Revisiting the zeroSP draft approach: Reynaldo López, Ronel Blanco among undrafted standouts

Let’s revisit the zero starting pitcher approach I recommended here in March. That means not drafting a starting pitcher in at least the first five rounds and avoiding them through the seventh round. So basically, no starting pitchers before pick 100.

In just the high stakes drafts the last week of the draft season, that’s either after 19 starting pitchers, on average, are drafted (starting Round 6) or after 31 are off the board (starting pick 100).

Let’s see where the current top 30 starters (as of July 9) were selected in March. I’m ranking the top pitchers now using auction values calculated by TGFantasyBaseball based on 12-team mixed leagues with 30% of a $260 spent on pitching. ADP is via high-stakes NFFC leagues on the eve of the season.

Here’s the list. We have 35 pitchers because of a tie for 30th place. Of those, 20 were drafted after 31 pitchers were off the board, or not drafted at all. That includes the No. 1 (Seth Lugo), No. 6 (Reynaldo López), No. 8 (Ranger Suárez), No. 9 (Tanner Houck) and No. 10 (Ronel Blanco) starters. López, Suárez, Houck and Blanco were not even drafted.

So you had a shot at 57% of the top starters through the first half of the season if you didn’t draft a single one before pick 100. I get this is wins-heavy and wins are largely unpredictable, but that’s all the more reason to not invest heavily in starters.

We all know about injury risk. Spencer Strider was out for the season almost immediately. And yes, Ronald Acuña Jr. basically returned no value before having his season wiped out by injury, too. But besides being far more likely to get hurt seriously, pitchers being erased from your team via an elbow injury, for example, is nowhere near as catastrophic as losing an impact hitter. That’s because, year to date, you have about twice the chance of finding a top starter on waivers than a top hitter (10-5 in favor of pitchers in their top 30 buckets).

The other issue in today’s games with starters is innings. If you find a pitcher on waivers, it’s probably not someone situated to throw 200 innings. But there are just a handful of pitchers who throw 200 innings anyway, so you’re not nearly as short at that spot as you used to be. Of course, this also makes the top-end starter less valuable than ever (less innings means less impact). And if those Paul Skenes types end up having their innings managed, just find replacement frames during the stretch run when more than half your league has checked out.

So there are really three pillars to a zeroSP strategy:

  1. Injuries don’t hurt you as much as they hurt SP-heavy teams.
  2. Starters are pitching less innings when healthy and are thus less valuable.
  3. The top pitchers are much harder to predict than the top hitters and are twice as likely to be found on waivers.

Were some of these surprisingly high achievers able to be targeted at cost when we were building our teams in our drafts and auctions? Garrett Crochet was an obvious pickup after his first start even though most of the market hesitated. Blanco opened his season with a no-hitter. Gavin Stone had good Statcast data and I noted that when he was about 40% rostered with terrible surface stats. Adam Ronis tabbed Christopher Sanchez early in the season. My best call at cost was Kutter Crawford, just outside the top 30.

The other thing you forgo when you reject paying a premium on starting pitching when building a roster is loyalty. You are not stuck with the Framber Valdezes of the world because you paid for them. All the starters you have on your team are churnable from the minute the season starts. It’s put up or get out. The waiver wire is always live.

Right now, in my biggest league that is very pitching heavy, some names on waivers include Mitchell Parker (3.38/1.15 the past month), Jameson Taillon (2.25/0.91), Andre Pallante (2.42/1.19), Charlie Morton (3.47/1.11), Trevor Rogers (3.29/1.28), Jose Quintana (2.00/1.22). These aren’t recommendations. They are options.

If you cross-check with expected stats via Statcast, Taillon and Pallante are highly recommended. They are 42% and 12% rostered, respectively. You add a pitcher a week and hit on a third of them and you’ll be competitive in pitching no matter how little you spent on draft day.

(Top photo of Ronel Blanco: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY)

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