The season is a grind. Checking your lineup every day. Keeping up with injuries, slumps, rookie call-ups, and closers losing their jobs – it can be tedious. We know you can’t win your league on draft day. But you can lose it. And a bad pitching staff is the easiest way to lose your league before that 12-pack is history.
The good news is that drafting pitchers is easy, and you don’t even have to get one of the best. My philosophy on pitching is simple: Don’t draft one early; do draft plenty late; draft skills and you’ll get aces. Easy, right?
In a nutshell, favor pitchers with high groundball rates (near and above 50 percent), high swinging-strike percentages (generally over 10 percent), and who were unlucky last year (high BABIP numbers and HR/FB ratios). Hurlers who own low walk rates and, as I’ve discovered lately, whose actual ERA was higher than their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP numbers) are terrific targets.
There are good-to-great pitchers available throughout the draft and many others are never selected. Here are the pitchers I like, and don’t like (based on their ADPs and skillsets):
Zack Greinke and Matt Harvey – This is less of a true crush-and-flush and more an observation. If you look below the standard stats, you’ll notice that Greinke was “lucky” by traditional measures, with his BABIP falling from .311 to .279. But you may have noticed his K/9 rate falling over a full strikeout to just above 8.0; similarly Harvey posted a very good 8.94 K/9 rate, but he owned the best first strike percentage on the Mets staff, yet owned a lower K rate than deGrom and Syndergaard. Both pitchers were getting ahead of hitters and then pitching to contact. Harvey did so to save pitches; Grienke did so to be more effective overall, pitching mostly away to hitters to induce weak contact. So long story short, I would forecast both these pitchers for more of the same, rather than much if any regression in 2016. They represent good value everywhere in a draft, except maybe the first two rounds. CRUSH
Chris Archer and Carlos Carrasco – When I talk about not drafting a pitcher early (first 3-4 rounds), I’m always looking for my staff ace later in the draft. Either of these pitchers would make a perfect Fantasy ace. As good as they were, their underlying skill numbers were better last season and I’d predict even better performances in 2016. Given the rush to draft pitching, perhaps you need to select your first pitcher in Round 5 or 6 instead of seven or eight, but you can call either name with confidence. Again, though, you must select about nine or ten starters, if not more throughout your draft; not only to hedge your bets but to accumulate counting stats early in the season. CRUSH
Felix Hernandez – King Felix Hernandez has been somewhat of a Fantasy mystery; after a brilliant start we assumed he’d be an ace, but after a few seasons, he hasn’t maintained the territory we thought he might (see Kershaw, Clayton). We saw King’s ERA rise from 2.14 to 3.53 last season, and his K/9 fell from 9.46 to 8.52. He missed fewer bats (still an excellent 10.7 percent Swinging Strike rate, down from 12.0 percent). Hernandez is an excellent groundball pitcher and batters don’t often make solid contact against him, so he’s a “safe” bet to stay in the upper echelon. But given his tumble last year, I think there are safer bets where you might draft King Felix. He’s in his age 29 season, so he can bounce back to the elite level, but I’d bet against it. FLUSH
Gio Gonzalez – He’s a forgotten man, which makes him a perfect value target. He pitched to a .341 BABIP, which will come down. He also increased his groundball tendency from 45 percent to 54 percent (a 20 percent improvement) while his fly balls fell from 37 percent to 27 percent (or 27 percent better). I like the entire Nationals rotation this year and I think the team bounces back to the lofty 2015 expectations. Gio will contend for a Cy Young. CRUSH
Kevin Gausman – He’s only 25, but it feels like we’ve been talking about him forever. Most drafters are going to forget about KG, as he went 4-7 with a 4.10 ERA. But he made huge strides in strikeouts (8.25 per 9, up from 6.99) and he curtailed his walks quite a bit (2.32 per 9, down from 3.02). He slightly increased his groundball output and batters struggled to make good contact against him. Wherever he is on the ADP board, bump him up 20 or 25 spots, and I hope you play in a keeper league. It’s his time. CRUSH
Collin McHugh – You know how there are players whose bandwagon you can just never get on, sometimes to your determent. For me, the first guy I couldn’t endorse was Charles Nagy; I’m not sure why, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. McHugh is a fine pitcher and he won’t harm your staff in the least, and I even believe his 3.89 ERA last year was about 0.40 above where he should be. He’s fine. But to me, he’s just fine. His strikeouts came down last year by 1.5 batters per nine, so I’d guess that number will rise a little. But you see, I’m saying “if” his ERA is 3.50, and “if” he strikes out a few more hitters. I don’t like the “if” game. FLUSH
Clay Buchholz – After a difficult April, Buchholz was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Then in July he was shelved with an elbow strain. His lack of a full season of counting stats, along with an arm injury, will keep Buchholz on the board longer than his skills say he should be. Remember when I said to draft a quantity of good starters? This is exactly why. Buchholz is worth the risk, so for me it’s a solid CRUSH
Anthony DeSclafani – Yes, the Reds were terrible. Yes, the Reds started only rookies for the final two months of the season. Yes, they expect those innings to produce results in future seasons. DeSclafani is the most likely to take a big step forward in 2016. His 4.05 ERA included a better 3.67 FIP, so count on an ERA in that range. His strikeouts are too low and his walks are too high to have lofty expectations, but I do expect that step forward, so don’t be afraid to fill in the back of your rotation with DeSclafani. CRUSH
Cole Hamels – He’s still only in his age 32 season, and at that age, pitchers don’t take huge steps forward, but he showed some slight skill growth despite worse surface statistics. Assume a 3.30 ERA, a strikeout an inning over 200 innings, and a safe batch of statistics. His ceiling and floor are established, so he’s very much a “filler” pitcher. But it’s nice to take a pitcher and pretty much know what you’ll get. Nobody will pat you on the back for the pick, but guys like this are very important when you want to take risks later. CRUSH
Tyson Ross – Ross appeared to take a step back and in regards to his control, he did. But he also throws groundballs at a very high rate (62 percent) so he’ll be insulated from completely falling apart. He’s the pitcher everyone was hot for last spring, but he didn’t improve so he’s off the radar for some folks. He’s very much on mine, and I like him to post a sub-3.00 ERA while fooling hitters into whiffs and bad contact. CRUSH
Jeff Samardzija – I really don’t like him, but I’ve spent so many years learning how to spell his name, so screw it. CRUSH
Jose Quintana – Another pitcher Fantasy players were high on who had a fine season, but not quite what people expected. What we expected last season happens this season. CRUSH
Shelby Miller – He was a bit lucky last year, so he didn’t fully deserve his 3.02 ERA. His 6-17 record might keep drafters away. I say swoop. He dramatically improved his groundball rate while surrendering many fewer fly balls. He set himself up for a great season this year. He’s not Cy Young material right now, but some skill growth can make him a very, very solid #2 guy this year. CRUSH
Rick Porcello – Speaking of guys who won’t win a Cy Young. But he’ll be better this year; a lot better. Never a pitcher to garner much respect anyway, Porcello is a nice target late this year. CRUSH
Kyle Hendricks – I love Hendricks. He does so many things well and (thankfully for me) he posted a 3.95 ERA. So find his ADP and call his name a round earlier. A sub-3.00 ERA with a healthy strikeout and win total are in the offing. I’m telling you; trust me on this one. CRUSH
Mat Latos – I’ll remember Latos for his remarkable consistency in bad pitching parks. Most Fantasy players will dismiss him due to a 4.95 ERA. But his FIP was 3.72 – that’s dramatic and it puts him squarely in Fantasy relevance. Late in my draft, I’ll be assessing my pitching staff to see if I should call his name or consider him on the early season waiver wire. He’ll be a relevant player again this year. CRUSH
John Lackey – His 2015 ERA: 2.77. His FIP? 3.57. Assume a 3.40 ERA and ask yourself if you can live with that at that spot in the draft, or whatever dollar value you’re bidding. Tread carefully. FLUSH
Mike Leake – Meh. FLUSH
Wei-Yin Chen – He wasn’t nearly as good as his 3.34 ERA, and he won’t be again this year. Keep looking. FLUSH
Chris Young – Young’s pitching to a 3.06 ERA is virtually a miracle. He’s got terrible skills and they are getting worse. He walks more hitters than he strikes out, and he allows more hard contact than almost any other pitcher. They must have hit every ball right to a fielder last year. Young. Is. Terrible. FLUSH