole has shown steady progression since arriving and is poised to take another step this year – potentially finishing in the top 10 by seasons end. Felix Hernandez saw his numbers slip in 2015, and his ADP this year reflects that. I’ll reach a round early to procure his services based upon health (10 straight seasons of 190+ innings) and strikeouts (6 straight seasons of 200+ prior to 2015). He’ll only be 30 in April. I’ll probably reach a round early to get Marcus Stroman. He defied the odds by returning late in 2015 and was on a lot of sleeper lists coming into last season.
Ron: Can I reach twice? The deeper the format the more I have a desire to lock up a pair of aces, especially those with elite K upside. There are numerous pairings inside the top 18 or so that I find quite appealing. Chris Sale/Jacob deGrom; Corey Kluber/Chris Archer; Madison Bumgarner/David Price, and on and on and on.
Zak: I might jump the gun on Masahiro Tanaka. The health concerns seem to override everything else we hear about him, but he is worth his cost even if he gives you 150 innings. It’s rare for owners to sleep on a marquee name, but that’s what we’ve got here. Taijuan Walker‘s final numbers don’t look impressive, but he seemed to figure things out down the stretch. He is going 48th among starters in NFBC drafts, but has top 20 potential. I won’t be waiting that long to take him, and I suspect that you won’t be able to wait that long in most competitive leagues.
Neil: Jacob deGrom. A 10.82 k/9 in the 2nd half and some pedestrian batted ball luck (.300 2nd half BABIP) made his already impressive 2.54 ERA worse than it could have been. I like him as a top 10 pitcher. Lance McCullers had a really nifty 9.24 k/9 on the year. He has an electric fastball and his breaking ball is already top 10 in the majors. He will easily surpass his 6 wins and his ERA (3.22) will drop by half a run. I love this guy.