Fantasy baseball draft primer: starting pitching


Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody can draft Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander in the first couple of rounds of their fantasy baseball draft. In fact, I grabbed Verlander early in both of my leagues. After a ho-hum (for him) 2013, I’m banking on him to make the jump back to elite status.

The key to pitching greatness is rounding out your rotation with value. Well, it’s actually health, then getting value from your picks. For instance, I might have written about Patrick Corbin or Brandon Beachy in this space, but…

This list is in no way meant to be comprehensive, but rather to spotlight a few pitchers worth a look on draft day.

Gerrit Cole

Cole is an ace in the making and the Pirates will rely on him this year. So should you. The former #1 pick impressed in his rookie campaign, with 10 wins, a 3.22 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 19 starts. You might say, “but he plays for the Pirates” or “I’m not supposed to draft a second-year pitcher who barely threw 200 innings in the minors” but for someone with Cole’s talent, you skip that logic. And you can get him after the established aces are off the board.

Chris Archer

I’m bullish on Archer this year. He made great strikes in 2013, chucking 95 mph darts to the tune of nine wins, a 3.22 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings pitched. Many are calling for a regression in 2014 because he benefited from a low opponents’ BABIP and a high strand rate last year. But I think he’ll thrive in his first full season with the Rays.

Why? Check out this gem from Fantasy CPR: Archer’s K rate goes up, way up, the more trouble he gets into. The guy can throw flames – that’s why he’s able to reach back and blow batters away with runners on. Couple that with an improved change-up and the Rays’ D (which has allowed the lowest BABIP in baseball the last three seasons) and I’d pencil him in for 13-15 wins with good peripherals – a late round steal.

Clay Buchholz

Why wouldn’t you take a stab at a guy with Cy Young stuff in the late rounds? Buchholz has made just 49 starts the last three seasons, but if you’re capable of accepting a DL trip or two (leagues with a deep bench or multiple DL spots), he’ll carry your staff when he’s healthy. You’re not going to see that potential anywhere else in the 15th or 19th round (his positions in my two drafts).

Alex Cobb

Another Tampa talent, Cobb had a solid 2012 rookie season but truly arrived last year, going 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and 134 K’s in 143 1.3 innings. He pitched extremely well despite the fact his season was sandwiched around a batted ball off the noggin that kept him out two months.

I’m unsure he can duplicate the low ERA over a full season, but a similar performance over 33 starts spells doom for AL East foes and a good return for your fantasy team if you can scoop him in the middle rounds.

C.C. Sabathia

I wouldn’t ignore Sabathia’s ace potential. He’s going to hang around on draft day after falling off a cliff last year and coming into spring training with high-80’s velocity. But lest we forget: from 2009-2011 he averaged 20 wins, 209 K’s and a 3.18 ERA. In 2012 his numbers were still very good despite groin and elbow injuries. Last year the doors came off. But he’s still 33, he’s taken off a ton of weight and he’ll be backed by one of the best offenses in the Majors. Apparently he’s also learning a cutter, courtesy of Andy Pettitte. If Sabathia learns to accept pitching middle age, the potential is there for a huge return.

Previously: middle infield, corner infield, outfield