The main difference between standard fantasy leagues and deep leagues is, of course, the depth of the player pool and the talent an owner has available to choose from when constructing a roster. Trying to decide how to let player pool depth affect draft strategy is where things get challenging, and I find that especially true when it comes to starting pitching. While I, like most of the Razzball community, prefer to eschew top-tier starters in mixed leagues, it can become both more tempting — and in some cases more necessary as far as I’m concerned — to roster a top-ranked starting pitcher in NL or AL-only leagues because that nice big pool of mid-range starters whom you can count on just doesn’t exist. But whether you decide to splurge on a Cole or a deGrom in a deep league, or choose to try to build a stable of starters without one of the top studs, one thing remains the same: at the end of any deep-league draft or auction, you’ll want a handful of SP names that you can take fliers on to fill out your rotation or plant on your bench. Today we’ll take a look a some pitchers that I’d consider throwing a late dart at: for now, these are all ‘bird in the hand’ guys that theoretically are expected to open the season in their respective MLB rotations, rather than players that might have more upside but may have to wait a bit longer for a full-fledged starting gig. All of the following players have current NFBC ADPs outside the top 350 players drafted — so as long as you’re not counting on them to do any heavy lifting on your squad, they’re low ultra risk, and any reward you get is almost like free production.
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Pablo Lopez (current ADP: 380). I had my eye on Lopez going into 2019, and after what was largely a lost year for him, I’m ready to jump back on board for 2020 at the right price (which is next to nothing). If you want to avoid every Marlins pitcher at all costs even in the deepest of leagues just because of the murderer’s row lineups they’ll face regularly (and because they never get to face the Marlins), I don’t blame you. Lopez was out with a shoulder injury for most of the second half last year and was horrible when he did return… but his first half (4.23 ERA, but just a 1.12 WHIP) intrigues me enough to keep an eye on him.
Josh Lindblom (current ADP: 385). Yes, the league has to be awfully deep to consider a guy who has only made one tiny splash at the MLB level since 2014, and that was an unsuccessful one, in 2017 as a reliever. But the Brewers clearly think Lindblom discovered figured something out while pitching in Korea and evidently discovering analytics, so who knows. This could be an epic disaster, but if the Brewers were willing to lock the guy up for three years and pay him somewhere between 9 and 18 million dollars based on how he fares, I figure he might be worth at least one late NL-only flier.
J.A. Happ (441) and Jordan Montgomery (497). As you may have heard, the Yankees have already hit a bump or two on the road that is the 2020 season, and it sure looks like both Happ and Montgomery will open the season pitching as members of their starting rotation. I drafted Montgomery a couple years ago in my AL-only league before he got hurt, and he proved to be a serviceable if not spectacular starter — I can see him filling that same role if he is indeed able to lock down the fifth starter spot. Happ is a guy I wouldn’t touch last year after he came into 2019 with some ridiculously inflated value after putting up unsustainably good numbers in 2018, but I could see taking a late chance in 2020. Homers could be his downfall and his strikeout rate has been inconsistent at best over the years, but guys who’ve strung together a few truly solid MLB seasons in their careers, are on good teams, and have an unobstructed path to early-season playing time need to at least be considered in the deep-league world.
Taijuan Walker (538). Walker is yet another once somewhat-promising arm who has fallen off the map after undergoing Tommy John surgery (in April of 2018). When he threw for scouts earlier in the off-season his velocity was alarmingly low… but the Mariners, who originally drafted Walker before trading him to the D-Backs, saw enough to offer him a contract (and, one would assume, a spot in their starting rotation in 2020). Walker’s career MLB numbers date back to 2013, and they aren’t bad at all, as he has a 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 528 innings. He’s a wild card to say the least, but he is almost two years removed from TJ now, and for what it’s worth, he did make it back to the mound for one actual inning of regular-season baseball in 2019.
Tyler Chatwood (697). It’s easy to say I’ll grab Chatwood at the end of an NL-only draft, but will I actually be able to pull the trigger when the time comes? Only time and the next several weeks will tell, but if nothing else he’s on my list of NL desperation picks when it comes to starting pitching. It does sound like the Cubs are going to give him the 5th spot in the rotation so barring a spring disaster, the opportunity should be there. Meanwhile, Chatwood’s numbers on the year last season were surprisingly not horrendous: 3.76 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 74 Ks in 76.2 innings. I’ve read a couple different places now about how Chatwood started using his slider much more regularly last year, leading to career-high swing and miss rates for him. Who knows, maybe there could be a little deep-league something to see here, at least for a player who’s currently around the 700th guy off the draft board.