Fantasy Baseball: Starting pitcher draft strategy, sleepers, prospects and more
Fantasy Baseball: Starting pitcher draft strategy, sleepers, prospects and more
Clayton Kershaw's reign as fantasy baseball's top starter is over, but the debate lives on as to where drafting top starter Max Scherzer makes sense.
Clayton Kershaw's reign as fantasy baseball's top starter is over, but the debate lives on as to where drafting top starter Max Scherzer makes sense. Pitchers are more prone to injury than position players and you never know when someone's downturn will begin. Kershaw's back injury and declining velocity snuck up on him, and some may worry the same could happen to Scherzer. A young crop is coming with Blake Snell winning the Cy Young and Aaron Nola emerging as a top option. Who is next to live up to the hype at starting pitcher? Chris Mascaro and Tommy Stokke give their thoughts and opinions on the position ranging from draft strategies to sleepers, busts to prospects and more. Average draft position (ADP) used is from [Fantasy Pros](https://www.fantasypros.com/mlb/adp/sp.php). __More fantasy baseball previews:__ [C](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-catchers-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) | [1B](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-first-base-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) | [2B](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-second-base-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) | [3B](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-third-base-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) | [SS](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-shortstop-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) | [OF](https://www.betchicago.com/fantasy-baseball-outfielder-draft-strategy-sleepers-prospects) ## Draft strategy __CM:__ There are question marks with every starter going in the top-5 ([according to Fantasy Pros](https://www.fantasypros.com/mlb/rankings/sp.php)) -- Max Scherzer has thrown nearly 900 innings the last four seasons, Chris Sale had shoulder issues last year, Jacob deGrom seems more worried about his contract than giving the Mets everything he's got, Justin Verlander is 36 and has given up at least 27 homers each of the last three seasons, and Gerrit Cole's numbers from his career year last season aren't sustainable (2.70 FIP in 2018 after 3.27 five seasons with the Pirates). What I'm taking too long to say is: Wait to grab value. All those guys might have great seasons, but a position player will almost always provide your team more value. __TS:__ In a perfect draft, I'd get an ace to anchor my rotation and fill out the rest later. I'd stay away from Sale early because of durability concerns but I'd feel good about anyone in a group of Scherzer, deGrom, Verlander, Cole or Corey Kluber in the first two or three rounds. They're good bets to stay healthy, rack up strikeouts and get wins, with deGrom not being quite the guarantee in that department. Not every draft is perfect, though. In my most recent draft, Mike Clevinger was my first pitcher drafted in the 5th round followed by Jameson Taillon in the 6th. As always, adapt your strategy based on how your draft is playing out. ## Auction strategy __CM:__ The value in auctions is with position players who play multiple spots, so again, wait on starters unless you get an incredible value. Plus, though this may sound simplistic, know your leagues' categories. If it's wins, saves/holds, K's, ERA, WHIP, you should be drafting more relievers than starters, anyway (unless there's a minimum for innings pitched per week). To wit, deGrom, who's going 11th overall, had 10 wins, a 1.70 ERA and 0.91 WHIP last year, while A's closer Blake Treinen, who's going 74th, had nine wins, a 0.78 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. Are the extra strikeouts that much more important to you? __TS:__ I'm a believer in spending top dollar for your anchor. The top of the starting pitching market can be counted on, while it's the middle that gets tricky to predict. Consider those top five or six options, with Aaron Nola, Blake Snell and Noah Syndergaard on the fringe of that top tier. From there you can find mid-tier options like Zack Greinke, Chris Archer and bounceback candidate Yu Darvish. Really do your homework for your cheapest options with high upside because that's where you can win your league. Think last year's versions of Mike Foltynewicz and Miles Mikolas as two examples. ## Player going too high __CM: Noah Syndergaard, Mets (11 SP, 39 OVR):__ If you draft him at or before 39th overall, I'll guarantee right now you'll lose your league. The 26-year-old has never had more than 14 wins in a season, never thrown more than 185 innings and has struck out more than 200 once. Say what you want about Stephen Strasburg and his injury history, but he has three 15-win seasons, a 215-inning year and has twice struck out at least 200. He's going 21 spots after Thor. __TS: James Paxton, New York Yankees (16 SP, 54 OVR):__ Paxton was great last year when healthy, striking out 208 batters in his 160.1 innings. However, durability concerns and his move to the Yankees have me a little lower than this in fantasy baseball this year. He leaves Safeco Field where he has a 2.98 career ERA compared to a 3.87 ERA on the road. Last year his ERA on the road was 4.24. Seattle was the fourth-best field for pitchers last season, according to FanGraphs Park Factors; Yankee Stadium was the third-best for hitters including the best for home runs. Paxton has a top-10 ceiling, but at the current ADP, I prefer Clevinger, Greinke, Stephen Strasburg and maybe Taillon. ## Player going too low __CM: Jameson Taillon, Pirates (17 SP, 72 OVR):__ The advanced metrics say he got a bit lucky in his breakout year last season. But you shouldn't care because he's going to get ample opportunity. He's already been named the Opening Day starter, he's a big body who should stay durable pushing toward 200 innings and his WHIP went way down last season as he learned how to harness his power. __TS: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (25 SP, 85 OVR):__ I don't expect him to be what he was in 2016, but his fluke injuries the last two seasons have him a little undervalued heading into 2019. There was the dirtbike accident in 2017 and the broken finger on a comebacker last spring. I expect him to stay healthy and pitch deep into games, giving him a shot at counting stats like strikeouts, a solid ERA and a chance at wins. His floor is high, even if his ceiling isn't top 10. ## Player I won’t draft __CM: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers:__ It's been a great run, Clay, but it might be time to put you out to fantasy pasture. The injuries keep mounting, and after making at least 30 starts five years in a row, he's done it only once in the last five (2015). He's been downgraded in the rankings (No. 20 starting pitcher), but not enough. __TS: Dallas Keuchel, Free agent:__ In real life, I'd be interested in signing Keuchel if I had a need a starting pitcher. In fantasy, I wouldn't have much interest even if he had a team. Some may take him thinking they're getting value on a Cy Young winner, but he's going to miss most, if not all, of spring. That hurts pitchers more than hitters as we've seen with the likes of Greg Holland and Alex Cobb. Honorable mention goes to Chris Sale, who I'd pass on in the elite tier. ## Player I keep drafting __CM: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees:__ He's almost become an undervalued Yankee, which I'd previously thought was an oxymoron. After a very rough first half of last year, he went 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 12 second-half starts and also pitched well in his lone postseason start (five innings, one run against Boston). He has at least 12 wins in all five of his big-league seasons, his career WHIP is 1.10 and he's developing a knuckle curveball to add to his already lengthy repertoire. __TS: Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs:__ Going 147th and 37th among starting pitchers, I'm taking a chance on Darvish being healthy this year. His velocity is impressive this spring and he has the talent to deliver on his ADP. If he's hurt, it won't be that costly for my team in this spot. ## Prospect to watch __CM: Dylan Cease, White Sox:__ The 23-year-old righty was optioned to Triple-A on Wednesday, but he could be a good stash for later in the season, as GM Rick Hahn said he's a guy that ["would have success on the big-league level."](https://chicago.suntimes.com/sports/white-sox-option-eloy-jimenez-dylan-cease-to-minors-hahn-says-theyll-be-back/) And why not after [dominating the minor leagues](https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=cease-000dyl) the last four years? __TS: Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics:__ This is turning into a popular pick as the secret is all the way out on Luzardo. He may make the Opening Day roster (not counting the trip to Japan), but if not his path to the majors is pretty clear. That can't be said for someone like Forrest Whitley with the Astros. Luzardo is my first pitching prospect off the board, and I'm picking up as many shares as I can. ## Bold prediction __CM:__ At least three of the top-5 starters in the preseason rankings won't finish in the top-15. __TS:__ Robbie Ray will finish as a top-15 starter.2019-03-14T21:03:16.220Z2019-03-14T17:03-04:00