About this time a year ago, or maybe a little before, I had a realization that challenged the way I had always contacted Fantasy Baseball. To say the most provocative, I decided to do it starting jugs were all that mattered anymore.
Now, the caveats: This is not exclusively the case in 5×5 or traditional Rotisserie leagues, where base thieves have even shorter supplies, and of course that is not true in the literal sense. You need well everything to win in Fantasy Baseball. It takes all sorts, good hits and pitching both. It’s just that between two good pitching has become much, much, much, much, a lot harder to get past.
There are a few reasons for this, all come in quick succession and point in the same direction, but behind it all is the pursuit of efficiency. What is the most valuable thing a hitter can do? Lay the ball over the fence. What is the most valuable thing a pitcher can do? Avoid contact completely. And then changes are made on each page to get more of the most valuable.
It was the fly-ball revolution and the juiced ball for hitters. It was increased specialization that made it possible for shorter throws with higher effort. The end result was a kind of night out of power among hitters, which gave less differentiation between them, and a spread of pitchers that could give either length or impact, but not both. The few who could offer both were basically just the aces, which by nature were in short supply.
So while the gap between hitters shrank, the gap between the pitchers grew, to that point there is almost no middle class anymore. To put it another way, you can find a useful hitter in all phases of the draft, but if you do not make a concerted effort to load up your jugs early, you are likely to stand tall and dry, with almost no one hoping for to fight.
It takes all sorts, remember, and for the pitching type you have to act fast.
By the appearance of the early ADP on a site like FantasyPros, it looks like Fantasy Baseballers is catching up. Even in Rotisserie leagues, which are not as geared for pitching as Head-to-Head points leagues, boxes fly off the board that no one has ever seen. On average, 10 of the 25 are the best, 24 of the 70 best and 34 of the 100 best choices.
Scott White, Frank Stampfl and Chris Towers analyze who is this year’s Trent Grisham or Corbin Burnes, a player drafted outside the top 300 who can give the top 50 value of Fantasy Baseball Today podcast built-in below. Make sure you subscribe to Apple, Spotify or anywhere you get podcasts for more of our comprehensive draft prep coverage:
I should point out that pitching costs have been on the rise in recent years, but few took it to the extreme I did last year, usually investing four of my first seven picks. I should also point out that it worked. I placed first, second or third in eight of my 10 re-draft leagues, which included winning Tout Wars for the first time.
So I was only one year ahead of this one? I do not know, really. As much as I would think of myself as a trendsetter, my inbox has not been flooded with testimonials or abuse. And honestly, no one puts as much emphasis on what I say or do as I do, so I’m sure it’s not about me. Goal something has forced the entire Fantasy Baseball world to hit the gas as I did on what had been a slowly evolving trend.
You know how last season was just 60 games instead of the usual 162? That was nice, right? Do you remember how the state lines were destroyed, with external benefits at both ends of the spectrum? Yes, it’s going to be fun to look back on these players’ career years from now and think, “Hmm, I wonder why so and so missed so much time one year. Oh, that’s right. They all did. “
And that’s all it will be for hitters: a historical rarity, a blip. For pitchers? Well what normally happens when a pitcher misses a significant part of a season, either due to injury or something else, like a global pandemic? That’s right: He feels it next year too.
I do not mean that literal feel it, like in ouchie, that hurts. I believe that the lost season usually begins a multi-year buildup back to a typical workload. Yes, another reason for the growing gap at the starting jug is the strict handling of laps as a way to reduce the damage. Organizations usually do not like to increase a workload by more than 30-40 times from one year to the next. Of course it happens from time to time, but it raises red flags and is generally disliked.
So what happens after a year where the league leaders only got 80 innings or so? What happens when most each pitcher looking at an increase of over 100 laps? Suffice it to say that it will not happen to any of them.
I go so far as to say most by them. One of the big reasons why making a pitcher early on was long considered a verb in Fantasy, is that the inherent risks of the position result in a high turnover rate. Thus, the bulk of the pitching crop is not so well established. Many of the most interesting goals beyond the elite would have been exposed to an innings limit anyway, so after the season that was, I can not predict how far some organizations will go to protect their long-term assets. There will be no clear guidelines used consistently from organization to organization, but they are all sure to respond in one way or another to this unique challenge. Some of the most likely tactics include early hooks, early shutdowns, jump starts, phantom IL stints and strategic demotions. Maybe all of the above.
Tea Dodgers have been running that playbook for years. Think about how careful they have been Walker Buehler the last two seasons, where he more or less skips spring training and instead builds up the season. Do you think they make him loose in 180 rounds after seeing him throw around 60, normal and after season in total? And he’s pretty established in relation to a lot of what’s out there.
Here’s a look at some of the pitches that may suffer from some of the most extreme limitations of innings:
* includes postseason stats
^ includes minor league statistics
What about it Breweries not fighting? What are the chances Corbin Burnes throws even 100 laps, much less the 160 he probably needs to justify his ADP? And I’m not even arguing that he should go lower. Again, there are only so many starting pitchers who are able to make a real difference, and he is among them. But how long before he goes from solving a problem to presenting a new one?
That is what makes the pitching situation so dangerous in 2021. One of the biggest differences that already existed, the workload, is even greater now. Those who are most likely to overcome it are those who have proven that they can cope with it time and time again. I’m talking about guys who Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Yu dear. Carlos Carrasco. Lance Lynn. Zack Greinke. It’s not an all-encompassing list, but you get the idea. Their durability has given them the right not to be handled with children’s gloves. Usually they are also older, so there is not much to save them for.
Of course, they are also jugs that are already placed at the top of the rankings – the few that are able to give both length and impact, remember? That’s why so many Fantasy Baseball players go hard after pitching early, and why I think they’re right. That is also why I double down on my goal of drafting everyone else in the position. Instead of four of my top 35 starter jugs, give me six. Equip me with options for those times when one of my less established pitchers is shut down for a week or two, because it’s going to happen, and possibly more often than I think.
I can make up for any hitter need that arises by playing the dropout line or shopping for other people’s profits, but the draft is the only reliable place to meet the pitching need that will only get worse when wear and tear starts.