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February 23, 2013

Fantasy Forecast: How soon is too soon to draft a pitcher?

In real-life baseball it is always said that pitching and defense win championships. But in fantasy? Maybe not so much.

Defense almost has no bearing (unless you play in league which includes defensive metrics, which is rare) and unless you play in deep league pitching will likely be plentiful this season. I don’t know if I would say there was an outright dominant starting pitcher last season the way Detroit’s Justin Verlander was in 2011. Which isn’t to say that Verlander or Clayton Kershaw didn’t reward their fantasy owners, but given the slight offensive downturn of recent years the value to drafting a pitcher early in drafts just isn’t there as much.

Looking at early Yahoo! average draft positions, there is value in pitching to be found after the first three rounds. Zach Greinke, C.C. Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner, Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez among others can all be had, on average, at pick 45 or later. Sure, you could take Verlander (ADP: 9.6), Stephen Strasburg (ADP: 12.2), Kershaw (ADP: 14) or Felix Hernandez (ADP:19.1) in the first two rounds. But be forewarned your offense might suffer as a result.

A pitching sleeper who I like a lot could be Arizona’s Ian Kennedy. The righty, who went 21-4 with an ERA of 2.88 and 198 strikeouts in 2011, regressed some last season. But his walks and strikeouts remained consistent while his BABIP (batting average in balls in play) rose from .274 in 2011 to .312. He’s never been a flamethrower, so velocity isn’t really a concern. I think he could have a nice bounce back season and could provide great value with an average draft position of 111.7. To get a potential No.1 or No. 2 in round 10 would be huge.

The bottom line is don’t reach for pitching because patience will be rewarded thanks to depth at the position this year.

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