Building a 2021 $244 NFBC Pitching Staff

Sadly, the NFBC team building fun comes to a close. To go along with my splendid $14 offense, I attempted to assemble a $246 pitching staff using NFBC average auction values from Feb 1 and on. Although I succeeding in spending all my money when buying a dominant offense to go with my $9 pitching staff, I left two bucks on the table here for my ultimate pitching staff, only spending $244 of the $246 I had available.

Unlike the $251 hitting/$9 pitching staff, this strategy of buying an absolutely insane pitching staff and weak offense is not something I would ever pursue or recommend. So this is purely for funsies.

As a reminder, I’m displaying ATC projections, but actually used my Pod Projections and values to assemble the team.

The $244 Pitching Staff
Player AAV W* SV* SO* ERA* WHIP*
Shane Bieber 41 15 0 247 3.18 1.08
Max Scherzer 30 13 0 220 3.59 1.14
Aaron Nola 33 13 0 220 3.72 1.20
Clayton Kershaw 30 13 0 166 3.43 1.14
Walker Buehler 33 12 0 191 3.43 1.09
Carlos Carrasco 23 11 0 196 3.55 1.18
Josh Hader 22 4 32 106 3.27 0.98
Edwin Diaz 18 3 30 106 3.09 1.11
Ryan Pressly 14 3 30 76 3.34 1.13
Total 244 87 92 1528 3.44 1.13
*ATC Projections

Unlike on the hitting side, it was near impossible to find upper echelon starting pitchers that were not dramatically overvalued compared to my valuations. I’m not sure if NFBC auctioners as a whole are allocating more money to pitching than my valuations assume (I use a 69/31 split, which clearly has changed!), or they acknowledge they are overpaying, but are pushing up the top tier even more than the hitting top tier out of a perception that near replacement level is far worse than in the past.

Whatever the reason, my strategy for this exercise had to switch from searching for undervalued pitchers among the top tier, to overpaying less on that top tier. Since I had $246 to play with, I essentially had to focus on the top tier or I would have left even more money on the table. Luckily, since we differ so drastically on pitcher values, it wasn’t that hard to pinpoint those that were better (less badly?) priced.

I decided to go with six starting pitchers and three closers for this exercise. Because closers don’t go for a whole lot, it meant paying even more per starting pitcher slot and being unable to take advantage of the truly undervalued.

I’m totally shocked that I agree Shane Bieber is a top three pitcher (I actually value him slightly higher than Gerrit Cole, making him top two). What will be important to monitor here is his fastball velocity, which jumped a mile per hour last year and made the pitch far more whiffier, helping to fuel that insane SwStk% and strikeout rate. I went with Bieber as my one choice from the top three because Cole’s AAV was $4 more, while Jacob deGrom’s is a whopping $9 more. I think those prices make Bieber an enormous relative bargain, as I have all three worth within $1.50 of each other.

Among the top 24 starters, Max Scherzer was the least overvalued, which is pretty surprising. Sure, his skills slipped a bit last season and he’s now 36, but he still managed to keep his strikeout rate above 30% and SwStk% just below 15%. Amazingly, his fastball velocity has remained stable, despite his advanced age, as his average velocity tied for the highest of his career in 2020, and was consistent with 2019. Aside from worries age will catch up, I don’t see any cause for concern here and don’t really care that over 67.1 innings last year his skills were slightly less strong than usual.

Aaron Nola was less overvalued than some of the other massively overvalued names (like the aforementioned deGrom and Cole, Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, Lucas Giolito, and Jack Flaherty, all of whom I show as being paid at least $12 more than their value based on that 69/31 split). Nola’s skills rebounded off his down 2019, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% surged thanks partly to a spike in his fastball’s SwStk%. I’m not betting that lasts, but he does everything well and has remained quite consistent outside 2019.

After a velocity dip in 2019, Clayton Kershaw’s fastball rebounded last year, so imminent decline is back off the table. You haven’t been able to count on him for 200 innings since 2015, but now that everyone’s innings are expected to be down, he’s much more in line with the rest of the top tier than he had been. So really the one knock against him is no longer much, if any, of a knock.

Even without a gaudy SwStk%, Walker Buehler continues to pile up the strikeouts and post strong ERAs. Since there’s more to striking out hitters than just swinging strikes, I think he’ll continue to perform similarly, with the off chance he learns to use his high-90s fastball to whiff more batters and his strikeout rate spikes above 30%.

I’m finding that Carlos Carrasco is one of the most reasonably priced pitchers inside that large top-middle tier. After recovering from leukemia, his fastball velocity remained stable with his previous two seasons, while both his strikeout rate and SwStk% sat near career highs. Now in the NL without the DH, and with Francisco Lindor still vacuuming up grounders behind him, I’m bullish on another big year.

I hate spending money on closers. I have never been the first one to draft one or pay the highest price in an auction, but am more willing to pay for a strong one in an auction if he’s relatively undervalued. Since I had such a huge budget for this exercise, I decided on a trio of top options according to my projections. Josh Hader is the king, but amazingly, was actually slightly undervalued compared to my valuation. That meant he was an automatic addition to my staff. Edwin Diaz was my third most valuable closer and nearly fairly priced. His massive strikeout rate means he’ll always rank among the elite closers, and his ERA rebound off 2019 is just another reminder of how small samples could cause the luck metrics like BABIP and HR/FB to go haywire.

Last, I considered James Karinchak for my third closer spot, but settled on Ryan Pressly, who I think has more job security and is a bit safer without the control issues that sometimes plague the former. I find that no matter the underlying skills, new full-time closers are almost always undervalued compared to the proven ones, and I like taking advantage of that.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

69/31 is way outdated mike. Think the break is 65/35 or 64/36