Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/1/14
Recently I looked at the top 50 hitters drafted in 2013, and now it’s time to turn to the pitchers. Most fantasy “experts” will tell you to not spend an early pick on pitching and that hitters are more predictable. What I found is that this is sort of true, but before we dive in let’s set the ground rules for those of you who didn’t get to read the post on hitters. The method is pretty simple. I took the top 50 pitchers drafted in 2013, rounded to the nearest whole number, and compared it to their end-of-season ESPN Player Rater rank. Top 12 Pitchers: Some good, but a lot of bad Only 1 pitcher – Justin Verlander – was taken in the first round, so I couldn’t look at first round talent like I did with hitters. As an alternative I went with the first 12 pitchers taken. These twelve were taken anywhere from 10th overall, to 53rd. Four of the 12 exceeded their draft position and the other eight were pretty bad. First, let’s look at the good: Player Name ADP ESPN Player Rater Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 14 3 Cliff Lee (PHI) 38 20 Yu Darvish (TEX) 49 22 Adam Wainwright (STL) 53 15 Last year you had a 33% (4-of-12) chance of choosing wisely in the first 12 pitchers. Granted this was over nearly five rounds of selections, but those odds still suck. Now, let’s look at the pitchers who failed to give you the value you expected when you drafted them: Player Name ADP ESPN Player Rater Justin Verlander (DET) 10 147 Stephen Strasburg (WAS) 18 75 Felix Hernandez (SEA) 23 59 David Price (TB) 23 126 Matt Cain (SF) 30 210 Cole Hamels (PHI) 36 143 Jered Weaver (LAA) 38 172 Gio Gonzalez (WAS) 43 156 There are some huge bombs in here, most notably Verlander, but he’s not alone. Otherwise seemingly reliable pitchers — I’m looking at you David Price, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain – were horrendous last year. This tells me that taking a pitcher early is high-risk, high-reward. Of the guys that exceeded their draft position, they all finished within the top 25 players in baseball, but half of them also finished outside the top 100. As you will see in looking at the rest of the top 50, there are some huge bargains to be had when drafting pitchers later, so why take the risk early on? The Rest of the Top 50 34% (17-of-50) finished in a spot that was higher than their ADP or within 12 spots (12 spots being 1 round) 6% (3-of-50) finished 2-3 rounds worse than where they were drafted 20% (10-of-50) finished 4-10 rounds worse than where they were drafted 40% (20-of-50) finished more than 10 rounds worse than where they were drafted The average player finished 170 spots worse and the median was 69 If we remove guys that were injured (or suspended) for significant periods of time, meaning 150 IP or fewer, the numbers improve to an average of 58 spots worse and a median of 43 What does this mean for 2014? Of the 17 pitchers that finished better than their draft slot, or within 12 spots, only four were taken within the first twelve pitchers. The rest were taken somewhere between pick 54 and pick 188 (Homer Bailey was pick 188 and he finished 98 spots better than his ADP). This begs the question, why draft pitchers early? Look at the supposed studs that bombed early; Price, Verlander, and Hamels. I’d rather wait until round 7 or later and take my chances with Mat Latos (finished 7 spots worse than his #78 ADP), James Shields (7 spots worse than his #88 ADP), and Anibal Sanchez (98 spots better than his #147 ADP). Of course there are disappointments to be had all through the draft, but I’d rather be disappointed with a 10th round pick rather than a 3rd round pick.
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