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State of the Position: Starting Pitcher

A look at how fantasy baseball GMs should attack the pitching position.

MLB: NLDS-Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Positional weeks have been a rousing success here at Fake Teams, and this venture into starting pitching means only one thing...

It’s nearly Opening Day!

That’s right, soon enough I’ll be back to making mediocre MLB DFS lineups. Until then, let’s holler at some hurlers.

The Elite Four: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber

Yours truly drank the “Mad Max” kool-aid and selected Scherzer at 1.09 in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (three picks ahead of Kershaw). Sale and Kluber followed close behind, as all four are generally ranked/drafted within the top 15 of most drafts. If you want one of these four aces, you’ll have to pay up. On a per-game basis it’s probably silly to rank anyone ahead of Kershaw, but the recurring back issues do mean that it’s conceivable to consider another elite starter in his stead.

Round 3 Pitchers, galore!

Apparently Round 2 is dedicated to the hitters, as a cluster of six second-tier aces are going in the third round on average: Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Luis Severino, Jacob deGrom, and Carlos Carrasco have ADPs between 26 and 36. For my part, I’d take whichever guy fell the farthest, honestly.

The Underrated: Aaron Nola

With an ADP of 64.9, Nola is being drafted as the 17th starter according to Fangraphs. For me, he represents a cutoff point for my first ace. After the Round 3 barrage, there are seven hurlers being selected between pick 41 and pick 64 that I would tolerate as my SP1—Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Yu Darvish, Carlos Martinez, Chris Archer, and Nola. Within that grouping I like Ray the least, as last year’s 10.7% walk rate and 40.4% hard contact rate concern me. I don’t want to bank on a humidor to help my SP1 return value...

The Hyped One: Shohei Ohtani

How many innings will the hyped one pitch? In Japan last year, he mustered 25 13 innings. He has never thrown more than 160 23 innings. With an ADP of 73.7, Ohtani is being selected in the vicinity of Jose Quintana (71.9), James Paxton (76.6), and Dallas Keuchel (77.9). You might be inclined to quickly dismiss him, but in this age of the 10-day DL and with far fewer starters pitching 200 innings, Ohtani is a worthy selection if you believe in his ability to strikeout the opposition (I do). I mean, with Keuchel you don’t even have an elite K-rate (career 19.5%). You can’t bank on volume due to Keuchel’s injury history, either.

This lack of volume among starters right now has me inclined to side with the strikeout upside in every scenario. Give me Ohtani over Keuchel. In this grouping, though, Quintana is the top dog due to his dependability—prior to last season’s 188.2 innings, 200 innings was Quintana’s floor for four years running. I’ll take that alongside a strikeout rate that surged to 26.2% in 2017. In the cluster I’d rank them: Quintana, Paxton, Ohtani, Keuchel.

The Perfect SP3: Jeff Samardzija

“The Shark” got a mention on the latest @doubleswitchpod, primarily for his ability to deliver volume and to strike out hitters. The cushy home park helps his cause as well. Enjoy the floor he gives you at his ADP of 135.5. Steamer projects 202 innings and 184 strikeouts to go alongside a 1.19 WHIP. The 3.81 ERA projection seems fair, as that was Samardzija’s mark in 2016 when he had a little better luck with not giving up home runs. He is especially appealing in daily formats where you can avoid the occasional Coors start.

The Arbitrage: Jameson Taillon

Player A Steamer Projection: 169.0 IP, 10 W, 4.56 ERA, 160 SO, 1.34 WHIP

Player B Steamer Projection: 189.0 IP, 11 W, 3.96 ERA, 176 SO, 1.29 WHIP

Player A is Jose Berrios with an ADP of 106.7. Player B is (you guessed it) Taillon with an ADP of 191.4.

Any questions?

What’s next?

Later this week, our writers will bring you their values, sleepers, rankings, and more. Stay tuned!