Kings of Command: Breakout pitchers to draft in fantasy baseball

Even with a shaky defense behind him in 2022, Aaron Nola has the tools necessary to potentially make huge strides in fantasy value. Getty Images

Baseball's pitching landscape continues to evolve, and it now appears that the age of the massive-volume ace -- think 215-plus innings -- is firmly behind us.

What that means for fantasy baseball purposes is a rising need to mix-and-match your pitching staff, maximize each and every game your individual pitchers provide you, and seek value on that side of the ball, wherever you might find it. No longer can you take a "set it and forget it" approach to your pitching staff, not when we're seeing workloads like these:

  • In 2021, there were a record-low (in any full season) four pitchers to amass 200-plus innings: Sandy Alcantara, Walker Buehler, Adam Wainwright and Zack Wheeler. That was nine fewer than there were in the next-fewest season, 2018.

  • A record-low 20 pitchers totaled 180 innings, 12 more than in 2018.

  • A record-low 39 pitchers qualified for the ERA title, six fewer than in 1955.

  • The 55 pitchers who pitched 150-plus innings tied the modern-era record, set in 1951 and matched in 1955.

  • It's only at the 140-inning threshold where records weren't set in 2021, but even then, the 68 who did it were still the fewest to do so in 61 years.

The reason for all this is teams' increasing desire to maximize the value of every inning they squeeze out of their pitchers -- and, yes, being the first full season coming off the pandemic-shortened 2020 contributed to this. There might be some spring-back to innings totals in 2022, but "innings eaters" seem a thing of the past, as teams are increasingly yanking ineffective starting pitchers from games, especially after they've made two trips through the opponent's lineup, replacing them with hard-throwing, elite-skills relievers that give them the best chance to overpower hitters. Make no mistake that this trend is as much about strategy as it is preserving arms.

We need to adapt in fantasy baseball in order to compensate, treating innings pitched as an increasingly strong measure of pitching success -- they literally equal outs, after all, the most important duty of a pitcher -- but more importantly, to value the contributions each of our pitchers provides us with the innings they deliver. As the game continues to evolve this way, fantasy teams are going to increasingly turn over staffs, stream starters, plug in helpful relievers and do lineup "homework," and it's critical you keep up with what is sure to be that trend in our own game.