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Kicking Rocks: Re-Visiting “Don’t Chase the Ace”

Back on April 21st, I wrote a Kicking Rocks piece entitled, “Don’t Chase the Ace” in which I lamented going pitching heavy in my draft.  I was disgruntled with the fact that my offense was anemic while I continued to watch my ratios explode with each and every start from my supposed stable of high quality aces.  While there were several of you that felt my pain, there were also many of you that criticized me for my concerns so early on in the season.  I was then asked to re-visit this 3 months into the season, so as we get ready to head into the All Star Break, here we go…

So the idea here was to grab as dominant a staff as I could using four of my first 12 picks on the best starters available.  That way, I could push towards the top of the standings (roto league) in the four main pitching categories (W, K, ERA, and WHIP), while using my waiver picks to tinker with an offense with which I may not be completely satisfied.  Unfortunately though, by the end of April, my top four starters looked like this:

Felix Hernandez 3 35 3.32 1.20 2.76
Justin Verlander 2 35 3.50 1.02 3.69
Yovani Gallardo 2 23 5.70 1.57 4.28
Francisco Liriano 1 19 9.13 1.90 6.04

To add to it, neither Madison Bumgarner nor Ian Kennedy were performing well and my relievers offered little to be desired.  Not a very auspicious beginning, was it?  I was in the middle of the pack in wins and strikeouts, but my ratios were in the toilet.  I wasn’t sweating King Felix or Verlander too much, but Liriano and Gallardo had me seriously concerned.  Their FIP (included above to show just how lousy most were actually pitching) were not very encouraging to me at the time.

Now I know the whole “small sample size” argument, but let’s face it — recovering your ratios can be a daunting task, even so early on in the season.  You don’t want to fall too far into a hole, right?  So what’s the best way to fix those ratios?  Rather than take risks on the starters left on the waiver wire, I went with a number of relievers.  I picked up any productive closers available and even dipped into Tony LaRussa’s flavors of the week in St. Louis.  Help was now on the way, I just had to give it some time.

Unfortunately, while I was busy worrying about which relievers I was going to grab, I was also forced to fight for many offensive needs as well.  Among my top picks for hitters were Hanley Ramirez, Adam Dunn, David Wright, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce.  Nothing but slow starts and injuries there.  However, given the pedigrees of these supposed offensive warriors, no one was droppable which meant that I had to fill that bench quickly and not have the roster flexibility necessary for such a big overhaul.  Add to it, the fact that others used so many early picks on offensive players, my middle to late round picks weren’t quite strong enough to help make up much of the differences.

So there I was…a pitiful offense, struggling pitching, and a second to last place spot in the standings.  The only guy I was ahead of had an unavoidable commitment on draft day and let his 12 year old nephew with no fantasy experience take the reins.  Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have grabbed certain offensive guys because of my pitching-first strategy.  Both Hanley and Wright were selected before I grabbed King Felix with my third round pick.  But I probably would have gone in a different direction from Dunn and Bruce because I would have used top five picks on better power guys.

And how are we looking as of today?  Well, my offense is still an obvious work in progress and based on current first half numbers you’ll see that my only pitcher worthy of his draft spot was Verlander.  Gallardo and Liriano have been far too inconsistent and King Felix isn’t coming close to giving me third round/top 5 SP totals.  I could have easily obtained this level of production from lower tiered starters while having a juggernaut of an offensive with better quality picks in the top five or six rounds.

Sure, it’s easy to say that Liriano and Gallardo had a certain amount of risk to both of them, but given last season’s totals combined with expectations for this season and the fact that they were considered the best starters available at each time I picked, you couldn’t pass on either.  From now on, I’ll pass on both.  I’ll pass on them all if I have to next time.  With so much quality starting pitching available each year, offense should always come first in your draft.