The strategeries for drafting in a normal MLB season may not apply in 2020. My fear is pitching is going to be even more challenging to predict with a condensed schedule. This is going to be a sprint, not a marathon. I am anticipating quicker hooks for pitchers with the expanded rosters and condensed schedules. The new 3-batter rule for pitchers along with possibility of a Universal DH will also impact pitching usage in 2020. Wins may be more difficult to come by for back end starting pitchers than ever before. Playing winning matchups with back-end starting pitchers is often a key to fantasy baseball success.
That task became much more difficult late last season as some back-end starters were getting pulled after 4 innings. Why wouldn’t managers apply their September managing style to the shortened 2020 season? A 4-inning start from a back-end pitcher is virtually useless. The problem is the strikeouts often aren’t there and the metrics aren’t clean. With less potential starters to choose from I will have to find my production elsewhere.
My plan to combat this problem for 2020 is two-fold. First, I plan on ignoring everything I usually do in terms of service time manipulation and limiting pitch counts. This season is going to be short so I anticipate teams sending out their best guys no matter what. I would rather draft a young pitching prospect late and gamble on his role over drafting a back-end starter. If the prospect doesn’t make it, I can cut bait for the next best thing. Take Dustin May of the Dodgers, the Phillies Spencer Howard, Forrest Whitley of the Astros, or the Blue Jays Nate Pearson. These are pitchers that in a normal season may have had their workload kept down and the service time manipulated. The Dodgers, Phillies, and Astros are each in win-now mode. All 3 hurlers could both provide valuable innings as starters or multiple inning relievers for their respective clubs. Pearson on pure talent alone is the best pitcher on the Blue Jays major league roster. I would think Pearson would benefit more from pitching in the MLB over a minor league academy. Conversely there are some huge names in MacKenzie Gore, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Sixto Sanchez that I don’t see starting the season in the Majors. Not enough innings in higher level minor league ball. Why ruin their confidence in a going nowhere campaign.
Step 2 later in drafts, I will fill out the last few spots of my pitching roster with SP/RP pitchers or high strikeout relievers that go multiple innings. The K’s and metrics should be better and supersede the potential of getting a Win. These pitcher’s will help in 3 categories instead of just chasing one. I have to balance reaching innings limits and moves limits so I won’t be able to use all swing pitchers. Pitchers I plan to target as part of this plan are Drew Pomeranz of the Padres. His 15.4 SO/9 was something to behold in 25 appearances with the Brewers last season. His 17 starts with Giants gives SP/RP eligibility. As a 7th or 8th inning guy in San Diego sign me up. Brewers hurler Freddy Peralta had a 12.6 SO/9 as a reliever and often worked multiple innings picking up 5 of his 7 wins as a reliever. My guess is manager Craig Counsell uses Peralta as a swingman again.
Another young Brewers pitcher I have a hunch on is Corbin Burnes. 32 appearances last season with an 8.82 ERA for this RP eligible pitcher. However, Burnes 12.9 SO/9 may make him a worthy late round gamble. Remember in 2018, Burnes won 7 games in 30 relief appearances. A.J. Puk is only RP eligible, but had a 10.3 SO/9 in 11 appearances as a reliever last season. His status as a starter or reliever is yet to be determined. In a relief role, Puk may be able to go multiple innings. The Astros Josh James is listed as an RP at the moment, but he was competing for a role in the rotation before the shutdown. James had 14.7 SO/9 as a reliever last season. What would provide more value for the club using James once maybe twice a week or using him 3 times a week in high leverage short roles?
Just for 2020, I plan to target high strikeout low metric swingmen or prospects more so than ever before. Pitching is often a crapshoot. When you think you’ve got the answers, the managers change the questions.