This is the work of serial ligament defiler Tommy John. After all the pitchers he took down last season (and another handful already this year) he's got me nervous about drafting pitchers. It may seem outlandish in principle to avoid pitching in the early rounds simply because of the fear of losing your ace for the season. Certainly Mr. John doesn't discriminate with his victims; it's not like he only defiles stud pitchers and avoids the fifth starters of the world, and if you have somehow managed to predict who the victims were going to be then you'd be better suited digging into the Zodiac murders and quitting fantasy baseball. The world needs you.
So how has this TJ madness affected my draft strategy for the 2015 season? In the past, I've felt like I need one ace-caliber pitcher just to compete in the pitching categories, anchoring my ratios over the course of 200+ innings with elite strikeouts. And, with the current climate of the game slanting very much toward pitching, it's perhaps even more vital to get that superstud that could actually put you at the top of the pitching categories. While I still feel that's the easiest solution to a good pitching staff, and it puts less pressure on you to draft the guys in later rounds that will far outperform their ADP (think Kluber 2014) it can also kill you in a heartbeat. All it takes is your stud to go down with injury or fall off a cliff (Sabathia, Halladay, Verlander) and your staff may very well be screwed. Is this the year King Felix' innings catch up to him and he performs like a #3? Will Sale miss more time than the Sox are expecting? Will Strasburg need a second Tommy John? You can't say yes to any of those questions with any degree of confidence, but you can't rule them out as possibilities either.
So rather than drafting one of the aces, who by the way are going waaaay too high according to fantasypros.com ADP (Felix 10th overall, Sale 19th for example) I'm going to wait a bit on my starters. The point of this being risk minimization; the 100th pitcher off the board has just as good a chance at getting injured as the 10th, but with the much lesser investment, the risk with that pick is negated. My plan is to go even more hitter heavy in the early rounds than I have in the past, and pepper the mid-range starters with ace upside. I wouldn't mind having James Shields (ADP 73), Gerrit Cole (ADP 80) or DeGrom (ADP 87) as my #1/#2 pitchers, and in snake drafts I'm probably targeting that group for back-to-back picks. At this point in drafts you should have your stud hitters to anchor your offense and you can go all upside with your pitching picks, or sprinkle in some solid floor guys like Gio Gonzalez (ADP 102). The downside with this strategy being you have to hit on some of your upside picks (maybe a late-round Drew Hutchison?) if you're going to win your pitching categories.
The difference in my dynasty league strategy is perhaps even more pronounced with this rash of Tommy Johns. If I'm in a dynasty startup or even in year two or three, I'm consistently working on filling every hole on offense before I address my pitching deficiencies. Am I completely ignoring starters in that format? Of course not, but I'm going to focus on hitting first because the hitters are far more consistent annually and if they get injured it's typically for only a few weeks rather than a year and a half, which is the recovery time for a pitcher that undergoes TJS.
Is this too much overreaction to something that's out of our control? They say Freddy Krueger can't get you if you're not asleep, but that doesn't matter to Tommy John. He'll get you anyway, so don't call this drafting scared...call it drafting prepared.