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Kicking Rocks: Don’t Chase the Ace

For years I have preached about the immense depth at starting pitching.  You can find plenty of quality starters for cheap in your draft and, with the help of the waiver wire, can build a successful fantasy rotation without having to invest heavily in an ace or two.  With a nice complement of some quality relievers, you can go cheap on starters and, in turn, bulk up on better hitters.  In the end, your team dominates in the offensive categories, puts up a solid showing in almost all of the pitching categories, and leaves you at the top of your standings by season’s end.

But when a friend of mine  asked me to round out his 10 team 7×7 roto league, I thought that maybe this was a good time to see how the other half lives.  For years I’ve always stuck with the same plan, but now I wanted to see what it would be like to build a team with a “pitching first” mentality.  The goal was to draft 4 high quality starters within the first 12 rounds of my draft, use the other 8 picks on the best hitters available, and wait until the later rounds to build a relief corps.

Normally, I wouldn’t touch a starter until after the 5th round, but when my 3rd round pick came up, I grabbed Felix Hernandez, who was the best pitcher on the board.  Over the next nine rounds, I grabbed Justin Verlander (6th), Yovani Gallardo (10th) and Francisco Liriano (12th) and thought I was looking pretty good.  Based on pre-season projections, I was looking at great ratios, great strikeouts, and solid win potential.

Well, you all know how this is looking right now.  King Felix has been mediocre, Gallardo has been beaten up, and Liriano has been an outright disaster.  Ironically, Verlander who is king of the slow starts, has been my most reliable  and he’s still sporting a 3.41 ERA.  Not to mention, rounding out my starters was Madison Bumgarner, who has been a relative disappointment, and Ian Kennedy whose start last week really screwed over my ratios.

Throw in the fact that I went with closers late and found out the hard way why no one believed in John Axford or Jonathan Broxton.  The only pitching category I am competitive in right now is saves, and fixing myself in the others is going to take a bit of time.

But I’m not stupid, nor am I impatient.  I know that Hernandez, Gallardo and Verlander will bounce back.  Possibly even Liriano, if his last start is any indication.  Obviously they’ll hit the occasional bump in the road, but overall, they should still have strong years.  The problem, though, is a lack of offense and a very suspect bullpen.

By investing so heavily, and really, 4 out of 12 picks isn’t all that heavy to begin with, I sacrificed far more than I thought at the time.  While my pitching sits at or near the bottom in almost every category, my hitting is doing roughly the same.  When I took King Felix in the third round, other teams were grabbing the the likes of Matt Holliday, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira and Justin Upton.  By the time my 4th pick came about, the only real masher still on the board was Adam Dunn.  And when it was time for my Round 5 pick and my outfield was barren, the best available out there was Andrew McCutchen.  Not bad options to go with, but certainly not my ideal choices.

On it went.  With every pitcher I selected over the subsequent rounds I was left to fill in the offensive blanks with hopefuls, guys with upside, and potential breakouts.  With the exception of my first two picks overall, there was not a single offensive player on my roster with whom I was 100% comfortable and, to be honest, I absolutely hated my team.

And rightfully so.  As of today, the only offensive category in which I am competitive is RBI.  My team’s batting average and OBP blow, I’m getting nothing in stolen bases despite having McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez and Jacoby Ellsbury, and I’m barely in the middle of the pack in HR.  Offensively my team is….offensive.

Never again will I employ this strategy.  Never.  You lose far too much on offense and the pitching, for all intents and purposes, can be pretty unreliable.  Just look at some of the top names out there — Zack Greinke, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos?  Even Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter have been smacked around for atleast one of their first four starts.  Again, sure they’ll be fine over the course of a full season, but look at what you’ve sacrificed in order to obtain their services.  Imagine the offense I could have put together had I drafted a rotation that consisted of Matt Cain, James Shields, Michael Pineda and Gio Gonzalez instead.  Not only would I be sitting at the top of the hitting categories, but my pitching would have been off to a much better start.

In real life, pitching wins championships.  In fantasy, it’s all about the offense.