Those who have kept up with the position-by-position dynamics of fantasy baseball have noticed the emergence of pitching depth in the past few years. There are two predominant and opposing schools of thought regarding how to work with this dynamic from a team-building perspective. One view tells us that depth allows us to deprioritize pitching in your draft/auction because adequate quality players at that position can be found late and cheap. The alternative view preaches that because adequate quality players are so abundant, an extra premium should be placed on acquiring the elite pitchers, as that’s where the top teams will separate themselves from the pack.
In most situations I play out the first perspective when building my team. In one of my leagues this year, a co-owner and I were attempting to work this strategy again, but as the season began to play out we found our team somewhat accidentally employing a different strategy altogether. We’ve been doing okay with it, and are currently holding down second place in a very competitive 12-team mixed league.
I’ll spare you the details of how we got where we did, except to say that trading wasn’t really involved. Ostensibly, we wound up with a pitching staff that looked like it was built in reverse. Only one starter we drafted has remained on our team the entire season (others were lost to both injury and performance), but we hit several homers on our bullpen construction and have a really solid core anchored by Aroldis Chapman, Jim Johnson and Ernesto Freire. This core has been supplemented by a revolving door of elite non-closer relievers and a few part-time closers we managed to land.
We are holding our own with 38 pitching points as I’m writing this and have spent most of the season somewhere between the third and sixth best staff in terms of total points held. So, this got me to thinking: Is this strategy viable—meaning both doable and reasonably likely to yield success—if you tried to do execute it consciously?
I’m not sure there’s an objective way to analyze that question, so I’d rather pose it for discussion instead. To start off, I’m going to list some benefits, drawbacks, assumptions, and risks for this approach. I hope we can all discuss whether they translate into a hit, a dud, or something in between.
- Avoids spending high draft picks/cost on elite starting pitchers, leaving more for offense
- Elite middle relievers, on whom this strategy relies, are abundant and often free
- Enables much roster flexibility—not as highly invested in starting pitchers, can drop for bats on travel days, as well as stream for favorable match-ups.
- No matter what, you have to compete for saves, and this option will leave you with elite options in that category
- Advantage in pitching rate stats
- Disadvantage in pitching counting stats.
- Employing this strategy compels owners to reach for certain relievers to ensure acquisition
- Disadvantage in counting stats could be too great. This could be more of a strategy to place or show, but not to win; similar to “punting” strategies
- Strategy relies heavily on acquiring a player like Craig Kimbrel or Chapman. Owner is in real trouble if he’s beaten or outbid on them; risk of overpaying for elite closers
- Potential to accumulate too much “surplus value” in saves category
- League allows daily and unlimited transactions
- Elite closers can be acquired in later rounds or less expensively than elite starters
- Identification of elite relievers is as accurate as identification of elite starters
- Pool of elite non-closing relievers is readily available
- Owner is able to correctly identify cheap, quality starting pitchers