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2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Using Innings Pitched Wisely

Mar 16, 2019

Drafters who take a hitter-heavy approach may have to settle on pitchers like Tyler Glasnow being their SP1

Heading into draft day with some semblance of a plan is always a great idea. Sometimes, those plans go awry fairly quickly. One thing is certain: whatever strategy you ultimately choose will have a major impact on how your roster is constructed. One of the more successful ways to assemble a fantasy baseball squad is by going heavy on the bats early in drafts.

I went mock draft crazy over the past week and mocked my brains out by only taking hitters in the first eight rounds of each mock draft. I used different league sizes from 12 teams to 16 teams and also used different roster formats, some starting as many as 14 hitters. There are some important takeaways from this exercise and things to know about taking this approach. I’ll outline some of those items below and also explain why pitching is so important with this roster build.

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I’m going to skip past the part where we draft a bunch of hitters in the first half of the draft and primarily discuss how pitching plays a role in this strategy. Out of the dozens of mock drafts I’ve performed on FantasyPros’ Draft Wizard tool over the past couple weeks, I’ve been using this strategy frequently, and the projected standings always look similar. But remember, those are projected standings that trust you’ll make some sound decisions. Let’s look more at how pitching can determine your place in the standings with bats galore.

First, taking an approach such as this requires knowledge of the deep end of the pitching pool. I’m talking almost everybody that’s fantasy relevant here. You have to be familiar with the starting pitchers at the back-end of the draft, all 30 closers, and their setup men. This is of course out of necessity from drafting a parade of hitters in the early rounds. This style of team build is very fun and has some interesting paths to success, but if you aren’t on top of the late-round arms, get to work on your research.

Second, speaking of success…the final objective is to win the league. Using this strategy in a head-to-head or rotisserie league makes perfect sense, but is more fitting in head-to-head, especially if you punt wins, saves, or holds. For more on punting categories, you can find that from last month in my archive link below. But as I mentioned in that article, you diminish your ability to win the title if you punt any categories in a roto league. In a head-to-head league, you just need to win a majority of the categories each week to have success.

The final and most important piece to this puzzle is how you use your innings, as your final product will likely have you near the top of the counting stats in all of those hitting categories with maybe the exception of batting average. Finishing first or second in all the others is a big advantage, but it requires careful management of your pitching staff. That’s right, not a lot of hitter talk here. I mean, the title of the article is the description of the strategy, right? The almost certain (and assumed for the sake of this article) result of this draft strategy is that you will bully the counting stats in your favor. Let’s take finish the rest and make it work in our favor.

Using Innings Pitched Wisely
Making up for a lack of pitching talent has options as you can establish those stats a couple different ways. One of the easier ways to gain an additional edge in head-to-head and roto leagues is to load up on good relief pitchers during the draft with the idea that they’ll keep your ratios nice and low. Having low ratios allows you to improve your chances to win more matchups or sneak up the standings while also allowing you to shoulder a couple bad outings or blow-up starts here and there.

Out of the dozens of said mock drafts, none were more successful than when I went with higher-end closers and relievers coupled with the big hitters. As mentioned above, this always gave me a solid finish on the pitching ratios and saves in the drafts that I went closer in the mid-rounds and filled those RP slots earlier than I usually would.

Cool stories aside, there is a downside here, and it comes in the form of more work and effort. How? You’ll naturally be behind in wins and strikeouts. Therefore, you’ll need to supplement those deficiencies. Filling that void requires you to maintain a constant stable of streaming starting pitchers. This can also be very effective if done right.

The deeper your league, the lower you’ll go down the starting pitching rabbit hole. The more starting roster spots you employ in your league, like those of you who start corner and middle infielders in addition to utility slots…well, you’ll be forced into getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. You’ll likely not enjoy drafting some of the players you’ll be faced with late in the draft, and you’ll possibly need to go even deeper, grabbing minor league prospects who could get called up once (or soon after) the season starts.

That’s not to say you can’t build a solid staff. You just need to realize guys like Jhoulys Chacin are a really good value right now and could play a bigger role than you’d like. Either that or accept the fact that a guy like Tyler Glasnow could be the “ace” in your rotation. Even if you snag a pitcher somewhere in the first 150 picks, you’re looking at maybe Cole Hamels leading the way for your rotation. That being said, I like the Dodgers starting pitchers a lot for a base of starting arms that you can hold onto.

In fact, those drafts where I selected a combo of Dodgers starters like Rich Hill/Kenta Maeda, for example, were some of my best mock draft scores on the Draft Wizard. I’m not scared to run out a rotation with Robbie Ray or Masahiro Tanaka as my SP1. Ok, maybe a little scared…but it’s all about how vigilant you’ll patrol those waiver wire streets and how proactive you can be with your roster. You’ll need to stream starters, that’s for sure.

Streaming pitchers is a must, regardless if you only need a two-start pitcher every week or you’re churning daily roster spots like butter. One long-time benefit of streaming starters has always been picking the more favorable matchups throughout the year. As you roll out the best streaming options on a constant basis, you’ll eventually rack up innings pitched with primarily solid innings that increase your replacement value earned with each start as compared to running a mid-round arm out there for 30-some starts this season (including the bad spots) because you invested the higher draft capital.

However you decide to build your team, just remember, the draft will dictate how your team shakes out. But if you go berserk on the hitting early, it’s very likely how you manage the pitchers ultimately determines how your team finishes in the standings.

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Josh Dalley is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive follow him on Twitter @JoshDalley72.

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