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Should You Draft a Pitcher in the First Round?

There are no absolutes in life. However, sometimes we would like to think that there are. Things would certainly be easier if there were, but we aren’t that lucky. In reality, that is what keeps things interesting. And also separates fantasy baseball players from one another as you have to be nimble. But should one traffic in absolutes, answering the question of whether you should draft a pitcher in the first round comes pretty close for me. Well, at least in certain circumstances…

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Should You Draft a Pitcher in the First Round?

Dynasty or Redraft?

Before we go any further, I do want to qualify that everything here is based on seasonal redraft leagues and excludes dynasty leagues.

There is a different approach towards roster construction and team building there, and pitchers simply have too much variability. The majority of that does come from the health perspective with Tommy John surgery becoming increasingly common, but this is where I draw the line. In dynasty leagues, you won’t find me drafting a pitcher in the first round.

Tell Me More About Your League

No fantasy league is created equal. When formulating my fantasy strategy, I base the initial thought process on 12- and 15-team roto leagues. While that is the tried and true “traditional” format, it is my preferred format. In these leagues, it is a little easier to come up with a more absolute strategy for draft day. We have plenty of data and experience to see what works and how to build a team. That is something fantasy managers can easily draw on.

In points leagues, especially of the head-to-head variety, the thought process becomes a bit more complex. Head-to-head leagues that are scored via categories do tend to stray closer to a traditional strategy.

Complete Your Rankings

Before you can answer the question about drafting anyone in the first round, or any round, you need to understand your rankings. You must remember that your rankings are yours and yours alone. They are how you view the player pool and you need to be true to yourself. If you have a pitcher ranked in the first 12 or 15 slots, then perhaps drafting a starting pitcher in the first round becomes a viable strategy.

However, when you start thinking about your draft, if you don’t feel comfortable selecting said pitcher in the first round, then perhaps your rankings need to be adjusted.

Take a Look at Point Projections

Each league is often a little different when it comes to point values. Even if you don’t run our own projections, taking your league’s point values through a trusted projection source is a must. This is when you can start to clearly see the player pool and how it relates to your league.

In a points league, the objective isn’t to build the best or most balanced team. Instead, it is clearer than that. Simply put, you need to outscore your opponent. There are a lot of cases in which starting pitching is the way to get there.

Without jumping to the conclusion, 95% of the time, remember no absolutes, you won’t see me drafting a starting pitcher in the first round. However, there is one head-to-head points league I play in where I attack starting pitchers in the first round. But that only brings me to my next point.

Know Your League

Part of my selection of pitchers in the first round in the aforementioned league is due to running the point values through projections to put everything into context. But this is also a shallow league in which you start just 10 hitters, so there is a lot less pressure on the offensive side of things. Other team managers are also aware of this, so pitching gets pushed up early in the drafts.

Instead of sticking with my rigid strategy, I am right there with everyone else. Sometimes, the pack mentality isn’t so bad. Well, just as long as you draft the right pitcher.

Game Theory Matters

If I notice that I am not drafting according to my rankings, then it is time adjust or revisit my rankings. In the first few rounds of a draft, that works. But, if only things were that easy.

Position scarcity and roster construction are real problems, and there are times when you need to follow the patterns of the draft. The first round though, and also the second for that matter, is not where I want to be doing that. That is where I want to secure the core and statistical basis of my offense.

Health Matters

Anyone can get hurt. Injuries are a large part of the game, and we cannot ignore them. Pitchers though, have a higher likelihood of a season-ending, or longer-term, injury. If possible, this is something to avoid. This is especially true as teams become increasingly careful with pitchers.

Variability in Performance

We can think we know the player pool all we want. But guess what, there are many occasions in which we are going to be wrong. If only we knew ahead of time which players we were correct about and which ones we were wrong about.

With that being the case, hitters generally get closer to their projections even if things go wrong. Sometimes all they need is a few hot weeks, assuming you stuck with them in a roto league, to end up in a solid place. For pitchers though, things can easily go off the rails. A few bad starts can do real damage to your ratios that make it impossible to recover from.

Replacement Value

If you draft a pitcher in the first round and they get injured, you aren’t finding an option close to the same level floating around your bench or the waiver wire. With hitters though, players get hot on a weekly basis and can often be streamed. Sometimes, you have depth floating around your bench thanks to the emergence of another strong option, and the absence is minimally felt.

So, What Should You Do?

There are sometimes going to be situations, or pitchers, that change the conversation, but taking a pitcher in the first round is simply not something I feel comfortable doing or recommending. There is too much risk involved and it makes building an offensive core that much more difficult.

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