It’s Monday. For fantasy baseball managers, this means a crucial weekly exercise is about to take place, where you take stock of your roster, see where it may be lacking, and then scour the waiver wire in the hopes that better options lie within. And, thankfully, without a ridiculously early Boston affair — or any afternoon game, for that matter — you’ve actually got a few moments to think about your decisions before your lineups lock.
Most teams have played around 20 games thus far. That’s still not the largest sample size in the world, but with most starting rotations now heading toward their fifth time around (if they’re not already there), the statistics are starting to tell a story for 2019. It’s not a finished story by any means, so while Chris Sale and his 0-4 record, 8.50 ERA, 1.56 WHIP shouldn’t be cause for cutting the ace, neither should it mean you can simply dismiss his sad start to the season.
Every pitcher needs to be judged on his own merits, but Sale has certainly earned a little “extra rope” before getting thrown overboard, thanks to seven consecutive seasons with a top-six finish in Cy Young voting. Disappointing Aprils have been a bit of an epidemic across the league thus far, with Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Nola just a few of the other big-name starting pitchers with a current ERA over 5.00.
Yet, even when you combine these unfortunate outliers with some of the offensive superlatives — Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Khris Davis, Tim Anderson, Anthony Rendon, just to name a few — the truth is that pitching is not nearly as dire as the focus on these top stories may make it seem. The league-wide ERA is only slightly higher thus far (4.34) than it was at the end of 2018 (4.14) and the league-average hitter is actually doing slightly worse in 2019 (.245 versus .248).
In other words, there’s good pitching to be found out there, a statement that is ever-true. As always, my particular method of identifying which pitchers to consider for points leagues can be simplified down to a very easy-to-remember single number. That number is seven.
Once the games get rolling, the number of starting pitchers who qualify for what I call the “Rule of 7” tends to settle in the neighborhood of 20-25 names at any given time. That’s a fairly exclusive club, despite there being only a few simple requirements: All starters in the club must have an ERA of 3.50 or less and a K/BB rate of 3.50 or more for the season. Setting a minimum of two starts, current membership sits at just 23 names – and two of those (Mike Clevinger, Matt Moore) have already taken themselves out of fantasy consideration due to injury.
What makes the list so interesting right now is the lack of those “expected names” on the list. Last season’s final “Rule of 7” club contained the likes of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Clayton Kershaw, in addition to all of the 5.00-plus ERA guys mentioned earlier in this column. Not one of those pitchers is allowed past the bouncer right now.
Today’s list contains the following pitchers, currently rostered in 90 percent of ESPN leagues or more: Justin Verlander, Blake Snell, Patrick Corbin, Jose Berrios, James Paxton, German Marquez, Masahiro Tanaka, Tyler Glasnow, Cole Hamels and Shane Bieber. Dropping down a bit, in the 80-90 percent range, are Jose Quintana and Joe Musgrove.
Three more names sit between 70-80 percent and should either be gobbled up if they’re available in your leagues, or conversely, if you’re not a believer, can be “sold high” before they regress: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Matthew Boyd and Kevin Gausman.
After that, we have just six names left, and these may take a little more convincing for fantasy managers to buy in. Two of them are members of the Rays “opener squad,” so your mileage may vary with Yonny Chirinos and Ryne Stanek. Still, the stats have been there thus far.
As for those you looking simply to ride a hot hand in a streaming capacity, this would be a good time to focus your free-agent bids on the likes of Caleb Smith, Sonny Gray, Jordan Lyles and Vince Velasquez.
Top 300 rest-of-season rankings
The following list reflects my rankings for points leagues, from this point forward. Note that this is different from a ranking of how each player has played thus far in 2019. For a ranking of performance to date, check out the ESPN Player Rater.