Scouting pitchers to target in your fantasy baseball drafts can be a tough task, especially if you’re new to the game. Obviously, we’d all like to only draft starters like Max Scherzer  and Jacob deGrom  and closers like Edwin Díaz  and Kenley Jansen , but unless you’re willing to sacrifice your hitting, something we do NOT recommend, you’re not going to be able to. But as we’ve said before, you can still build yourself a winning fantasy pitching staff without over-investing in aces. The key is to know what statistical benchmarks you should be using in your selection process.

Dissecting pitchers tends to be a lot more complex than it is for hitters. For hitters, your primary focus is the counting stats. A guy can either hit the ball or he can’t. If he strikes out a ton, unless he’s mashing bombs like Aaron Judge , you probably want to avoid him. For pitching, it’s a lot more complex as there are a number of other factors in play, defense for one, which could negatively impact his totals. There have also been a number of metrics created to focus in on a pitcher’s skill-set independently of his surroundings. The fantasy community doesn’t use them as categories, but studying those peripheral stats is how you want to scout your arms.

To assist you in your process, you will see below a list of baseline targets for a number of pitching peripherals. You’re looking for skills over results as you look ahead to the 2018 season. A guy could appear to have had a rough season with a 4.42 ERA, but if his peripherals are strong, we can probably expect a change in ERA for the better, especially if other factors have changed such as a new ballpark or improved defense behind him.

One thing to also keep in mind is the size of your league. The benchmarks we have below are for leagues of 12-to-15 teams. If you are playing in an league of 10 teams or fewer, you should raise the bar a fair amount as the player pool will be a lot larger for you than is you played in a larger league. 

THE STRIKEOUT

Starters: At least a K/9 of 7.75
Relievers: At least a K/9 of 8.50

2018 Starters Average: 8.25 per nine
2018 Relievers Average: 8.95 per nine

2018 Major League average: 8.53 per nine

Simply stated, the strikeout is a sign of a pitcher’s ability to dominate hitters. The fewer balls that are put in play, the less likely a batter is to get on base. The strikeout also happens to be one of the standard categories in most, if not all, fantasy leagues. While the benchmarks are set for the minimum of what you’re looking for, you always want to set your sights a little higher whenever possible. If the benchmark for K/9 is 7.75 and the average for starters is 8.25, I’ll start with a mark of 8.00 or even 8.10 as my minimum and only settle for the benchmark when necessary, especially when you’ve seen a year-to-year increase as we’ve seen in strikeouts. In 2017, the league average for starters was 7.96, but there were over 700 more innings pitched for starters. Nowadays, you’ve got starters throwing fewer innings, thus increasing the K/9 ratio, so be sure you’re looking at the numbers proportionally.

THE WALK

Starters: A BB/9 mark below 3.00
Relievers: A BB/9 mark below 3.25

2018 Starters Average: 3.03 per nine
2018 Relievers Average: 3.57 per nine

2018 Major League average: 3.25 per nine

Free passes are the bane of my existence when it comes to pitchers. Not only are you putting more runners on base, thereby increasing your chances to allow runs, but your pitch count is rising at an alarming rate. In this age of pitch counts, innings limits and the coddling of starters, a guy who walks too many batters isn’t going deep into games and, in addition to potentially blowing up your ratios, have less of a chance of earning a win or throwing a quality start. It’s what makes a lot of these young starters a bigger risk to you. Rookies who strike out a ton of guys also tend to have high walk rates because major league hitters aren’t just hacking away like so many Double and Triple-A batters.

K/BB SUCCESS

Starters: A K/BB mark above 2.60
Relievers: A K/BB mark above 2.75

2018 Starters Average: 2.72
2018 Relievers Average: 2.51

2018 Major League average: 2.63

Everything just stated above with regard to young power arms is even more evident here with looking at K/BB numbers. Utilizing this stat should help you weed out some of the young arms who may have great stuff but struggle to find the strike zone. Think early Trevor Bauer , Blake Snell and, even more recently, Mike Clevinger .

GROUND BALL / FLY BALL RATIOS

Starters: A GB/FB mark better than 1.25
Relievers: A GB/FB mark better than 1.50
2018 Major League average: 1.22


Who doesn’t love a pitcher with a pitcher with a strong ground ball rate? You put them in front of a solid defense and you’ll see some dominant totals by year end. Look at Dallas Keuchel Patrick Corbin and Scott Alexander . Whether it’s a starter or a reliever, the high ground ball rates and subsequent high GB/FB ratios are what you want. There’s a reason their ERA’s always look so tasty and why they’re closer to the top of the leaderboards for fewest home runs allowed.

PITCHERS TO TARGET

Now that we’ve covered the baseline numbers for the peripherals, it’s time to start looking at which arms to target. Just like what was said in the strategy article, “Know Your Metric Benchmarks,” you are striving for numbers better than the baselines. Your baselines should be the minimum you’ll accept of any number. Now obviously you’re not going to be able to roster more than just a couple of pitchers who meet all the above baselines, so there will be some give and take, but you can certainly filter out names that meet one or two but come pretty darn close in the others. Big thanks to our friends over at Baseball-Reference.com for making this easier to put a list together.

Starters: 7.00 K/9 or better, 3.00 BB/9 or lower (minimum 160 IP)
There were 35 men who hit the above baseline marks in 2018 (listed by strikeout rate).

Player IP K/9 BB/9
Gerrit Cole 200.1 12.40 2.88
Max Scherzer 220.2 12.24 2.08
Justin Verlander 214.0 12.20 1.56
James Paxton 160.1 11.68 2.36
Trevor Bauer 175.1 11.34 2.93
Jacob deGrom 217.0 11.16 1.91
Patrick Corbin 200.0 11.07 2.16
Carlos Carrasco 192.0 10.83 2.02
German Marquez 196.0 10.56 2.62
Luis Severino 191.1 10.35 2.16
Nick Pivetta 164.0 10.32 2.80
J.A. Happ 177.2 9.78 2.58
Dylan Bundy 171.2 9.65 2.83
Jon Gray 172.1 9.56 2.72
Aaron Nola 212.1 9.49 2.46
José Berrios 192.1 9.45 2.85
Corey Kluber 215.0 9.29 1.42
David Price 176.0 9.05 2.56
Andrew Heaney 180.0 9.00 2.25
Rick Porcello 191.1 8.94 2.26
Zack Wheeler 182.1 8.84 2.71
Luis Castillo 169.2 8.75 2.60
Clayton Kershaw 161.1 8.65 1.62
Zack Greinke 207.2 8.62 1.86
Jameson Taillon 191.0 8.43 2.17
Matthew Boyd 170.1 8.40 2.69
Jakob Junis 177.0 8.34 2.19
Marco Gonzales 166.2 7.83 1.73
Andrew Suarez 160.1 7.30 2.53
Tanner Roark 180.1 7.29 2.50
Kyle Hendricks 199.0 7.28 1.99
Mike Fiers 172.0 7.27 1.94
Kevin Gausman 183.2 7.25 2.45
Wade LeBlanc 162.0 7.22 2.22
Jake Arrieta 172.2 7.19 2.97

Starters: 7.00 K/9 or better, 3.00 BB/9 or lower (minimum 160 IP), 2.65 K/BB or better
There were 34 men who hit the above baseline marks in 2017 (listed by K/9).

Player IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Gerrit Cole 200.1 12.40 2.88 4.31
Max Scherzer 220.2 12.24 2.08 5.88
Justin Verlander 214.0 12.20 1.56 7.84
James Paxton 160.1 11.68 2.36 4.95
Trevor Bauer 175.1 11.34 2.93 3.88
Jacob deGrom 217.0 11.16 1.91 5.85
Patrick Corbin 200.0 11.07 2.16 5.13
Carlos Carrasco 192.0 10.83 2.02 5.37
German Marquez 196.0 10.56 2.62 4.04
Luis Severino 191.1 10.35 2.16 4.78
Nick Pivetta 164.0 10.32 2.80 3.69
J.A. Happ 177.2 9.78 2.58 3.78
Dylan Bundy 171.2 9.65 2.83 3.41
Jon Gray 172.1 9.56 2.72 3.52
Aaron Nola 212.1 9.49 2.46 3.86
José Berrios 192.1 9.45 2.85 3.31
Corey Kluber 215.0 9.29 1.42 6.53
David Price 176.0 9.05 2.56 3.54
Andrew Heaney 180.0 9.00 2.25 4.00
Rick Porcello 191.1 8.94 2.26 3.96
Zack Wheeler 182.1 8.84 2.71 3.25
Luis Castillo 169.2 8.75 2.60 3.37
Clayton Kershaw 161.1 8.65 1.62 5.34
Zack Greinke 207.2 8.62 1.86 4.63
Jameson Taillon 191.0 8.43 2.17 3.89
Matthew Boyd 170.1 8.40 2.69 3.12
Jakob Junis 177.0 8.34 2.19 3.81
Marco Gonzales 166.2 7.83 1.73 4.53
Andrew Suarez 160.1 7.30 2.53 2.89
Tanner Roark 180.1 7.29 2.50 2.92
Kyle Hendricks 199.0 7.28 1.99 3.66
Mike Fiers 172.0 7.27 1.94 3.76
Kevin Gausman 183.2 7.25 2.45 2.96
Wade LeBlanc 162.0 7.22 2.22 3.25

Starters: 7.00 K/9 or better, 3.00 BB/9 or lower, 2.65 K/BB or better (minimum 160 IP) plus 1.30 or better GB/FB.

While the list just above offers a really nice array of starters ranging from early-round aces to late-round grabs, this list is considerably shorter, just 17 players long. However, you still have a really nice cross-section of pitchers and depending on where (what spot in the order) and against whom you are drafting, you have a fantastic shot at grabbing multiple hurlers on this list.

Player IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB/FB
Trevor Bauer 175.1 11.34 2.93 3.88 1.30
Jacob deGrom 217.0 11.16 1.91 5.85 1.47
Patrick Corbin 200.0 11.07 2.16 5.13 1.79
Carlos Carrasco 192.0 10.83 2.02 5.37 1.46
German Marquez 196.0 10.56 2.62 4.04 1.59
Nick Pivetta 164.0 10.32 2.80 3.69 1.34
Jon Gray 172.1 9.56 2.72 3.52 1.56
Aaron Nola 212.1 9.49 2.46 3.86 1.67
Corey Kluber 215.0 9.29 1.42 6.53 1.34
Luis Castillo 169.2 8.75 2.60 3.37 1.42
Clayton Kershaw 161.1 8.65 1.62 5.34 1.62
Zack Greinke 207.2 8.62 1.86 4.63 1.42
Jameson Taillon 191.0 8.43 2.17 3.89 1.47
Marco Gonzales 166.2 7.83 1.73 4.53 1.49
Andrew Suarez 160.1 7.30 2.53 2.89 1.90
Kyle Hendricks 199.0 7.28 1.99 3.66 1.49
Kevin Gausman 183.2 7.25 2.45 2.96 1.37


Now let’s go to the bullpen

Relievers: 8.50 K/9 or better, 2.75 BB/9 or lower, 2.75 K/BB or better (minimum 40 innings pitched). Surprisingly, there were only 32 relievers who qualified here. Last season there were only 38 but in 2017, there were more than 60 in total. The question is, how is there such a strong year-to-year discrepancy? It’s the walk rate. Perhaps a 2.75 or lower K/9 was a bit ambitious. Still, it’s a nice group of relievers from which to choose.

Player IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Edwin Díaz 73.1 15.22 2.09 7.29
Kirby Yates 63.0 12.86 2.43 5.29
Will Smith 53.0 12.06 2.55 4.73
Sean Doolittle 45.0 12.00 1.20 10.00
Richard Rodriguez 69.1 11.42 2.47 4.63
Juan Nicasio 42.0 11.36 1.07 10.60
Blake Treinen 80.1 11.20 2.35 4.76
Chad Green 75.2 11.18 1.78 6.27
Joakim Soria 60.2 11.13 2.37 4.69
Caleb Ferguson 49.0 10.84 2.20 4.92
Seunghwan Oh 68.1 10.40 2.24 4.65
Kenley Jansen 71.2 10.30 2.13 4.82
Will Harris 56.2 10.16 2.22 4.57
Craig Stammen 79.0 10.03 1.94 5.18
Sergio Romo 67.1 10.02 2.67 3.75
Taylor Rogers 68.1 9.88 2.11 4.69
Tony Watson 66.0 9.82 1.91 5.14
Chris Devenski 47.1 9.70 2.47 3.92
Blake Parker 66.1 9.50 2.58 3.68
Ken Giles 50.1 9.48 1.25 7.57
Archie Bradley 71.2 9.42 2.51 3.75
Shane Greene 63.1 9.24 2.70 3.42
Ryan Madson 52.2 9.23 2.73 3.38
Shawn Kelley 49.0 9.18 2.02 4.55
Seth Lugo 101.1 9.15 2.49 3.68
David Hernandez 64.0 9.14 2.39 3.82
Victor Arano 59.1 9.10 2.58 3.53
Joe Smith 45.2 9.07 2.36 3.83
Nick Vincent 56.1 8.95 2.40 3.73
Scott Oberg 58.2 8.74 1.84 4.75
Jesse Chávez 95.1 8.69 1.60 5.41
Mike Mayers 51.2 8.54 2.61 3.27

So with such a limited group above, let’s see what happens when we lower the bar on the walk rate while including the GB/FB.

Relievers: 8.50 K/9 or better, 3.00 BB/9 or lower, 2.75 K/BB or better (minimum 40 games pitched)

OK, so that gave us a little more expansive a list as this time, we’ve got 42 relievers from which to choose. Allowing for a slightly increased walk still gives us a strong list of candidates without killing us in what will eventually be the WHIP category.

Player IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Edwin Díaz 73.1 15.22 2.09 7.29
Brad Peacock 65.0 13.29 2.77 4.80
Kirby Yates 63.0 12.86 2.43 5.29
Ryan Pressly 71.0 12.80 2.79 4.59
Will Smith 53.0 12.06 2.55 4.73
Sean Doolittle 45.0 12.00 1.20 10.00
Richard Rodriguez 69.1 11.42 2.47 4.63
Juan Nicasio 42.0 11.36 1.07 10.60
Blake Treinen 80.1 11.20 2.35 4.76
Chad Green 75.2 11.18 1.78 6.27
Joakim Soria 60.2 11.13 2.37 4.69
Caleb Ferguson 49.0 10.84 2.20 4.92
John Brebbia 50.2 10.66 2.84 3.75
Seung Hwan Oh 68.1 10.40 2.24 4.65
Justin Miller 52.1 10.32 2.92 3.53
Kenley Jansen 71.2 10.30 2.13 4.82
Dan Winkler 60.1 10.29 2.98 3.45
Will Harris 56.2 10.16 2.22 4.57
Craig Stammen 79.0 10.03 1.94 5.18
Sergio Romo 67.1 10.02 2.67 3.75
Taylor Rogers 68.1 9.88 2.11 4.69
Tony Watson 66.0 9.82 1.91 5.14
Chris Devenski 47.1 9.70 2.47 3.92
Álex Colomé 68.0 9.53 2.78 3.43
Blake Parker 66.1 9.50 2.58 3.68
Ken Giles 50.1 9.48 1.25 7.57
Chaz Roe 50.1 9.48 2.86 3.31
Archie Bradley 71.2 9.42 2.51 3.75
Shane Greene 63.1 9.24 2.70 3.42
Ryan Madson 52.2 9.23 2.73 3.38
Shawn Kelley 49.0 9.18 2.02 4.55
Emilio Pagan 62.0 9.15 2.76 3.32
Seth Lugo 101.1 9.15 2.49 3.68
David Hernandez 64.0 9.14 2.39 3.82
Victor Arano 59.1 9.10 2.58 3.53
Joe Smith 45.2 9.07 2.36 3.83
Nick Vincent 56.1 8.95 2.40 3.73
Matt Andriese 78.2 8.92 2.86 3.12
Wander Suero 47.2 8.87 2.83 3.13
Scott Oberg 58.2 8.74 1.84 4.75
Jesse Chávez 95.1 8.69 1.60 5.41
Mike Mayers 51.2 8.54 2.61 3.27

Finally, let’s hone this last search a bit more and include the ground balls.

Relievers: 8.50 K/9 or better, 3.00 BB/9 or lower, 2.75 K/BB or better (minimum 40 games pitched) plus 1.40 or better GB/FB 

It narrows down the list to just 11 relievers, but again, a decent group to pick from when you’re looking to add players throughout the season.

Player IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB/FB
Ryan Pressly 71.0 12.80 2.79 4.59 1.63
Blake Treinen 80.1 11.20 2.35 4.76 2.18
Caleb Ferguson 49.0 10.84 2.20 4.92 1.50
Will Harris 56.2 10.16 2.22 4.57 2.09
Craig Stammen 79.0 10.03 1.94 5.18 1.66
Taylor Rogers 68.1 9.88 2.11 4.69 1.49
Álex Colomé 68.0 9.53 2.78 3.43 1.56
Chaz Roe 50.1 9.48 2.86 3.31 1.44
Archie Bradley 71.2 9.42 2.51 3.75 1.48
Seth Lugo 101.1 9.15 2.49 3.68 1.40
Matt Andriese 78.2 8.92 2.86 3.12 1.58
Scott Oberg 58.2 8.74 1.84 4.75 2.90

So just to put a bow on all of this, there are certain things to remember when scouting pitchers for a fantasy baseball draft. You’re looking for a strong strikeout rate, as few walks as possible (reasonably speaking, of course), a strong strikeout to walk ratio and as many ground balls as you can muster. Using pitchers of this caliber, whether starter or reliever, and you should be able to not only build yourself a solid staff, but you’ll have plenty of targets on the waiver wire who will help augment your efforts in each of the primary fantasy pitching categories.