Fantasy baseball season will soon be upon us, and it is incumbent for the prepared owner to begin the process of evaluating pitching talent to draft in March and early April. You need to determine which round is the appropriate time to add starting pitchers and relievers to your rosters, or for those of you participating in an auction format, how much of your budget you need to set aside to allow you to populate your starting rotation and bullpen. Part of the evaluation process with regard to pitching requires an understanding of which pitchers are likely to provide season-long goodness. That is, unless you enjoy scrambling throughout the course of the season, sifting through the options available on the waiver wire, or floating trades to your fellow owners that hopefully will not deplete your hitting ranks dramatically. Naturally, MLB teams will promote young starters and relievers throughout the season, bringing up arms from the minor leagues to replace injured pitchers in the rotation or the bullpen. Being able to snap up these rookies or pitchers with limited experience will task your skills, demanding that you peruse the daily transaction reports, as well as having the requisite waiver wire priority or maintaining a sufficient FAAB balance to enable you to strike before your opponents act.

Even assuming that you draft well, buy your pitchers for great values during the auction, or manage to add valuable pitching options during the season, you will still need to keep in mind a basic premise that MLB general managers and team managers rely upon when building their pitching staffs: Having a dependable, durable pitcher who will not spend the bulk of the time between April and October on the DL, or even worse, be lost for the remainder of the season following surgery engendered by a serious injury. It is difficult to think of a more disappointing experience for a fantasy owner than to see a news report that his top starting pitcher has been pulled from an appearance in the early innings of a game because of a twinge in his elbow, or an issue with his knee, shoulder, ankle, or some other body part necessary to effectively toe the rubber. Or for that matter, a similar situation with regard to his or her closer, set-up guy or middle reliever. Therefore, one axiom that fantasy owners should embrace is draft, buy or pick up pitchers that have not demonstrated a history of suffering injury over the course of their careers, including their time spent riding in buses between minor league parks. Naturally, any player can be hurt playing the game at any time, or for that matter, working out or warming up before or between games, but in this age of internet access, data about player injury history is available for those willing to spend the effort to dig in and do the research. Always keep your eye on the prize, however, and that prize is to make certain that you possess pitchers that are as close to guaranteed as possible to give you extended innings over the season, and that those innings are productive in terms of producing fantasy points.

There was a time when it was considered a positive thing that a pitcher had undergone Tommy John surgery. That line of thinking reasoned that since he had already suffered the ulnar collateral ligament tear, and had it repaired, his arm was if not exactly as good as new, at least it was unlikely that he would suffer through the same situation again. Then came a limited rash of players that had to undergo a second TJS procedure, among them such once promising young arms as the former Atlanta Braves starting pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen and journeyman starter Edinson Vólquez (who is currently signed with the Texas Rangers). The ability for pitchers to return to action as useful members of a major league pitching staff following a second UCL reconstruction is not particularly inspiring, and the best advice is to avoid those who are double TJS recipients when putting together your pitching staff in fantasy.

Even those pitchers who have a single TJS procedure frequently return to action at less than their prior level of proficiency, which is understandable as they have to relearn how to pitch with a tendon replacing their ligament in their throwing arm. Still, many pitchers have returned to action following TJS, and served as adequate middle of the rotation arms. The worry about another injury is always on the horizon, though, and again, these pitchers are not the arms to build around, nor should they be relied upon as workhorse starters, since their managers often limit their workloads to avoid overtaxing their arms. Plus, their diminished effectiveness on the mound results in them tossing shorter stints in their appearances, which naturally causes a decline in their fantasy stat lines.

It is a common complaint among fantasy baseball owners that starting pitchers are not pitching as deep into games, due to the conviction among baseball people that enforcement of pitch counts is beneficial to promoting longer careers for starting pitchers. To see a starting pitcher still on the mound in the seventh inning (let alone the eighth or ninth inning) is the exception in baseball these days. Many pitchers do not make it through the entire fifth inning in many games, whether because of pitch count limits or general ineptitude on the hill, effectively forestalling their ability to contribute a win for their owners. Thus, the fear of over-extending a pitcher’s stint on the mound past a set pitch count limit makes it difficult to rely on any but the top level of starting pitchers when assembling your fantasy rotation. Certainly, it is well nigh impossible to stack your pitching staff with starters that can be counted on to provide 180 or more innings in a season. The number of starters that offer 200 or more innings in a season has been declining over the past several seasons, with the number dropping from 33 in 2014, dropping to just 15 in both 2016 and 2017, and just 13 such MLB starting pitchers reaching those levels in 2018. Below is a chart containing those starting pitchers that threw over 150 innings in 2018, whose ERA was sub-4.00. The chart also shows the number of batters faced and total number of pitches thrown during the season.

Starting PitcherGIPPITCHESBatters Faced
Jacob deGrom 322173221835
Blake Snell 311812925700
Chris Sale 271582525617
Trevor Bauer 281752853717
Aaron Nola 332123221831
Justin Verlander 342143427833
Max Scherzer 332213503866
Clayton Kershaw 261612364650
Miles Mikolas 322013020808
Mike Foltynewicz 311833053744
Kyle Freeland 332023258844
Gerrit Cole 322003257799
Corey Kluber 332153181842
Mike Clevinger 322003265810
Noah Syndergaard 251542419644
Trevor Williams 311712732701
Charlie Morton 301672688695
Patrick Corbin 332003149800
Jameson Taillon 321912974785
Zack Greinke 332083221839
Zack Wheeler 291822884744
Jon Lester 321823125761
Jack Flaherty 281512597615
Carlos Carrasco 321922982784
Luis Severino 321913152780
Kyle Hendricks 331993064812
Jhoulys Chacin 351933018796
Mike Fiers 311722682714
Derek Holland 361712932727
David Price 301762716722
Sean Manaea 271612374654
Kyle Gibson 321973246826
J.A. Happ 311783051733
CC Sabathia 291532506665
Alex Wood 331522463637
Wade LeBlanc 321622452662
Dallas Keuchel 342053310874
Masahiro Tanaka 271562398635
James Paxton 281602603645
German Marquez 331963141817
Cole Hamels 321913060806
José Berrios 321923072797
Sean Newcomb 311642925696
Reynaldo López 321893088799
Kevin Gausman 311843008776
Chase Anderson 301582602644
Julio Teherán 311762814724
Jake Arrieta 311732760724
Steven Matz 301542697654
Jose Urena 311742808712
Marco Gonzales 291672564686

The increasing reliance on middle relievers to take over for pitch count limited starters is another factor to acknowledge when dealing with the general decline in available starters contributing useful fantasy baseball pitching stats. While there are a finite number of middle relievers that are effective in a majority of their trips to hill, it has been an ongoing trend for major league managers increasingly turn to their bullpens to keep the game close when a starter falters and allows too much activity on the base paths. The strict enforcement of pitch counts as discussed above is a huge factor in the growing use of middle relievers on the major league scene. Having pitchers available that can be summoned from the bullpen to shut down a rally and/or keep the contest close has made it much more amenable for teams to pull a struggling starting pitcher, whether that be the team’s ace, or its fifth starter. Then there was the new approach of employing an “opener” in the first inning ala the Tampa Bay method embodied last season, relying on a reliever to pitch the first frame before turning things over to another pitcher beginning in the second inning. Below is a chart showing the relievers that pitched more than 50 innings in 2018 without notching one start. In compiling the chart, those relievers who are primarily used as closers have been eliminated, as well as those whose ERA resided at a level of 3.70 or higher. These 61 relievers also appeared in 50 or more games, demonstrating their usefulness during the course of the season, and indicating how dominant middle relievers can affect the use of starting pitchers in baseball these days.

Relief PitcherIPPITCHESBatters Faced
Oliver Pérez 32480120
Tony Sipp 39627151
Collin McHugh 721204283
Dylan Floro 641017271
Edubray Ramos 43750174
Kyle Crick 601060255
Scott Oberg 59907228
Richard Rodriguez691143279
Reyes Moronta 651112262
Chad Green 761259298
David Hernandez 64979254
Ryan Pressly 711118292
Tony Watson 66971261
Carl Edwards Jr. 52950222
Taylor Rogers 68995260
José Álvarez 631029261
Craig Stammen 791177317
Ryan Buchter 39683163
Shane Carle 63980258
Matt Grace 60854247
Pedro Báez 56982237
James Pazos 50800211
Shawn Kelley 49739190
Yusmeiro Petit 931332368
Andrew Chafin 49882211
Jesse Biddle 641033266
Kevin McCarthy 721014293
Edgar Santana 66934270
Juan Minaya 47916209
Alex Wilson 62944245
Jorge DeLaRosa561009243
Adam Cimber 681024284
Daniel Winkler601040256
Justin Wilson 551037236
Will Harris 57891230
Louis Coleman 51847217
Chaz Roe 50778203
Justin Miller 52887215
Matt Barnes 621113265
Hansel Robles 56972242
Joe Smith 46687180
Cory Gearrin 57952248
Luis Avilán 45838197
Cam Bedrosian 641038271
Adam Morgan 49859214
Chasen Shreve 531006235
Chaz Roe 50778203
Justin Miller 52887215
Archie Bradley 721231296
Matt Barnes 621113265
Jonny Venters 34539145
Scott Alexander 66978268
Hansel Robles 56972242
Joe Smith 46687180
Cory Gearrin 57952248
Luis Avilán 45838197
Cam Bedrosian 641038271
Tommy Hunter 64962270
Adam Morgan 49859214
Jim Johnson 631022268
Chasen Shreve 531006235
Miguel Castro 861483376
Nick Vincent 56851239

Another current trend that is resulting in a limitation of inning usage among starting pitchers comes from the trend to employ six-man rotations by certain teams. Teams are not rushing out to add another arm to the rotation where the five-man rotation has dependable arms to roll out every fifth day, but as more starting pitchers fall into a back-of-the-rotation type of status, as opposed to being reliable SP3/4 grade pitchers, the trend is likely to grow. In the coming season you should keep an eye on younger pitchers being groomed to step into the starting rotation, such as Forrest Whitley with the Astros or Chris Paddack in San Diego.

The changes to the DL rules that took place in 2017 were also responsible for the decline in starting pitcher workloads, with the 10-day DL option making it much more palatable for teams to sideline their pitchers for a start or at worst, two starts. It was feared in fantasy circles that the shorter DL time limit would result in pitchers become unavailable on and off throughout the season, and these concerns certainly have come to fruition over the past couple of seasons. There were 340 incidents of pitcher placements on the DL in 2018, up from the 288 instances where pitchers headed to the DL in 2017. That amounted to a substantial increase in DL placements over the 240 DL trips that pitchers made in 2015. Teams are becoming more careful with the valuable assets that they employ to get batters out, and with that more cautious approach, pitcher workloads continue to diminish.

It is essential for fantasy owners to target healthy, dependable pitchers to populate their pitching rotations and relief corps. With the growing decline in 200+ inning starting pitchers, as well as the growing dependence on middle relief by managers at the first hint of trouble during a game, it is becoming much more difficult to find starters that can be considered workhorses, at least those who provide useful performance statistics for fantasy purposes. As demonstrated by the second chart above, however, there are plenty of middle relievers that can be used to provide both counting and ratio stats that will bolster your roto totals, and allow you to avoid simply rostering starters that drag down your team’s performance.

To wrap up, below are two more charts showing projected starting pitchers and middle relievers that mimic those pitchers populating the two charts inset above, to aid in your upcoming drafts. And if you have further questions, send your query to

Starting PitcherTeam Relief PitcherTeam
Chris Sale BOS Ryan Pressly HOU
Clayton Kershaw LA Sam Dyson SF
Jacob deGrom NYM Carl Edwards Jr. CHC
Max Scherzer WAS Will Harris HOU
Noah Syndergaard NYM Pedro Báez LA
Corey Kluber CLE Keone Kela PIT
Justin Verlander HOU Héctor Neris PHI
Trevor Bauer CLE Seung-Hwan OhCOL
Walker Buehler LA Dan Otero CLE
Aaron Nola PHI Jacob PetrickaMIL
Blake Snell TAM Trey WingenterSD
Carlos Carrasco CLE Brad Peacock HOU
Gerrit Cole HOU Yusmeiro Petit OAK
Kyle Hendricks CHC Shawn Kelley FAA
Miles Mikolas STL Joakim Soria OAK
Zack Greinke ARI Michael Lorenzen CIN
Charlie Morton TAM Justin Wilson NYM
Stephen Strasburg WAS Tony Barnette TEX
Shane Bieber CLE Cory Gearrin SEA
Michael ClevingerCLE Heath Hembree BOS
Luis Severino NYY Jonathan Holder NYY
Mike Foltynewicz ATL Nick Vincent FAA
Dallas Keuchel FAA Alex Wilson DET
Carlos Martínez STL   
Patrick Corbin WAS   
David Price BOS   
Jack Flaherty STL   
Masahiro Tanaka NYY   
Jameson Taillon PIT   
Alex Wood CIN   
German Marquez COL   
Madison Bumgarner SF   
J.A. Happ NYY   
Luis Castillo CIN   
Jake Arrieta PHI   
José Berrios MIN   
Eduardo Rodríguez BOS   
Joey Lucchesi SD   
Jon Lester CHC   
Nick Pivetta PHI   
Cole Hamels CHC   
Zack Wheeler NYM   
Kyle Freeland COL   
Chris Archer PIT   
José Quintana CHC   
Andrew Heaney LAA   
Steven Matz NYM   
Robbie Ray ARI   
Chase Anderson MIL   
Tyler Anderson COL   
Marco Gonzales SEA   
Sonny Gray CIN   
Jaime Barria LAA   
Nathan Eovaldi BOS   
Rick Porcello BOS   
Dylan Bundy BAL   
Kyle Gibson MIN   
Derek Holland SF   
Zach Eflin PHI