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Draft Strategy: Dream to Stream

As we noted in our starting pitcher rankings, it’s an incredibly deep year for starting pitching. Most of the We Talk team has recommended waiting to draft starting pitchers, arguing that that you can still get quality SP in the late rounds. Add in the fact that there are always a handful of waiver wire SP gems, and a savvy manager can build an elite staff without drafting the Verlanders and Kershaws of the world.

In this post, I'm going to take it a step further and say that you can take this tactic and turn it into the entire foundation of your team. If you're going to wait on drafting SP, I'm going to recommend you don't take a guy like Ross Detwiler - you may think "cool, a 3.40 ERA in the late rounds, that could help my staff," and you'd be right, but not on the team I'm proposing in this article.

With this draft strategy, I want you to focus your first 8 or so picks entirely on hitters. Take the best hitter available, and don't even think about SP. Unless another leaguemate followed this exact strategy, you should have the best offensive firepower in the league at this point. Then, with the top 100 or so players off the board, start looking for pitchers that will help you dominate the strikeout category. Using Yahoo's ADP, types of guys I would recommend at this point include:
  • Jake Peavy (ADP 108, 194 K in 2012)
  • Lance Lynn (ADP 156, 180 K in 176 IP)
  • Jeff Samardzija (ADP 110, 180 K is 172 IP)
  • Tim Lincecum - a guy I'd really want to have on this team; in a down year, he has 190 K, and obviously has ace potential.
Etc etc. I don't need to keep going on this list; just look for guys with high strikeout totals, especially ones who had more Ks than IP.

So now you have a team with a strong offense and a lot of strikeout pitchers. Now, to make this team work, you have to hold up the strategy in-season by streaming SP like crazy, especially early in the year. This will ensure two things: 1) you tack onto your weekly Win and K totals, and 2) you get your hands on guys who could be the next breakout waiver wire stars. Last year, despite not drafting the elite SP, I finished with strong ERA weeks because of in-season pickups like Kris Medlen and Hisashi Iwakuma.

And that's how this team wins. With your strong offense, hopefully you're getting 3-4 of the offense categories every week, and streaming high-strikeout pitchers will get you Ks and Wins most weeks. And the best part of this strategy is that you're not punting anything; you can still win ERA/WHIP on any given week if you play off good matchups and your pitchers perform respectably. So, while dominating certain categories, you're still a threat in all of them. This keeps your "floor" reasonably high at 5-6 categories per week, with the potential for more on a good week.

One area I didn't mention at all, because I didn't want to muddle things, is Saves. This strategy can be used no matter what your views are on closers; one approach I've taken before is to draft those first 8 batters, then some closers, then finally some high-K SP at the end of the draft. This gives you a strong Saves team while maintaining the overall strategy of this draft.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. I don't always use this strategy, but it's been very successful when I have. I want to conclude with some caveats on this strategy that would make you NOT want to use it:
  • I generally find that it works best for head-to-head leagues, not roto. Having your lower-end team of SP can mess up your ERA/WHIP too badly in roto leagues. You need to be more well-rounded in roto leagues.
  • Your league settings need to accommodate streaming by allowing daily changes and a solid amount of transactions per week (4-6, usually). If you have an IP ceiling limit, or can't make enough moves to keep adding SP, this won't be successful.
  • You need to be personally ready to employ the strategy. If you're not the type to analyze daily pitching matchups and scour the waiver wire for regular SP help, then this strategy is probably not best suited to your personal playing habits. If you're playing in 6 leagues, don't bother with it in your "for fun, low priority" leagues; it takes too much daily work.