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Disaster Recovery - Week 6's Studs Turned Duds

Week 6 was a pretty low scoring fantasy week for the top players in the league. If not for two Monday night heavy-hitters, only three running backs would have reached 18 points in PPR this week. Even still, just five got there. (In Week 5, 14 players reached that mark. In Week 4, 16 players.) We also saw low scores from the top 24 quarterbacks, the guys turned to in two-QB or superflex leagues. Normally, the backend of the top 24 gives managers about a dozen points. The first month of the season, the 25th QB averaged 12.5 points. This week, that man scored 5.44 points.

Byes have something to do with that, as players from four teams are not available. Byes this week robbed us of performances from a number of the top passers playing right now. We also were without fantasy studs yet again due to injury. Dalvin Cook was added to the list of sidelined studs. Cook's replacement, Alexander Mattison, was supposed to be a substitute stud, a la Kareem Hunt in Cleveland. These guys were supposed to be one injury away from stud status as fill-ins. They both got their chance, and neither performed well in Week 6.

It's a good reminder that opportunity isn't the only thing that makes a player a stud, and bankable studs don't always come through week in and week out. Even the best of players put up dud performances. Not all duds are created equal though. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 6's studs turned duds.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Everything was set up for Elliott to be unleashed. His quarterback went down, meaning the team would want to rely on him more than it had all year and perhaps win one for Dak in the process. The Cowboys were facing a below-average defense in Arizona. They also still have first place in the NFC East in their sights, so building on a good outing could see them cruise to a playoff berth in the worst division in the modern era. Instead, everything went wrong. Elliott was stuffed and stumbled. He fumbled twice. The game got away from Dallas, meaning Andy Dalton had to throw the ball 54 times! In the end, Elliott finished with a measly 80 yards from scrimmage, no scores, and those two fumbles.

With divisional games each of the next two weeks, Elliott should find it easier to run the ball, though it still remains to be seen how this offense will function with Dalton in the ideal scenario. They surely want to run more than they were able to Monday, but there may not be the huge push to pound the ball on the ground that everyone assumed there'd be when Prescott went down.

Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Much like Elliott in Dallas, the game script went completely away from Hill in Kansas City. The difference was his team was cruising. The Chiefs rushed the ball 46 times, leaving Hill with just four touches and 25 yards from scrimmage. It was easily his worst game of the season.

The Buffalo defense has been one of the worst in the league by Football Outsiders' DVOA. Denver, on the other hand, has been pretty good. Yet the Broncos don't defend the pass nearly as well as the run (18th against the pass, 7th against the run). That should flip the script next week in Hill's favor. What makes the KC offense special is its ability to adapt and beat people in a number of ways. Most of the time, Hill will be prominently involved; occasionally he will take a back seat as he did here.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers just put together one of the worst fantasy days a quarterback can possibly have when they don't leave a game early. Quarterback is such an important fantasy position because of the high floor it carries. Passing is so prevalent. It's why leagues with a superflex spot are essentially just leagues with a second QB spot. It would be insane to start a skill player over even the 25th-ranked QB likely to score, as outlined above, at least a dozen points each week.

Rodgers bucked all those trends in Week 6, scoring an amazing 3.8 fantasy points (depending on league settings). There isn't much else to say. Everything seemed off. What makes this performance so unusual is that Green Bay didn't even generate any garbage-time production. It was shut out the final three quarters of the game, and Rodgers only had time for 35 pass attempts. Compare that to Andy Dalton's terrible game. Dalton finished with 54 pass attempts and grabbed a meaningless (except for fantasy) touchdown in the fourth quarter. None of that materialized for Rodgers and the Packers.

There also isn't much to take away. Rodgers was in the midst of an MVP-caliber season before this game. Tampa Bay is one of the best defenses in the league, and it had his number this time.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans is a top-10 wide receiver each week because of his ceiling. He also possesses a very low floor, which is a headache for fantasy managers. This was already the third time this season Evans saw fewer than five targets and made either two or one, single catch. It was also, however, the first time all year he didn't score a touchdown. Put it all together, and Evans generated a simply horrendous fantasy day of 10 total yards.

The touchdown pace was bound to slow, but we were hoping it wouldn't come the same week that he failed to get involved in the offense at all. The drastic swings of Evans' season have something to do with his early injuries, as well as melding with a new quarterback. The worrisome fact is that Evans' three, low-target outings have all come when Chris Godwin played. Godwin has 20 targets in three games. Perhaps the sample size is too small to read anything into it, but the surface numbers indicate Evans is Tom Brady's go-to guy when he's the lone stud receiver, but when both guys are available, Brady looks to Godwin instead.



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Disaster Recovery - Week 5's Studs Turned Duds

As we push past the quarter mark of the 2020 NFL season, it gets harder and harder to keep track of the maturations created by COVID. Games are getting rescheduled, pushed, and canceled. Teams are being given last-minute bye weeks that alter the future schedule in half a dozen or more different ways. We gain Tuesday contests and lose Thursday ones. Everything remains an option.

On top of that, we still have a slew of stud players sidelined due to injury or other circumstances, specifically at wide receiver. It isn't every week that Chase Claypool and Travis Fulgham will be the scoring leaders at the position, but it is easier to imagine random players sliding to the top when Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and Michael Thomas continue to miss games.

In any event, surprise good performances aren't what sustain a fantasy team. There is no way to bank on continually finding diamonds in the rough week after week. Instead, it is consistency from the studs at the top that drive fantasy success. Yet even the best of players put up dud performances. Not all duds are created equal though. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 5's studs turned duds.

(Editor's Note: Because of weekly scheduling, this article was written before Tuesday's game between Buffalo and Tennessee.)

 

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

For the second time in the past three weeks, Jackson finished well outside the top 12 quarterbacks. Alarmingly, for the first time this season, Week 5's dud showed him do absolutely nothing running with the football. He combined three rushing yards with a 19-of-37 day through the air, bringing his season completion percentage to 24th in the NFL at 63.7 percent. The game was an easy win for Baltimore, which speaks for his lack of running. But his lack of success through the air has to be mitigated by something to make him a stud fantasy performer. After a Week 7 bye, the Ravens face five tough defenses in a row. If this is what we get against Cincinnati, what is in store for fantasy managers during that midseason stretch?

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

80 total yards with no scores isn't going to cut it from a first-round fantasy back. Week 5 was the fourth straight game where CEH's production remained rather ordinary in non-PPR leagues. Ever since his Week 1 breakout, he has become a bigger threat in the passing game yet less of a producer overall. He is averaging just 3.68 yards per carry since that first game. It would be easy to blame game script, but not all of Kansas City's games have been shootouts or close battles that require endless passing to keep pace. Instead, it could be the offensive line, which ranked first in pass protection but was 17th in adjusted line yards even before the team suffered its first loss of the season this week. Edwards-Helaire remains a quality fantasy option, but it doesn't look like he will have the consistent heights that Week 1 hinted at. It's more likely that a great CEH game moving forward will see balanced rushing and receiving buoyed by a touchdown, if he ever finds the end zone again.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

When someone has been surpassed by his own teammate, it is time to move him off the stud list. Lockett remains a very good wide receiver on a high-powered offense, but he doesn't appear to be Russell Wilson's go-to guy anymore, at least for the big plays. Through five games, Lockett trails DK Metcalf by just one target, but the other numbers greatly favor the big man on the outside. Metcalf is ninth in the NFL in average targeted air yards (Lockett is 75th), third in percent of team air yards (33rd), and is averaging 6.1 yards after reception (3.6). Lockett isn't pushing the defense down the field and isn't doing all that much with the ball after the catch. And unlike most situations where one player has the big-play ability and the other plays underneath, it is actually Metcalf who has been far more consistent for fantasy managers. Lockett has had one monstrous game but has been simply solid the rest of the year to this point.

Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

Like Lockett, Cooper may be falling victim to having teammates with too much talent. That, combined with the injury to Dak Prescott, could alter his value moving forward. Cooper's Week 5 was his first bad game of the season. He finished with two catches for 23 yards. As the passes get spread around, he has just one touchdown on the season and now trails CeeDee Lamb in yards. Though Cooper has more than twice as many receptions as Michael Gallup, Gallup is also catching up to Cooper in yardage, as he averages nearly double Cooper's yards per reception. All the volume could be spread around when Prescott was airing it out 50 times a game, but what about when the team turns back to the run to protect Andy Dalton? It remains to be seen how the target share will shake out with Dalton at quarterback, but Cooper managers cannot be comfortable that the previous status quo will remain.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

There are only two stud tight ends in the league. One easily paced the position in scoring this week. The other, Kittle, did not perform up to his standards thanks to wildness at the quarterback position. It is hard to feel great about Kittle's standing with what San Francisco is getting out of its quarterbacks right now, but it's not a time to worry. Jimmy Garoppolo clearly wasn't healthy yet in Week 5. And in Week 4, with Garoppolo sidelined and a QB change taking place midgame, Kittle excelled. Week 5 saw particularly egregious QB play; the future should be steadier.

 



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Disaster Recovery - Week 4's Studs Turned Duds

In Week 4 of the NFL season, the action on the field took a backseat to the questions and caution off it. Due to positive coronavirus tests, one game was postponed until later in the season, and another was delayed a day. Even separate from all the drastic and dramatic health and safety issues these failed tests pose, the fantasy football season has been thrown for a loop. Having specific players test positive and sit out is one thing. No one can be sure, though, when entire teams will be forced to the sidelines. Bye weeks are in flux and open to change.

Just this week, heavy hitters like Derrick Henry, Jonnu Smith, Ryan Tannehill, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Ben Roethlisberger were unexpectedly unavailable. We almost lost the high-flying Chiefs offense as well. They failed to live up to expectations anyway, but perhaps that had a great deal to do with not knowing if they would even be able to play this past week. Unlike any season we've had before, every week is in question.

That would normally make the consistency of the stars of fantasy all the more important, but they are not immune to these upheavals. Even the best of players put up dud performances. Not all duds are created equal though. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 4's studs turned duds.

 

DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

As the Arizona offense took a tumble, Hopkins was one of the biggest disappointments of the week. He finished with a paltry 4.1 fantasy points in non-PPR leagues. His seven receptions salvaged the day in PPR, but this was easily his worst outing of the young season. Hopkins continues to be Kyler Murray's favorite option; he's received at least nine targets in every game this season, including Week 4. Perhaps missing practice during the week indicated hampered explosiveness would be in store. Everything should be back to normal this week. Facing the New York Jets is a salve to heal all wounds.

Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals

Another failure in the Arizona offense this week was Drake. He finished with 35 rushing yards and nothing through the air for his worst game of the season. But Drake's performances have all been trending in the wrong direction. His breakout last year indicated he could be a stud-in-waiting. That conclusion now feels misguided, or at least premature. He is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and is almost a non-factor in the passing game. Considering how rarely he's facing eight men in the box, his production has been well under expectation. Drake is seeing 8+ defenders just 7.46 percent of the time, the eighth-lowest mark in the league. And yet, his rushing yards over expected is -36, third-worst in the sport. Just like Hopkins, facing NY could help a bounce back, but Drake is in far greater peril of not returning to stud status again.

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Speaking of being permanently removed from stud status, Ertz is gone. He was looking like the second-best tight end on his own team when the season got under way. Then, when Dallas Goedert got hurt, Ertz never picked it up. He has one score on the year and is averaging fewer than 35 yards per game despite being a slam-dunk draft pick as the third tight end off the board. Robert Tonyan nearly scored as many fantasy points in one game as Ertz has all season long. And this for a team that has few other playmakers on offense to siphon off targets. Things do not get any easier this week against Pittsburgh. It's official; there are only two stud tight ends in the NFL. Ertz is out.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

After three superb performances put Lockett into the upper echelon of the wide receiver position, Week 4 was a real letdown. He saw only four targets, made two catches, and collected 39 yards. Lockett is still in good shape moving forward. He's 10th in the league in targets among wide receivers; his catch percentage is sixth-best among anyone with at least 25 targets. Look no further than comparing him to the studs in Kansas City. Lockett has the same average separation as Tyreek Hill and the same average cushion and total targets as Travis Kelce. He is one of the best.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Jones was healthy enough to play this week, but only for one half. He never returned for the second half of Monday night's game. Half a game saw him collect four catches for 32 yards. Even doubled to a full 60 minutes, this would not be what Jones' managers are looking for. Through four weeks, Jones has had one good game, missed a week entirely, and had two partial weeks where he couldn't offer full effort. At what point would Atlanta be better off shutting him down for a while and actually getting him back to full strength, a la what Davante Adams complained about Green Bay doing to him? The back and forth of Jones is doing Matt Ryan no favors, as his performance has plummeted the last two weeks as well.

In other dud-because-of-injury situations, Nick Chubb went on IR after a 43-yard performance resulted in an MCL sprain. We'll have to wait and see whether this returns Kareem Hunt to stud status. Knee and hamstring injuries also brought down Austin Ekeler in the midst of an outing that netted 14 total yards from scrimmage. Rookie Joshua Kelley needs to control his fumbling issues before he can be considered an every-down replacement for Ekeler.



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Disaster Recovery - Week 3's Studs Turned Duds

The NFL was low on studs in Week 3. The top two players in fantasy, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley, were both out injured. Three of the top wide receivers in football, Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and Michael Thomas, were all out as well. We also were without the second-best tight end in the game in George Kittle. All told, six of the top 25 fantasy players in the league were sidelined for Week 3. That left us with a lesser slate of stars than we are used to.

Exciting matchups and finishes helped fill the void. But from a fantasy perspective, it leaves something to be desired when Rex Burkhead and Justin Jefferson are two of the top 10 scorers for the week. It is a fun story and something that will impact the subsequent week's waiver wire, but this pair was not even on rosters in the majority of leagues, let alone in starting lineups. It's the reason we gravitate toward players who can put up stud performances consistently. Star players power fantasy and prevent the game from being as random as picking a name out of a hat.

But not all studs always perform up to their standards. Occasionally, these guys fall short of their and our expectations and play like a dud. When it happens outside of an injury, it is something worth exploring. Not all duds are created equal. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 3's studs turned duds.

Ezekiel Elliott

It seems silly to call Elliott a dud when he registered nearly 18 PPR points in Week 3. However, a touchdown helped salvage a very weak week for the stud running back. The flow of the Dallas game also worked against the workhorse runner. He managed just 14 carries for 34 yards on the ground. The touchdown and the six catches work just as well for fantasy owners, but the outing is something to monitor.

The Cowboys are throwing the ball more and more. This is partially due to them being down more than expected, and somewhat because their offensive line isn't as good as expected (which leads to them being down). The team also has a high-powered air attack with Dak Prescott and oodles of receiving weapons. All that leaches into Elliott's usage, and usage is one of his best "skills."

Each of the past four years (AKA Elliott's entire NFL career), Elliott has ranked higher in Football Outsiders' DYAR metric than its DVOA metric, and sometimes considerably so. As FO explains, "DYAR means a running back with more total value. DVOA means a running back with more value per play." That doesn't mean Elliott has been bad on a per play basis; he hasn't. But he generates so much production because of how often he is utilized. That utilization is trending in the wrong direction, coinciding with Prescott's pass attempts going from 39 to 47 to 57 in the three games this season. If Dallas continues to throw this much, Elliott will need a touchdown every game to salvage his fantasy week.

Lamar Jackson

Chalk it up to game flow; chalk it up to bad luck; or maybe it's because Jackson and company aren't as good as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Either way, this doesn't harm Jackson's value moving forward. He won't be facing off against Mahomes again anytime soon. The week was saved somewhat by 83 yards on the ground, but the numbers are still ugly: 15-of-28 for a career-worst 97 yards passing and two fumbles (one lost). It's essentially a worst-case scenario for Jackson, which is why he's so valuable in fantasy. His legs will produce even when the offense can't complete a pass.

The performance dropped Jackson to 24th in the league in DVOA, just behind Baker Mayfield and Teddy Bridgewater. Yet he remains 13th in QBR, which factors in his rushing ability, among other things. Mahomes is number one overall in QBR, and we all saw why in the head-to-head matchup. Comparing Jackson to Mahomes so bluntly like that had to be a shot to his ego, but Jackson holds onto fantasy stud status with his KC counterpart.

Adam Thielen

Week 2 was easy to explain away. This one is not. The Minnesota offense bounced back in a major way, except it left Thielen behind. He reached the end zone but saw just five targets and made three catches for 29 yards. That was comparable to what he did a week ago, but Kirk Cousins and company kept throwing this time. Dalvin Cook saw the same amount of targets out of the backfield. And rookie Justin Jefferson went off for 175 yards on nine targets. It was essentially the game Thielen was supposed to have.

In the long run, Jefferson becoming a legitimate threat should help Thielen, but what if the young man also passes him in the pecking order? It is far too early to leap to that conclusion. More pressing is trying to balance Minnesota's strength of running the ball (Cook is third in the league in yards over expected) with how often one expects them to be trailing and need to pass to catch up. Thielen remains a top option for Week 4 assuming his Minnesota squad isn't stuck in quarantine after facing Tennessee.

Mike Evans

Evans must be mentioned here as well. Sure, he tallied double-digit fantasy points but put up one of the weirdest lines I can remember. He caught two passes for two yards and two touchdowns. That gives him 108 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Extrapolated over the full year, Evans' final line would be 576 yards and 21 or 22 touchdowns. That is...unsustainable in both aspects. Evans is tied for second in the league in targets inside the five yard line. That's good. He is currently 66th in percentage of team air yards. That's bad. His separation has been okay; his catch percentage less than ideal. Nothing sticks out as a major issue, though, other than his target share. We need to see more from the connection with Tom Brady to know if this is real or noise. For now, the touchdowns will sustain us.

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Disaster Recovery - Week 2's Studs Turned Duds

The NFL season has begun essentially without a hitch. It was a large undertaking of which many were dubious. We have a long way to go, but so far, things have been smooth. The general scope and overall execution of the league, though, is different than specific action on the field. And Week 2 on the field was brutal; literally. Bill Barnwell counted 21 impact-generating injuries that occurred on a single Sunday. He also added a few more at the end of his article, essentially bringing us to a top 25ish.

From a fantasy perspective, there are loads of big names who will either be out for a while or will need to have their availability reevaluated before next weekend. The quick reaction is to blame the lack of a normal preseason. Torn ACLs (Saquon Barkley, Nick Bosa) or sprained joints (Drew Lock, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert) aren't really symptoms of a lack of preparation though. They are just injuries that happen.

Thanks to the randomness of football, fantasy is always unpredictable, especially at the very beginning of a new season. Injuries notwithstanding, even the best of players put up dud performances. Not all duds are created equal though. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 2's studs turned duds.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The only way a manager salvaged Edwards-Helaire's week was if they play in a PPR league. CEH had 10 carries for just 38 yards to go along with six catches for 32 yards. His 7.0 non-PPR fantasy points were quite the shock after such an electrifying debut. Week 2 was actually positive, though, for his long-term outlook. His production was just a case of the game not playing out the way Kansas City would have planned.

The Chiefs trailed early and ended up throwing the ball 47 times, compared to just 16 non-quarterback carries on the ground. Because of that, CEH didn't get much run on the ground but did see his targets in the passing game rise from two in Week 1 to eight in Week 2: the third-most on the team. His Week 1 was outstanding despite doing nothing in the passing game. Week 2 proved he should be a threat in both aspects most games.

Julio Jones

Battling a hamstring injury all week, Jones gutted out a full performance, though one that lacked fantasy production. He finished with two catches for 24 yards on just four targets. It is odd to see such little production from Jones, even with an injury nagging him. It was his lowest receiving output since 2018. As for involvement in the offense, for the entirety of 2019, he never even had a game with fewer than seven targets, let alone four. In other words, if the injury doesn't keep him out, this should be nothing more than a fluky bad week.

Adam Thielen

After a huge Week 1, Thielen plummeted back in Week 2 as the entire Minnesota offense scuffled. Thielen's line was three catches for 31 yards. His performance was disappointing, but his future outlook isn't so bleak. First, Kirk Cousins won't be this bad again. He is getting the third-most time to throw in the league through two weeks. Also, his intended targets down the field reflect this time; Minny is going for big plays. Cousins is second in completed air yards and fourth in Next Gen Stat's aggressiveness metric.

Second, Thielen is still dominating the Viking pass attack. He had another eight targets in Week 2. For the season, he now has 53.44 percent of the Minnesota air yards, the highest mark in the NFL. In an offense with a normally competent quarterback, getting time to throw, and going for big plays, Thielen is the main weapon. Those are all good things for Thielen's next outing.

Mark Andrews and the Buffalo DEF

What qualifies as a stud? Andrews was the number three tight end in drafts entering the season, ahead of Zach Ertz and Darren Waller. Buffalo was a top two defense. After about a month, the draft results no longer mean squat, but this early, those things mean something. People had super-high hopes for both Andrews and the Buffalo defense. As the Ravens rolled for the second consecutive week, Andrews was invisible. We all knew Baltimore didn't need Andrews on a weekly basis to succeed, which is why he was a considerable tier below the top two at TE. But this really sharpens that opinion. Andrews is just a piece in a cog; he can't be counted on every week to be a top tight end.

For Buffalo, this was supposed to be another good opponent for fantasy production. Instead, the Bills scored a -1.0 (depending on league settings). It is the latest proof that drafting defenses is a crapshoot year to year. We won't often (or perhaps ever again) highlight a defense as a stud turned dud, but it's worth mentioning how finicky the position remains.

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Week 10 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

Chicago White Sox - Matt Foster and Jace Fry have each pitched in two of the past three. They have also alternated between pitching late in a game and facing big spots midgame. The rest of the Chicago pecking order is well enough rested.

Cleveland - Finally getting nipped for a run, Brad Hand has gone back-to-back days and three of four. Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak both pitched Monday but could go again. Wittgren, if he goes Tuesday, would then have pitched in three of the past four days. Cam Hill has already thrown in three of the past five.

Kansas City - Greg Holland has pitched in back-to-back games. Jesse Hahn could be called upon to close if Holland rests. He's been racking up holds and has looked good for a few weeks now. He's only been called upon to pitch the eighth once, though, in recent games. Josh Staumont is another option, as is Scott Barlow, though the latter was given the fifth inning on Monday.

Houston - Ryan Pressly grabbed two more saves over the weekend. He did get a day off after two straight outings but will likely need another day after another appearance. Brooks Raley is a likely fill-in if Pressly does rest.

Los Angeles Angels - It was multi-inning outings in two of the past three days for Mike Mayers as he cements his status as the current Angels closer. Los Angeles has found a little something in multi-inning relievers with Mayers and Matt Andriese. Both may need to rest, in which case LA may have to turn back to Ty Buttrey for a save opportunity. Felix Pena would also be an option.

Seattle - All of Yoshihisa Hirano, Kendall Graveman, and Casey Sadler pitched in back-to-back before a day off. Fortunately, Marco Gonzales went eight scoreless on Monday, and the team didn't need any of them. Look for better staggering of the three arms this week, with help from Yohan Ramirez, so all don't need to rest at the same time again.

 

Around the National League

Atlanta Mark Melancon has pitched in two straight. He is hardly alone in heavy recent usage. Will Smith has pitched in three straight; Chris Martin two straight; Shane Greene two of the past three. Greene also really got knocked around this past week. A.J. Minter would be a plausible fill-in if everyone needs a day. Darren O'Day is probably not, as he needed 24 pitches on Monday to get through his inning. Keep in mind that although Smith has gone in three straight, he needed just nine total pitches the last two outings.

Miami - Brandon Kintzler got a day off after two straight outings. James Hoyt is also worth keeping an eye on. He pitched in two of three, though needed just 15 total pitches to get through them.

New York Mets - Edwin Diaz and Miguel Castro both pitched Monday. Jeurys Familia didn't but did pitch both weekend games. All three players would need a day off after another outing. Look for Luis Rojas to stagger their usage to avoid that this week.

Washington - Will Harris and Kyle Finnegan, holds guys but not in the mix for saves, both may need some rest. Harris has gone in three of four; Finnegan in two of three. Daniel Hudson pitched Monday but hadn't gotten into a game for four days before that.

Chicago Cubs - Rowan Wick is on the IL and likely out for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel picked up a save back on September 12 and has pitched just once since then, striking out two in a clean eighth. Jeremy Jeffress has been busy in that same timeframe, but it isn't clear why Kimbrel has been packed away. Jeffress pitched on Monday, so another entrance would require a day off. Maybe then Chicago finally calls upon Kimbrel once again, who, by the way, has been great for the entire month of September.

Cincinnati - In a flip of protocol, Raisel Iglesias pitched the eighth, picking up a hold, only to be followed by Nate Jones. Nothing to worry about though. Iglesias came out after the Reds extended the lead past a save situation. That makes it two straight for Iglesias, though just 11 total pitches. Jones has now thrown in two of the past three.

Pittsburgh - Richard Rodriguez pitched in back-to-back before a day off. Neither outing was a save opportunity, but if one does come when Rodriguez needs to rest, Nik Turley is the next man up.

St. Louis - Tyler Webb, who snuck a save last week, is the only Cardinal who's gone in two straight. Giovanny Gallegos is also back off the IL, so the backend of the bullpen could be in flux the final week of the season.

Colorado - Par for the course, the Colorado bullpen has been busy. Daniel Bard pitched in two straight before a day off, including throwing 35 pitches on Sunday. Mychal Givens has gotten into three consecutive ballgames. Tyler Kinley has pitched in three of the past four. It's been two straight for Yency Almonte. Carlos Estevez continues his struggles. He gave up another run Monday and probably won't be called upon in a close game, a la Jairo Diaz and Wade Davis.

 



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Week 9 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

New York Yankees - The Yankees received a much needed day off. Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder had all pitched in back-to-back games. Fortunately, none of them had thrown all that many pitches. The highest total was Green's at 35 pitches between the two outings.

Toronto - Rafael Dolis pitched in two straight before an off day. If he goes again, another day of rest will follow. That may be the opening for the Blue Jays to transition back to Ken Giles to close, though Dolis and Anthony Bass have been so solid.

Chicago White Sox - Alex Colome has pitched in two straight and three of four. He will need at least one day, and maybe multiple days off early this week. Codi Heuer and Evan Marshall both pitched early in Monday's game. Steve Cishek could be an option to vulture a save while Colome rests.

Minnesota - Taylor Rogers will need some rest after pitching three of the past four days. If Tyler Duffey and Matt Wisler get called upon again, they will each need days off as well, as that would make it three in four for them.

Los Angeles Angels - Matt Andriese picked up two saves over the weekend. As the team looks for a new plan to combat the Ty Buttrey struggles, it still seems unlikely Andriese factors into that. On Saturday, he pitched the 11th inning after all the main arms had already thrown. On Sunday, he grabbed a two-inning save with Buttrey, Felix Pena, and Mike Mayers having all gone in back-to-back.

Oakland - After a week of losses and blowout wins, the A's bullpen is pretty well rested. Joakim Soria is likely to be the only arm unavailable. He needed 29 pitches to get through Monday's outing.

Seattle - For a while there, Yoshihisa Hirano was not pitching on back-to-back days. Then he was and actually went three straight. So much for easing his arm load. You'd have to imagine Yohan Ramirez gets the next save chance, though, if it comes anytime soon.

Texas - Both Rafael Montero and Jonathan Hernandez went in two straight before the team's off day. If either one pitches on Tuesday, they would need another day of rest.

 

Around the National League

Cincinnati - All of Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, and Nate Jones have pitched in back-to-back games. Amir Garrett could be the next man up if all three get a day off. He's only pitched once since September 6 though, indicating the coaches may have lost trust in him. Not sure why that would be, as Garrett has pitched well this season and was pitching well recently before his last outing.

Milwaukee - Josh Hader's entrance into Monday's game meant he pitched in three of the past four days. Devin Williams got into action on the same three days as Hader. Both will need days off. Alex Claudio can pick up the slack in the immediate future, though he has pitched in two of three. Oh by the way, the Brewers have another double header scheduled for Wednesday.

St. Louis - Tyler Webb grabbed an extra-inning save, pitching for the third time in four days. Alex Reyes has now gone in back-to-back. Genesis Cabrera has pitched in three straight. Andrew Miller was unavailable for Monday's double header, so at least he should be ready to roll.

Colorado - A group of arms in front of Daniel Bard had all pitched in two straight before a day off. That includes Yency Almonte, Jairo Diaz, and Carlos Estevez. Bard himself is rested, as are Mychal Givens and Tyler Kinley.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Kenley Jansen got the day off after going in two straight. If he enters another game here right away, he will likely need another day of rest. Blake Treinen will be in the same boat. He's gone in two of three currently.

San Diego - The Padres got back into action, and only Drew Pomeranz is ready for some rest. He's gone in two straight games.



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Disaster Recovery - Stud Turned Dud

The first week of the NFL season is in the books. We weren't sure if the 2020 season would start on time. We weren't sure what the games would look or feel like. We still aren't sure if all 17 weeks will go ahead as planned and if the season will reach its normal conclusion. All we know is that Week 1 is complete.

In that Week 1, there were massive upsets. The supposed two worst teams in the sport both won. Home teams went 8-8 despite having small or no crowds allowed. On the fantasy side of things, only one quarterback finished in the top five overall scorers.

Fantasy is always unpredictable, especially at the very beginning of a new season. Even the best of players put up dud performances. Not all duds are created equal though. Some disastrous performances are signs of more to come. Here are Week 1's studs turned duds.

Saquon Barkley

Barkley was the second player off the board in most drafts, trailing only Christian McCaffrey. In Week 1, Barkley trailed pretty much everyone who played a full game. He carried the ball 15 times for an unnerving six rushing yards. That is six total yards on the ground, not a per-carry average. He added in six catches for 60 yards which helped salvage his week, particularly in PPR leagues.

The good news is obvious stuff for the number two overall pick in drafts. He was the bell cow runner for his team; he was a major asset in the passing game. Those two factors should continue all season long. The bad news is that it may not matter considering the production of the New York offensive line in front of him.

Barkley was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 of his 15 carries. That is an almost implausibly high number. He essentially had no chance on 73 percent of his attempts. People downgrade the value of running backs in today's NFL partially because of this, though they mean it in the opposite circumstance. Average backs can perform well behind great offensive lines. Likewise, even great backs won't succeed with no line help. The Pittsburgh defense is good. Only time will tell how good it was versus how bad New York is in the trenches.

Michael Thomas

The first receiver off the board in fantasy drafts delivered like anything but. Thomas finished Week 1 with three receptions, 17 yards, a high-ankle sprain, and a questionable tag heading into Week 2. The injury can't be blamed for his performance though. It didn't come until late in the game, after his outing was already one to forget.

Of course, like Barkley, the failure of an elite player often has a lot to do with those around him. Drew Brees was erratic and inaccurate with the football. He completed a very un-Brees-like 60 percent of his throws. Even worse, his expected completion percentage was 68.8, giving him the third-worst differential of the week. Additionally, Brees tied for the worst mark in the league in average completed air yards.

One would figure the former stat will not continue with arguably the most accurate passer in the history of the sport. The latter is another story. Even still, Thomas' health is the bigger issue than Brees' aim for Week 2.

Nick Chubb

Chubb was a top 15 pick in the average draft and was expected to be an every down, elite back. In Cleveland's first game, he was far from an every down player. Managers who drafted Chubb expected a worst-case scenario to be something like an even split in workload between he and Kareem Hunt. Apparently, that was not the worst case.

Chubb finished Week 1 with 35 snaps played, 10 carries, and one target in the passing game. Hunt, meanwhile, had 36 snaps, 13 carries, and six targets, the latter figure tying for second-most on the team. Cleveland trailed big, leading to the superior receiver, Hunt, benefiting. But Hunt also carried the ball more and was given more first-down carries.

This is certainly a situation worth monitoring. It is too early to panic, but it is not too early to adjust expectations. Chubb and Hunt seem to be in more of a timeshare than managers would have expected, even if Chubb does normally get the higher volume of that split.

Mike Evans

The Tampa wide receiver may have been the second Buccaneer receiver drafted in most leagues, but he was still a top-25 player coming into the season. While Chris Godwin was just okay in the first game, Evans was downright bad. He finished with one catch for two yards.

We suppose this poor outing had to do with Evans' hamstring strain that caused him to be a game-time decision. As is often the case, he was healthy enough to play but perhaps not healthy enough to play at his normal level. There was no way for fantasy managers to know how healthy his healthy tag really was. It is a tough break for sure. It is unreasonable to expect anyone to bench him after he's marked active for the contest.

For next week, the situation will be the same. If he's active, fantasy managers have to slot him into their lineups.

George Kittle

The situation for Kittle is the same as it is for Evans. Rather than entering Week 1 dinged, though, Kittle got hurt during the contest. Being injured is not the same as putting up a dud performance, even if the outcome is the same. If Kittle is active next week, everyone is starting him.

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Week 8 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

Toronto - Anthony Bass has pitched in three of four. Rafael Dolis grabbed the save on the day Bass rested. Bass has allowed runs in his last two appearances, so Dolis might get the next save chance regardless of rest.

Chicago White Sox - Jimmy Cordero pitched in back-to-back games (grabbing holds in both) before an off day. He may be ready to throw again though, as he only needed three pitches to complete that first outing.

Cleveland Brad Hand pitched three straight days, picking up two saves and a win. His early season troubles are behind him, though he will need rest for sure. Nick Wittgren pitched in two straight but had Monday off. Phil Maton is the only other taxed arm in the pen. He pitched in two straight and three of four. He now has four holds in the last eight days.

Detroit - After one slip-up, Gregory Soto was brought on in the seventh inning of his next appearance. Jose Cisnero was given the save opportunity...and promptly blew it. One would figure Detroit goes back to Soto. Everyone is pretty well rested other than Joe Jimenez. Jimenez has pitched in three of four as Ron Gardenhire tries to get him back on track. (It isn't working.)

Houston - Blake Taylor and Chris Devenski were both placed on the IL. This could open up more hold opportunities for the likes of Brooks Raley and Andre Scrubb.

Los Angeles Angels - Before a day off, Ty Buttrey had pitched in three straight games. He grabbed one save, one hold, one loss, and got blasted twice. He is leaking runs fast, and the Angels may turn to a new face like Cam Bedrosian or Mike Mayers. The latter also pitched three straight days before a day off. Felix Pena would have been the next man up, but he is also struggling and pitched back-to-back before the day off.

Oakland - Liam Hendriks' setup men are getting a lot of work lately. Jake Diekman pitched in two of the past three days; T.J. McFarland pitched in two of four; Yusmeiro Petit pitched in two straight before a day off. All three can still be used early this week but will need to rotate through rest.

Seattle - Yoshihisa Hirano isn't pitching in back-to-backs. He's been rotating days with Yohan Ramirez, and the surging Mariners have supplied them with three save chances in the past four outings. They each should continue getting chances moving forward.

 

Around the National League

Miami - Brandon Kintzler has pitched three straight days. Brad Boxberger would be the logical fill-in to close, but he will also need some rest. He's pitched back-to-back days. Nick Vincent or James Hoyt could be options, though both pitched Monday as well.

New York Mets - All of Edwin Diaz, Miguel Castro, and Jeurys Familia have pitched on two of the past three days. Diaz is the most likely to go again right away, as he only needed 12 pitches last outing. Justin Wilson is also well rested.

Chicago Cubs - Rowan Wick now seems to be ahead of Craig Kimbrel yet behind Jeremy Jeffress in the pecking order. Wick has pitched in two straight and three of four and will need a day or two as the other arms pick up the slack.

Cincinnati - Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen both pitched in two straight before an off day. They may need another day if they pitch early in the week, though both Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias are on normal rest. Just keep an eye out if Iglesias has another long outing. He needed 29 pitches to complete Sunday's game.

Arizona - As the Diamondbacks hunt for a committee order to settle on, Junior Guerra has pitched back-to-back and three of four sixth innings, grabbing one hold. Joe Mantiply and Keury Mella have each pitched in two of three, though they don't appear to be in the late inning plans for close games. Kevin Ginkel, the only Diamondback to pick up a save over the holiday weekend, is well rested since that outing.

Colorado - Everyone in Colorado is tired. Yency Almonte has pitched in three straight games; Daniel Bard pitched in two straight before a day off; Carlos Estevez pitched in two straight and three of four, though he couldn't even record an out in his last outing. Mychal Givens has also pitched in two straight and three of four. After Givens gets some rest, he may move ahead of Estevez on the hierarchy. Estevez may soon join Jairo Diaz in the doghouse. Diaz, by the way, hasn't pitched since September 1, which was the third straight appearance he gave up multiple runs.

San Diego - Trevor Rosenthal pitched in two straight before needing a day. Drew Pomeranz has now pitched two straight. Interestingly, Taylor Williams and Dan Altavilla have made only one combined appearance since being acquired by the Padres. Williams didn't even make the active roster when he first joined the team.

San Francisco - We expected it all year, but Gabe Kapler's bullpen is finally a mess, both in terms of results and usage. Sam Coonrod has pitched in three of the past four games and four of the past six, allowing runs in three of four outings. Tyler Rogers pitched back-to-back, allowing another run after blowing the game last week. Tony Watson was clean in his two consecutive outings but then promptly ceded the next save chance to Rogers anyway.



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Week 7 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

Baltimore - What's left? Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens were shipped out. Cole Sulser was demoted. Hunter Harvey returned from the IL and got banged around just a bit. Tanner Scott has pitched in back-to-back games, though needed only 12 total pitches. Looks like Evan Phillips is the last man standing. Harvey is obviously the arm to own for the long-term, but who knows how long it will take him to settle into the season.

Toronto - Anthony Bass has pitched in three of four, allowing runs in back-to-back contests. With both Ken Giles and now Jordan Romano on the IL, this feels like Bass' job for a while. He'll need rest anyway though. Rafael Dolis and A.J. Cole are somewhat more rested, though they pitched Monday in front of Bass. Cole needed just five pitches for his outing; he's the best bet for a save if it comes.

Chicago White Sox - Alex Colome will need some rest after pitching in two straight and three of four. Steve Cishek pitched in back-to-back before a day off. Matt Foster somehow managed to receive back-to-back calls two days after throwing 37 pitches. Granted, that first return outing was just three pitches long, but he should need some rest for sure. Meanwhile, Jace Fry has actually thrown in three straight, and Jimmy Cordero did the same before a day of rest. It may take some piecing together to get through the early portion of this week.

Cleveland - Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak have each pitched in two of three. So has Phil Maton, who grabbed a hold on Monday. Fortunately, Brad Hand is very well rested. He's thrown only three total pitches since last Wednesday.

Detroit - A cursory watch of Gregory Soto's usage is needed. He pitched in two straight before an off day. He can go again early in the week but then may rest in favor of Buck Farmer.

Kansas City - Welcome back to high leverage, Greg Holland. Since the team traded Trevor Rosenthal, Holland pitched on three consecutive days and will now need at least a day of rest. It seemed like Ian Kennedy would be next in line, but he's had a tough time of things. Jesse Hahn is an option, but before picking up a surprise save, he hadn't even entered a game where KC was leading in weeks. He has also pitched in three of four days. Josh Staumont is another name to watch for holds and fill-in saves and is the most rested of the group.

Minnesota - Taylor Rogers needed 33 pitches to get through Monday's outing. In fact, everyone outside of Sergio Romo who pitched Monday got some good work in. Look for Romo to cover the slack until Rogers is rested.

Los Angeles Angels - Ty Buttrey has thrown on three of the past four days. Felix Pena has pitched in back-to-back. Keynan Middleton would have been next. Instead, he pitched only twice in the past 12 days, giving up runs in both outings, and was subsequently demoted to the LAA training site. Hansel Robles hasn't allowed a base runner since August 24...mostly because he hasn't gotten into a game since then. The Angels did activate Cam Bedrosian from the IL. He may be that late-inning option the team now needs.

Seattle - The Seattle bullpen is just Yoshihisa Hirano doing the Vincent Vega meme.

 

Around the National League

Atlanta - Mark Melancon has pitched in two straight games, rebounding nicely from his slip-up last week. Will Smith and Chris Martin have pitched in two straight as well; the former throwing 41 pitches. If all three need to hit the bench, Shane Greene is next in line for important usage. He pitched Sunday but only needed 12 pitches.

New York Mets - Edwin Diaz has pitched in three of four. Jeurys Familia pitched in three straight before a day off. Justin Wilson pitched in back-to-back before a day off. The addition of Miguel Castro couldn't come soon enough.

Philadelphia - Like their New York peer, a valuable bullpen addition was well timed here. Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree both pitched on three of the past four days. Hopefully David Phelps can supply some stability.

Washington - Sean Doolittle pitched in two straight; his first two outings since returning from the IL.

Cincinnati - The acquisition of Archie Bradley throws the back end of the Cincy bullpen into flux. Raisel Iglesias probably holds onto the closer job, but Amir Garrett certainly will lose some high-leverage spots in favor of Bradley. That bumps Nate Jones and Lucas Sims down another peg, perhaps out of serious holds consideration on most nights.

Milwaukee - With the Brewers trading David Phelps, it opens up more opportunities for Devin Williams and Alex Claudio. However, all of Williams, Claudio, and Josh Hader have pitched in two of the past three days. Do they dare recall Corey Knebel from the training site? Probably not, instead attempting to balance rest between the three arms.

Arizona - After trading away Archie Bradley, Arizona likely turns to a combination of Hector Rondon and Junior Guerra to get the late outs in games. Both men had pitched twice in a row heading into Monday. Another visit to the mound would then mean another day of rest needed. The Diamondbacks may be inclined to give newly acquired Humberto Mejia an early chance in that scenario.

Colorado - Everyone is rested; it's anyone's guess what the pecking order will be in this pen after the trade deadline. Daniel Bard still leads the committee, but with Jairo Diaz dropping out of favor, where does Mychal Givens slide in? Givens currently has a career-best 37.3 percent K-rate, but it goes along with a career-worst 11.8 percent walk rate. I'd guess Givens settles second in line after Bard, but they may not start him out that high as he learns opponent and ballpark tendencies these first couple weeks.

San Diego - No bullpen beefed up more at the deadline than San Diego. The Padres added Dan Altavilla, Taylor Williams, and Trevor Rosenthal, while activating Drew Pomeranz from the IL. The pecking order seems to be anyone and everyone, followed by Pomeranz to set up, and Rosenthal to close. Poor Emilio Pagan righted his season only to see his stock plummet right after getting a real chance to close.

San Francisco - Before an off day, all of Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers, and Sam Coonrod had pitched in back-to-back games. Coonrod seems the most likely to need a full day rest; the other two threw a low enough pitch count where they should be ready to roll next game.



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Week 6 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

Baltimore - Both Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro pitched in two straight ballgames before a day off. If either one gets into a game the beginning of the week, they will likely need another day off. Of the two, Castro would be fresher regardless, as he threw 23 pitches in his two outings, compared to 42 for Givens. Closer Cole Sulser threw a whopping 33 pitches in his last outing, which was why Tanner Scott cleaned things up for a sneaky save on Sunday, but Sulser's gotten multiple days off since then and should be ready to roll.

Tampa Bay - Next man up in Tampa Bay. John Curtiss pitched in two straight before a day off. Pete Fairbanks did as well. Aaron Loup has gone in two straight and three of four. Jalen Beeks may start getting more late-inning appearances. Either way, the Rays need to start getting some arms back from the injured list.

Toronto - Just when we thought Anthony Bass would be slotted back into the closer's role, he seems to have been usurped by Jordan Romano. There is some possibility that Bass remains the head of the committee, and he just needed extra rest after returning from a minor injury and pitching back-to-back over the weekend. Even still, Romano has converted two straight saves. The latter may get a day off now for the former, but Romano is the arm to own for saves...for the time being.

Cleveland - Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak have both pitched twice in three days. Expect another day of rest for either if they make an appearance the beginning of this week.

Detroit - As the Detroit bullpen (unsurprisingly) implodes, Jose Cisnero sneakily picked up both a hold and a save over the weekend. The save came after another horrendous Joe Jimenez outing. Buck Farmer and Gregory Soto had both already entered the game earlier, so they remain ahead of Cisnero in the pecking order, but Jimenez's closer security is waning. He now has a 1.85 WHIP, and 7.63 FIP, along with his lowest K-rate since his rookie year and a career-worst 9.5 percent walk rate. Interestingly, all of Cisnero, Farmer, and Soto have pitched in two of four days. None could likely go more than one more outing without another day off.

Kansas City - Greg Holland has pitched in three straight games. He does not seem to be a factor even for holds anymore though, let alone save chances. His last six outings have all seen him enter games where KC was losing. It doesn't help that he's allowed a run in four of his last six appearances.

Minnesota - The Twins continue to get great work out of the pen, but their arms remain busy, busy. Tyler Clippard pitched in two straight before an off day; Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, and Trevor May have all pitched in two straight. Tyler Duffey is the rested arm likely to get a chance if the team needs him.

Los Angeles Angels - Closer Ty Buttrey pitched in two straight before a day off. Noe Ramirez and Hansel Robles have both pitched in two straight heading into Tuesday. Incidentally, Robles continues to struggle and will not regain his closer role anytime soon. If Buttrey needs another day off, look for Felix Pena to perhaps get a chance.

Texas - Rafael Montero needed 31 pitches to get four outs Monday. He will likely get a day. Jonathan Hernandez has gone two straight. Everyone else is pretty available though. Joely Rodriguez would be next in line to fill in.

 

Around the National League

Miami - Brandon Kintzler has picked up three saves since Friday. Brad Boxberger picked up three holds in the same time frame. Both have thus pitched in three of the past four days and could need multiple days of rest this week. Richard Bleier and James Hoyt have been turned to in the seventh in recent days, so they could be used later in games, though Don Mattingly would likely try his best to rotate through and at least have one of Kintzler or Boxberger available in the coming days.

Philadelphia - Brandon Workman pitched in two straight before a day off. His Philadelphia start hasn't gone well, which means he fits perfectly into the Phillies bullpen.

Chicago Cubs - On Sunday, Craig Kimbrel needed Jeremy Jeffress to save him in the eighth. Jeffress allowed three base runners but eventually got the save. Presumably, Rowan Wick was unavailable after throwing the day before, though he also got knocked around in that outing. Kimbrel still hasn't allowed a run or a hit since August 6, but he walked two in this latest performance. Best guesses can't even nail down who is currently in charge of this committee. Kimbrel is the one to own, but that doesn't mean he'll get the next save chance.

Milwaukee - David Phelps blew the save Sunday but rebounded for a hold Monday. He will need some rest after pitching in two straight. Josh Hader may also have a day off very soon. He threw 22 pitches Monday. This would be the perfect spot for Corey Knebel if he hadn't fallen completely out of favor. He will come nowhere near the ninth in a close game even if both Hader and Phelps need rest. Instead, look for Devin Williams to get a shot.

St. Louis - Alex Reyes is trying to iron out a late-inning role. He's pitched in two straight. Andrew Miller and John Gant both pitched in two straight before resting Monday.

Colorado - After failing to even record an out in his previous appearance, Daniel Bard was tabbed for, and nailed down, the save on Monday. Jairo Diaz was available, so this was a hunch or a matchup play by manager Bud Black as he works his closer committee. Carlos Estevez pitched earlier in the game, making it two appearances in three days. He'll need a day of rest.

San Diego - Emilio Pagan is the last elite arm standing in the Padres pen. He's pitched in two of four days. If he goes again and needs another day off, Craig Stammen could be a closer replacement. Matt Strahm and his zero walks are also interesting, though his 13.7 percent K-rate isn't what you want from a closer fill-in.



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Week 5 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

New York Yankees - Aroldis Chapman is back. He threw 20 pitches on Monday. Zach Britton has been one of the best closers in baseball, yet he may only have the job for another week at the most as Chapman gets his sea legs. Whenever the swap is made, Britton immediately becomes an elite holds guy.

Toronto - Rafael Dolis has pitched in two straight heading into Tuesday. Anthony Bass returned to the mound after being dinged up and only threw 14 pitches. He may need another day to rest and recover back to full health, but Bass should be back to closing in no time.

Chicago White Sox - Alex Colome hasn't pitched in a while, but all of his supporting arms may need rest. Zack Burdi, Steve Cishek, Jimmy Cordero, Ross Detwiler, Evan Marshall, and Jose Ruiz all have appeared in two of the last three days.

Cleveland - Everyone should be available Tuesday, but all of Cam Hill, James Karinchak, Dominic Leone, and Nick Wittgren pitched at least two of three days to start the week. Anyone who gets action will need another day of rest immediately following.

Minnesota - The Twins bullpen has been well worked. Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers both pitched in two straight before a day off Monday. Trevor May and Tyler Clippard pitched in two straight now. Minnesota will have to stagger returns in order to not be without everyone at the same time.

Houston - Ryan Pressly got into two straight games before needing a day off, though he only threw 18 total pitches. The rest of the bullpen seems to be rounding into form as the Astros needed to pull a quick restart on their reliever depth. Blake Taylor, Josh James, and Brooks Raley seem like the new go-to arms in front of Pressly. Taylor has gotten into two straight games now; James and Raley both pitched in two of three. None of these guys were on the radar (James was a starter) before injuries decimated the unit. Now they are being leaned on in a major way.

Los Angeles Angels - All of Ty Buttrey, Felix Pena, and Keynan Middleton have pitched in two of the past three days. Hansel Robles also got back into the action with a scoreless outing. The team may be forced to turn back to Robles at least for one outing as the rest of the bullpen rests up.

Oakland - T.J. McFarland has taken the mound in three of the past four days. The Athletics have plenty of other options late in games, so McFarland's holds chances could be lacking this week.

 

Around the National League

Atlanta - Will Smith pitched in two of the past three. Shane Greene pitched in two straight before a day off. Mark Melancon already got a couple days of rest last week; now it's likely Smith's and Greene's turn for at least a day.

Washington - Tanner Rainey has looked good but has thrown in two straight games, including needing 29 pitches in the most recent outing. Daniel Hudson secured the team's closer role, and then has decidedly not looked good, getting rocked in multiple outings. He has also pitched in two straight. With Will Harris throwing 25 pitches on Monday, and Sean Doolittle sidelined, we could see a surprise save from someone like Javy Guerra. Guerra's 22.2 percent K-rate has been a career-best; as has his 5.6 percent walk rate.

Chicago Cubs - Jeremy Jeffress has gotten into two of the past three. With Jeffress needing a blow, Craig Kimbrel may very well get another save chance after two clean outings for himself.

Milwaukee - David Phelps has been moving up the responsibility ladder. He's pitched in two straight, though, before a day off. Devin Williams is moving into that third option, with two holds in the last four days. Everyone still looks up at Josh Hader, but Hader has thrown a lot of pitches recently. An appearance every other day in the span of four days saw him need 60 pitches in just two outings.

St. Louis - With the Cardinals finally back in action, Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos have both been used heavily, pitching in two of three games. If both need a day off this week at the same time, it is hard to tab a replacement. Genesis Cabrera and John Gant have also both pitched in two of three days. Kwang Hyun Kim moved to starter and threw 57 pitches Monday. Expect St. Louis to stagger days off the next few days to avoid losing multiple guys. More importantly, Miller seems to be ahead of Gallegos in closer pecking order. There isn't much to read into that statistically yet. Neither guy has even thrown four total innings.

Arizona - Archie Bradley pitched in two straight before a day off. One more outing could force him to the bench again this week.

Colorado - Carlos Estevez pitched in two straight games, recorded a save, got banged up, and is a question mark. Yet the rest of the Colorado pen has been scuffling as well. Jairo Diaz now has a 2.07 WHIP; Daniel Bard has given up runs in two straight; Tyler Kinley has five walks in his last two innings, which included getting blasted for five runs last week. The starters have been amazingly good thus far, but recent bullpen outings put into question who Bud Black can count on.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Kenley Jansen pitched in three of four days, nabbing a save in each. He will get some much needed rest. Perhaps Jake McGee, well rested and pitching very well, gets a vulture save this week. He currently sports a 33.3 percent K-BB rate and has a .071 BAA. Pedro Baez has been getting eighths and will also be an option.

San Francisco - Tony Watson pitched in three of four. The same goes for Tyler Rogers and Trevor Gott. Gott will need rest but has also been rocked recently. Watson is the best bet to get a save chance this week. He has pitched as often as the other late-innings guys but threw only nine and seven pitches respectively in two of those outings.



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Week 4 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

Monitoring bullpens in 2020 will be a vital task each and every day. Because of this, we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used.

The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the American League

New York Yankees - Zack Britton finally encountered a bump in the road this season. However, it came in the dreaded, non-save situation. Closers (anecdotally) always struggle when entering tie games because, supposedly, the juices aren't flowing as high as normal. Britton is not normally the Yankee closer, though. Too bad Aaron Boone didn't tell Britton before he entered that Aroldis Chapman was ready to be reinserted as closer. That way, Britton wouldn't have fallen victim to the curse of a closer in a tie game.

Incidentally, a decision on what to do with Chapman may come down as soon as Tuesday after he throws against live hitters that day.

Tampa Bay - With Oliver Drake moving to the injured list, it is finally time to bank on Nick Anderson closing games for the Rays, right? Don't be so sure. Andrew Kittredge came in for the save Monday (and was then tabbed as the starter for Tuesday, because, Rays). He isn't the long-term closer answer, but he might be a piece of it. Tampa Bay is likely to leave Anderson in as the fireman and turn to any number of other options to close depending on the matchup. That includes Kittredge, Chaz Roe, Diego Castillo, and the newly instated Jose Alvarado.

Castillo should be a top option. He has yet to allow a run this season. Though his walk rate is up to 16.7 percent, he is inducing less than hard contact on 78 percent of balls in play. Alvarado is also very interesting. He was lights out in 2018 before losing control last season. His walk rate jumped to 18.5 percent. However, that was accompanied by being unlucky. He had a .346 BABIP against him despite giving up less hard contact (37.3 percent down to 35 percent) one season to the next. Of course, it would be a surprise to see anyone grab a stranglehold on the closer job like Drake had; even the fact that that happened remains surprising.

Detroit - Buck Farmer and his four holds were not for real, even before he hit the IL with a groin strain. With a 3.7 percent K-rate that is so low it requires a double-take, Farmer had a .174 BABIP against. It doesn't make any sense. He was allowing 43.5 percent hard contact, but thanks to one of the highest ground-ball rates in the league, had allowed zero home runs.

It was just a matter of time until his results started to go the other way. Instead, the injury opens the door for Gregory Soto to have an even larger role. Soto has been more sustainably great, with a 32.2 K-BB rate, but there is reason to worry about him as well. The luck will eventually run out on a 0.0 home-run rate, a .056 BABIP(!!), and a 100 percent left on-base percentage. For this week particularly, Soto has pitched in three of four games and will need some extra rest.

Kansas City - Greg Holland pitched in three straight before Monday's day off. He is no longer an immediate factor in save situations. That job belongs to Trevor Rosenthal, but Holland has become a large piece in the KC pen, which may be only slightly less surprising than Rosenthal doing the same.

Los Angeles Angels - Ty Buttrey pitched in two straight games, though he only threw five pitches in the front half of that back-to-back. The Angels' new closer may need a day or two this week, likely in favor of Felix Pena.

Oakland - The Oakland holds mastery of Diekman and McFarland has a new member. They are joined by Yusmeiro Petit to create the holds triumvirate. As of 8/11, only 12 players in baseball had at least four holds. This A's trio is a full 25 percent of that group.

Petit may need a day before he keeps pace. He has pitched in two straight ballgames.

Seattle - The bullpen pecking order continues to be in flux in Seattle. Taylor Williams pitched in two straight before a day off. He will likely need another day off this week. Logic would dictate Matt Magill getting a save chance sometime soon. It feels like Seattle is instead using him as a fireman, but that hasn't at all been the case. He's allowed zero runs and a single hit in six appearances, but only once has he entered a game with his team-leading by three or fewer runs.

Texas - Nick Goody is dinged up and may need a couple of days off this week. Jimmy Herget would be a possible replacement moving up the responsibility ladder, but he has pitched in two straight and will need a rest himself. Edinson Volquez and Joely Rodriguez also both pitched in back-to-back games before getting one day of rest. Texas could be scrambling if the bullpen gets taxed too much more this week.

 

Around the National League

New York Mets - Seth Lugo has surpassed Edwin Diaz in the pecking order. If we accept Diaz as never being his 2018 version again, he can still be seen as a useful fantasy player. He is currently striking out a career-best 48.1 percent of opposing batters and allowing just a .182 BAA despite a sky-high BABIP that has hounded him most of his career.

With that said, we haven't seen the last of Diaz closing games. Lugo pitched twice in a row before one day off. If he sees another night of action, it will mean one or two more days off before the week is out.

Philadelphia - The Phillies continue to be impressive in their ineptitude out of the pen. In case anyone thought they were getting out of their comfort zone by winning comfortably on Monday, the bullpen took care of that by allowing seven runs in the ninth. Philly's 9.87 reliever ERA is more than two full runs worse than every other team in baseball.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Middle reliever Blake Treinen has pitched in two straight, though he only needed three pitches to get through that first outing. He may see a day off or two going forward.

San Diego - Kirby Yates was too sore to pitch on Monday. This may finally be the excuse the Padres needed to indefinitely remove him from the closer's role in favor of Drew Pomeranz or the streaking Emilio Pagan.

After a very rough July start, Pagan hasn't allowed a run or a hit yet this month, and he's only walked one batter in three appearances.

San Francisco - Tyler Rogers is tied for the league lead with five holds. We assumed there would be craziness in Gabe Kapler's bullpen, but he's been pretty steady in his role distribution at the end of games between Trevor Gott, Tony Watson, and Rogers. Rogers is the most interesting case though. He is valuable in fantasy as long as he holds Kapler's trust. But maybe he shouldn't anymore. He's had three terrible outings, and those five holds are sunk down by three losses and a blown save.



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Week 3 MLB Closers & Bullpen Usage Report

As this weird, altered season progresses, the imbalance in the schedule becomes a bigger and bigger issue. Some teams have already played double-figure games, while others have played just a single series.

This imbalance is obviously troublesome for the standings with the playoffs not all that far off in the grand scheme. It is also annoying for fantasy owners who are trying to compete either head-to-head in a given week or in roto scoring. Yet there's nothing to be done.

These games cannot be played when it is unsafe to do so. We have to roll with it. Unlike any year previously, it may be safe to move on from certain players who haven't necessarily been bad; they've just been endlessly unavailable because of canceled games.

 

Monitoring Bullpens in 2020

Bullpen usage will be something to monitor each and every day, so we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed, and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used. The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

Around the League

Baltimore - Cole Sulser is the guy. We thought there was a committee in Baltimore to start the year. Maybe that would've been the case if Hunter Harvey were healthy. But even with a healthy Mychal Givens pitching well, every save chance has gone to Sulser. He's blown one already; he doesn't have great strikeout stuff; he's the guy nonetheless.

This week, look for Miguel Castro to get some rest. He had pitched in back-to-back games before an off day Monday.

New York Yankees - Aroldis Chapman's return is on the horizon. Zack Britton remains an elite closer until that day comes. The Yankees may need to turn to Adam Ottavino at least once this week, though, as Britton pitched in two straight before the rainout Tuesday. Ottavino will obviously be a bigger holds target regardless with the news that Tommy Kahnle will miss the rest of the season.

Tampa Bay - It may be time for Nick Anderson owners to abandon ship if they were relying on him for saves and nothing more. Anderson is not the closer that we all thought he would be. He may be the next Josh Hader, but Hader from 2017 or 2018. That's a guy who rarely is saved for the save because he is more valuable pitching in key spots earlier in the game.

Cleveland - Brad Hand has been really bad, but he remains the closer. The danger of the 60-game season: how long do the Indians wait for him to get on track?

Minnesota - Taylor Rogers is the main closer here, though he may not collect as many save opportunities as some of his peers. The Twins utilize a bit more flexibility in their bullpen than other teams. Rogers will likely offer up another save chance to a teammate this week as well. He's pitched in three games in four days, although he only threw five pitches in one of those outings.

Houston - The Astros are running out of options. The banged-up Ryan Pressly is now the guy, though one can't feel great about him as a key fantasy closer.

Los Angeles Angels - Hansel Robles has been really bad, but he remains the closer. The danger of the 60-game season: how long do the Angels wait for him to get on track?

Oakland - Jake Diekman is a holds king, but don't forget about teammate T.J. McFarland. McFarland has recorded a hold in three straight appearances and has only allowed one base runner all season.

Miami - The Marlins bullpen is well-rested!

New York Mets - We still aren't sure who Luis Rojas will turn to for the next save chance. One name not to discount in holds leagues is Justin Wilson. Yes, he has a 8.10 ERA, but he leads the league in holds for a reason. That ERA was bloated by one bad outing. He's only allowed two base runners in his other four outings combined.

Chicago Cubs - Craig Kimbrel is still holding onto the closer job by a thread. Potential usurper Rowan Wick didn't look good last time out and has also pitched in three of the past four days but he does have two saves now.

Cincinnati - Raisel Iglesias has pitched in three of the past four days. Each subsequent outing in his young season seems better than the last after that rocky start, but he should need some time off this week regardless.

Pittsburgh - Nick Burdi needed 20 pitches to record one out on Monday. The Pirates have been careful with him thus far, so look for someone else to be involved in a save situation. Although that someone else likely won't be Richard Rodriguez, who has pitched in two straight heading into Tuesday.

Colorado - With Wade Davis sidelined, Jairo Diaz becomes the head of a closer committee, followed by Carlos Estevez. This week could be touch and go though. Diaz has pitched in two straight and three of four. Estevez has also pitched in two straight, as has Tyler Kinley. Daniel Bard anyone? It's been nine years since Bard last recorded a save in the majors.

San Diego - Kirby Yates has been really bad, but he remains the closer. The danger of the 60-game season: how long do the Padres wait for him to get on track?

(Oh, they already turned to Drew Pomeranz you say? I can't use this bit anymore?)

Emilio Pagan has been really bad, but he remains the setup man. The danger of the 60-game season: how long do the Padres wait for him to get on track?

(Now don't you feel dumb?)

San Francisco - Shaun Anderson, perhaps not quite in the mix for saves, although one never knows with Gabe Kapler, has pitched in three of the last four days. He leads the league in appearances to this point, so Kapler may be hard-pressed to turn elsewhere in the middle innings of a close game.



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Week 2 Bullpen Usage Report for Fantasy Baseball

Less than a week into the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the future is uncertain. Bullpens are normally the most unreliable and volatile aspect of the sport. This year, the outside world has told baseball to hold its beer and showed it what unreliable and volatile really meant.

As we see the Miami Marlins sit an entire week thanks to a slew of positive virus tests, each and every day become an unknown, almost like bullpen usage in more enjoyable times. We will continue to follow the sport we love as long as it remains viable this year. Who knows when more postponements or a permanent stoppage of play will come. Until then, we make the most of it!

Making the most of a bullpen report is about finding the usage trends that indicate something of value. Perhaps nothing of value will come with trying to analyze Gabe Kapler's trends, but we'll try anyway.

 

Monitoring Bullpens in 2020

Bullpen usage will be something to monitor each and every day, so we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed, and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used. The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

The Cloudiest Bullpens

New York Mets - Edwin Diaz went 1-for-1 in save opportunities to start the year. He blew his next one and sat on the bench when the third went to Seth Lugo. In that first Diaz save, Lugo pitched good sixth and seventh innings in front of Justin Wilson's eighth. Diaz walked one but secured the 1-0 win. The very next day, Diaz churned through the first two batters of the heart of the Braves order before giving the lead back on a Marcell Ozuna opposite-field home run.

In totality, Diaz has looked pretty good in his appearances, but apparently not good enough to get in Monday's game. It may have been misleading though. Lugo came into the eighth to get Jeurys Familia out of a jam. That wasn't a spot where Diaz would be expected when the Mets have Lugo to turn to. Thus, it may have been a case of manager Luis Rojas leaving in the guy who was feeling good. If my hunch is correct, Diaz would get the next save chance.

Seattle - The Mariners had a tough ask with starting this truncated year with a four-game set against Houston and no scheduled day off until August 13. In that series, only one game saw Seattle with a lead late. It ended up winning, but nothing cleared up our picture of this group. Supposed closer Matt Magill pitched the fifth; supposed alternate Dan Altavilla pitched the seventh; new committee member Taylor Williams pitched the ninth for the save, yet he allowed two base runners and was the only one of the relievers to allow a run.

Atlanta - Mark Melancon has yet to pitch this season as he deals with back issues. He remains day-to-day; as does Will Smith, who has been cleared to return and just needs to build up his stamina. In addition, we saw Luke Jackson pitch multiple late innings in grabbing the bullpen's lone win this season. We also can't discount the presences of Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and Darren O'Day. Because of uncertain health and a bevy of comparable options, it's cloudy in Atlanta.

 

The Shakiest Bullpens

Chicago Cubs - It will soon be too late to jump off the Craig Kimbrel bandwagon. It will have careened off course, picking up speed as it ricochets. The closer on the Hall of Fame path may be gone for good. It was only one appearance, but I don't know how anyone can have the smallest shred of confidence in Kimbrel at this point. Kimbrel recorded one out (and a hold!) as he gave up two runs on four walks and a HBP in the ninth Monday. According to CBS, Cincinnati batters didn't swing at a single breaking ball Kimbrel threw. His track record buys him more time as the Chicago closer, which may not be a good thing for the Cubs.

Pittsburgh - We're just running out of arms here. Keone Kela remains out. Middle reliever Clay Holmes is out. And now fill-in closer Kyle Crick is sidelined as well. Richard Rodriguez has allowed two runs and a home run in two innings. Michael Feliz has given up four runs in 1.2 innings. The only one of the potential closers to start the season unscathed has been Nick Burdi. It all falls now to the 27-year-old with 11 career innings pitched.

 

Saves up for Grabs

Chicago Cubs - Kimbrel threw a load of pitches in his awful outing Monday. If he gets into Tuesday night's game as well, he will surely get the day off Wednesday, likely in favor of either of the righties: Jeremy Jeffress or Rowan Wick. (Jeffress pitched in back-to-back games heading into Tuesday.)

Houston - Robert Osuna has pitched twice already this season, with a third appearance possible for Tuesday night. If that happens, there's no way he then throws in four of five days. Of course, both Ryan Pressly and Chris Devenski suffered injuries on Monday. It is anyone's guess who would garner a save opportunity in that spot; it may even go to the newly signed Fernando Rodney.

Colorado - Wade Davis has gotten the job done thus far this season. If he gets into Tuesday's game, though, he may be due a day off. That would give him three appearances in four days. The rest of the Colorado bullpen has yet to allow a run, so all of Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, and Daniel Bard are good vulture options.

Toronto - New Blue Jay closer Anthony Bass already has three appearances in 2020, including back-to-back heading into Tuesday night's game. They may need him again, in which case there's no way he sees action Wednesday. However, the Toronto bullpen has been leaned on heavily the entire first week, with both Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano up to three appearances apiece. Whoever is able to get some rest on Tuesday would be the option in a Wednesday save.



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Week 1 Bullpen Usage Report for Fantasy Baseball

One of the biggest questions in baseball this season will be how managers approach bullpen usage. That was already arguably the manager's heaviest workload in a normal season, apart from immeasurable impacts on team mood and cohesion. However, this year the bullpen will be in even clearer focus.

Every blown save counts 2.7 times more than in a normal year. Each loss is almost three normal-year losses. With starting pitchers throwing less and less and now entering under such bizarre circumstances, nearly every, single game this year is going to come down to bullpen performance.

But which direction does a manager go? Does he lean even more on his best guy, throwing him nearly every day? What if that means using them in high-leverage, non-save situations? Does he throw out all roles and sub based entirely on matchups? Is there a shorter leash for closers because of the stakes? A longer leash because no one else would have time to get comfortable in the role? All these answers remain up in the air until we see how each manager chooses to approach this 60-game slate.

 

Monitoring Bullpens in 2020

Bullpen usage will be something to monitor each and every day, so we'll be publishing a weekly article at RotoBaller that tracks which bullpens are being taxed, and which pitchers within that bullpen are being heavily used. The idea of this column is to help you gain an inside track into which relief pitchers, closers, and setup men should be avoided or targeted in a given week of fantasy baseball.

As always, we'll be closely tracking bullpen updates every day in our Closer Depth Charts. That is definitely a resource you want to bookmark and visit each day to stay up-to-date with the latest bullpen changes and movements.

 

The Cloudiest Bullpens

Not every team has a designated closer entering the season; some by design, many not. Injuries play a part, but injuries don't make a bullpen cloudy. Uncertainty in talent, production, and pecking order do. We know Aroldis Chapman will not be closing for the New York Yankees to start the season. We also know he will most certainly be closing once he returns to full health. The same goes for Keona Kela in Pittsburgh. That isn't a cloudy bullpen. These are:

Baltimore - There are few save chances to go around in Baltimore. Mychal Givens got a lot of them last year, but not all. Instead of giving him the role to start and removing a lot of uncertainty, manager Brandon Hyde elected to do the opposite. He declared the back of the bullpen very much unknown, with Givens, Hunter Harvey, and Richard Bleier in contention to close.

Seattle - We thought newcomer Yoshihisa Hirano would be installed as part of a committee in the Seattle pen to begin 2020. Hirano instead enters the delayed start on the IL. What remains is still a surprisingly large committee that is a huge jumble of unknown options and potential usage based on matchup. According to MLB.com, all of Matt Magill, Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, and Anthony Misiewicz are options for Scott Servais, and the manager is not planning on going with a set closer.

St. Louis - What a roller coaster the Cardinals pen has been! We thought Giovanny Gallegos was going to close but may get pushed by Carlos Martinez and Andrew Miller. Then Gallegos got hurt. Now he'll probably be healthy for Opening Day. But he isn't going to close anyway. And it isn't Martinez or Miller taking his spot! Instead, Mike Shildt tabbed rookie (and Korean veteran) Kwang Hyun Kim as the closer, even though he never closed in Korea during regular-season games. Fangraphs isn't yet convinced. As of July 21, it lists four players as the St. Louis closer.

 

The Shakiest Bullpens

Cloudy bullpens don't have to be shaky. A number of the options in St. Louis seem like premiere late-inning guys. We just don't know how it will play out on a day-to-day basis. Shaky bullpens don't have to start cloudy either, though they normally get cloudy as one failure leads to another.

Miami - Brandon Kintzler will lead the way out of the Marlins bullpen. His 2019 was statistically tremendous for Chicago, though it was in a secondary role, he didn't strike out many batters, and his FIP was nearly a run worse than his ERA. He was also one of the worst pitchers in the game in terms of hard-hit percentage allowed, exit velocity allowed, and whiff rate. The last time he was a go-to closer at the beginning of 2017, and yet he is far and away Miami's best option right now.

Colorado - It may be just a matter of time until the Rockies turn to Scott Oberg or Jairo Diaz late in games. For now, Wade Davis is the man with the job. Both Oberg and Diaz have pretty good swing-and-miss stuff, though the latter gives up far too much hard contact. And neither man can keep the base paths empty. Oberg had a sky-high 10.3 walk rate last season, and Diaz's 1.30 WHIP speaks for itself. Yet both seem better than Davis. Davis was non-functioning in 2019. The only saving grace may be how sneakily good he was in Colorado in 2018 and that his fastball spin rate remains elite. If that indicates a jump back up in strikeout rate is coming, stay tuned.

 

Saves up for Grabs

Stay tuned during the season where we'll monitor weekly bullpen usage to get an idea of who may need rest, is in the doghouse, has favorable matchups, or where unexpected saves can be earned.

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Historically Fast Starters to Target

The 2020 fantasy baseball season will be unlike any that has existed before. A 60-game sprint to the finish will offer all kinds of unexpected twists and turns. One consequence that seems obvious, though, is that players will not have a chance to round into shape. Guys will need to be on top of their game right from the jump or risk putting together a bad campaign. There is no month to get going this season. A month is half the year.

Historically fast starters could offer fantasy owners a leg up on the competition. These guys, who normally start off hot, can buoy a fantasy lineup for most of the season. And with the shortened slate, there may not even be time enough for them to ever cool down. Historically fast starters are the guys to target in the 60-game season.

One additional note: a lot of MVP-caliber players are historically good in the first halves of seasons. Many are also good in the second halves! It's why they are MVP-caliber players in normal seasons. Guys like Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, and J.D. Martinez have first-half OPS figures above .900 for the past half dozen years. They also have career OPS numbers around or (in Trout's case) well above that mark. They should be targeted in any season, shortened or otherwise.

 

Eric Thames (1B/OF, Washington Nationals)

The 2020 season may shine on Thames in a number of ways. First off is the designated hitter rule that opened up the door for Thames to receive much more playing time in Washington. Then, Ryan Zimmerman opted out of the season, removing Thames' main competition at first base. Now, with Howie Kendrick possibly not ready for the start of the season, Thames could be in the lineup nearly every day for the Nationals.

On top of the playing time fortune, the 60-game sprint could favor Thames. He has heavy career splits in favor of the first halves of seasons. March/April are by far the best months of his career. That has pushed him to a career .863 OPS in the first half, compared to a .743 mark in the second half. His tOPS+ indicates Thames is 15 percent better than expected in the first half and 16 percent worse than expected in the second half.

 

Brett Gardner (OF, New York Yankees)

2019 was different for Gardner in so many ways. One of the more hidden reasons for his success was that he didn't crater in the second half of the season. On the contrary, Gardner's career year got even better in the later months, specifically slugging .549 after the break. That is abnormal for him though. For his career, Gardner has heavy splits favoring the first half of seasons.

His drop-off is not quite as dramatic as Thames' but comes pretty close. Gardner performs eight percent better than expected before the All-Star break and 11 percent worse after. His 2019 reversal shouldn't scare anyone away for this season, though. It's never bad when someone becomes a better hitter. Even more than that, his first half last year was still solid. He had a .798 OPS with 15 home runs and then took off.

 

Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)

In March, April, and May, Segura is one of the premier hitters in baseball. His batting average in those months is well over .300. He gets on base and even shows a little pop, eclipsing an .800 OPS in each month. After May? Segura is no longer a premier hitter. In fact, he is no longer good.

He continues to run, but steals become his lone useful category in standard 5x5 scoring other than not killing you in BA and R. If Segura plays this "full" year like it's a normal March-through-May, he could finish as one of the better hitters in the NL and a full, five-category contributor.

 

Tommy La Stella (2B/3B, Los Angeles Angels)

After good showings as a bit-part player for years, La Stella was a full-time player and All-Star in 2019 before getting hurt. Perhaps breaking his tibia and missing nearly all of the second half had a silver lining though. La Stella is a historically poor hitter in the second half. His .777 career first-half OPS indicates a player that had that All-Star upside.

Since the All-Star game doesn't take into account the second half of a season, La Stella could be someone who again benefits in the future. In the second half of seasons, though, La Stella falls off a cliff, with his OPS dropping 90 points. That is bad news for the Angels in normal seasons, but it could work to everyone's benefit in 2020.

 

Leury Garcia (OF, Chicago White Sox)

Garcia had a bit of a coming-out party last year as he earned everyday duties for the first time in his career. While he showed a reasonable split between first-half and second-half performance in 2019, the trend is even starker for the entirety of his career. Albeit in uneven playing time, Garcia is downright solid in the first half historically and pretty much unplayable in the second half. Take a look at his monthly splits. As seasons grind on, he gets worse and worse. The only time he ever improves from one month to the next is June into July. Otherwise, it is a steady decline in each subsequent month of the season.

Garcia isn't an elite fantasy option in any season, but he could be pretty useful in this short clip. If the White Sox stick him at the very bottom of the lineup every day, it will curtail his upside, but if Garcia plays this whole season like it's a normal March-June, we should see good production regardless in three categories.

 

Conclusion

There is no telling what impact this weird season will have on everyone in the league. It is even a stretch to assume that historically fast starters will do the same in these circumstances. However, projecting as best we can, it is useful to highlight those hitters who so often get off to hot starts that dwarf their overall performance and, most importantly, underestimate how much they should cost to acquire in drafts for this season.



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Universal DH Beneficiaries - RBI

With the advent of the designated hitter in the National League for 2020, NL lineup production will go up; it's inevitable. Pitchers will have a harder time of things in the NL, and hitters will produce more. It's what happens when a near-zero at the plate is replaced by a Major League hitter.

Where that additional hitter is slotted into a lineup -- and who that hitter is -- impacts the rest of his lineup. The player seeing time at DH will obviously see more production than he otherwise would have sitting on the bench, but his teammates can see an uptick in production as well.

For RBI producers in the bottom half of a lineup, slotting a new DH in the top half will do wonders. Having a big on-base guy flooding the bases gives more opportunities for the later hitters to knock him in.

 

Victor Robles (OF, WSH)

Last year was Robles' first chance at regular playing time in the Majors. He performed pretty well, though there remain obvious opportunities for improvement. He looks like a standard, slap-heavy hitter who will survive and excel with his speed. Robles ranked in the 95th percentile in sprint speed and was below-average or worse in pretty much all batted-ball profile rankings.

What this means is that much of Robles' RBI production at the bottom of Washington's lineup will come down to how many people are on base ahead of him. He is not driving in many guys with extra-base hits, nor will he drive himself in more than a few times this season. Robles' best chance at becoming more than a two-category player is if more people are in scoring position when he steps to the plate.

Enter new National DH Howie Kendrick. Kendrick should bat ahead of Robles in pretty much every game. He got on base 39.5 percent of the time in partial duty last year, making him one of the premier NL DH options. Kendrick could have a big year; Robles could too thanks to Kendrick.

 

Tommy Edman (2B/3B, STL)

As a rookie last year, Edman proved that he belonged. In his shortened 2020, he will hope to prove he can maintain his production. He will never be a huge RBI producer hitting at the bottom of the St. Louis lineup, but placing another quality bat ahead of him would do wonders. Luckily for Edman and Cardinals fans, this team has a few options to lengthen the meat of its order.

Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler struggled in 2019 and '18, respectively. But they both have a track record of success, and more specifically, a track record of being elite on-base men. Carpenter has a career .372 OBP and 13.3 percent walk rate. Fowler is similarly above average with a .359 OBP and 12.6 percent walk rate.

It's also worth considering the possibility (and evident upside) of Tyler O'Neill garnering at-bats at DH. No matter where St. Louis turns, there are guys who should get on base ahead of Edman.

 

Avisail Garcia (OF, MIL)

Garcia has been a pedestrian RBI man for much of his career. It doesn't help that he is expected to slot in near the back end of the Milwaukee lineup in 2020. What will certainly help is the expected inclusion of both Ryan Braun and Justin Smoak (the latter of whom will hit at least against all righties) in the everyday lineup ahead of him.

It was previously expected that one of Garcia or Smoak would have to be absent from the lineup without the DH; that is no longer the case. Both players are on the wrong side of their primes, but will undoubtedly be assets to this Brewer lineup.

Garcia won't be the only beneficiary, but if he ends up being a big RBI producer thanks to clogged bases ahead of him, he suddenly turns into a 3.5-category contributor. It remains to be seen if his double-digit steals total from last year was for real, but a lot of other boxes will be checked.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD); Will Smith (C, LAD)

Every rule change seems to benefit the Dodgers because they are the most talented and deepest team in their league. Adding a DH is no exception. No matter who Los Angeles chooses to give DH at-bats to, a really good hitter will be placed somewhere in the middle of the lineup to get on base ahead of Seager and Smith. Both were already underrated guys at their respective positions. The addition of the DH bumps each up thanks to Seager's extra-base hitting and Smith's premiere upside at the catcher position.

 

Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL)

There was an assumption that Swanson has maxed out as a below-average fantasy option at shortstop. That still may be the case, but his 2020 outlook got a considerable bump when it was determined that the young Austin Riley could be hitting ahead of him every day.

Riley is obviously a question mark, though the upside is undeniable. He is expected to join a cadre of sluggers in the Atlanta lineup, which is where Swanson can turn from an underwhelming 10-10 guy to a potential multi-category producer very late in drafts.

 

Conclusion

The hitters at the bottom of a lineup are not always the best options in fantasy; this doesn't require much explanation. If they were better players, they'd be batting earlier, and thus, garnering more plate appearances.

Nevertheless, with the addition of the DH in the National League, a number of these late hitters will see increased opportunities to drive in runs: the name of the game. That should boost their value in fantasy from where we would have slotted them years prior.

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Historically Slow Starters to Avoid on Draft Day?

There is no telling how this 60-game jumble of a 2020 season will affect each MLB player individually. Some may relish the opportunity to have an outsized impact on the season. Others may feel uncomfortable playing at all, let alone be at full game speed in time for Opening Day. Regardless of the unknowns, however, there is something we can safely extrapolate.

Perennially slow starters - those players who ease into game action and need time to acclimate themselves to the league and opposing pitchers each season - will be even more detrimental to their respective teams in a two-month crunch. A player who starts slow will have no time to reverse his production. Unlike a normal year, a slow month or six weeks is more than half the season. At that point, his value is toast.

This is particularly relevant to fantasy teams. Owners cannot afford to draft slow starters this year. They will be unable to offer a meaningful return on the investment it cost to draft them. Thus, there is a batch of historically slow starters that should be avoided in fantasy.

 

Alex Bregman (3B/SS, HOU)

Bregman is a really good baseball player (assuming he can still hit without knowing what pitch is coming). Bregman is really good for almost all months of a normal season. As the weather gets nice, he gets cracking at the plate to the tune of a .902 career OPS in May and June. In the heat of the summer, he stays hot and then some: career OPS in July is .894; in August, it's a scalding .985. Then, when the weather gets cold again, he just stays in his zone. September is his second-best month, just a shade behind August.

There is one exception to the Bregman domination. He is really bad for his standards when the season first starts. Bregman has a career .765 OPS in March/April. That figure is completely torpedoed by his inability to hit for power. A .385 career slugging percentage is a figure normally reserved for ninth-place hitters who are known for their defense. Bregman is an MVP candidate in a normal season. Fantasy owners may not be able to expect anything close to that production if he starts 2020 like he starts every other season.

 

Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU)

Perhaps there is something about early seasons in Houston (or that the team didn't start cheating until the weather got nice). But like Bregman, Gurriel is a much worse hitter in the early months of a new season. In March, April, and May for his career, Gurriel shows little to no power. His swing is off too because, despite similar BABIP figures across months, he can't crack .280 in the early going. His batting eye is off as well. Gurriel can't get on base before June.

Once June hits, Gurriel hits. His career batting average jumps 31 points from May to June. His OBP goes from putrid to okay to downright solid once the summer really blows through. His slugging percentage leaps from .376 in May to .493 in June and a whopping .604 in July. When the year begins, Gurriel is not good enough to warrant playing time. By the time he rounds into shape, he is a bonafide middle-of-the-order hitter. In 2020, there is no time to round into shape. If he's the normal Gurriel to begin a season, he shouldn't even be drafted in fantasy.

 

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN)

We thought, perhaps, maybe, hopefully, a shortened season would allow us to see an actual full year of Buxton. After all, he wouldn't have time to get hurt. Instead, he's already hurt heading into the year. But if you are one to see the positive of a foot sprain not sidelining him for long, you may want to steer clear of Buxton this season regardless.

Buxton has one of the most dramatic splits between first and second halves of any fantasy-relevant player. His .639 OPS and 82 tOPS+ in the first half for his career are in line with the very worst qualified hitters in baseball each season. His .814 OPS and 129 tOPS+ in the second half are figures more representative of a top 30 hitter in the AL in a given year.

Fans like to throw around the qualifier that, when he's healthy, Buxton is really good. That is simply not true. When he's healthy, he's really good half the time. The other half, he shouldn't be in the lineup.

 

Kole Calhoun (OF, ARI)

The split between Calhoun's normal first halves and second halves is very reminiscent of Gurriel's, albeit with a lower ceiling once things turn around. Calhoun struggles out of the gate on an annual basis but starts to hit entering June and July. The OPS from May to June jumps 109 points and not in a small sample. Calhoun has played long enough where this trend seems set in stone. If you want to quibble with Gurriel's inclusion because he only has 80 or so games in each calendar month, no such caveat fits Calhoun's resume. The outfielder has a roughly 75 percent larger sample each month than that.

Moving to a new team for the first time in his career shouldn't help matters. After eight years with the Angels, Calhoun now has to find his footing with Arizona. The added DH for the Diamondbacks helps iron out any potential playing time questions, but if Calhoun has his normal slow start, don't be surprised if the team's lineup flexibility bites him as players get shuffled around to fill a void.

 

Conclusion

Fantasy owners will have a lot of questions about how this season is going to play out. No one knows what to make of an unprecedented situation; not even the players themselves. If there is a safe way of building a fantasy team, though, it would be by avoiding historically slow starters. These guys won't be able to find a groove early enough to help a lineup. It's best to avoid them altogether at their expected draft position.



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Universal DH Beneficiaries - Runs Scored

For the first time in baseball history, the National League will employ the position of designated hitter. Besides making NL games more exciting to watch, this change should have two main effects.

First, NL pitchers will see some level of decline in their ratios. It is inevitable when facing superior opposing lineups. The second change will be an increase in production from NL offenses. There is no deep analysis here. Getting the inept pitcher out of the lineup and putting an actual hitter in his place will improve results. But whose results will improve the most? Obviously, the guy being slotted in at DH will benefit, but who else?

What we could see this year is an increase in runs scored from some of the better players at the top of lineups. Whereas in years past, NL lineups could fall off dramatically after the top half, each one will be lengthened in 2020. Putting a full-time hitter somewhere in the middle of the lineup means more times being knocked in for the guys getting on base at the top. Let's see who could benefit most.

 

Trea Turner and Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a season in which they scored the sixth-most runs in the league, trailing only four American League clubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2020, however, the defending champs will be replacing a putrid pitcher in the lineup with Howie Kendrick. Kendrick is lined up to play much more this season than originally thought. He and Eric Thames are two of the biggest immediate beneficiaries of the NL DH (also thanks to the absence of Ryan Zimmerman). But their teammates ahead of them in the lineup will benefit as well.

Turner and Eaton were already elite run scorers. They each topped 90 runs scored last year; Turner doing so in just 122 games played. That was with Anthony Rendon behind them in the lineup. We thought each would take a step back with Rendon moving on, but now they were gifted a darn good replacement.

Kendrick was second on the Nationals in slugging last year, trailing only Rendon. He only received 370 plate appearances, but even that was the seventh most on the club. He was a member of Washington's regular substitution pattern. Now he should be an everyday player. Instead of downgrading Turner and Eaton because their surroundings declined, we can remain confident in their elite run-scoring again in 2020.

 

Jean Segura, Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies were a disappointment in 2019. Segura was a small part of the reason. His OPS+, which had been well above league average for three straight seasons, dropped to 90. In the process, he scored just 79 runs in 618 plate appearances. He has never been a big walker, so some of his run-scoring ability comes down to guys behind him executing.

Philadelphia will now be able to replace a pitcher with Jay Bruce every day in the lineup. Bruce was looking like he might be squeezed out of playing time before the addition of the DH. This despite slugging .510 with 12 home runs in just 51 games for Philly last season. After a down 2018, Bruce's power returned last season, which should only benefit those ahead of him in the lineup.

 

Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers

Before the changes to the '20 season, there was some consideration for ignoring Cain this year in fantasy. He is in his mid-30s and coming off a career-worst season in which he offered little more than steals, and even that production was inefficient by today's standards (18 steals in 26 attempts).

But that was before Milwaukee was able to replace their pitcher hitting with Ryan Braun. Braun was likely headed for a timeshare at first base. Now he should play pretty much every day. And though his star has faded, his production remains useful. As the Brewers control his playing time to keep him healthy, Braun continues to hit. This year, that load management shouldn't even be an issue, allowing for the hitters ahead of Braun in the lineup to reap the rewards.

If Cain suddenly gets back to elite production in two categories (runs and steals), without killing your batting average, he is firming fantasy relevant once again.

 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have taken flak in recent years for disappointing results. Bryant and Rizzo are at the forefront of that criticism not because they've been bad, but because they are the faces of the franchise. On the contrary, they both remain very good hitters. And they may catch a break this year with some help from the DH.

Instead of that pesky pitcher hitting, Chicago likely turns to Ian Happ every day in the lineup (with Happ playing the outfield and Kyle Schwarber filling the DH slot). Happ isn't just underutilized; he's flat-out one of Chicago's most talented hitters when right. Other than midseason acquisition Nick Castellanos, no Cub slugged higher than Happ at .564. He only garnered 156 plate appearances as he worked his way back from a demotion to the minor leagues, yet Happ continues to barrel the ball as much as any of the elite hitters in the game. Bryant and Rizzo should benefit mightily from that power coming up behind them more often this season.

 

Conclusion

Every NL hitter will benefit from a deeper lineup around him this season. A few guys should see dramatic enough impacts as to alter their fantasy value and draft position. The confluence of events required for that result includes lineup placement, skill set, batting order, and the DH teammate ready to leap at his good fortune.



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Mike Zunino (C, TB) - Fantasy Baseball Draft Sleepers

BALLER MOVE: Draft target ~500s

CURRENT ADP: ~629 overall

ANALYSIS: There is no hidden meaning to find in his .165/.232/.312 slash line; Mike Zunino was very bad at the plate last year. However, two things are working heavily in his favor in 2020, with the first being that 2019 seemed more like an aberration for the veteran backstop.  Zunino has never made a lot of contact, but what contact he did make was usually hard. His 36.9% hard-hit rate was his lowest since 2015 and represented an eight-point drop from 2018.  His barrel-rate was also down after being in the 94th percentile in both 2017 and 2018.

His 19.2-degree launch angle wasn't out of line with previous seasons but Zuninio exchanged too many lines drives for pop-ups in 2019. While his overall fly-ball rate was up two points, Zunino's line-drive rate dropped five points and his 18.2 % infield fly-ball rate was a five-point increase from 2017.

This brings us to the second thing working in his favor; while Tampa Bay may have a lot of moving pieces and flexibility in their lineup, the catcher position is not one of those areas. With Travis D'Arnaud now with Atlanta, no other Rays catcher on the 40-man roster outside of Zunino has more than 46 major league games played in his career. He should see the field more than he ever has before - relative to the percentage of games played in a shortened season. With there being a good chance of a bounce-back coming at the plate and oodles of playing time likely in store, Zunino is in prime position to flourish as a deep sleeper.


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Deeper Draft Sleepers - Shortstop

In shallow or even standard fantasy baseball leagues, there is a common tenet that the end of drafts is for taking chances. Since there is normally not much difference between a player that gets selected at the end of a draft and a player who is left for waivers, taking a large, figurative swing on a high-risk player can be smart. If the risk doesn't pay off, a comparable replacement can be had in free agency.

The same thing is not the case in deeper leagues. Depending on the level of depth, owners in some leagues will see nothing but scraps on waivers following the draft. This means that swinging and missing on a risky player could leave a complete void in your lineup that you won't be able to fill adequately without making a trade.

Trading with other owners can be fun but it can also be hell. That's why deeper draft owners need to try and find reliable pieces to bank on late in the process. At shortstop, there are a few deeper draft sleepers that stand out as guys worth circling, with a deep sleeper defined as anyone projected to go outside the top 300 players. Let's look at three players that could give you reliable production at the position for relative pennies on draft day.

 

Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels

416 ADP in NFBC

Due to his historic defense, only injuries tend to keep Simmons out of the lineup. Unfortunately, that was the case last year, as an ankle injury limited him to just 103 games after he played in at least 145 games in five of the previous six years.

When healthy, Simmons is a near shoo-in for double-digit home runs and steals. Rarely wasting an at-bat, Simmons has never had above an 11.5% K-rate as a professional, even during his time in the minors. That batting eye hasn't directly translated to plate discipline, though, as the man loves to swing away and has never posted above a 7.3% walk-rate in the majors.

Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB AVG BB% K%
2010 Braves (R) 62 269 2 36 26 18 0.276 5.9% 5.2%
2011 Braves (A+) 131 570 1 69 52 26 0.311 5.1% 7.5%
2012 Braves (AA) 44 203 3 29 21 10 0.293 9.9% 9.9%
2012 Braves 49 182 3 17 19 1 0.289 6.6% 11.5%
2013 Braves 157 658 17 76 59 6 0.248 6.1% 8.4%
2014 Braves 146 576 7 44 46 4 0.244 5.6% 10.4%
2015 Braves 147 583 4 60 44 5 0.265 6.7% 8.2%
2016 Angels 124 483 4 48 44 10 0.281 5.8% 7.9%
2017 Angels 158 647 14 77 69 19 0.278 7.3% 10.4%
2018 Angels 146 600 11 68 75 10 0.292 5.8% 7.3%
2019 Angels 103 424 7 47 40 10 0.264 5.7% 8.7%

Prior to last year's injury-shortened season, Simmons has been a reliable, everyday player who puts the ball in play a lot, and offers a nice power-speed combo for fantasy players.

With the lengthening of the Los Angeles lineup thanks to the addition of Anthony Rendon, Simmons could be a counting-stat darling this year. His rate stats will never compare to the elites at the position, but a healthy Simmons is a four-category contributor who should be available very late in drafts.

 

Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks

431 ADP

Ahmed stays in the Arizona lineup every day for his defense but over the last two seasons, he's gotten better and better at the plate. As he's carved out an everyday role at SS, Ahmed set career-highs in Hard%, Brl%, xwOBA, and walk-rate in 2019, breaking the highs he had just reached in 2018.

His actual production has been splendid, as well. He was one of only five players at the position to finish with at least 75 runs, 75 RBI, 15 HR, and eight steals. Arbitrary cutoffs or not, Ahmed had comparable counting stats to many established stars being drafted far ahead of him.

It would be nice to see Ahmed improve his batting eye to go along with his increased production. Though he nearly set a career-high last year in zone-contact percentage, his zone swing-rate hasn't deviated much over the course of his career, nor has his chase-rate or chase-contact percentage. While the latter both saw vast improvements from 2018 to 2019 it wasn't anything out of the ordinary compared to earlier in his career when he was a much less impactful hitter.

Still in his prime, Ahmed's career is trending in the right direction and it wouldn't be outlandish to see his hitting improvements continue as he ages into his 30s. There are flashier players to find in fantasy and ones who can fill up certain categories more, but few shortstops have become as safe as Ahmed when it comes to not hurting fantasy owners in standard 5x5.

If we raise the bar of our previous four-category comparison to having a .250 or better batting average, Ahmed stays and just three others remain (losing DeJong). He'll never be a top-four player at SS but he may be the best value of anyone being drafted after pick 400.

 

Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves

617 ADP

After a breakout 2018, Camargo was relegated to the bench for Atlanta in 2019 and split his time between seven different positions, even though he spent most of his time at shortstop, third base, and the outfield. That relegation has seemingly come to an end, with Camargo currently projected as the Braves' starting third baseman in 2020.

A switch-hitter, the young Panamanian showed virtually no platoon-split in his 524 PA in 2018, posting an .806 OPS overall and showing more power against left-handed pitching. The 2018 season also showed Camargo's proclivity for not wasting at-bats, producing weak contact on just 1.9% of his chances. He doesn't offer an elite batted-ball profile but did make solid contact more often than not and had a higher average exit velocity than the average hitter in 2018, with a 9.7% walk-rate.

There are a few things playing against Camargo. For one, third base is pretty much the only lineup spot up for grabs in Atlanta right now, as every other position is squarely accounted for. He also has potential competition from Austin Riley and Yangervis Solarte, who could both challenge him if they make the big league roster or get called up during the season.

Riley was especially terrible as a rookie last year but offers great upside and potential power, posting 44.6 hard-hit percentage in nearly 300 at-bats. However, Riley is being drafted more than 300 picks ahead of Carmago and currently lacks eligibility anywhere beside OF in most leagues.

 

Conclusion

As stated in the opening, deep-league owners can't afford to completely whiff on draft picks for starters. There simply won't be anything on waivers or in free agency to replace a worthless pickup. A long bench can help alleviate such worry, but that depends on league settings and is often out of an individual owner's control.

While other owners scramble to grab big names or highly touted rookies late, it may be wise to grab one of these boring veterans that may deliver superior production.

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Deeper Draft Sleepers - Catcher

When we do analysis here for deeper leagues there is some semblance of universal acceptance on the parameters. While there is no definitive rule on what constitutes a "deep league", that isn't really the point. This series aims to highlight players not normally drafted but can offer value in leagues where more than roughly 300 players rostered.

The position of catcher is an outlier that rests outside of the rules of engagement, compared to the other positions. According to NFBC ADP, there are only 22 catchers considered to be top-300 players, and just three of them are ranked inside the top 100. You can see the issue almost immediately.

Every team needs to start at least one catcher, which means only three owners will get a good one (hyperbole added for the sake of argument). And if the league in question is a two-catcher league, there aren't even enough worthy catchers to fill the daily starting lineup across 12 owners. That leaves catcher in a dark place when it comes to finding deep draft sleepers, so let's get out our flashlights.

 

Deep League Issue

The other issue with the catcher position in deep leagues is a bit self-fulfilling. Every team needs a catcher or two. That means those players must be drafted before the draft concludes, forcing them inside the top 300 rankings whether their talents are worthy of that spot or not.

For example,  Tom Murphy (241 ADP) is not a better player than Daniel Murphy (250 ADP), in a vacuum, but teams are going to often need a catcher more than the 25th first baseman on the board. It's like looking at the ADP of kickers in fantasy football. Each team needs to draft one eventually, meaning those players' ADP will be higher than a load of more useful players.

That said, we are going to stick with deep sleepers referring to anyone outside of the top 300. But know that a deep sleeper catcher could be considerably deeper than at other positions. In other words, the bar is far lower to find value here. For catchers, the potential values we are looking for usually fall into one of two camps. Either they're set to play a lot and thus rack up counting stats, or they're skilled enough to earn a profit even while in a time-sharing situation.

 

Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays (490 ADP)

There is no hidden meaning to find in his .165/.232/.312 slash line; Mike Zunino was very bad at the plate last year. However, two things are working heavily in his favor in 2020, with the first being that 2019 seemed more like an aberration for the veteran backstop.  Zunino has never made a lot of contact but what contact he did make was usually hard. His 36.9% hard-hit rate was the lowest since 2015 and represented an eight-point drop from 2018.  His barrel-rate was also down after being in the 94th percentile in both 2017 and 2018.

His 19.2-degree launch angle wasn't out of line with previous seasons but Zuninio exchanged too many lines drives for pop-ups in 2019. While his overall fly-ball rate was up two points, Zunino's line-drive rate dropped five points and his 18.2 % infield fly-ball rate was a five-point increase from 2017.

If Zunino can again find the power zone he had for much of his time in Seattle while getting appropriate playing time, he'll be a 20+ home run hitter again. This brings us to the second thing working in his favor; while Tampa Bay may have a lot of moving pieces and flexibility in their lineup, the catcher position is not one of those areas. With Travis D'Arnaud now with Atlanta, no other Rays catcher on the 40-man outside of Zunino has more than 46 major league games played in his career, meaning he should see the field more than he ever has before - relative to the percentage of games played in a shortened season. With there being a good chance of a bounce-back coming at the plate and oodles of playing time likely in store, Zunino is in prime position to flourish as a deep sleeper.

Stephen Vogt, Arizona Diamondbacks (554 ADP)

Vogt only played in 98 games last year, returning to action in May after missing all of 2018 recovering from rotator cuff surgery. That time away caused most people to forget about the talented - if past-his-prime - backstop. Vogt had a .804 OPS and 111 OPS+ in those 99 games, more reminiscent of his All-Star days previously in Oakland. With Carson Kelly in front of him now in Arizona, he isn't guaranteed full-time duties, but he should make the most of all the at-bats he does get.

There were some notable changes in Vogt's return year, both positive and negative. Vogt's 36.1% chase-rate was the highest of his career and he subsequentially posted a career-high 23.6% K-rate to go with it. But Vogt was also hitting the ball harder, with an 89.4 mph average exit-velocity that was also a career-high - and a 4.6 mph increase from 2017. That resulted in Vogt posting a 41.1% hard-hit rate that was 11-points higher than his previous best.

And he wasn't just hitting the ball harder, his batted-ball profile had changed dramatically as well. Some of these changes may have been due to a 22.4-degree launch angle that was up five degrees from the 17.1 LA he posted in 2017. Along with the angle raise, Vogt posted a 35.2% FB% (according to Baseball Savant, which does not include pop-ups) and 39.9% Pull% that were both career-highs, and his 27.5% ground-ball rate was a career-low, representing a 10-point drop from 2017.

It's also worth mentioning that Carson Kelly has just one full season under his belt in the majors, and has played in just 111 games as the "starter." Given his relative inexperience, there should be loads of opportunities for Vogt as Kelly's backup, especially if his improvements from 2019 carry over to 2020.

 

Reese McGuire, Toronto Blue Jays (602 ADP)

(Necessary, non-fantasy caveat: Reese McGuire was arrested over the off-season, and we still await any update on whether this incident will impact his standing with Toronto.)

For the past two seasons, it has been everyone's assumption that Danny Jansen would be Toronto's top catcher, and McGuire would slot in as nothing more than a backup. After an impressive 2019, however, year, it seems clear that McGuire has proved himself worthy of splitting duties behind the plate, even if his and Jansen's roles don't completely flip.

McGuire was stellar in very limited duty, but just as importantly, Jansen was awful. Jansen should bounce back, but he has opened the door for McGuire to see more playing time, especially since the latter rates as a high-quality defender. With the bat, McGuire shows a batting profile that aligns heavily with an interesting group of up-and-comers, including Tommy Edman and Oscar Mercado. Though this group makes poor contact rather often, they make up for it with a high flare rate. It helps explain his high BABIP and may be a sign that it can continue.

 

Conclusion

It won't be easy to find quality, deep sleepers at the catcher position. Heck, it won't be easy to find catchers to use every day in a standard league either. But it could be worth using one of your last draft picks on one of these players as they have the skills and/or the opportunity needed to vastly outperform their current ADP.

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Deeper Draft Sleepers - NL Starting Pitchers

There are two main styles of player for fantasy owners in deep leagues as it pertains to starting pitching. One style leans cautious. These owners want starting pitchers who own spots in their team's rotation, thus accumulating counting stats for the long haul even if the peripherals aren't stupendous. The other style is for risk-takers. These owners want to grab high-upside players or prospects who could hit big and be major pieces for a deep-league team.

The downside of each strategy is obvious. Drafting safe in a deep league limits one's ceiling of production. A safe veteran who will throw 170 innings is a quality piece but probably won't win you anything. He may just prevent you from losing it. On the other end, those high-risk pieces could strike big, but they could also flame out and leave an owner with literally nothing of value for a main draft piece.

The best strategy for deep leagues is perhaps obvious: a combination of both. A fantasy team should hunt for smart risks while also having safe veterans ready to accumulate stats for the long haul. Leaning too far in either direction is a recipe for trouble.

 

What is a Deep Sleeper?

Everyone could have their own definition of a deep sleeper or deep league. To me, a deep sleeper is anyone who would be disregarded for a standard draft. A good baseline is the top 300 players. In 12-team leagues with 25-man rosters, the top 300 guys are taken, with everyone else hitting the waiver wire. That means our deep sleepers are anyone outside of that top 300.

 

Dodgers Candidates

Every team must deal with injuries to the starting rotation at some point throughout a season. No team is better prepared to do so than the Dodgers. There was even talk before the suspended season that Los Angeles might toy with a six-man rotation from the start to take advantage of that depth.

After the top three (Kershaw, Buehler, Price), there are as many as six guys with not insubstantial claims to be in the rotation. Of the six, Ross Stripling (ADP-320) and Alex Wood (345) feel like the best value for potential return. In his four major league seasons, Stripling has been better than average each time out and has accumulated a career 115 ERA+. For any player who vacillates between starting and relieving, everyone would expect them to be better when relieving. It's an easier job. However, Stripling actually keeps his strikeouts and walks fewer batters when he's starting.

As for Wood, getting back to the Dodgers will do him some good. Other than his blip in Cincinnati last year, Wood has been great at allowing soft contact the past five years. Opposing batters rarely barrel the ball against him, while failing to put rise on their contact either. Last year was a mess, but there is a much longer track record of the opposite for Wood.

 

Remember Me?

It's been three years since we've gotten an extended look at Johnny Cueto (331). He remains a pitcher worth taking a late flyer on. His last full season, 2016, saw him make the All-Star team and finish in the top six of Cy Young voting. He is still San Francisco's top starter, meaning we should get a comfortable look at whether or not he still has enough left in his arm. If not, owners would be forced to cut bait, but if he does, this is a man with a career 121 ERA+ and 1.19 WHIP. He flashed great performances as recently as 2018 before succumbing to the need for Tommy John surgery.

Another pitcher looking to remind folks of his ability is Zach Davies (499). Unlike Cueto, Davies has dropped under the radar simply because he's been slightly disappointing his whole career. However, he is coming off his best statistical season to date and now finds himself in a new home that is awfully kind to pitchers. There is a ceiling on Davies' value since he doesn't strike anyone out, but at pick 499, he could be a tremendous bargain regardless. Combining his ability to avoid hard contact with moving to the third-friendliest pitcher park in baseball is a recipe for good, late value.

 

Veterans

Here are a few boring veterans for you to consider. Boring value in deep fantasy leagues is about finding accumulators who won't kill you in other categories. Jose Quintana (342) hasn't thrown fewer than 170 innings since his rookie year and has struck out 20 percent of opposing batters all seven years as well. Rick Porcello (393) has eaten up innings for even longer. Jon Lester (465) is easily going the latest in drafts of any of this trio, yet he remains rock solid. The last time he didn't deliver at least 170 innings with a WAR of 2.0 and a K% of 19 percent was 2008!

 

Brew Crew

There are questions up and down the Milwaukee rotation. Even Brandon Woodruff at the top has to rebound from injury and prove last year's breakout wasn't a fluke. But either way, the other four spots in the rotation currently belong to question marks with less talent than both Freddy Peralta (416) and Corbin Burnes (461). Drafting Peralta and Burnes at SP would be a risky endeavor, but it feels like only a matter of time until one or both get a real shot in the rotation.

Peralta is a strikeout monster with a career 30 percent K%. Milwaukee took him out of the rotation for most of 2019 as he gave up too much solid contact and struggled with secondary pitches. But his fastball is electric and plays up whether he pitches in relief or starting a game.

Burnes is in a similar situation. His fastball is elite, as is his K%. Burnes has also shown great movement and spin on his curveball. But, like Peralta, it didn't help him miss hard contact last season. Burnes was barreled up an alarming 11.7 percent of the time. Drafting either of these two young arms is about taking a chance on the talent and pedigree more than last year's results. Personally, they both seem worth the risk at their respective ADPs. It is hard to find this level of arm talent already in the majors and within a hair's breadth of a rotation spot.

 

Conclusion

Pitching is always a volatile fantasy position, even in shallow leagues. Guys get hurt or run into ruts of inconsistency. The 2020 season will be an even bigger question mark for the pitching arms. To find deep league success, owners must find a balance between upside and the safety of reliability.

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Deeper Draft Sleepers - Third Base

Entering the 2020 MLB season, third base is arguably the deepest fantasy position on the diamond. 16 of the top 100 players are 3B-eligible, according to NFBC ADP. Compare that to a normally deep hitting position like first base, where just 11 guys make the cut.

What that early depth does, specifically for standard leagues, is interesting. A lot of 3B-eligible players end up getting taken to fill other spots in the lineup. If 16 of the top 100 players play 3B, and your league has fewer than 16 teams playing, every single owner is likely to get a really good hitter to play 3B, and there will still be stars left over.

As such, players like Alex Bregman and Manny Machado are instead likely to be drafted to play SS. DJ LeMahieu and Max Muncy can be slotted in at 1B or 2B. Kris Bryant and Jeff McNeil can play OF. That flexibility vacuums up a lot of the depth at the position. However, in deeper leagues, we see a whole different scenario. Obviously, all of the top-100 players are going to be drafted, but when the top 500 players are all taken, the 3B advantage disappears entirely.

 

Deep-League Situation

There are many ways to define a deep league. For non-dynasty leagues, 20-team contests are normally the deepest anyone goes. In a 20-team league, with roughly 25 players per roster, owners will see 500 players come off the board.

Going that deep down, one major thing happens: All position scarcity or abundance completely evens out (outside of catcher, which will never, for lack of a better word, catch up to the other lineup spots). There is no such thing as a deep position when more than one player per position per real-life team is being taken.

We can see by the ADP that the 3B advantage eventually disappears. Though it has the edge when looking at the top 100 players, when searching through 500 draftable players, around 40 hitters get taken at each infield spot regardless.

The aforementioned position flexibility is helpful for roster construction and day-to-day lineup usage once the year begins, but we no longer have to worry about that flexibility scooping up extra third basemen specifically.

 

What is a Deep Sleeper?

This is open to interpretation. Some people might argue that a deep sleeper is someone that would be acquired at the very end of a standard draft; I don't think that goes far enough.

For purposes of this article, a deep sleeper is anyone who is likely to go completely undrafted in standard leagues but would be incredibly useful in larger leagues. Numerically, we're going with anyone outside the top 300 players.

 

Bouncing Back - Travis Shaw

Last year, Travis Shaw (ADP: 348) was bad. The two previous years, he was good. What changed? Simply, he struck out 33 percent of the time in 2019, up from 18.3 percent in '18.

He made much better contact in 2018 as well, though his batted-ball profile from last season is pretty close to what it was in his successful '17 campaign. He even kept up his great walk rate last year through the struggles; it was really all about the swing and miss.

Digging a little deeper, there are some positive signs that Shaw's 2019 may have been an aberration. Looking at the data, there wasn't really anything wrong with his batting eye; it was simply failed execution. Besides his 13.3 walk rate, Shaw's '19 zone swing percentage and chase percentage were either roughly equal to or better than his figures from the previous two seasons.

In other words, he swung at balls inside and outside of the zone at roughly the same rates as the previous years.

His contact percentages on those swings was obviously lacking, which could easily be blamed by a failed swing change. He wasn't connecting, but he was swinging at the correct pitches, and when he did make contact, the ball was traveling as well as it did previously.

There is no reason to believe that someone who is maintaining a similar batting eye and batted-ball profile would suddenly lose the ability to make initial contact, especially if he is able to find his old swing style again. It is much more likely that 2019 was a random bad year, and Shaw will return to form.

 

Old Reliable - Seager, Frazier

After a very poor 2018, Kyle Seager (ADP: 342) missed a lot of time in '19. But once he got back on the field, he was pretty darn good, to the tune of a 112 OPS+ in 106 games.

More specifically, once he got his bearings upon returning from hand surgery, Seager slugged .524 in the season's second half. His '19 OPS+ made it seven of the past eight seasons where he was at least eight percent better than average at the plate and eight straight where he collected at least 20 home runs.

Todd Frazier (ADP: 548) has been equally as steady, albeit with lower ceilings than Seager has produced in the past. Frazier had his own down 2018 but has been at least six percent better than league average in five of the past six years.

Last year was a bit of a second wind for the 34-year-old, in which he put up easily his best line-drive rate and hard-hit percentage of any of his past four seasons, while lowering his strikeout rate to the lowest it's been since 2015.

 

Solid If Unspectacular

There are worse places to turn in deep leagues than Colin Moran (ADP: 595). Moran doesn't offer any speed or much power, but he should play nearly every day (perhaps sitting against lefties) while offering a quality slash line, which is valuable in larger leagues.

Often in deep leagues, owners seek out a player to help in one category and turn to everyday players who could collect a smattering of steals or a barrage of home runs but crater your rate stats -- Moran is the more forgotten side of that coin. Yet, his .751 OPS in 503 plate appearances is useful.

 

Conclusion

All of the top 30 or so third basemen are going to be drafted in deep leagues regardless of where their owner slots them into the lineup. That next tier is where some targets start to develop. There can be narrow discrepancies between very late players that are going 25, or even 100, spots apart in drafts.

Finding the proper sleepers in this scenario is as important as picks made far earlier because missing on these guys can be the difference between an everyday player and someone not even worth rostering at all.

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Late-Round Strikeout Sleepers for 2020

The strikeout is on the rise. Even more so than home runs, nothing has taken off in this age of baseball quite like the strikeout. It used to be that no one this century reached 300 Ks in a season. Now, five players have in the past five seasons alone, including two in 2019.

Averaging a strikeout per inning used to be a great number to reach for relievers and an unparalleled one for starters. Now, it's hardly usable for the former and quite within reach for the latter.

With this being the case, fantasy teams need a ton of strikeouts to compete in the category, but it isn't always worth paying up for the big names. There are some late-round sleepers and fliers who can be found who should provide nice strikeout numbers without breaking the bank.

 

Giovanny Gallegos - Cardinals (ADP 208)

Gallegos may not close all year for St. Louis. With the depth available in that bullpen and the potential return of Jordan Hicks, it would actually be a surprise if Gallegos did close for the entire season. Nevertheless, Gallegos is a big-time strikeout pitcher in whatever role he settles.

Last season, he struck out a third of all batters he faced, along with an otherworldly 5.8 K/BB rate. Both figures put him among the top 16 in all of baseball of anyone who threw at least 70 innings. His K/BB rate was the seventh-best among relievers. This performance came out of nowhere, but even in his 20 appearances with the Yankees in 2017-18, when he couldn't find a foothold in the bullpen, he still averaged more than a strikeout per inning.

Along with the Ks, Gallegos offers supreme rate stats and the potential for many saves. He compares favorably to the likes of Emilio Pagan and Seth Lugo but is in line to be his team's closer from day one.

Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks seem like no-brainers as top 30 pitchers. But why pay for Hendriks when a perfect facsimile will be available 100 spots later in Gallegos? It all makes for Gallegos being one of the best values among any relief pitcher this season, and especially so for those owners hunting strikeouts late in the draft.

 

Anthony DeSclafani - Reds (ADP 254)

Entering his sixth major league season, the Cincinnati hurler has never quite put it all together, which is why we find him at his current ADP. As he flies under the radar even of those scouring for post-hype sleepers, this ADP works to our advantage.

DeSclafani has become a high-floor producer in terms of rate stats and wins. He should give owners 7-10 wins (maybe more if the Reds become contenders), an ERA around 4.00, and 1.20 WHIP; nothing to write home about. But he also offers strikeouts, and in that department, he keeps getting better.

DeSclafani missed all of 2017 with a UCL sprain. In the other four seasons -- outside of his rookie showing with Miami -- his K% went from 19.2 to 20.7 to 22.3 before culminating last year at 24.0. DeSclafani was one of just 26 qualified starters to reach that threshold in '19, just edging out Zack Wheeler.

DeSclafani needs to pitch deeper into games to become a quality fantasy asset, but his strikeout numbers keep him in the discussion, even from outside the top 250. DeSclafani's batted ball profile aligns closely with Jose Berrios and Zack Greinke. His production reminds me of a lower volume Wheeler. Are these other guys really worth taking 125 spots or more before DeSclafani just because they offer more volume?

 

Red Sox relievers

Matt Barnes is not the Red Sox closer. Darwinzon Hernandez is someone most people have never heard of. Neither player is likely to be drafted in standard leagues and they are both being taken outside the top 500 players. And yet, if your league gobbles up all closers and potential closers with required RP slots, there are worse places to turn than Barnes and Hernandez.

Barnes is obviously the superior option as he has the track record and the trust of the team. As a pair, though, this duo struck out 167 batters in 94.2 innings in 2019. They both limit home runs and performed better than their outcomes according to FIP versus ERA. If they can each cut down on walks allowed, this could be a fearsome twosome ahead of Brandon Workman in the late innings. (Workman is currently being drafted among the top 60 pitchers, and rightly so considering his own elite K numbers and hold on the closer job.)

Interestingly, the closest comps in terms of batted-ball profile to Hernandez are indeed Barnes and Workman (along with fellow AL East bullpen maestro Aroldis Chapman). Baseball Savant struggled to find any great comp for Hernandez though, considering he allowed zero barrels the entire season. It will be fascinating to see what he can do in year two.

 

Conclusion

From Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander at the top to players outside the top 200, strikeouts will be plentiful this season. Every fantasy owner will find oodles of strikeouts on their roster almost by default. The best owners, though, will be able to seek out K production very late in drafts, allowing them to spend early picks elsewhere to round out a better roster overall.

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Auction Draft Pitching Targets Under $10

The strategy necessary to participate in an auction draft dwarfs that needed for a standard snake draft. While the difficulty level is ramped up, so too are the options and flexibility available to each owner.

If someone wants to break the bank for the top three players in baseball, go crazy. No matter someone's plan at the top, though, everyone is on the search for value late. It is those low-budget picks made in the later rounds that could wind up winning you a fantasy league in 2020.

Here are the pitchers to target that will cost fewer than $10 to acquire (according to NFBC ADP projections).

 

Triumphant Return

All of Carlos MartinezSean Manaea, and Lance McCullers Jr. are returning to a spot in a starting rotation after varying absences. They all offer tremendous upside and great value near the tail-end of auction drafts.

Martinez took a sabbatical in the bullpen for St. Louis. Prior to that, he had four consecutive seasons of starting (or mostly starting) where he never had an ERA+ worse than 116.

Manaea missed most of '19 after shoulder surgery. He was coming off his own 116-ERA+ season in 2018 and went on to allow just 25 base runners in his 29.2-inning return last year.

McCullers missed the entirety of 2019 after needing Tommy John surgery. In 80 career starts, he averages 10.1 strikeouts per nine and has a career 110 ERA+. If he had enough innings to qualify, that strikeout mark would be the eighth-best in the history of the sport, neck and neck with Gerrit Cole and Pedro Martinez.

 

Unlucky One

According to research put together by Ben Lindbergh, Mitch Keller in 2019 was arguably the unluckiest pitcher in the Statcast era of baseball. If you believe in positive regression and the underlying belief that Keller was much, much better than his traditional stats indicate, the $3 auction price tag is mere peanuts for one of the premiere young talents in baseball.

 

IL Slot Hold

James Paxton going for $8 (on average) is only happening in a season where he is set to start the year on IL. The dude is too good to be that cheap if owners expect six months out of him. Except, when do we ever get six months out of Paxton? He's never made 30 starts in a season. Never. He's never thrown more than 160.1 innings in a season either. His injury is a bummer, but at least one IL stint is always expected of him anyway. Ariel Cohen has already shown us how Paxton's value (and others) has increased based on adjusted projections. Think of it this way - we're just getting his annual injury out of the way and saving dollars in the auction in the process.

 

No Belief

At a cost of $7, people are clearly not believers in what Mike Minor just did a season ago. He set career-highs in wins, innings, and strikeouts. But this wasn't out of nowhere exactly. Minor has been a very good pitcher each of the last three seasons, since missing all of 2015 and 2016 after shoulder surgery and recovery. The production wasn't in the face of his batted-ball data either. Instead, it supported it. Minor was an upper-echelon pitcher in terms of the contact he allowed in '19. He was even better in a shortened '17 as he came back from the lengthy absence.

 

Track Record

What more do Masahiro Tanaka and Marcus Stroman have to do to be graced with standard-league ownership higher than $4 auction prices would seem to foreshadow? These guys aren't Cy Young contenders, but they are pitchers a fantasy player should feel comfortable putting in a lineup each time they take the mound. The lowish strikeout totals are buoyed by good inning eating and expected double-digit wins.

Tanaka's been good for a league-average or better performance pretty much since the day he joined the Major Leagues. He doesn't walk batters, pitches to contact, and yet allows barrels less often than the average pitcher. In fact, he's the active leader in fewest walks per nine given up. Stroman isn't as thrifty with his base runners, but he was stellar in '19. It may be risky pitching to contact, but it helps when you give up ground balls 60.4 percent of the time for your career and ranked in the 94th percentile of barrels allowed this past season. As much as any pitcher can, Stroman knows how to allow the contact he wants.

 

Potential Closers

Paying up for closers is never worth it. The turnover at the position is too high. Even the best closers can perform poorly or lose the job outright. Last year, 37 pitchers recorded double-digit saves. The year before, it was 43 pitchers. In 2017, 40 men did so. Also worth pointing out, in the past three years, only seven guys topped 40 saves, and just one - 2018 Edwin Diaz - broke the 50-save plateau. We saw how last year played out for Diaz.

As the role of bullpens expands, the dispersion of saves grows. Fewer guys record the bulk of saves, and more guys in total collect them. That's a long way of saying that there will be a number of players drafted for a few bucks who collect useful save totals. Even more important, there will be players that go undrafted who end up saving a lot of games.

 

Conclusion

As with any set of projections, especially for an auction draft, there is no guarantee that these specific players will go for fewer than $10 in your real-life draft. Who knows if another owner loves 2020 Sean Manaea and is willing to pay through the nose to grab him. If that's the case, move on. Players at this level are not worth a bidding war. Their value is tied up entirely in their low price to acquire. The worst thing an owner can do prior to a draft is set a player or group of players that they can't live without.

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Breakout Infielders Who Will Keep Improving in 2020

Fantasy owners are always searching for a leg up on the competition. They are trying to find the down player who is due to bounce back or the breakout to avoid, who is due to regress. But the opposite is equally as valuable.

Finding 2019 breakouts who will continue to improve brings an unexpected aspect to drafts. Other owners may be avoiding these guys by default; the easy-access ownership strategy to avoid looking like the chump. We know better.

Here are 2019 breakout infielders who are not due for that regression and should be drafted as the improved players they now are.

 

Rafael Devers (3B, BOS)

Last year, the young cornerman set career highs pretty much across the board. He has slowly ramped up his playing time in each of his first three years, which can often lead to a softening of rate stats. As a player sees more action, his highs don't become quite as high. That wasn't the case with Devers; much the opposite. As he's seen the field more, he has produced better, including a league-leading 54 doubles and 359 total bases a season ago.

At only 23 years old, the year-over-year improvement makes sense, and there is no sign that things should revert back to a lesser form in 2020. Devers' '19 output was not fluky in the least. His .311/.361/.555 slash line looks ridiculous until you realize he had an expected batting average in the 93rd percentile in the league, an xSLG in the 85th percentile, and was one of the hardest hitters in the sport. Only five percent of the players in baseball hit the ball harder than his 92.1 average exit velocity.

Devers isn't changing the way he functions though. His barrel percentage and launch angle were in line with his previous season. He is simply striking out less and getting better at the contact he makes, hitting the ball harder with every swing.

 

Ketel Marte (2B/OF, ARI)

Marte's fifth season in the majors was a coming-out party. Thirty-two of his fifty-four career home runs were hit during 2019. His previous career-best slugging percentage was .437 before last year's monstrous .592. Everything about the out-of-nowhere improvement screams fluke, except the underlying numbers.

The reason Marte was so much better in '19 is that he made clear changes and improvements to his game. This outcome was no coincidence. His launch angle more than doubled from 2018 to '19. He barreled up more than twice as many balls as well. His ground-ball rate plummeted, and his fly ball and line-drive rates rose. There wasn't much difference in his walk or strikeout rates. Marte was just making better contact than he had in the past.

This was reflected in his elite xBA (94th percentile) and xwOBA (88th percentile). It would be hard to believe that the old Marte could be a serious hitter like this. Good thing this is no longer the old Marte.

 

Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW)

Yoan Moncada breakout in 2019 was not a surprise. With elite pedigree, it felt like it was only a matter of time before he put a full season together. Moncada was the top prospect in baseball and turned in a season where he hit 41 percent better than average (according to OPS+), all within four years. Though it isn't as prompt of a return as we've seen from some other top prospects, Moncada is following a perfectly natural career arc. And don't expect a slowdown now that he's putting everything together at the plate.

Moncada's batting profile is elite in nearly every category. As you see, he stood out last year in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, ranking in the 97th percentile in the former and 92nd percentile in the latter.

In other words, there are few players in all of baseball who hit the ball hard more often or hit the ball harder in general. Hard contact doesn't guarantee hits, but it's surely preferable to the alternative. Moncada doubled up the league average in barrel percentage. Add in his premiere sprint speed, and it's no wonder he has a career .369 BABIP. All this superb contact could have been dragged down by a still high strikeout rate, but it wasn't. In fact, Moncada set a career-best K-rate in '19, and if that trend continues, he could be even better than his .315/.367/.548 this season.

 

Yandy Diaz (3B, TB)

Many baseball folks were surprised at the season put together by Yandy Diaz in '19. He showed elite power, with a 91.7 average exit velocity, and an all-around great batted-ball profile. He was in the top quarter of the sport in xBA, hard-hit percentage, and xwOBA. I'm not sure if Diaz even belongs on this list though. Last year wasn't really a breakout; it was more of the same from him. He simply was given the most playing time of his career, which put him on the fantasy radar like never before.

The year prior, when Diaz garnered all of 120 at-bats, he racked up a 92.1 average exit velocity, with an even higher xBA, and nearly identical ratios across the rest of his batted-ball profile. In 2017, it was much the same story. He only saw 156 AB, but had a 91.5 exit velo, and the best HH% of his career. This past season finally saw him become a valuable, everyday player, but it wasn't because he changed his approach. Diaz was given more time to prove his worth before succumbing to injury.

Because of the way Tampa Bay operates, 500 ABs worth of playing time will be no guarantee in 2020 for poor Diaz. The dude continues to do nothing but rake. He was worth rostering in standard leagues last year before going down in July. He will be even better this season if allowed to run with the everyday job at third base.

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Corey Seager (SS, LAD) - Fantasy Baseball Draft Sleeper

BALLER MOVE: Draft target ~120-130

CURRENT ADP: ~149 overall

ANALYSISCorey Seager has entered his full, post-hype faze. Seager used to be the belle of the ball as the young SS primed to take off. He lost most of 2018 due to injury, and his 2019 suffered because of it. With few remaining believers, Seager's ADP is right inside the top 150, the 18th SS off the board.

Before the lost 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, Seager was elite in 2017 and 2016. '17 Seager had one of the best batted-ball profiles in the game: 87th percentile in exit velocity, 91st percentile in hard-hit percentage, 91st percentile in xwOBA, and 95th percentile in expected batting average. That followed up a '16 much the same: 87th exit velocity, 86th hard-hit, 92nd xwOBA, and 97th percentile in xBA.

Sure, 2019 Seager was not a premiere fantasy player, but 2020 Seager very well could be. Last season, Seager saw his batted-ball profile suffer, but some other data suggests a bounce back. His plate discipline trumped what he did in those two elite seasons. His zone contact percentage was higher than in '17, and his whiff rate lower. His chase rate was lower than it was in '16. And Seager saw lower groundball rates and weak-percentage contact than in either of those previous seasons.

Seager has a reputation as a man who can't stay in the lineup even though he's played in more than 130 games in three of his four big-league seasons. He is healthy heading into 2020, and a vital part of a monstrous Dodgers' lineup. With shortstops like Elvis Andrus and Amed Rosario currently being drafted before him, Seager is a fantastic draft value at his current ADP.


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Auction Draft Dollar Day Targets

There are multiple strategies available to drafters in auctions. It is one of the reasons auctions are so much more interesting and fun than snake drafts. They award owners the ability to maneuver their roster the way they see fit. One of the most popular strategies is a stars-and-scrubs alignment, meaning owners pay up for stars and try to fill in the back end of their roster with "scrubs."

Scrubs is too harsh a term though. What we are really looking for are $1, high-upside players. These aren't always unknown rookies. Sometimes it is a veteran with a clear shot at playing time. Sometimes it is a post-hype sleeper. In this space, I'll recommend the best auction-draft dollar targets.

($1 auction draft values are projections of NFBC ADP. Roughly speaking, the top 300 players cost more than $1 according to NFBC. This alignment doesn't fit for all leagues, as smaller leagues will see many more players end up going for $1. It is a good baseline to use though.)

 

Dollar Day Targets

Rich Hill (SP, MIN) - When's the last time Rich Hill did not put up great numbers? The only concern surrounding him has always been health. Well, this year, he gets his missed time out of the way early! Hill is expected to miss the first two months of the season as he recovers from elbow surgery. If your league has IL slots, happily draft Hill for $1, and come summer, slot him into your rotation with gusto.

Rick Porcello (SP, NYM) and Jon Lester (SP, CHC) - The accumulators. Neither guy is putting up premiere numbers any longer, but accumulating stats is something valuable in fantasy, particularly for a mere $1 expense. Porcello is expected to be the New York Mets' fifth starter; Lester is slotted in as Chicago's fourth. Porcello has thrown at least 160 innings in all 11 seasons of his career. He hasn't dipped below 170 since he was a spry 21-year-old. Along with that has come at least nine wins in all 11 seasons (including a league-leading 22 in 2016).

Lester, meanwhile, does Porcello one better. He's thrown at least 170 innings in 12 straight years and reached at least nine wins all 12 times. Neither player is going to offer great peripherals or elite strikeout numbers these days, but for $1, it is hard to go wrong with the counting stats.

Justin Smoak (1B, MIL) and Eric Thames (1B, WAS) - Both bashers find themselves on the preferable side of a timeshare (likely facing the more common right-handed pitchers) with injury-prone teammates as their cohort. That alone isn't enough to guarantee 400 at-bats, but 400 AB should guarantee 25 home runs apiece with a good OPS.

Dellin Betances (RP, NYM) - There are few relief pitchers who offer value without closing. It's so rare that one who should, like Betances, is still only going for $1 in drafts. He is not going to close anytime soon for the Mets, but Betances offers top-line rate stats and elite strikeout numbers. There does remain a concern that he won't be ready for Opening Day. That is something to monitor as we get closer to draft day.

Daniel Hudson (RP, WAS)Yoshihisa Hirano (RP, SEA), and Matt Magill (RP, SEA) - Rolling the dice on potential $1 closers is a fun game for players of all ages. Hudson could split duties with Sean Doolittle, in which case half a closer is certainly worth $1.

Hirano and Magill are teammates on Seattle. One likely seizes the closer job; it could pay off to grab both and drop the loser by April.

Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ (SP, NYY) - These two Yankee arms may not stay priced at $1 too long into the spring. With Luis Severino out for the year and James Paxton sidelined, both should be in line for rotation spots right from the jump. Although 2019 didn't work out for either player (injury for Montgomery; ineffectiveness for Happ), being a starter for one of the best offenses and bullpens in baseball has its perks.

Zach Eflin (SP, PHI) and Alex Wood (SP, LAD) - High upside starting pitchers normally cost more than $1. With three straight years of huge jumps in innings pitched and corresponding jumps in ERA+, Eflin keeps getting better as his usage increases. Wood is two years removed from being one of the best pitchers in the league. It will be worth every penny of that $1 in the assumption that each secures a rotation spot on their respective teams.

 

$1+ Targets

A quick run-through is necessary for valuable sometimes-$1 players. These players' values are a bit higher than the group we've already highlighted, but we are seeing them go for just $1 in a number of leagues. These are the possible $1 targets... depending on where you look.

Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, COL) - Money in the bank for premiere rate stats until he gets hurt. Then move on.

Giovanny Urshela (3B, NYY) - He is going to play every day for the Yankees, especially now with Miguel Andujar moving to the outfield to fill the void for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Even if some regression is possible, his batted-ball profile indicates 2019 was no fluke.

Ian Happ (OF, CHC) - This has to be the year he finally has an everyday spot in the Chicago lineup. Either 2B or CF would seem to be his for the taking.

Shin-Soo Choo (OF, TEX) - Not flashy but has gotten the job done for a decade-plus. He even offers steals with no category weakness other than a low RBI total.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, useful but cheap pitching is easier to find than hitters at the same price. We have to take the smallest of steps up to find more interesting hitters to target. As the season gets closer and closer, this could shift. Starting rotations and closer gigs get ironed out, meaning those who gain prized jobs could see bumps in their pricing.

It's not just about who you draft and where you draft them. It also matters when you draft! As long as these guys stay at $1, you can't go wrong with filling out a fantasy roster with them.

More 2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice