There was once a time where elite starting pitchers were a must have in fantasy baseball. Years ago pitchers would go deeper into games, they’d log more starts on average, and there were much more 20-game winners in a baseball season. Hell, the odds of ever seeing a 300-game winner in a career are quite slim. It’s just how the game is trending as organizations pay more attention to pitch counts and innings limits. On top of that, there is a ton of depth at the position as well. So now it’s not so much about acquiring an abundance of top-tier pitchers, but rather finding the value arms later on in the draft. Here are a few things to take into account when you’re trying to figure out when to draft your starting pitchers.

Know Your League Rules

This is a no-brainer. Whether it’s MLB, NFL, or any other fantasy sport you’ll hear every single fantasy pundit tell you to be aware of your league rules. It’s a cliché for a reason because you can gain a significant advantage. For example, if you play in a 5x5 category fantasy baseball league that requires a minimum of ten innings of work then you shouldn’t be targeting a ton of pitching. It might be wise to draft one pitcher in the Top 12 and let relievers/closers round out your pitching staff. With this method you’re essentially punting wins, which is never a good idea, but since you only have to reach a ten-inning minimum each week you might be able to win the other categories (ERA, WHIP, Saves, and usually a ratio category of some sort). Now if the innings minimum is higher at 20 or 25 then you’ll likely need more arms. So be aware of what the requirement is and take advantage of it.

In a points league you’ll be more inclined to load up on stud pitchers, while also streaming pitchers throughout the season. In your most basic points leagues in fantasy baseball, one inning of work equates to about 2.25 points. So workhorses that eat up innings and garner strikeouts are worth targeting early, and in points leagues closers hardly carry any weight. It would be better served for you to target a SP/RP eligible arm to give your rotation some flexibility. Remember in a points league, anything more than zero points helps your team. So maximize the points from your starters and relievers and this may put more of an onus on drafting quality arms, but if you miss out don’t hesitate to stream pitchers throughout the year.

Account for Injuries

It’s always worth mentioning that throwing a baseball, or more specifically, the pitching motion is not a natural movement for the human body. The strain on the shoulder and elbow takes it’s toll. And for other players like Rich Hill , sometimes blisters take are the most taxing on your health. Fantasy Alarm’s Colby Conway took a look at the disabled list trends over the past couple seasons. In his Avoiding Injury Prone Players article he examines the recent trends pertaining to the new disabled list rules. For those unaware, in 2017 MLB shortened the 15-day trip to the disabled list to a 10-day trip instead, while also adding a 7-day concussion DL. In theory, you would think that by shortening the DL stint by five days it would see fewer total days on the DL. That simply wasn’t the case in 2018.

As Colby notes in 2017, 302 pitchers went on the disabled list for over 20,000 days. In 2018 the numbers jumped dramatically to 342 total pitchers for 32,713 days. Now a 12,000-day increase seems drastic because there was only a 40-player increase. This signals a spike in serious injuries that requiring more time on the DL. Typically pitchers will always make up a majority of players on the disabled list each season, but with the shortened DL rules some teams have taken it upon themselves to use the new 10-day DL as a means to rest a player to limit their innings. Or if there’s a minor/nagging injury a pitcher is dealing with that would normally require a skipped start, a team could put them on the 10-day DL retroactive to when he last pitched.

When to Select Your First Arm

Finding your first pitcher is special. This is going to be your workhorse, your ace, the guy you lean on. And in the event he goes on the DL you get a little worried. If you check out Jim Bowden's 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings you’ll notice he ranks each player individually, but also into tiers. Currently he has 14 pitchers in his top tier for starting pitching. Now anyone who has read my content in the past knows that I value offensive production and have often targeted a pitcher in the second tier that still cracked the top 20. However, I’ve changed my tone a little bit. Heading into 2019, my best suggestion to those preparing for their draft is to try and target an elite arm with your third pick. In looking at Jim’s rankings there are too many question marks in the second tier: James Paxton , Stephen Strasburg , David Price , Nathan Eovaldi , José Berrios , etc. I’d feel better if I was able to use a third-round selection on a player like Luis Severino , Noah Syndergaard , or Trevor Bauer . Even Clayton Kershaw has become a bit risky in recent memory with his well-documented back problems. So in 10-or-12 team leagues you can target one of those guys in the third round, but even some names such as Aaron Nola , Blake Snell , Justin Verlander , and Gerrit Cole are available in the early portions of the third round according to recent NFBC ADP results.

Grab More Bats, Then Find Your Value Arms

With their being 30 baseball teams that means at any given moment there are 150 eligible starting pitchers assuming each team rolls with a five-man rotation. In some instances you have the Tampa Bay Rays who bring in a relief pitcher to start the game and work just one inning. This is mostly inconvenient for fantasy baseball players, but the idea is that it gets through the heart of the lineup the first time around. Then in longer relief they’ll bring in another pitcher from the bullpen to start with the fourth, fifth, or sixth hitters and hopefully get through four innings. It’s an odd concept, but one we’ll likely see again this year.

But with so many true starting pitchers eligible each day, there will always be options available on waivers. For this reason, at most I’ll take four-to-five true starters and round the rest of my rotation out with a couple relievers or closers and a SP/RP eligible pitcher or two. I don’t try to commit too much to relievers unless the innings requirement is very low. For the most part, I’m not afraid to punt saves and I’m a big believer in streaming a few pitchers each week especially in points leagues. Assuming you can get one of Jim Bowden’s top-tier pitchers you can comfortably wait a little while on starting pitching.

If looking at Jim’s starting pitching rankings I’d recommend skipping over the second tier entirely and maybe even the third tier. There are a few names in the third tier that are intriguing such as Zack Wheeler , Miles Mikolas , German Marquez , and Luis Castillo . Carlos Martínez is another guy I’m interested in, but if I miss out on any of these players the guy that is a must have in the fourth tier is Nick Pivetta who is going well outside the top 150 selections in most mock drafts. He’ll turn 26 on Valentine’s Day and he features a nice 94-95mph fastball. Last season he was done in by poor defense and just crappy luck as evidenced by his 3.80 FIP compared to his 4.77 ERA. He boasted a 10.30 K/9 and did pretty well limiting the free passes. He’s definitely a mid-to-late round guy I wouldn’t mind having as my second or third starting pitcher. Another guy in this area that I like is Kevin Gausman who saw his numbers improve once he went to the Braves who provided more run support and a better defensive effort than Baltimore.

As always there are plenty of pitchers to take a flyer on in the later rounds whether you want to gamble on rookies or players returning from injury. One guy to look at in the later rounds is Joe Musgrove . He’s the kind of player that finished 2018 strong over his last ten starts with an ERA under 3.00 and a HR/9 around 0.75.

Typically six of my first seven selections will always be position players. But if you're looking for a simplified answer in reference to Jim Bowden's tiered rankings I'd suggest grabbing one from the first tier, another from the third tier, definitely one in the fourth tier if you miss out on tier three, one from the fifth and/or sixth tiers and possibly a late-round dart throw on one of the lower-ranked players that perhaps you might be feeling good about. There is plenty of depth at starting pitching, but there’s risk given the physical toll it takes on players. Get yourself a stud and build around the pitcher with a few mid-tier options and load up on offensive weapons. If you’re struggling with pitching around seven weeks into your season then start making moves via trade or on the waiver wire. The draft is just the beginning. Pitching always emerges off waivers.