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There is no “I” in team. You have heard it time and time again. But I don't care.
With a new season of Hell’s Kitchen scheduled to air later on this week, I thought what better way to introduce this week’s column than with arguably the most influential figure in the restaurant industry. Chef Gordon Ramsay is known for his fiery temper and his great one-liners, but damn can this guy run a kitchen.
You are probably wondering what this has to do with fantasy baseball, but there are a lot of similarities between assembling a quality starting pitcher staff and how an accomplished chef puts together a winning team. If you have ever watched an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, you will see how everyone in the kitchen has their own responsibility. There own duties. There own meaning. This is how I view a pitching staff.
In most cases, a kitchen consists of an executive chef, sous chef, line cooks and dishwashers with a few others sprinkled in. Although it may seem bizarre, when evaluating starting pitchers you can place them into one of the above based on what they are going to bring to the table. From much experience, I know that what I am going to get out of a line cook will not be the same as what I would expect from a sous chef.
It’s like comparing David Price to Julio Teheran. Price has much more experience and is going to need to be drafted much earlier than Teheran, who is still working his way up the rankings. Similar to what a line cook, or even a dishwasher, has to do for that matter. Now that you smell what I’m cookin’, let’s move on.
To make this as simple as possible, each player is going to be placed in a group based on their current average draft position (ADP). With most standard leagues rolling with nine pitching slots, we are going to figure that two of those spots will be used for relief pitchers. So each team will want to have at least seven starting pitchers, that’s not including bench players. Here’s the hierarchy we are going to run with:
Executive Chefs--Players sporting an ADP of 50 or less.
Sous Chefs--Players sporting an ADP between 50 and 100.
Line Cooks--Players sporting an ADP between 100 and 200.
Dishwashers--Players sporting an ADP of 200 and above.
In each group I’m gonna break down a few key players that have either taken the jump forward or take a step backwards on their ADP, add some strategy and targets for each category along the way. By the end, you will have the recipe for cookin’ up your own starting pitcher staff.
Executive Chefs (Targets: 1)
These guys run the show. As far as I am concerned there are only 11 players worthy of running a kitchen or being a fantasy staff ace for that matter. So if you are in a 12-team league there is going to be at least one team that will be stuck without rostering one. Considering the lack of players this high up on the food chain, it is not the end of the world if you don’t want to target pitcheing early. Just remember, you will have to take more chances later.
Unless you were living under a rock, you already know what you are going to get from the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. That is a no-brainer. So let’s focus on a few other hurlers that may take a little more seasoning before draft day.
Max Scherzer (DET)--29.84 ADP--Will the reigning AL MVP be able to repeat his 2013 season? Probably not. But if you are interested in finding out you will have to pay a pretty penny for his services. He contributes across the board, and even if a little regression sets in he would still be a top 10 starting pitcher in 2014. Scherzer is currently the third starting pitcher being drafted according to ADP, which is a significant jump from where he was going off the board last year at this time (66.43 ADP in ’13). He is full flavored and ready to lead a fantasy staff.
Jose Fernandez (MIA)--32.25 ADP--In an untraditional way, Fernandez went from line cook to executive chef in only one season. Top five finishes in ERA, WHIP and winning percentage earned him Rookie of the Year honors despite winning only 12 games in 2013. At the age of 21 this guy is already a stud, but there’s two things you gotta know. The Marlins are not expected to be contenders so an inning limit is likely. The lack of support on the offensive side will limit his win total once again. If you can live with that, then he’s worthy of his ADP.
Justin Verlander (DET)--47.22 ADP--If you are looking to save some money on your kitchen leader, here’s your guy. Verlander is coming off of a down year according to his standards. A season in which he endured a loss of velocity and mechanical issues. Not to mention he underwent core muscle repair surgery in January. All this has forced him down draft boards in the early going, making him a value among the top hurlers. At this position, the risk is well worth the reward. It’s like going to your favorite eatery and ordering your “usual” dish. You know what you’re getting before it hits the table.
Sous Chefs (Targets: 1-2)
These guys are next in line. Arguably the glue of the kitchen. While the executive chef is busy with scheduling, ordering and expediting, the sous chef is responsible for making sure the kitchen does not go up in flames. These are the folks either on the edge of greatness or have been replaced by new, more talented personnel.
If you have no interest in targeting a starting pitcher in the early rounds, you will want to target two pitchers at this level to make up for the lack of leadership on top of your rotation. With a lot of the big boppers out of the way in the early, it leaves more pitchers for the taking before we get outside of the top 100 players. Drafting these guys are like making Eggs Benedict, but replacing Canadian bacon with ham.
Cole Hamels (PHI)--71.35 ADP--I’m not drafting Hamels this year. He’s suffering from shoulder discomfort this spring, and it has the making of becoming a lingering issue. His ADP has already felt the impact, having dropped nearly 30 points from his 2013 position. It is easy to look at his current ADP and think that he is a value. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Know what you are investing in. Hamels is like a cook that you just rehired out of desperation after repeatedly being late. You know what he is capable of but you know in the end he is gonna burn you.
James Shields (KC)--95.38 ADP--What no love for Big Game James? Not really sure why this guy this guy continues to be overlooked, but let’s take advantage of it. He is one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball over the last three seasons and is a solid contributor across the board, finishing in the top 10 in the AL in innings pitched (228.2 IP), strikeouts (196), and ERA (3.15). Not to mention he has 72 quality starts since 2011. If you decide to skip on hiring an executive chef, this is the type of guy that has the experience to handle a kitchen staff.
Matt Cain (SF)--99.11 ADP--After four straight seasons as a top pitching contributor, the walls came crashing down on Cain and his fantasy owners in 2013. Cain finished with his highest earned-run average since 2006 (4.00 ERA), while giving up a career-high 23 home runs. That makes 44 home runs allowed over the last two seasons. That’s alarming, but could also just be a case of bad luck. Whatever the case may be, his current ADP, which is more than double what it was in ’13, makes him a great value considering what he showed us from 2007-2012.
Line Cooks (Targets: 2-4)
In order to earn your stripes, you gotta start out as a line cook. These guys do the majority of the cooking in a professional kitchen. Whether hot or cold food they must know it all. That’s why you want to have as many as you can get.
There are a wide variety of pitchers in this tier, from young up-in-comers like Shelby Miller, to the more reliable targets like Jon Lester. With that said, these pitchers are either working their way up the rankings or falling off the map with every trip they take to the mound. Again, you want to have a lot of these guys, considering they will do the bulk of the cookin’.
Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)--112.92 ADP--After the Kei Igawa debacle it was somewhat surprising that the Yankees went out and overpaid for a Japanese pitcher. Well I am not on the Yankees payroll so who am I to judge. What I can tell you is this. Tanaka is being drafted way too early for my liking. He has yet to take the mound in a regular season game, but is already being drafted ahead of guys like Shelby Miller (122.37 ADP), Jered Weaver (139.03 ADP) and Jeff Samardzija (177.81 ADP). Let’s not get crazy people.
Danny Salazar (CLE)--131.77 ADP--High-strikeout upside has elevated Salazar from a dishwasher to a line cook after just 10 big league starts and I am in agreement. Although he has just 52.0 major league innings under his belt, he is ready to be a big time contributor. The best part is he is not a one-trick pony. Not only did he show us dominance in terms of strikeouts (11.25 K/9), but supported a 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP along the way. It has been reported that the Indians will have an innings cap on Salazar in 2014. So what. He is still one of the players with the highest ceilin’ that could end up taking the leap to the next level at a relatively cheap price.
Doug Fister (WAS)--167.00 ADP--I was really high on Fister heading into Spring Training, but after he was scratched from his last start due to elbow inflammation made me reconsider. His MRI came back clean, although the Nationals don’t know when he will start throwin’. You want to invest in a pitcher with elbow problems? Be my guest, but I won’t be. At least not this early.
C.J. Wilson (LAA)--183.88 ADP--He clearly isn’t the pitcher he once was but Wilson can still get the job done. He has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in all four seasons as a starter, while showing his durability, reaching the 200-innings mark each year over than span. In most cases his experience would make him a sous chef, but since his contributions come mainly in two areas, wins and strikeouts he tends to take a back seat to more attractive players. From 2010-2013, Wilson has recorded 13 or more wins and 170 or more strikeouts in each season. What more could you ask for?
Dishwashers (Targets: 2-3)
You have to start somewhere, and some folks have to start at the very bottom. The dish room is where you will find the largest age gap between employees and also the best kitchen stories. Whether you are a kid holdin’ a job for the first time or a washed up cook lookin’ to make extra cash, the dish room is fitting for just about anyone. With that, it also holds the biggest question marks and the highest job turnover.
In the fantasy baseball world, this is where you find the low risk/high reward pitchers that could either make you look like Chef Ramsay or the guy at your local hoagie shop. If you are looking for SAFE picks, there aren’t going to be many in this tier, but every year there are a few players that catch fire and go from ground beef to filet mignon.
CC Sabathia (NYY)--204.67 ADP--The hefty lefty came into camp 40 pounds lighter this offseason after a season full of struggles, which included a career-high 4.78 ERA. His best days are clearly behind him, as his age continues to climb while his fastball decreases in velocity. Should this trend drop him this low? Probably not, but take advantage of it while you can. He is a prime candidate for a rebound season. Imagine playing someone minimum wage to wash dishes, but also being able to plug them in as a line cook. That’s where Sabathia falls. He has the experience just needs to prove himself a little more.
Taijuan Walker (SEA)--228.70 ADP--Walker was slated to be a member of the Mariners starting rotation this season, but after shoulder discomfort those plans may be on the backburner. He has started to throw once again and has yet to report any renewed issues. With only three big league starts under his belt and now a shoulder injury, Walker’s stock has falling fast. I expect him to rejoin the Mariners pitching staff whenever he is healthy, but that’s the question. When will he be back? No one really knows. What I do know is this. This guy is special. He has all the ingredients to be a fantasy stud and as long as he gets a clean bill of health he will be an absolute STEAL this late in drafts.
Tyson Ross (SD)--260.70 ADP--Ross is riding a strong finish in the second half of last season into 2014, but his ADP has yet to catch up to his talent. Posting a 2.93 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 80.0 innings of work was very impressive. In fact, he was one of the top pitchers in the NL over that time frame. As long as he continues to keep his free passes in check (44 BB in ’13), there is no reason to think he can’t build off of his most recent success and move up the food chain by this time next year.
Bartolo Colon (NYM)--298.74 ADP--Colon is like a fine wine. He gets better with age. Posting a 2.65 ERA with 18 wins in 2013, Colon earned himself a hefty contract from the Mets and will now be pitching in the more pitching-friendly National League. His newly-found success has come off of the ability to get outs without striking out batters (4.03 K/9 in ’13), but has made it work. Despite the recent success his ADP is right where it needs to be. His style of play can go one of two ways: either he continues to defy the odds or come crashing down to earth. I’ll take the chance on this washed up sous chef. Will you?
Martin Perez (TEX)--337.45 ADP--After failing to live up to his top prospect billing, Perez finally made a last impact at the big league level in 2013. He posted a 10-6 record with a 3.62 ERA through 20 starts and has earned himself a spot in the Rangers starting rotation for 2014. Let’s get one thing straight. He’s never gonna be the pitcher every thought he would become. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had. As long as he continues to induce a high amount of ground balls (0.96 GB/FB rate in ’13) he will find success pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks. Used in the right mix, Perez could make for a solid backend starter and with a dash more seasoning, could take the next step forward.
I laid it out for you. I gave you the ingredients. I gave you the recipe. Now it is up to you to turn it into a sound, well-seasoned dish. Remember, it doesn’t take one person. You need a team. And there’s no “I” in team.
Until next time, study hard and eat plenty!
ADP Source: National Fantasy Baseball Championship
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