Who to Target at Starting Pitcher in Your Fantasy Draft
There's a consensus top trio this year, and unless you're drafting with a bunch of amateurs, they will all be off the board by the end of Round One.
For my money, you cannot go wrong with any of the three-headed-ace monster.
THE TOP THREE
Shane Bieber, 11Ks in 22 Seconds. https://t.co/f03Q67gGak— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1565406007.0
Each of these pitchers posted sub-1.00 WHIPs, sub-3.00 ERAs, and over 8 quality starts. Bieber and deGrom vaulted over 100 Ks in the shortened season, and Cole nearly got there with 94. While other pitchers that will go later had similar numbers, these are the guys in the best position to repeat/exceed their performances.
If you are dead set on going for a starter early, or if one happens to fall to you in the back half of the first round, I wouldn't think twice about selecting these workhorses. (As someone who's relied on streaming pitchers after going offense-forward in past drafts, I think building a strong rotation from the jump provides peace of mind for the homestretch and playoff push).
THE REST OF THE TOP TEN
The drop off from the top to the next group is not as steep as many might imagine, especially as pitchers continue to use advanced analytics, such as spin rate, to perfect their games. With the added talk of a deadened baseball, which allows a better grip, I think it's safe to assume a lot of the following dudes will be well worth a pick at their projected draft slots. However, I want to issue a buyer beware for a couple.
The enigmatic Twitter presence had a career year of career years in 2020, earning him a much sought after Cy Young. He parlayed his success into a massive contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which pays him $38 million in 2021 and includes player opt outs after each season that could tack on $2 million, if exercised the first season, or $15 million for the second (maybe don't get too used to Bauer in Dodger Blue is all I'm saying).
Don't get me wrong, his only full season in Cincinnati was obviously spectacular. 100 Ks, 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 9 quality starts will get teams to smash their piggy banks. However, this is a guy, who has only two seasons of an under 4.00 ERA. The first was in 2018. How did he follow that up? A hefty 5.09 between his time in Cleveland and Cincy.
The change of scenery is worth mentioning here, as well. The NL Central looked like the dredges of baseball for most of last season. The Cubs were the one team to finish truly over .500, and they fell in the first round to the Miami Marlins, the Cards jumped in and out of quarantine so much that they didn't even play a full season, the Brewers went the way of Christian Yelich (who suffered with no video replay) and the Pirates were officially the league's worst team, posting a mere 19 wins.
Remember these are THE ONLY teams that Bauer pitched against last season, due to COVID rules. Facing even slightly stiffer competition from intra-divisional rivals, like the Padres, and across the league will undoubtedly have an effect and not a positive one. Throw in MLB's vendetta against sticky stuff, and I think it's very possible we see a much more average (by his own standards) season from Bauer.
Trust me, I'm not just picking on Dodgers pitchers here. Buehler possesses the raw skill and tools that most starters would kill for if given the chance. There are really only two red flags going into his fourth season.
First, the Dodgers historically have employed extreme caution about wearing out the young hurler's arm. They tend to ramp him up slowly, and he's never cracked 200 innings over a full regular season. (He and Giolito are the only two in the top ten not to sniff 190).
Now, he's coming off a shortened season in which a record number of pitchers experienced injuries, and he put up a total of only 60 innings. He only had one start go over six innings, which explains his one quality start. Usage alone might be reason enough to go in a different direction in the second round.
The other reason for concern is his paltry output this spring. Take this all with a grain of salt, but he's sporting an 8.10 ERA in his five exhibition starts, and a decreased velo on his fastball is to blame. Normally, he's sitting around 96, as opposed to the 93-94 that he's currently rocking. Do I believe that he'll build up and regain his form at some point? Absolutely.
But how long are you willing to wait for a top pick to find his juice? A month or two might be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
Walker Buehler, 99mph Fastball Mechanics/Arm Action. https://t.co/ohe2o0KQ9O— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1506029123.0
VALUE IN THE 11 TO 20 RANGE
These five guys will almost definitely fall into the fourth and fifth rounds, giving you an opportunity to bolster your rotation without breaking the bank. We run the gamut from established number ones to aging wunderkinds to a Cy Young-winner and World Series stand-out to a bevy of ascending aces.
These are pitchers that will offer a little more volatility than their higher-ranked brethren for a variety of reasons that range from age to injury to stuff not matching production:
After winning the Cy Young, Blake Snell dealt with "loose bodies" in his left shoulder that required surgery in 2019 and had some lingering soreness in 2020 that led to a decrease in innings and productivity. However, his effectiveness down the stretch this past season and into the playoffs is noteworthy, especially his sterling Game 6 start against the Dodgers coupled with his early hook that may have spelled the end of his time in Tampa.
His trade to the Padres represented the first of many dominoes to fall in San Diego's direction, and it appears as if it will pay big dividends for them. Snell had a clean bill of health coming into Spring Training, and the results reflect that with no earned runs to his name and a 0.75 WHIP over nine and a third innings pitched.
Sure, those stats are all meaningless until they aren't, but seeing Snell looking healthy and dangerous could mean a full-on return to form for the former top pitcher in the AL.
Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres. 🦖 https://t.co/tMXqEtMIlq— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1614802490.0
Early in his career, Lance Lynn was a consistent third or fourth starter, who predominantly threw sinkerballs to induce soft contact and groundouts. It led to a success at the major league level that's impressive but hardly enviable. The glory in being a dependable guy that manufactures outs is almost always twinged as a little backhanded.
It came to a head when before the 2018 season; he was a free agent that had to wait until camp to get an offer. That's when two things changed that put him on an entirely different trajectory. First, he began to pitch from the 3rd base side of the rubber, which allowed him to drive harder through his lower body and generate more power behind his pitches. Second, he returned to a pitch that he abandoned as a member of the Cardinals organization: the four seamer.
These two tweaks have taken him from free agency afterthought to trade chip for a team with championship aspirations. Over his last two seasons in Texas, he has proven to be a different "D" word: Dominant. He's led the league in innings pitched, tied for first in starts with Aaron Nola, and tied for fifth in strikeouts with Max Scherzer. That's the kind of company Lynn deserves to mentioned in and drafted amongst. He'll be, dare I say, a pitcher to depend on.
Lance Lynn, Filthy 87mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ h/t @ChrisHalicke https://t.co/IWTFmDsYD0— Rob Friedman (@Rob Friedman) 1598744260.0