Chris Sale

Chris Sale

I like playing fantasy baseball. I love the weekly competition and it gives me a reason to watch or pay attention to games and players I might not otherwise notice. This early in the year, leagues are just being set up. As commissioner of my own league, I am in the process of deciding which type of competition I want to use (point system or categories) and what stats to use (Hits, SLG, IP, ERA, K, K/9…?) Yahoo and ESPN don’t provide the opportunity to track advanced metrics like wRC+, FIP or WAR, but I have made fair approximations of them in the past. I refuse to include Wins or RBI in my leagues, but other than that, most categories can be fun.

Now is the time of year when most significant players are on the teams they will play most of the season with. All but a few free agents are signed, and most (though certainly not all) injuries have been revealed. It’s time to start thinking about Draft order.

I always start by thinking about Pitchers, especially Starting Pitchers. They are more valuable than Relievers, and there are fewer really good ones than there are really good hitters. Once you drop out of the top 20, things get dicey pretty quick. If you have a league with 10 or more teams, but 5-7 pitching spots, that means that almost everybody is going to have to choose at least 3-5 pitchers who are NOT obviously Top 20. Put another way, if there are 30 MLB teams, and each fantasy team needs 5 starting pitchers, somebody is going to have to take a look at the #2 or #3 pitcher from teams like Houston, San Diego, and the Rockies.

Nathan Eovaldi (late round steal?)

Nathan Eovaldi (late round steal?)

Since there is no way to know ahead of time who will be drafted before you get a shot a them, you can only plan so far. There might be an early rush on SP, meaning you may have to forgo grabbing a great outfielder to make sure you don’t get left in the dust. Still, it’s good to have at least an outline to glance at as you go.

In my opinion, there is a pretty solid top 10-ish list of SP that are no-brainers going into 2015. These guys are young enough to not worry about natural decline, are coming off good seasons and have no apparent injury issues. They have track records that show they are not flashes in the pan.

First Tier (in a loose order):

Clayton Kershaw

Felix Hernandez

Chris Sale

Max Scherzer

Cole Hamels

David Price

Stephen Strasburg

Jon Lester

Zach Greinke

Madison Bumgarner

Once you get past these guys, questions start to arise. Age, injury, lack of a track record, or artificially inflated stats from the previous season cast shadows of doubt on guys who might very well be worth an early draft pick. Others are simply good, not great, and wouldn’t garner super-early attention.

Dallas Keuchel (legit?)

Dallas Keuchel (legit?)

Second Tier (not so much in order):

Johnny Cueto

Adam Wainwright

Corey Kluber

Jordan Zimmerman

James Shields

Jose Quintana

Jeff Samardzija

Hiroshi Iwakuma

Doug Fister

For a 3rd Tier, I don’t go into the so-so arms, the guys that are fillers, the ones you can probably pick up at any point in the year. I look for guys that might be surprises, guys who might live up to the expectations of one great year, or really good pitchers who are recovering from injury or “off” seasons and might slip through the cracks into the later rounds of a draft. These might end up being “secret weapons”.

Late(r) Round Steals:

Dallas Keuchel

Julio Teheran

Tyson Ross

Alex Cobb

Chris Archer

Sonny Gray

Justin Verlander

Ian Kennedy

Nathan Eovaldi

Yordano Ventura

Anibal Sanchez

Drew Hutchison

And finally, the “awesome if they’re healthy, but there’s no way to know when they’ll be 100% again” guys. These are the guys that might actually slip to the final rounds, even though, when healthy, they might be first rounders:

Awesome When Healthy:

Jose Fernandez

Jose Fernandez

Jose Fernandez

Matt Harvey

Masahiro Tanaka

This is by no means an exhaustive list; many other pitchers could fit onto one of these lists. But as I move forward, these guys will be on my radar. In the fast-paced environment of the Draft, I would be happy to come out with even 3 of these guys.