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State of the Position: Starting Pitcher

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Heath surveys starting pitchers with a fantasy baseball slant.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Since we’ve covered all the hitters I am taking a little liberty and getting right to the heart of the matter with pitchers. Hold onto your hats...

THE GUY TO AVOID: Clayton Kershaw

You can’t draft Kershaw this year, not now. Not unless we get some positive news soon. Back issues that are now compounded by a shoulder issue, and Kershaw being shut down already this spring? Kershaw fell to pick 85 in the Champions League of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. He is scheduled to test his shoulder again today (Thursday) but currently he is a massive risk at his ADP of 36. The Dodgers have ZERO reason to rush him and ZERO reason to ask him to throw tons of innings during the regular season. The organization has plenty of pitching depth in Ross Stripling and Julio Urias—neither of whom is currently projected to crack the rotation. Kershaw’s floor includes him not pitching at all in 2019. You can’t draft that at the table, not anywhere near where he will be taken in your league. You could draft Noah Syndergaard (39 ADP) instead. At least he isn’t hurt already.

Honorable mention: Madison Bumgarner. “MadBum fell quite a ways in League 1 of TGFBI, all the way to pick 145 (second half of Round 10). He went in the same round as Chris Archer, Robbie Ray, and Masahiro Tanaka. And I think that feels about right. Trouble is, he’s still living on his name, with an ADP of 75 per NFBC data. That’s elite closer territory for me, if I have to choose between a closer or taking on MadBum’s declining skills.

THE ELITES: Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale

These three are the Round 1 picks, if we are operating with a 15-team lens. After these guys, most people have a preference that diverges—either Corey Kluber, Gerrit Cole, Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, or Justin Verlander. Depends on who you ask, but you can make a case for any of those guys as the SP4 (I prefer Kluber or Cole). As for the big three, “Mad Max” should be the undisputed No. 1. For me it’s deGrom as the second guy. I like what the Mets have built for 2019 on the offensive side, and deGrom would have to seriously anger the baseball powers-that-be to only amass 10 wins again in 2019. I am a little more bearish on Sale than most. Last season’s diminished velocity down the stretch is a tad worrisome. Only a tad, though. I won’t argue the merits of Sale. I just find myself skipping over him at that juncture and pouncing on a pitcher in Round 2 or 3 if necessary. Plus, where you can land it, the end of Round 1 should be Aaron Judge territory.

THE NEXT TIER...

This tier is large, and honestly I consider the first three named here to be in the previous tier. But I was operating from NFBC ADP data. I was very content to land Severino as my first starter in Round 3 of League 1 of TGFBI...

Carrasco, Bauer, Severino, Buehler, Syndergaard, Clevinger, Corbin, Paxton, Strasburg, Taillon, Flaherty, Berrios. Some would add Greinke and Marquez to that mix. I wouldn’t, but some would. Arizona starters (including Greinke) allowed a ton of hard contact a year ago. That, coupled with the loss of Goldy on offense and Greinke’s poor velocity are not something I’m into. As for Marquez, I agree with Paul Sporer’s statement on a recent Fangraphs podcast: “Coors Field is undefeated.” I’ll just leave it at that.

The big point is, starting pitching falls off a cliff. After this juncture you best chill out on pitching for a while. Stack some hitters, draft a closer, etc. Aside from Marquez, Berrios is the cheapest starter here according to ADP. If I were trying to ignore pitching for a time early on, Berrios around pick 70 is as long as I would prefer to wait for my first starter.

THE SLEEPER: Tyler Glasnow

There are many names that could fit the bill as “sleeper.” Some of my personal favorites are Andrew Heaney, Joe Musgrove, Ross Stripling, and Nate Eovaldi. Farther down, I like Joey Lucchesi. However, if I designated a “sleeper” pitcher and didn’t make it Glasnow, I think our guy Joe would have my head. Instead of boring typing, allow me to show you the new hesitation in Glasnow’s delivery, as noted by Lance Brozdowski on the Twitter machine:

I’m no scout and therefore won’t comment on the leg kick and whether or not that is a good thing. What was a good thing was Glasnow’s trade to Tampa last year, which appeared to unlock some potential. The only downside for Glasnow is an innings limit. But that’s the only negative. With an ADP outside of the Top 150, you aren’t paying much to see if last year’s momentum can continue.

THE PROSPECTS TO WATCH: Forrest Whitley, Brent Honeywell, A.J. Puk, Mike Soroka, Jesus Luzardo, Chris Paddack

I might be missing a player. But these guys are the ones I’m most aware of. Point is, there are ALWAYS young pitchers that make the leap to the bigs and can help your fantasy team. Puk missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, but has struck out 224 batters in 157 23 career minor league innings. Not bad, right? Brent Honeywell was another TJ victim and is aiming for a May return in 2019. Continuing the injury train, we may need to hold off on Mike Soroka for the time being, as the promising young Atlanta pitcher had a recent setback with his throwing shoulder. At least it’s not the same set of muscles as last year, but that could be encouraging of discouraging depending on how you view things. For now, it looks like a battle between Touki Toussaint and Max Fried for the fifth spot in the Braves rotation...so keep your eyes peeled at that competition.

Add it all up, and the two guys who may help us the soonest are Whitley and Luzardo. The Athletics are fresh off of a 97-win season a year ago, and the “win-now” mode supports Luzardo getting a call sooner rather than later to bolster the rotation (which is unimpressive). Puk can help too, but Luzardo lacks the return from TJ surgery piece. Whitley has more of an open road now, due to the injury to Josh James (and possibly Collin McHugh). However, he’s never pitched above Double-A. Bringing him up to the Majors would be a surprise, but not out of the question. For my money the pick here is Luzardo.

Paddack is in the same boat as Whitley, in that I don’t think he will break camp. But he might if he continues to make MLB hitters like Orlando Arcia look foolish...I mean, if you’re fooling Arcia you just punched your ticket to break camp with the big league club...right? Right? Wrong! But here’s the GIF of Paddack anyway:

That’s about it for me. I’d be failing if I didn’t mention my favorite tier of pitchers, which is that elite SP2 group of Flaherty-Taillon-Clevinger-Berrios. Drafting one of those guys as my “worst” SP1 is about as low as I’d care to go if I was foregoing pitching in the early rounds. Having any of this grouping as my elite SP2 is preferable.

What say you all? Where would you draft Clayton Kershaw? Should you avoid him? Is the Champions League Ungrateful League League 1 of TGFBI right on this? Or are we crazy?