Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Dual Aces Strategy

An interesting strategy is to focus on drafting two high-end pitchers to anchor your Fantasy pitching staff instead of trying to "cheat" on pitchers.

The Fantasy world is an ever-changing market. Each year Fantasy owners have more information and more tools to help them make better-educated decisions. When I first came to the high-stakes market in 2004, I sat in my seat, and I took the player I thought was the most valuable to my team at that time. It may have been the purest time in Fantasy baseball. It was about understanding the player pool and having a vision in the draft. The better you can see the future; the better you could predict the draft flow and future opportunities.

As each year passed, Fantasy owners have more information to help them become better Fantasy owners. After the first year, Fantasy owners had the winning results and the final category totals. Both of these pieces of information help teams plan their strategy for the following year.

As the high stakes Fantasy market grew, Fantasy owners had more draft results to help them make educated decisions on draft flow. The draft flow was a huge piece of information for owners who had a vision, and they had an idea of how they wanted to build their teams. This next piece of information was called ADPs (average draft position). Each draft will be different, but Fantasy owners now had an idea how other players felt about the inventory.

In the early days of Fantasy baseball, there was always an information edge. In the home leagues, there were Fantasy owners who were more informed than their competition. The more knowledge a Fantasy owner had; the bigger the edge over his competition. The toughest part of Fantasy baseball is pitching. A Fantasy owner with full knowledge of the pitching inventory had an advantage over his opponents. The imbalance of knowledge between Fantasy owners created strategies like the LIMA plan, formulated by Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ. The term LIMA means Low Investment Mound Aces. By understanding the pitching inventory, a Fantasy owner had the opportunity to buy his pitching staff at lower prices. Sometimes a knowledgeable Fantasy owner could find an ace for the small investment of $1 in auction leagues.

From a Fantasy perspective, the LIMA plan is a great tool. It was a theory that Fantasy owners must embrace to have success in this game. You are always trying to find a top talent at a discount. Many of the early baseball games were AL or NL auction leagues which stressed the importance of finding good players at a discount.

As the Fantasy game evolved, mixed leagues became more prominent. The high stakes market introduced the 15-team mixed league. It was a non-trading format, which put a premium on drafting and managing during the season. The bottom line is: it's you against the player pool. The goal is to out draft your opponents and out-manage them during the year. Each team is competing with two goals. The first is the league prize. The second is the overall title.

Each year, the inventory flow changes. Fantasy owners have a history of what has won plus they have a history of their failures. In 2004, the first round of closers was getting drafted from rounds four to six. As the game has progressed, Fantasy owners better understand the closer position is more volatile each year. Therefore, they are more willing to push the position back or even cheat it with the hopes they can solve this problem on the waiver wire.

A common theory early in high-stakes games was to cheat pitching. I've heard it over and over from industry experts. I'm going to build my offense and draft pitching later. This is a fine concept, and it has a lot more success in leagues when some owners have the edge in knowledge. Each year Fantasy baseball owners spend more time doing research. They understand pitching is the toughest part of the game and many times it is the key to winning. A seasoned high-stakes player will do a better job of making comparisons between player positions while looking for an edge.

For example, if I were going to draft an outfielder in round three, I would look at the pitching inventory in that same round and compare it to a later part of the draft. If my initial plan were to draft a starting pitcher in round six, I then would compare the other hitters in that round. I would ask myself; am I gaining enough of an edge taking this bat in round three while taking a certain pitcher in round six? I then would reverse the thought process with the pitcher in round three and the hitter in round six. It would create a series of decisions with the ultimate goal of trying to find the right path to a championship team. Each year there will be different opportunities in the draft, and a Fantasy owner must find them to have success.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a huge decline in power in major league baseball (rebound in 2016). In the post-steroid era, pitchers are becoming much more attractive. The theory of cheating pitching is happening less and less. The overall theory in Fantasy owner's minds is the Dual Ace concept.

In the early years of the high-stakes market, Fantasy owners were more willing to push starting pitching back because it can change quickly based on injuries and information. In the NFBC in 2010, Fantasy owners went to the draft looking for two elite starters. As more owners sat down at the draft table with this thought process, it started to change the draft flow of pitching.

In the previous years, there was only a handful of starting pitchers drafted in the first four rounds. With the Dual Ace concept, it forced Fantasy owners to start drafting starting pitching earlier. In some drafts, it started an incredible run on starting pitching.

In a non-trading format, you cannot solve your problems by trading. It forces teams to draft a more balanced roster when they are competing for an overall prize. If you cheat pitching and fail, you are at the mercy of the free agent pool. Unfortunately, the competition for pitching is extremely tough. A Fantasy owner could sit down at the draft table and like seven young pitchers with upside. These players will get drafted anywhere from round 10 to round 16. When you reach that part of the draft, you'll be lucky to get two of them because other owners have the same feeling about the inventory. If you miss on the key players, you are forced to draft players you feel have less upside.

In the NFBC in 2011, the Dual Ace concept continued. I think originally the players from the front of the draft were trying to improve their pitching so they would draft two starting pitchers on the 4/5 turn. When this happened, the owners from the middle of the draft felt like they were getting beat by the early pitching inventory going off the table earlier than expected. Many drafters responded by changing their draft strategy. In essence, they pushed their fourth batter back to the sixth round, and they started drafting more pitchers in the 4th round. When the backend of the draft saw this happening, they started to see the quality of batters in the late 5th round rise. It allowed them to change the way they drafted the nucleus of their team. Some backend drafters started to double up on elite starters on the 3/4 turn. When more owners wanted two elite starters, it started a domino effect. Some drafts had massive pitching runs in the fourth round.

After many elite starters in 2011 had finished with career years, Fantasy owners in 2012 were more focused on getting an elite ace. Kershaw and Verlander were drafted in the first round in some drafts in 2012. Now more pitchers are getting drafted in the first three rounds than ever before. Fantasy owners are looking for a rock at the front of their rotation, and many owners are looking for two. Your front two starting pitchers will account for 26 percent of your pitching staff if both starters pitched 200 innings and your team finished with 1500 innings pitched. If your top two starters pitched 450 innings, it would be 30 percent of your pitching stats.

In 2011, I saw a team that drafted Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander with his third and fourth round picks. They pitched 484.1 innings allowing 459 base runners (0.947 WHIP) and a 2.34 ERA. They combined for 45 wins (24 percent of their season goal - 104 {4 per week X 26 weeks}) and 498 Ks (37 percent of their season’s goal {1350 - this number was closer to 1250 in the steroid era}). For this team to finish with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP with 1500 innings pitched, the rest of his pitching staff would need to pitch 1014.2 innings with a 4.06 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. I know Kershaw and Verlander were the best two pitchers in baseball in 2011, but you can see the huge edge they gave this team in the pitching categories, and it allowed this owner more flexibility during the season to reach his target goals.

In the past, I've seen teams get the front of their pitching staff right, but they get beat at the backend. When you establish an edge in a draft, you need to follow through with a solid plan. You can't draft two aces in round two and three and then wait 15 rounds for your next starter. Today's Fantasy owners are more in tune with the pitcher pool. A team needs at least six solid starters and possibly two more serviceable arms on your roster. In most seasons, a team can find a couple of solid arms on the waiver wire, but it is NOT a guarantee.

In a way, maybe we need to change our thinking of how we evaluate pitchers. Is a Kershaw or a Scherzer worth 20 percent more than a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP (200 innings with 2.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP = 55.5 runs allowed and 200 base runners allowed >>> 200 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP = 66.6 runs allowed and 240 base runners)? Any pitcher with an ERA over your goal (in this case 3.50 ERA) would give you a negative return. The same goes for WHIP.

Fantasy owners know pitching is volatile. They also understand who has the most talent. In today's high-stakes market, it is very tough to win consistently by cheating pitching. It can work for some years, and maybe it worked better in the early stages of the game. The top owners want to grab a couple of solid starters to start their team. They adjust to the changing flow of the inventory. They understand the tradeoffs at each position. Kershaw and Verlander were worth 20 percent more than pitchers with 3.00 ERAs and 1.20 WHIP in 2011. It's like deciding between a 30 HR first baseman in round one and a 25 HR first baseman in round two. The decision isn't that clear-cut, as there are more categories involved with the hitters.

When you see the results from 2011, you can see where a team with Dual Aces had an edge. You can also see where half of the teams in the league could have struggled with front-end starters if some teams were able to double up with Dual Aces.

If we fast forward to the 2017 draft season, there were more failures on the ace front in 2016 while batters started to hit more HRs. MLB may have used a tighter wound baseball last year to add more offense in games.

In 2014, there were 13 starting pitchers with over 200 Ks. Of those arms, eight had an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.10. In 2015, 18 pitchers had over 200 Ks, and four had over 250 Ks. Half of the 18 pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, and 12 of those pitchers had a WHIP under 1.10. Overall in 2015, 11 pitchers with over 150 Ks had an ERA under 3.00. In 2016, only 12 pitchers had more than 200 Ks (four arms with over 250 Ks) with Clayton Kershaw being one of the failures. We already lost two of those arms (Jose Fernandez passed away, and David Price has an elbow injury). Six pitchers had an ERA under 3.00 with 197 Ks or more, and seven pitchers had a WHIP under 1.10 with the same criteria.

As easy as the Dual Ace theory may look, the front-end pitching pool can also be a minefield. Here are starting pitching failures in 2014 selected as a possible aces (top 30 SPs) - Yu Darvish, Jose Fernandez, Cliff Lee, Anibal Sanchez, Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Homer Bailey, Masahiro Tanaka, Mat Latos, Shelby Miller, Danny Salazar, Mike Minor, and Matt Moore.  This shows a 50 percent failure rate with two-thirds of the problems being a result of injuries. The other below par performances came from young players not making the expected step forward. In 2015, Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Jeff Samardzija, Julio Teheran, James Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma, Alex Wood, Gio Gonzalez, and Masahiro Tanaka failed to deliver elite results. Of these pitchers, only two pitchers missed most of the season (Wainwright and Darvish) with Tanaka and Iwakuma spending a decent amount of time on the DL. In 2016, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, David Price, Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Archer, Felix Hernandez, Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray, Adam Wainwright, Danny Salazar, Tyson Ross, Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha, Garrett Richards, and Steven Matz failed to deliver ace seasons plus Clayton Kershaw came up short as far as innings pitched.

The Dual Ace theory is a great way to get an edge in pitching if you lock down two arms that pitch at a high level plus stay healthy. This season the lead starting pitching inventory can’t match the last couple of seasons plus the batting stats will be more attractive. I’d like to own two aces, but I can’t take a pitcher just to fill a spot if his resume doesn’t warrant an early pick.

This year Fantasy owners are pushing up starting pitching in the high-stakes market. In the NFBC, 12 starting pitchers have ADPs inside of the top 45 picks (one being David Price) and 15 starters in the first 60 picks. I think having Dual Aces is the ultimate goal, but we have to remember price points and the tradeoffs in the draft flow. Each change in game theory creates a different opportunity. Just remember we are drafting for 2017, not 2016, but Dual Aces may be necessary to compete in a league with an overall title.

Scout Fantasy Top Stories