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BP Fantasy: when to draft pitching?

When conducting a fantasy baseball draft, a question a lot of owners have is, “when do I pull the trigger on pitchers?” I’m here to tell you just what to do with pitchers, both starters and relievers.

Of course it is nice to look at your team roster and see Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Jake Arrieta all on the staff, but having a stock of aces is a detriment to your total roster. There are a number of reasons for this so let’s take a look at the best strategy for putting together your pitching staff.


Sale is a flat out ace you should target in drafts
Sale is a flat out ace you should target in drafts

Sure, having two or three aces would give you an advantage against your opponents in pitching categories, however, it puts you way behind the eight ball in offensive categories, which over the course of the season will not be to your benefit. I will advise that having one ace on the team is a must. Fantasy aces will serve the same as they do in reality. They are the most reliable source of output, whether it’s a win for their team or a bunch of stats for your fantasy team. Selecting studs like Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, or the guys listed before, will give you someone to lean on when it is needed most. You also don’t want to miss out on an ace, because if you do, you will spend the rest of your draft trying to make up for it. Out of all of these aces, only Kershaw is a first round pick, while Scherzer and the rest should be selected in the last 2nd or 3rd rounds of drafts. Once you have your ace, build your offense.

Mid-Round Studs:

That flow. That skill. That's what you want on your team
That flow. That skill. That’s what you want on your team

This year, there is a ton of good pitching options to round out your staff behind the ace you took earlier. Looking at guys being selected in rounds 8-15, there are so many options to bolster the rotation with guys who have the potential to be staff aces. Names like Sonny Gray, Noah Syndergaard, Dallas Keuchel (last year’s AL Cy Young), Jon Lester, Shelby Miller and many more are all available in these rounds. The value taking these guys in the middle rounds solidify your team as you already cemented your staff with the ace and picked the core of your offense with perennial all-stars. These rounds are where you can piece together the second line of starting pitchers. In this range, I would love to come out of it with two or maybe three pitchers, if the opportunity presents itself. Having 3-4 top line starters through 15 rounds (in a standard 23- round draft) should give you a balanced roster top to bottom. Hopefully, picking a few pitchers in this range, one of them will turn into your second ace. If that happens, you just picked an ace in the 10th round- much better value then picking two in the first three rounds. Yes, you could go for the sure thing and draft Kershaw and Scherzer in rounds two and three then select Brian Dozier in the 10th. Or you could pick Paul Goldschmidt and Scherzer, then Keuchel in the 10th. I’d much rather has that second trio in that scenario.

Late-Round Gems:

Iglesias is a flamethrower who can help round out your rotation
Iglesias is a flamethrower who can help round out your rotation

As the draft is winding down, there are opportunities to take a couple fliers on young prospects looking to make an impact, or older vets coming back from injury or have found a new team. Landing one of these ‘sleepers’ could greatly improve your season. Pitching is especially prevalent in these late rounds, as guys are looking to piece together their bench and utility spots. Carlos Rodon, Taijuan Walker, Raisel Iglesias and even Justin Verlander are some starters to look at late in the draft. These are low-risk, high-reward picks. If they turn out to be good, you nailed it. If they are duds, you drop them for someone else and no harm done since you got them so late in the draft. By rounding out your team with some high potential pitchers, you have given yourself the best possible staff, without damaging your offensive roster.

Paying For Saves?

The last part of your pitching staff is the relief pitchers. Yes, drafting the top closers is an attractive option to make your team ‘look’ better, but it doesn’t necessarily ‘make’ it better. The first closers (Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis and Kenley Jansen) are being drafted in the eight round. As we mentioned before, I could draft Keuchel or Syndergaard in that same round and get a much better fantasy asset. Even drafting Robinson Cano or Todd Frazier in that same round is a much better strategy for your team. Below you will see the save leaders from last season. The top five in saves were drafted after the 12th round; Familia and Boxberger even went undrafted. Saves are only one category in your fantasy scoring and closers normally don’t contribute to your team’s strike out totals. To sacrifice your major hitting categories to grab a sexy closer in the mid-rounds will hurt your team throughout the season. It is easy to monitor the closers during the season to jump on someone who can give you just as much as Kimbrel or Jansen. Some names to keep an eye on are: Brad Ziegler (Ari), A.J. Ramos (Mia), Santiago Casilla (SF) and Francisco Rodriguez (Det).

K-Rod is a late round closer that will pile up saves
K-Rod is a late round closer that will pile up saves

It is best to remember that when it comes to pitching, it is best to wait. The waiver-wire, or free agent pick up is the best way to manage your staff. You are able to manipulate how many starts your team has each week by rotating the back end of your staff. Fantasy baseball benefits those who can take advantage of their situation the best. If you follow the plan of grabbing an ace early, building your offense, then picking up a couple second-tier starters and piecing together your bullpen and back end, you will have a complete roster ready to compete for the playoffs, and ultimately, the championship gold we all strive to capture.


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