Nobody drafted Dellin Betances last year, but a lot of people, myself included, were able to ride him to championships. By definition, this year’s Betances — a set-up ace who can be picked up off waivers — will go undrafted, and likely won’t be pegged by me in this blog post. But if you want to structure your pitching staff around a handful of trustworthy starters and about five relievers, including one or two set-up aces who can be taken among your last four or five picks, here are some guys to consider:
Every team wants Cole Hamels, but he does not want to pitch for every team. Perhaps most importantly, not every team he is willing to pitch for has the trade chips to land him. Jeff Sullivan recently wrote an excellent article breaking down the Padres’ latest offer that was denied by the Phillies’ “brain” trust. San Diego reportedly offered Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges for Hamels, and Ruben Amaro turned that offer down. This got us thinking (I’m actually jacking this blog post idea from Derek VanRiper), what would an acceptable offer for Hamels look like?
There are reportedly nine teams that are not on Hamels’ no-trade list. In this exercise, I will go team by team, offering up a proposal for Hamels that both sides might reasonably agree to. Here is the acceptability zone I will operate in:
Renfroe + Hedges < potential for mutual acceptance < Mookie Betts.
For your consideration: Hamels, 31, is owed $94 million over the next four seasons and has a $20 million team/vesting option for the 2019 season. He has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP and has been worth 5.6 wins above replacement on average over the last five seasons according to Baseball Reference.
On to the fake trade proposals…
The first 10 starting pitchers off the board this year are Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, David Price, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto and Yu Darvish, according to NFBC ADP Data. On average, they are coming off the board in the first 44 picks. It’s hard to argue with any of those names, and the only guy who is not in my personal top-10 is Bumgarner (I have Cole Hamels ranked as my No. 10 starter). However, it is safe to say those won’t be the top-10 earners at the end of the season. Last year Cueto, Kluber and Jon Lester all finished as top-10 earners at the position, and they went outside the top-10 on draft day.
Figuring out who will be this year’s handful of starting pitchers to pitch their way to fantasy ace status in 2015 without carrying that price tag on draft day is a tricky proposition, but there are seven names that jump out to me as prime candidates to provide ace-level performance who are going in the middle rounds of drafts. I’m going to skip the guys going in the 11-15 ADP range — Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Lester, Hamels and Jordan Zimmermann — because they are essentially getting treated like No. 1 starters in fantasy, and nobody would be surprised if they finished as top-10 starting pitchers.
Here are my picks:
Matt Harvey (ADP: 69, SP16) – 2014 Stats: N/A (Tommy John surgery)
The case for Harvey is pretty obvious. He was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball prior to his elbow surgery, and is now 17 months removed from said surgery. A likely innings cap around 180 or so would be the top draw back in rating Harvey as an ace in 2015, but he had a 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 191 strikeouts in 178.1 innings in 2013, so clearly 200-plus innings are not needed to qualify as a fantasy ace. Steamer thinks Harvey will have a 3.13 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 175 strikeouts while PECOTA thinks he will have a 2.91 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 153 strikeouts, although neither projection system has Harvey reaching 165 innings. Harvey is especially appealing in 10 and 12-team leagues because when he does get shut down, a replacement level pitcher can be subbed in, possibly a top prospect who gets called up in September. This means you will still get 200-plus innings out of that roster spot, and the combined numbers should equate to at least a No. 2 starter, with the upside for more.
Earlier this week I finished my top-350 rankings, which will contribute to the Round Table composite rankings that will be released next week, and it feels like quite an accomplishment. Full disclosure: I’ve never done a big board that went 350 players deep before. This is not because I have never put this much time into fantasy baseball preparation, but because I have found such a list for personal use to be unnecessary, as I already know which players I am higher on than everybody else, and I inevitably end up with some mixture of those guys in most of my redraft leagues. However, the idea of our subscribers getting a look at how I have guys valued before the season interested me, so I was happy to work up a top-350 to go with the lists from Jeff Erickson, Derek VanRiper, Clay Link and Michael Rusignola.
There are a few things worth noting about how I went about the process before I give out some spoilers.
First, I ranked 24 players who will be eligible at catcher this season, with the intent of offering enough backstops to start in a 12-team two-catcher league. This may not be something my colleague’s factored in, and perhaps some users would prefer simply a true-talent top-350, but it was a conscious decision on my part. Had i not felt the need to fit 24 catchers on the list, Wilin Rosario, Josmil Pinto, Chris Iannetta, Tyler Flowers, Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia would have been left on the cutting room floor.
Similarly, I stopped valuing scarce positions after I had ranked enough players to start at said positions in a standard 12-team league. So since I did not think Asdrubal Cabrera, Brandon Phillips or Jose Ramirez were top-36 middle infielders, I did not give them a rankings boost based on the fact that they qualify there, and I left Andrelton Simmons, Nick Franklin and Arismendy Alcantara off the list for the same reason.
Now, here are some spoilers from my top-350, which is subject to change prior to next Thursday.
March is just one short month away, which means it’s almost time to start drafting your fantasy baseball teams. The 2015 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide is getting sent out in the coming days and it includes everything necessary to prepare for draft season. Prospect rankings are flooding the internet as well, making this one of the more enjoyable times of the year.
I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to the RotoWire Roundtable this year, where five of our best baseball minds rank their top 350 players for 2015, with the five lists then getting compiled into one master list. This is a big hit on the website, as it represents the opinions of five baseball experts, with checks and balances built in. For instance, I think Mookie Betts is a top 60 player this year, but such a stance will get reeled in because my colleagues will (presumably) be less bullish on Betts, and he will probably settle in somewhere in the 75-100 range in the composite rankings. This is more useful to the user, because it offers a realistic range where a player will get drafted in most leagues, and biases in every direction get muffled in favor of a clearer picture.
I might write about Betts sometime in this space before the season, but it was easy to rank him where I did. Right now, however, I want to focus on Freddie Freeman, who has been a nightmare for me to rank.
We have the Braves’ first baseman ranked sixth at his position, and his current NFBC ADP is 37.
What kind of player will you get if you take Freeman at the end of the third round or the beginning of the fourth round? Three prominent projection systems weigh in:
PECOTA: .278 BA, 20 HR, 75 runs, 82 RBI, two steals, 636 plate appearances
STEAMER: .284 BA, 24 HR, 80 runs, 83 RBI, three steals, 650 plate appearances
ZiPS: .286 BA, 22 HR, 97 runs, 91 RBI, three steals, 669 plate appearances