- Draft Prep Tiers:
- Scott White's
Generally speaking, you know what you need on Draft Day when building your Fantasy team: Good players. If every one of you would just use the "Draft Good Players" strategy, we'd be out of a job.
Unfortunately – well, fortunately for me – it's not quite that simple. Especially in Rotisserie leagues, where you need to build a team that can compete across 10 separate but interdependent categories at once. You can just slap a team together based on rankings, but you might find that approach leaves you short on one category, while overloaded at another.
You need to know what your targets are, and we can get an idea of that by looking back at last season. Barring a drastic change in the league wide landscape, last year's results should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from 2018. I took the results from every 12-team CBS Fantasy Rotisserie league last season to create these aggregate standings. For pitching categories, here are the average results for every Roto finish in 2017:
So, there are your targets: 105 wins, 104 saves, 1,520 strikeouts, a 3.51 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP were what you needed to win each pitching category last season, on average. You don't need to be in first place in all five categories, of course, but it's good to know what you're aiming for.
You can put your pitching staff together any way you want. You can invest heavily in aces if you want, or go with a reliever-heavy approach, but at the end of the day, you want to compete in as many categories as possible. And it helps to know which pitchers help you in which categories, and how much.
To figure that out, you can use standings points gained. It's a metric that attempts to put a specific numeric value on how much a pitcher helps you win in Rotisserie. As you can see, moving up one point in the standings in wins usually takes about three wins to accomplish; for strikeouts, it's about 38.
(It actually requires calculating the slope of each data set, which you can read about here. It was an invaluable resource for this piece.)
Each standing point gained is exactly what it sounds like: it moves you up one point in the standings. There are questions of replacement level, but for the purposes of this exercise, we just went with raw numbers.
The point of this exercise is to try to show how much individual pitchers contributed in each category last season. The individual numbers will shift from one year to the next, but this should be a pretty good guide for the 2018 season. Here are how the top-10 pitchers from 2018 got there:
We'll start with the most contentious category for pitchers. Some Fantasy players loathe wins so much they want them removed from the equation entirely. There are two problems with wins as a Fantasy category:
- There's risk of double counting, and
- They're so luck-based
To address No. 1: Good pitchers tend to win games. That isn't always the case, because teammates matter, but it's more true than it isn't. If a pitcher has a low ERA and WHIP, and pitches a bunch of innings with a bunch of strikeouts, he's probably going to get a bunch of wins, too. Wins are a result of being good, not an independent number in and of themselves.
The bigger issue is No. 2, and it shows why targeting wins is a tricky endeavor. Take Max Scherzer, who won 16 games with a 2.51 ERA in 2017. In 2016, he had a 2.96 ERA and won 20 games, at least in part because he started three more games that season, but also because a few more things went his way. It's tough to project any stat, but wins especially need to be viewed as more of a range than a single-target number.
For instance, Gerrit Cole's trade from Pittsburgh to Houston will likely improve win projections, but it's not that helpful to put just one number on it. I prefer to look at it this way: He probably had a likely range from 11 to 14 wins in Pittsburgh; in Houston, it's probably 13-16.
Sale ran away from the pack with his strikeout numbers in 2017, and he and Kershaw are the only active pitchers to hit the 300-strikeout mark in a season. However, one way in which someone like Dee Gordon's singular skill stands out over Sale's is when you compare him to the rest of the league. While only 52 players in the majors got to even one-fourth of Gordon's stolen base total, 177 had at least one-fourth of Sale's 308 strikeouts. Note the inclusion of Martin Perez in the graphic above, a notably strikeout-averse starter who still managed to top 100 while pitching 185 innings.
This is to say that strikeouts are more like homers or RBI/runs than anything else; you need a lot of them to win over the course of the season, but there are also plenty to be found. Like all counting stats, they are nearly as much a product of being present as skill.
Rate stats are a bit trickier to judge, because every team and Fantasy league is different. You can stock up on elite relievers like Kenley Jansen and Andrew Miller, giving your team the opportunity to run away with ERA, WHIP and saves. If you follow that team-building strategy, this metric probably undervalues the impact of Jansen and Miller because your team will have fewer innings than the typical one, multiplying their effect. Of course, you're punting wins and strikeouts in that strategy.
It's a delicate balance to strike.
One thing to keep in mind here is, like with ERA, pitchers who hurt you in WHIP aren't typically going to make a big impact on your roster - you'll drop them before long. Kevin Gausman had his moments of usefulness last season, but I can't imagine anyone in a standard 12-team Fantasy league actually had him on their roster for all 186 2/3 innings last season. This is why the truly elite pitchers are such difference-makers. It's not just that Kluber and Scherzer dominated the competition, but they also racked up over 200 innings and were in your lineup every week without fail.
If you find yourself trailing badly in rate stats, going a few weeks with the likes of Chad Green, Chris Devenski, or Mike Minor can push you in the right direction, but you won't want to target them in drafts unless you are punting strikeouts and wins.
In case you needed a reminder – I certainly did – Alex Colome didn't just lead baseball in saves in 2017, he ran away with the category. That was hugely valuable, but also highlights the inherent randomness that dominates this category. Nobody would mistake Colome for the best reliever in baseball, and the Rays lost more games than they won in 2017 – they just happened to win a lot of close games.
Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel stand out at the closer position because they mostly manage to avoid the yearly fluctuations of the position. They might not end up leading the league in saves, but they'll always be in the conversation.
However, this goes to show that you can find contributors in saves if you stream – even Seung Hwan Oh was a contributor before losing his job. To get the middle of the pack in saves, you only needed around 65-75 saves last season, which could come from three or four streamers, or one elite guy and a few other streamers.