We are just three weeks away from NFBC opening day weekend. The clock is ticking so let’s get to it. We’ve talked about the importance of having two elite ERA and WHIP anchors for your pitching staff. Half of that battle is picking two that will stay healthy. I’m risk averse when it comes to early pitching selections and this caution has paid dividends. Here are some high-risk pitchers I am likely avoiding in the early rounds. NFBC ADPs are in parenthesis.
Clayton Kershaw (4) – In stand-alone leagues, I want no part of the best starting pitcher on the planet. The Koufaxian Dodger has spent time on the DL in two out of the last three years due to back injuries, a total of 18 starts. I hear people just flippantly dismiss this, and certainly ADP mocks those expecting a discount. In the NFBC Main Event, if you have multiple entries and don’t mind spinning the roulette wheel right out of the gate, sure, place your chips on number 22. Just realize the wheel lands in the red roughly half the time.
Max Scherzer (11) – The Nationals ace has what’s been described as an unusual injury. Scherzer can’t grip a fastball without feeling pain, so he’s using a three-fingered grip to throw fastballs in order to get his work in. Does this sound like someone that should be throwing to you? Does this sound like someone you should invest in at 100% cost? If so, I hope you are in my league. I wouldn’t touch Scherzer with a 10-foot pole. Even if the stress fracture doesn’t end up being a problem, a throwing compensation injury could still surface. In the third or fourth round? Sure, but Mad Max is going 10th or 11th overall. No thanks.
Noah Syndergaard (19) – Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom…they all wear Mets uniforms and have had serious arm issues. The Metropolitans are not an organization I have much faith in. Thor’s velocity was down when I saw him pitch in spring training last year, beyond the "Oh, he’s just building arm strength" window. I stayed away from Noah and the entire Mets starting rotation in all leagues except a couple in which I had partners that wanted shares. The fantasy production at the end of the season was just fine, but during the summer, Syndergaard admitted to having a bone spur that required anti-inflammatory medication. Of course we’re assured that it’s minor and nothing to worry about. It’s always minor…until it isn’t.
Jake Arrieta (33) – Velocity was down 0.9 mph. FIP was up 1.17. K/9 rate was down slightly. BB/9 nearly doubled, HR/9 rate nearly doubled, and K/BB ratio cut in half. Over his last 16 starts: 4.44 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 83 K’s in 99 IP. The trends are all headed in the wrong direction. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is sure to be an asset, but I want more out of my #1 starter.
There aren’t many reliable aces that I would trust, but the few in that circle include:
Chris Sale (21) – Fenway Park is at least a mild concern, but the former White Sox’s arm is not.
Corey Kluber (23) – 32 starts, 225+ K’s, and a sub 1.10 WHIP every year.
Madison Bumgarner (15) – A rich man’s Corey Kluber.
Jon Lester (36) – The departure of David Ross is a concern, but Lester still has a high floor.
Justin Verlander (42) – Sub 1.10 WHIP the last two years and struck out 254 last season.
Some other arms that are not for the risk averse:
James Paxton (181) – Just 46 starts over the last three seasons, all for a career WHIP of 1.28. Yippee. Ok, so the southpaw’s velocity shot up 2.6 mph, the peripherals now look great. If you draft him, you almost have to draft him assuming he’s your 10th SP, as if you’ll get nothing.
Jon Gray (183) – The Rockies still play half of their games at Coors Field, don’t they? Ok, just checking. Yes, I did recommend fellow Rockie Tyler Anderson last year and I like him to post similar numbers this year. Anderson can be had for the mere cost of a reserve round pick.
Blake Snell (235) – Those that rostered the wild youngster already know this. Those that didn’t, don’t watch or listen to his games, or you’re going to hear this over, and over, and over again: "…and the count goes to 2-0."
Cam Bedrosian (224) – A blood clot in 2016 and now lower body stiffness? Are you sure he’s healthy enough that we can anoint him the new closer before the battle even begins?
Kevin Gausman (148) – This will be Gausman’s fifth season with the Orioles. How many years will it be before the market gives up on his mysterious ceiling finally appearing? Isn’t the 10th round a high premium for something we’ve yet to see?
Anthony DeSclafani (227) – Was on my sleeper list last year but with elbow soreness he’s somebody else’s problem.
Edwin Diaz (83) – Absolutely love him. Touted him last year. Electric stuff, but a sixth-round pick for someone with only 18 career saves? No thanks. You can have him.
Zack Greinke (98) – No interest in any Greinke shares as long as he’s pitching in Arizona. WHIP on the road: 1.16. WHIP at home: 1.39.
David Robertson (125) – Off-season knee surgery packaged with a 1.36 WHIP, nearly tripled his walk rate. White Sox want to trade him to an unknown team/role. What’s not to like?