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Although fantasy baseball is a complicated game, those who win their leagues are typically the ones who figure out their pitching staff without making excessive investments. For this reason, the pitcher selections you make on draft day are your most important ones. With fewer pitchers than hitters on a roster, each pitcher factors greatly into overall ratios and cumulative totals.
There is little room for error with pitcher picks, which is why I will steer clear of the following nine hurlers at their current ADP.
Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 19)
If you remember one player from this article, make sure it’s Buehler. The Dodgers handled their emerging ace with kid gloves last year, allowing him to throw just 36.2 regular-season innings. And the club will do the same thing in 2021, as the signing of Trevor Bauer and the return of David Price gives them the deepest rotation in baseball. Buehler is an excellent pitcher, but he will not return value on his current ADP when he logs something similar to his lifetime 10.3 K/9 rate across just 150 innings.
Blake Snell, San Diego Padres (ADP 48)
A splashy offseason trade from the Rays to Padres has fantasy managers overvaluing Snell. The 28-year-old is a quality starter, but he has just one season with more than 130 innings or a WHIP under 1.20. And while the Padres will likely allow the southpaw to work six innings more often than the Rays did, the effectiveness of Snell during his third time through the lineup is up for debate. Managers would be better off with Brandon Woodruff, Lance Lynn, or Kenta Maeda, all of whom have a later ADP in Yahoo! drafts.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 74)
There should be no debate that Ryu (career 2.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) is an effective starter. But I see at least one IL stint on his 2021 horizon. The southpaw has dealt with more injuries than most high-end hurlers, and the Blue Jays were looking into ways of getting him extra rest days late in 2020 before he struggled mightily in a postseason start. I love Ryu for April and May, but I’m worried about his final innings total.
James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians (ADP 92)
Karinchak has ridiculous strikeout ability (career 17.0 K/9 rate) and should be an effective closer once given the opportunity. But Indians manager Terry Francona has not yet committed to using the 25-year-old as his full-time closer, and Francona could decide that his club can win more games by employing Karinchak in a more versatile role. Fantasy managers may be wise to use their top-100 picks on relievers with a secure closer role.
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres (ADP 103)
Lamet was terrific last year (2.09 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 12.1 K/9 rate) before being shut down near the end of September with an injury to his elbow ligament. This type of injury is arguably the scariest in baseball, and Lamet recently commented that continuing to pitch last year could have led to Tommy John surgery. When selecting a pitcher around Pick 100, managers should expect someone with less injury risk.
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (ADP 162)
Rogers is a pretty obvious mistake at his current ADP. Relievers selected in the initial 200 picks should either have a closer role or a lights-out skill set. Rogers is a good reliever (career 3.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) but he lacks the skills to make a massive impact without the benefit of collecting saves. And the Twins offseason signing of Alex Colome should lead to Rogers compiling fewer than 15 saves.
Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves (ADP 165)
A skilled young hurler (career 2.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), Soroka made just three 2020 starts before a torn right Achilles ended his season. The right-hander will likely open the season on the IL, and it could be June before he is at full strength. Additionally, his lack of swing-and-miss skills (career 7.2 K/9 rate) limits his upside in fantasy circles. The amount of risk associated with Soroka should push him to the late rounds of drafts.
Dallas Keuchel, Chicago White Sox (ADP 186)
We saw so many pitchers use the oddball 2020 schedule to thrive in the Central Division. The hitters in the Central were the weakest of the three groups, and hurlers such as Keuchel took full advantage en route to posting surprising ratios. Fantasy drafters would be wise to look at his previous seasons, which included a 3.77 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and a 7.3 K/9 rate across four years from 2016-19. A better plan is to select boom-or-bust options in the late rounds and look for low-ceiling streamers such as Keuchel on the waiver wire.
German Marquez, Colorado Rockies (ADP 187)
Even more than most years, this is the campaign to avoid Rockies starters. Marquez owns a lifetime 5.10 ERA at home (3.51 ERA on the road), which makes him unusable for at least half of his outings. And will you want to activate the right-hander when he works on the road against the loaded Dodgers and Padres lineups? I doubt it. That leaves about a dozen starts, and in those games, he will be supported by the weakest Colorado lineup in recent memory.