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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Focus on Pitchers Early

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 19, 2019

Drafting Max Scherzer provides a fantasy rotation with elite stability.

Last week, I looked at the benefits of focusing on hitters early in your drafts. If you missed it, you can find it here to see why it’s my preferred draft method.

But just because it’s a personal preference doesn’t mean it’s the right one. That’s the beauty of fantasy sports — there’s no one true strategy that you must use to play the game.

Going pitcher-heavy early in drafts can certainly pay off. As always, a lot of the strategy is dependent on the format and scoring structure. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons it makes sense.

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Big-splash Ability
One of the biggest advantages to drafting hitters first is avoiding risk. It’s a safe, sound strategy that limits hazards through your day-to-day journey in the marathon season.

But what’s the point of having fun if you aren’t throwing in a little bit of risk?

As I previously outlined, pitchers are throwing fewer and fewer innings over the course of the season, and fewer are going deep into games. With Tampa Bay finally applying the opener strategy last year–which had other teams copying the method toward the latter part of 2018–it’s becoming harder to find durable, reliable starting pitchers.

Not too long ago, a pitcher throwing 150 innings in a season was a red flag that made said pitcher a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy option. In 2019, you’ll take 150 great innings from your No. 2 starter.

Remember, not all innings are valuable, so you need to find those pitchers who offer quality and quantity in the category. In order to get that safety, you need to spend early on a pitcher.

In points leagues, pitchers fly off the boards since they tend to outscore more hitters on a per-game average. In roto or category leagues, if you want a starter who can contribute innings, ERA, WHIP, and potential wins, you need to be willing to spend one of your top two picks on an arm to anchor your staff.

To get a leg up, you should be willing to spend two of your first three picks on pitchers. Getting Max Scherzer is great, but if you wait to pair him with a No. 3 pitcher, you’re losing the advantage that drafting Scherzer gives you.

Rostering two of the top-eight pitchers will put you at a distinct advantage week to week and over the course of a season in those four categories.

Built for the Stretch Run
An MLB team with a stellar rotation is going to be tough to beat in the playoffs. Good pitching beats good hitting, and it’s no different in fantasy. In a points league? Forget about it. Good pitching–especially when it lines up for a two-start week–will win nearly every time.

In roto and category leagues, it’s important, but not as important as points leagues. In category-based leagues, you have stats to fill from hitters and pitchers, but it seems that in-season acquisitions of hitters in trades and off the waiver wire are easier to find than pitching.

With a great lineup, you’re built for the regular season. But with a great pitching staff, if it can stay healthy, you’re built for a title run in the playoffs or down the home stretch of a roto league.

Early Stability
In my earlier focusing on hitters piece, I looked at all of the pitchers available later in drafts. From pick 100 to 500, there is some real value to unearth.

Yet there are reasons they are going that late. Whether it’s betting on someone coming back from an injury, rebounding from a down year, or turning promising peripheral numbers into a breakout season, there’s no denying the risk attached to late arms.

Yes, if they don’t pan out, you can cut them and find another pitcher off the wire. That free-agent add, however, is not guaranteed to be any better.

By focusing on pitching early, you eliminate the unknown risks with those pitchers in the middle to late rounds by getting proven, high-upside arms early.

Insurance Plan
To drive home the point again, pitchers automatically have inherited risk due to the position they play. That’s why it’s also deemed safer to focus on hitters first due to the lower risk of substantial injury.

Here’s a counterpoint. Say you take a hitter with four of your first five picks. You get a top-15 pitcher and a top-30 pitcher with the two non-hitter picks. If one of those aces goes down, you take a major hit to your fantasy rotation. If it’s a serious injury, you’re forced to play catch-up or overpay in a deal to land a replacement.

If you take three pitchers with your first five picks, you balance out that injury risk a little bit more. You’ll pick up a waiver-wire pitcher and counting on SP4 or SP5 numbers while your opposition looks for SP3 contributions.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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