Diamond Drafting: Hide the Starting Pitching

Scott EngelCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2009

Whether it’s an auction or a snake draft, you must enter every fantasy baseball selection process with a plan. An eternal question has been, how much do you spend or use early picks on pitching as compared to hitting?

In many mock drafts you’ll do this preseason, you won’t often see a pitcher go in the first round if you are in a league with other highly experienced players. Once you get past the first round or two, though, when do you start filling in on your key hurlers? How much should you spend on a top starter or closer in an auction?

RotoExperts’ Diamond Draft software, a proven and dynamic fantasy baseball software program, lays out the suggested default balance between hitting and pitching, and it has worked like a charm for me in mock drafts. DD, which is downloadable in a FREE Demo version, recommends a 67 percent hitting/33 percent pitching budget/roster split.

Using the software throughout your draft, you can identify value pitchers on the go. Using the Low Investment Mound Aces approach and recommendation to punt saves until later in drafts or with low bids, you can still build a very formidable staff. You can build a winner without jumping on guys like Tim Lincecum too early or getting into a bidding war for their services. For the LIMA Plan, we always give a nod to our good friends at Baseball HQ.

Under a $260 league mixed league budget with 5 x 5 Rotisserie scoring, Johan Santana is the highest-valued pitcher in Diamond Draft, at $29.6 dollars when a draft starts. Under Diamond Draft, his value may change throughout the selection process, as DD updates your dollar values on the go.

These dollar assignments are still viewable even for regular snake drafters, to give you a firm idea of player values. Even in a snake draft, seeing that Santana is valued at 29.6 and Lincecum is at 29.1 will likely help me make a tough decision.

To put the pitching values in perspective, eight hitters are ranked ahead of Santana in default Diamond Draft values. This includes Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder, who are projected for 49 and 42 homers, respectively. While Santana gives you peace of mind as a staff anchor, as Lincecum may do as well, elite HR and RBI production stand above getting a No. 1 pitcher in many cases. You can always compensate for any perceived batting average drain later in the draft.

Cole Hamels has a value of 28.5 in DD, but after Santana, Lincecum, and the Philadelphia ace, no other starting pitcher is valued over 25.6. Joe Nathan is the highest valued closer at 14.9, which means avoid him while others bid away. It’s understandable to anchor your staff with one of the “Big Three” starters early, but most of your focus should be on balancing power and speed in the earliest rounds. With one outstanding SP early, the rest of your staff can easily fall into place in the later rounds.

I put the Diamond Draft software to the test in a recent draft on Mock Draft central. This was not an experts draft and will give you a better view of the “average guy” competition you will likely face on draft day.

I had the sixth overall pick, and after taking Miguel Cabrera in the first round, I landed Santana in the second. From there, I decided to leave pitching alone for a while. Santana would pace my staff, and I could follow my plan to build around him.

I personally prefer Santana easily over Lincecum and Hamels. He has the best track record of the three for annual success.

Somewhat underrated standouts Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Quentin were my next two choices, as I continued to bulk up in HR and RBI production. It didn’t matter that I already had Cabrera, as Gonzalez slid in nicely at a corner infield spot.

Then, using the Diamond Draft “in-draft” total points tab, which tells you where you place in the projected categories or standings at any point in the draft, I saw I seriously needed to catch up in steals. So I happily plucked Jacoby Ellsbury in the fifth. Both DD and I remain confident in my next selection thereafter, Aubrey Huff, and I added the versatile Jayson Werth in the seventh.

I didn’t take my second pitcher until the eighth round (Jon Lester). DD has him as the ninth-ranked starter overall, with a value of 19.8. He is projected to win 18 games, according to the software. DD’s projections have gained widespread user acclaim since 2001. In all, I only took two starting pitchers in my first 14 picks, yet ended up with two outstanding SPs. I nailed Chris Young and Torii Hunter right after Lester.

I landed more solid starters thereafter, adding John Maine, Jered Weaver, Justin Duchscherer, Ubaldo Jimenez, and amazingly, Chien-Ming Wang in Rounds 15 through 19. Maine and Weaver were ranked 26th and 27th overall at SP, according to Diamond Draft. I would have liked to land three closers, but ended up with Kerry Wood and Francisco Cordero, so I won’t be totally punting the category.

DD’s final projections still had me ranked first in projected standings for pitching, with 50.5 Rotisserie points. Combined with 48.0 hitting points (I also swept in Shin-Soo Choo in the 12th and Mike Aviles in the 14th), my team projected to finish first in the league with 98.5 total Roto points. Using the Total Points screen, I was able to stack up on hitting heavily, and using the DD projections, I was able to identify value SPs later on.

If you think I am trying to sell you on something, I am. I want you to win your fantasy baseball league. I’ll be here regularly throughout spring training, sharing my Diamond Draft exploits, which lead to regular draft domination. Join me in crushing the opposition at www.rotoexperts.com.


Scott Engel began covering fantasy baseball as a professional in 1997. He has won several experts leagues, including two Fantasy Sports Trade Association championships. E-mail Scott at scotte@rotoexperts.com.