Fantasy Baseball 2017: Is Pitching as Deep as We Think?

Most experts say to draft starting pitching later and focus on offense early. Will the same ring true next fantasy baseball season?

Starting pitching has always had monster depth with the ability to add throughout the season or even stream to win leagues. However, 2016 was an awful year for pitchers all the way from the veterans to the breakout candidates from 2015. So should we change how we approach our fantasy baseball drafts next year?


DEPLETION OF STARTER DEPTH

Out of the top 20 starters in ADP in 2016, only nine ended the season as a top 20 starter. Less than 50% odds to hit on the “sure things”? No thank you. And this wasn’t a case of guys falling from top 20 to top 30. No, these were falls from grace.

Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, Chris Archer, Carlos Carrasco, Sonny Gray, Felix Hernandez. These were all supposed to be bonified aces and they all fell so far. Even a guy like David Price who finished 21st still was a guy drafted 6th among starting pitchers. And sadly, we lost one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball in Jose Fernandez, who passed away at the end of the season.

We were also robbed of many impact pitchers from the top 20 ranks to top 40 ranks. Danny Salazar was on his way to a career year before succumbing to injury. Jordan Zimmermann was off to a hot start. Top 30 guys like Garrett Richards and Tyson Ross missed basically the entire season. And pitchers like Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano, Michael Pineda, Scott Kazmir, and Adam Wainwright massively under-performed.

Comparatively, in 2015, only five of the top 20 ADP starters didn’t finish top 20 and that included names like Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg who dealt with injuries in 2015. It also included Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto who only dropped to 21st and 23rd respectively on the player rater.


REASONS FOR THE DOWNTURN

Lots of names there, many of whom were drafted by all of us only to be dropped by June/July. But what was the reasoning and is their reason for optimism? Some of these names below could belong to multiple categories. Which sadly, makes the concerns even worse. However, if they do I will only put these pitchers in one category for why I’m worried for their performance next season.

1. Starters Missing Significant Time to InjuryClayton Kershaw, Harvey, deGrom, Cole, Carrasco, Strasburg, Salazar, Richards, Ross, Zimmermann, and Steven Matz.

  • Expect These to Recover — Kershaw is still a first round pick, regardless of his back injury. Jordan Zimmermann’s injuries to his leg and neck shouldn’t linger through the offseason. And that’s just about it.
  • Injury Risks Next Year — deGrom, Cole, Strasburg, and Salazar all had injuries associated with TJ surgery (elbow and forearm issues). Matz is always an injury risk ever since his minor league career and Carrasco is in that same boat.
  • Absolute Mysteries — Will either of Richards or Ross even pitch in 2017 recovering from season ending injuries that happened in April? Harvey’s may be the scariest of all, given the track record of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

2. Starters who Under-PerformedMichael Wacha, Gray, Hernandez, Keuchel, Greinke, Archer, Wainwright, Stroman, Jeff Samardzija, Liriano, Pineda, Scott Kazmir.

  • Expect These to Bounce Back — Stroman’s season metrics were very good on a whole and even better when isolate his second half. Same with Archer who exhibited fantastic control in the second half to the tune of 1.87 BB/9.
  • Performance Questions — Gray has always been a more expensive Jose Quintana. Keuchel lost his control and favorable framing from 2015. Guys like Wacha and Samardzija have always been overrated anyways. Liriano may not be a starter and Pineda has never lived up to his “stuff”.
  • Players to Avoid — Hernandez does not have the same change up from yesteryear and his price tag will make you regret drafting. Greinke is now pitching in the best pitchers park in league and has now gone way past the ideal age for a pitcher. Same on the second point with Wainwright and Kazmir.

3. Starters who won’t have a 2017 —  And sadly, Jose Fernandez will not be with us. It sure was a treat to watch him and his personality every fifth. “Sometimes, life just sucks.” Apart from Fernandez, over the course of the next few months, I also wouldn’t be surprised to hear of Tommy John surgery a la Lance Lynn for other name brand starters, either.


KNOCKING THE SHINE OFF THE STARTERS WHO ROSE

I don’t want to give the impression that there were not starting pitchers that will fill that depth next season. Many starters went undrafted in 2016 or were drafted late that ended up as great fantasy starters.

A few of those pitchers include names like Rick Porcello, Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Rich Hill, Danny Duffy, Drew Pomeranz all had career years. But did any of them really scream “ace”?

By the numbers, Hendricks looks like a Keuchel clone and we saw how that turned out this season. Many of them, including Hendricks, benefited from fantastic defense or even better luck considering the monster offensive numbers that were put up this season.

Rookie pitchers like Junior Guerra, Michael Fulmer, Kenta Maeda, and Chris Devenski came up and immediately contributed. But how real are these rookies? After all, all season we heard names like Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Julio Urias, Lucas Giolito and more and we never really did get that Thor-like performance from 2015 from any of them.

If I had to give a rough draft of the top 20 and which pitchers I would place there, I think Sanchez and Hendricks are my top two to get a spot.


DRAFT STRATEGY

With the 2017 season months away, I feel like there are more questions than answers — especially at the top where you would put the “ace” status. And while we did have some risers, can they really balance out the fall the depth took this season? I’m not so sure. Even a “safe” starter like David Price vastly under-performed expectations for him this season.

Which makes my draft strategy in 2017 important when it comes to pitching. Normally I draft one or two aces with a middle core that includes high floors and then I go after some high ceiling guys at the end. I would expect the players without injury questions will be sought after so that all fantasy owners can limit their risk.

I’m sure between now and the start of next season, many injury concerns will be alleviated. But I don’t see a 2017 where all or even most of the familiar names bounce back. So plan accordingly.

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