Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has already stated that Braves starters could just go two or three innings early on in the season, while some could throw four innings. I don’t feel that the Braves will be the only team implementing that strategy either. With a starting pitcher needing to complete five innings, that will probably leave wins a rarity for starting pitchers. I’m not basing this completely off of wins, because they might be the riskiest category in fantasy baseball, but strikeouts won’t come in bunches either.
This opens the door for three things; Drafting offensive-heavy early in the draft with more disregard for starting pitching than usual, streaming pitching often, and considering long/middle relievers–players who are usually a fantasy afterthought.
If it gets to a point in your draft, and some stud starting pitchers have dropped below what was expected, sure, take them. However, drafting hitters, you are getting players that will still get you their normal categories, and as always play more games anyways (which makes them more valuable in my opinion).
Streaming pitchers is typically a safe route to stacking your numbers. You can stream them to get two starts, or just for a plus matchup. This is a great idea when it comes to spending little draft capital on starting pitching.
The last option this opens is drafting any type of reliever besides a closer. Teams will essentially be using the opener strategy often, therefore there will be one or two guys on every team that will be in position to win games for you and put up respectable strikeout numbers. Here are some the pitchers who have the potential to be useful on your team.
Jonathan Loaisiga – New York Yankees
Yankees RHP Jonathan Loaisiga couldn’t be in a better position to pitch early in a game as Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, and Adam Ottavino should have the final three innings covered more often than not. He isn’t a slouch though, as he has mid to high 90s fastball, great changeup, and average curve–while also pitching on the best team in the American League.
Darwinzon Hernandez – Boston Red Sox
Red Sox LHP Darwinzon Hernandez is one of the lesser known players on this list, but he could eventually become Josh Hader like. His control issues are well documented, so the bullpen will likely be his permanent destination, but it can be in a multi-inning role. In a small sample last year in the big leagues, he had a 16.3 K/9. In a bullpen that was desperate for a lefty reliever, he could be used as much as anybody.
Carlos Rodon – Chicago White Sox
White Sox LHP Carlos Rodon was the White Sox 2019 Opening Day starter, only to have Tommy John surgery on May 15, 2019. Now being over a year removed from surgery and returning to a full rotation, relieving is the perfect situation for him as the White Sox will probably baby him until 2021.
AJ Puk – Oakland A’s
A’s LHP AJ Puk has been one of my fantasy crushes since 2017, and nothing since has changed my mind. This mention might not be worth it considering he has a solid chance to make the Opening Day rotation now that he is healthy. If they want to still baby his arm though, I can easily see him coming on in long relief, snagging some wins, and quietly become a strikeout leader out of the bullpen.
Josh James/Bryan Abreu/Framber Valdez/Forrest Whitley – Houston Astros
The Astros have an assortment of options who qualify for this list. Josh James, Bryan Abreu, Framber Valdez, and Forrest Whitley are all pitchers with talent who could be very useful on your fantasy team. One of these pitchers will most likely steal the fifth starter job. Whitley is the least likeliest, but with his rich repertoire, he has to put it together at some point.
Sean Newcomb – Atlanta Braves
Braves LHP Sean Newcomb is a former top prospect who struggled to put together long enough outings to stick in the rotation. However, he perfectly fits the mold of a pitcher who can come on in the 5th inning and pitch a very respectable 2-3 innings for a good young team.
Seth Lugo – New York Mets
Mets RHP Seth Lugo at one time looked like he’d be second fiddle in this role, but due to Noah Syndergaard out for the season with Tommy John, Michael Wacha will now join the rotation. In 80 IP in relief last year, Lugo pitched to a 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a 11.7 K/9.
Nick Pivetta – Philadelphia Phillies
Phillies RHP Nick Pivetta had many fantasy baseball players excited going into last season, but he got hit, and hit hard! He gave up more than one home run per five innings pitched. He eventually got demoted and never really showed what was expected of him. However, the talent is still there, and Pivetta added a changeup. He has a secure spot in the Phillies bullpen, and he worked out with stud pitchers Jack Flaherty, Noah Syndergaard, and Lucas Giolito in the offseason.
Alex Reyes/Daniel Ponce de Leon – St. Louis Cardinals
Alex Reyes at one point looked like he was going to pitch similarly to Jose Fernandez (RIP). This spring wasn’t pretty, but it was only a small sample and the strikeout numbers were still there. Ponce de Leon was never the caliber of prospect Reyes was, but he has averaged a K/9, and a respectable WHIP and ERA. Either player will be called early for the redbirds.
Freddy Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers
Brewers RHP Freddy Peralta has always had talent. He just hasn’t put it together to this point. Seeing as he increased his fastball velocity (touching 98 MPH in the Dominican Winter League) and incorporated a slider, I have increased optimism. I’m not the only one either, as the Brewers locked him into a five-year extension this spring. Like Puk though, he might win a rotation spot.
Dustin May – Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers RHP Dustin May had a solid rookie season, and it seemed like he would have a rotation spot coming into the season until David Price joined the team. Now he sets up to be the first one out of the pen, log some innings, and get some wins for the best team in the league on paper.
Drew Pomeranz – San Diego Padres
Padres LHP Drew Pomeranz has had an up and down career that has included a World Series ring and an All-Star appearance. He has always pitched as a starter and reliever. With the Padres he is strictly going to be a reliever after looking extremely comfortable in that role once traded to the Brewers last year (2.68 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and a 15.4 K/9). The Padres boast one of the best bullpens in the league, so Pomeranz should fill the multi-inning role.