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Use Caution When Using Rookie Starting Pitchers in Your Fantasy Lineups

Relying on rookie starting pitchers? Even Felix Hernandez was no great shakes as a rookie.

As I finish penning this article, I have spent this afternoon watching one of my prized rookie Fantasy starters, Toronto Blue Jays’ Daniel Norris, make another less than stellar start.  He left the game in the third inning after giving up 4 earned runs.

I am also the proud owner of highly touted prospect Taijan Walker, another young starting pitcher, who has had trouble getting runners out in both of his two season starts so far this year.

Both pitchers were dominant in Spring Training, yet both have struggled in their first few starts in the regular season.  Should I have seen this coming?  I did expect some hiccups, but I will admit I didn’t expect both pitchers to struggle as badly as they have so far.

Today’s Fantasy Elite When They Were Rookie Starting Pitchers

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the statistic of three of the game’s best starting pitchers, to see how they fared in their first season where they pitched at least 50 innings.  Here are their highlights.

  1. Clayton Kershaw. A win/loss record of 5-5, and a KK/B ratio of less than 2-1.
  2. Max Scherzer. A win loss record of 0-4, a K/BB ratio of just over 3-1.
  3. Felix Hernandez. A win loss record of 4-4, and a K/BB ratio of just over 3-1

Overall, not horrible as a whole, but nothing that indicated that these three players would become three of the most elite pitchers a few years later.

So what does this tell us?  Simply that very few starting pitchers are elite to start their careers.  Most need a few seasons working out the chinks in their armor and refining their craft.  Will they show flashes of brilliance in their rookie year?  Probably.  But at the end of the season, will their statistics offer dominant value for their Fantasy owner?  Probably not.

The key to maximizing the value of rookie starting pitchers is to understand how to utilize them properly.  With pitchers like Scherzer or Kershaw now in their prime, you will never need to make the decision about whether or not to use them in your line up in any given week.  You drafted them for a reason.  But with young pitchers like Norris or Walker, paying attention to specific match ups, could make a huge difference in what Fantasy value they provide you by season’s end.  Are they pitching in tough match up or in a good hitters park? Don’t be afraid to keep them on your bench.

So when you are preparing your Fantasy line ups each week, or even daily, you may want to consider waiting a few weeks before inserting your young pitchers in your active roster.  They were elite prospects for a reason.  But you just need to make sure that you don’t get stuck suffering through their early season growing pains, as they learn to master their craft in the big leagues.

Bonus Fantasy Advice: If you are looking for a Fantasy outfielder on the waiver wire this week, consider Arizona outfielder Ender Inciarte.  His hot hitting of late has landed him in the leadoff spot, which helps to ensure maximum at-bat potential, at the top of the Diamondbacks line up.  So far this season in 50 plate appearances he is hitting over .350 with an OBP of .400.


Felix Hernandez Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison

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