When should you start drafting starting pitching? I’ve taken part in expert mock drafts where one would have thought starting pitchers had the plague. Yet some of the major websites rate starting pitching very highly. So….. When do you draft starting pitching?
My take is that you draft them right after you have established a baseline of 100/100. That is, your first four picks should get you 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases. If you need to choose between the two, always take home runs. Your focus should be five tool players as much as possible early. However, if you find yourself at 100/50 after the first four rounds, fine. You’re still in good shape. You always get stolen bases later in the draft or off the waiver wire.
Once you have your hitting baseline established, feel free to alternate between taking a starting pitcher and a position player over the next several rounds. You may want to throw in a closer or two as well. In most leagues, drafting two closers is sufficient as you’ll always be able to pick up a third or fourth closer later.
But back to our topic…. So when you start looking for starting pitching, what should you look for? First, look for a pitcher with historically solid peripherals (ERA & WHIP). He should also have a high K/9 rate. After all, the fewer balls put in play, the better the peripherals. (No know said you had to be smart to write for a fantasy sports website.)
Some writers will suggest a strong focus on K/9 rate early. I tend to look at both the peripherals and the K rate. You can often pick up a pitcher late who has a great K/9 rate with excellent upside. He will then strengthen your K position.
BTW, you should win the strikeout category in your league every year. This is an easy one to hit. Pick up some middle relievers along the way (see middle reliever article) to bolster your ERA, WHIP & strikeouts. Use all the innings available to you. Stay involved. Win the category.
Question: Should you consider the advanced metrics like BABIP? Answer: Yes. BABIP can vary by year but you’ll find the good pitchers consistently over-perform in this arena. For example, Roy Halladay will have a lower BABIP consistently than a mid-tier pitcher.
Question: What about when a pitcher’s “expected ERA” is significantly higher or lower than his actual ERA? Answer: Here there are a couple things to consider. First, if the expected ERA was significantly higher than actual ERA, draft cautiously. The pitcher was lucky. Second, and here’s the fun one. If a pitcher was simply unlucky and had an actual ERA a run or more higher than expected, nab him. More times than not, things even out. He’s in for a good year.
Question: How important is the National League bias for pitchers? Answer: Pretty important. The average NL pitcher has an ERA half a run lower than an AL pitcher. Don’t be afraid to draft a stud AL pitcher early (Jon Lester, Justin Verlander) who will give you lots of wins and strikeouts. But in the middle rounds, draft NL pitchers. Or if the draft doesn’t flow to you that way, look for an SP starting in a large AL park (Oakland, Minnesota).
Question: How important is the bullpen to a starting pitcher? Answer: Again, it's important. Think about Zack Greinke in 2010. Was he really that bad? No, certainly not early in the season. Do you know how many games his bullpen blew – often immediately after he was pulled? Lots. By late in the season Zack had checked out. No matter how well he pitched, he couldn’t buy a win unless he threw a complete game or went eight innings so he got to Soria. Mentally that’s a lot of baggage with which to start a game. Use the bullpen as a tie breaker when selecting starting pitchers late in the draft.