If you asked anyone to rank the top three players in fantasy baseball, the majority would list in some order the same three players: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Paul Goldschmidt. If you asked ten different people for their 4th pick, you could get ten different answers.
For years fantasy drafters have largely operated under the pretense that hitting came first. You could wait to draft your first pitcher in the 5th or 6th round and be fairly confident that there would be quality options available in the latter half of the draft. Top end starting pitchers like Kershaw or Sale would be off the board, but the sheer depth of 2nd and 3rd tier pitching made reaching for these pitchers seem unnecessary. This assumption is changing. The drop off from tier one to tier two is more significant than ever. One could easily make the claim there are between twenty and twenty-five aces pitching in Major League Baseball today. Advance around fifteen spots past that point and you get pitchers like Tyson Ross or Jason Hammel. The difference between having Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole, to having Max Scherzer and Jason Hammel are significant.
Let’s say the number of aces in baseball is twenty-five, which gives a ten team league an average of 2.5 aces per team. However, this is just an average. Some people will gravitate towards a hitters first mentality. This draft strategy will put these fantasy players in a hole they cannot dig themselves out of. At a minimum, to be competitive in pitching categories, they would need two aces.
In the mock drafts I have experienced this year, the run on pitching began around the middle second to early third round. If you don’t have 2 pitchers by the end of the 6th round, you’re already way behind most teams. Fantasy drafters need to prepare for that. In round six the pitchers available will include guys such as Wainwright or Hamels. Skip ahead to round ten and guys like Jordan Zimmermann or Liriano will be drafted. In a ten team league, pitchers close to Zimmermann’s rank should ideally be your third pitcher taken. If your first pitcher taken is Hamels in the 6th round, your staff is already in trouble.
I have experimented with several strategies in mock drafts this year. I have not come out of them completely happy with any strategy. If I went pitcher heavy, my outfield suffered. When I went Outfield heavy, my pitching, especially my closers, suffered. My team felt more balanced when I went with a pitcher in the third and fifth rounds; followed by drafting hitting until the ninth round. Once I set up my top three pitchers, I waited until the late rounds to pick up high risk/upside guys like Aaron Nola, Matt Moore, and Daniel Norris.
The curve towards pitching may only increase as time passes by. Many of today’s top pitching prospects are becoming close to being Major League ready. These prospects include names like Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, and Lucas Giolito. It’s clear that today’s game is changing. Fantasy players must be ready to adjust with it.
Image credit: Keith Allison