Should You Draft A Pitcher Round 1? (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
What feels like a tale as old as time at this point, the argument over whether to draft a pitcher round one or not wages on. While many people tend to land on the side of not drafting one, there always seem to be those crazy people who pull the trigger. In some instances, it makes sense. There has been plenty of pitchers that have finished the year in the top 12 in scoring, especially in points leagues. But the real question is, do those end-of-the-year overachievers line up with their preseason ADP? Do those forward-thinking rebels that drafted them have an actual case for why it can be league-winning? Find out next time on Dragon Ba…I mean…let’s go ahead and get into it.
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Fantasy Baseball: Should You Draft a Pitcher in the First Round?
Let’s take a look at the cases for and against selecting a pitcher with your first-round draft pick.
Ok, so even though many people will call you crazy for wanting to take a pitcher in the first round, it’s not all bad. One good thing about pitchers is when it comes to the A-listers, you know what you’re getting. In 2022 there were three pitchers with ADPs in the top 12 going into the season. Gerrit Cole (6), Shohei Ohtani (8), and Corbin Burnes (9). At the end of the year, on Yahoo at least, they finished as the first, seventh, and second-ranked pitchers of the season. In fact, Cole and Burnes finished the year as the number two and three ranked players overall in Yahoo points leagues. At the end of the year, there ended up being six pitchers in the top 10 on Yahoo. There were only two in the top 12 in CBS points leagues.
While it may not be the most popular format for fantasy baseball, points leagues seem to always do a great job of highlighting great pitching. Yahoo points leagues had four pitchers in the top eight in 2021, and Shane Bieber managed to put up a number one overall player rating in the weird Covid season of 2020. Cole has been consistently dominate in the format as well. He finished as a top 12 fantasy player in Yahoo points leagues in 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022.
Another “pro” of taking a pitcher in the first round is you get to mix the draft up a bit. Depending on your pick, you have the ability to take a sure thing at the pitcher position while also locking in an elite hitter in the second. Take a guy like Corbin Burnes, for example. This season he has the highest ADP of any full-time pitcher not named Ohtani at 12. Taking Burnes with, say, the ninth pick allows you to then still take a hitter like Bobby Witt Jr., Bo Bichette, Tatis, or Mike Trout on the turn. Realistically you can end up with your first four picks being Burnes, Trout, Altuve, and McClanahan if you play your cards right. Going pitcher early, especially in points leagues, allows you a lot more roster freedom while still locking in that dominant number-one pitcher.
Let’s just admit it, taking a pitcher round one is the one thing every expert seems to advise against. This year more than ever, some other positions are much more thin and much more important. Locking in that top-tier outfielder, second baseman, or third baseman early is likely far more beneficial later in the draft. With pitching being deep and streaming always an option, it’s tough justifying taking a pitcher that early, regardless of who it is, especially in non-points leagues.
In roto and category leagues, only one pitcher ended 2022 in the top 12. That was Justin Verlander at number five. Five total pitchers ended up in the top 25: Verlander, Sandy Alcantara (13), Alek Manoah (22), Shohei Ohtani (24), and Julio Urias (25). Only two of those hurlers had an ADP in the top 25, and those were Ohtani (8) and Urias (25). In fact, the first-round duo of Burnes and Cole ended the year 38th and 54th in roto.
Getting yourself into a high-stakes league and taking someone in the first round who provides third or fifth-round value puts you behind the eight ball from the get-go. Even Ohtani-San has pitchers with similar comps that can be had in the later rounds. Someone like, say, New York Yankees’ new #2 Carlos Rodon.
Ohtani’s ADP is 13, and Rodon comes in almost 30 picks later at number 42. Using that precious early pick on a pitcher when it can be used to grab someone like Mookie Betts with a similar ADP (11) is tough to justify. In all my mocks up to this point, waiting until the third round to grab your first pitcher has been the best strategy.
While the answer may not be as blatantly no as many people seem to push, it really only seems to be a viable option in 12-team or larger points leagues. For any smaller league type, stick to snagging yourself that top-end slugger, even in points leagues. If it’s a roto or category league, don’t let the flashy cutter of Corbin Burnes tantalize you into thinking this is the year a player breaks the mold.
No matter how much you may like the roster you throw together, it’s generally not worth it. You can grab guys like Rodon, Cristian Javier, or Zack Wheeler a few rounds later, and they’ll put up similar enough numbers you won’t even notice the difference. The late-round depth that can be found at the pitcher position year after year lends to the fact that you can afford to wait a bit.
For every Aaron Nola and Gerrit Cole, there’s a Martin Perez or Nick Lodolo who comes out of seemingly nowhere and puts up fantasy starter-worthy numbers late in drafts. Take yourself a young stud of a hitter early on and lock those pitchers in later. The proof is in the pudding.
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