I am not a ranker.
I never put players in an official order before writing at Razzball. Last year, MB asked me to provide flex rankings for football. This year, Donkey Teeth asked me to provide top 100 pitcher rankings for baseball. Now all I do with my life is rank players!
My typical draft prep revolved around locating a targeted set of pitchers throughout the draft, and conversely identifying pitchers I had no interest in. The strategy was to draft as many targets as possible and fill in the cracks where my pitching staff was showing weakness to construct a balanced pitching staff. Though I am providing a top 100 list, it remains of the utmost importance to embrace pitching staff construction over drafting based on raw rankings.
What is Pitching Staff Construction?
Grey touches on overall pitching thoughts and provides a tool for not overspending on pitching in his Pitchers’ Pairings article. Additionally, Rudy touches on the distribution of draft capital towards pitching in his LABR Mixed Draft Review. Simply put, pitching staff construction is putting together the appropriate combination of pitchers to deploy your draft strategy. My overall pitching draft strategy is as follows:
- Draft a floor combination to remain competitive (75th-80th percentile) in all the starting pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP).
- Take upside pitchers late in order to finish in the 85th-90th percentile in those same categories.
- Be capable of starting 7SP/2RP in weekly leagues to remain competitive in the counting stats.
- Stay as risk neutral as possible within the first 5 starters. For every high upside top 50 pitcher, follow it up with a safer option.
- Pitchers drafted after the first 5 SPs should have a specific purpose:
- High upside pitchers I’m willing to drop early in the season.
- Pitchers with an outside chance of making the rotation but would be high dollar FAAB/waiver candidates early in the season.
- Week 1 or 2 streaming candidates
- Use as little draft capital as possible to accomplish these goals
Keep in mind, your draft strategy may be completely different based on philosophy and league type. You should adjust the pitchers that comprise your staff to meet that strategy.
How Does This Effect the Top 100 Rankings?
Utilizing the top 100 rankings as a sliding scale based off the pitchers you have already selected, and/or the pitchers you intend to target in the future will make it more effective. For example, I have Mike Soroka ranked higher than the NFBC ADP by a wide margin. Soroka is going to be on a winning team and provide strong ratios. However, he is not going have an 8+ K/9. Soroka’s likeliest outcome in a full season of pitching is around 150 strikeouts. If Clayton Kershaw was my SP1, who may not get to 200 strikeouts himself, Soroka wouldn’t fit well as an SP2. This can be rectified by drafting a high strikeout SP3 such as Robbie Ray. If the owner does not like Robbie Ray, or the glut of high strikeout SP3 options, they can select a pitcher such as Trevor Bauer who invites ratio risk but has 250 strikeouts in his range of outcomes. The rankings are fluid.
Common Themes in My Rankings
- Age Aversion – In the past decade, there have been 8 pitchers over the age of 35 with a 4+ WAR season. 3 of those pitchers did it in 2019: Charlie Morton, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander (has done it twice in 2018 and 2019). This recency bias is driving the belief that it is common for older pitchers to have a high level of success, but history does not support this idea. This is the driving force behind lower rankings for Max Scherzer, Verlander, Greinke, and Morton.
- Injured Player Downgrades – Picking pitchers is hard. They have significantly more risk than position players, primarily due to increased injury risk. My view is that picking already injured pitchers is just adding additional risk to an already difficult task. Readers will notice that pitchers who have already suffered an injury in spring training, or in the off-season, are typically downgraded heavily.
- Players Coming Off Tommy John – Typically, I avoid most pitchers coming off tommy john surgery. It introduces a few extra components to the player evaluation in a negative sense: mental barrier, likely innings limits, and a short pitch count leash early in their return.
- Lower on Prospects – Prospect pitchers can provide a shot term shot in the arm to fantasy pitching staffs, but often these pitchers come with high game to game variance and innings limits.
- Boost for Winning Teams – There has been an outcry aimed at the scarcity of steals in fantasy baseball, but wins are becoming just as scarce. We can increase our opportunity for a boost in the wins category simply by selecting pitchers from the likeliest teams to win games. It is a scarce stat that we can control.
What Format Are These Rankings Modeled For?
The rankings were built for 12 team roto leagues with daily roster moves. Please note that this is the first version of the rankings. They will receive a finalized pre-season update on March 16th prior to most of the drafts leading up to opening day. I’ll be back next week to discuss major discrepancies between myself and NFBC drafted players that I haven’t hit in prior articles.
The NFBC Rank is based on Online Championship drafts from February 1st to present.
Here are my top 100 pitchers for 2020: