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RotoGraphs Mock Auction Breakdown: NL Starting Pitchers

The first lesson I learned from this draft is one I want to share with you even before the table of players and prices; it’s just that important. Do not try to do an auction draft on a phone. Snake drafts are unpleasant but doable; auctions are a recipe for disaster.

Lesson learned? Good! Here are the National League starting pitchers who were drafted in the recent Rotographs and friends mock auction.

Price Player
$35 Stephen Strasburg
$34 Clayton Kershaw
$26 Cole Hamels
$25 Zack Greinke
$25 Matt Cain
$23 Cliff Lee
$22 Gio Gonzalez
$21 Madison Bumgarner
$19 Kris Medlen
$19 Johnny Cueto
$19 Adam Wainwright
$18 Mat Latos
$16 Jordan Zimmermann
$16 Roy Halladay
$16 Yovani Gallardo
$15 Aroldis Chapman
$12 Ian Kennedy
$10 Dan Haren
$10 Jeff Samardzija
$9 Matt Harvey
$9 Mike Minor
$9 Tim Lincecum
$8 Mike Fiers
$7 Matt Garza
$6 Homer Bailey
$6 Wade Miley
$5 Shelby Miller
$5 Jon Niese
$4 Kyle Lohse
$4 Ryan Vogelsong
$4 Lance Lynn
$4 Wandy Rodriguez
$4 Marco Estrada
$3 Tim Hudson
$3 Brandon McCarthy
$3 Josh Beckett
$3 A.J. Burnett
$3 Edwin Jackson
$2 Casey Kelly
$2 Zack Wheeler
$2 Chris Carpenter
$2 Cory Luebke
$2 Jaime Garcia
$1 Johan Santana
$1 Brandon Beachy
$1 Trevor Cahill
$1 James McDonald
$1 Francisco Liriano
$1 Hyun-Jin Ryu
$1 Chad Billingsley
$1 Jacob Turner

The top ought to surprise no one, Strasburg and Kershaw, who sit almost $10 ahead of the next set of players. I don’t see either of them being an injury risk, and I can’t imagine anyone regretting owning them, but are they that much better than Hamels, Greinke, or Cain? I’m not sure of that. In sheer dollar terms, Strasburg would need to be 4 percent better than Greinke across the board to equal the difference in price, which seems possible, but that ignores the opportunity cost that comes with spending 14 percent of your budget on a pitcher in the early going. In this particular draft, there was a lot of money left on the table, but a tighter group of players might punish overpayments more forcefully than we did.

If pitching weren’t so deep, I could see paying for the guaranteed quality those two provide, but even Felix Hernandez went for just $28. I might be willing bet those $10 that Kershaw will be better than Lee or Greinke, but Hernandez is another matter entirely. My highest paid pitcher was Max Scherzer at $19 and while I’d be willing to go higher, I just can’t see breaking $30 for a pitcher.

One of the biggest steals of the Rotographs snake draft was Halladay, who fell in the 12th round. He went for $16 this time around and I’m having trouble calling that a steal. Take out the name recognition: What would you pay for a 36-year-old coming off a poor season full of shoulder issues and declining velocity, but who has 51 wins with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over the last three seasons? Performance-wise, I’d probably be willing to go into the high-20s, but those are huge red flags to me, which puts him down under $15. The name recognition pushes him back up by a buck or so and that puts him back right at his actual price.

The cluster of players at $9 is an interesting set. Harvey was a darling from the snake draft, Minor closed the season so much better than his final line shows that he hardly seems the same player, and Lincecum is…Lincecum. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but given $9 and one pitcher slot, which of the three would you take? I took Minor in the actual draft, so my bias is there, but knowing what I know now, Lincecum would be hard to turn down at that price.

I would rather have every player drafted at $3 than the players drafted at $4. Estrada and Vogelsong are my favorites of the $4 players, but the rest are a motley crew of players I either have serious concerns about (Lynn) or have never really liked (Lohse, Rodriguez). Meanwhile, there’s a ton of risk in the $3 section, but that’s great value for Burnett and even for Jackson and Beckett.

I want to pull McCarthy out of that set of players as what strikes me as a particularly good value. The two big knocks against McCarthy are his health and his low strikeout rate, and both are entirely valid. His move to the NL will help the latter a bit and the fact that the Diamondbacks have one of baseball’s best medical staffs will help address the former. He’s still an injury risk, and the move to the NL isn’t pushing him up to 8.5 K/9 or anything of that nature, but rare is the player who has value and gets both of his weaknesses addressed in one move. I’m not pushing McCarthy even into the $8-9 range, but I’d still be thinking about bidding at $5-6 depending on how the rest of the draft had gone.

Both of the Pirates at $1 intrigue the heck out of me. Liriano and McDonald have both shown the ability to make opposing hitters look positively awful. McDonald had half a season where he looked positively dominant, 9-3, 2.37 ERA, 100 K and a 0.97 WHIP, but his second half made him look grossly overmatched: 3-5, 7.52 ERA, 51 K, and a 1.79 WHIP. I don’t think he’s a pitcher who will put up 200 strikeouts and a WHIP below 1.00, but I also don’t see him as a pitcher with an ERA around 8.00, and for a buck, I’m willing to find out which one he is.

I think I’ve discussed in the past that Liriano and I are no longer on speaking terms from previous fantasy crimes, so I won’t be taking him for personal reasons, but a move to the NL Central is going to do him serious good. It’s a set of hitters who won’t have faced his slider, it’s a nearly guaranteed rise in his strikeout rate because of the pitcher’s spot, and it’s far fewer games in US Cellular Field, Yankee Stadium, and Angel Stadium. The NL surely has its share of pitcher traps, but I think he still stands to improve with the move. I’m not locked on him being a mixed option, but NL-only players could do far worse than him.

The last bargain player who intrigues me is Turner. At a buck, it’s not like Howard made a big gamble on him, but he’s a talented pitcher who will surely get his shot in a Miami rotation bereft of even semi-live arms. Turner could flop, plenty of good rookies do, and the challenge for owners will be to cut bait on him even when the team doesn’t, but that’s an issue for after draft day. As a pick in a vacuum, Turner has good upside and that’s about all anyone needs to be a good idea at the end of the draft.