Mock Draft: Loading up on SP Early (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Change is a vital part of growing up. Whether it’s trying new foods, joining a new gym, or moving across the country, one eventually must learn to step out of his or her comfort zone. While I’m not brave enough to make any meaningful life alterations, I’ve embraced unfamiliar territory by taking starting pitchers early in 2019 drafts.
I spent years stubbornly perched in the crowd that approached aces the way Leslie Knope treats salad. Take a pitcher whose arm could fall off any minute for a stud hitter with limbs far more likely to remain intact for a six-month season? No thanks.
That was before an evolving landscape forced me to re-access my beliefs. Only 13 starting pitchers threw 200 innings last season, and that’s counting James Shields. Led by Max Scherzer’s 300 and Chris Sale’s 290, just 16 starters hit the 200-strikeout plateau.
While superstar hitters are still safer than their pitching cohorts, they’re still not foolproof. Trust me: I drafted Joey Votto last season. Besides, FanGraphs’ Ariel Cohen concluded that the highest-drafted starting pitchers were actually safer investments than fellow pitching peers last year. Perhaps there’s value in hoarding aces early to avoid an even more volatile group of boom-or-bust options.
I’ve thus shifted my philosophy to target at least one top-12 ace before the fifth round. Having drawn a late pick in just about all of my re-drafts, I’ve already twice taken Sale and once snagged Scherzer in the 10-15 range. To my surprise, I’ve liked the results despite painfully foregoing a top-tier position player.
I’d usually, however, wait a bit on pitching after securing such an expensive ace. But what would happen if I doubled down on another ace? How about if I got really crazy and assembled a three-headed monster? The Draft Wizard exists to answer such simmering strategy quandaries. I fired up a 12-team mock draft with the 11th pick, where I planned to draft Scherzer, Sale, or Jacob deGrom. Assuming any made it back, I’d pair him with another high-end starter in the third or fourth. This simulation happened to feed right into this bold endeavor.
1.11: Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM)
3.35: Blake Snell (SP – MIL)
5.59: Jean Segura (SS – PHI)
8.83: Corey Seager (SS – LAD)
9.86: Mitch Haniger (OF – SEA)
10.107: Travis Shaw (1B/2B/3B – MIL)
11.110: Victor Robles (OF – WAS)
11.131: Jose Leclerc (RP – TEX)
12.134: Mike Moustakas (3B – ML)
13.155: Yoan Moncada (2B – CHW)
14.158: Yadier Molina (C – STL)
15.179: Ross Stripling (SP/RP – LAD)
16.182: Kenta Maeda (SP – LAD)
17.203: Trevor May (RP – MIN)
18.206: Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
19.227: Tyler Skaggs (SP – LAA)
20.230: Garrett Hampson (2B/SS – COL)
21.251: Jimmy Nelson (SP – MIL)
22.254: Hunter Strickland (RP – SEA)
23.274: Matt Strahm (SP/RP – SD)
Building a Top-Heavy Staff
With Scherzer and Sale both gone, I had an easy choice to grab deGrom. I did so at the expense of Yelich…or so I thought. The reigning NL MVP, who garners a No. 7 consensus ADP, fell to my lap in the second round. That made it much easier to stomach this daring gambit, but be prepared to instead draft someone like Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, or Manny Machado if starting with a mound maestro.
Entering this exercise, I wanted a practice run where I could attain Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer — typically guys I’d target as my SP1 — in the late third. Both Cleveland stars lasted, but so did Snell. Cool, I guess I’ll take another Cy Young Award winner who just submitted a sub-2.00 ERA.
I could have pumped the brakes and selected my beloved Anthony Rendon in the fourth, but Carrasco and Bauer both remained untouched. Welcome to the party, Carlos. That gives me three of my top-10 aces, each of whom eclipsed 220 strikeouts in 2018 and combined for a collective 2.28 ERA.
With my next two picks, I drafted two more…just kidding. I waited all the way until the 11th before taking another pitcher (Leclerc) and didn’t dip back into the SP waters until selecting Stripling and Maeda in Rounds 15 and 16, respectively. I usually limit myself to just one Dodgers starter due to their volume uncertainty, but they were the best guys available. Also, a stacked foundation gives me more wiggle room to have fun with the rest of my staff. I’ll take some elite innings where I can get them, knowing I have the nucleus around which to comfortably stream and/or find impact middle relievers on the waiver wire.
Operating under the hope that deGrom, Snell, and Carrasco each provide over 180 grade-A innings, I rounded out the staff with upside arms. If Skaggs, Nelson, and/or Strahm hit, awesome. I’ll need at least one or two strong hurlers beyond my anchors. All taken after the top-225 picks, they’re replaceable if things don’t work out. It’s much tougher to overcome German Marquez, Jose Berrios, or Luis Castillo imploding at an expensive price, so it was refreshing to simply ignore those tiers of high-risk, high-reward arms.
What About Offense?
Oh yeah, I also need hitters. As great as Yelich was last year, he can’t do it alone. I needed to make the most of every ensuing pick. In order to build an acceptable lineup, I meshed some sturdy contributors with high-upside bats.
While Shaw and Moustakas offer steadily reliable pop, Carpenter demonstrated a game-changing ceiling last year. His 36 home runs came with a .386 xwOBA and 13.4% barrel rate, so I’m buying his breakout. Segura and Haniger provide two boring, but effective bats with category juice across the board. Those steady hands could guide me to mid-pack offensive finishes with help from one or two booms.
I might have targeted the dependable Andrew McCutchen as my third outfielder in other circumstances, but Robles has a better chance of closing the gap with a star-making campaign. The best part: I didn’t have to reach for the Washington rookie at pick No. 110.
Seager certainly wasn’t part of the plan after grabbing Segura, but my 57th-ranked player fell to 83rd. To my chagrin, Nelson Cruz went one pick earlier. Even getting the subdued 2017 stats (.295, 22 HRs, 85 Rs, 77 RBIs) wouldn’t hurt at this point, but let’s not cap his ceiling. Considered one of the game’s brightest stars before undergoing Tommy John surgery early last season, he’s only turning 25 in April.
Barring a waiver-wire steal, I’ll need one of my final picks to return a considerable profit. That’s why I selected a trio of players with veritable star upside. The contact woes justifiably deflate his price, but Moncada also offered a 10.3% walk and 36.7% hard-hit rate in his first full season. On the heels of an outstanding spring, I’ll take a low-risk gamble on Buxton in a three-outfielder format.
If he beats out Ryan McMahon — also raking in spring — for Colorado’s starting second-base gig, Hampson could steal 30 bases with a high batting average. I’d probably just drop him if he opens in the minors.
One of the automated teams must be working on the same article. Picking from the ninth spot, All I Do is Lynn paired Scherzer with Gerrit Cole, Bauer, and Madison Bumgarner. Oh yeah, it also cornered the saves market with Edwin Diaz, Kenley Jansen, and Felipe Vazquez. For those wondering how the AI managed to construct a passable offense behind that stacked pitching staff, it didn’t. That ultra-aggressive tactic led to 14 projected hitting points. The analyzer expects me to compile 20 more, and my aces project to drag me into second-place overall.
I’m only tabbed for 29 saves, but Leclerc can break that mark by his lonesome. Heck, I’m already leading the league with two because of Strickland. I could also beat the estimated 3.41 ERA and 1.19 WHIP by playing the matchups beyond my studs.
Years ago, I would never have dreamed of opening a draft with a starter, let alone three in the first four rounds. Everything would need to break perfectly to consider such a brash plan with real ramifications, but this mock at least opened my eyes to the potential viability of acquiring two top-shelf starters early. Change is scary, but it’s usually for the best.