When To Target Pitching In Your Fantasy Baseball Draft

By Jonah Keri

Most of the fantasy baseball cognoscenti like to wait to draft
pitchers. Let others expend high picks on an inherently riskier
commodity, the theory goes, while they rack up sure-thing offensive
counting stats in the early rounds.

Contrarians have a different take. If everyone else is going to
zig, then why not zag? If teams are so desperate to pile up offense
that they’ll draft the number-five first baseman before the number-one
starting pitcher, then why not sneak in and grab Tim Lincecum as a
second-round bargain?

I prefer an in-between approach. Top pitchers are in fact more
prone to injury and general attrition than top position players, so it
does pay to wait. But rather than waiting too long, then scraping the
bottom of the barrel, it’s best to jump in at opportune times. That
means targeting specific pitchers at specific times, rather than
letting others’ whims dictate the kind of pitching staff you’re going
to build. When a pitcher’s likely value exceeds his perceived value,
all the better.

No pitcher’s a better number-one target for a strategic
bargain-hunting approach than Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26-year-old
right-hander enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, hurling 218
innings (6th in the National League) winning 15 games (4th) and posting
a 3.47 ERA (16th).

Despite that breakthrough season, Jimenez remains underrated by
fantasy players. His Average Draft Position is 88.3, making him a
9th-round pick in a 10-team mixed league, and an 8th-round pick in a
12-team mixed league. His B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking
of all players) is 63, meaning his expected value is significantly
higher than his perceived value.

The optimal spot to draft Jimenez, then, lies between his B-Rank
and his ADP. In a 12-team mixed league, that makes a good target in the
sixth or seventh round. Jimenez is rated as a four-star pitcher
according to his Demand vs. Scarcity chart. As shown below, that places
him in a tight cluster with fellow aces like Chris Carpenter and Josh
Beckett – but without an ace’s price tag.

3-2-2010 8-50-30 am.png
Jimenez has several factors working in his
favor that portend continued success. As shown in the Competitive
Factors tab (under Draft Kit – Player Scout), Jimenez could benefit
from facing a batch of weak opponents in an unbalanced NL West
schedule. The Diamondbacks ranked 20th in runs scored last year, the Giants 26th and the Padres 29th. Only the Dodgers (11th) scored more runs than average
among non-Colorado teams in the NL West.

Jimenez also possesses the one skill most crucial to a pitcher’s
success: an ability to miss bats. He ranked 6th in the NL in strikeouts
in 2009.

3-2-2010 8-59-16 am.png
All of these factors
point to a pitcher who could be an anchor for your pitching staff, but
still allow you to load up on hitting early. Assuming a mid-first round
pick in a mock 12-team mixed league, we picked six hitters, stockpiling
offense early on: Matt Kemp, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton,
Chone Figgins and Carlos Pena (yes, B-Rank loves Uptons). We then
pulled the trigger on Jimenez.

3-2-2010 9-07-46 am.png
You’ll want to fill your pitching staff fairly quickly from this point on, to ensure across-the-board quality. Wandy Rodriguez, Tommy Hanson and Ricky Nolasco
could be good picks along those lines. In general, take a close look at
pitchers who fit Jimenez’s profile: lots of strikeouts, ideally in the
National League (where offensive levels tend to be lower), ideally in
the NL West. Jimenez teammate Jorge de la Rosa, another top-10 finisher in NL strikeouts last year, could be a great late-round snag to round out your staff.

For more information on Ubaldo Jimenez and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.

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