When White Sox starter Lucas Giolito grooved a fastball on an 0-2 count to Pirates shortstop Erik Gonzalez in the top of the ninth, you could hear the entire South Side of Chicago gasp and hold their collective breath. Adam Engel made an easy catch and Giolito’s first career no-hitter was complete.
Once a highly touted prospect in the Nationals’ system, Giolito struggled early to find his footing. He was traded to Chicago in 2017, but has been a dynamic starter for the White Sox dating back to last season. Tossing a no-hitter becomes an impressive feather in the cap.
Though White Sox fans continue to celebrate, those who roster Giolito in fantasy baseball now have a very important decision to make. From a trade standpoint, Giolito’s value may never be higher, and those desperate for starting pitching may be willing to part with a variety of players in exchange for the White Sox ace. To trade or not to trade, that is the question.
One of the early draft-strategy debates heading into this shortened season was whether or not to draft high-end starting pitching early or to load up on bats, since none of the starters was expected to get more than a dozen starts. The fantasy industry seemed fairly split, but now roughly halfway through the season, we seem to have some clarity. Strong starting pitching is coming out ahead of strong hitting, which means when you have an ace of Giolito’s caliber, you hold tight and never let go, unless you have two or three more just like him on your roster.
Of 100 fantasy baseball mixed leagues surveyed by Fantasy Alarm, the average ERA for leagues between 12-14 teams is currently sitting at 4.04. A look at all the teams with an ERA mark lower than the average reveals a strong 76 percent sitting inside the top five of their league standings. Those teams also find themselves in the top half of their league standings in categories such as wins, strikeouts and WHIP. With the rash of injuries and COVID-19 cases witnessed around MLB, it would appear that quality replacement pitching is much more difficult to find than replacement hitting.
Even a quick glance at the MLB ERA leaderboard will tell you to hold tight to your pitching studs. Players like Giolito, Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber and Yu Darvish are dominating as you would expect. We’ve also seen some intriguing names like Framber Valdez and Spencer Turnbull excel as well. But as the sample size grows and players start to regress to the mean, your trust should remain in those with the pedigree and track record.
Baseball offers no guarantees, but given how little time is left in the regular season, playing it safe and holding onto high-end starters seems to be the path to victory.
Howard Bender is the VP of operations and head of content at Fantasy-Alarm.com. Follow him on Twitter @rotobuzzguy and catch him on the award-winning “Fantasy Alarm Radio Show” on the SiriusXM fantasy sports channel weekdays from 6-8 p.m. Go to FantasyAlarm.com for all your fantasy baseball advice.