Hello, again. Thanks for stopping by. I’m noticing talk ramping up around the fantasy baseball world on how to approach pitching with the short season coming up. It’s looking more and more like we’re going to get the shortest end of the stick the owners want us to get, if we get anything at all. I’m honestly not overly optimistic we get baseball in 2020, but I’m going to operate under the assumption we will get 48-ish games at least. So, if that’s the case, that sure ain’t a lotta starts per starting pitcher. I mean it’s like 10 tops, assuming the typical five-man rotation. So, what, 70-80 IP maximum? In a perfect world it’d be 90 with 10 complete games, so let’s shave a few off for safe measure.

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to suggest fading the top guys, at first glance. “But, like, JKJ, if there aren’t as many starts, don’t you want the best of the best to increase your chances of those being good starts?” you may ask. While I see the logic and merit in that mindset, I think you could get similar returns from non-top-tier guys in a drastically shortened season. It’s really their longevity and big innings that put them ahead of the pack.

Please understand that this entire premise I’m about to get into hinges on the assumption of a 48- or 50-something game season. If somehow the owners and players agree on something with more games very soon (and it would need to be super duper soon), then this kind of all goes up in smoke. Simply put, the longer the season, the more the big-name starters will rise to the top in fantasy baseball.

Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take a look-see at the top-10 drafted SPs on NFBC since May 1st. I’m gonna compare how they started 2019 to how they finished, but in a very, very general sense. There will be no deep dives or airtight analysis. I’m not going to look at why things might have been this or that. Just results, cuz that’s all that matters in fantasy. You can pick apart change in repertoire, pitch usage, .BABIP, weather, what underwear they were wearing, how many beers they chugged the night before, what have you. I’m not considering much outside of the final numbers. This is just an experiment that I found interesting. A kind of putting-it-out-there discussion starter, if you will.

All I want to do right now is just get a broad feel for their respective 2019 seasons. I’ll do this by showing you simple split stats by month. In doing so, you’ll see that, more often than not, the season started off worse than it finished. Guess what, though? When you think about it, we’ll be getting just the first two months of these charts, more or less. This isn’t to say those early season numbers are bad, yet in some cases they aren’t mouth-watering. But I found it interesting these players almost always helped fantasy owners more in the later months after getting things ironed out throughout the season. Thing is, there’s just not time for that now.

The advantage these guys offer in a full season is lots of innings, probably lots of wins, lots of strikeouts, and good ratios. Basically, um, elite-ness. It’s why they get drafted so high. Duh. But we aren’t getting a full season. IP will not matter nearly as much in 2020. Guys who were looking at innings-limits aren’t anymore. Ratios could be ruined by just two or three outings. These workhorse types just aren’t as sexy to me this year. What’s 70-80 IP of Pitcher A compared to 50-60 IP of Pitcher B if they have similar results? That gap is enormous if we’re talking 200+ IP compared to 150-170 or something. That means significantly more strikeouts, probably more quality starts, and more points if you’re in a points league that counts IP (not to mention points for those extra Ks – that just seemed a little redundant to mention, but here it is anyway). But in this tiny season? I don’t think it’s worth it to pay for a top-end workhorse.

My stance is I’d much rather pay early for bats. They do play like four or fives times as many games as a starting pitcher does, after all. For me, I want that safer early investment as opposed to a pitcher who could start off poorly and really completely derail things from the get-go. Remember, there’s not much time at all for stats to normalize. There won’t be any bad stretches that are “just how it goes.” If it goes down like that, your fantasy team is screwed. A bat has way more chances to help you. I mean, listen y’all, I’m not saying fade pitching entirely and just scoop up the dregs at the end. I’m just saying maybe pass on that shiny starter and wait for someone else who will still give you good innings.

Okay, let’s take a brief look at the recent top 10.

NFBC Top-10 Drafted SPs Since May 1st

1). Gerrit Cole (Overall ADP 6.42)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 2 4 3.95 43.1 65 1.038
May 3 1 4.13 28.1 47 1.059
June 3 0 1.89 38.0 49 1.026
July 4 0 1.85 34.0 51 0.882
August 3 0 2.36 26.2 40 0.713
Sept/Oct 5 0 1.07 42.0 74 0.643
Pretty clear difference there between March/April + May and the rest of the season. Yeah, Cole was a badass all year. But is he worth his #6 price tag with those early numbers? Nope. Could he start the season looking like his September self? Yep. But I’m not banking on it that early in a draft.

2). Jacob deGrom (Overall ADP 8)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 2 3 4.85 26.0 43 1.385
May 1 2 2.92 37.0 34 1.027
June 1 2 2.70 40.0 51 1.000
July 2 0 1.09 33.0 46 1.000
August 2 1 2.18 33.0 40 0.788
Sept/Oct 3 0 1.29 35.0 41 0.714
Again, a pretty clear difference. Much like Cole, an amazing final stretch made 2019 look superb overall. An almost 1.40 WHIP to start? Yuck. Almost a 5.00 ERA? Yucker. Only two wins, too. And look, just one more in all of May. Yeahhhhh, he’s very good. But what if you’re drafting another April version?

3). Walker Buehler (Overall ADP 14.50)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 3 0 5.22 29.1 24 1.193
May 2 1 2.90 31.0 34 1.000
June 3 0 2.45 36.2 46 0.764
July 1 1 3.20 25.1 33 1.263
August 2 1 1.69 32.0 48 0.969
Sept/Oct 3 1 4.50 28.0 30 1.179
Uh oh, we got some book-ended ugly here. He’ll win as a Dodger, I’m just not entirely sold he’s the third-best pitcher for fantasy. Pretty inconsistent if you ask me. Dunno about you, but I’m not taking this dude in a tiny season unless he falls well past his current ADP.

4). Max Scherzer (Overall ADP 16.42)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 1 3 4.12 39.1 54 1.119
May 1 2 2.37 38.0 48 1.263
June 6 0 1.00 45.0 68 0.667
July 1 0 2.25 12.0 19 0.917
August 0 0 3.24 8.1 11 1.440
Sept/Oct 2 2 5.16 29.2 43 1.079
Not a great start, a very sexy middle, and a less sexy end. Even in a full season I’m shying away from Scherzer, though. The injury bug is catching up to him like he owes it something. The man is a warrior, but I’d just be terrified he goes down and misses too much time to even be relevant.

5). Justin Verlander (Overall ADP 20.42)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 4 1 2.45 44.0 53 0.864
May 4 1 2.04 35.1 42 0.566
June 2 1 4.02 40.1 52 0.917
July 4 1 2.25 32.0 49 0.875
August 2 1 2.51 32.1 47 0.773
Sept/Oct 5 1 2.08 39.0 57 0.795
Okayyyy you got me, JV was awesome all year. It’s honestly kind of insane how he’s resurrected his career with the Astros. He was always good in Detroit, but man he’s something else now. I get a little more worried every time another number gets added in the age column with a starter, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. But I digress! Maybe my point is if you’re dead set on taking an ace, take JV?

6). Jack Flaherty (Overall ADP 21.83)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 3 1 4.06 31.0 36 1.226
May 1 2 3.45 28.2 29 1.116
June 0 2 7.01 25.2 29 1.364
July 0 1 2.48 29.0 37 1.103
August 4 1 0.71 38.0 47 0.737
Sept/Oct 3 1 0.82 44.0 53 0.568
We all know it was a tale of two halves for Flaherty in 2019. He went on an unreal tear to finish the year but looked almost nothing like that earlier on. He could give you 10 delicious starts or a mixed bag. If you’ve been reading my stuff then you know I’m a Cards man. I love Flaherty, and bias aside I think he’s an ace. But I can’t in good conscience advise you as a fantasy analyst that he’s a safe pick around #21/#22 in very short season.

7). Shane Bieber (Overall ADP 27.17)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 2 1 3.68 29.1 34 1.057
May 2 1 3.66 39.1 51 1.119
June 3 1 3.28 35.2 48 0.953
July 3 1 3.00 36.0 41 0.917
August 2 3 2.83 41.1 50 0.992
Sept/Oct 3 1 3.31 32.2 35 1.316
With Bieber, you know he’ll eat innings and make ’em good ones. As consistent as he was, however, the argument can still be made that he finished better than he started (except for September). Back-to-back months of an ERA pushing 4.00 to start the season isn’t exactly a confidence boost. Yes, I just said he’ll give you innings, and good ones at that. But will they be that much better than what, say, Jesus Luzardo (ADP 71.92) could give you? That’s just a random name I picked. There are a lot of guys much later on whom I think could give you 10 similar outings.

8). Mike Clevinger (Overall ADP 27.92)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 1 0 0.00 12.0 22 0.500
June 0 2 17.05 6.1 9 2.211
July 4 0 1.74 31.0 41 1.032
August 5 0 1.96 36.2 51 1.064
Sept/Oct 3 2 2.70 40.0 46 1.050

Going almost in the same spot is Bieber’s teammate Mike Clevinger. His case is a lot trickier for this experiment given we didn’t get regular Clevinger time until July really, and then he goes and gets gradually worse (still hella good) from July through September. So he’s totally backwards and not helping my case at all. But if we look at 2018, he more or less finished stronger than he started, especially in the strikeout department.

9). Stephen Strasburg (Overall ADP 30.25)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 2 1 3.82 37.2 48 1.009
May 3 2 2.61 41.1 50 0.968
June 4 1 5.70 30.0 26 1.300
July 5 0 1.14 31.2 44 0.916
August 2 1 4.23 38.1 47 1.043
Sept/Oct 2 1 2.40 30.0 36 1.033
Strasburg was a little all over the place. I’ve been scared to roster him because of that injury history, and that just heightens even more with a miniature season. Last season was the first time since 2014 he’d started more than 28 games. I’m good.

10). Clayton Kershaw (Overall ADP 39.92)

Months — Game-Level
April/March 1 0 2.25 20.0 21 0.750
May 4 0 4.22 32.0 28 1.281
June 2 2 2.93 40.0 33 1.050
July 2 0 1.44 25.0 35 0.840
August 4 2 3.32 38.0 48 1.000
Sept/Oct 3 1 3.47 23.1 24 1.243
Kershaw looked pretty vintage in March/April, but May wasn’t very pretty (except he went 4-0). I like Kershaw, especially on an even better Dodgers team, I just…can’t trust him as a fantasy stud anymore for some reason. And he’s not even that bad! At all! There’s just something about him now. I guess it’s just his WHIP and K/9 don’t look like they used to because he spoiled us for so long. And the innings aren’t looking top-tier anymore. But on the other hand, in a standard 12-team league, his current ADP puts him in the early fourth round. That’s not a bad investment for a potential ace.
I’ve kind of had in my head lately I’m spending at least my first three picks on a bat. Maybe Kershaw is where I draw the line. Maybe he’s the first SP I’d consider. But honestly, I think I’d still wait. I’d be more inclined to take a bona fide, surefire closer. I can’t really imagine what bullpens could look like with only 48 games, but I also can’t imagine a guy like Kirby Yates not getting to close every single chance the Padres had. I’d take that over a wishy-washy starter like Kershaw. Give me Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Mike Soroka, hell even Corey Kluber much later.
So, that’s that. I talked in my COVID-19 Bargains: Part 3 piece about some pitchers who were looking at capped innings in 2020, and now that’s obviously not the case. The ADPs in that piece have changed quite a bit as fantasy baseballers have caught on to their value, but they’re still going much later than what you see above. If I’m going to gamble on pitching, I’d like my gambles to be value picks as opposed to the top guys. Of course, that could totally backfire and I’ll be kicking myself for not trusting Bieber to stand out. But like I said, with a season so short, I want the best bats I can get in the earlier rounds, then go from there.
Let’s be real, though. This whole fantasy season will be a gamble. The best bats could slump out of the gate while some bottom-of-the-order guy or some rookie takes off. Greinke could get rocked three outings in a row while some mid-tier starter tosses gem after gem. It’s all a crap shoot and really just boils down to who’s the hottest, not necessarily the best. Skill wins out over 162 games, but it’s anyone’s MVP or Cy Young with just 48.
What do you think? Pointless endeavor? Did I change your mind in any shape or form? How are you approaching pitching for this 2020 season? How have your overall drafting plans changed or not changed?
Follow me on Twitter at @jkj0787!
Take care out there.
  1. Stat Man says:

    I’m in a league that uses QS instead of W and S+H instead of just Saves. In a season of 50-60 games following a truncated Spring redo there will be very few SP that will go more than 4-5 innings a start and bullpens will be used extensively. This from a friend of mine who is in MLB. It’s basically, keep people fresh and injury free until the 14 or 16 team tournament to the WS. If this is the case, I would rather fade the top few tiers of SP in favor of hitters. Who’s going to qualify for QS? What about the randomness of Saves or Holds that are going to be spread out among all these relievers? It’s really just K’s and ratios to focus on in the pitching categories.

    • JKJ

      JKJ says:

      That’s something I’ve been thinking about. We really just can’t know until games start up again what the pitching utilization will look like. I’d bet the high-job-security type closers are safe and will be very valuable to have. But teams with shakier closer situations might have a two, three, four guys who could get a look. The new battler limit is another factor to keep in mind. What a mess!

  2. SwaggerJackers says:

    I like the premise of the article but have two reservations with breaking down the top 10 the way you did:

    1) It would have been insightful to see who the pitchers were playing in each month to get those stats. A bad month that included two starts in Coors really isn’t equal to a good month that included two starts in MIA.
    2) Some of the metrics you included are pretty basic. I feel like anyone who’s into fantasy baseball has heard countless times about how wins and ERA are not good measurements for a pitcher’s skills (Grey mentions this all the time). I’d rather see xFIP instead of ERA and maybe quality starts instead of wins.

    Both are pretty nit picky, but I’d be curious if they changed any of those early season stumps perceptions. Overall, this is good content though. Nice work.

    • JKJ

      JKJ says:

      Oh I agree and appreciate your feedback. It’s very basic. I said as much in the intro. This wasn’t about metrics at all. Just interesting that if the results of early 2019 happened again then these guys wouldn’t be worth their ADPs at all. And I know that’s a ridiculous thing to even suggest.

      My main point is really I think it’s too risky to spend picks that high on an SP (especially with universal DH coming – shoulda mentioned that in the piece). You get 10 or so games from them, and that’s if you make your league’s postseason. I’d rather trust a Darvish or Greinke or Boyd and spend early picks on bats that could pay much higher dividends in this mini season.

  3. (sleep deprived) Jolt In Flow says:

    Good article. Was wondering about this exact conundrum. And nice clean breakdown of the pitchers. What you’ve written backs up my thought process. I’ll also rather be making a play for an elite closer over an elite starter at their current ADP.

    Thanks for putting this together. Looking forward to your next report.

    • JKJ

      JKJ says:

      Thank you kindly! I got a feeling you’re really gonna want reliable closers on your teams this year. Short season means every game is huge, so closing out games will be huge, so good reliable closers will be huge. I’m expecting a waiver battle for relievers all season, so at least in FAAB leagues I’d want steady guys I don’t gotta worry much about.

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