For a full primer on the process behind these rankings, check out episode 458 of The Sleeper & The Bust.
I decided to go a different route than the traditional 1 to whatever listing and went a step beyond the tiered rankings which allow for more nuance than just a numbered ranking, but still feel inadequate to tackle the many challenges of in-season pitcher management. I do still have tiers, but they are much different tiers and so they aren’t just talent-based groupings. They are more about usability in the fantasy game.
I have five different levels for active arms and then injury and minor league groupings for those we’re waiting on. We always talk “rest of season” when looking at deals and pickups, but I think we have to be more short term than that, especially with pitching. This doesn’t mean I’m wildly shifting rankings and my outlook on pitchers after every start, but rather I’m acknowledging that the landscape is going to shift so much throughout the six month season that trying to focus beyond a month or two is foolhardy.
The tiers are as follows:
Must Start – Should be pretty obvious, but these are the guys who always start. Again, it isn’t just the very best guys. There are second and third tier arms in terms of market value that I’d start every time out. They don’t have an obvious split or weakness that would give you a better chance at picking off their poor starts. Some of them could be “No Coors Field”, but it’s predominantly set it and forget it.
Usually Start – If “No Coors Field” is 30/70 with the MS group, it’s more like 60/40 or 70/30 with this group. You have to have a reason not to start them right now in most formats. You might feel like you can spot them properly, but we’re just not that precise in identifying when a solid arm will falter. These guys are good enough to thwart any opponent even on something less than their best day. Yes, Jason Vargas is in this group. I know he was just roughed up in the Bronx by the Yankees. He still had a 10% swinging strike rate and has been below that mark just once this year.
Spot Start – Flawed talents. A lot of these guys are on the cusp of or have been in the Usually Start tier, but currently you’re looking to curate their starts a bit where you can. They could also be a US tier arm here temporarily. Pay very close attention to gamelogs of pitchers, get a feel for how they arrived at their bottom line numbers. Not all ERAs are created equally and that’s why it’s not a talent gauge at all.
Could Start – I know many of you are dealing with some brutal pitching staff conditions right now after drafting a rotation you thought would be a strength (had one guy show me his Thor, Bumgarner, Paxton DL… yes, seriously), so you might find yourself in this tier a little more than you’d like. There is some talent to be and plucking the right two-start week could really set you up. This is essentially the Spot Star tier for single leagues or super-deep mixers (16+ teams).
Don’t Start – You don’t want to be here. This is when you start looking at middle relievers as the better option. You’ll see what I mean.
Injured – I find it hard/worthless to rank injured guys. I just think the outlook on injured players varies so much person-to-person that you can’t really use an injured player’s ranking for anything. I will identify the tier I’d put the injured guy in when healthy, though.
Minors – These guys aren’t in the majors. You needed that explanation, didn’t you?
I know I personally had to re-calibrate my short-term/long-term balance, so hopefully this the first step toward that. Going forward, I’m looking to update every four-to-five weeks, so late-June for the next update.
OK, let’s get to the groupings. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below, but I’d also encourage you to come out to my chat on Friday at 2 PM Central to discuss further. Please focus less on the number and more on the grouping they’re in. I’ll have another piece with thoughts on several arms coming soon, plus next week’s podcast with Eno will dive into these and his big rankings changes thus far.