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Fantasy baseball draft strategy: What happens if you draft pitchers first?

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Let’s see what happens if you go against the grain.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

Most folks go with bats as the foundation of their fantasy team, and rightly so. I wondered, though, what would a team based on starting pitchers look like? I decided to do a 12-team mock draft and use my first five draft picks on SPs, the best ones available according to the live drafting trends on ESPN.com. (These ADPs will change a bunch over the next week as we approach the start of the baseball season, but it’s useful to check in on the drafting public and see wsup.)

I performed two different drafts based on taking SPs with the first five picks: one snake, one not snake. I gave myself the #1 pick in both drafts to make it easy on myself, and to see what passing on Mike Trout would feel like in a draft (not great, even in an imaginary draft). Each pick must be equal to, or after, the ADP associated with it. For example, my second pick in the regular draft would be the 13th pick overall (Round 1 ends with the 12th team picking), so I can draft anyone whose ADP is 13 or higher. My second pick in the snake draft would be the 24th pick overall (because I drafted #1 overall), and so I can only draft someone with an ADP of 24 or higher. Savvy?

We won’t do a full 26-man roster for these teams, I just wanted to see what my rotation and my starting bats would look like. They’re...okay, actually a little bit better than I anticipated, but certainly not nearly as well constructed as if we’d disregarded ADP. Always remember when drafting: don’t panic! Weird shit happens during every draft! Just auto drafting and going by ADP can give you the basis for a solid team and ammunition to make trades, but obviously reaching for your fantasy boyfriends so that you can gloat over drafting them is one of the main attractions of fantasy sports. I’ve listed the SPs in their drafted order first, and then the bats listed by position.

STRAIGHT DRAFT, #1 Pick Overall

  • SP1 - Mad Max Scherzer, SP (#1 overall pick, 6.2 ADP)
  • SP2 - Jacob deGrom, SP (#13 overall pick, 12.8 ADP, close enough)
  • SP3 - Gerrit Cole, SP (#25 overall pick, 28.3 ADP)
  • SP4 - Luis Severino, SP (#37 overall pick, 37.7 ADP)
  • SP5 - Carlos Carrasco, SP (#49 overall pick, 49.8 ADP)
  • C - Willson Contreras, C (#109 overall pick, 111 ADP)
  • 1B - Matt Carpenter, 1B/3B (#61 overall pick, 62.6 ADP)
  • 2B - Scooter Gennett, 2B (#97 overall pick, 99.2 ADP)
  • SS - Jose Peraza, SS (#133 overall pick, 134.2 ADP)
  • 3B - Miguel Andujar, 3B (#85 overall pick, 85 ADP)
  • MI - DJ LeMahieu, 2B (#157 overall pick, 158.4 ADP)
  • CI - Eric Hosmer, 1B (#145 overall pick, 145.8 ADP)
  • OF1 - Justin Upton, OF (#73 overall pick, 77.9 ADP)
  • OF2 - Dee Gordon, 2B/OF (#121 overall pick, 121.3 ADP)
  • OF3 - Hunter Renfroe, OF (#181 overall pick, 184.7 ADP)
  • OF4 - Billy Hamilton, OF (#193 overall pick, 202.1 ADP)
  • UTIL - Miguel Cabrera, 1B (#169 overall pick, 181.4 ADP)

SNAKE DRAFT, #1 Pick Overall

  • SP1 - Mad Max Scherzer, SP (#1 overall pick, 6.2 ADP)
  • SP2 - Gerrit Cole, SP (#24 overall pick, 28.3 ADP)
  • SP3 - Blake Snell, SP (#25 overall pick, 30.6 ADP)
  • SP4 - Carlos Carrasco, SP (#48 overall pick, 49.8 ADP)
  • SP5 - Walker Buehler, SP (#49 overall pick, 51.6 ADP)
  • C - Wilson Ramos, C (#168 overall pick, 168 ADP)
  • 1B - Eric Hosmer, 1B (#144 overall pick, 145.8 ADP)
  • 2B - Scooter Gennett, 2B (#97 overall pick, 99.2 ADP)
  • SS - Marcus Semien, SS (#192 overall pick, 197.2 ADP)
  • 3B - Kyle Seager, 3B (#169 overall pick, 182.2 ADP)
  • MI - Jonathan Villar, 2B (#145 overall pick, 146.4 ADP)
  • CI - Justin Smoak, 1B (#193 overall pick, 200.3 ADP)
  • OF1 - Justin Upton, OF (#73 overall pick, 77.9 ADP)
  • OF2 - AJ Pollock, OF (#96 overall pick, 96.5 ADP)
  • OF3 - Dee Gordon, 2B/OF (#120 overall pick, 121.3 ADP)
  • OF4 - David Peralta, OF (#121 overall pick, 122 ADP)
  • UTIL - Nelson Cruz, DH (#72 overall pick, 75 ADP)

The lesson, as always, is draft Mike Trout if you can draft Mike Trout. I like the first team, but it’s unrealistic to think that your entire starting SP staff will make it through the season entirely healthy, so you really have to draft an offensive anchor for your team in the first three rounds, at least. For instance, if the first imaginary team had stopped drafting SPs after Gerrit Cole (so, they had Scherzer, deGrom, and Cole), then they could have drafted Carlos Correa or Khris Davis. If the snake team had stopped after Blake Snell (Scherzer, Cole, and Snell), then they could have drafted Xander Bogaerts or Marcell Ozuna.

I’m not totally against drafting SPs first, especially if you’re in the latter half of the first round, but it’s a good idea to not overdo it. There’s absolutely value later in the draft. If you’re going to draft backwards by going pitchers first, then just make sure that you give yourself a chance on offense by getting an anchor in the outfield and the infield to go along with your aces in the rotation.