As we are fully into draft season now, let’s take a look at what has become a widely used strategy in many leagues: that of the pocket aces.
Toby Guevin, he of @batflipcrazy fame, is not the inventor of the strategy but the man who named the strategy. It’s worked well for him in several leagues, and if you don’t know Toby’s work in the industry, change that this weekend. He is as sharp as they come in this game. I had the privilege of meeting him and watching him draft at First Pitch Arizona this year and was taking notes. Be sure to catch him weekly on the Bubba and the BatFlip podcast, a must listen each week.
The idea is simple: in the first two rounds of a draft, you take the two best starting pitchers available, aces. Using this strategy does come with several caveats. The first one, and perhaps most important, is that you need to hit big on both pitchers.
The second one is that you better be adept at finding quality bats in the middle of your draft. Using the pocket aces strategy means that you’re not getting any five-category production at the plate in those early rounds. This strategy also depends on your league format. I feel it makes more sense in a DC or draft and hold. In leagues where you can make moves through FAAB pickups or trades, it may not be as good of a strategy.
But take a look at what you could do with this strategy. Let’s say you are picking in the middle of the first round. Hitters like Turner, Ramirez, Tatis Jr. and Soto are all off the board. You decide to pivot and draft Gerrit Cole. When it’s your turn in the second round, you look at the options available to you: it’s very possible that someone like Zack Wheeler or Brandon Woodruff will be there when you pick again.
If you double-tap here, what stats could you bank on? You could be looking at between 350-400 mostly worry-free innings pitched, 30+ wins (although always a crapshoot and difficult to predict), and maybe 500 strikeouts. That’s an incredible base for your pitching staff. If health remains for your pocket aces, you have a firm foundation of skills that will help you in four pitching categories.
There is another way to look at this as well. You could take the best hitter available in the first round, and shift the pocket aces strategy to the second and third rounds. How could this look? Let’s say by some miracle you land the top pick. You decide to take the man who owns my heart, Trea Turner. When you get to the end of the second round, you see that Shane Bieber is still available. You take him at the end of round two, and then Lucas Giolito with the first pick in the third round.
There is risk, obviously; the tandem of Cole/Wheeler makes me far more comfortable than Bieber/Giolito. But in the second scenario, you have maybe the best hitter on the board, and two aces who could surpass their numbers from a year ago. At the very least, you could be looking at 325+ innings pitched, 20+ wins, and 350-400 strikeouts with health for both of these guys. A little less than the first combo, most likely, but still a good base to begin, and you have Turner’s five-category production at the top.
This is a viable strategy that largely depends on your preferred method of roster construction. What worries me about it is that the pocket aces do, indeed, need to be two of the top starters in the game. If they struggle or get injured, you may be sunk. I guess that is true with any top pick that goes down to injury or ineffectiveness. This year, my gut is that the middle tier of starting pitchers makes the pocket aces strategy less effective.
Personally, I may try this in a couple of leagues, but am fearful, based on my own draft history, of having a zero in hitting after two rounds. I just don’t know how much I can trust myself to find the needed bats in the middle of drafts. Be honest with your draft abilities and your comfort level.
That being said, the area of growth we should all be attempting to get to lies right outside of our comfort zones. The best fantasy players are the best because they adapt, try new things, learn, and continue to pivot. There are lessons to be learned here. If you ever get the chance to watch an expert draft, do it. It is fascinating. I sat for two hours watching some of the most elite players around draft at FPAZ21. It is enlightening and gives much food for thought.
What are your thoughts on the pocket aces strategy? I love getting feedback, both positive and negative, on the pieces I write. What do you think?