Let's not pretend that there's just one way to address pitching in a fantasy league. In fact, we shouldn't even pretend that there's a best way. We all have our tendencies.
Some of us avoid starting pitchers in the early rounds, then construct rotations full of mid-draft breakout candidates. Others will wait until the very end of a draft, then pick up inexpensive pitchers with a particular skill set. And some of us draft exactly one elite starter, then build a supporting cast from late-round scraps and free agents ads.
If you're in a standard head-to-head league, at least one owner will stream available starters all year, overwhelming opponents in Ws and Ks. Or maybe someone will collect as many high-end starters as they possibly can, upsetting the pitching market and dominating the categories. Or perhaps you're in a league without an innings-pitched minimum, and you can strategically deploy a small group of relievers (possibly just one) to great effect.
There are, of course, other approaches that can succeed, too. If your league's settings allow a strategy – however gimmicky or disruptive or risky it might seem – then it's fair game, and someone will eventually try it. The likelihood of success will depend on a variety of things, not the least of which is an owner's commitment to actively managing a team.
No matter how you decide to deal with pitching stats, it's rather important to have the plan in place prior to your draft. If necessary, try out a few different things in Yahoo! mock drafts. That's the place to experiment; that's where you can invent as you go without risk. But in a competitive league, you shouldn't wait until Round 15 of the live draft to decide that you're going to stream (or punt categories, or whatever else). If you do, there's a very good chance that earlier picks will have been misspent.
Obviously there's nothing wrong with being a traditionalist, building a balanced roster, selecting pitching talent at various points without self-imposed restrictions. If that describes your approach, then you'll need to know how the fantasy community tends to value pitching. Just two starters – Johan Santana (ADP 17.9) and Tim Lincecum (19.1) – are taken within the first two rounds of an average Yahoo! draft. That was true in '07 as well, but the pitchers were Santana and Jake Peavy. By the end of Round 5 this year, only eight starters will be off the board. You can still find upper-tier starting pitchers as late as Round 9, depending on how you rank the best of the Rays. Scott Kazmir's average draft position is 96.8 and James Shields' is 97.3.
So we don't tend to place an extraordinarily high value on starters. In auction leagues, experts commonly recommend a hitting/pitching split in the neighborhood of 70/30. That ratio has something to do with the relative unpredictability and fragility of starters, and thus the downside risk they present. Also, there are no five-category pitchers, and there will be several heavily-owned starters who ultimately deliver negative value, as well as undrafted players who prove incredibly useful (think Cliff Lee in '08).
Before you rip the tiers to shreds, please note that we've grouped most of the interesting prospects either at the bottom of Tier 5 and at the top of Tier 6. Also, be aware that Ervin Santana (elbow) and Max Scherzer (shoulder) are both dealing with potential value-affecting injuries that you'll need to monitor. Johan Santana's elbow tightness no longer seems as worrisome.
|Top 5 Starting Pitcher – Overall|
|1. Tim Lincecum – A Cy Young at 24; 1st in Wins, 3rd in ERA, 1st in opponent's OPS||1. Johan Santana – Five straight 200 K seasons, and consistently great ratios. The recent elbow reports are positive||1. Tim Lincecum – Miniature cannon may have unorthodox delivery, but also delivers unorthodox numbers -- 275-plus Ks mouth-watering||1. Tim Lincecum – Maybe the laws of physics don't apply to him; 300-whiff season not out of question|
|2. Johan Santana – Deadly changeup has helped deliver 15+ wins and 200+ K for 5 straight years||2. Tim Lincecum – Probably has the best shot at an off-the-charts K total||2. Johan Santana – 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP otherworldly when mixed with K/wins contributions but there are some concerns||2. Johan Santana – Not going to worry about his issues this spring; consistency of last five years is worth paying for|
|3. CC Sabathia – ERA may jump back to mid-to-upper 3s, but 20 Wins distinct possibility with NYY||3. CC Sabathia – Can't expect another 240 innings, not in the first year of nine-figure deal||3. CC Sabathia – Captain Crisco will earn enough dough to open cookie factory, statistical superstore for fantasy owners -- 20 wins, 3.30 ERA, 200 Ks||3. Brandon Webb – Power sinker, ability to work deep into games, enough strikeouts to make an impact. Safe place to park your money|
|4. Brandon Webb – Like Santana, Sabathia, has a lengthy track record of excellence||4. Cole Hamels – Outstanding lefty with excellent ratios, but note the increase in workload and decrease in K-rate||4. Brandon Webb – King of consistency -- lofty 64.2 GB%, 7-plus K/9 formula for continued success||4. Cole Hamels – He's a big star now with the stuff to beat the park, but the 261-inning log is a bit worrisome|
|5. Cole Hamels – Cemented ace label with 4-0, 1.80 ERA postseason run||5. Brandon Webb – A groundball machine who gives you 220 innings and plenty of Ks||5. Cole Hamels – Cole the Camel conceals explosives in his humps -- K-upside offsets workload concerns||5. CC Sabathia – Enough with the doomsday calls, he's held up fine for eight years in a row|
|Top 5 Starting Pitcher – Undervalued|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. Erik Bedard – A year ago he was No. 3 SP pitcher drafted; He's looking healthy again and has contract-year motivation||1. Scott Baker – He was a top 25 fantasy starter last year and the K-rates are terrific. Still buried in ADP||1. Zack Greinke – Amazingly not considered a top 30 pitcher by the average fantasy player; rising K/GB rates sign of potential greatness||1. Javier Vazquez – A sneaky 413 strikeouts the last two years; The Ted is much safer than The Cell|
|2. Hiroki Kuroda – A common late-round flyer had 13th-best opponent's OPS among starters (.659); good candidate for 15 Wins in '09||2. Kevin Slowey – Incredible control (1.35 BB/9) and useful K-rate, but as with Baker, early drafters aren't sold||2. Javier Vazquez – Change of scenery and healthy peripherals point to 13-15 wins, 3.50 ERA, 200 K||2. Cliff Lee – Stock soared with the addition of a two-seamer and he gets ridiculous umpire respect; he'll keep more of 2008 haul than most realize|
|3. Chris Volstad – Marlins No. 2 prospect in '08 (according to Baseball America) posted 2.88 ERA in 84.1-inning ML debut but is still mostly a draft-day afterthought||3. John Danks – Last year's excellence (3.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) wasn't about luck. This 23-year-old lefty is real||3. Yovani Gallardo – El Chupacabra ready to feast on NL central; expect major strides in K/9||3. Erik Bedard – One of the best upside gambles for the middle of your draft, and his testy personality can't hurt your virtual clubhouse|
|4. Fausto Carmona – With that deadly sinker, pretty '07 line, he's worth a bigger gamble than drafters have been willing to take in early '09 drafts||4. Javier Vazquez – Over the past two years, 413 Ks in 425 innings. The league switch shouldn't hurt||4. Gil Meche – Atrocious while a Mariner, but Saberhagen-like in Royals blue; if his 7.83 K/9 sustains he'll be a steal after pick 200||4. Kevin Slowey – Enough with the Brad Radke comparisons, his ceiling is a lot higher. Get his running-mate Scott Baker, too|
|5. Derek Lowe – You can set your clock by his 14 wins, mid-3 ERA, and 150 K||5. Matt Garza – The forgotten Ray, but delivered great fantasy ratios at 25 and hasn't reached the ceiling||5. Sean Marshall – Long-legged giraffe sparkling in spring training; should nail down fifth rotation spot with ease -- 12 W, 3.75 ERA, 150 K upside||5. Derek Lowe – Another name for the All-Ibanez team, a boring vet you never lose money on|
|Top 5 Starting Pitcher – Overvalued|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. Joba Chamberlain – Tons of talent but, considering his long-term viability as a starter is still in question, his ADP is unpalattable||1. Daisuke Matsuzaka – All sorts of red flags here, from the .267 BABIP to the crazy walk rate (5.05 BB/9)||1. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Unbelievably fortunate .267 BABIP, 80.6 LOB% last year implies 2.90 ERA was anomalous; ERA will flirt with 4.00||1. David Price – No denying the skills and the readiness, but how many innings can we expect?|
|2. Felix Hernandez – There is greatness in his physical skills, but he still has a lot to learn about the subtleties of pitching||2. Carlos Zambrano – Multi-year decline in K-rate is a big worry (8.83 K/9 in '06, 6.20 in '08). Just 130 total Ks last year||2. Edinson Volquez – Dreadful 4.60 ERA, 1.46 WHIP after break inevitable due to erratic control -- anticipate an ERA around 4.00 this year||2. Joba Chamberlain – Another pricey young stud with no innings-upside whatsoever|
|3. Justin Verlander – Was terrible in '08 and his ratios have never really been that impactful||3. Chien-Ming Wang – If you have a limited number of innings (like, say, 1250), you'd rather not give them to SPs who won't pile up Ks||3. Johan Santana – Elbow tightness this spring throws up caution flag; makes 20.71 ADP look terribly inflated; expect K/9 to dip further||3. Scott Kazmir – Awesome raw stuff but no idea where it's going; pitch counts force him out of games early|
|4. Brett Myers – Drafted pretty high for a guy that really only has two seasons (out of seven) worth writing home about in career, and he's a couple years removed from those||4. Justin Duchscherer – The crazy-low .240 BABIP likely won't happen again. He can still help, but last year is a memory||4. Joba Chamberlain – Anticipated limited workload and unrefined control too risky for pick in early 100s -- Nolasco, Wainwright, Vazquez better values||4. A.J. Burnett – His history is all about performing before the payday, not after it|
|5. Scott Olsen – I consider him undraftable in standard mixed leagues, but ADP of 215 (from MockDraftCentral)||5. Ervin Santana – Elbow inflammation is a big concern. Tough to draft at his Y! ADP (80.5), given the injury||5. Gavin Floyd – Flyball pitcher toeing the rubber regularly in smallish Cell; not conducive for repeat fantasy success||5. Brett Myers – Inconsistent location with fastball, constant gopher problem, classic sucker-play setup|
|Top 5 Starting Pitcher – Prospects|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. David Price – Even in short '08 run in Tampa, the top-shelf talent was very evident; Should win No. 5 starter role||1. David Price – The only real question is how many innings he'll pitch. After '08, we know he can produce||1. David Price – Combination of sick arsenal and supreme confidence will one day catapult Vandy Dandy into Linecum territory; 0 ER, 3 Ks in two-inning spring debut||1. David Price – Getting pushed by Jeff Niemann for final rotation spot|
|2. Tommy Hanson – The Braves rave about him; 9 K in first 6 IP this spring||2. Neftali Feliz – He's got a triple-digit fastball and an uncluttered path to the bigs||2. Rick Porcello – Spring phenom on fast-track to win Tigers fifth spot with Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis tanking||2. Tommy Hanson – Was a man among boys in the AFL (0.63 ERA, 49 Ks in 28.2 innings) and it's carried over to the spring|
|3. Trevor Cahill – Has held opponents to sub.200 AVG in minors; Likely to see A's rotation before September||3. Trevor Cahill – Righty has a four-pitch arsenal and posted a 9.84 K/9 in '08||3. Tommy Hanson – Stupid strikeout split (10.23 K/9) between Single- and Double-A last year, he'll initially humiliate batters at Triple-A||3. Trevor Cahill – The next big horse in Oakland, unless Brett Anderson beats him there|
|4. Rick Porcello – Big-time talent that the Tigers would like to give more minor-league seasoning, but SP issues may force Detroit into a rush job||4. Tommy Hanson – Having an excellent spring after dominating the Arizona Fall League||4. Derek Holland – Increased velocity sparked rapid rise through Rangers system; 8.53 K/9, 2.26 ERA last year||4. Neftali Feliz – No denying his gifts but Texas has a spotty history with young pitchers|
|5. James McDonald – There's a few more talented prospects, but I like his chances to make an '09 fantasy impact more than most||5. Rick Porcello – Led the Florida State League in ERA at age 19, and he's making a strong case this spring||5. David Huff – Pinpoint control and growing K/9 have former UCLA standout vying for Indians fifth rotation spot; deep wire sleeper||5. Madison Bumgarner – Outstanding command of fastball, curve coming on, looks like a fast riser, park doesn't hurt|
- Johan Santana
- Tim Lincecum