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Late Round Starting Pitcher Options

Conventional wisdom tells the fantasy baseball owner that waiting to draft your pitching staff is the preferred strategy to be employed. Pitchers suffer injuries more frequently than do position players, and thus lose more playing time and put up stat lines that do not match up with the expectations that existed on draft day (not that hitters cannot disappoint, too). Plus, most leagues require an owner to have more hitters than pitchers in the starting lineup, placing a premium on obtaining the offensive stats that will win your roto categories on a daily or weekly basis. Going for pitching early will handicap your ability to put a strong set of numbers on the hitter side of the ledger. Although it is tempting to grab a Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner or Max Scherzer in the first or second round, such an approach will lead to having to scramble to pad your hitting numbers through the next several rounds of the draft. (Confession: I have been taking Kershaw/Scherzer/Bumgarner frequently in the first round of many mock drafts this year, and have not been dissatisfied with the results. But I feel much better about waiting until the third round or later to grab my ace.)

Of course, not having a strong pitching staff in a points league will also put you at a disadvantage, as an ace starting pitcher (or pair or trio of aces) can certainly help you win your league, assuming health throughout the season and an ability to give you 200 or more innings for the season and a boatload of strikeouts. Also, if your opponents in your league have a tendency to draft pitching early and often, no matter the format, then you have to decide if you can grab enough stud hitters to overcome that strategy, as you need to adjust to your league's propensities to compete, or bow to the group pressure and follow suit.

In roto leagues, though, it is preferable to grab a player that can contribute stats in all the categories your league employs, and as most leagues use saves (and potentially holds), a starting pitcher only provides a partial set of statistics. A five-category hitter becomes more valuable than a four-category starting pitcher just by the nature of how fantasy baseball operates. Thus, it becomes important to be able to identify those starters that you can get late in the draft that are able to provide value, at a relatively inexpensive price.

To that end, I will be discussing starting pitchers that are being drafted in the 15th round or later based on their current ADPs. Note that I am assuming a 12 team league when determining which players are going after the 14th round, and thus if you play in a smaller or larger sized league, you will need to adjust the round accordingly. The ADP pf 169 is a baseline, however, denoting where in any draft the player is being taken.

I will be profiling one (or at most two) later round options in the starting pitching realm on a twice-weekly basis, just as I did last season. If you have questions about any pitchers and their viability as a “sleeper” pick, hit me up at ia@fantasyalarm.com and I will do my best to provide some insight. Also, I am always available to answer starting pitching (or other fantasy baseball) questions all season long.

As promised, three New York Mets starting pitchers that are going later in drafts this winter so far. Two that are going in the same area of the draft, one that is a true late round pick. Wonder which of these three you should be targeting? Read on and get my take on them.

 

Matt Harvey– RHP – New York Mets

2016 Stats: 92.2 IP, 4.86 ERA, 76 K, 1.47 WHIP

 

Current ADP

Mock Draft Army ADP: 175.47 (based on current ADPs generated by Howard Bender’s Mock Draft Army results)

National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC): 144.96

FSTA Draft on January 23rd, 2017: Drafted 10th round (123rd overall)

 

Steven Matz-LHP – New York Mets

2016 Stats: 132.1 IP, 3.40 ERA, 129 K, 1.21 WHIP

 

Current ADP

Mock Draft Army ADP: 182.87 (based on current ADPs generated by Howard Bender’s Mock Draft Army results)

National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC): 164.77

FSTA Draft on January 23rd, 2017: Drafted 13th round (157rd overall)

 

Zack Wheeler- RHP- New York Mets

2016 Stats: Out all season, recovering from 2015 Tommy John surgery

 

Current ADP

Mock Draft Army ADP: 394.41 (based on current ADPs generated by Howard Bender’s Mock Draft Army results)

National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC): 414.39

FSTA Draft on January 23rd, 2017: Undrafted

 

Availability

Matz is going just a few picks after his teammate, Harvey, but I will be taking Matz all day long late in drafts and avoiding Harvey like he has the plague. Do not have the patience to take oft-injured players any longer, and unlike Tommy John surgery (TJS), the procedure that Harvey underwent last summer, thoracic outlet surgery, does not have enough of a track record to make me feel comfortable in relying on Harvey. Wheeler is going very late in drafts if at all, as he is still recovering from his 2015 TJS procedure, having endured setbacks that have kept him from the field the last two seasons.

Upside

Matz is the pitcher with upside here, and I will gladly take him in the middle stages of mixed league drafts. Wheeler may have upside once he fully recovers, but his slow progress in getting back on the field makes me wary, although he would be a nice pickup in a dynasty league if you can sit him on the bench or DL for now. Matz put up great stats across the board last season, with a 2.11 BB/9/8.77 K/9/4.16 K/BB set of ratios over his 22 starts. Add in a 2.01 GB/FB ratio, a 3.44 FIP (nearly equaling his 3.40 ERA) and an elevated BABIP of .320 (which should trend in a positive direction in 2017) and you have a useful middle round SP that could easily serve as your SP3 (or SP2 if you like to wait on pitching).

Downside

Harvey’s downside is, as noted above, that the surgical procedure he went through does not have enough history to allow me believe that he will fully recover. He is going later in drafts, but does not technically count as a true late round pick by the standards set up in these articles. For that matter, neither does Matz, as both are going earlier than the 15th round of 12-team drafts, but that is a more recent trend. When I first determined who to profile, both were going after the end of the 14th round. Wheeler’s downside is more pronounced than Harvey’s, as he is not slated to rejoin the Mets until sometime later this summer (in the meantime, look for the Mets to rely on Robert Gsellman as the fifth starter, another late round SP that may appear in these articles as March rolls on).

Summary

If you are going to draft a starter on the Mets, aside from Noah Syndergaard who is going in the early rounds of nearly all drafts, my recommendation is to target Steven Matz. The skill set is excellent, and if he can start 30 games this season, his stat line will be extraordinarily helpful in your fantasy team’s pursuit of a championship, especially since you can grab him in the middle rounds (for now). Harvey’s injury history, as well as Wheeler’s inability to return to action on a typical timetable, makes them too risky for my tastes. Remember when we were all salivating over the future potential of the Mets’ starting rotation back in 2013? Always prepare to be surprised by injury, and you will rarely be disappointed by the developments in the fantasy baseball world.

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