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Pitching Strategy For A Shortened Season

Consider this my pitching strategy 2.0. I penned my original strategy guide back when it looked like we may get 80-some games. Sadly, that was not to be. We are being treated to some baseball though, in the form of a 60-game season. Hooray for mandated baseball, I guess. Anyway, with an exact number of games in mind as well as more time to think over my strategy, here is an updated strategy guide for pitching in a shortened season.

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Pitching Strategy For A Shortened Season

If you peruse my January strategy piece, I was a big fan of going in early and double-dipping on ace pitchers. My reasoning is that in today’s game, fewer pitchers than ever are putting up bulk innings. The elite bulk innings provided by the likes of Gerrit Cole or Jacob deGrom can be a huge stabilizing force in your pitching categories. Premiere difference-making starters are a rare breed these days, as the pitching landscape is littered with five-and-dive types. The mid-to-late rounds are chock full of inconsistency and mediocrity.

A Different Strategy

With only a half-season of production to look forward to, however, things change dramatically. Whereas before you were investing in ace pitchers for their elite bulk innings, now everyone is capped at a more similar innings total. Justin Verlander isn’t going to outpace most of the SP pack by 50 innings. That makes for a massive paradigm shift in SP valuation. Rather than looking at a full season’s worth of production, we should now look more at how effective pitchers can be per start and per inning.

Even with a shortened season, of course, elite pitching is still beneficial. I still want a dominant rotation anchor because I know that outside of very fluky circumstances, they are going to provide elite ratios and stuff my categories. Those extra 1-2 innings per start over most of the SP flock can be very beneficial as well. Keep in mind, of course, that those fluky scenarios are more likely in a shortened season. We will be looking at a half-season at best, so we are going to see some weird stuff. We don’t have a full season for things to even out or regress to the mean as we typically expect. For example, Max Fried suffered a .343 BABIP over the first half of 2019. That smallish sample would simply be how his season ends in 2020, however unfortunate his BABIP.

Keeping in mind that the bulk-inning starters are still going to compile an extra inning or two per start, here are some of the notable value risers going from full-season points total to points per start according to our Fantrax projections.

FPG table

These starters are all projected for over 12 Fantasy Points per Game and fewer than 400 total points per our standard scoring setup. Some of the players to keep in mind are those who were coming into the regular season injured. Rich Hill, James Paxton, and Michael Kopech stand to benefit from the late start to the season since they’ll be closer to full health. Lance McCullers, Jr. didn’t qualify for the list, but he also fits into that mold. Kenta Maeda could see a rise in points per start as he moves to Minnesota and faces fewer innings restrictions.

Quality Starts In A Shortened Season

Simply waiting for the middle tier or pitchers for their per-inning effectiveness doesn’t work so well in Quality Start leagues. This is where it is still particularly beneficial to hit a pair of aces early. Hitting that six-inning mark consistently is something only the true studs do, while also anchoring your ratios. There are late-round guys like Dallas Keuchel or Marco Gonzales who will pitch deep into games. However, their overall production will be middling.

You could choose to put less emphasis on drafting to win Quality Starts or punt the category altogether. There will likely be a record-low QS% in a shortened 2020 for a number of reasons. Organizations are employing various strategies; six-man rotations, piggybacking starters, more openers, and a myriad of long relievers. The massively expanded rosters leave room for a ton of more relievers in general. Some starters will be brought along slowly (I’m looking askance at you, Walker Buehler) and might have their innings lowered greatly.

Relief Pitching Strategy

First things first – I’ve rarely been the type to pay up for saves. Even the elite relievers have rocky seasons or get injured all the time. That really puts you in a tough position because now not only have you used that early draft capital on a failed closer, you’re behind in hitting and starting pitching. However, this strategy also changes for me in a shortened season.

The primary reason I refuse to pay up for saves is that so many closers lose their jobs over the course of the season. In most standard leagues, it is pretty easy to handcuff closers or flat-out add their replacements from the waiver wire when they lose their job. This becomes problematic over a half-season. Fewer opportunities for the closer to fail, means less turnover among closers. That makes it harder to pick those saves up throughout the season. With more emphasis on the per-inning contributions as well, the elite closers become more tempting at their ADP as they fortify your ratios and pile up the K’s.

I mentioned in my recent ADP Fallers article that closers with locked down jobs are rising and the handcuffs are falling in ADP. Adjust your strategy accordingly. You can still wait around until the waning rounds of your draft and take your stabs at the dicier closers and/or handcuffs. There will probably be a lot of mixing and matching at the back end of MLB bullpens this season, anyway. Furthermore, that is just more of an opportunity for you to load up on bats in the early-to-middle rounds. Going in earlier on hitting is a lot less risky this year than pitching, by a long shot. Be sure to keep on top of the player news. Also, stay atop what each team is doing with their rotations. That in itself will go a long, long way towards success this year.

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1 Comment
  1. Bryson Owens says

    It’s a good point that the players will eventually get injured because it’s just inevitable. My spouse and I are trying to get our kids into baseball so they can start playing next year. We want our kids to play whatever sport they want every year so they remain active and learn good skills.

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