Let’s get this out of the way – every league is different so this article is going to focus on as standard of a version of a league as possible – rotisserie format, 12 teams, standard 5-by-5 – max innings pitched limit between 1,300 and 1,600, daily roster changes, bench of more than four players. Please adjust as necessary.
Now that’s out of the way, you want to bank on 1,000 innings pitched from your starters. There is going to be at least one bust or injury in the group, but I like to plan on two. That said, I’m also aggressive on waivers, especially early in the season so if I can add a seventh starter I do it. If I fail then I try to carefully stream my way through the season.
Relief pitching is the key to success – you want saves and to help with ratios and your strikeouts per nine innings, but you don’t want to pay for it. Load up on starting bats so you don’t have to use your bench for extra bats. Use that bench space for middle relievers and speculative closers. Ideally, you want three closers going into the season but you can make due with two. The goal is to end up with four closers by May so you can shift your attention to hot middle relievers. It’s OK if you can’t due to injuries or losing waiver claims; you just can’t use as much bench space on middle relief as long as you don’t have 3-4 closers.
How to build this staff? See below. I have broken up each tier with a description on how I’d treat that tier during my draft to build the perfect staff mentioned in the introduction.
Group 1 – I’m not drafting any of these guys because the early rounds are for building your offense. It’s so much harder to chase offense (without stolen bases) than pitching. These guys are phenomenal, but they will be phenomenal on someone else’s team.
Group 2 – I’m getting one of these guys, but probably not one of the first few except for (hopefully) Zach Greinke. I’m looking at the guys listed after Francisco Liriano.
Group 3 – It’s highly unlikely I’m taking any of these guys, as their price is too close to their upside and doesn’t account for their risk.
Group 4 – Assuming I have a Group 2 player already on the roster, I need a guy from this group. On the off-chance that I got Kershaw or Lester, a player from this group is not a necessity. It’d be a luxury.
Group 5 – If I screwed up somewhere, these are my fallback options, but I’d like to ignore everyone in this group though.
Ricky Nolasco – the numbers suggest there might be some upside with him, but that’s the case every year.
Group 6 – Don’t let this group end with you having less than four starters on your staff.
Shaun Marcum – his rising price may command Group 4 status, and he’ll justify it.
Trevor Cahill – don’t let the lack of strikeouts scare you.
Daniel Hudson – becoming overpriced though.
Jorge De La Rosa
Group 7 – Hopefully I have four arms at this point and I can skip this group.
Group 8 – Fliers! Unlike the last group there’s some upside in this group. You’ll want to load up on them, but it depends how deep your bench is and what waivers will look like in-season. You want guys that could blow up, but also can be easily dropped in April if they’re terrible to start. These guys are listed in no particular order because if history is any indication their positioning on my board will change frequently over the next few weeks.
James Shields – numbers suggest upside, but his actual pitching says otherwise. He’s “Nolasco-lite.”
Jeremy Hellickson – price might be too steep here.
Jair Jurrjens – I love post-injury reclamation projects.
Group 9 is long, boring and won’t be on your team anyway so if they aren’t listed to this point they aren’t worth looking at until after the season begins. On to closers!
Relief pitching Group 1 – guys that probably won’t be on my team.
Neftali Feliz – he’s a potential exception, as a possible move to the rotation is intriguing.
Relief pitching Group 2 – guys who might be cheap enough that I’ll consider and then likely pass on for more hitting.
Relief pitching Group 3 – these guys scare the hell out of me.
Relief pitching Group 4 – closers that will be on my teams; likely three in a row since I probably won’t have any yet.
Relief pitching Group 5 – if I don’t have three yet I’ll take a shot on one of these guys and cross my fingers.
Kyle Farnsworth – just run.
Middle relief – get as many of these guys as you can until you’ve reached your innings pitched/roster limit, but first you want to put a priority on handcuffs to your risky closers and then stealing handcuffs to risky closers while making sure those handcuffs are worth a damn. The handcuff strategy in this game is a sound one. Just don’t get married to them if/when better options become available. These guys are listed in no particular order.