With the notable exception of outfielders, when a fantasy owner is drafting his team, the position players are generally selected as a one-off pick, where once the position is filled, the owner then can stop considering other players at that particular position. This is somewhat complicated with middle and corner infielders vying for attention later in drafts (and do not get me started on two-catcher leagues). The situation with starting pitching, and pitching in general depending on statistical categories used in your league’s format, is more difficult to pin down. In fantasy leagues, the question of when to start taking pitching, and how aggressively to fill your fantasy rotation, is subject to much debate. It is suggested that you snag at least one ace to anchor your pitching staff, a starter that is ranked among the top 10 or 12 SPs in a mixed league (top-five or six in a NL or AL only league).

After you grab your ace, there are myriad schemes available as to how to populate your pitching staff. There are only so many four category arms in baseball (Wins/Quality Starts, Strikeouts, ERA and WHIP), and once the top hurlers are allocated among the league participants, decisions have to be made as to how best to pursue top value in counting and ratio categories your league employs. 

The top arms make up the top two tiers of starting pitchers generally for most savvy drafters, and those players were profiled in last week’s article delineating the top five SPs in one person’s opinion: Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Sandy Alcantara, Corbin Burnes, Carlos Rodón. Mention was made of the other pitchers that could be considered as one of the top five (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Shane Bieber, Zach Wheeler, Alek Manoah and Dylan Cease, to refresh memories). 

Once we get deeper into the tiers, compromises have to be endured. There are only so many 200 IP arms available these days, and once the innings start to fall off, so too do the counting stats fantasy owners seek, notably strikeouts and wins or quality starts. Ideally, the second and third SP drafted with provide a sub 3.50 ERA, a WHP at or below 1.24, and double digit wins or QS. Substantial Ks, racked up at a rate of 9 K/9 or better, should be part of the package, too. 


Note that the starting pitchers in the below three tiers are sorted by ADP. Expect that those values and placement ranks will be changing as spring training progresses. Also, the key stats that these arms can potentially provide to their owners are noted below each player, to assist in the selection process. 

Here are the tier three SPs to contemplate for your second and/or third members of your fantasy rotation:

Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher ADP Rankings

Tier 3

Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 51.52)

  • Key statistical categories: ERA, WHIP

Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners (ADP 65.44)

  • Key statistical categories: K

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves (ADP 68.4)

  • Key statistical categories: ERA, WHIP

Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres (ADP 72.36)

  • Key statistical categories: W/QS, K, WHIP

Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants (ADP 105.52)

  • Key statistical categories: W/QS, ERA, WHIP

Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 153.4)

  • Key statistical categories: W/QS, K

Luis García, Houston Astros (ADP 157.3)

  • Key statistical categories: K, ERA, WHIP

Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (ADP 170.62)

  • Key statistical categories: K, WHIP

The notable drop off in ADP for the last three members of this group have to do with injury concerns for Gonsolin and Sale, and questions about the number of innings Garcia can roll up as part of the Houston rotation. Note, though, that Garcia’s projections are coming in at 200+ IP for 2023, while his teammate Cristian Javier is expected to be in the game for something slightly less than that (thus, Javier’s lower tier placement). Should the ADP play out as above, the great news is that you could conceivably grab a top ace and perhaps a pair of third tier pitchers to solidify the foundation of a strong fantasy rotation.

Tier 4

Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP 36.28)

  • Key statistical categories: QS, K, WHIP

Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves (ADP 37.9)

  • Key statistical categories: K

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP 40.32)

  • Key statistical categories: QS, K, WHIP

Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP 72.94)

  • Key statistical categories: QS, K

Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres (ADP 83.12)

  • Key statistical categories: ERA, WHIP

Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners (ADP 92.36)

  • Key statistical categories: K, WHIP

Mike Clevinger, Chicago White Sox (ADP 315.74)

  • Key statistical categories: K, ERA

The top three entries in this tier are all being drafted ahead of those projected to provide superior fantasy production in the third tier. Certainly, Nola and Woodruff have demonstrated their worth as dependable arms, although the exuberance shown toward Strider, just heading into his second full MLB campaign, deserves to be tempered somewhat, risk of a sophomore slump being present. It is difficult not to be tempted by his superior K rate, that is a major drawing point but at what cost in the ratio stats? Clevinger is certainly getting no early love in drafts, due to the uncertainty about his ability to actually take the field while the league investigates the domestic violence and child abuse allegations that arose in January. Certainly, he has the tools to be an effective pitcher, but not if he is on suspension. His ADP will certainly be subject to either rising dramatically or falling through the floor, so draft carefully with the new addition to the White Sox staff.

Tier 5

Cristian Javier, Houston Astros (ADP 71.76)

  • Key statistical categories: K, ERA, WHIP

Tristion McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians (ADP 90.74)

  • Key statistical categories: K

Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners (ADP 113.6)

  • Key statistical categories: K, WHIP

Blake Snell, San Diego Padres (ADP 123.0)

  • Key statistical categories: QS, K

Freddie Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP 144.68)

  • Key statistical categories: K, ERA, WHIP

Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves (ADP 164.5)

  • Key statistical categories: QS, K, WHIP

Javier is slotted in two tiers below his teammate Garcia (discussed briefly above) primarily due to a projected sub-200 IP season, and a slightly elevated ERA in comparison to his rotation mate. Both SPs project to provide excellent returns in the same three stat categories: strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. Javier is not anticipated to rack up as many victories or QS as Garcia, which also dampens his value. All the hurlers in this tier have the potential to pump up your K numbers if you are fortunate enough to grab them in drafts as your SP3/4/5, and should be available in the early middle rounds of your drafts. 

As noted above, the manner that fantasy rosters are constructed requires an owner to select a larger quantity of pitchers, both relievers and starters, than any other position, even in leagues with expanded outfield roster slots. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality arms available, at least in the early going. The issue is, how many draft slots are we willing to dedicate to players that most certainly will not grace your lineup more than once or twice a week? 

Please keep up to date on the developing news and changing predictions for the upcoming season by taking advantage of the availability of the Fantasy Alarm Free Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide to aid your efforts this season.


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