Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Mike Trout are going to be off the board in many fantasy baseball drafts by the time the No. 6 pick rolls around, so who should fantasy managers turn to at that point?
Here are Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, AJ Mass, Kyle Soppe, Todd Zola and Mike Sheets to discuss the best options.
Eric: I can see the reasoning on selecting a starting pitcher after the top tier of hitters, but I just can't do it. I would take Trea Turner, giving him the edge over Trevor Story and Jose Ramirez. Yes, pitching matters and Turner might never flirt with 50 stolen bases in a season again, but he was the top hitter on the 2020 Player Rater and there is every reason to believe the power he showed in the abbreviated campaign was real. A 25-homer, 35-steal season would not only work in the No. 6 spot, the case can easily be made he should go higher.
Tristan: I've got an eight-man "Tier 1" -- Juan Soto, Gerrit Cole, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jacob deGrom, Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., Shane Bieber and Mookie Betts, in that order -- in my points-league first round, but the six-spot is indeed a debate in any rotisserie-style league. For me it's Trea Turner, also probably my choice for the similarly debatable No. 9 spot in a points league. Cole -- or deGrom, if you prefer him -- is a viable candidate to go anywhere from fourth to eighth in a rotisserie league, but if it's a hitter you want (and I do in our game), Turner is the pick. The Washington Nationals shortstop showed enough growth in terms of contact and power that a .300 batting average, 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases might represent the low end of his projection range. Consider this: Only 14 players reached all three thresholds in the 10 most recent full seasons, and their Player Rater overall finishes were first (three times), second (five times), third (three times), fifth (once), sixth (once) and 12th (once, and that was Hanley Ramirez, who barely made it in each category).
Todd: I don't mean to be that guy, but here's me being that guy. Where I go at 1.06 depends on the format as I can make a case for Turner or deGrom/Cole. You know what? My colleagues are making the case for Turner, I'll take a stand and say deGrom in roto-scoring and Cole in points formats (but don't troll me if I take Turner in that spot in a public league). There is an inherent flaw with pitcher valuation and the ensuing ranking. We presume allocating around 65-70% of our draft capital to hitters, but in rotisserie the pitcher points are the same as the hitter points so it should be 50/50. It doesn't matter most formats have active lineups with more batters, the draft capital should be distributed equally. In terms of projected earning, a $35 pitcher becomes around $55 while a $45 hitter drops to $33 or so. Ranking using a 50/50 split propels pitchers to the top spot. However, it's better to understand and rank according to the market... until it isn't. At the sixth pick, the advantage achieved via flawed valuation is too much to ignore. Hitting should be the focus for the next several rounds, but it's plausible to assemble an offense on a par with those grabbing one of the first five hitters while enjoying an edge in pitching.
AJ: I agree with Todd that the format matters. In points leagues, you're going to see deGrom, Cole and Turner all likely taken off the board within the first five picks. The reason that points league drafts are so top-heavy in terms of the SP position has a lot to do with the fact that, over the course of a 162-game schedule, the elite starting pitchers are going to score the most points. In roto-styled leagues, since starters don't earn any saves, they're already operating with a categorical handicap that hitters aren't, hence lowering their relative value and keeping them out of the early-to-mid first-round discussion. As such, for a roto-based league, I'll go with Jose Ramirez here at No. 6 and reel in a potential 30-30 season to form the foundation of my lineup.
Kyle: I got to put this pick into practice during the LABR Mixed League Draft and went with Turner. To be honest, I identified him as the only option barring a surprise at the top of the board, as the ability to get speed without sacrificing elsewhere was simply too appealing. He's the only player in the 50-HR, 70-SB club since the beginning of 2018 and with a .291 batting average that ranks top-30, he offers the type of well-rounded upside that is almost impossible to find elsewhere after those top-5 are off the board. I get wanting an ace, but I'm taking Turner-SP over SP1-best available hitter every time this season.
Mike: I've never liked drafting pitchers in the first round, but this is the first season in a long time that I'm thinking about changing my tune. With the way many early drafts are playing out, there's a big run of starting pitchers going in the second and third rounds. So if you want a true staff ace, you're probably going to grab one with your second or third pick. The problem is that, after the big three (deGrom, Cole, Bieber) are off the board, it's hard to feel completely safe with the next group of hurlers. Trevor Bauer, for instance, posted a 4.48 ERA just two years ago. Yu Darvish turns 35 this season and has topped 180 innings just once since 2013. Max Scherzer turns 37 this summer and battled multiple injuries in 2020. Of course, there are other top-end arms to choose from that you might prefer, but the point stands: The second- and third-tier starters carry significantly more risk, and risk is what I'm looking to avoid in the first few rounds. Grabbing deGrom, the top pitcher in fantasy, with the sixth pick and focusing on bats in the next few rounds is looking more and more enticing.