I have to say up front. I haven’t drafted a starting pitcher in the first round of a baseball draft in probably 20 years. Even in points leagues or leagues with Quality Starts as a category. That’s been my playbook for a long time and I have consistently stuck with it, as many experts do. It’s the consensus.
There’s an article by every site, every year, justifying the Average Draft Position of the first pitcher selected, but it’s a backhanded compliment. The premise is “this pitcher has fallen far enough that NOW he is a good value and a justifiable selection at this ADP.” That’s not the case this year. Max Scherzer’s ADP is No. 4. He isn’t falling anywhere. He has risen to the top and he doesn’t have a pitching peer to consider at that ADP.
Most Fantasy analysts believe that offense is more valuable, if for no other reason than most leagues start upwards of 14 or 15 offensive players compared to eight to ten starting pitchers. With more demand, it makes sense that they take priority early in drafts. For Scherzer to be a justifiable selection as high as fourth and for his ADP to also be that high is fairly remarkable. I don’t remember Clayton Kershaw being drafted this high even at the peak of his elite career and if he was, I wasn’t doing it and I certainly wasn’t defending it.
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The Statistical Case For Max Scherzer At #4
Scherzer’s ADP has been stable in ESPN, RTS, and NFBC league drafts according to FantasyPros.com. He could be available as late as seven or eight in some leagues because pitchers aren’t typically drafted in the top five, but his ADP isn’t a small sample size fluke. It’s legit and it’s going to stay that way. Owners drafting in the middle of the round, picks four through eight, have one of three strategic options. They can select one of a multiple relatively equal offensive options, draft Max Scherzer or they can really, really reach for Chris Sale (#11.3 ADP) or Jacob deGrom (#11.0). As I was researching this article I became more and more intrigued by Justin Verlander, but that’s an argument for another day.
I won’t eat an owners lunch for reaching for a player, but to draft Chris Sale or Jacob deGrom in the top five is a decision I would ridicule. That means that there are only two legitimate options. Select Max Scherzer or stick to the traditional way of thinking and draft offense in round one.
I wouldn’t draft Scherzer ahead of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts or Jose Ramirez because I believe they are a first round tier by themselves, but after “The Big Three,” Scherzer is the pick. Statistically, Scherzer’s case is compelling. It isn’t a “position scarcity” situation.
220.2 Innings PItched – 18 Wins – 300 Strikeouts – 2.53 ERA – .91 WHIP
There are a few potential alternatives to Scherzer if owners want to go that route, but Scherzer is the safest option and if owners are going to use a mid-first round pick on a pitcher, they have to KNOW what they are getting.
- In 2018, only 18 pitchers struck out 200 batters or more. Only one struck out 300. Max Scherzer.
- Only 13 starters pitched 200 innings or more. Scherzer led them.
- Only 15 starters pitched 20 quality starts or more and only five pitched 25 or more. Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer led the league with 28.
- Justin Verlander led the top-10 scoring pitchers in points leagues with a WHIP of .90. Scherzer tied Jacob deGrom for second with a WHIP of .91.
- Scherzer tied for fourth in starting pitcher Wins, three fewer than Blake Snell.
Justin Verlander was almost as good as Scherzer in 2018 and with the exception of a minor blip in 2015, when he pitched only 133.1 innings due to an injury, he has been just as durable.
If an owner is going to go out on a limb and buck the consensus, they have to know they’re getting a durable pitcher with ace level potential. Durability concerns are why Chris Sale isn’t a viable option at No. 4 and I sense that there is an underlying feeling that Verlander is due to regress. Even though evidence to support those concerns is lacking, owners have them for a pitcher of his age. Durability or a lack of a track record of performance at this level of dominance eliminates Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer, Luis Severino, and Blake Snell from consideration as well.
Scherzer has pitched 214 innings or more in six straight seasons with 231 or more strikeouts in seven straight seasons. He has pitched at least 170 innings every year going all the way back to 2009 and he has never struck out fewer than 174 batters in a full season in his entire career. The dominance is there and he’s as close to a sure thing as a pitcher can be.
That’s one reason for drafting Scherzer at No. 4. A second reason, setting up picks two and three and even four.
The Strategic Case for Scherzer at #4
Owners with draft slots 4-8 are selecting #14-17 and #24-28 in rounds two and three of 10 team leagues. There are offensive players with first-round potential available in rounds two and three while the drop off at starting pitcher can be significant, especially in round three.
Here are a few offensive players that could be available and their ADP.
- Manny Machado – ADP #14.0
- Ronald Acuna – ADP #14.3
- Alex Bregman – ADP #14.7
- Javier Baez – ADP #14.7
- Paul Goldschmidt – ADP #18.3
- Aaron Judge – ADP #19.0
- Bryce Harper – ADP #19.7
- Giancarlo Stanton – ADP #21.0
- Trevor Story – ADP #23.0
- Charlie Blackmon – ADP #27
- Andrew Benintendi – ADP #29
- Kris Bryant – ADP #32.3
At least one of these players will be available with an owner’s second pick and a multiple of them will be available as late as #28 for their third. The difference between J.D. Martinez, Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich or Francisco Lindor at picks four and five isn’t significant from their alternatives at #14-17. Trevor Story and Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge could have better 2019 seasons than their first-round doppelgangers. Owners can catch up after drafting Scherzer by drafting offensive players with their second and third picks. That’s not the case at starting pitcher, with one possible exception at the end of round two and one of the better values this late in draft season – Justin Verlander and his ADP of #22. A case can be made for Corey Kluber (ADP #18), but that’s not a case I believe in and I won’t be making it.
Pitchers Available at #14-17 and #24-27
Owners that stick with the old-school playbook and draft offense in the first half of round one won’t have Max Scherzer, Chris Sale or Jacob deGrom fronting their Fantasy rotations in 2019. Owners drafting at the backend of 10-team leagues are reaching for Sale and deGrom to make sure they get their aces. What about owners drafting #4-8 who believe they should draft an offensive player this high and also believe a team needs an ace?
The Ace Dilemma
These owners are left with a difficult decision at #14-17. Do they reach for their ace, Corey Kluber (#18) or Justin Verlander (#21), or do they draft the best available player and settle for their first starter in round three? Settling is risky and passing on the best available player is bad form. Drafting Max Scherzer at #4 avoids being put in this difficult position.
Owners drafting at #14-17 could find themselves in a position where they have to draft Corey Kluber (#18) or Justin Verlander (#22) instead of Manny Machado (#14.0), Ronald Acuna (#14.3), Alex Bregman (#14.7), or Javier Baez (#14.7). I am becoming more and more enamored with Justin Verlander and his ADP, but if I am drafting #4-8 and then #14-17, I can’t pass up those offensive alternatives for Kluber and I am leaning slightly against Verlander.
The pressure becomes more and more intense for owners that drafted Yelich, Arenado or Martinez at #4, while significantly easier if they already own Max Scherzer. Drafting Scherzer at four allows owners to comfortably, in a balanced fashion, draft a first round batter at #14-17. For owners that want to dominate on the bump, a Scherzer, Verlander tandem is embarrassingly appealing. That’s a luxury that selecting Scherzer at four allows. Drafting a big bat like Yelich, Martinez or Arenado at four eliminates this luxury and exacerbates concerns of just how to field a pitching staff. There aren’t similar alternatives at #24-28 that there were at four and 14.
Now, consider this. What if you’re an owner that drafted Yelich/Arenado/Martinez or even Lindor at #4 and couldn’t pass up one of those first round bats like Baez/Harper or Judge that fell to #14-17? These owners will have to settle for the ace of their staff to be Aaron Nola (#24.3), Gerrit Cole (#26.3), Blake Snell (#28.7) or possibly Luis Severino (#32.7). There is a case that Gerrit Cole could be as dominant as Justin Verlander and at #26.3 he is a second-round player at a third round cost if he is. But, what if he doesn’t fall and what if he isn’t in 2019 what he was in 2018? And, what if Trevor Story (#23.0) or Kris Bryant (#32.0) is available? The available second and third round batters are too enticing for owners to be put in a position where they can’t draft them because they must draft a pitcher. Owners should not wait until the fourth round to select their first pitcher. That’s playing with fire. It’s like using the “No-Running Back” strategy in Fantasy football. It could work, but it’s extremely unlikely.
Another repercussion is that most owners that find themselves in this position will draft a pitcher even though they aren’t the best available player in the third round and then double-down on pitching with their fourth selection as well.
Clayton Kershaw (#33.7), possibly Luis Severino (#34.4) (though both of their injury issues could eliminate them from this discussion soon), Trevor Bauer (#35.0), Noah Syndergaard (#37.0), Carlos Carrasco (#38.0) should be available in the fourth round at #34-38 or owners can settle for the risk/reward profile of Walker Buehler at #41.0. Are these who you want to front your rotation?
Potential Rosters After Round Four
Here are the players that could be available at #4, #17,#24 and #37. Look at how owners could mix and match pitching and offense with the fourth overall draft slot in the first four rounds of snake drafts.
#4: Max Scherzer/Christian Yelich/J.D. Martinez/Nolan Arenado
#17: Javier Baez/Bryce Harper/Aaron Judge/Corey Kluber/Justin Verlander
#24: Trevor Story/Aaron Nola/Gerrit Cole/Charlie Blackmon/Blake Snell/Kris Bryant
#37: Carlos Carrasco/Noah Syndergaard/Starling Marte/Walker Buehler
Offense First – Pitching in the Second
For owners that want to draft a bat like Yelich or Arenado with the fourth pick, they can satisfy their need for pitching with Verlander or Kluber in round two and follow that up with either offense or pitching in the third and fourth rounds at #24 and #37. A well-balanced approach without drafting Scherzer.
Pitching in the First and Second
For owners that want to draft pitcher-heavy at the top of their rotations, they can select Scherzer at #4 and Verlander at #17. That’s upwards of 550 strikeouts with Cy Young caliber ratios and 35 or more wins from two starters and there are still players that provide both stolen bases and home runs remaining at #24 and #37, easily replacing Yelich.
Owners that want a power hitting, home run heavy lineup will be left slightly punchless after two rounds, as they passed on Arenado and Martinez in round one and then Harper and Judge with pick number two. Giancarlo Stanton could be available at #24, but his current ADP is #21.5, so it’s an unknown. This is an interesting approach and with the lack of dominant pitching in today’s game, a good way to be strong where many other teams will be weak. Home runs and steals are scattered evenly throughout the draft so while the players available at this stage are great values, riskier alternatives can be found later, sometimes much later.
Pitching First – Offense in the Second and Third and Even Fourth
Owners that draft Scherzer in the first round and want to get back on track with offense in the second can do that and leave themselves plenty of options in the third round. And, all of the potential bats available in round two are first-round capable players and some of the best pure values of the early part of the draft. Harper and Judge are due for bounce-back years and could both produce 40+ home runs while Javier Baez is a .290 hitter with a 25 home run, 25 stolen base profile. If I had to choose between Scherzer and Baez/Harper/Judge or Yelich/Arenado/Martinez and Verlander or Kluber, I want the Scherzer/Baez combo and it isn’t close.
Owners that chose power in round two can add a similar player to Baez in the form of Trevor Story or Charlie Blackmon in the third or those that selected Baez can opt for a slugger with some stolen base potential like Kris Bryant. And, with a top line pitcher and a top line hitter in the fold that leaves the flexibility to draft a pitcher like Gerrit Cole or Blake Snell or Aaron Nola if they prefer that route. I recommend the bats with the third pick in this scenario, but young pitchers with upside like Cole, Snell, and Nola are viable alternatives and nice options to have as a team’s number two starter rather than needing them to repeat their ace-like 2018 seasons as their number one.
And, for owners that believe in drafting offense heavily early in drafts, this approach allows that philosophy while still acquiring an ace, and the best ace, in Scherzer. Drafting Scherzer fourth and then a bat the next three selections remains loyal to that belief and it allows for owners to go with either a slugger or a power and speed guy in both the second and third round and then add speed and power in the fourth round with Starling Marte whose current ADP is #38.
What I also like about this specific strategy is that it focuses on offense, but if the draft doesn’t fall exactly as I have laid it out, there should still be a viable fallback plan. If Marte isn’t there, Carlos Carrasco with a current ADP of #36.5 or Noah Syndergaard (#37.5 ADP) should be. This provides an owner who planned to focus heavily on offense to settle for two 200+ strikeout pitchers who can pitch like aces in ratios (Scherzer and Carrasco/Syndergaard) and still have two first-round caliber batters after four rounds. Settling for that is a good start to a draft in my view and if it turns out as planned, Starling Marte as your third best batter is a strong way to overload a lineup that is also topped with the best pitcher in baseball.
Owners don’t have to draft Scherzer at #4, but if they do it isn’t settling or reaching. It allows a team to have the most dominant, most durable player at his position while creating both category and positional flexibility. If a player who has no business being available all of a sudden is, then a team need isn’t so important that they’re handcuffed. That’s less true if you draft Christian Yelich or even worse, sluggers like Arenado or Martinez, who don’t contribute stolen bases. Being in a position to always draft the best available player rather than being enslaved by positional or categorical need is the best way to situate your draft if you can do it and drafting Scherzer goes a long way to setting a team up that way for the entire draft. It’s the best argument for drafting Scherzer and that’s saying something because his performance on the field is an extremely compelling reason as well.
You can follow me on Twitter @CJMitch73, listen to my upcoming Podcast The Fantrax Fantasy Forum at Fantrax.com and if you need a Fantasy Sports fix I can be found on Facebook at “A Podcast To Be Named Later” Facebook group.
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