Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy & Advice: Selecting Pitchers Early (2023)
In the world of fantasy baseball, the idea of drafting pitchers early seems…foreign. It’s a strategy that many people seem to shy away from, but it can be effective. In the right situation, with the right manager at the helm, anything is possible (cue the throwback Kevin Garnett gif).
Ok, let’s say you’re going into this draft dead set on killing it in the pitcher department. Earlier this month, I covered the strategy behind drafting a pitcher in the first round, and, let’s just say, it’s not advised. In a points league, you can make a case for taking Gerrit Cole or Corbin Burnes that early but, still, don’t. Taking pitching as early as the second round, though, is a fun strategy.
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Drafting Pitchers Early (2023)
Here’s a breakdown of how to properly utilize this strategy in fantasy baseball drafts this year.
The Key To Nailing It Early
So much of the success of this strategy boils down to who you choose in round one. This year, second base and outfield are arguably the two shallowest positions. So keying in on one of those positions round one is crucial. Don’t get tempted by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his power, or Manny Machado and his consistency over the years. While they’re not inherently bad picks in their own right, taking a first or third-baseman is going to hinder your draft later on. Especially when planning on taking pitching in the next round.
Pro tip: Target Mookie Betts if you plan on the early pitching strategy and pick in the back half of the first round. He’s an elite fantasy target in all league types and is both second base and outfield eligible.
Once you hit the turn and you’re up, you’re now going to have the choice. The pitching targets with second-round ADPs are Cole (17) and Sandy Alcantara (23). The nice thing about taking a pitcher this early is that you really can’t go wrong with either. In points leagues, I would lean toward Cole. He’s on a team set to have him in line for more wins, and he’s been a consistent top-12 finisher in points leagues for the past four years. In category leagues, I would lean toward Sandy. While the sub-nine K/9 isn’t ideal, Alcantara has proven to be the biggest innings eater in baseball. Over the last two years, he’s the only pitcher to eclipse 200 innings in both seasons. With it, he also surpassed 200 Ks in both seasons and was top five in ERA in 2022.
The Third Round
This is it. This is the moment you have to decide if you’re committing to pitching or not. The moment you decide if you’re going to break the mold and assemble the most dominant pitching staff possible.
Now, let’s say you do it. Your turn comes around and you see Spencer Strider, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola and Shane McClanahan there and just can’t help yourself. First of all, I don’t blame you. Second of all, the key to making the early pitching strategy work is taking a pitcher in the third round. Of the four, my go-to has been McClanahan. Before a shoulder injury plagued the end of his 2022 season, McClanahan was elite. In his first 111 innings, he sported a 1.71 ERA, 11.95 K/9, and a minuscule 1.55 BB/9. Now with that shoulder issue a thing of the past, look for him to regain last season’s pre-injury form.
In 2022, 14 pitchers recorded a 50+% GB rate and 15+% SwStr rate over 50+ IP.
13 of those 14 were relievers.
One was a starter.
That starter was Shane McClanahan.
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) February 18, 2023
Again, though, much like the second-round pitching options you really can’t go wrong in the third either. The nice part of the early pitching strategy is you’re guaranteed to lock in a couple of stud arms.
From This Point On
Ideally, in the “I’m gonna go pitching early” strategy, you need to fully commit. Just like needing to commit to one of the big names in the second and third rounds, you need to commit to pitching in the coming rounds as well. This strategy really only works when you’re committing to drafting the best pitching lineup possible and finding value with position players later on.
In the fourth round, if you want to take a position player and passed on Betts in round one, guys like Jazz Chisholm Jr.and Luis Robert offer high upside at a shallow position but come with injury risk. Guys like Nolan Arenado and Matt Olson are also routinely available but in an early pitcher draft strategy, first base and third base are positions you need to wait on and take advantage of later. Once you are through the sixth round, if you have four starters you are set. There are plenty of fifth and sixth-round pitchers that offer incredible upside.
Both Astros top starters Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier can be had and offer top 15 position upside. Dodgers young star Julio Urias could end the year with 20 wins and a sub 2.50 ERA and Alek Manoah is an AL CY Young candidate. All of these guys can be had in the fifth and sixth rounds of most 12-team drafts.
Late-Round Hitting And Upside
After the sixth round, you’re going to need to start keying in on some hitters. Save catcher for the end of your draft, grab one of the young superstar shortstops, and focus on that outfield. You need to go into this strategy by having a list of guys you know you can take later on who will offer you solid upside. You also need to capitalize on some of the young rookies and hope their upside comes through. Guys like Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Walker are young players who have the chance to well outperform their current ADPs.
You also really need to go the low-ceiling, high-floor route when possible. The aforementioned Chisholm and Robert are guys who have been fairly injury plagued throughout their young careers but the upside of them is top 10 at their position. Even guys later on in the draft like Eloy Jimenez and Oneil Cruz have a fairly low floor whether it be due to injury (Eloy) or strikeout rate (Cruz). These are the kind of guys who, if they pay off, will help make up for you locking in that pitching early and passing up on some hitters with a much higher floor.
Highest barrel rates: August through the end of the season
1. Judge 25.8%
2. Alvarez 21.6%
3. Teoscar 18.2%
4. Oneil Cruz 17.6% 👀
5. Schwarber 17.4%
6. Suarez 17.2%
7. Mountcastle 17%
8. Ohtani 16.8%
9. Seth Brown 16.7%
10. Realmuto 16%
— Blake Meyer (@Buhhlockaye) January 20, 2023
It’s not going to be a pretty draft on the offensive side, but as long as you’ve nailed the pitching, you are in line to be far more productive than you think. In a category league, you now stand to have an immediate advantage in wins, innings, Ks, and ERA if you did the draft correctly. That locked in pitching combined with even a few of the high upside guys panning out gives you the dominant lineup everyone envisions when they’re drafting.
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