With fantasy baseball season quickly approaching, it is now time to begin the process of evaluating pitching talent that you will want to target at your drafts. You need to determine in which round starting pitchers and relievers should be added to your rosters, or for those of you participating in an auction format, how much of your budget you need to set aside to allow you to populate your starting rotation and bullpen. Part of the process of evaluating pitching requires an understanding of which pitchers are likely to provide season-long goodness. That is, unless you prefer to scramble throughout the season, sifting through the options available on the waiver wire or floating trades to your fellow owners that hopefully will not deplete your hitting ranks too drastically.

Of course, MLB teams will promote young starters and relievers during the course of the season, bringing up arms from the minor leagues to replace injured pitchers in the rotation or the bullpen. Being able to snag these rookies or pitchers with limited experience requires a great deal of work, demanding that you peruse the daily transaction reports, as well as having the requisite waiver wire priority or remaining FAAB balance to be able to strike before your opposition pulls the proverbial rug out from under your feet.

Even assuming that you draft well, buy your pitchers for great values during the auction, or manage to add valuable pitching options during the season, you will still need to keep in mind a basic premise that MLB general managers and team managers rely upon when building their pitching staffs: Having a dependable, durable pitcher who will not spend the bulk of the time between April and October on the DL, or even worse, being lost for the remainder of the season following surgery engendered by a serious injury.

It is difficult to think of a more disappointing experience for a fantasy owner than to see a news report that his top starting pitcher has been pulled from an appearance in the early innings of a game because of a twinge in his elbow or an issue with his knee, shoulder, ankle, or some other body part necessary to effectively toe the rubber. Or for that matter, a similar situation with regard to his or her closer, set-up guy or middle reliever. Therefore, one adage that fantasy owners should embrace is draft, buy or pick up pitchers that have not demonstrated a history of suffering injury over the course of their careers, including their time spent riding on buses in the minor leagues.

Naturally, any player can be hurt playing the game at any time, or for that matter, working out or warming up before or between games, but in this age of internet access, data about player injury history is available for those willing to spend the effort to dig in and do the research. Always keep your eye on the prize, however, and that prize is to make certain that you possess pitchers that are as close to guaranteed to give you extended innings over the season and that those innings are productive in terms of producing fantasy points.

There was a time when it was considered a positive thing that a pitcher had undergone Tommy John surgery. The thinking followed the lines that since he had already suffered the ulnar collateral ligament tear, and had it repaired, his arm was if not exactly as good as new, it was at least unlikely that he would suffer through the same situation again. Then came a limited rash of players that had to undergo a second TJS procedure, among them such once promising young arms as the former Atlanta Braves starting pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen (who is currently signed with the Diamondbacks to a minor-league contract), Cory Luebke (San Diego) and Jarrod Parker (Oakland).

The ability for pitchers to return to action as useful members of a Major League pitching staff following a second UCL reconstruction is not particularly inspiring. The best advice is to avoid those who are double TJS recipients when putting together your pitching staff in fantasy.

Even those pitchers that have a single TJS procedure frequently return to action at less than their prior level of proficiency, which is understandable as they have to relearn how to pitch with a tendon replacing their ligament in their throwing arm. Still, many pitchers have returned to action following TJS and served as adequate middle-of-the-rotation arms. The worry about another injury is always on the horizon, though, and again, these pitchers are not the arms to build around, nor should they be relied upon as workhorse starters since their managers often limit their workloads to avoid overtaxing their arms. Plus, their diminished effectiveness on the mound results in them tossing shorter stints in their appearances, which naturally causes a decline in their fantasy stat lines.

It is a common complaint among fantasy baseball owners that starting pitchers are not pitching as deep into games due to the conviction among baseball people that enforcement of pitch counts is beneficial to promoting longer careers. To see a starting pitcher still on the mound in the seventh inning, let alone the eighth or ninth inning, is the exception in baseball these days. Many pitchers do not make it through the entire fifth inning in many games because of pitch count limits or general ineptitude on the hill, effectively forestalling their ability to contribute a win for their owners. Thus, the fear of over-extending a pitcher’s stint on the mound past a set pitch count limit makes it difficult to rely on any but the top level of starting pitchers when assembling your fantasy rotation.

Certainly, it is well nigh impossible to stack your pitching staff with starters that can be counted on to provide 180 or more innings in a season. The number of starters that offer 200 or more innings in a season has been declining over the past several seasons, dropping from 33 in 2014 to just 15 in both 2016 and 2017. Below is a chart containing those starting pitchers that threw over 150 innings in 2017 while posting an ERA under 4.00. The chart also shows the number of batters faced and total number of pitches thrown during the season.

Pitcher

2017 Team (End of Season)

GS

IP

Total Batters Faced

Number of Pitches Thrown

 Chris Sale

BOS

32

214.1

851

3428

 Ervin Santana

MIN

33

211.1

864

3235

 Justin Verlander

HOU

33

206

849

3531

 Carlos Martinez

STL

32

205

858

3132

 Corey Kluber

CLE

29

203.2

777

2945

 Zack Greinke

ARI

32

202.1

801

3163

 Jacob deGrom

NYM

31

201.1

827

3168

 Gio Gonzalez

WSH

32

201

827

3364

 Marcus Stroman

TOR

33

201

834

3140

 Max Scherzer

WSH

31

200.2

780

3111

 Carlos Carrasco

CLE

32

200

798

3058

 Luis Severino

NYY

31

193.1

783

3082

 Zach Davies

MIL

33

191.1

817

3089

 Yu Darvish

LAD

31

186.2

766

3054

 Lance Lynn

STL

33

186.1

776

3151

 Mike Leake

SEA

31

186

782

2779

 Jhoulys Chacin

SD

32

180.1

765

2937

 Alex Cobb

TB

29

179.1

742

2849

 Jimmy Nelson

MIL

29

175.1

728

2752

 Stephen Strasburg

WSH

28

175.1

701

2742

 Clayton Kershaw

LAD

27

175

679

2521

 Drew Pomeranz

BOS

32

173.2

740

3080

 Jake Arrieta

CHC

30

168.1

707

2743

 Aaron Nola

PHI

27

168

693

2665

 Andrew Cashner

TEX

28

166.2

704

2636

 Michael Fulmer

DET

25

164.2

676

2479

 Sonny Gray

NYY

27

162.1

678

2664

 Robbie Ray

ARI

28

162

665

2715

 Taijuan Walker

ARI

28

157.1

684

2743

 Jordan Montgomery

NYY

29

155.1

649

2527

 Jose Urena

MIA

28

154.1

659

2648

 Zack Godley

ARI

25

153.1

622

2421

The increasing reliance on middle relievers to take over for pitch-count-limited starters is another factor to acknowledge in coming to grips with the general decline in available starters that contribute useful pitching stats for fantasy purposes. While there are a finite number of middle relievers that are effective in a majority of their trips to toe the rubber, major league managers are growing increasingly willing to turn to their bullpens to keep the game close when a starter falters by allowing too much activity on the base paths.

The strict enforcement of pitch counts as discussed above is a huge factor in the growing use of middle relievers on the Major-League scene. Having pitchers available that can be summoned from the bullpen to shut down a rally and/or keep the contest close has made it much more agreeable for teams to pull a struggling starting pitcher, whether that be the team’s ace or its fifth starter.

Below is a chart showing the relievers that pitched more than 50 innings in 2017 without notching one start. In compiling the chart, those relievers that are primarily used as closers have been eliminated, as well as those whose ERA sat at 3.70 or higher. These 54 relievers also appeared in 50 or more games, indicating the extent of their employment during the course of the season and how dominant middle relievers can affect the usage of starting pitchers.

Pitcher

2017 Team (End of Season)

Total Batters Faced

Number of Pitches Thrown

 Yusmeiro Petit

LAA

339

1299

 Chris Rusin

COL

340

1202

 Chris Devenski

HOU

316

1270

 Craig Stammen

SD

329

1285

 Mychal Givens

BAL

315

1326

 Ryan Tepera

TOR

319

1275

 Anthony Swarzak

MIL

303

1259

 Bryan Shaw

CLE

312

1208

 Archie Bradley

ARI

290

1158

 Luis Garcia

PHI

295

997

 Dominic Leone

TOR

279

1082

 Scott Alexander

KC

283

1059

 Cory Gearrin

SF

285

1069

 Carl Edwards Jr.

CHC

262

1129

 George Kontos

PIT

278

1020

 Danny Barnes

TOR

265

1063

 Kyle Barraclough

MIA

286

1159

 Ryan Buchter

KC

268

1098

 Nick Vincent

SEA

262

945

 Pedro Baez

LAD

280

1174

 Richard Bleier

BAL

265

914

 Dan Jennings

TB

267

1040

 Tommy Kahnle

NYY

256

1017

 Andrew Miller

CLE

244

987

 Brian Duensing

CHC

257

1032

 Pat Neshek

COL

235

940

 Heath Hembree

BOS

271

1113

 Zach McAllister

CLE

249

975

 Jose Ramirez

ATL

258

1031

 Hunter Strickland

SF

268

984

 Matt Albers

WSH

233

966

 Darren O'Day

BAL

240

1011

 Pedro Strop

CHC

250

1019

 Sam Freeman

ATL

254

950

 Dan Otero

CLE

242

849

 Jared Hughes

MIL

244

910

 Peter Moylan

KC

243

902

 Ryan Madson

WSH

219

855

 Tommy Hunter

TB

228

872

 Joe Kelly

BOS

238

1025

 Jake McGee

COL

229

944

 Josh Fields

LAD

223

892

David Phelps

SEA

238

971

 Taylor Rogers

MIN

237

870

 Enny Romero

WSH

245

1026

 Sergio Romo

TB

224

912

 David Hernandez

ARI

214

799

 Nick Goody

CLE

221

901

 Gregory Infante

CWS

227

939

 Tyler Lyons

STL

220

902

 Joe Smith

CLE

214

801

 John Brebbia

STL

209

783

 Daniel Coulombe

OAK

219

905

 Andrew Chafin

ARI

221

879

Another current trend that is resulting in a limitation of inning usage among starting pitchers comes from the trend to employ six-man rotations by certain teams. Houston comes to mind with the use of Brad Peacock as a “swingman” last season. There is no groundswell among MLB teams to begin adding a sixth pitcher to the rotation in the coming season, although it can be expected to take place on occasion, as it did in San Francisco when Johnny Cueto returned from a finger injury late last August.

Teams are not rushing out to add another arm to the rotation where the five-man rotation has dependable arms to roll out every fifth day, but as more starting pitchers fall into a back-of-the-rotation type of status, as opposed to being reliable SP3/4 grade pitchers, the trend is likely to grow. In the coming season you should keep an eye on younger pitchers being groomed to step into the starting rotation, such as Alex Reyes in St. Louis.

The changes to the DL rules that took place in 2017 were also responsible for the decline in starting pitcher workloads with the 10-day DL option making it much more palatable for teams to sideline their pitchers for a start or, at worst, two starts. It was feared in fantasy circles that the shorter DL time limit would result in pitchers becoming unavailable on and off throughout the season, and these concerns certainly came to fruition last season.

There were 288 instances where pitchers headed to the DL in 2017. Granted, that is only a minor increase over the 272 DL stints that took place in 2016, but then again, both those seasons saw an increase in DL placements over the 241 DL trips that pitchers made in 2015. Teams are becoming more careful with the valuable assets that they employ to get batters out, and with that more cautious approach, pitcher workloads continue to diminish.

It is essential for fantasy owners to target healthy, dependable pitchers to populate their pitching rotations and relief corps. With the growing decline in 200-plus-inning starting pitchers, as well as the growing dependence on middle relief by managers at the first hint of trouble during a game, it is becoming much more difficult to find starters that can be considered workhorses, at least those who provide useful performance statistics for fantasy purposes. As demonstrated by the second chart above, however, there are plenty of middle relievers that can be used to provide both counting and ratio stats that will bolster your roto totals and allow you to avoid simply rostering starters that drag down your team’s performance.

To wrap up, below are two more charts showing projected starting pitchers and middle relievers who mimic those pitchers populating the two charts inset above. If you have further questions, send your query to ia@fantasyalarm.com

Starting Pitcher

Team

Madison Bumgarner

SF  

Chris Sale

BOS 

Max Scherzer

WAS 

Corey Kluber

CLE 

Chris Archer

TB  

Dallas Keuchel

HOU 

Aaron Nola

PHI 

Ervin Santana

MIN 

Justin Verlander

HOU 

Jacob deGrom

NYM

Carlos Martinez

STL 

Jose Quintana

CHC

Luis Severino

NYY

Carlos Carrasco

CLE 

Tanner Roark

WAS 

Robbie Ray

AZ  

Clayton Kershaw

LAD  

Jon Lester

CHC

Julio Teheran

ATL 

Zack Greinke

AZ  

Marcus Stroman

TOR 

Gio Gonzalez

WAS 

Stephen Strasburg

WAS 

Jake Arrieta

FA

Kevin Gausman

BAL 

Trevor Bauer

CLE 

Michael Fulmer

DET 

Lance Lynn

FA

Johnny Cueto

SF  

Jacob Faria

TB  

Masahiro Tanaka

NYY

David Price

BOS 

Zach Davies

MIL 

Cole Hamels

TEX 

Gerrit Cole

HOU 

Jose Berrios

MIN 

Drew Pomeranz

BOS 

Zack Godley

AZ  

Shohei Ohtani

ANA 

Alex Cobb

FA

Jameson Taillon

PIT 

Kyle Freeland

COL 

Aaron Sanchez

TOR 

Noah Syndergaard

NYM

J.A. Happ

TOR 

Yu Darvish

FA

Kyle Hendricks

CHC

James Paxton

SEA 

CC Sabathia

NYY

Jake Odorizzi

TB  

Lance McCullers

HOU 

Tyler Chatwood

CHC

Miles Mikolas

STL 

Dinelson Lamet

SD  

Danny Duffy

KC  

Sonny Gray

NYY

Alex Wood

LAD  

Rich Hill

LAD  

Garrett Richards

ANA 

Taijuan Walker

AZ  

Kenta Maeda

LAD  

Trevor Williams

PIT 

 

Relief Pitcher

Team

Emilio Pagan

OAK 

Trevor Hildenberger

MIN 

Chris Devenski

HOU 

Josh Hader

MIL 

Mychal Givens

BAL 

David Phelps

SEA 

Kazuhisa Makita

SD  

Addison Reed

MIN 

Scott Alexander

LA  

Dellin Betances

NYY

Tony Watson

FA

Carl Edwards, Jr.

CHC

Andrew Miller

CLE 

David Robertson

NYY

Brandon Kintzler

WAS 

George Kontos

PIT 

Ryan Madson

WAS 

Drew Steckenrider

MIA 

Luis Garcia

PHI 

Nick Goody

CLE 

Anthony Swarzak

NYM

Zach McAllister

CLE 

Hunter Strickland

SF  

Matt Bush

TEX 

Pedro Strop

CHC

Cory Gearrin

SF  

Will Harris

HOU 

Tommy Kahnle

NYY

Pat Neshek

PHI 

Steve Cishek

CHC

Matt Belisle

FA

Darren O'Day

BAL 

 

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