Thirteen marked the most starts by a pitcher in 2020. This is a number only four pitchers reached. In 2019, 50 pitchers started at least 30 games. Last year’s season was so short that not one pitcher was on pace to make 30 starts during the course of a 162-game schedule.
If we dig deeper, starting pitchers averaged fewer than five innings a start last year. I mentioned this in the draft guide, but we are almost at a point where starting pitchers aren’t even qualifying for categories we need them to reach in fantasy baseball.
If we consider major-league teams will be hesitant to allow their pitchers to have a full workload due to their lack of innings in 2020 along with the possibility of six-man rotations across the league, it’s a big risk to use high draft capital on a pitcher.
Los Angeles Dodgers Starter Walker Buehler
Buehler is one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball, and the Dodgers understand this and want to keep him healthy for the long haul. That may be great for the organization, as it cares about playoff baseball and understands the big picture. That doesn’t help fantasy owners.
In 2020, Buehler averaged less than five innings per start which means over the course of the season, Buehler didn’t even qualify for a win or a quality start. This makes sense as he only had one win last year and one quality start.
It should be noted that in 2019, the 26-year-old did average six innings a start in a full season. I don’t think we will see Buehler reach that mark early in the season, but he should average at least five innings. We don’t know for sure though how the Dodgers will handle their talented pitcher so why are we drafting Buehler in the second round?
I’m all for taking risks and drafting upside players, but we can’t afford to do that early in drafts. Moreover, there’s no need to do that early in drafts. If fantasy owners are dead set on drafting a pitcher this early, take veteran Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, who averaged better than an inning more than Buehler in a down season.
San Diego Padres Starter Chris Paddack
The right-hander can be extremely frustrating, as he will have dominant starts and then starts that make you scratch your head. Paddack didn’t complete seven innings in any start in 2020, but he had six starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer. However, he also had four starts in which he allowed four earned runs or more.
If Paddack can limit the blowups, he will be a strong fantasy performer. Those short starts just kill your pitching ratios — and it can be a struggle to get back on track, evidenced by Paddack’s 4.73 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. I try to limit as much risk as possible when drafting a player even if I have to give up some upside.
Paddack is going at a decent spot in drafts, as he is currently being selected as the 38th pitcher. However, I would rather draft Jesus Luzardo of the Oakland A’s — a pitcher I’m super high on this season — at a similar draft position or Dylan Bundy of the Los Angeles Angels.
Chicago White Sox Reliever Liam Hendriks
The issue with a category being so scarce is that it forces fantasy owners to lose their minds and overreact. Major League Baseball teams are moving away from using one pitcher to earn saves for their ballclub, which puts more emphasis on targeting pitchers that have a secure role. We already know that the waiver wire is crucial when it comes to acquiring saves. The combination of this has led Hendriks to have an average draft position of 56 overall and the 19th pitcher being selected.
We are at a point that a closer is being drafted in the fifth round. The 32-year-old has averaged 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings the last two seasons and has had an ERA of 2.13 or better during that span as well. There’s no doubt Hendriks is one of the best relievers in all of baseball.
However, it should be noted that he has never had 30 saves in his career. I believe he will reach that this season, as the White Sox should be one of the better teams in baseball. Let someone else in your league make the mistake of taking a closer this early and move on and draft another hitter or attack a starting pitcher.