Pitchers First: A New Strategy?

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Pitchers First: A New Strategy?
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

[Note: before reading this article, keep in mind that I am a H2H manager. This pet theory of mine may or may not apply to rotisserie, but I am no position to say]

Load up on the lumber. That's what many fantasy experts would have you believe is the road to a fantasy title: take hitters, hitters, hitters early, and scrounge around for pitching stats second.

But, I propose there may be a better way to win fantasy titles: form a dominant core of starting pitchers and put together a hitting lineup second.

The conventional wisdom holds that hitters are a safer bet, and pitchers far too injury-prone to form a team's core.

Take hitters rounds 1-4 and feast on the Ted Lillys and Wandy Rodriguezs of the world...guys that are deceptively good but can be had late.

My experience has taught me otherwise. Every time I have loaded up on hitters early, I have had a mediocre team.

Hitters are not nearly so surefire as they are made out to be. They too get hurt. They too underperform. I wonder how owners of Jimmy Rollins and Matt Holliday feel right now about their hitter-first approach.

On the other hand, my two most dominant teams in my fantasy career were based around dominant pitching and just OK hitting.

In 2003, I had AL Cy Young Roy Halladay and Mark Prior in his one magical season, and Bartolo Colon back when Bartolo Colon was one of the best pitchers in baseball, not David Wells' right-handed twin.

Last season, one of my teams had Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum, John Danks, Matt Garza, and K-Rod.

Depending on one's format, this strategy ensures that your team wins nearly all of the pitching stats each week.

Not only are ratio-damaging bad outings fair more rare, but if you accumulate enough top starters, the impact is mitigated. Also, the better your starters are, the higher the strikeout totals, which becomes a near-guaranteed stat win.

While your team is steadily winning the majority of the pitching stats on a consistent basis, your hitting may be struggling.

However, I have found there are always decent hitters to find among later rounds. Adam Lind, Adam Jones, and Aaron Hill all testify to this truth so far in 2009.

It is often said, when people defend taking exclusively hitters early, that good pitchers can be found later, but I find this more true of hitters. The elite of starters is much more stratified, and the difference between having Johan Santana and Kevin Slowey is much more vast than the difference between Mark Teixeira and Adam LaRoche.

Perhaps the best reason to focus on pitching is because it has become so undervalued. A fantasy draft is like a market; it is imperative to find value and to exploit it.

With expert opinion trending toward a hitter-centric model, the best picther can go as late as 15 to 20 in the draft, which is immense value. Hitters by that point are hardly worth an early pick, and I find the best strategy is to take great pitchers early and often.

Who would you rather have: Tim Lincecum or B.J. Upton?

The best element of the pitcher-centric squad is its consistency. Pitching is usually the least consistent side of one's teams, but if you have several top pitchers, bad outings are few and far between and it is easy to win 4 out of the 5 (in a 5 x 5 format) of the pitching stats each week.

Couple that with a decent offense that scrapes together a few stats each week (focus on getting a dominant steals guy), and you are looking at a team that wins 7-3 week in week out.

That, I have found, in today's fantasy landscape that inflates the value of hitters, is the best and easiest recipe to winning your league.

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