Death of the Starting Pitcher

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. The timeline of someones life is constantly being updated. Two months ago my family and I attended a destination wedding for my nephew. Each day was filled with countless laughs and wonderful memories that will last a lifetime, small increments along the timeline of life if you will.

On the eve of the final day my nephew came over to the vacation home to tell us thank you and say his goodbyes. Having been away from home for a half decade, this departure routine was nothing new for any of us. Given the circumstances, however, this goodbye was not like the others before it. The wedding itself created one of the elongated increments along the timeline of life, the type of event that serves as a reminder that the way things once were may never be again.


Every fantasy baseball season provides noteworthy timeline designations. During the first few months of the season the name Aaron Judge was placed among the games elite. Meanwhile, the preseason rookie darling Alex Bregman was being fitted for the bust label and fantasy afterthought moving forward. Advance the timeline to present and you will find plenty of doubters in valuing Aaron Judge among the elite, while those who invested again and again on Alex Bregman are finally being rewarded.

From season to season the fantasy baseball timeline increments are typically reserved for the altering player values that are constantly changing. Every once in a while an event will occur that alters not only a players value, but how the game is played moving forward.

The 2017 MLB season will serve as an elongated increment of the fantasy timeline, with the heading of DEATH OF THE STARTING PITCHER.

Statistically speaking 2016 and 2017 look very similar in terms of SP workloads. 2016 featured 15 200+ IP arms along with a total of 39 pitchers who logged more than 185 IP. With around 9 more starts in 2017 (give or take a few) it’s still too early to project with confidence on final numbers. Based on the innings already logged and factoring playoff scenarios I’m of the mindset that fewer than 10 arms will log over 200 IP this season while 35-40 will log the 185 IP requirement.

Compare these numbers to just 5 years ago and you will find that in 2012, 31 pitchers amassed more than 200 IP while 57 logged over 185 IP. The decline of SP workload is evident, but in reality this is no new news for those of us who follow the game closely. So the question still remains, “Why will 2017 be remembered as the year Starting Pitching Died?”

Major League Baseball is a copycat league. Every contending team added the same thing at the trading deadline. No, it wasn’t an impact bat or a rotation piece. Instead, every team added to their bullpen. In 2016 the Kansas City Royals won the World Series on the strength of their bullpen.  Much the same can be said for the Indians World Series run last year. Their World Series opposition took the ball from their Game 7 starter in the 5th inning despite having pitched effectively and staked to a 3-1 lead.

While I don’t always agree with this decision-making, more and more teams are building their pitching from the back to the front and simply feel better about the late inning options than trying to get one more inning from the starting pitcher.

  • In 2012 Relief pitchers logged 14,737.2 innings pitched over the course of 14,254 appearances.
  • Last season Relief pitchers accounted for 15,893.2 innings pitched over the course of 15,303 appearances.

The 1,600 IP increase and nearly 1,000 additional appearances is rather substantial and also validates the league wide trend of increased bullpen usage. With the increase in workload has come the increase in relief pitchers being the pitcher of record.

  • In 2012 RP combined for 692 Wins along with 647 Losses.
  • In 2016 RP combined for nearly 800 Wins (799) to go with the 721 Losses.

Little by little the bullpen is starting to eat away at the statistical production for starting pitchers. The fewer innings a starting pitcher throws the more difficult earning the W becomes – it’s that simple. For those of you trailblazing fantasy owners who’ve converted to Quality Starts, your affects could be even more impacted.

So as a fantasy owner, what can be done to combat this?

If you play in a standard roto or H2H league, pitching accounts for 50% of the scoring. Among that 50%, a starting pitcher directly effects 80% of the categories. So while we may be in the midst of the death of starting pitching, it’s not like we can punt it on draft day. In order to properly account for this change, it’s very likely a reevaluation of player values near the top of the draft board will need to take place.

I personally feel that fantasy owners develop patterns over the years, I know I certainly have. From season to season and league to league I feel my roster composition and strategical plan is rather uniform. I typically devote the early part of the draft to offense, find the one ace to build my staff around, and use my bench as rotation depth taking the strength in numbers approach to pitching. While plenty of people have a varying view on how to construct ones bench, I believe the hesitation to go arm early is a rather common theme.

With the influx of bullpen usage a level of sameness has begun to blanket the starting pitching market in fantasy. It’s almost as if we are now given a Top Tier level of maybe 5 SP, a second tier of around 15 arms, and a third tier that could expand from Aaron Nola all the way to say Jeff Samardzija. In Yahoo Standard scoring Aaron Nola is the 80th ranked players overall.

  • Nola has posted 8 Wins to go with 117 K, a 3.12 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP,
  • Samardzija comes in at 230 overall with 7 Wins, 154 K, a 4.75 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP.

I understand that the 1.63 point edge in ERA is significant, but if I were projecting stats moving forward I’d have them rated very similarly.

By bypassing starting pitching early in drafts you’ve likely awarded yourself with a large contingency of this hypothetical 3rd tier. Now all of a sudden Aaron Nola’s 3.12 ERA is setback by Samardzija’s 4.75 but your fine with that because Samardzija has helped you out with those 154 K’s while injuries have limited Nola to just 118. This constant give and take among the third tier ultimately makes it difficult to emerge as a force on the pitching side.

To further complicate matters, this tier as a whole will only become more adversely effected by the bullpen movement. Starting pitchers who consistently pitch in the 5-7 inning range aren’t likely to provide you with many 15 game winners, the 8-12 range is more of a reasonable expectation. Even with numbers on your side you will still be left needing a breakout performer in order to compete among the upper level within the league. Implementing this same tired approach to drafting moving forward will only become more problematic and will create a large dependency on ones offense in hope of competing.

So again, what can be done to correct this?

First and foremost we must change are draft day mindset.  No longer should we feel like we’re drafting a Kicker with our first pick as we select Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, or even Corey Kluber. Nor should we hesitate in taking the leftovers in Round 2 and doubling down with true Aces. Without a doubt the hecklers will be in full force, but the advantage you have created will be difficult for others to match without either a breakout performance or poor performance/health issues from your selections. Take the mocking in stride, silence out the critics, and don’t forget to remind them of how they ridiculed you after they go back to back arms in 2019. 

By doubling up on elite arms you’ve given yourself an excellent base in which to work. Pair two studs up with Closer depth and that baseline allows you the freedom to add a Samardzija type who gives you a nice IP workload along with solid K totals, and his one black eye (4.75 ERA) looks much better on you than an owner who’s attempting to piece together his plethora of Tier 3 options.

Obviously this approach will theoretically leave you behind the 8-Ball on offense, but you’re fine with that. This season alone you could have drafted Chris Sale and Max Scherzer with your first two selections and followed those arms up with George Springer in the 3rd and Giancarlo Stanton in the 4th. While this is an extreme case of me cherry picking a scenario, the reality is if you could have managed to avoid Rougned Odor, Trevor Story or Jonathan Lucroy you would have managed to avoid a pitfall with any of your first 3 offensive selections if you use NFBC ADP for your reference list.  This same offensive consistency among the Top 75 offensive players can be found year in and year out.

If your league uses daily lineups you have all the more reason to implement this approach. With the emergence of DFS over the years, the informational tools in daily matchups has never been easier to obtain. Another growing MLB trend of the fire sale rebuild has created a gap in the have and have not’s. This gap in competition level creates plenty of advantageous matchups on a daily basis around the league. There’s no reason at all we shouldn’t manage our daily lineups like we would our DFS entries. Perhaps the most beneficial part of having a deep bench of bats is the elimination of player off days affecting your production potential. Plate appearances is the driving force behind counting numbers. Regardless of what format you play, the more games played the better your chance at counting statistics.

Two years ago a Kershaw-Scherzer pairing would have been laughable to me. Today that is no longer to be the case. Pair that Starting Pitcher baseline with 3-4 closers, another IP workhorse, and 2-3 upside plays and your pitching is set.

  • In roto leagues you have put yourself in position to have a top 3 ranking in every pitching category.
  • In H2H leagues week in and week out you should be favored to take 3 out of 5 with consistency.

Avoid the pitfalls on offense, maximize your games played, and take full advantage of favorable matchups and you will find yourself among the upper third within your league across the board.

Even without the services of a top-level bat. In H2H and Point formats: the additional plate appearances alone will provide you with a built-in advantage.

Weekly leagues would play out slightly different from daily lineup leagues, but at the end of the day your advantage on the pitching side would be even more pronounced and your research would simply just take more of a big picture approach when it comes to your offense.


Three days ago I walked my kindergartner into school with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Fifteen minutes later I dropped my Senior off for his final first day of High School. The bookends of the public educational system. Two events that alter the timeline of life. As a parent, a mix of sadness for the days gone by and happiness of what the future may hold.

These are the same emotions as my sister and her husband dealt with just two months ago. These elongated lines along the timeline of life tend to leave many clinging to what has gone instead of what lies ahead. Holding on doesn’t prevent the change from happening, instead it just takes you farther away from where you need to be.  

The game of baseball has changed, and we as fantasy owners need to get in front of it. The starting pitcher may not be dead, but we as fantasy owners need to do a better job of appreciating the few we have remaining.


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Josh Coleman

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Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.