2018 Dynasty Baseball Strategy - There Are No More Wins

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Pitchers have always made for awkward dynasty assets. There's no denying that you need some highly productive arms if you want to win your league. However, pitchers - both starters and relievers - have this bad habit of turning into pumpkins with very little warning.

It's relatively rare for a hitter to pull a Prince Fielder. Pitchers go full Cliff Lee all the time. As a reminder, Lee was a stud in 2013, pretty damn good in an injury-shortened 2014, and forever gone from baseball thereafter. Take Felix Hernandez or Adam Wainwright. They're still in the majors, but they aren't anything like their former selves.

As the most volatile position in fantasy baseball, how do you attack starting pitching on draft day in an effort to reap maximum rewards without taking on too much risk?

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Choose Your Starters Wisely

The danger of paying for top starting pitchers is doubly important in the current environment. Teams are handling their highly-touted pitching prospects with kid gloves. Some pitchers like Lance McCullers have a leave-it-on-the-table approach. They're basically long relievers who happen to pitch the first inning. Starters are pitching fewer and fewer innings, earning fewer wins as a result.

The results is a general decline in pitcher wins. The trend really became noticeable between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The most recent campaign was the only recent year to include zero pitchers with at least 20 wins. Only 17 hurlers reached 15 wins.

A paucity of wins means that scoring in that category is likely to condense. Since veteran pitchers with minimal innings limitations are most likely to earn decisions, pitchers like Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas gain sneaky value simply because their clubs aren't carefully managing their workload.

Let's think about the prospect side of the equation. A top-rated hitting prospect is fairly likely to develop into a fantasy asset. There are roughly as many players like Cody Bellinger as there are like Byron Buxton or Amed Rosario. Now consider recent top pitching prospects. Luis Severino struggled in 2016 before rebounding in a big way. Noah Syndergaard was superb, then missed nearly all of 2017. Michael Fulmer is presently hurt. Jose Berrios, Tyler Glasnow, Alex Reyes, Julio Urias, and Lucas Giolito were among the biggest looming prospects in 2015. They're still trying to break into the league.

Of those prominent prospects, Severino and Berrios led with 14 wins apiece. Severino averaged just over six innings a start. Berrios typically worked just over five innings. It's relatively difficult to record victories without regularly reaching the seventh frame.

You have a few options to address the wins category. One is to load up on pitchers like Chris Sale and Stephen Strasburg. When healthy, they'll continue to threaten the 20-win plateau. The supply of pitchers in that asset class is somewhere between 10 and 15 arms.

Alternatively, roll the dice trying to acquire next season's version of Vargas (18 wins), Trevor Bauer (17 wins), Zach Davies (17 wins), or Alex Wood (16 wins). All four of those pitchers were surprise top performers. They also had their share of flaws. All besides Wood posted a roughly 4.00 ERA. Vargas and Davies hurt their owners in the strikeout column. Wood disappeared in the second half.

A third choice is to attempt pairing frequently-used middle relievers with short outing starters. For example, we know McCullers and Brad Peacock often fail to complete the fifth inning. If we know Chris Devenski is usually first out of the bullpen, we can vulture some easy wins with him. Of course, those scenarios aren't very common.

The good news about shorter starts is that it helps to keep rate stats attractive. If you find your roster is heavily built around high quality young pitchers, you can probably plan to struggle in the win category. However, you're well-positioned to thrive in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Wins happen to be the most volatile and difficult to predict category; there are many ways to make your own luck.

Last but not least, owners in leagues that use quality starts have a similar conundrum. Unlike wins, quality starts are easily predicted and managed. These McCullers-class pitchers are leaving their quality starts on the table. You can't pick them up from relievers, leaving just two options - studs or durable veterans. In these formats, I do recommend grabbing some late draft shares of pitchers like Santana - whoever typically pitches deep into a game, but fell way down the draft board.

 

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