Fantasy Baseball: Strategy Guide for Drafting Starting Pitchers

George FitopoulosContributor IMarch 2, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 24: Joel Piniero #38  of the Seattle Mariners pitches during the game against theTexas Rangers at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on June 24, 2004 in Arlington, Texas.  The Rangers defeated the Mariners 9-7.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Drafting pitchers in fantasy baseball is an art.

There are a lot of factors that go into a pitcher's performance every season such as health, fatigue, and experience. It's very difficult to predict whether a pitcher will get injured, or if he will just have a “down” year. For example, Ricky Nolasco and Cole Hamels were both touted as top-25 pitchers going into 2009, but bad luck and a couple rough stretches knocked them both out of the top 50.

Here are some guidelines to help you pick out safe pitchers for 2010.

2009 Stats:

Innings pitched: 100 or more.
Strikeouts per nine: 6.0 or more.
Walks per nine: 3.0 or less.
Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 2.5 or more.
Hits per nine: 9.0 or less.
Home runs per nine: 1.25 or less.
Fly ball percentage: 45 percent or less.

Now obviously, it will be very hard to find more than a handful of starters who qualify in all of these categories, but there are a number of pitchers who qualify in at least five or six of them, which would lead you to believe 2010 will be a good year. I went through the stats, and weeded out players who didn't make the list and here is what I found:


Pitchers who qualified in all seven categories (17 pitchers)

Adam Wainwright, C.C. Sabathia, Chris Carpenter, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Gavin Floyd, Javier Vazquez, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Justin Verlander, Randy Wolf, Roy Halladay, Ryan Dempster, Tim Lincecum, Wandy Rodriguez, Zack Greinke.



I am not surprised to find the names of all the elite starters fall into this group, but Gavin Floyd, Randy Wolf, Ryan Dempster, and Wandy Rodriguez really jump out at me. Maybe they have more value than we think? They make for great picks in the middle-to-late draft rounds.


Pitchers who missed by one category (15 pitchers)

Max Scherzer (3.33 BB/9), Edwin Jackson (2.30 K:BB), Kevin Correia (2.22 K:BB), Brett Anderson (9.24 H/9), Carl Pavano (10.61 H/9), Cliff Lee (9.52 H/9), Cole Hamels (9.57 H/9), James Shields (9.79 H/9), Jason Hammel (10.34 H/9), John Lackey (9.03 H/9), Ricky Nolasco (9.15 H/9), Roy Oswalt (9.08 H/9), Jered Weaver (50.4% FB), Johan Santana (47.5% FB), Ted Lilly (50.6% FB).



Ricky Nolasco missed out on being perfect by just 0.15 hits per nine and considering his BABIP was .336 in 2009, he should have no trouble getting his H/9 closer to nine. Max Scherzer only missed because of his control issues, but with his move to the American League he may have a tougher time meeting the criteria in 2010.

There's one other important note to point out. Joel Piniero passed the above test with flying colors in all, but two categories (4.42 K/9 and 9.17 H/9). If you can tolerate the lack of strikeouts, Piniero's hits per nine could dip thanks to a better defense behind him, he could provide you with a great WHIP, a very decent ERA, and win totals at the end of your draft.

Now that we have taken a look at some criteria to filter out the chumps from the stars, it's time to take a look at some different strategies on assembling a pitching staff.

There are a lot of different ways to approach drafting starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. However, depending on what type of league you are in (rotisserie or head-to-head), some strategies will suit you better than others. Let’s take a quick look of the most popular strategies, and which types of leagues they benefit most:


Strategy No. 1: One then a bunch of chumps

The point here is to draft a top-10 pitcher early who will anchor your staff, but then stack up on offense. You shouldn’t draft another pitcher until round 15 or so in a standard 10-team, mixed league. This strategy will most likely give you a decisive advantage over your opponents in offense, and hopefully you can draft a couple of value pitchers in the later rounds. 

Benefits both head-to-head and rotisserie leagues.


Strategy No. 2: “We don’t need no stinkin’ aces!”

The idea here is to use the draft to stack up on offense by drafting starting pitchers only in the later rounds. This strategy is better known as streaming , and will require you to continually drop and pick up new pitchers every day and play matchups to keep up with opposing staffs. This is only useful in head-to-head leagues with deep free agent pools because in rotisserie, you would most definitely lose out in ERA and WHIP. The idea of this strategy is to gain a massive offensive advantage—much like the first strategy—and then hopefully catch some flashes in the pan week in, and week out to steal a couple categories.

Benefits head-to-head leagues only.


Strategy No. 3: Playin' by the ratios

This strategy calls for you to draft two high-strikeout aces (Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay), and then a bunch of middle relievers who dominate in ERA and WHIP, and have high K/9 totals. If they have the potential to close, it's a plus as well. With this strategy you will dominate in ERA and WHIP, and with the right pitchers your team will be about middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts. The idea here is to build a cushion in ERA and WHIP before trading for starting pitchers to gain more ground in wins and strikeouts. This strategy is flawed in head-to-head leagues as you will lose wins, strikeouts, and possibly saves, every week.

Benefits rotisserie leagues only.


Strategy No. 4: High risk, high reward

This season's draft is loaded with high risk, high reward pitchers that can be had in rounds 12-15. These are guys who have been aces for a stretch of time, but injuries have caught up with them. Pitchers like this include Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Francisco Liriano, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, and Brandon Webb. The idea of this strategy is to strike gold with two or three of your selections, resulting in great values for your team.

Benefits both head-to-head and rotisserie leagues.