Building a 2021 $9 NFBC Pitching Staff

Yesterday, I built a $14 NFBC offense using their average auction values and limiting myself to an entire squad of $1 hitters. Today, let’s now build a $9 pitching staff. Unfortunately, I only had 40 pitchers to choose from, but I could guarantee you, my selections would put fear into the minds of all my leaguemates if I finished the auction with this sweet, sweet crew.

The $9 Pitching Staff
Player W* SV* SO* ERA* WHIP*
Dane Dunning 7 0 120 4.43 1.36
Robbie Ray 9 0 193 4.82 1.44
Domingo German 7 0 106 4.50 1.28
Mitch Keller 7 0 131 4.43 1.41
Tarik Skubal 7 0 142 4.67 1.32
Caleb Smith 8 0 151 4.69 1.33
Diego Castillo 5 14 73 3.18 1.17
Jonathan Hernandez 4 6 72 3.73 1.29
Gregory Soto 2 8 65 4.50 1.42
Total 56 28 1053 4.44 1.35
*ATC Projections

Sexy, eh? In actuality, this is quite a fun pitching staff. What’s important to note here is that I used my Pod Projections when deciding who would earn a place on this staff, and I am much more optimistic about these pitchers than ATC is, especially in the ratio categories.

For the starting pitchers, I leaned toward the high strikeout rate (using K%, not K/9) youngsters as they have the most ratio breakout potential.

Dane Dunning was a former White Sox top prospect who missed all of 2019 rehabbing from TJ surgery before making his MLB debut in 2020. He skipped Triple-A, so his performance was even more impressive, even though it was over a small sample size. His most-used secondary pitch was his slider, which whifftastic, generating a 21.85 SwStk%. He complemented that with a strong four-seamer and decent changeup. Now pitching in the friendly confines of the Rangers new stadium after being traded during the offseason, Dunning is a decent bet to post a low-4.00 ERA and solid strikeout rate.

Robbie Ray, really?! Trust me when I say, my options didn’t offer me many better alternatives. That said, all I care about is one number — 28.6%. That’s Ray’s career strikeout rate. Striking out that many betters means there’s always the possibility of posting a sub-4.00 ERA. It’s not often you can buy strikeouts so cheaply.

After getting suspended due to domestic violence allegations, Domingo German is back and fighting for a rotation spot. He enjoyed a strong first full season in 2019, as his luck turned for the better after some bad LOB% fortune in 2018 that ballooned his ERA far above his SIERA. He’s got electric stuff, but it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform after missing an entire season. He’s the perfect gamble for a buck, as you easily drop him if he loses out on a rotation spot, but keep an eye on him if he finds himself getting starts at some point.

There’s no better example of why ERA over small samples is meaningless and estimators like SIERA provide far more value when forecasting future performance than Mitch Keller. He posted a gruesome 7.13 ERA in 2019, but a more exciting 3.78 SIERA, and then a 2.91 ERA in 2020, but an ugly 6.94 SIERA. He made my list because I’m willing to throw out his awful 21.2 innings in 2020 and betting his 2019 is closer to the real version. That means a jump back into the mid-20% range for strikeout rate and a walk rate back below 10%. His slider was fantastic in 2019, so he just needs to regain the pitch’s effectiveness to rebound.

Tarik Skubal was one of many young starting pitchers I gambled on in LABR Mixed in the late rounds, hoping to hit on a breakout. He posted massive strikeout rates in the minors, and although his outward MLB debut was disappointing, his SIERA was much more respectable. With three pitches generating double digit SwStk% marks during his debut, he’s clearly got the stuff to succeed. He might end up on all my teams in 2021.

Caleb Smith is another LABR league rosteree, thanks to his career 25.8% strikeout rate and consistent double digit SwStk% mark. Over his career, he owns two non-fastballs that have generated mid-teen SwStk%, to go with an above average fastball. Walks have been an issue, but I’d much rather bet on the strikeout pitcher correcting his wildness than betting on the control pitcher adding strikeouts.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to build the cheapest possible pitching staff is buying enough saves or potential for saves. As you could imagine, there were no locked in closers going for a buck. Duh. However, there were a number of relievers with either a strong chances at saves, or a reasonable chance at earning a couple. That still won’t be enough to show well in a projected standings, so speculating is really the best that can be done. I opted for three relievers with chances for saves. Of the $1 relievers, ATC projected 11 of them to earn at least a save, so I was essentially choosing three from that pool.

Nick Anderson completely lost it in the playoffs and that means he may not enter the season as the de facto closer for the Rays. The Rays typically didn’t have one of those to begin with, but Anderson seemed the most likely candidate to do so in 2021 if his playoff performance was on par with his regular season. Since it wasn’t, there’s a stronger chance Diego Castillo earns a higher percentage of the team’s saves now and he’s available for just a buck! It’s true that the Rays have a number of candidates to earn saves, but even if Castillo records just 5-10, that’s easily worth your buck given the strong ratios.

I am an unabashed Jose Leclerc fan. But he has major control issues and is coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to just two innings in 2020. So there are huge questions marks there. Jonathan Hernandez started for the majority of his minor league career, but has made nearly all of his appearances in the Majors out of the bullpen. With a sinker that topped 100 MPH in 2020 and not one, but two, pitches in the slider and changeup that generated a SwStk% over 20%, he’s a serious threat to runaway with the Rangers’ closer role.

Who’s going to open the season as the Tigers closer? My money is on Gregory Soto. Last season, Bryan Garcia finished the year as the team’s closer, thanks to his 1.66 ERA. But his skills were absolutely atrocious, as his SIERA sat at 5.62, so his results were built completely on smoke and mirrors. While I do expect his skills to improve and SIERA to come down, it won’t be enough to make Garcia an actual good pitcher, let alone good enough to hold down the closer role. Enter Soto. Liek Hernandez above, he was also a starter most of his minor league career, but has transitioned to the bullpen in the Majors. He gained a couple of miles per hour on his sinker, topped 100 with the pitch, and his slider became an insane weapon, registering a 30% SwStk%. If there’s anyone in the Tigers bullpen who could enjoy a major breakout and run with the job, it’s Soto.

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.

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1 year ago

Some solid options here. I just don’t like the idea of only having 9 pitchers on a team. Seems there were too many bats and too few pitchers. I like the 13/12 ratio. That is what our league has required for years based off the typical mlb roster setup.

1 year ago
Reply to  bluerum29

The 14/9 hitter/pitcher split is the rotisserie standard set up by Glen Waggoner, Dan Okrent in the Rotisserie Baseball handbook first published in the early 80s

1 year ago
Reply to  Chrcritter

That seems like a long time ago to not have changes or advancements to the standard. I just like that we set ours up to resemble a major league squad as close as we could. 25 on the roster, 13 hitters, 12 pitchers. No MI or CI spots; just the regular C, 1b, 2b, 3b, ss, 3 OF, and 1 util/dh spot as the starters and then bench bats.