Trends change in fantasy baseball but one fact remains true year after year: There is more depth at starting pitcher than anywhere else on the diamond.
It’s for that reason that I’ll never select Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw in the first 10 picks, not when Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista or even Giancarlo Stanton are still on the board.
True, in traditional 5-by-5 leagues, Verlander and Kershaw will give you wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. But so will David Price and Felix Hernandez in the second round, or Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the third round.
Everyday players are more valuable than pitchers in fantasy for the same reason they’re more valuable in reality – they play every day and they have five times as many opportunities to impact a matchup.
Here are some undervalued starting pitching options if you choose to wait out the hurlers and opt for a strong offense:
In 10-team leagues you can wait until the end of Round 4 or beginning of Round 5 to take Bumgarner, who last season had a better ERA than CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke, a lower WHIP than Lee, Hamels and Hernandez and more wins than Sabathia, Greinke, Hernandez, Kershaw and James Shields.
Bumgarner’s strikeout and walk numbers are downright gaudy, and they’ve been eerily consistent the last two seasons: 191 Ks and 49 BBs last season, and 191 strikeouts to 46 walks the year before.
To top it off, Bumgarner’s home games come in one of the game’s most pitcher-friendly parks. Bumgarner has a 2.74 ERA at AT&T Park the last two seasons with just nine home runs allowed in 210 innings.
Just don’t wait too late on Bumgarner, because others will likely have the same idea. If it’s your turn at the end of the fourth round and you’re deciding between the lefty and a guy like Allen Craig or B.J. Upton, take Bumgarner and grab a bat later.
I’d take him over: Greinke, Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto
Verlander was the only pitcher with more strikeouts last season, and Scherzer could very well lead baseball in that category in 2013. At 28, Scherzer is entering his prime, and the numbers bear that out.
Scherzer’s strikeout rate soared last season to 11.1 Ks per nine innings, the highest mark in all of baseball. More impressively, he avoided solid contact better than ever before, allowing just 8.6 hits per nine after averaging 9.6 the year before.
Last season was the first that Scherzer limited the hits and walks at the same time. It was his first year allowing fewer than nine hits and three walks per nine. The result was a 1.27 WHIP and 3.74 ERA, very impressive marks in the AL.
Scherzer’s composite ranking between fantasy sites is somewhere around 70th overall, but your draft will dictate where he goes. There’s going to be a run on starting pitchers somewhere around Round 5, so if you’re in dire need of strikeouts you might have to snag him in the beginning or middle of the sixth.
The benefit of having Scherzer is that you can focus less on strikeouts with the rest of your starting staff. Sure, you’ll need a few other pitchers who miss bats, but it would allow you to take someone like Tim Hudson – who maintains a low ERA annually but doesn’t strike anyone out – late in the draft.
I’d take Scherzer over: Mat Latos, Brandon Morrow, Tim Lincecum
Jon Niese & Homer Bailey
One lefty and one righty, both 26, both in the National League, both highly-touted coming up, both on the rise.
Niese had a 3.40 ERA for the Mets last season, drastically cutting down his hits allowed from 10.1 per nine to 8.2. You can target him very, very late, somewhere around the 15th-18th round, and you’ll get good value out of him. He’s a legit No. 4 fantasy SP with the upside of a No. 2.
Bailey might be even better. He and Niese had identical 7.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 marks last year. But Bailey, a former first-round pick, took things to another level in September and October. In the final month of the regular season, he went 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, .159 opponents’ batting average and a strikeout per inning. Then in one playoff start against the Giants, he gave up one hit over seven innings with 10 strikeouts against the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants.
Bailey can be had right around the same time as Niese. One strategy would be to take a starting pitcher early – someone like Lee or Hamels in Round 3 – and then wait until the Round 14-18 range and take Niese and Bailey back-to-back for SP depth.
I’d take Niese or Bailey over: Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, C.J. Wilson
Other starting pitcher sleepers
Jarrod Parker (A's) -- Pitches in cavernous O.Co Coliseum, where had a 2.61 ERA in 2012.
Mike Minor (Braves) -- After the All-Star break last season: 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in 14 starts.
Paul Maholm (Braves) -- He'll be much better with a full season in a pitcher's park like Turner Field.
James McDonald (Pirates) -- 2.73 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in the first half of 2012. Needs to work out control issues, but the stuff is there.