Last week, I discussed the topic of a baseball draft strategy in a season shortened by a global pandemic. The focus was on the impact of COVID-19 and how to deal with players who have contracted the virus, or haven’t reported to camp. These players may not be ready for opening day and may even miss a substantial amount of time.
I don’t care how long you’ve been playing fantasy baseball. The 2020 season will be like no other season. Managing your team in this new environment will be a tremendous challenge. I’ll discuss that in future weeks, but today’s topic is how to approach the draft itself. If you have already drafted, there will be some nuggets for you, too.
Two weeks ago, I briefly mentioned a draft strategy where you pick up a couple of top-tier starting pitchers early and then wait on acquiring others. The starters you want to target are hurlers with a proven track record of amassing innings. Fifteen pitchers logged 200 or more innings in 2019, and five of those also had 200 plus innings in 2018.
The Fab Five are Gerrit Cole, ADP 5; Jacob deGrom, ADP 7; Justin Verlander, ADP 15; Patrick Corbin, ADP 36 and Zack Greinke, ADP 48. These five are proven workhorses and unlikely to get an early hook from their managers. Keep in mind one piece of information when you draft starters – if they don’t complete five innings, they can’t get the win.
Two of the above-mentioned pitchers won at least 20 games last year – Verlander and Cole. Greinke won 18. Three of the five were in the top five in strikeouts – Cole, Verlander and deGrom. Three were also in the top five in ERA – deGrom, Cole and Verlander. Four of the five were in the top five in WHIP – Verlander, Cole, deGrom and Greinke.
If you can draft two or three of these five pitchers, you have a solid foundation. Others starters that you draft could be hurt by the piggyback approach many managers will take early in the season. The piggyback approach is where starters are allowed to work only three or four innings and then followed by a reliever, who would throw for two or three innings.
Starting pitchers are going to appear in no more than 12 or 13 games in a 60-game season, and wins are going to be hard to come by. Many starting pitchers will have short stints because of the delayed season start. I predict the league-leading pitchers will have only seven wins. A starter who earns five or six wins is going to be golden on your roster.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a number of pitchers in the top 20 in wins were relievers. Some of the relievers might be second pitchers in the piggyback combos. Others will be traditional middle- and late-inning relievers. One thing is certain. The 2020 season is certain to be a wild one, full of a boatload of surprises and statistical anomalies.
One of the advantages of carrying nonstarters on your roster is that they won’t count against you in your start total. There is nothing more frustrating than to burn starts with pitchers that don’t complete five innings. In a regular season, you have 200 starts to spread between your pitchers in Roto. But that number is limited to only 74 starts this year.
Consider that Milwaukee reliever Junior Guerra won seven games during a 56-game stretch between July 5 and September 10 in 2019. St. Louis reliever John Gant went 7-0 during the first 73 games, and Marcus Walden of Boston went 6-0 in 16 relief appearances in the first 46 games. It’s not unusual for a reliever to pick up six wins in a two-month period.
Let’s incorporate the reliever information I just shared into your overall draft strategy. If you picked up two aces from the short list mentioned above and two quality closers in the middle rounds, you would be free to load up on hitters who can dominate in the five position player categories. Ideally, at least some of your hitters can steal several bases.
As you near the end of your draft, you now select four or five more nonstarters who can possibly pick up a few wins, or even saves. If you play in an ESPN league, you have nine pitching roster spots to fill, but if you play in a Yahoo, there are only eight pitching slots. The players I recommend here will all be available and all pitch for competitive teams.
FREDDY PERALTA, MILWAUKEE
Peralta may not be in the Brewers starting rotation, but he could be a great option for them in the middle innings, which means the chance for some cheap wins. Peralta finished strong in 2019, with a 1.86 ERA in eight September appearances. Peralta can miss bats with the best of him. When he has his control, he is almost unhittable. ADP 386.
VINCE VELASQUEZ, PHILADELPHIA
Velasquez is not assured of a spot in the Phillies starting rotation, and that puts him in a position to pick up some wins by pitching in the middle innings. He worked on his changeup in the offseason after holding hitters to a .235 average last season while striking out 28 percent of hitters he faced the first two times through the order. ADP 466.
TYLER MAHLE, CINCINNATI
Mahle is unlikely to break into the Reds starting rotation and is expected to be used in a piggyback role, or as a long reliever in 2020. As a multi-inning reliever, he will have a chance to pick up a few wins and also some strikeouts along the way. He had a 23 percent strikeout rate, along with a 17% K-BB% in 2019. He’s a cheap streamer. ADP 539.
MATT STRAHM, SAN DIEGO
Strahm was already working in a swingman role last year and will likely be coming out of the pen in 2020. In each of the last two seasons, Strahm has a 20 percent K-BB% the first time through a batting order. He could work 2-3 times a week in multiple innings and be positioned for some decisions, while also helping your team in strikeouts and ratios. ADP 657.
LUKE JACKSON, ATLANTA
Jackson earned 18 saves and had a career-high 106 strikeouts in 2019 but is owned by only 1.7 percent of owners in ESPN this year. The reason is that he lost the closer job last year and heads into 2020 with no chance of regaining it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t earn some wins in a middle-relief role for the Braves. He’ll help in strikeouts. ADP 661.
TREVOR RICHARDS, RP, TAMPA BAY
Richards could easily be a bulk innings pitcher behind an opener, or a 2-3 inning reliever appearing a couple times a week if he doesn’t pitch his way into the starting rotation for the Rays. He had a dominant performance last week in a simulated game, ringing up seven strikeouts and allowing only one of his 34 pitches to be put into play. ADP 670.
JOHN GANT, RP, ST. LOUIS
Gant won 11 games in relief for the Cardinals in 2019 and is expected to be working in middle relief again this year. He had three saves to go with his 11-1 record. Gant had a 2.22 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .172 BAA through 44.2 innings at the All Star break last year. He finished with just a 2.9% barrel rate ranking among the top 2% in the league. ADP 675.