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Where have all the good pitchers gone? Are Kluber, Scherzer, Sale and company even more valuable now?

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The decline of the starting pitcher in fantasy baseball and how to adjust.

New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

In case you missed it, 2017 has continued a multi-year trend of homers flying out of ballparks across the land. Everyone is hitting them now, from middle infielders to backup catchers. Whether it is due to a juiced ball, hitters changing their swings to hit more fly balls, or something else, it is real and is something we fantasy players need to adjust to. It’s not going away anytime soon.

Of course, if home runs are way up, that means the guys throwing the baseball for a living are giving up more than ever as well. That, combined with the creation of the 10-day DL this year and a rash of blister problems (perhaps due to changes in the ball) and other injuries have led to a terrible year for starting pitchers in fantasy baseball.

Clayton Kershaw: 1.15 HR/9, previous career high of 0.92, on DL with back injury

Corey Kluber: career-high 14% HR/FB%, missed a month with a back injury

Dallas Keuchel: missed almost two months with a neck injury

Jake Arrieta: 4-year highs in HR/FB% and ERA

Aaron Sanchez: blister problems all year, 36 IP

Rich Hill: blister and other health problems, only 83 IP, three year high in ERA, HR/FB%

Noah Syndergaard: torn lat muscle, only 27 innings

...and I am just getting started and those are just the guys drafted somewhat early.

To hammer this point home further and do it with math (who doesn’t love math?), I’m going to use the ESPN Player Rater top 100 players and count how many SP there are. Then, I’ll compare that to the last three years to look out for trends.

Hat tip to the good folks at the Internet Archive for allowing me to pull the ESPN player rater numbers for 2014 and 2015. I don’t know how they preserve almost every link and every page of every website for years, but it is amazing and very useful. Plus, you get to laugh at ugly, dated website designs from the past.

Year SP in top 100 SP in top 25
2014 22 7
2015 24 9
2016 27 10
2017 23 7

Well, much to my surprise, this year isn’t particularly worse than past years, but if you take 2014 out of the equation this year does look pretty bad. This is especially true at the top, where there are only 7 SP in the top 25 in 2017, after 10 and 9 the past two seasons. That’s two or three elite fantasy stars at the position that simply aren’t there this year.

All of this leads me to my point, which is that ace starting pitchers should be more valuable now than in the past two seasons. You should demand higher prices for them in trades and drafting them in the first two rounds isn’t reaching. Scherzer and Sale, with their pretty good health records and elite results year after year are easy first rounders now. That was not the case in the past. Kershaw and Kluber could also sneak into first rounds next year, but Kershaw’s back issues are recurring and Kluber had a very slow start and isn’t getting younger, so maybe they should be 2nd rounders.

The point is that you might need to readjust how you value great starters. Every year there will be guys that go from bad/mediocre to very good like Ervin Santana, Jason Vargas, and Jimmy Nelson this year. However, it’s the aces that carry a fantasy team and can be counted on. I am always somewhat wary of investing in pitchers at the top of drafts due to their propensity to get hurt, but I might have to change that. My best teams this year are anchored by aces in the rotation: Kluber, Zack Greinke, and Carlos Martinez.

Also, with home runs up, it is easier to find consistently good hitters. Middle infielders can hit 20+ homers easily now and shortstop is as deep as ever right now. That leaves room for you to go after those elite starters and worry about your hitters later. We’ll see how the final weeks shake out, but I suspect it will continue to be a year for hitters, with pitchers that can rack up innings and Ks with good ERAs becoming scarce.

The pool of streaming starters is worse than ever, in my opinion. I don’t have the numbers to back that statement up, but that has been my experience with my three teams this year. Starts with crooked numbers of earned runs are far more common than in the past. You used to be able to wait on starting pitching in drafts and build a decent rotation from the wire. This year, that would be very difficult to do.

So, hold onto your aces and move them up your draft boards. Tschus!

Maybe later this month I can tackle the other position with a massive shortage of talent right now: the black hole known as the catcher position. It is ugly right now.