2020 Fantasy Baseball: AL / NL Auction Pitching Strategy

Auction league drafting is a completely different beast than your typical snake draft. And drafting your core pitching staff in AL or NL auctions might be the most difficult task of all. Shawn Childs is here to help.

Pitching is the most challenging part of fantasy baseball. It would be easy if you could spend a ton of money on your pitching staff in an auction. You could build a strong base in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, which would give yourself room for a mistake or two in the decision making at the backend of your starting rotation. Your offense would suffer for sure. 

In the high stakes market, you have no way of trading your pitching for hitting. It’s incredible to see how hard it is to keep half of your pitching points, never mind getting 66 percent of the needed winning pitching points. In a non-trading format, you need to find a balance in your budget between hitting and pitching. Pitching is the most frustrating because of the high rate of injuries and failures.

If a fantasy owner had a choice, I believe they would spend most of their money on hitting and screw pitching. In a way, this should be the plan every year, at least in the pre-game planning.

Searching for Values

When you are evaluating the pitching pool, you need to look for buying opportunities. It could be a closer in waiting who might get the job early in the season. Maybe, it is a $10 pitcher who could match a few $20 arms. After reviewing the players, you then have to decide if you think you can build your staff for less money than expected.

Dealing with Saves

Many teams will buy one closer. If your one closer gets 35 saves, you might get four points in saves in 12-team Roto leagues. It doesn’t seem like much of a return on a $15-plus investment. The truth is you need to get over 50 saves most years in AL or NL auction leagues to get in the top third in saves, which is one reason many fantasy owners punt the category or try to buy saves cheap. It’s hard to justify spending 30 percent of your pitching budget to get minimal points.

A fantasy owner needs to decide first what he or she wants to do with saves during the auction. After reviewing all the relievers, do you see anyone you want to invest full price on in the auction? If not, is there someone discounted who could return top value? Then, is there a reliever who you believe will get a job at some point in the season? After answering all of those questions, you then have to decide how much you want to invest in saves. I would never punt saves entirely. Why not grab a couple of closers in waiting in the reserve rounds? It won’t cost you any of your auction budget, plus a fantasy owner never knows how the season will unfold. Saves is a category that could be the difference in winning or losing a league. The better you are at getting a high percentage of saves per dollar invested, the better fantasy owner you will be.

I know a stud closer offers more than saves. If the price is right, you might have to bite. In the early years of fantasy baseball, top closers were going for close to $30. The market has corrected itself where the best closers will cost around $20. If you are willing to pay $15 for a closer, you better be ready if one of the best closers falls to you for less than $20.

Developing an Ace Foundation

Once you have decided on your plan for saves, you need to find a couple of starters who will be the anchors of your pitching staff. This part of an auction is a great equalizer. If you invest top dollars on an ace, it restricts the rest of your pitching staff unless you are willing to spend a higher percentage of your budget on pitching.

When Pedro Martinez was in his prime, you could pay over $40 for him and still dominate the pitching categories. He had a massive gap over the rest of the field in ERA, WHIP, and Ks.

You could invest $35-plus on Gerrit Cole this season, but how much of an edge does he have over the rest of the top pitchers in the American League?

Are you better off buying two $20 starters to build your base? Is there enough talent where you could get four solid starters for around $50? Is it better to get 200, 400, or 750 good innings? The answers to these questions are in each year's pitching inventory.

In some years, the pitching pool doesn't appear to have a lot of top talent. Other years, there might be enough to go around. After looking at the pitching inventory, it is best to come up with two or three pitchers you want to have as your core pitching staff.

Just like the hitting side, you have to find real auction prices to see if you can build the base of your pitching staff. If you decide you want to spend $60 on two starters and one closer, you need to know if those player’s prices will fit into your plan. If you view a pitcher as the key to your team, you might need to throw him on the mat early to see if you can execute your plan.

Pitching Spending

Most teams will spend between $60 and $80 on pitching. By making a $60 investment on three pitchers, you are hoping to set up your base for all pitching categories. Your next six pitchers will be the difference in winning and losing. With limited funds, you will need to be well prepared and disciplined to fill your staff. If you bite early on an $8 pitcher, it might cost you a chance at two $4 pitchers you want later on. Sometimes it isn’t the price of the player; it’s the timing of when you roster them.

In some leagues, a fantasy owner or two will try to dominate the pitching categories by spending $100 or more dollars. When this happens, it tends to push up the top pitching inventory.

Sometimes when the top of the pitching pool looks similar, all owners come to the table with the idea of buying a second-tier ace, which lowers the price of the top pitchers in the auction.

Your plan for pitching will dictate how much money you have to build your hitting team. It is easy to cheat pitching and spend the money on hitting. In some years, there will be an opportunity to do this. In others, you could be punting ERA and WHIP. You can still get over 50 % of the points if you can lead wins, strikeouts, and saves. There are so many different ways to go in pitching. You need to find a plan that allows you the best chance to win year in and year out. In a non-trading auction league, I believe you invest in your core players.

Do your homework to find opportunities in the auction. Come to the auction with an early strategy and a late game plan. You have to have enough discipline to execute. Don't be afraid to buy the players you believe are the true difference makers.

For more game-breaking advice from Shawn Childs, a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ, subscribe to FullTime Fantasy. Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription & gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.