Dynasty BaseballStrategy Sessions

Draft Day Preparation: Bull Market on SP

The stock market bulls ran rampant in 2017, and people’s portfolios are bursting at the seams. The starting pitching bulls are beginning to run amok in mock draft rooms early in 2018, though it could have the inverse effect on fantasy wallets.

According to early NFBC ADP data compiled between December 25–January 9, the top 20 starting pitchers are now going in the first five rounds. A year ago, the same top 20 pitchers were selected halfway through round 7. A starting pitching bubble is emerging.

If this trend continues, the perceived paucity of “quality” starters could leave managers out on a limb for positive return on investment (ROI). Knowing how the early landscape for pitching in shaping up is essential for draft preparation. Here are some ways to best manage the early market run on starters.

Don’t panic

As you watch pitchers begin flying off the board, you will have a tendency to reach in order to have a “top tier” guy. That may be advisable amongst the first 3–4 “elite” starters (see below), but the odds get shakier the further down the rankings you go. Before you draft a pitcher “just because,” take a deep breath, let it go, and move on to drafting a more valuable hitter.

Player2017 NFBC ADP2017 ESPN Player Rater Rank
Clayton Kershaw37
Madison Bumgarner14231
Max Scherzer164
Noah Syndergaard18527
Chris Sale215
Corey Kluber251
Yu Darvish3190
Jake Arrieta3493
Jon Lester36174

Pitchers aren’t as valuable

Though this study on pitching versus hitting return on investment is from 2014, the general conclusions are still the same: hitters are a safer investment than pitchers. Be warned. Pitching is volatile. Chances are the more you reach the less chance you have on netting solid returns.

Rob Silver, the 2016 overall NFBC Main Event Champion, recently tweeted, “In 2017 of the top 10 starting pitchers taken, three turned a profit, four earned more than $15 (i.e., weren’t a total bust). In 2016, of the top 10 starting pitchers taken, two turned a profit and five earned more than $15. And yet we’re very sure that this year is different—every year.”

Silver ran the numbers from last season and found:

  • Hitters taken in the top 300 earned on average $9.53 and cost $14.46 for a 70.78% return
  • Starting pitchers in the top 300 earned $5.02 and cost $11.86 for a 42.28% return
  • Relief pitchers cost $16.15, earned $5.85 for a 31.59% return

Perception validates (and drives) perception

The more mock draft data that become available, and the more industry pundits talk about the phenomenon of starting pitching runs, the more quickly managers will build their draft strategies around grabbing pitchers early. It’s the chicken-and-the-egg routine. No one really knows how it begins, until it begins.

Case in point: a current mock draft I am participating drafted 23 pitchers within the first five rounds, up from 20 in the most current NFBC data. Count on the trend continuing, as group think can exert significant influence on draft day. As one industry pundit advised, “You need to zig when others zag.”

Don’t underestimate durability

34 – 28- 15 – 15. Those are the numbers of qualified starting pitchers from 2014–2017 who threw at least 200 innings. Look for this trend to continue with the advent of the 10-day DL and the increased use of bullpen arms.

Don’t forget that you are drafting roster spots not just players. Starting pitchers who give you 175–200 innings is money in the bank compared with hurlers who will be in and out of your lineup on a regular basis.

Factor in the replacement (or below replacement) level pitchers who will be substituting for said injured starter, and the damage can get significant. Injured pitchers are not helping your bottom line, so consider spending the extra $1 for Ervin Santana (211 IP), Jeff Samardzija (207 IP), or Rick Porcello (203 IP).

Something’s gotta give

If everyone is intent on drafting pitchers, then there’s obvious value elsewhere, especially on offense. Overcompensate in other areas of roster construction in order to have trade leverage down the road. Corner the market on SB, BA, or SV, and draft for value regardless of position. Chances are other managers will come knocking at some point during the season.

More than one way to skin a cat

Building a fantasy pitching rotation doesn’t necessarily need to follow a prescribed pattern. Going “ace, 2 mid-tier guys, and some back-end upside” is only one way to do it. There are multiple ways to construct a rotation.

If you find that the market is driving the prices too high, try cornering the market on elite closers. Given the scarcity of proven firemen with elite skills, there will always be a market for these players. Turn a sure-fire closer into an ace.

Target some discounted mid-round starters like Masahiro Tanaka or Gerrit Cole to anchor your rotation. Both pitchers could net a $20+ return in rounds 6–7, providing value without breaking the bank. Supplement the back end of your rotation with talent-laden middle relievers (e.g., Will Harris, Kirby Yates, Trevor Hildenberger). These players vulture wins, provide excellent peripherals, and pile up strikeouts.

Finally, look for AAA prospects or injured starters who begin the season on the DL. These players can sometimes be had on the cheap. This will help your rotation stay competitive in most categories.

Draft day is only one day

You still need to prepare for your draft. Pundits agree that good draft-day preparation is one of the key elements to winning your league. Remedy starting pitcher deficiency on your roster via free agency, trades, and scouring prospect reports for guys who could contribute to your fantasy squad.

Remember, draft day is for accumulating the most value possible, not just filling up positional slots. The market is currently bullish on starting pitching, creating a bubble that could leave investors broke before the season begins. Plan accordingly and invest wisely—it could get worse before it gets better.

The Author

Joseph Pytleski

Joseph Pytleski

In addition to my dynasty coverage here at TDG, I cover the AL Central at BaseballHQ.com, and you will find some other fantasy analysis at USA Today Sports and Rotographs.com.

8 Comments

  1. […] notes starting pitchers are coming off the board earlier than usual. The explain how best to attack pitching in 2018 […]

  2. Tom
    January 16, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Need nl sp and top 4 midrelievers and top 2 set up men. In tough league 11 teams std cats. Third place 2017. Auction no keeps. Love article.

    • January 16, 2018 at 11:59 am

      What exactly are you asking for here? Thanks for reading.

  3. Collin
    January 17, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Joseph,

    A real interesting read, thanks as always. I am in a dynasty league and am a contender, though my starting pitching is a little weak. I have Alex Verdugo, and have been offered Jimmy Nelson for him, Zach Davies for him, and Dan Straily, the 1.12 first year draft pick (16 teams) and Riley Pint for him. Off the top of your head, do any of these look good?

    • January 17, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      I’m a Jimmy Nelson fan, and the fact that his recovery is ahead of schedule is encouraging. I wouldn’t count on much until the 2H, but that’s one deal in particular that I’d be very interested in. Nelson’s got SP2 upside when healthy.

  4. Chip
    January 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

    I’m in a 10 team, 15 keeper league, 6×6 league. Pitching cats are IP, QS, ERA, WHIP, K/9, and SV. Since we have keepers the pitching run won’t necessarily have the same effect but I still wanted your thoughts on a “zig where others zag” strategy I was mulling over. My pitching keepers are Kluber, Syndergaard, Greinke, Carlos Martinez and either Sonny Gray/Zack Godley. I’m one of the few teams that won’t carry over a reliever.

    Question: How risky is punting or lightly addressing saves with 12 cats? My hitters are solid and could take any cat but SB in a good week. I’m toying with the idea of only taking 0-1 closers and adding 2-3 Chad Green types (assuming he doesn’t grab a spot in the rotation) to help with K/9, ERA, and WHIP. The thinking is that I can get near frontline closer production minus saves at a fraction of the price if I target the best ‘next man up’ types with the potential bonus of saves coming later in the season.

    • January 23, 2018 at 10:36 am

      This is a great strategy. I’d definitely try and lock in one closer, just to stay competitive and then load up with high skilled relievers. Skills always trump position, and as volatile as closers are, who knows, they could end up vulturing some saves anyway. Killer SP rotation, BTW.

      • Chip
        January 23, 2018 at 10:52 am

        I appreciate the feedback, Joseph! Do you see a big difference between Gray and Godley? I’m leaning Godley as my 5th at the moment because I view them similarly and may be able to move Gray easier in our ‘winter meetings’ for draft collateral. Only other play was possibly trying to package a bat (most likely Odor, Braun or G. Polanco) + Gray for a top tier closer ahead of the draft but that would eliminate my 5th SP spot. I’m set on keeping 10 hitters. Thanks for your help!

Previous post

Tank to Win: My Rotowire Dynasty Invitational Draft

Next post

Chris Taylor: The Buy-High Candidate