2019 MLB Draft Guide: The Value & Depth of Starting Pitching
James Grande takes a look into the vast wealth of talent at the starting pitcher position and how you can find value throughout your fantasy baseball draft.
Without looking, could you tell us how many starting pitchers eclipsed the 200 inning plateau in 2018? We’re waiting…..Well since you couldn’t guess yourself, the answer is just 13. With that being considered, unless you are getting the select handful of elite guys, why are you going to waste your time reaching on starting pitching? As you’ll learn, waiting on starters has it benefits and you could build a damn good rotation if you do.
In standard leagues across the industry, you have nine spots available to fill with pitchers. Obviously, we’re not going to fill them with all starters because we’d lose out in the holds and saves categories -- plus there aren’t that many starters in baseball for us to do such a thing. But the fact that we have so many available slots provides us with a lot of opportunity. Within the first couple of rounds, you’ll be able to pick up on some trends with the way pitchers are coming off of the board. It’s imperative you capitalize on at least one top arm early and go from there. By grabbing a top arm off of the board early, you’ve solidified the top of your staff and can take the rest of your rotation in plenty of directions. There are only eight pitchers currently being taken within the top 30 in standard 5x5 roto drafts according to Fantrax’s ADP in mock drafts this season. That’s actually up one from last year, but it doesn’t move the needle to make us all of a sudden take starters earlier than normal.
Once all of the top dogs have been taken and it’s our turn to draft, where do we go and how do we figure out which arms to take? Well, there a few things we should definitely factor into our decision making. We need to examine all things from ERA’s, WHIP’s, K/9, amongst other stats from years past, to ballpark factors, to average draft position trends, etc. You get the point. What that does for us is it obviously allows us to load up on other positions. Stating the obvious? Sure, but it needs to be reiterated so draft strategies can be tweaked based on the research and time put into everything headed into draft night.
Let’s get into some names that can you start your rotation with if you haven’t drafted in the first few rounds.
- Patrick Corbin (51.86 ADP)
- James Paxton (54.13 ADP)
- Mike Clevinger (61.15 ADP)
- Zack Greinke (63.98 ADP)
- Jack Flaherty (65.38 ADP)
At the top of this piece I mentioned there were only 13 starters that reached 200 innings last season and Patrick Corbin was one of them, hitting 200 even. The All-Star only allowed 15 homers last year which bodes well shifting to a park that allowed the 16th most home runs in baseball. He’s now had back-to-back years of 189-plus innings and two straight seasons with a sub four xFIP. Corbin is also coming off of a career best 11.07 K/9 last season as he was fifth in the entire league in K’s. This is a guy being drafted in the fifth-round of 10-team leagues.
Mike Clevinger and Zack Greinke were two of the other starters that hit 200 innings and there is nothing better than starting off your staff with some stability. Greinke may be 35, but he’s thrown at least 200 innings in four of the past five seasons and had a 3.21 ERA or better in all four of those seasons to boot. Since arriving in the Major League’s, Clevinger and his golden locks have an elite 25.5-percent K-rate as he’s consistently mowed down opponents each and every year.
How about we move a little further south where ironically the weather is a wee bit colder, but the pitchers at this tier could warm up your rotation quite well. Let’s look at some guys being drafted in beyond the 10th round in 10-team leagues.
- Charlie Morton (107.59 ADP)
- Carlos Martínez (109.04 ADP)
- Robbie Ray (115.36 ADP)
- Masahiro Tanaka (135.7 ADP)
- Chris Archer (137.32 ADP)
Over the past two seasons, Charlie Morton has given us K/9’s over 10, a FIP below 3.60 and has won 29 games compared to 10 losses. He still plays for a very good team in Tampa Bay that will give him every opportunity to be the "Robin" to Blake Snell's "Batman" their rotation. We should expect 30 starts or so as long as he stays healthy at his advanced age. But if you look at the last two seasons in terms of velocity, Morton's fastball speed increased from 96 to 96.6, so he hasn't shown many signs of slowing down. Morton gets a MASSIVE park upgrade as Tropicana Field ranked 28th in runs and 29th in slugging. Morton’s K/9 that I mentioned up top? Ranked top-10 last season. In his five professional seasons, Masahiro Tanaka has yet to have an xFIP worse than 3.60 and has a 23.9-percent K-rate and is being taken in the 13th-round of drafts.
Dropping down another tier, we’re looking at our SP3 types.
- Eduardo Rodríguez (140.63 ADP)
- Kyle Freeland (143.59 ADP)
- Cole Hamels (153.76 ADP)
- Rick Porcello (153.88 ADP)
- Yu Darvish (155.92 ADP)
Rodriguez has been in the league for four years now and each year his K/9 has gone up. His rookie year it started at 7.2 and it was at 10.2 this past season. The next part of his progression is staying healthy and pitching deep into games. He made 23 starts last season but only was able to throw 123.1 innings in that role which averages out to just over five innings per outing. His swing and miss stuff plays in any league, however.
In just his second career season, Kyle Freeland won 17 games and notched a 2.85 ERA. He’s currently a 14th-round pick despite being one of seven pitchers with at least 17 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. Since 2009, Rick Porcello has thrown 160 innings or more in all 10 seasons he’s pitched in, so durable would be a pretty safe word to use when describing him. He had quite the bounce back year in 2018 and if you’re slotting him in as a third starter, you should feel more than comfortable with that. I think it goes without saying that Yu Darvish looked like a shell of himself in 2018, but he’s reported to Spring Training early and seems poised to bounce back in 2019. This is a guy -- when healthy -- that can lead a staff. Obviously though, health has always been a concern considering he’s only had two seasons with 30 or more starts since coming over to the United States back in 2012. Despite his struggles last season, Darvish still notched an 11.04 K/9 and limited the hard contact to a measly 27.4-percent. Because of how deep starting pitching truly is, I’d be willing to take a risk on a guy like Darvish as my third starter in the 15th-round.
Do you happen to know what Blake Snell ’s ADP was last season? At least in the Mock Draft Army? According to last year’s article, it was 212.30. I’m not sure if you guys knew, but Snell messed around and won the American League Cy Young in 2018. There are gems at each tier, we just have to look for them. Some guys being drafted in the 200’s this year;
- Kevin Gausman (205.59 ADP)
- Josh James (207.61 ADP)
- Marco Gonzales (221.25 ADP)
- Zack Godley (224.52 ADP)
- Joey Lucchesi (228.81 ADP)
Gausman seemingly found a home in Atlanta once he was traded from Baltimore notching a 2.87 ERA with the Braves compared to a 4.43 mark with the Orioles. Gausman’s bugaboo has been the home run ball throughout his career, but his new home park ranked 27th in big fly’s which could help him keep his earned run average down and if he can repeat his second half last year, he’s well worth his ADP and more.
When we get down here in this range, some of the fun is taking guys with potential more than stability from years past, which is where Josh James lies. He appeared in six Major League games -- three starts -- and averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. In the 23 games he pitched in in Double-A and Triple-A in ‘18, that number climbed to 13.5. Imagine James pans out to the pitcher he was in 2018 across all levels for your fantasy team and he was selected as your fourth or even fifth starter?
With all of that in mind, we should also be keeping a close eye on how rotations shape out as the spring progresses. There are plenty of teams with six, seven and possibly eight guys that are vying for rotation spots, but won’t make the original. The Indians are the first team that comes to mind. First and foremost, their very actively shopping their most prolific arms and if they’re dealt prior to the season, well maybe it was worth drafting a Chase Anderson or Adam Plutko type in waining rounds of your respective drafts. Drafting and stashing or drafting and utilizing someone who has the potential to make a huge impact on a rotation if there were any injuries in front of him could be a risk worth taking.
There are a lot of different approaches and routes you can take with your staff, but having depth is crucial. Even if you are someone who enjoys taking the streaming approach, having a solid foundation that you built in the draft allows you the safety and stability to take more risks when adding a player off of the waiver wire. Make sure you are doing your due diligence on pitchers being taken later in drafts and do your best to find potential and value. In an era of starters going fewer and fewer innings, this approach gives your fantasy team the greatest upside.