Standard League Draft Strategy: Part Two (Pitchers)

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For many, a draft is all about finding sleepers, predicting who the busts and breakouts are, and deciding who to pick with the first pick or who to allocate the most money to in an auction draft. While finding the right players is certainly a necessary element of a successful fantasy draft, it is not sufficient.

You also must have some strategy in mind. This two-article piece will focus on a few roster thoughts for standard leagues (i.e. 5x5, 12 teams, 23 roster slots (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, UTIL, UTIL, SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P, P, P, BENCH, BENCH, BENCH, BENCH, BENCH, DL, DL), 1400 IP, 162 games per position).

My last piece addressed the value of selecting hitters with positional versatility. This piece suggests some strategic considerations for pitchers. Under my strategy, you will draft 12 pitchers and ultimately end up with 11 or 12 as the season progresses. Below I discuss how best to use those slots.

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How Should I Piece Together My Rotation?

I often get variations of this question in chat: when should I target my starters? Should I take bats early and wait on pitchers, or vice versa? Is player X a good SP4 or SP5? Should I spend on saves, punt them, or grab cheap saves at the end? To me, these are all asking the same question: how should I put together my pitching staff?

These questions reflect many different schools of thought, but my strategy is completely different. I aim for three top end pitchers, and then load up on relievers and high-upside lottery tickets that can be replaced with streamers if they do not pan out. I will discuss each in turn, but here is how my staff would look:

Three SP1/SP2: 600IP

Four Closers: 270IP

One Dominant Reliever: 70IP

Four lottery ticket pitchers: 460IP

*these four lottery tickets will eventually become a regular SP, two streaming SP, and a dominant reliever or a bench bat

 

(a) The Three SP1/SP2 “set-it-and-forget-it pitchers”

Set-it-and-forget-it pitchers are high-floor, high-ceiling pitchers who you will never bench. They need not be the most expensive pitchers, although they likely will not be cheap if they have a high floor and ceiling. Because we will not be spending on SP3, SP4, SP5, SP6 types, we have extra money to allocate to our top three. While even the safest of bets could get hurt or flop, we should be fine as long as two pan out; one of our late lottery tickets may even turn into one.

This strategy does NOT mean that you are forbidden from targeting pitchers who the consensus ranks below a SP2 if you think they are a set-it-and-forget-it guy. One example was my hunch on Justin Verlander last year; whereas he was being ranked lowly, he had all the makings of a top shelf pitcher. But I would draft no more than one of these types in my top three (i.e. a pitcher who is not rated as at least a SP2 by consensus rankings).

(b) Do Not Spend Money on Low-Ceiling Pitchers!

If you have one takeaway from this piece, let this be it. DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON LOW-CEILING PITCHERS. In standard leagues, the waiver wire is simply too full of streaming options that can give you the same production for a fraction of the price. A 3.60 era, with a 1.25 WHIP and 7k/9 with no upside is simply not worth paying for. This may be controversial, but look at a sampling of pitchers who are undrafted by ADP in many standard leagues: Ian Kennedy, Junior Guerra, Jeremy Hellickson, Ervin Santana, Tyler Anderson, Wei-Yin Chen, Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Adam Conley are some examples. These players, as well as many others of similar quality, can be a low-ceiling pitcher’s production by being steamed in good matchups. Thus, why spend the money on such a pitcher when you can get better production for only the cost of a roster spot?

(c) Target Four High Ceiling Pitchers Cheaply, But Do Not Get Attachment Issues

The other key takeaway is: DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON LOW-FLOOR, HIGH-CEILING PITCHERS. We are saving our bullets for elite starters and hitters; we will accumulate low-floor, high-ceiling pitchers cheaply. For example, these pitchers have been available in the last few rounds of drafts by ADP, or have gone undrafted altogether: Joe Ross (207), Matt Moore (222), Garrett Richards (216), Blake Snell (240), Tyler Glasnow (258), Dylan Bundy (284), Tyler Skaggs (293), Francisco Liriano (311), Daniel Norris (315), Luke Weaver (325), and Eduardo Rodriguez (343).

Do not grow attached to these pitchers if they fail; replace them with streamers. One of the issues with spending more money on these high-ceiling types is that we often ignore that draft prices are sunk costs, and that we should take a better option on waivers if it arises. Getting our upside types late and cheap allows us the mental strength to abandon them more easily, which is important since these roster spots should involve a lot of shuffling. The ultimate goal is to stream one or two of them, keep one or two of them, and acquire a dominant setup man (or hitter) off waivers, but it may take us a lot of waiver claims to get there. Because we only need 460 innings out of these four slots, so we have the time and ability to gamble.

(d) Load Up on Closers

An interesting phenomenon occurs with closers; in many leagues, a number go cheaply or late in drafts. Yet, when trades are discussed, they require much more of a haul. Because you have been saving roster space elsewhere, take advantage and grab these closers! Your elite starters and reliever will allow you to stomach less than elite closer rate stats, so you can simply accumulate saves with okay rate stats cheaply. And if a need arises, you now have a valuable trade chip.

This does not mean you should avoid elite closers. If one falls to good value, grab him (e.g. Jansen in the eighth round). You may then spend less money on your third starting pitcher, as the closer’s elite ratios would offset the third pitcher’s risk.

(e) Grab an Elite Reliever

You should also grab one dominant reliever who is not a closer. These types (10 K/9, low WHIP) are often available late and on the waiver wire. Ideally, they would be a handcuff to a questionable closer you have, or a handcuff to another closer, but that is not necessary. Eventually, you may want to trade in one of your lottery ticket starters for a second dominant reliever if you need pitching help, or if not, use the slot on a bench bat.

(f) Get Lucky

It’s often said that we make our own luck. To some extent, we are trying to make our own luck by loading up on high upside, lottery tickets. But to a larger extent, as stated in the beginning of the last piece, to win your league you need (1) proper strategy and (2) proper player identification. This strategy piece is half the battle, but check my rankings to help you with the other half. Good luck!

 

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