NL Fantasy Baseball Beat: Pitching on the Cheap

by on March 21, 2012 @ 10:55:11 PDT


by Christopher Kreush

As long as I can remember playing this game, the conventional wisdom was to spend much more on hitting (whether it be auction dollars or high draft picks) than on pitching. That has generally been borne out to be the best strategy as pitching was too unpredictable. Or maybe it is that hitting was much more predictable. Either way, the end result was the same - hitting trumped pitching. I'm sure someone could provide an example where a team with a heavy pitching budget went on to win their league but I'd be willing to bet that was the exception rather than the norm. So this year, I'm going to follow the same path in constructing my fantasy teams.

Last year starting pitching came on to the point 2011 became known as the year of the pitcher in many circles. It seems like we're heading into a cycle where the pendulum might be starting to swing from MLB being dominated by hitters to pitching at least being on a comeback. Some might say that, since pitching may be on the rise and hitting might be falling back a bit, that fantasy players should be leaning more towards pitching than they have in the past. While that might seem intuitive to some, I don't subscribe to that theory.

Colorado Rockies SP Juan Nicasio
Nicasio looks like nice gamble

I do believe that hitting is on a bit of a decline. Total home runs per team in all of baseball (National League and American League combined) have steadily fallen from an average of 190 per team in 2000 to an average of 152 per team in 2011. Likewise, total runs scored per team have dropped from an average of 832 per major league team in 2000 to 694 per team in 2011. On the pitching side, the average ERA for all teams was 4.76 in 2000 and 3.94 in 2011 while average BAA went from .270 in 2000 to .255 in 2011.

If, as the evidence suggests, overall hitting is on the decline, I want to make sure I get as many of the studs as possible. Conversely, if pitching is becoming better or more of a reliable asset to fantasy teams, that's even more a reason for me to wait longer to draft them or spend less to acquire them in an auction. I won't need that expensive upper tier of pitching if I deem it too expensive for my taste. I would be perfectly happy to fill out my pitching slots with a bunch of guys from the third or fourth tier of hurlers. To that end, I will go through some of the pitching names I will be looking to own in as many fantasy leagues as possible this year.

  1. Johan Santana - Everyone knows Johan as the talent that could have been if not for the injuries. He's coming off a shoulder injury that has left many a pitcher on the scrapheap in MLB history. Not me. I consider that a buying opportunity for 2012. The New York Mets' potential opening day starter has been pitching well this spring and I'm willing to spend the handful of dollars required to acquire his services for my team in as many leagues as possible.
  2. Chris Capuano - The Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career. That alone will scare off most people. With the New York Mets last year the 33-year-old won 11 games with an 8.13 K/9. Capuano is going to another pitcher's park and should again post good strikeout numbers and improve on last year's ratios.
  3. Ricky Nolasco - A perennial underachiever for fantasy owners, I'm willing to give the 29-year-old another shot in 2012. Even thought the strikeout rate decreased last year, there's still enough giddy-up to get over 150 punch-outs. And if Ricky can manage to get his BABIP to just an average level there's some upside.
  4. Mike Minor - The southpaw pitched 82 innings in 2011 with almost a strikeout per. Minor had some BABIP problems to the tune of .355 which contributed to an inflated ERA of 4.14. A WHIP of 1.49 came from a slightly elevated BB rate and better than a hit per inning against. The 24-year-old is fighting for a rotation spot this spring and has said he wants the role. With 14 shutout innings tossed so far, 10 strikeouts, and only seven hits against, he very well could land that spot.
  5. Juan Nicasio - Catching a comebacker in the head is a scary thing. When that comebacker also manages to break your neck, that really ratchets the scare index up quite a few notches. Still a young 25, Nicasio had surgery to fix the break and was back on a mound by October. The fireballer has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio which plays well at Coors Field. Juan looks to be back on track this spring with 12 innings pitched and nine strikeouts with only three earned runs allowed.
  6. Eric Surkamp - Here's a case of a pitcher who is not overpowering (88 mph fastball) but still manages to get strikeouts in bunches. Surkamp did not fare well in his call-up last year but I am still optimistic for his chances in 2012. The southpaw won't start the year in the rotation but he should be the first to get the call should an injury strike (Ryan Vogelsong, anyone?) or ineffectiveness (Barry Zito, anyone?).
  7. Carlos Zambrano - This is the kind of gamble I like to take. The big right-hander is an impressive site on the mound and still throws over 90 mph. The strikeouts have come in bunches this spring with 16 in nine innings pitched but Big Z needs to get the walks down with five handed out in his work so far. If new manager Ozzie Guillen can keep his head screwed on right (and I'm betting that he will since he's a hothead also and will know where Zambrano's coming from) I think this is the kind of gamble that will pay off nicely.

These are a few pitchers I will be looking to get for low to mid single digit dollars or mid to late round picks this year. A few of them I have already managed to roster in drafts but I have my auctions coming up (although mixed league) and I want to walk away with more of these guys in each.

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