Openers and Closers: How to Navigate the Pitcher Pool in 2022 (Fantasy Baseball)
The year is 2018 and the Tampa Bay Rays have shocked the baseball world and re-introduced “The Opener”.
On May 19, 2018, Sergio Romo took the mound to start the game for the Rays and proceeded to strike out the side. After his inning of work, the scheduled starter for that game, Ryan Yarbrough took the mound just like any other pitcher would. This would start a trend around the game that now creates a new strategy needed when approaching your fantasy drafts.
The creation of the opener has continued to shuffle the use of a team’s bullpen as the years have gone on. Managers are using analytics more than ever in order to win a matchup against their opponents. They deploy “high leverage” relievers in those moments they feel will decide a game, whether that is in the 9th inning or not. As we have grown to become more familiar with these approaches, we can now make more educated guesses as we make selections in our drafts. We want to approach it knowing who is solidified in their roles and what teams might continue to shuffle as the season goes on.
How Openers Affect Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategies
So now, what can we do in fantasy drafts when deciding on a strategy on how to build out our rosters? You can start by locating trends from the previous season and note how starting pitchers are now throwing fewer innings throughout the year, while relievers are accumulating more wins and saves. As this trend continues, you’ll notice those top starting pitchers, with little risk of piggy-backing off an opener, creep up draft boards in a spot you normally wouldn’t find yourself taking them. Other than the top tier talent at the position, pitchers like Sandy Alcantara (Average ADP: 35), Dylan Cease (Average ADP: 82), and Charlie Morton (Average ADP: 103) continue to rise as we get deeper into draft season because of the lowered risk of coming in after an opener is used. Another result of this is the increased value of those closers that have solidified their roles on their respective teams. Liam Hendricks (Average ADP: 35), Josh Hader (Average ADP: 38), and Raisel Iglesias (Average ADP: 55) are going around the same range as the top flight aces in the game because they are the locked-in options for their team. Some NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) mock drafts have had Hendricks going as early as at the Round 1/2 turn in 15-team leagues because of how desperate owners are in assuring those categories going into this season.
Ultimately, what this does is make starting pitchers come at more of a value to you later on in drafts. This reoccurring scenario has led to the term “pocket aces” being thrown around a lot more when making reference to targeting starting pitching early in drafts. Being able to find your team’s build becomes easier when you are not trying to outsmart your opponents. Opportunity cost is the main focus in what a player’s perceived value is going into a season. Pitchers with un-defined roles end up being lottery tickets. You can either hit, and win big, or you end up dropping them onto the waiver wire when you need to find your weekly streamer.
Go into your draft with a full-hand approach and commit to a strategy you feel would best set your roster for the season. With the amount of volatility of each team’s approach, you are never going to be able to dictate how a pitcher may be used throughout the season. A strong opening, conservative middle, and targeting values, in the end, will help you structure your next championship roster.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.