Bargain hunting for starting pitchers

Josh Beckett

All 2009 Fantasy Articles | 2009 Position Rankings

As someone who loyally subscribes to the “wait for pitching” strategy on draft day, I’m always on the lookout for value starters. Experience has shown me that there are plenty of nice starting pitching bargains in the middle and late rounds every year, and if I’m diligent enough, I can also add pitching via the waiver wire during the season. All of which allows me to load up on as much hitting as I can in the early rounds, understanding that the more offensive firepower I have on my roster, the easier it will be to trade for a top-line starter should I find myself in need of reinforcements for the stretch run.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I ignore pitching on draft day. Far from it. Those SP bargains I mentioned above are available each year, if you know what to look for. Sure, it’s nice to have a reliable horse like Johan Santana or Brandon Webb anchoring your pitching staff, but the cost of adding someone like that is usually a little too steep for my tastes. So instead, my goal is to take five to seven solid starters who can deliver quality ratios while racking up strikeouts. Ideally, I also look for guys who pitch for successful teams, hoping that will translate to wins for my team.

The guys I target tend to fall into one of four categories: Young Guns, Rebound Vets, Undervalued Arms and Late Steals. As I’ve admitted in previous posts, I’m a sucker for upside but that doesn’t mean I’ll fall for any promising youngster with a lively arm. I’m also a sucker for a good revival story so I’m always looking for veterans with a solid track record whose stock has fallen because of an off year, while guys in the undervalued category tend to fly under the radar despite their consistent production. Finally, I try to wrap up every draft with one or two late-round picks that could pay off big in the long run.

Below, I’ve listed several pitchers I’ve got my eye on in each of these four categories, using the Average Draft Position (ADP) from ESPN’s draft kit as a guide. I’ve included the ADP as well as the SP rank (SP13, for example) for each of the 16 starters below. These aren’t, of course, the only guys who would qualify in these categories, just the ones at the top of my list. If you’re thinking about stockpiling bats early in your draft, maybe they should be at the top of your list too.

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When in doubt, go for the healthy young guy

All 2009 Fantasy Articles | 2009 Position Rankings

If you’re a fantasy baseball or football owner and you don’t read Rotoworld every day (or, in my case, several times a day), you’re not only missing out, but you may very well be costing yourself a chance at a league title. As far as free and comprehensive fantasy advice goes, nobody does it better than Rotoworld. Their player updates pull from all sorts of local and national sources and are updated throughout the day, and their columnists offer up plenty of great insight, both during the season and leading up to draft day. They even have their own draft guide, although you’ve got to pay $15 for that.

Howard Megdal (who, as far as I can tell, is new to the Rotoworld staff this season) just posted a great article about the value of youth and health on draft day:

So when I draft, I want as much predictability as possible. Therefore, my two touchstones are getting as many players in their age peak (roughly 25-30), with an added focus on injury history. Such a strategy provides no guarantees—no strategy does—but puts me in the best position to consolidate my gains. And as a bonus—a healthy player of peak age, more likely than not, is going to be a player who has that surprise season you were hoping for from the rookie, anyway.

I’m always amazed by how many owners don’t pay attention to age or injury history during their drafts, especially in the early rounds. Every year, someone drafts a guy like AJ Burnett too early, and every year Burnett goes down with some kind of injury. Go ahead and take Lance Berkman in the second round — I’ll gladly wait another round or two and snag the younger Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder. Upside, upside, upside.

Megdal goes on to target some of the likely first-rounders that he’s avoiding this year:

Ian Kinsler is another top-12 player with red flags of the white bandage variety. For the third straight season, he showed that when healthy, he is an offensive force at a position, second base, with very few of them. But he played in just 121 games, this time due to a sports hernia, and his season-high through three seasons is 130. No reason he can’t help a fantasy team—but let someone else draft his injury history first.

Also consider dropping Jimmy Rollins, who played in 137 games last season and already has back issues in spring training, and Carl Crawford, who was limited to 109 games with a finger injury last year. Crawford in particular appears to be healthy this spring—but grab the guy who just put up 150-160 games in 2008. An extra 10-15 games out of your best player could be the difference in some leagues.

Instead of Kinsler, who averaged fewer than 124 games per season from 2006-2008, how about Brandon Phillips, who has averaged around 150 games per season? Phillips is 27, suggesting that his best year may come in 2009.

I’m pretty high on both Kinsler and Phillips, as I noted in my second base preview, but while Kinsler is younger (by one year) and may arguably have a little more upside, Phillips has the much healthier track record and can be snagged a little later than Kinsler, which likely makes him the better value of the two. When you consider the premium you’ll need to pay for Kinsler (a late first or early second rounder), Phillips becomes that much more intriguing.

Megdal wisely suggests not becoming a slave to this (or any) draft strategy, because remaining too loyal to a plan could close you out of any mid- to late-round bargains that may fall into your lap. But when it comes to debating the merits of Carlos Delgado vs. Adrian Gonzalez, AJ Burnett vs. Edinson Volquez, or Carlos Lee vs. Nick Markakis, you’d be wise to go with the younger, healthier guy.

2009 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Second Basemen

Dustin Pedroia

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Second base is home to one of the biggest draft-day dilemmas: What to do with Chase Utley? I covered Utley’s situation in more detail here, but as you’ll see in the rankings below, I’m not concerned enough about his recovery from hip surgery to drop him from the top slot at second base. Reports out of spring training have all been positive and Utley maintains that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. As long as he doesn’t suffer a setback between now and my draft, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, my refusal to drop Utley’s ranking has as much to do with his talent as it does the general lack of depth at second base. Sure, there is some talent at the top of the list but once you get eight or 10 deep, things start looking rather bleak. Fortunately, there is a fair amount of upside to be harvested here, with several 28-and-under guys who could outperform expectations this season. You’ll have to pay a premium for some (like the reigning AL MVP) while others can be snagged in the mid- to late-rounds (like Arizona’s new potential leadoff man), but they all have the kind of upside that I look for on draft day. And while upside alone won’t win you a fantasy title, it’s a convenient tiebreaker that makes a guy like Brandon Phillips a little more attractive than the steadier but older Brian Roberts.

With that in mind, here is some of the young talent you’ll want to consider this season, and see below for my top-25 second basemen.

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Fantasy baseball draft tips: Tier it up!

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You’re hunched over your desk, boring a hole into your cheat sheet. “Michael Young or Joey Votto?” You’re up in two picks. Make that one pick. Panic sets in. “Michael Young or Joey Votto?” You’re running out of time. Your eyes dart right to left between the two names. “Michael Young or Joey Votto?!” Time’s up; you need to make a choice. “MICHAEL YOUNG OR JOEY VOTTO?!” You burst into tears.

Okay, maybe you don’t actually cry…or maybe you do, I don’t know. Either way, you can potentially avoid this kind of draft day drama entirely if you spend a little more time preparing beforehand. Sure, you probably at least have one or two cheat sheets from your fantasy magazines or websites in front of you. Maybe you even took the time to put together your own cheat sheet. Unfortunately, that just means you’re looking at a jumbled mess of names organized by position. What does it all really mean?

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Fantasy Baseball Q&A: Spring Training

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