Over the past few seasons, it has become common for starting pitchers to be drafted earlier and earlier in drafts, and all we need to do is look to the recent LABR Mixed League experts draft results to prove the point. In my review of that draft,I saw that there were five starting pitchers taken in the first two rounds of the draft - Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale. In the third round alone, there were nine starters drafted in a starting pitcher run like no other I have ever seen. All told, in the first five rounds of the draft, there were 17 starting pitchers taken in the first 60 picks. Like I said in the link above, ace starting pitchers are the new 30 home run hitter from yesteryear.
I will have a more detailed post on my starting pitcher strategy on Thursday, but fantasy owners want to focus on pitchers who meet the following criteria:
1. strikeout rate of 7.00 K/9 or higher; the higher the better
2. walk rate of 3.00 BB/9 or fewer; the lower the better
3. ground ball rate of 45% or higher; the higher the better
Starting pitchers who met these criteria put up an ERA of 3.33 and a WHIP of 1.15. Starters who struck out eight or nine batters per nine innings saw their ERA drop into the low 3.00 range, with some in the sub-3.00 range.
In auction drafts, I think you can draft an ace starter in the $17-23 range and build around him. In snake drafts, I like to draft 2-3 hitters before my first starter, but if I have an early round pick, say within the 4-7 range, I would not hesitate to draft Clayton Kershaw, as there is not a starter who has been as more consistent and dominant as Kershaw has been over the last 3-4 seasons, and surprisingly, he is actually getting better, if you can believe that.
You don't need me to tell you how deep the starting pitcher position is, as the number of fantasy aces goes 25 deep, in my opinion. Even after the top 25, there are some REALLY good starters on the draft board, and grabbing three in the Top 50 should set you up nicely.
I also have a related piece on breakout starting pitchers scheduled for Thursday, but some names on that list include Reds starter Raisel Iglesias, who I profile tomorrow, Carlos Rodon, Lance McCullers, Jake Odorizzi who are all in the Top 50 at the position.
Starters in the 51-100 range who could become fantasy aces are Orioles young starter Kevin Gausman, Steven Matz, Joe Ross and Luis Severino. All of these guys possess the talent to make that next step in 2016, but health and being more consistent is a must.
The state of the starting pitcher position wouldn't be complete without a look at some prospects who could help fantasy owners in 2016. Leading the way is the best pitching prospect in the game, Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito. Many feel the Giolito can become a true #1 starter in the big leagues, but that won't happen upon his call up. He will go through the normal ups and downs that many pitching prospects experience, but he has the stuff to get there quicker than most.
A few other guys that should be ready to help us out early in 2016 include Twins starter Jose Berrios, Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow, Rays starter Blake Snell, Reds starter Robert Stephenson,and Dodgers young starters Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. Berrios could easily start the season in the Twins rotation, as many felt he should have received a call up last season. Glasnow will start the season in Triple A, but I see him getting the call up by May, as the Pirates rotation after their top three is questionable. Glasgow could fit in behind Gerrit Cole to form a solid 1-2 at the top of the Pirates rotation for years to come. Snell dominated several levels last season and should see plenty of time in the Rays rotation this season. The Dodgers will do their best to keep Urias in Triple A this season, but I can see De Leon getting the call up before Urias. He logged more innings than Urias last season, and is close to being ready for big league hitters.
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