FANTASY PLAYS: Pitching trends demand new plan for starters


The baseball world is buzzing about the home run barrage and offensive explosion of the last two seasons, and there’s no doubt it has changed the game. But the fantasy baseball community is much more concerned with what is going on with starting pitchers because those changes make it necessary to rethink the strategies of the past decade.

Three trends to think about have developed among starters. First, pitchers are spending more time on the disabled list, especially the new 10-day DL. The worst kept secret in MLB last year was that the Dodgers used the 10-day DL to manage a six-man starting rotation. And now there are more teams considering the six-man rotation; the Angels may adopt it to protect their investment in Shohei Ohtani.

The second trend is a major increase in strikeout rates. In 2015, starters struck out 7.40 batters per nine innings pitched, and in 2017 that rate jumped to 7.96 strikeouts per nine innings. Overall, they only struck out about 400 more batters in 2017, but they did it in roughly 1,500 fewer innings than in 2015. That highlights the most dramatic change of all.

The number of innings pitched by starters has decreased dramatically, per game and overall. In 2015, there were 53 starters who pitched at least 180 innings, and 27 of those pitchers threw 200 or more innings. Compare that to 2017, when just 34 pitchers hit the 180-inning mark and only 15 pitchers exceeded 200 innings.

Attacking this problem requires a change in roster construction and the pitchers you target during your draft and on waivers. First and foremost, it is more important than ever to draft an ace to anchor your staff – two aces would be even better.

Think about grabbing Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom early. A fantasy baseball ace is a pitcher who provides something close to 180 or more innings with a strikeout rate of at least one batter per inning. The aces of fantasy baseball are the pitchers on the top 20 list below.

Once you have your aces, you should target starters who can give you something close to elite innings. In other words, continue to target strikeouts and pitchers with high groundball rates and/or the ability to limit hard contact. In 2017, the league average hard contact percentage was 32.3 percent and the league average ground ball rate was 44 percent. Look for pitchers who can meet or exceed the average standards with a lower hard-hit contact percentage and a higher ground ball rate. Pitchers like Tanner Roark, Michael Wacha, Sonny Gray, Zach Davies, Lance Lynn and Aaron Nola have below average hard-hit contact percentage numbers and/or above average ground ball rates and are good secondary pitching targets to draft.

Avoid drafting starting pitchers who don’t meet your standards or can’t limit hard contact. Instead, consider targeting middle relievers who can meet those standards. It’s far better to have a middle reliever who can give you elite strikeout rates and clean innings because they will help you in the ratio categories like ERA and WHIP. You can rotate those middle relievers into your lineups during weeks when your starting pitchers have just one start or poor matchups. This strategy is easier to implement in leagues with daily moves, but it can also be applied in leagues with weekly moves if you plan accordingly.

Good examples of elite middle relievers include Chad Green, Jerry Blevins, James Hoyt, Matt Albers, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop. Another advantage of using elite middle relievers is their potential for saves. MLB managers often turn to high strikeout/low hard hit contact percentage middle relievers when they need a new closer, so this strategy can pay multiple dividends.


Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Max Scherzer, Nationals

Chris Sale, Red Sox

Corey Kluber, Indians

Noah Syndergaard, Mets

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Madison Bumgarner, Giants

Carlos Carrasco, Indians

Luis Severino, Yankees

Justin Verlander, Astros

Jacob deGrom, Mets

Chris Archer, Rays

Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks

Yu Darvish, Cubs

Jose Quintana, Cubs

Carlos Martinez, Cardinals

James Paxton, Mariners

Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks

Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Aaron Nola, Phillies

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network,