In baseball, the experts will tell you that pitching wins championships. They couldn’t be any more right. But this is fantasy baseball, and here, offense is what ultimately wins it for you. If you’re in a snake-style draft, your highest picks should go towards offensive studs and if you are in an auction league, then at least 65% of your money should be on your hitters. Why? Because offensive studs are the premium; you can always find good pitching. Now I’m not saying that you don’t grab a Johann Santana if you feel that he is more valuable than the best available offensive player. I’m just saying that if you look hard enough, you can still win your league without having a top tier pitcher on your roster.
Let’s do a little comparison so I can show you what I mean. Take a look at Team A below. It would be safe to assume that these six pitchers probably went the highest in most drafts or for the most money in auctions. Now take a look at Team B; six guys that were, maybe, on a few people’s radar, but certainly weren’t going for that much money or at a very high draft position. Assembling either staff last season would have easily put you en route to finishing in the money with outstanding pitching. The difference, though, is that you could never pull off Team A and have a sound offense. Team B, however, could have been put together last year with enough bid money left for top tier hitters at multiple positions.
TEAM A TEAM B
Johann Santana Jon Garland
Jason Schmidt Cliff Lee
Pedro Martinez Chris Capuano
Mark Prior Brandon Webb
Randy Johnson John Lackey
Jake Peavy Danny Haren
Good pitching can be found all over if you look right. And what’s better is that you have so many to choose from. Just look at your sample size: 30 teams x 5 starters per team = 150 starting pitchers. Hmm…30 teams x 1 starting shortstop = 30 starting shortstops (light bulb above head flickers). Is it all coming into focus? There are pitchers everywhere.
But you have to be smart about it. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a staff of 4th and 5th starters. They’re not number one starters for a reason. If you’re shopping in the bargain bin, you need to do your research. Find guys who are steadily getting better in their first few years. Year to year improvement is always a good sign of an impending breakout; with it being most common in a pitcher’s 3rd year. Cliff Lee was a great example of this. We saw a little of him in 2003 and he looked pretty good; average strikeouts but very good control. In 2004 he improved on his strikeout ratio but his control suffered as he was trying to overpower too much. Finally last year he put it all together and had both respectable strikeouts and great control. The result: 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA. Sure it’s not a Santana-esque ERA, but he did rank in the top 5 in wins. For this year I was all set to grab Baltimore’s Erik Bedard but with his WBC appearance and the Leo Mazzone hype, his sleeper status has been exposed. But check out Braves lefty Horacio Ramirez. He could be primed for a huge breakout.
You should also look for guys “in the shadow” of a stud veteran or a super prospect. These guys walk into the season with all the pressure on somebody else. They can be relaxed and just do their thing. Look at Danny Haren’s 2005 season. All of the focus sat on Barry Zito and rising star Rich Harden; so much so, that few noticed Haren’s 0-7 start. The record was awful, but the ERA and WHIP were still palatable. He went on to win his next 7 decisions and finished at the All Star Break with a 7-7 record and a 4.08 ERA. He then went on to a 7-5, 3.28 second half, finishing the season with 14 wins and a 3.73 ERA. Although the cat seems to be out of the bag, a great example for this year is Twins’ righty Scott Baker. While uber-prospect Francisco Liriano has everyone’s attention, Baker is the guy sliding into the rotation with a solid spring.
It’s all just a matter of doing your homework. Check to see if a pitcher is moving from a hitter’s ballpark to a pitcher’s ballpark this year. The guy in your league that got “stuck” with Colorado’s Shawn Chacon last year was laughing pretty hard when he was traded to the Yankees and turned his season around. And just like you would check an outfielder’s 3 year averages to project his RBI total, check the numbers for a pitcher’s WHIP. If he is a 6 year veteran and his 3 year average is a 1.423, then you know he’s not improving on that. Unless his K’s or wins are outstanding, avoid a guy like this. I like to call it the Glendon Rusch Rule.
One last note is to be wary of hyped starters with injury histories. How many quality offensive players do you think were missed out on just so you could land Mark Prior or Jason Schmidt last season? Or how about the poor guy who passed on a solid 3rd outfielder to grab Josh Beckett and his blistered fingers? There’s nothing worse than investing a bunch of money at an extremely deep position only to watch it sit in Dr. James Andrew’s waiting room.
So be smart these next few days before your draft and do your research. Be able to walk in prepared. If a few starters are going early and the auction prices are rising, don’t panic. You’ll be able to assemble a high quality staff. The difference is you’ll also have the high quality hitters to match. See you all in the money this year…
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Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and current 2005 Fantasy Baseball champion. For questions, thoughts or comments, you can email him at email@example.com