2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Pitching category targets to win your Rotisserie league

Building a lineup for your Rotisserie league is as much art as it is science. You can have the most accurate rankings in the world and still build a losing team by drafting straight off of them, because you're not just trying to build a lineup with the best players — you're trying to build the best lineup that also checks off 10 different boxes at once.

It's hard enough to do with hitting, where you are trying to build for four counting stats and one rate stat over 14 players, but at least every player can theoretically help you in all five categories. Plus, the categories all tend to be at least somewhat correlated with each other, with the exception of stolen bases — every home run a player hits is going to help his average, runs, and RBI. Pitcher is a whole different animal.

For one thing, you're essentially drafting two different positions, reliever and starter, so you have to strike the balance between finding saves without wrecking your other counting stats. The five categories also just don't have very much to do with one another. Sure, each strikeout microscopically helps your WHIP and ERA, but the majority of outs a pitcher gets aren't going to come via strikeout, so a lot of the heavy lifting comes from other places — plus, you're as reliant on a pitcher's offense scoring runs as anything else for them to get a win.

All of that makes pitching incredibly difficult build for in your Rotisserie leagues, but you need to at least know the baseline you're building toward in any given year. So, I pulled the results from all CBS Fantasy 12-team leagues from the 2019 season and averaged the results for each spot in the rankings for every category, which looks like this:

POINTS

AVG

HR

R

RBI

SB

W

S

K

ERA

WHIP

12

0.278

383

1183

1137

152

103

100

1622

3.497

1.131

11

0.274

366

1145

1104

138

97

89

1557

3.651

1.164

10

0.272

355

1125

1079

128

94

82

1509

3.754

1.184

9

0.270

345

1100

1058

121

91

77

1470

3.834

1.200

8

0.269

338

1082

1041

114

88

71

1438

3.909

1.214

7

0.267

328

1064

1023

108

85

66

1404

3.973

1.228

6

0.266

324

1046

1007

103

83

61

1370

4.041

1.242

5

0.264

314

1028

987

96

80

54

1332

4.116

1.256

4

0.262

305

1006

964

90

77

48

1290

4.192

1.270

3

0.260

296

980

942

84

74

40

1245

4.276

1.285

2

0.258

282

949

910

76

69

31

1182

4.375

1.303

1

0.254

261

893

855

64

61

18

1070

4.525

1.329

Let's go through every category on the pitching side to see what you need to compete — the breakdown for hitting can be found here — and how certain players can help you out, beginning with the two rate stats:

ERA

POINTS

ERA

12

3.497

11

3.651

10

3.754

9

3.834

8

3.909

7

3.973

6

4.041

5

4.116

4

4.192

3

4.276

2

4.375

1

4.525

One thing to keep in mind with ERA is that it's all team dependent. The more innings your team amasses, the less impact any one pitcher can have on your final total. Similarly, the fewer innings any given pitcher throws, the less impact he is going to have on your final standing — that's how Kirby Yates and his 1.19 ERA in 60.2 innings actually had less of an impact on your average team's ERA in 2019 than Liam Hendrik's 1.80 ERA in 85 innings of work.

It goes without saying, but the biggest impact pitchers in ERA are going to be those 200-plus inning aces who can give you a mid-2.00s ERA — last year, Jacob deGrom (2.43 ERA, 204 IP), Gerrit Cole (2.50 ERA, 212.1 IP), Justin Verlander (2.58 ERA, 223 IP), and Hyun Jin-Ryu (2.43, 182.2 IP) were all well ahead of the pack when it came to Roto value added strictly through ERA. Of the top 12 in ERA value added, all threw at least 170 innings and seven of the 12 had at least 190 innings. It's why aces matter so much.

You can increase the impact of those aces by focusing on more relievers when drafting, but there are a couple of pitfalls to that approach. For one, you run the risk of falling behind the pack in wins and strikeouts, because two of the three counting stats in Roto favor starters over relievers; additionally, while all pitching is volatile and hard to predict from year to year, relievers are especially so, given their smaller sample sizes. A word of warning to those of you moving Nick Anderson way up your draft boards after the Rays traded Emilio Pagan.

Another thing to keep in mind: The baseline for an acceptable ERA is much lower these days than it used to be. The overall MLB ERA in 2019 was 4.51, compared to 4.15 in 2018, 4.36 in 2017, 4.19 in 2016, and 3.96 in 2015; the average ERA for a Fantasy team is lower (4.012 in 2019), but has followed similar trends. You probably have to recalibrate what a good or bad ERA is in your mind.

WHIP

POINTS

WHIP

12

1.131

11

1.164

10

1.184

9

1.200

8

1.214

7

1.228

6

1.242

5

1.256

4

1.270

3

1.285

2

1.303

1

1.329

WHIP works in much the same way as ERA, since both are rate stats. The best thing you can do for WHIP is get an ace with elite production — Justin Verlander (0.800 WHIP, 223 IP) and Gerrit Cole (0.089 WHIP, 212.1 IP) were both well ahead of the field in this category in 2019 and 11 of the top-12 were starters.

One thing to keep in mind as you go through the season is, if you've built up nice totals in the various counting stats, you can stream middle relievers with elite rates and make up ground slowly. Someone like Yusmeiro Petit, Giovanny Gallegos, or Tyler Clippard would have been a big help last year, and similar pitchers will be available for free on waivers in pretty much every league.

Also note that the league-wide WHIP hasn't actually changed much even though ERA has fluctuated a ton in recent years. WHIP in MLB in 2019 was 1.33, actually lower than in 2017 (1.34) and right in line with 2016 (1.32). Most of the rise in ERA has come from the historic home run rates we're seeing, but the average WHIP for a Fantasy team has hung right around the 2019 mark (1.234).

Wins

POINTS

W

12

103

11

97

10

94

9

91

8

88

7

85

6

83

5

80

4

77

3

74

2

69

1

61

In 2017, the average first place team in wins in CBS Fantasy leagues had 105; the average third place team had 96, and the average sixth place team had 89. Each of those numbers was lower in 2019, and you probably shouldn't expect that to change anytime soon.

Which is good, because you probably shouldn't worry about wins too much on Draft Day. Wins are a result of a pitcher pitching well, sure, but also the result of the offense building up a lead while the pitcher is in the game, and the bullpen not blowing that lead once the pitcher exits the game. You can select good pitchers for your Fantasy, but you can't really control for the other stuff — just ask anyone who has had deGrom on their team the last two seasons. Target as many good pitchers as you can, and maybe use supporting cast as a tiebreaker if you want; the wins should follow.

Saves

POINTS

S

12

100

11

89

10

82

9

77

8

71

7

66

6

61

5

54

4

48

3

40

2

31

1

18

2019 was a pretty disastrous year for closers. I covered that in my relief pitcher preview, but here are a few lowlights:

  • In 2018, Edwin Diaz led the majors with 57 saves, Wade Davis had 43 and Craig Kimbrel saved 42; Diaz led that group in 2019 saves with 26.
  • Blake Treinen (fourth, with 38 saves) also suffered through a tough season and lost his job, while Kenley Jansen (tied with Treinen) saved just 33 games, his lowest total since 2013.
  • Kirby Yates led the majors in saves in 2019 for the Padres with 41, fewer than any of the top three in 2018.

Add in this note from Alex Fast ...

... and it should come as no surprise that saves were more scarce for Fantasy than ever before. In 2017, the average first place team had 104 saves; in 2019, it was 100, and the dropoff just gets more severe as you go down:

2017

2019

DIFF

104

100

4

95

89

6

88

82

6

83

77

6

78

71

7

73

66

7

67

61

6

61

54

7

55

48

7

48

40

8

37

31

6

20

18

2

The thing to keep in mind is, this may not be permanent. Saves were more spread out across baseball last year at least in part because the likes of Diaz, Kimbrel, Treinen, Jansen, Davis, and other struggled. If Diaz and Kimbrel bounce back — as I expect them to! —the total number of pitchers getting saves between the Mets and Cubs probably drops from 14 in 2019 to maybe four or five in 2020.

Still, if you can end up with two reliable closers for the full season, you're probably going to be pretty competitive. If you get three, that might be enough to win the category on their own. That's the state of saves in 2020, though let last year serve as a warning that just because you think you have three reliable closers the day after Draft Day doesn't mean you will by the end of the year.

Strikeouts

POINTS

K

12

1622

11

1557

10

1509

9

1470

8

1438

7

1404

6

1370

5

1332

4

1290

3

1245

2

1182

1

1070

Strikeouts are pretty simple: In 2020, you need a bunch of them.

In 2017, the first-place teams in CBS Fantasy leagues averaged 1,520 strikeouts; that would have been enough for just third place in 2019, 100 behind the average leader. In fact, the average CBS Fantasy team averaged 67 more strikeouts in 2019 than 2017, a 5% increase across the board.

There are probably four pitchers right now with the potential combination of elite strikeout rate and workload to give you 300 strikeouts: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale. Two of them come with pretty severe injury question marks, while Verlander is a lot closer to his last strikeout than his first, so it's a tough thing to expect. Maybe Blake Snell can become more efficient, finally throw 200-plus innings and get there, but he's probably the only other pitcher with the skills to get there.

You don't need a 300-strikeout pitcher, of course, but anything below 200 at this point isn't really getting you ahead. Last year, 14 pitchers had at least 230 strikeouts, and you probably want at least two of them to really have a chance to win the category. The bar has been raised.

So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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