Pitching in fantasy baseball always invokes many strategies, as the best pitchers are traditionally only capable of helping in four of the five pitching categories, whereas the best hitters contribute across the board. This, along with the elevated injury risk involved with pitchers and the diminishing offense around the majors in recent years, often has people avoid pitching early in fantasy drafts. However, after years of the depth in fantasy being on the mound, 2016 feels like a year when the tide begins to turn, as pitching feels comparably weaker than in previous seasons.
Today in Part-1 of the NatsGM 2016 Fantasy Baseball Preview, I highlight several pitchers I like more than the consensus, and two names I will be avoiding in drafts. Select these names to form the nucleus of your pitching staff, and confidently begin building a shelf for your newest fantasy baseball trophy.
Pitchers I Like
Cole Hamels LHP Texas Rangers (10th/11th Round)
After many years of rumors, finally last summer Philadelphia dealt Hamels to Texas for an impressive haul of prospects. Hamels has suffered in recent years obtaining wins due to the Phillies poor on-field performance, but his numbers have remained consistent, with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 215 strikeouts in 2015. He should have a good shot at 15 wins and 200 strikeouts again this year, making him quite a bargain outside the top-100 picks.
Kenta Maeda RHP Los Angeles Dodgers (15th+ Round)
Maeda did not receive the massive salary outlay expected prior to the winter, due to some “abnormalities” in his physical examination. However, his numbers previously in Japan have been extraordinary and the transition with Japanese pitchers has been relatively smooth in the past decade. Hitters should struggle for the first few months trying to learn Maeda’s tendencies, which should benefit the Dodgers and fantasy players alike. The Dodgers are expected to have a strong team and quality bullpen, which will help Maeda win his share of games this season. If Maeda can stay healthy, I can see 14 wins, a 3.70 ERA and 180 strikeouts from him this season, making him an excellent value outside the top-150 to 175 picks.
Shelby Miller RHP Arizona Diamondbacks (15th+ Round)
The key piece in this winter’s most controversial trade, the Diamondbacks parted with a significant prospect haul to bring Miller to Arizona to team with Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin atop their rotation. The negativity from this swap, plus Miller’s incredible allergy to wins last season, has driven him outside the top-175 picks this year. However, do not overlook this talented 25-year-old, who posted a 3.02 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 171 strikeouts in 2015. If the wins can normalize, I foresee Miller providing Arizona with 12-14 wins, a 3.70 ERA and 180 strikeouts this season, a strong addition to any fantasy rotation.
John Lackey RHP Chicago Cubs (15th+ Round)
The Cubs made several higher profile moves this offseason, but the veteran addition of Lackey to their rotation could arguably be their best transaction of the winter. Lackey quietly posted an outstanding season in 2015 with 13 wins, a 2.77 ERA and 175 strikeouts and should slot well behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the Cubs’ rotation. Lackey is not a sexy pick, but at this point in the draft, the consistency of a 12-14 game winner with solid ratios and 160+ strikeouts should not be ignored.
Honorable Mention: Steve Cishek RHP Seattle Mariners, Yu Darvish RHP Texas Rangers, Sonny Gray RHP Oakland Athletics, Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Seattle Mariners and Justin Verlander RHP Detroit Tigers
Pitchers To Avoid
Kenley Jansen RHP Los Angeles Dodgers (5th round)
Due to Aroldis Chapman’s legal issues and Craig Kimbrel’s non-elite 2015 season, Jansen finds himself being chosen as the top closer option this year, going in the middle of Round 5. He is a tremendous reliever and will help a team’s ratios and strikeout totals. However, his statistics do not deserve a premium on draft day compared to similar closers Cody Allen, Trevor Rosenthal or Ken Giles, being selected several rounds later.
Matt Harvey RHP New York Mets (3rd Round)
The risk factors with Harvey are overwhelming – first, he threw a career high 216 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2015. Next his middle infield and projected overall team defense behind him in 2016 should be below-average, to be kind. Finally, he is being selected in the middle of round 3, ahead of other Aces Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel and Zack Greinke. Harvey could have another fantastic season for the Mets, but let a fellow competitor take on the health risk and pick from similar starters such as Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber or Greinke.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Wei-Yin Chen LHP Miami Marlins, Gio Gonzalez LHP Washington Nationals, Michael Pineda RHP New York Yankees and Noah Syndergaard RHP New York Mets