Streaming pitchers is a time-honored strategy in fantasy baseball, but it's not without risk. After all, for every solid outing by a Jarlin Garcia or a Jaime Barria that fantasy managers can crow about, there's an Eric Skoglund or Martin Perez disaster to leave a long-lingering bad taste in their mouths.
Sure, no pitcher goes through a full baseball season without having an off day -- even Bob Gibson had his share of clunkers in his prime. However, it should go without saying that a much safer pitching strategy in fantasy baseball is to have a solid foundation that you can rely upon week in and week out. "Set it and forget it" is always preferable to the streamer's "spin the wheel and hope for the best."
Obviously, fantasy managers aren't likely to have drafted a rotation of Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. That's not how fantasy sports works. And further, odds are good that the majority of pitchers who are most likely to join that "elite" group of 2018 arms are probably already rostered in 90-plus percent of leagues.
That said, there are still many starting options out there on the waiver wire who have a chance at turning into reliable season-long performers who can take some of the uncertainty out of the equation. Unfortunately, with only a handful of 2018 outings to try to distinguish those pitchers from guys who simply had a good start or two, what are we to do? For me, especially in points leagues, I turn to average game score as a guide.
Game score was created by Bill James to assign a comparative value to each start a pitcher makes. It awards points for retiring hitters and throwing strikeouts, while deducting points for giving up baserunners and allowing runs to score. So, pitchers who have the highest average game score over the course of the season are going to map pretty strongly to the SP points leaders as well as the ESPN Player Rater.
In 2017, there were seven pitchers who ended the season with an average game score of 60 or higher with a minimum of 10 starts: Kluber, Scherzer, Sale, Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Luis Severino and Robbie Ray. Certainly, the first five names were likely to have been drafted early on in the proceedings last March. However, coming off a combined 11-23 2016 season, both Severino and Ray were probably on a lot of waiver wires 365 days ago. Still, even after just three starts last season, average game score (Ray's 63.0 and Severino's 61.7) could have given you a sense that perhaps those two pitchers were on their way to a strong year.
Currently, there are 10 pitchers with an average game score of 60 or higher -- including the "core four," Strasburg, Justin Verlander, Aaron Nola and Dylan Bundy -- all of whom are currently rostered in at least 90 percent of leagues. Then there is Patrick Corbin, up 33.0 percent in the past week to 89.9 percent, and Sean Manaea, up 30.6 percent to 69.0 percent. I'd add these two as well if they were still on the wire.
As for the next tier, the following quartet of pitchers have been among the most popular acquisitions over the last seven days: Jakob Junis 57.8 percent (up 42.4 percent), Tyler Skaggs 46.0 percent (up 15.1), Nick Pivetta 17.6 percent (up 15.7) and Charlie Morton 89.8 percent (up 4.3). What does average game score have to say about which of these guys to grab first? Well, Junis (76.0) and Morton (68.0) will both get their third starts on Saturday, but even a disastrous outing should keep them in the 60.0 neighborhood. I'd grab them now.
Pivetta and Skaggs have both pitched three times and both sit at 59.0, alongside Carlos Carrasco and Carlos Martinez. That's pretty good company, isn't it? I'd much rather take my chances on this duo than continuing to monitor the limited options marked as probable starters each and every day and crossing my fingers that I click on the right ones. Wouldn't you?