Pitcher Drafting Strategy and Rankings in 5×5 h2h Leagues

h2h Corner

Chicks dig the long ball, and so do I. That’s just one of the many reasons I like hitters better than pitchers. From a ranking perspective, hitters are more predictable and stable from year to year. In addition, they tend not to be infected by the injury bug as much. Because of this, I approach pitchers a tad different from other fantasy writers, and mind you this is only for h2h leagues.

First, I don’t care about much closers – you get the good closers through diligence. J.J. Putz, two years ago, is a great example. He was on waivers in most leagues and become a top ten closer. Then, the following year was a top five drafted closer and did nothing. I also discount wins. Wins are too unpredictable; some of the best fantasy pitchers this year will undoubtedly be guys with low win totals because they play on crummy teams or are flat-out unlucky. For that reason, I don’t chase wins, but if they come after me, great. So, what do I like in a pitcher? Good ratios and delicious ability to whiff batters. Consequently, Chien Ming Wang you can stop calling me.

In terms of strategy, I tend to make my first 8-10 selections hitters. Because the Santanas, Peavys and Sabathias are off the table, this requires identifying the best undervalued pitchers. In year’s past, anyone willing to listen to my rants knew I was infatuated with the furry Aaron Harang, no matter what he looks like. Last year, the hype finally caught up with him and he was a sixth round selection or so. I didn’t get him, which worked out very well. Yet another reason why you don’t take many pitchers in the top eight rounds.

This meant I had to target other pitchers. So, I focused on two Tampa Bay hurlers: Scott Kazmir and James Shields. While they didn’t quite pan out like Aaron Harang from 2005 to 2007, they did the job and provided some stability. The point here is that you can build a solid pitching staff, especially in an h2h league, from what most of your opposing drafters would consider the “scrap heap.”

Another reason not to grab a pitcher early is because it is almost impossible to sweep pitching categories in a given week. I let my Monday/Tuesday starters do the talking. If they post good ratio performances, I hold my borderline starters back. If they have poor early week outings, I release the hounds and try to win strike-outs and wins. You can manage a pitching staff on the fly: good match-ups will always be out there. That is why you don’t grab pitchers early. Other reasons include: Chris Carpenter, Erik Bedard and Ben McDonald from seasons past.

As an aside, the first two hurlers mentioned above (Carpenter and Bedard) are all going very late in drafts this year, yet would anyone be surprised if they were top 10 or even five hurlers? You hit on one or two of your formerly broken down pitchers and you end up with top round talent in the latter part of your draft. Quite simply, you can get pitchers who end up in the top 10 late in your draft; you can rarely do so with hitters.

If you have a question on a particular ranking or want to debate the value of these pitchers in an h2h league please post a comment. Otherwise I’ve chosen to highlight two groups of pitchers: those people might think I value too low and those I value too high.

As mentioned above, the reason I don’t love pitchers is their unpredictable nature, mostly tied to injuries. Ladies and gentlemen: Josh Beckett, my 18th ranked pitcher. Does he have the upside of a top five pitcher, yes? Would you stake your life on the fact that he pitches 200 innings or doesn’t develop a blister? I wouldn’t. Becket’s Average Draft Position (ADP)  is 75.3, which means you would be foregoing players like Corey Hart, Bobby Abreu, Rafael Furcal, and Dan Uggla (who is supremely undervalued this year) to draft him. ADP is a useful tool for gauging approximately where a player goes in drafts, so you know how to target/value accordingly.

In addition, I’ve never loved Roy Oswalt (ADP = 47.4), he topped out at 208 and 206 strikeouts in 2002 and 2004. He has averaged only 167 strikeouts over the last four seasons. In 2007, Oswalt had a 3.18 ERA and 1.32 WHIP and, in 2008, a 3.54 ERA and 1.18 WHIP – see go figure. Also, his ADP is in the Brian McCann, Alex Rios and Chipper Jones neighborhood. Come on, Oswalt over one of those strong hitters is a ridiculously bad choice.

More important to this discussion is who you can take later but get higher round value, i.e. dating up (A.K.A. TMR’s love life) in today’s parlance. Two pitchers that fit this bill are Chad Billingsley and Javier Vazquez.

Chad Billingsley has an ADP in the eighth round (86.2), yet I think he’ll be a top 10 pitcher for your h2h team. Here is why: he strikes out one batter per inning. He also plays in a cavernous ball park with a good offense against teams like San Diego and San Francisco (38 total games right there – gotta love the unbalanced schedule). In addition, Billingsley’s highest ERA was 3.80, which came in just 90 innings during his rookie season. His WHIP can get a little scary, though it should settle into a manageable 1.37 or so. To get a shot at 15-20 wins and 200 Ks, with a sub-4.00 era, that’s a top 10 pitcher to me. Just tell him to stay away from Alyssa Milano.

Now for my super sleeper candidate: Javier Vazquez. Whatever Ozzie and your leaguemates might say, you can snag Vazquez in the 14th round or later (ADP = 149.3) and he can anchor your staff. I think he can be a top 10 pitcher for your h2h squad. I’ve ranked him 13th overall, and he’ll most likely be the first pitcher I take in my drafts. Over the last four years, he has averaged 197 Ks. Yeah, his ERA will likely be in the mid-4.00s, but he does have upside (his ERA in 2007 was 3.74). His career WHIP is 1.26, was 1.32 last year, but a svelte 1.14 in 2007. Vazquez best year was, incidentally, the last year he pitched in the minor leagues, er the National League. He now gets to face a pitcher at least twice a game, so his strikeouts will improve and his ERA/WHIP should go down. For me, Vazquez has replaced Aaron Harang as my annual sleeper. Will he outperform last year’s sleeper James Shields? Only time will tell.

Onto the rankings. Let’s dissect my picks, please post comments and I’ll respond, especially if you say nice things about me, but especially if you say mean things.

Complete H2H Pitcher Ranks:

1. Johan Santana – NYM (minor injury concerns)
2. Tim Lincecum – SFG (slight frame)
3. C.C. Sabathia – NYY (Cant repeat numbers from NL)
4. Roy Halladay – TOR (steady as she goes)
5. Brandon Webb – ARI
6. Cole Hamels – PHI
7. Dan Haren – ARI
8. Jake Peavy – SD (trade rumors disconcerting)
9. Chad Billingsley – LAD (young = upside)
10. Matt Cain – SF (wins would be nice, but at some point he could take the leap)
11. John Lackey – LAA (steady as she goes)
12. Francisco Liriano – MINN (delicious upside, injury downside was the reason Giants traded him and other for A.J. Pierzynski)
13. Javier Vazquez – ATL (he will be amazingly good this year)
14. A.J. Burnett – NYY (Pavano comparisons not quite accurate, but there is concern)
15. John Lester – BOS
16. Ted Lilly – CHC
17. Josh Beckett – BOS (injury concerns)
18. Ryan Dempster – CHC (where did his control come from?)
19. Zach Greinke – KC
20. Scott Kazmir – TB (should have put it together last year…what can you really expect?)
21. Ricky Nolasco – FLA (everyone’s sleeper darling, he did have a great year last year)
22. Rich Harden – CHC
23. Cliff Lee – CLEV
24. Brett Myers – PHI
25. James Shields – TB (big game James…eh)
26. Oliver Perez – NYM
27. Felix Hernandez – SEA (at some point he will put it all together, and that would be top 5 SP)
28. Edison Volquez – CIN
29. Jonathan Paplebon – BOS (most likely to provide consistent saves)
30. Carlos Zambrano – CHC
31. Randy Johnson – SF (if healthy will have a huge year)
32. Roy Oswalt – HOU (never been a huge fan in h2h leagues)
33. Brad Lidge – PHI (perfection again?)
34. Carlos Marmol – CHC (does he have the “mindset?” He has value regardless of saves)
35. Adam Wainwright – STL (he could be a top 15 SP at years end)
36. Daisuke Matsuzaka – BOS (people complain about his walks, but WHIP isn’t that bad)
37. Jose Valverde – HOU (lots of Ks to go along with save opportunities)
38. Gil Meche – KC (underrated second half)
39. Aaron Harang – CIN (he had been steady up until 2008)
40. Derek Lowe – ATL
41. Josh Johnson – FLA (everybody’s second sleeper darling)
42. Yovani Gallardo – MIL
43. Justin Verlander – DET
44. Ervin Santana – LAA
45. Ubaldo Jimenez – COL
46. Mariano Rivera – NYY
47. Joe Nathan – MIN
48. Joakim Soria – KC
49. Johnny Cueto – CIN
50. Chien Ming Wang – NYY (an undervalued chance at wins)
51. John Danks – CHW
52. Ben Sheets – N/A
53. Kerry Wood – CLEV
54. Francisco Rodriguez – NYM (I’d rather have the strike out potential of Soria)
55. Andy Pettitte – NYY
56. Bronson Arroyo – CIN (vastly underrated second half)
57. Jered Weaver – LAA
58. Manny Parra – MIL
59. Gavin Floyd – CHW
60. Scott Baker – MINN (really undervalued could be a top 20 pitcher)
61. John Maine – NYM
62. Matt Garza – TB
63. Randy Wolf – LAD
64. Brandon Morrow – SEA (great K potential)
65. Bobby Jenks – CHW
66. Brian Fuentes – LAA
67. Jair Jurrjens – ATL
68. Mark Buehrle – CHW
69. Kevin Slowey – MINN (great upside, vastly underrated)
70. B.J. Ryan – TOR
71. Erik Bedard – SEA (health = great season)
72. Chris Young – SD
73. Max Scherzer – ARI
74. Kenshin Kawakami – ATL
75. Mike Pelfrey – NYM
76. Heath Bell – SD (doesn’t hurt to play in San Diego)
77. Todd Wellemeyer – STL
78. Wandy Rodriguez – HOU (was amazing at home, strike-outs aplenty)
79. Joba Chamberlain – NYY
80. Jeremy Guthrie – BAL
81. Paul Maholm — PITT
82. Joel Hanrahan – WAS
83. Armando Galarraga – DET
84. Brian Wilson – SF
85. Jonathan Broxton – LAD (hard to trust him)
86. Francisco Cordero – CINN
87. Chris Volstad – FLA
88. Ian Snell – PITT (what went wrong last year?)
89. Frank Francisco – TEX (sneaky good stuff)
90. Brandon Lyon – DET
91. Joey Devine – OAK
92. Huston Street – COL
93. Jorge De La Rosa – COL (tough to take Colorado pitchers, but De La Rosa put together some great games)
94. Andy Sonnanstine – TB
95. Matt Capps – PITT
96. Trevor Hoffman – MIL
97. Justin Duchscherer – OAK
98. Joe Saunders – LAA
99. Clayton Kershaw – LAD
100. Manny Corpas – COL (I don’t quite believe in Huston Street)
101. Chad Qualls – ARI
102. David Price – TB
103. Chris Perez – STL (watch out for Jason Motte)
104. David Purcey – TOR
105. Fausto Carmona – CLEV (was never much of a fan)
106. Brad Ziegler – OAK
107. Matt Lindstrom – FLA
108. Jonathan Sanchez – SF (will he secure a rotation spot?)
109. Dave Bush – MIL (helps with WHIP)
110. Brandon Backe – HOU
111. Kevin Millwood – TEX
112. Luke Hochevar – KC
113. Jamie Moyer – PHI
114. Troy Percival – TB
115. Kyle Lohse – STL
116. John Smoltz – BOS
117. Clay Buccholz — BOS
118. Jon Garland – ARI
119. Ryan Rowland-Smith – SEA (has some potential)
120. Tim Redding – NYM
121. Barry Zito – SF
122. Dana Eveland – OAK
123. Tim Wakefield – BOS
124. John Lannan – WAS
125. Haruka Kuroda – LAD
126. Scott Olsen – WAS
127. Brian Bannister – KC
128. Doug Davis – ARI
129. Joe Blanton – PHI
130. Greg Smith – COL
131. Chris Ray – BAL
132. Edwin Jackson – DET
133. Braden Looper – MIL
134. Jorge Campillo – ATL
135. Nate Robertson – DET
136. Jesse Litsch – TOR
137. Hong-Chih Kuo – LAD
138. Aaron Cook – COL
139. Nick Blackburn – MINN
140. Neftali Feliz – TEX
141. Jay Howell – TB
142. George Sherrill – BAL
143. Boof Bonser – MINN
144. Jason Bergmann – WAS
145. Kevin Gregg – CHC
146. Daniel Cabrera – WAS
147. Carlos Villanueva – MIL
148. Octavio Dotel – CHW
149. Jason Marquis – COL
150. Jeff Suppan – MIL
151. Rafael Perez – CLEV
152. Grant Balfour – TB
153. Jon Rauch – ARI
154. Adam Miller – CLEV
155. Madison Bumgarner – SF
156. Rick Porcello – DET
157. Kevin Correia – SD
158. Homer Bailer – CIN
159. Rich Hill – BAL
160. Rory Corcoran – SEA
161. Joe Nelson – TB
162. Jarrod Washburn – SEA
163. Seth McClung – MIL
164. Zach Duke – PITT
165. Micah Owings – CINN
166. Pedro Martinez – N/A
167. Dennis Sarfate – BAL
168. Takashi Saito – BOS
169. Aaron Heilman – CHC
170. Paul Byrd – BOS
171. Brian Moehler – HOU
172. Joel Pineiro – STL
173. Mark Hendrickson – BAL
174. Jeremy Affeldt – SF
175. Matt Thornton – CHW
176. Jim Johnson – BAL
177. Cha Seung Baek – SD
178. Jo-Jo Reyes – ATL
179. Glen Perkins – MINN
180. J.J. Putz – NYM
181. Mike Adams – SD
182. Manny Delcarmen – BOS
183. Scott Feldman – TEX
184. Miguel Batista – SEA (presumptive closer?)
185. Ryan Franklin – STL
186. Juan Cruz – N/A
187. Jose Contreras – CHW
188. Scot Shields – LAA
189. Justin Masterson – BOS
190. Ryan Madson – PHI
191. Rafael Betancourt – CLEV
192. Kyle Kendrick – PHI
193. John Grabow – PITT
194. Jensen Lewis – CLEV
195. Blaine Boyer – ATL
196. Doug Brocail – HOU
197. Tom Gorzelanny – PITT
198. Ian Kennedy – NYY
199. Darrell Rasner – NYY
200. Saul Rivera – WAS
201. Chad Durbin – PHI
202. Tyler Yates – PITT
203. Fernando Rodney – DET
204. Jeremy Sowers – CLEV
205. Sean Green – NYM
206. Zach Miner – DET
207. Hideki Okajima – BOS
208. Kyle Farnsworth – KC
209. Chris Sampson – HOU
210. Mike Gonzalez – ATL
211. Rafael Soriano – ATL
212. Matt Guerrier – MINN
213. Buddy Carlyle – ATL
214. Taylor Buchholz – COL
215. Tony Pena – ARI
216. Santiago Casilla – OAK
217. Joaquin Benoit – TEX
218. Aaron Laffey – CLEV
219. Masa Kobayashi – CLEV
220. Eddie Guardado – TEX
221. David Riske – MIL


12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by jace on March 13, 2009 at 9:28 am

    boof bonser in 143? no way. that guy’s got 120 to 125 stuff easily. also, i’m dubious about your knock on lincecum. nothing wrong with a slight frame. it’s all about how you use it.


  2. Posted by voicemailbox on March 13, 2009 at 10:03 am

    wow, your pitcher rankings are spot on. i agree with everything, although, i’d probably switch eddie guardado and david riske.


  3. Posted by Albert Lang on March 14, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Yeah Boof had some potential a few years ago, but the Minnesota starting 5 (sps) is getting crowded and Bonser has not emerged, while pitchers like Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey (not to mention a healthy Liraino) have.

    I agree though, for a world class name, it is a little low


  4. Posted by Albert Lang on March 14, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Eddie only has a minor league deal, plus it’s with Texas, plus he’s probably behind Benoit, Frank Francisco (the actual closer) and even CJ Wilson. That’s why i gave the slight nod to David Riske….plus his name is also kind of cool.

    Do you think with a name like that, you have to do irresponsible acts just to live up to it?


  5. […] Vazquez – ADP = 148.4 – Speaking of my boy Javier Vazquez, he is an absolute steal at 148. He’ll bring many happy returns, and I think he can be a top 10 […]


  6. […] Lang: This is a very tough one, Gil is my 39th best pitcher, but that is based on a 2008 K-rate that he has never duplicated in his career. If he can keep it […]


  7. […] Citizen Cain (mostly b/c I touted Cain as a top 10 pitcher here) […]


  8. […] Beckett – I called Beckett overrated here. So far, he has looked bad (6.75 ERA and 1.82 WHIP). Still, he has struck out 36 batters in 34 […]


  9. yovani gallardo. wheres he at?


  10. […] BAbip is .269 which is a little lower than average. I’m not hating on Matt Cain by any stretch (I did rank him as the 10th best pitcher going into this year), I’m just saying that his value is a bit inflated. If you can capitalize on this, sell […]


  11. […] the ninth most strike-outs over the first half. His ERA and WHIP are right in line with his career. I ranked Billingsley the ninth best pitcher coming into the year, and I don’t see him finishing the year outside the top […]


  12. […] of my readers can attest to the love I had for Javy Vazquez before the 2009 season. As his numbers indicate, my love was well rewarded. My guy-love had reached such magnitudes, in […]


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