SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 23, 2013

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

Fantasy Forecast
Andy Silva

---- — 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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The quality drops off quick at second base.

After Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler you begin to have to assess which flaws you are willing to accept. Even Pedroia and Kinsler are not quite at the same level as Cano (although Pedroia is certainly closer).

If I couldn’t land Cano or Pedroia, I’ve never been much of a Kinsler fan. I would wait until round 9 or 10 and draft the Astros’ Jose Altuve.

Yes, he isn’t surrounded by tremendous talent, and yes he won’t hit for much power. But he did hit for a solid average (.290) and swiped 33 bases. He doesn’t have the same track record as some of the other later round second base options, but does have more upside potential.

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I think Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs could provide decent value at first base.

He’s not quite a sleeper, but given he’s going on average late in the seventh round I think he can produce numbers that are superior to that draft position.

Last season in just 87 games he bashed 15 homers and drove in 48 RBI and hit for a decent average as well, posting a .285. He certainly struggled some in his brief time in San Diego, but he appeared to put some things together between the end of the 2011 season and when he was called up again last year. Perhaps he really did more minor league seasoning, perhaps he was just pressing at Petco.

Admittedly, I’ve always been high on Rizzo, but I think great things could be ahead for him at Wrigley this season.

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Andy Silva writes the Fantasy Forecast for The Salem News. You can contact him at ASilva@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @SN_fantasysport.