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2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Waiting On Pitchers

Waiting on Pitchers
Photo Credit: Spablab

Waiting on pitchers is the new waiting on quarterbacks. The majority of experts are favoring taking hitters earlier and earlier in drafts rather than pitchers. I wanted to see how good of a staff that I could build as late as possible.

“Don’t pay for saves,” has long been an “expert” mantra. The closer role in baseball is the most volatile position in all of sports. Each year about half of the closers from opening day do not finish the season in the same role. Some years it is closer to all of them.

So with that in mind, you do not want to spend too much of your draft capital on a closer. There will always be guys with save-potential later in the draft. There are also saves up for grabs on the waiver wire all season long.

Now waiting on pitchers who start is a new and different animal. As I have said in my starting pitcher rankings, I am not a fan of waiting on pitchers unless you are in a smaller league. The pool can dry up rather quickly in larger leagues.

How long should you be waiting on pitchers though? I decided to go the extreme route and wait until after Round 15. I went with a league set-up of all the normal positions with an extra catcher, extra two outfielders, a middle infielder, a corner infielder and two utility spots for hitters. That way I filled my team of hitting starters before taking a single pitcher.

I also made the setup hitter-heavy because that type of league format is more appealing for waiting on pitchers. I used the magnificent Mock Draft Wizard for this exercise.

Waiting on Pitchers

So after taking nothing but hitters with my first fifteen selections, my team looked like this:

PositionPlayerPositionPlayer
CJ.T. RealmutoOFGiancarlo Stanton
CEvan GattisOFStarling Marte
1BJose AbreuOFChristian Yelich
2BBrian DozierOFKhris Davis
SSCarlos CorreaOFRyan Braun
3BTravis ShawUTILAdrian Beltre
CIWil MyersUTILAdam Eaton
MIIan Happ

As you can see, it is an absolute killer lineup that is very well-balanced. According to the Draft Wizard, I was the top team in all hitting categories except stolen bases in which I was projected to finish third.

For those in head-to-head leagues, it is not like I was projected to barely squeak by. I had more than 50 runs projected more than the second-best team. I also had almost 35 projected more home runs and over 50 projected more runs batted in than the next best team. By all facets, this is about as deep and consistent a lineup as you can concoct in Fantasy Baseball.

 

State of Pitchers

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When waiting on pitchers, I wanted to see who was left in these later rounds. By the end of Round 15, forty starting pitchers and twelve closers had been taken.

While that seems like too many guys to be gone, I think that it was a bit extreme. Two teams had at least eight of their first fifteen players drafted as pitchers. The majority of the other teams drafted 4-5 pitchers in the first fifteen rounds. I think that is closer to what you will experience in the draft.

So that would be somewhere around forty total pitchers instead of 52 taken. With that said, waiting on pitchers should not solely be based on how many were taken already. Just because there is a deep run on starting pitchers does not mean you need to start reaching. Stack your lineups.

So the best starting pitchers available were Jeff Samardzija, Trevor Bauer, Gio Gonzalez and Danny Duffy. Now I know none of those names scream “Ace” at you. What you have to realize is when you are waiting on pitchers the top of your staff is definitely going to suffer. You can make it up by then drafting the best available pitcher

There actually were still some solid closers left on the board. Brad Brach, Arodys Vizcaino, Hector Neris, Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera and Fernando Rodney all seem to have solid holds on their closer roles. All were still available after Round 15.

As you can see, there are still some solid (while not elite) options to head up your staff and some lockdown closers to snag as well. Now how do you navigate building a deep staff from there?

 

Finishing Out Your Pitching Staff

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For some reason, I have an affinity for Jeff Samardzija. More often than not, I end up with the former Golden Dome football player on my roster.

I was able to snag some equally strikeout-efficient pitchers like Danny Duffy, Danny Salazar, and Michael Fulmer. I know that those guys do not scream low ERA’s and WHIP’s, but when you are waiting on pitchers you cannot be too picky.

My thought process is that it will be tough to win ERA or WHIP when starting to build my staff this late. Wins is such a luck of the draw category that I plan to attack it by getting as many starts a week as possible by pitchers and hence filling my entire bench with starting pitchers.

So this leads me to focus on strikeouts and saves. ERA and WHIP are so inconsistent anyway that a player with an ERA of 5.00 will have some two-start weeks with zero runs given up, then give up eight runs in two innings the next week. Strikeouts and saves seem to be a bit more consistent.

After locking in my top-four strikeout leaders, I went relief heavy for a few rounds. I love the ageless Fernando Rodney this year and followed him up with Archie Bradley, Shane Greene, and Blake Treinen. While all three of the latter relieves might not necessarily be closers all year, they are all in line for 20+ saves while striking out batters at a very efficient rate.

With my last few picks, I just took the best strikeout starting pitchers available. I ended up with Blake Snell, Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ, Dinelson Lamet and Jacob Faria. Once again, none of that seems to strike fear in your opponents of your pitching staff. It is not supposed to though.

 

Overall Conclusion From Waiting on Pitchers

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Fantasy Pros listed me as having the 5th most projected wins, sixth-most strikeouts and third most saves. My ERA and WHIP project to be worst in the league. But remember, I’m projected to basically win all five hitting categories every week. All I need is one of the pitching categories to go my way and I’m winning the week.

This is even good for Roto-leagues. Your total Roto points would be nearly 70, about fourth in every category. That will win you most Roto-leagues.

In the head-to-head format, this strategy is especially useful for fans of punting categories. You are basically punting ERA/WHIP to dominate your hitting stats and finish above average in the remaining pitching categories.

My overall takeaway is that waiting on pitchers can be a successful draft strategy. I would not go to the lengths/extremes that I did with this mock draft. Maybe take an ace in the first few rounds then fill out your staff the same way. Just keep in mind your league size (leagues larger than 12 teams will have an extremely difficult time waiting on pitchers) and format and mock draft as much as possible!

Michael Tomlin
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Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin is an ESPY-nominated, former college football player who stays associated with the game through Fantasy Sports. He has been writing his personal blog, Dirkland.blogspot.com, for three years and it focuses on Fantasy Sports, as well as handicapping. He was born and raised in the DFW Metroplex, and he follows all of the Dallas teams, along with Texas Tech athletics and Manchester City F.C.
Michael Tomlin
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