It’s the offseason and there are about to be a bunch of moving parts. This allows for speculation in terms of players gaining or losing playing time, moving up or down a batting order and much more. The idea here is to highlight some lineup situations for each team and some potential winners or losers from said situations.
We will highlight players who could see a change in their given lineup position entering 2021 and the fantasy outlook. We will also discuss notable trends on batting orders that teams put out to finish the year and into the playoffs to try and gather an early idea of what to expect entering 2021. Lastly, there will be mention of players returning from injury and those that are entering free agency.
Again, much will change. As players retire, sign, get traded, get injured or news breaks these notes will be updated. This is just a very early look to give drafters an advantage if things hold true. This is solely focusing on the lineups and offensive side of the ball. This is going to be a six-part series; we will start with the teams from the American League West.
Both Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien are entering free agency leaving a hole to be filled atop the lineup. These two were often hitting first and second in the lineup. 16 of the final 21 games these two hit first and second in the order. The only players to sneak in during the five games were Laureano for three games at the leadoff spot, Grossman four times in the 2-holes
If they don’t re-sign either and look to utilize options within, the obvious options to move up are Matt Chapman and Ramon Laureano.
Chapman was routinely hitting third or fourth but did get the occasional game batting second. Depending who gets brought in could determine where he lands in the batting order.
Worth noting is that Robbie Grossman did bat second in five of the final 11 games of 2020. This was with Chapman out of course. But he too could be on his way out as a free agent.
Ramon Laureano fell out of favor and was batting towards the bottom of the lineup batting 6-8 in 14 of the final 16 games of the 2020 regular season. This trend continued into the playoffs. However, prior to the La Stella trade, he would consistently bat second for the most part. In the first 30 games, he hit second 25 times and in four of the games he didn't, he was out of the lineup. With La Stella and Semien out of the picture, he should find his way back up there. This is assuming they do not re-sign them or make other acquisitions.
Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent entering his age-38 season. He could call it quits.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit top-three (typically third) in each of the final 27 games of the season. I don’t see this changing. Solid contact skills that lead to a 14% strikeout rate and a .280 batting average. The fantasy value takes a hit as he loses catcher eligibility BUT he does offer a plus speed tool, stole eight bases in 2020 and is on a team that ranked 5th on stolen bases overall. He also offers 3B and SS eligibility so you pair that with potentially hitting top 3, it could lead to good value in deeper mixed leagues and AL-Only.
Leody Taveras got the opportunity to get some run in 2020. Upon getting called up, he led off instantly. Even prior to Choo landing on the IL. He then went on to lead off in 26 of the remaining 33 games played in 2021. This included a stretch of leading off 23 straight. Of the 7 games he didn’t lead off, he hit ninth three times and then batted eighth, seventh and second one time each while only sitting once.
Taveras could start in the minors in 2021. Why the concern about that? Well, he only hit .227/.308/.395 and struck out 32.1% of the time in his short stint in 2020. Also, prior to 2020, he only played 65 games above High-A. Also, the return of Danny Santana and service time could also play a part. This is a situation to monitor.
Danny Santana returning will be in the mix for a spot at the top of the lineup. When he wasn’t injured he often found himself hitting second or third. You will likely see him get a chance to stick around there but at least in the top-five. Nick Solak and Willie Calhoun being the main competition for those spots in the order. All should remain in the top-five with Gallo likely slotting into the middle of it all.
In the final 11 games of the season, Solak did hit second four times and third twice and fifth three times. He should be a sure thing for a top 5 lineup spot.
Calhoun never really came around after getting hit in the face in spring training. He did, however, hit second in seven of the final 13 games of the season. Calhoun and Solak would seemingly swap lineup spots depending if they were facing LHP or a RHP. Calhoun would get the higher spot vs RHP.
Andrus fell out of favor early on and never really got back to the top of the lineup after that. Not sure if he will get a shot or not. He fell to the seventh/eightth spot relatively quickly last year and could return there in 2021. A hot spring training could change that of course.
Why is Jeff Mathis a “key free agent?" That’s because Sam Huff seems to be in line (as of now) to be the starting catcher entering 2021. That still is hard to buy for similar reasons as Taveras though. At just 22 years old, prior to 2020 he never played above High-A. It is hard to believe that he enters 2021 as the starting catcher but a mid-season call-up seems realistic at the very least. There is big time power potential here but could drag the batting average through the mud and the strikeouts are a concern. In terms of player comp on the offensive side, Gary Sanchez comes to mind.
This is more interesting in terms of seeing how the lineup will shake out with the youth. You have Jo Adell coming into 2021 after a rough 2020. Do we see him start off in MiLB? Didn’t flash much in Triple-A in 2019 either so he might get a start down there.
This will depend on Jared Walsh who hit second in each of the final 15 games of 2020. This should be his spot to lose.
Upton went from a platoon bat to hitting every day. Not sure if he will return to hitting daily. But he would typically bat sixth and if they don’t sign anyone or find him a platoon partner, he could offer sneaky RBI upside late in drafts batting sixth in this lineup.
It seems Franklin Barreto and Luis Rengifo will be fighting it out for the 2B spot. Although Jahmai Jones finished the season there. Having already logged 178 total games at Double-A, he could be in the mix as well. Whoever wins the spot likely bats at the bottom of the lineup.
J.P. Crawford should get the chance to hold onto the leadoff spot in 2021. He led off all but 12 games last year and there is no reason to think he cannot continue to lead off. Although he only posted a .336 OBP and .303 wOBA, he might need to continue to show some growth to sustain the top spot. Especially with Dylan Moore returning from injury.
Of the 12 games that Crawford did not lead off, Moore led off in five of them. However, he routinely hit in the 2-hole behind Crawford.
Moore had himself a mini-breakout and assuming he is healthy, he should get an early run in the top of the order again. Let’s just hope the strikeouts continue to come down. After never striking out more than 20% at any minor league level, he has now struck out 33% and 27% in his first two MLB seasons and it could continue to improve. He only has 151 games under his belt at the MLB level after all.
When healthy, Haniger would routinely hit second in the order. This could actually take place again. I would guess Crawford would get moved down between the two but it is worth monitoring as someone will be affected by this.
Shed Long Jr. had a down year. He started off the season leading off then quickly fell out of favor and into the bottom half of the order where he eventually settled down there. Injuries likely played a part in his struggles and a hot spring could give him a chance to earn his way back up. But until we see the Mariners willing to give him said chance, you cannot assume that is going to be the case.
Ty France came to the Mariners via trade and over the final 20 games, he never hit below fifth. After being traded to Seattle, France put up a .302/.362/.453 triple slash with a .354 wOBA and a 129 wRC+. The Mariners will likely want to see if they can continue to get that out of France and he will be given a chance early on to prove he belongs in the middle of the order.
My concern: With Tom Murphy and Mitch Haniger back from injury, France might find himself fighting for a spot in the middle of the order with these other two. I would assume Murphy falls of these three if I had to guess. I could also see Crawford being pushed down as well allowing France to stay put in the 5-hole.
Evan White did not perform as anticipated this year but I buy into the skillset and believe he will bounce back. Just know, he will need to earn his way up given the players who have had breakouts or outperformed him in 2020. He will play every day at first base due to defense alone but the bat will play. We haven’t seen the best of White, but be mindful that a spot batting in the bottom third of the lineup seems likely at this point.
George Springer and Michael Brantley leaving really leave a couple of holes in the lineup. We saw Springer and Brantley consistently hit first and third in the lineup in 2020. Springer has led off as long as I can remember for this team in general.
When Springer was out of the lineup this season, we saw a mix of Altuve, Tucker, and Straw get a chance to lead off. I would bet on Altuve getting the first shot as he usually hits second as it is. We saw Altuve finish the year batting second in each of the final 13 games and again in the playoffs. Altuve did struggle in the regular season but we saw him return to form in the postseason posting five home runs and a .375/.500/.729 triple slash and a .508 wOBA. Obviously, it was a small sample, but so was the 60-game season as a whole and to think Altuve is as bad as he was during it is a mistake. He should find himself at the top of the lineup in 2021.
Yordan Alvarez is recovering from his knee surgery and should be back and slot into the middle of the order so that would help fill the gap Brantley leaves.
Yordan Alvarez’s recovery from knee surgery seems to be progressing. He posted this on his Instagram story. pic.twitter.com/FIy0EMEGdK
Carlos Correa often found himself in the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup but in the ALCS he was bumped up to the cleanup spot. That could speak to their confidence in him and he could find himself getting the chance to prove himself in the middle of the order in 2021.
Alex Bregman is another player who struggled for the Astros this season. Many of the Astros hitters struggled. We saw him fall from third in the lineup during the regular season to fifth in the lineup during the playoffs. He should remain in this range and if they do not re-sign Springer or Brantley, we could see Correa and Bregman being the players to move up a bit.
Kyle Tucker hit fifth in 25 of the final 31 games in the regular season and we should finally get a full season of Kyle Tucker and he should hit fifth or sixth. He did hit sixth in the postseason and with Alvarez coming back and the other pieces to the puzzle we discussed, fifth or sixth in the batting order is likely.
Dusty Baker seems to like Aledmys Diaz and gives him playing time when he is healthy. We saw him bat eighth and play LF or DH in the playoffs. But it was on the weak side of a platoon with Reddick on the strong side. With Reddick out of the picture, we could see Straw take over the strong side of the platoon.
Myles Straw has a career .281 batting average and .366 OBP vs RHP while struggling mightily vs LHP in his small sample in the majors. Could lead to the platoon early on and more chances vs LHP as he earns them. Straw consistently posted double-digit walk rates with sub 20% strikeout rates and he did so in 2019 as well in his cup of coffee at the big league level. His skill set lends itself well to leading off as a speed-first player with solid on-base skills.
Yuli Gurriel is what he is at this point. He was batting seventh in the playoffs and was batting sixth in nine of the final 13 games of the regular season and then down to seventh in the playoffs. He struggled this year but not much changed in the profile to suggest he can’t hit for a solid average (as usual) in 2021. The only notable change was the pull rate. It was down 10.4% and he went more to an all-fields approach in the process so the fact that he had a career-worst BABIP of just .235 is surprising. But it is something one would expect to correct itself next year given the track record. However, Gurriel is entering his age-37 season with his best days are surely behind him and other players around him entering their prime or outperforming him, he seems likely to fall into the bottom third of the lineup and will need to hit his way up.
Win Big With RotoBaller
Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
I am extremely fortunate to be able to write an article entitled, “How I Won Tout Wars.”
It is truly a humbling experience, and I am both excited and proud to pen today’s words.
Including all of the draft preparation that I describe in my aforementioned articles, here a few of the reasons that (I think) I won in 2020.
Before I had ever written a single baseball article, and before the ATC projections were released – I followed and greatly respected Tout Wars. Formed in 1998, Tout Wars features the best and brightest experts in the fantasy baseball industry competing against each other. I learned about the league while attending Baseball HQ’s First Pitch regional forums, hosted by Ron Shandler. I had attended one of their conferences each and every year since 2011.
Below is a photograph of the title page of the very first Baseball Forecaster book that I had purchased, which Ron Shandler autographed for me.
Earlier this year I was honored when Baseball HQ asked me to present at their First Pitch Florida conference. Ron was among the attendees for my 45-minute talk on advanced auction strategies.
I became even more interested in Tout Wars after reading Sam Walker’s book, Fantasyland which portrays his 2004 AL Only Tout Wars league experience. I also watched the subsequent video documentary, Fantasyland, which follows amateur player Jed Latkin’s 2008 fantasy experience. Latkin earned a one-time chance to compete in Tout Wars for the movie.
I had not come into the fantasy industry until recently. I never thought for a moment that I would ever get to compete in Tout Wars, much less win a contest. I was content just playing in my own home leagues, and participating in NFBC tournaments.
Then, one day in January of 2019, I received a message from Jeff Erickson inviting me to compete with the other Touts. My jaw dropped to the floor that minute, and it stayed there for quite some time. I played in the inaugural season of the Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, winning 2nd place honors. This year, I was invited to compete in the live Head to Head auction league.
This was an opportunity that I could not waste. I fully prepared for the affair. I heavily documented the steps that I took prior to the March 15 auction, and wrote the following two full articles:
If you have not done so yet, I urge you to read the above articles. They are not of the typical draft recap style. Rather, I embarked on a journey depicting my heavy preparation for the event – to help the reader learn how to tackle the game. Some of the topics include:
I am the author of the ATC projections, which can be found on FanGraphs. The ATC projections are a smart aggregation of other projections. ATC does not do well by producing an outsized projection for any single player, rather, its strength lies in the law of large numbers. It gets projections more right than wrong – and it does so better than anyone else.
I have found that in the NFBC leagues that I play in (high stakes leagues), more and more players are using (or at the very least looking at) the ATC projections prior to their drafts. In all of my home leagues, I know that many of my friends examine them.
But in leagues such as Tout Wars – each expert has his or her own set of projections, a plan, and their unique methodology. I cannot be certain, but I would venture to say that my competitors likely did not pay that much attention to ATC.
What surprised me most of all, is that ATC worked well in the short 60 game season. I knew that using ATC is highly accretive for the 162-game affair, but with more variability in only 60 games – ATC was further tested. It passed the test.
It is important for one to perform individual player analysis in preparation for a league. Knowing the draftable player set well is essential to success.
However, I believe it is more important to understand your league’s format, and to properlyvaluate what a player is worth. You could have the best underlying projections at hand, but if you do not understand which categories and positions are the most and least valuable, you will not win the league.
As described in my pre-season recap article, the Head-to-Head Points format was not one that I was overly familiar with. To make matters worse, I was the newcomer to the league this year – which gave me a disadvantage from the get-go.
When applying the math – I realized that stolen bases were not valuable in this format. Quality starts, and pitchers who threw deep into games were immensely valuable. Starting pitchers with RP eligibility were given a huge replacement level bump, etc. Even if I had not used the ATC projections, the math of converting stats into points and then into auction values was where I believe that I gained a distinct advantage.
At the conclusion of the league’s auction, I calculated the following projected season point totals for each tout [starting players only]:
I projected that I had an 11% advantage over the league’s average position, edging Ian Kahn out by about 200 points. To compare, below are the final league standings.
Note that the original projected points were based on a 162-game season, and a standard play 1 opponent each week format. Final standings were for the 60-game short season, and a special play-all format.
Indeed, my projections and valuation were largely accurate. The touts with the 5 highest projected point totals ended up finishing in the top five.
In great detail, I portrayed the scouting that I undertook in preparation for Tout Wars in Part II of my auction recap . I surveyed prior league draft results for each tout. I looked into each player’s likely targets. I even personally attended five hours’ worth of a different live 2020 auction of one of the touts – just to get any edge and information that I could.
As I have described many times in the past, your own valuation of players is not enough to win a league. Determining that Player A is worth $9, is not enough information on its own. In the quest to assemble the most value in the aggregate, subject to the $260 auction budget - one needs to ascertain if there is a market for Player A. Are others willing to spend $12? Will they spend just $6?
Consider the following simple example:
Which player would you rather target during an auction?
Sure, Player Y will provide more value to your team than Player X ($14 to $12). However, I would rather be on the lookout to acquire Player X. The potential profit that one can derive from Player X exceeds that of Player Y by an estimated $3.
The task for the fantasy owner is to assemble the most value on your roster for the least amount of fantasy draft capital. Without having a good sense of what the market would pay for a player, you may not be able to maximize your roster’s value despite having excellent valuations. For instance, if you did not have an awareness that Player X’s market value was low – you may pay the $12 for Player Y, thinking that you would earn a $2 draft profit for the shortstop position. You might be leaving an additional $3 of profit on the table … and worse … one of your opponents will profit instead.
Draft Strategy & Tactics
Many people often confuse the difference between strategies and tactics. They are in fact two distinct elements of playing a game.
Strategies are the pre-planned moves that you execute. Strategy comes to fruition when the game (any game) is merely a blank canvas; it emerges during the part of the action when you have the most freedom to operate. Perhaps, you come to the draft deciding that you will target two high priced first basemen. Perhaps you plan to nominate high priced closers early on, etc.
A tactic is implemented in response to the way that a game unfolds. Tactics are needed where the action is the greatest. One draws upon his or her knowledge of the game on just how to react. In poker, a bluff is a tactic carried out in order to induce an opponent to fold his or her cards. One does not come into a poker room planning to buff a particular hand. Rather, one looks at their cards, reads the faces around the table, and in response - decides to aggressively bet on a weaker hand.
For Tout Wars, I prepared a detailed strategy. I estimated the likely pockets of players who would be available at bargain prices. For hitters, the ranges were clearer. For starting pitchers, I developed two plans of attack. The first, was a hotspot of 1A type pitchers. I planned to use my auction nominations early on largely to determine which pockets of players that I would play in.
I responded well in the midst of the auction to the hands that I was dealt. I ended up defaulting to my alternate plan, which included pouncing on mid-level pitchers such as Max Fried, German Marquez and Eduardo Rodriguez. As an additional example, I did not intend to purchase Alex Bregman, but I took advantage of the opportunity of a depressed cost.
I also employed more subtle in-game tactics such as bidding up Alex Chamberlain on players that I knew he would try to outbid the room. Successfully siphoning an extra $3-4 from an opponent’s auction budget is often just as important to the auction’s endgame - as saving cash on players that you yourself purchase. Every little bit counts.
Deciding on just how much to bid on mid-season FAAB is an important tactic to master. For Tout Wars - I periodically studied the player needs of other teams, and looked at their personal FAAB bidding history. I even got a hold of last year's Tout Wars HTH FAAB bidding by week to help me make informed decisions on just how much to bid. I made sure that my FAAB bids were somewhat random, so that no one else could track what I was doing.
Each of these tactics contributed to my overall success.
Adapting to the League
Consider the following exaggerated scenarios in a rotisserie format:
All other teams each spend a total of $240 on hitting, and only $20 on pitching.
All other teams do not draft a single closer. They all draft 9 starting pitchers.
All other teams spend only $1-2 on every catcher that they purchase.
None of the three above scenarios are strategies that I would employ at the outset of a league draft. I wouldn’t go into an auction with an intended 92%/8% hitter/pitcher split of auction funds. I wouldn’t punt saves from the get-go. I wouldn’t only want to spend $2 on JT Realmuto or Yasmani Grandal, etc.
Those three strategies seem quite strange to the naked eye, because … they are. I did say that they were exaggerated.
If all of your opponents spend $240 on hitting, then if you only spend only $180 on hitting – you will likely finish dead last in almost all five offensive categories. Yes, you may finish with the most pitching points – but that still will leave you with an average overall score when combined with the hitting.
If all of your opponents do not draft closers, spending the usual ~$25 worth of funds will render your pitching spend as highly inefficient. You will also have a hard time winning the other pitching counting stat categories.
If all of your opponents barely pay for catchers, buying JT Realmuto at $15 is an overspend. You could have purchased for the next best catcher at a fraction of the cost. Realmuto isn’t 5 times better than the next backstop.
The point here is that playing the game without context can lead to an inefficient use of fantasy capital. Operating in a vacuum literally sucks value out of your roster. You need to be aware of the league norms, and adapt your strategies accordingly. The norms won’t be as ridiculous in the above examples, but adjusting to them will make a profound difference.
This rule does not only apply for the league draft; the in-season adaptation is also essential. If waiver wire pitchers are cheaply acquired in the league, there is no need to spend heavy there. If hitters are constantly churned each week, why not think more short-term? And so on ...
In Tout Wars, despite the fact that I was green to the league in 2020, I felt that I was able to quickly adapt to the league. For adjusting mid-auction - I had a lot of prior experience in doing so (even for new leagues). For me - the harder part was adapting to the week-to-week play.
How did I adjust quickly? I looked at what last year’s winner, Ian Kahn and runner-up Clay Link did for their teams. I looked at how they set their lineups, at the types (and quantities) of players they purchased each week, and what they had paid for them. I recognized the types of trades that were profitable in the format. I observed just how patient they were with underperforming players, etc.
In case a fellow league mate (or US General) reads this, I don’t want to give away all of the specific tidbits of information that I had acquired - but I do want to convey to you the importance of learning. Observing the two touts allowed me to catch up as fast as I could with the right strategy for this league’s dynamic. Just “doing your usual thing” is not how you win leagues. One needs to use his or her own bag of magic tricks, but must figure out what works for your particular audience. Each league is different, and one needs to adapt quickly.
Play the Matchups
Down the stretch of the season, as it became clear that I was going to contend for the league title, I shifted my focus on free agent pickups from long term to short term. I could no longer sift through the waiver wire for rest-of-season targets; I needed to put up as many points as I could each and every week. Playing from behind, I took each week as a single must-win contest.
As such, I spent a lot of time looking at matchups. For both hitters and pitchers, I looked at who they would face in the coming week, the ballparks they would play in – and most importantly, at the playoff status for their real-life teams. Some teams needed to fight towards the end, and some had already clinched their postseason berth. This made a large difference in both my free-agent acquisition targets, as well as how I set my team’s active lineup.
But not only did I look at the coming week’s schedule – I also looked ahead a week further into the future. I sometimes purchased “future two-start” pitchers (as I typically call them) a week in advance. Purchasing these types of pitchers allowed me to spend far fewer resources on them, as most teams were not looking to acquire them a week early. Had I waited the week to roster the future two-start pitchers, I would have to pay ten times the auction price [or more] to do so! That would not be an efficient use of fantasy capital. Sometimes, a player riding on your bench for a week can lead to a more optimal use of funds.
I could not have won Tout Wars without an element of luck. This is the truest statement that I have made thus far.
I got lucky.
I won’t say that I was extremely lucky; I believe that all of the elements described above played a large role in my winning. However, the difference between my 1st place finish and what could have been a 5th place finish required the fates to be on my side. Had a few pitchers pulled a muscle in the last week, I would not be writing this article. Had Andrea LaMont made one or two different decisions during the course of the season, she might be writing this article in my stead.
Of course, not everything broke right for me during the season either. I too had my fair share of injuries and poor play. I traded away Randal Grichuk to Ryan Hallam in the middle of the season, which proved to be a bad decision on my part. Eduardo Rodriguez never played a game in 2020, yet I had spent $10 on him in the auction.
The margin of error in a league full of experts is razor-thin. I was blessed in 2020 that I had just enough luck to go along with my gameplay. The combination of both earned me my very first experts league title.
I could have spent time today talking about the specific players who provided me the most and least value for my Tout Wars team this season. Sure, Marcell Ozuna was a fantastic $16 selection, who earned $31 of value in the format. But simply discussing players will not provide much help to you in the future. It won’t help me for 2021 either.
You see, it is not about the results – it is about the process.
Hopefully, I have given you some insight into my successful season in Tout Wars, and at the same time provided you with a few strategies and tactics for your fantasy leagues next year. I am surely hoping that the 2021 season will go on without interruption, and I hope to be writing this article again at its conclusion.
Win Big With RotoBaller
Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
Managing fantasy starting pitchers will be especially tough this season. With just three weeks of summer camp, some pitchers will be better prepared for the start of the season than others.
Identifying the deepest MLB pitching staffs that can serve as valuable waiver wire resources will be one of the keys to your successful fantasy baseball season.
The Oakland A’s starting rotation has been one of the most underrated in baseball over the past two seasons. Oakland Coliseum’s pitcher-friendly environment is a contributing factor to their success. In 2018, Oakland Coliseum had the third-lowest average number of runs scored per game. That average rose to fourth-fewest in '19.
In 2018, A’s starting pitchers were slightly better than the league average in two key pitching categories:
2018 starting pitchers
A’s starting pitchers
Major League starting pitchers
In 2019’s hitter-friendly environment, A’s starting pitchers also outperformed the rest of the baseball’s starting pitchers, and by an even wider margin than in 2018:
2019 starting pitchers
A’s starting pitchers
Major League starting pitchers
Glance at Oakland’s starting rotation
Frankie Montas, who had a 9-2 won/loss record, a 2.63 ERA and a 1.115 WHIP before receiving an 80-game PED related suspension last June, will be the A’s Opening Day starter. In addition to a blazing fastball, Montas’ next best pitch is his slider which has been virtually unhittable (.191 career BAA). He registered the highest chase rate of his career last season (31.3), powered by whiff percentages of 34.1% and 15.4% on his slider and splitter, respectively. Montas only added the aforementioned splitter to his arsenal last season, and with a .160 BAA, it was instrumental in his brief breakout 2019 season.
(Montas may miss a week of the season due to the impending birth of his child.)
Rotoballer recommendation: Add. Montas has the potential to be one of the top fantasy baseball starters this season. He may end up being worth the high price you’d need to spend for him in a trade.
Mike Fiersis a workhorse who’s ready to take the ball when called upon. He’s averaged just over 30 starts over the past five seasons. In 356.2 innings pitched over the past two seasons with the Tigers and A’s, he’s won 27 games and compiled a 3.73 ERA and 1.183 WHIP. With two career no-hitters under his belt, it's safe to say that when he’s on, he’s on.
His curveball is especially effective, as opposing hitters have a lifetime BAA it of just .190, a note especially valuable for DFS players. For his career, Fiers has gone 9-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.017 WHIP when pitching at Oakland Coliseum.
Rotoballer recommendation: Add. Last season’s FIP, xFIP and SIERA suggest fantasy players should avoid rostering Fiers, but his reliability (especially in his home starts) may be just what your fantasy team needs in this unpredictable season. He’ll come cheap in trades.
A.J. Pukwill begin the season on the injured list due to a shoulder strain, the same injury that he suffered in March. He has received a cortisone shot and is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season. Prior to suffering this latest setback Puk, whose innings pitched would’ve been capped in a 162-game season, was expected to pitch without restrictions in the upcoming 60-game season.
Puk’s got ace-like stuff, including a four-pitch arsenal anchored by a 97-mph fastball. He also throws a nasty slider and changeup which produced whiff percentages of 37% and 55.6%, respectively, last season. His future success depends on his health, and also hinges on his improving his control. In a very small sample size, (11.1 IP in relief last season) Puk posted a 3.97 BB/9 rate.
Rotoballer recommendation: Hold Puk, especially if you have an empty IL spot. Puk might not take the mound for several weeks and that’s if he doesn’t suffer further setbacks. However, in a short season you might not have the luxury to wait.
Jesus Luzardois widely regarded as the A’s number one prospect with four potential out pitches. He throws an upper 90s fastball and a hard sinker, as well as a changeup and curve that keep opposing batters on their toes. In addition, he has the type of pinpoint control not often found in young pitchers.
Luzardo suffered shoulder and lat injuries and only pitched 12 innings at the Major League level last season. He was also expected to pitch without any inning limits this abbreviated season, however, he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the first two weeks of summer camp. He has since rejoined the A’s and will work out of the bullpen to start the season. He will move into the starting rotation once his arm is fully stretched out.
Rotoballer recommendation: Buy low if you can. Use the uncertainty surrounding when he’ll be able to join the starting rotation in your trade negotiations to drive down his asking price. Luzardo's shown no lingering effects from last season’s shoulder injury and with his upside is worth adding to your roster.
Sean Manaeaspent much of last season rehabbing from labrum surgery. He was only able to make five September starts, but he made them count. Savvy fantasy baseball managers who grabbed him off the waiver wire were treated to a 1.21 ERA and 0.775 WHIP. He also punched out 30 batters in 29.2 innings.
The velocity on Manaea's fastball and changeup were down a bit but surprisingly, the velocity on his slider increased very slightly. Manaea threw his changeup a little less than in the past and used his slider a bit more in those five starts. His fastball topped out at 89 mph in his last Summer Camp start, which is way down from the 92.9 mph average velocity he displayed in 2016. His slider and changeup seem effective enough to make up his lack of a blazing fastball.
Rotoballer recommendation: Buy low. Reach out to fantasy managers who may be worried about his drop in velocity. He’s another pitcher showing no lingering effects from last season's injuries.
Additional A’s starting pitcher options
Chris Bassittis comfortable working in long relief or as a starter. He’ll be the A’s fourth starter to begin the season as Luzardo continues to stretch himself out and Puk recovers. Bassitt throws a fastball in the mid-90s range and his curveball and changeup had a combined .168 BAA last season.
Bassitt made 25 starts for the A’s in 2019, winning 10 of 15 decisions and posting a 3.81 ERA. For those interested in Bassitt from a DFS perspective, he posted a 3.01 ERA and 1.107 WHIP at home compared to a 4.54 ERA and 1.274 WHIP on the road last season.
Rotoballer recommendation: Buy/Add. With the uncertainty surrounding the extent of Puk’s recent injury, he could remain in the rotation for the rest of the season. If he moves back into the bullpen and your league tracks holds, he’ll still provide value.
Daniel Mengdenenters the 2020 season with 47 career big league starts on his resume and with a new delivery. Mengden is slated to be the A’s fifth starter to open the season.
Mengden was a solid Minor League pitcher, compiling a career 3.14 ERA and 1.153 WHIP, but so far his career big league numbers have been spotty. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he keeps opposing hitters guessing, as they try to figure out which one of his six pitches will be coming their way. They’ll have a hard time hitting his sinker and curve, both of which have a career BAA below the Mendoza line.
Mengden’s not known as a strikeout pitcher, but his slider and curveball miss bats. His slider produces a robust whiff per swing rate of 29.14% and his curveball produces an even better 33.82% rate for his career.
Rotoballer recommendation: Wait and see. If Luzardo is able to take his spot in the rotation fairly quickly Mengden might only make one or two starts and then work out of the bullpen in long relief. Unless you play in deeper leagues (12 to 15 teams), he’s not someone you’ll want to run out and grab off the waiver wire but he’s worth an add to your watch list.
James Kaprielianis a former 2015 first-round pick who’s been bitten by the injury bug almost his entire career. He made 16 Minor League starts last season, but when healthy, he’s pitched well. Kaprielian’s career Minor League stats include a 2.96 ERA, a 10.3 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9.
Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. His stuff is electric. Add him at the right time and you might just catch a jolt of lightning in a bottle.
Daulton Jefferiesis another prospect who’s been plagued by injuries, but the talent is there. In 99 1/3 career Minor League innings, he has a 3.17 ERA, a 1.047 WHIP, an 11.0 K/9, and a 1.1 BB/9.
Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. His 2019 K:BB was superb. He can hit the ground running if called upon.
Yusmeiro Petitwill work long relief for the A’s, but the veteran has started 59 games in his career and could be called upon for a spot start or two if needed. He’s never started a game in Oakland’s Coliseum, but he has a career 3.02 ERA and .0975 WHIP when pitching at the A’s home park.
Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. The A's hope they never need to turn to Petit for starting pitching help. He could be a good resource for holds.
Things are going to happen fast in 2020. You’ll want to click that add button on hitters who are in the midst of hot streaks quicker than most seasons as a 10-day hot streak this year makes up for over 15% of the full MLB season - as opposed to just 6% in a full 162-game season. But before we get into hot streaks – which you can, of course, stay ahead of the curve on by following the Rotoballer Twitter account – let’s focus more on the actual team assembly strategies you’ll want to employ this year, based on the deflated value of multiple hitting stats.
The basic strategy you’ll want to apply for this shortened season will be one where you aren’t targeting players who only excel in one category. A shortened season will make it extra hard for anyone to fully deploy their excellence in any one stat. Because of this, you’ll want to target hitters who are able to contribute in multiple categories, ideally, all of the categories your league rewards – or maybe all but one or two, to be more realistic.
This strategy will not only allow you to put less pressure on your “home run specialists” or “stolen base specialists,” but it will allow you to have more flexibility with transactions throughout the year. You’ll be less desperate for replacing the aforementioned specialists, which will give you more options through the waiver wire or through trades. Below are the four stats that you should be most cautious of chasing, particularly in regards to players who only excel in that particular stat.
Batting average should remain an important metric in your consideration of drafting or adding any player this year. You never want to find yourself in a place – especially in rotisserie or head-to-head categories leagues – where you’ve compiled a large amount of sub-.250 hitters and just sink yourself in the category.
However, this year, you’ll want to be extra wary of anyone whose sole fantasy impact has been in the batting average department.
A player who hits .330 in 162 games is extremely valuable in rotisserie leagues and gives you a solid weekly boost in head-to-head categories leagues as well, but with the shortened season ahead of us, a career .330 hitter who gets off to a slow start could end up finishing the year closer to .290 or .300. While that’s still going to help you in the category, the degree of help won’t be enough to justify the ground you’re losing in all other categories.
Some of the primary players who could suffer from the deflated value of batting average include Tim Anderson, DJ LeMahieu, Jeff McNeil, Michael Brantley, Whit Merrifield, and Jorge Polanco. We saw some surprising power numbers from LeMahieu and McNeil last year. If those numbers drop off, they might end up being tough to justify rostering in shallow leagues. LeMahieu and Polanco have the luxury of strong lineups around them, which could make them less of a risk than the others.
Reduced at-bats mean reduced RBI opportunities. Everyone is, of course, dealing with that same problem of scale, but in terms of RBI, it means that high-RBI players will need to deliver more often than usual with runners in scoring position in order for their RBI total to normalize.
Abreu is the one who may stand out the most. Don’t go chasing his career-high 123 RBI from last season (second in the league). The White Sox certainly have an improving lineup, but the ever-streaky Abreu’s only chance to deliver on his top-75 ADP value is matching that RBI productivity from 2019, which will be a tall order.
Alonso and Soler, who hit 53 and 48 home runs respectively in 2019, should certainly still provide plenty of home run help, but if their home run rate drops off – which is more likely than not – it’s doubtful they’ll be returning to the league’s top-10 leaderboard in RBI. They’re still clearly very valuable players, but Alonso has an ADP of 30, and Soler has an ADP near 85. Both might struggle to deliver on that investment without elite RBI production.
Similarly to RBI, there’s just going to be a shortage of run-scoring opportunities for everyone this year, and it’s going to take an increase in batting average with runners in scoring position to help boost run numbers across the league.
The players to be most cautious of in the runs department include Marcus Semien, Charlie Blackmon, Jonathan Villar, and Carlos Santana. Semien and Blackmon both hit over 30 home runs last year, but since they were leadoff hitters, they only produced 92 and 86 RBI, respectively. It was their run totals – 123 for Semien and 112 for Blackmon – that really helped boost their fantasy value. Blackmon is far from a sure thing to return as a leadoff hitter in 2020. There’s talk of David Dahl taking over the leadoff spot. Meanwhile, Semien is a career .256 hitter who had never tallied over 89 runs in a season before last year’s explosion.
High-end stolen base players are a precious commodity. While it goes against the advice of having a balanced offensive arsenal outlined earlier in this post, there’s still clearly undeniable value to having a steals specialist like Mallex Smith or Adalberto Mondesi single-handedly carrying you in the stat.
Unlike the previous three stats, what you should be most cautious of in regards to stolen bases are players who typically hover around 15 to 20 stolen bases over the year. In a shortened season, we’re now looking at somewhere between five and eight stolen bases from that group. Not only is that a very low total that could barely move the needle – especially on the lower end of the estimate – but stolen bases tend to be a very fickle stat overall, coming and going in bunches. They’re directly related to hits, plate appearances, and a player’s spot in a lineup. If a player is in a slump or if a player moves from leadoff to the middle of the lineup, stolen bases could completely vanish.
Tim Anderson and Whit Merrifield, again, take hits here. However, more of the players who are marginalized by the deflated value of mid-tier and low-end stolen bases are some low-end players themselves, such as Kevin Newman, Wil Myers, Adam Eaton, Amed Rosario, and Kevin Kiermaier. These players all need stolen base production in order to justify a roster position in most leagues. This year, however, they may need to find another way to contribute regularly – or have a much greater outburst in stolen bases – in order to remain off waivers.
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Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
Here at RotoBaller, there is no such thing as being in too many fantasy baseball leagues. Some of the writers here are lucky enough to participate in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, which pits writers, analysts, and experts from all across the baseball community against each other. One RotoBaller writer even started a relievers-only bullpen league--that's how obsessed we tend to get with fantasy baseball.
No matter how many different leagues we find ourselves in, we always embrace the challenge of getting in a league with our fellow writers. That's what 12 of us did in the second of two RotoBaller Experts Leagues. The league is run through Yahoo! The scoring is 5x5 rotisserie, with HR, R, SB, RBI, AVG as the offensive categories and W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP as the pitching categories. Our rosters are comprised of 30 players: one at each traditional infield position, a MI, CI, five OF, one UTIL, one SP, one RP, six additional pitching spots and nine bench spots.
What we'll do now is break down the draft, team by team, analyzing each participant's strategy and decision-making process as the draft moved along. Some of the writers have offered their own insight on their teams, and you'll hear directly from each of them when we get to their segments. Here is a link to the full draft results in order by round so you can see where every player was taken, but we'll also provide a list of each team's roster for on-page visual reference. Let's get to it.
In Steve's own words, here is how he evaluates his draft: "I consider Josh Lindblom to be my best value pick. I probably even reached for him because I doubt so few know how dominant he was in the KBO the last two years. I like him a lot returning to MLB. I'm least happy with where I drafted Carlos Santana. I told myself going into the draft that I wouldn't reach for a first baseman because there is a lot of value later at the position. For some reason, he looked like the best option at the time but I almost immediately regretted it."
On Steve's general strategy: "Not that I had a set strategy coming into the draft, but whatever I had was completely tossed out the window early. Being at the front/end of every round, if I had any interest in a guy, he was more than likely swiped away from me a few picks before, and in several cases the pick right before me (thanks Ellis). It happens in every draft but this might have been the most pivoting I've ever had to do."
In my own words: As a lifelong Indians fan, I would like to encourage Steve not to kick himself for too long over the Santana pick. Santana is always on base and in position to score runs, regardless of where he hits in Cleveland's lineup. For this year, it appears he may find himself in the cleanup spot for the Tribe--right behind Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and right in front of Franmil Reyes. A hitter with Santana's plate profile is going to yield excellent production in that situation.
Steve's team is going to be a serious problem for anyone else in our league who hopes to contend for the strikeout crown, as Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, and Trevor Bauer can rack up the K's as well as any trio of starters in our league.
Ellis' second-round snag of Mike Clevinger announced quite loudly that ADP was not going to make a difference in how each of us approached our draft. I was 12th in the draft order, and Clevinger's ADP was in the 50s. I foolishly believed he would still be on the board when I made my third and fourth picks. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. Clevinger is a totally valid preseason candidate for the AL Cy Young in 2020 and should make a fine ace for Ellis' staff.
Ellis also drafted the closers from each of the three teams many believe will finish with the best records in this 60-game season: Aroldis Chapman, Roberto Osuna, and Kenley Jansen. Potentially threatening this otherwise lights-out bullpen is the fact that Chapman is already on the 10-day IL after testing positive for COVID-19 and Osuna has just begun ramping up his activity following a slow start to summer camp, the reasons for which are shrouded in mystery but evidently not injury-related. Neither of these developments would worry me much in a normal season, but with so many fewer opportunities to earn saves in 2020, missed games will add up pretty quickly. In any case, Ellis should be in a position to contend for our league lead in saves if Chapman and Osuna are able to resume their ninth-inning roles in short order.
Besides Clevinger, my favorite pick for Ellis's team is Mike Moustakas. He'll be surrounded by a solid lineup in a hitter's ballpark with the Reds, which should yield a ton of power and run production. Further down the draft board, Ellis swiped another Cleveland pitcher I was targeting in Aaron Civale. Ellis is looking at elite levels of offensive production from his top few position players, with a starting rotation anchored by Clevinger and rounded out by a solid stable of relatively high-floor hurlers.
"I don't know if anyone in the draft picked off more of my targets than Euan. Like Steve with the first overall pick, I had a very difficult time gauging who was going to be around when I picked at the other end of the board. Waiting too long on Jose Berrios was my own fault, but watching Euan grab Zac Gallen and Jesus Luzardo before I could was brutal."
Euan also took the leap of faith on the idea that Mike Trout will not abstain from playing a significant portion of this truncated season. Trout has expressed reservations about potentially putting his family at risk, and though those talks have subsided somewhat, he is still due to welcome his first child in August. It seems reasonable to expect he'll miss roughly a week or so, at best, when that time comes. If it's just a week, then Euan will be handsomely rewarded by having taken the best baseball player alive with the third overall pick.
Euan's opportunistic approach to bullpen construction could wind up being the difference in where his team finishes in the standings. Whether he intentionally avoided drafting incumbent closers or simply kept getting sniped I am not sure, but he grabbed a solid stable of high-leverage relievers who could step into closer roles at some point in 2020. Zack Britton is expected to be Aroldis Chapman's stand-in if the latter is forced to miss any time to start the year, and would be a natural replacement if Chapman goes down at any other point as well. Adam Ottavino once served as a closer in the past with Colorado, and could wind up as a right-handed complement to Britton in a "closer platoon" if such a need should arise.
Cleveland's James Karinchak has some of the nastiest stuff of any relief pitcher in the league, and Brad Hand has had his fair share of ninth-inning struggles recently. Should those continue, don't be surprised if Karinchak is given save opportunities. Atlanta possesses a logjam of relievers with ninth-inning experience, but Will Smith could earn a few chances for saves under the right set of circumstances.
I'm a big fan of Euan's selection of Jose Urquidy in the 29th round. Urquidy is on the 10-day IL, and the Astros are playing that one pretty close to the vest in terms of disclosing exactly why. Euan might have to keep him on the injured list for a while to start the season, but Houston's reputation for molding pitchers into the best versions of themselves is universally renowned. With Gerrit Cole gone, a healthy Urquidy should have more chances in the back end of the Astros rotation in 2020, providing Euan with a potential breakout that he essentially got for free at the draft.
Back in winter and spring, Austin Meadows was my favorite outfield target heading into the 2020 fantasy season. Then America descended into madness and baseball went away for four months. Just as some semblance of normalcy started to return (at least to baseball), Meadows tested positive for COVID-19 and his status to begin the season is in doubt as a result. I wasn't completely out on him for obvious reasons, but one of the few strategies I was actually able to commit to in this draft was, "try not to take players who are already at risk of missing 15% of the season in the first few rounds." So instead of getting a guy I was prepared to place a dark-horse MVP bet on back in March, I'll have to watch as Meadows does damage for Elliott's team.
I really wanted one of Shane Bieber or Mike Clevinger with my third pick. Elliott's selection of Bieber in the third round made it so I would not have either. Apparently no one got my pre-draft email instructing my league mates to leave all Indians players on the board for me.
My favorite part of Elliott's draft came in rounds 6-11. I'm curious to see if the absence of Anthony Rendon causes a shake-up in the Nationals' batting order, potentially providing Victor Robles a chance to hit in closer proximity to Juan Soto. Tossing Robles and Trea Turner into the top two lineup spots for Washington creates an immediate nightmare on the base paths for any opposing pitcher in the first inning, and would greatly improve Robles' run-scoring ceiling. If he remains at the bottom of the order, he's still a solid fantasy player with high stolen-base upside.
Corey Kluber in the eighth round could wind up being the biggest steal of the draft. Yes, he was showing some red flags early last year before a line drive off the wrist ended his season, but would you rather trust the five-year sample size from 2014-18 that includes two Cy Young awards, or the one month he struggled in 2019? That risk was appropriately factored into this eighth-round pick.
Giancarlo Stanton is one of 10 or 15 players I can see flirting with 25 home runs as long as he plays enough, which we all know has been the glaring weakness in his fantasy profile ever since coming over to the Yankees. A bounce-back season from Brad Hand gives Elliott the undisputed (for now) closer on a team that should win enough games to contend for a playoff spot. Matthew Boyd in the 11th was just another example of me losing out on a player I really hoped to get.
Extra credit to Elliott for his sneaky grab of Caleb Smith in the 20th round. It's easy to forget Smith looked like one of the better pitchers in the National League early last year before a hip issue sent him somewhat off the rails. If Smith returns in 2020 as the guy we saw in April and May of 2019, Elliott just found himself a borderline staff ace at a consignment shop.
In Eric's own words: "I think getting Christian Walker with the 284th pick was pretty great value. I know he has a groin injury, but he's already back to working out on the field. I didn't really need a first baseman, but he was too good to pass up on there. I was also really happy to get Taylor Rogers with the 116th pick. Either he's the closer for the team with the easiest schedule in baseball or he'll close some games, be in line to pick up wins some games, and help my ratios in all games. (Red Sox homer pick--Jose Peraza was announced as the starting second baseman, so I was happy to get him as the 317th pick with his speed and multi-position eligibility.) In terms of players, I'm not happy with where I drafted them, I think I blacked out when I took Michael Conforto as the 101st pick. I needed a higher-average bat and didn't love the value, but I had been sniped two picks before and was second-guessing my queue."
On Eric's general draft strategy: "My strategy was to get at least one ace early and then load up on bats. I got Gerrit Cole fifth overall and then went with five straight hitters and was feeling good, but arms were flying off the board. I wound up okay with Cole, Carlos Carrasco, and Frankie Montas as my top three, but I over-thought my pitching values after that and waited too long to snag multi-inning relievers I have been getting a lot of like Seth Lugo, Drew Pomeranz, and Yusmeiro Petit. This team wound up being unlike any of the others I've drafted, so I'm hoping to work the wire and find those multi-inning guys who pop."
I think I like Eric's draft better than he did, though I was surprised to see anybody take a pitcher in the top five overall. Eric was clearly able to adhere to his initial strategy early, and if he's worried about question marks in his pitching staff, he can take solace in the fact that all of his top five position players wake up in the morning and hit a base-clearing double before they've even had breakfast. I agree wholeheartedly with Eric's sentiments on the way this whole draft unfolded with pitching, but the complete abandonment of default rankings and ADP were also what made it so fun.
My favorite pick in Eric's draft is Eugenio Suarez--another Reds player who doesn't get the recognition he deserves because he plays for the Reds, and was consequently just sitting there in the sixth round. The dude has hit 83 home runs in the last two years with a .277/.362/.550 slash line, making him the perfect grab for upper-echelon power production without sacrificing in batting average.
If we were having this draft today, I feel safe saying Mookie Betts would decidedly not have fallen to Dave. Betts' astronomical extension with the Dodgers is probably going to extinguish whatever embers remained of the uncertainty regarding his status for the 2020 season, and he'll be back to being viewed as a top-three overall fantasy value.
Elsewhere on Dave's roster, Tyler Glasnow serves as another stark reminder that getting too caught up in ADP was a death sentence in this draft. I had hoped to grab Glasnow with my fifth pick, and his ADP indicated he'd be available. Dave shot my hopes clean out of the sky when he took him in the fourth. So anyway, Dave, if you're reading this--wanna make a trade?
It's been announced that Ryan Pressly will begin the season as Houston's closer while Roberto Osuna gets himself back into gear. Dave should be able to log a few saves early thanks to this development, and Pressly could easily earn himself more opportunities as the season progresses.
I waited too long for Nick Madrigal, and Dave made me pay for it when he took him in the 27th. Madrigal has a great chance to carve out a semi-regular (at least) role for himself at second base in the increasingly scary White Sox lineup. Though the incoming rookie is probably best suited to round out the batting order as opposed to hitting near the top of it, there are worse nine-holes than the one directly in front of defending batting champion Tim Anderson. Dave landed himself some cheap run-scoring and stolen-base potential here, as one of Madrigal's most intriguing traits is his speed.
An all-around solid draft with some intriguing bullpen arms sprinkled in as the later rounds progressed. But yeah, if Dave could please trade me Tyler Glasnow at his earliest convenience, it would be much appreciated.
With all five of the truly elite outfielders off the board, Michael clearly elected to give himself an edge in steals by taking Trea Turner at seven. While there were still plenty of power bats available, Turner provides an exceptional blend of speed, batting average, and run-scoring ability. And of course, Michael was able to grab a top-tier power bat in the second round anyway, with J.D. Martinez.
Michael then wasted no time in building what should be a solid top of his rotation before grabbing arguably the best fantasy closer in baseball, Kirby Yates. Michael's 10th and 11th picks could help propel him to the top of our offensive leaderboard. Franmil Reyes came out of his shell after a rough first few weeks with the Indians following last year's trade deadline. Now he's settled into a fantasy-friendly environment that affords him the luxury of hitting directly behind Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Santana. Reyes' ability to put a charge into a ball makes him a sneaky threat to lead the league in RBI with that trio of hitters in front of him.
Amed Rosario, who Michael grabbed in the 11th, figures to hit leadoff for the best Mets lineup in recent memory. Rosario came on strong in 2019 after a tough first couple of years, offering value in batting average and stolen bases while also providing serviceable numbers in runs and RBI. He also chipped in 15 home runs for good measure. We'll dial back the power expectations for now, but the 11th round is great value for a leadoff hitter on a team that is going to score a ton in 2020.
Grabbing Austin Riley in the 25th round could turn out to be highway robbery for Michael. Josh Donaldson is no longer blocking Riley at third base, and then there is the implementation of the universal DH. In other words, Riley should have an easier route to regular playing time in 2020.
Joey Lucchesi is a player I eyed up for several rounds, and had I felt the need for more pitching, I'd have taken him earlier than Michael did. Lucchesi ranked 21st among all qualified starting pitchers in ground-ball rate last year, and he pitches in a home park that's difficult to hit home runs out of to begin with (Petco Park). He'll perform admirably on Michael's roster, which is all you really need out of a 23rd-round pick.
In Marc's words: "I was picking eighth, which is a fairly ugly spot in a snake draft. Eloy Jimenez could be a sixth-round steal. He got off to a bit of a slow start to his MLB career but he has shown the ability to hit for average and power. He's just scratching the surface of what he can do. Corey Seager in the eighth round was also a great value pick if he's fully healthy. A short season could really help someone like him. As the 'prospect guy,' I always try to use that knowledge to my advantage and I was very aggressive in seeking HR/SB potential with Luis Robert (fifth round) and Sam Hilliard (14th round). I'm least happy with where I drafted Hector Neris (12th round). I was mostly willing to punt the reliever category given the volatility of the position and I figure I can get some waiver wire value later on. But Neris is my top reliever and I'm not thrilled at that. I was eyeing up Roberto Osuna, who lasted until the late 10th round and I was poised to jump on him in the early 11th."
On Marc's general strategy: "With it being a short season, my focus was primarily on offense and I figured I could get some risky, high-ceiling arms later on. I was fairly successful nabbing Lance McCullers Jr., Julio Urias, and Nate Pearson. I narrowly missed out on Carlos Martinez as the run on pitching happened sooner than I expected. I think veterans Robbie Ray and James Paxton should have solid seasons."
Despite not drafting a pitcher until the seventh round, Marc wound up with a pitching staff he can work with. Lance McCullers Jr. gets forgotten about after missing all of last season, but by all accounts has looked impressive this summer. It's also worth mentioning he still wears the uniform of the Houston Pitching Factory. Nate Pearson is my favorite pick on Marc's roster, as the incoming Blue Jays rookie was someone I coveted in the back half of this draft. Pearson will likely be eased into a full workload whenever he gets the call-up in 2020, but the abbreviated season should allow Toronto to ride with him more heavily than they would over a traditional schedule. He has a chance to be the second-best starter in Toronto behind Hyun Jin Ryu.
Marc also stole Kyle Lewis, who I was looking for as an early-season bench stash with upside, in the 23rd round. Who knows what we'll get out of the Mariners from a fantasy perspective this season, but Lewis is a guy we should all be willing to take the chance on late.
Frank was very vocal throughout the draft about how much he loved his team, and for good reason. Luis Castillo is my long-shot NL Cy Young bet this year, and Frank drafted him after selecting two multiple-time winners of the award. He built himself an impenetrable starting rotation early, and then piled on with excellent offensive options over the course of his next several picks.
If Frank had consulted me, the resident Indians fan of this league, I'd have advised against drafting Oscar Mercado in the 12th. Mercado had a deceptively productive rookie season with some concerning underlying metrics, and was buoyed by batting second in a strong top of the order for the Tribe. He's more likely to hit ninth in 2020, which means he'll no longer be sandwiched in between the likes of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. Mercado should still provide value in steals, however, which appears to be what Frank drafted him for anyway.
Rhys Hoskins in the 14th seems like some kind of glitch. Did he just disappear from the rest of our queues for 14 rounds? I know he won't help much in batting average, but he's smack-dab in the middle of a potent Phillies lineup and we know he can put one over the fence in a hurry. Frank's first baseman tandem of Hoskins and Matt Olson could produce the most home runs of any such duo in our league.
Further down the draft board, Frank continued to reinforce his rotation with a blend of veterans and young upside plays. He also sniped Ken Giles from me three picks before it was my turn in the ninth round, creating a domino effect in my approach to relief pitchers from that point forward. The X-factor on Frank's roster could be Aaron Judge. As long as he's on the field, he provides Frank with a lethal one-two punch among outfielders when combined with Juan Soto. I don't believe in "grading" other people's drafts, but I'd be very happy if I ended up with this roster in any league.
I'm not sure if it was Brian's plan all along or if he just rolled with the punches, but his relatively zero-reliever strategy is one I admire. Brian grabbed Edwin Diaz in the 11th and then didn't draft another bullpen arm until the 20th--at which point he drafted eight in a row. Brian probably needs a lot of bullpen turnover in real-life baseball in order for his fantasy team to contend in saves, but his decision not to chase closers allowed him to strengthen many other facets of his roster. Then when the time came, he loaded up on relievers who can help his team without recording saves.
Once I passed on Jorge Soler in the eighth round, I knew I'd regret it. Brian grabbed him two picks later, so at least he spared me a slow death. Brian also nabbed Cesar Hernandez, who looks poised for Cleveland's leadoff spot. Hernandez's career track record of being a solid on-base guy should result in tons of run-scoring chances in that lineup.
Where Brian's team could truly do some damage on the leaderboard is in his starting rotation. After securing arguably the best pitcher alive in Jacob deGrom and adding Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn, Brian pounced on some value plays in Zack Wheeler (14th round) and Shohei Ohtani (18th round). There are questions surrounding whether Wheeler will actually pitch this year or not, but if everyone knew he was going to, there's obviously no way he'd still have been sitting there in the 14th round.
I think Ohtani's fantasy value is influenced by the fact that we're really just not sure how to approach a player who is great at both hitting and pitching. Stepping back onto the mound after Tommy John surgery is naturally a concern as well, but there's no denying Ohtani looked every bit the part of an ace in 2018. If things break right for Wheeler and Ohtani, Brian has one of the most stacked rotations in our league--and possibly the best.
At two relatively critical junctures of the draft, Connelly snagged the primary player I was targeting one pick before I could get my guy: once in the 11th with Raisel Iglesias, and a second time in the 23rd with Griffin Canning. I already had the rug pulled out from under me in the ninth round when I missed out on Ken Giles, and Connelly spiked a handful of salt on my wounds two rounds later by snatching my second-most highly coveted reliever. Canning was more of a late-round lottery ticket for me, but he's going to have plenty of opportunities to pitch in an underwhelming Angels rotation and he's got good stuff.
After spending his second and third picks on two players who could combine for 40-plus home runs in this short season in Trevor Story and Pete Alonso, Connelly built himself a solid foundation in batting average with Whit Merrifield, Ramon Laureano, and Jeff McNeil. McNeil could easily win a batting title this year. He and Laureano should provide a ton of value in runs scored as well, given the strength of their respective lineups. With a little luck, Laureano and Merrifield could offer Connelly respectable stolen-base totals.
Nick Senzel in the 20th round could wind up being Connelly's best value pick if everything comes together for the second-year outfielder. Senzel dealt with injuries as a rookie and was never truly able to take off. In 2020, he remains a high-upside youngster with an improved lineup around him. There is still plenty of shine on Senzel's prospect profile, and he could be in line to provide Connelly with above-market value in steals and runs scored at least.
Let's start with what I don't like about my draft. I love Francisco Lindor more than I love most things, and I couldn't believe he fell all the way down to me in the first. I think he and Bryce Harper win their leagues' respective MVP awards in 2020. But I had just drafted those two to begin another league right before this one, and I wish I had a little more diversity in my top picks. I just couldn't talk myself out of either one, so I put my money where my mouth is. I'm also not crazy about Ozzie Albies in the fourth. That was sort of a panic pick as the clock was down to seven seconds. I figured I might as well grab a second baseman who hits in close proximity to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman.
As I mentioned several times throughout this piece, I was snake-bitten on several occasions in the pitching market. My plan going in was to land any two of Chris Paddack, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Tyler Glasnow, and Luis Castillo. Once I saw I was picking 12th, I had a feeling that was not going to happen. In Brandon Woodruff and Dinelson Lamet, I feel like I made up for missing out on my top targets by grabbing two high-strikeout guys. Those two and Paddack give me a strong case for the top of the strikeout leaderboard.
Relief pitching is where I ran into the most razor wire. I wanted one of Ken Giles or Raisel Iglesias, and I didn't get either. I was never going to place much emphasis on saves to begin with, but once I missed on those guys, I pivoted completely to a focus on high-leverage relievers who aren't currently closers. Nick Anderson is probably the best pitcher in a loaded Rays bullpen, but I won't be surprised to see multiple guys in that group being given save chances (even if he is listed as their closer).
Positional versatility, batting average, and runs were a focus as the draft wore on. I strayed a bit with selections like Hunter Renfroe and Matt Chapman, but their power bats are tough to pass up. Having Luis Arraez, Tommy Edman, J.D. Davis, and Bryan Reynolds should keep my overall average from bottoming out at any point, and all except Reynolds are eligible at multiple positions.
All in all, I am very happy with this team. I wish I had landed a few more of my top pitching targets, but that is the only way in which this draft ever felt like it got away from me.
That, as they say, is a wrap. Whose team do you like the best? Feel free to reach out to any of us on Twitter if you'd like to discuss our rosters, or just have questions on fantasy baseball in general: @cjoreillyCLE (Chris), @bdentrek (Brian), @RotoStevieJ (Steve), @marchulet (Marc), @SamskiNYC (Eric), @EuanOrYouOut (Euan), @MichaelFFlorio (Michael), @ElliottBaasBB (Elliott), @ConnellyDoan (Connelly), @FAmmiranteTFJ (Frank), @EllisCan2 (Ellis), @davithius (Dave).
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"In a 60-game season, managers will approach every game like it's the playoffs."
We've heard that refrain over and over again as we prepare for the 2020 fantasy baseball season. In fact, I think I've written that sentence, or something similar, close to ten times already. But that statement brings up a natural follow-up question: How do managers manage in the playoffs?
In order to answer that, I looked back through every game in the 2019 postseason to see if I could pinpoint some managerial tendencies that we could act on in this shortened season. Specifically, I wanted to see what "managing like it's the playoffs" means in terms of how teams use their closer. I'll set up each section with a fact that I discovered and then explain how that should impact your fantasy approach. Let's see if we can figure this out together.
A team's saves leader got 12 of the 14 total postseason saves
Now, this stat is slightly skewed because the Washington Nationals used both Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson as their "closer" for much of the final months of the season; however, that means we knew to treat them as one "tandem closer." (I'll talk more about that later). As a result, it was fairly easy to predict which pitchers would get saves for teams in the playoffs as it was the same pitchers who had gotten the saves for them during the entire season, even if that team used multiple relievers to close games through the longer regular season.
In the case of both saves that were recorded by non-closers, the team's closer had been in the game earlier and blew the save, leaving a save opportunity for somebody who was not the natural closer. So, if you wanted to look at it another way, a team's saves leader was used in every single opportunity where a save was on the line.
A saves leader was used 85% in the 9th or a save situation
The pitchers who led their team in saves were used 41 times in the playoffs, and 35 of those times were in the 9th inning or save situations that began in the 8th inning. Nine of those times, a team's saves leader was used in the 9th inning despite it not being a save situation or even a tie game. While that may not seem significant, it seems to imply that, even if a team is losing, the manager is more inclined to save his most trusted (or best) reliever for the 9th inning.
This is important because I've been reading a lot of speculation that a manager might decide to use his best reliever or most trusted reliever early in games when the team is ahead and thus leave a save situation for another pitcher. However, there is nothing in last year's playoffs that would indicate this is how a manager chooses to manage in a must-win situation.
In fact, last year's playoffs would seem to imply the opposite. Based on specific usage, it would seem that Dave Roberts isn't going to use Kenley Jansen to stop a rally in the 7th and save a potential save situation for Pedro Baez or Blake Treinen. If it's the 8th inning, it's more likely than Jansen would be brought in but that would likely also lead to him being used for the 9th as well to close the game.
As a result, I don't think we have to worry about closers losing save opportunities to teammates unless they are already on shaky ground (Edwin Diaz), have a natural tandem option to pair with them, or have a limited track record of success and begin to struggled (i.e. if Brandon Workman has a rough first two weeks, the Red Sox would likely go to Matt Barnes).
Saves leaders are used earlier when their team loses
Of the six times that a team's saves leader was used before the 9th inning (or a save situation that began in the 8th), five of those times the pitcher's team was losing and would go on to lose. In these instances, a manager turned to his best high-leverage reliever to stop a rally earlier in the game (often the 7th but twice in the 6th). However, since the team went on to lose 83% of the time, that early usage didn't cost the pitcher a save.
In the one instance that a saves leader was used earlier and his team went on to win, there was not a save situation later in the game, so the early usage did not cost the pitcher a save opportunity. Meaning, not once in the playoffs was a closer used earlier in the game to stop a rally, thus removing him from save consideration later in the game.
As a result, this seems to indicate added fantasy value for the 2020 season since a saves leader could be used for more innings than he would have been in a normal season had he just been held back for save opportunities.
Saves leaders are often used for more than one inning
Of the times when a team's save leader was brought on in the 8th inning, 75% of the time it was during a save situation that was extended into the 9th inning. When I say extended into the 9th inning, I don't mean that he pitcher went on to close the game in the 9th; I simply mean that this was a clear intention. Sometimes the pitcher blew the save or his offense went on to score a bunch of runs and the pitcher was removed from the game. However, what this suggests is that managers will not limit their saves leader to just one inning if they see a situation that requires their best high-leverage pitcher.
This is important because many of these teams used multiple players to close games in the regular season; however, they seem to favor one main arm in the playoffs, even if that meant multiple innings. The Astros used Roberto Osuna for a few outs in the 8th multiple times in the playoffs despite having a strong bullpen, and the Rays, who used more pitchers to close games in the regular season than any other team, used Emilio Pagan twice in the 8th inning and attempted to have him pitch into the 9th. He simply blew both of those opportunities.
Tandem closers become more firmly entrenched
Admittedly, this section is focused on one team since the Washington Nationals were the only team in the 2019 postseason that really featured a clear left-right tandem to close out games. What is clear, based on last year's playoffs, is that those roles became even more firmly entrenched when every game mattered. In seven games, one of either Daniel Hudson or Sean Doolittle was used prior to the 9th inning, and three of those times they were brought in in the 7th inning for at least a few outs. Obviously, in either case, it was because of the handedness of the batters scheduled to hit.
This cuts closer committees down to two people, as I suggested in an earlier article, but does ensure that each pitcher should be used often, which provides a good opportunity for innings and ratios. However, it does cut into the potential ceiling for closers like Taylor Rogers and Nick Anderson, who have been going early in drafts.
Closing tandems may favor right-handed pitchers
This one is even more speculative, but at the end of the 2019 postseason, Hudson finished with four saves and Doolittle had two. This seems to be a natural conclusion when understanding that there are more right-handed hitters in lineups, which would mean the 9th inning is statistically more likely to feature right-handed batters, and thus a manager is statistically more likely to save his right-handed closer in order to face them.
Now, I'm not suggesting you go out and draft Trevor May over Taylor Rodgers, but I do think this could be important when looking at pitchers like Mark Melancon, who is going after Jose Leclerc and un-reported Keone Kela, and only going 15 picks ahead of teammate Will Smith despite a potential platoon advantage on a team many think will be one of the best in baseball. Similarly, Sean Doolittle is currently being drafted 162 and Daniel Hudson is going 243 despite Hudson receiving twice as many saves in the playoffs last year.
Looking back at last year's playoffs has made me believe, even more, that the value of clear-cut closing options is even higher this year than in a normal season. A pitcher who has the clear trust of his manager and no obvious opposite-handed tandem in his bullpen becomes even more valuable for their likely reliability. This means I would prioritize coming out of a draft with at least one of Roberto Osuna, Ken Giles, Kenley Jansen, Hector Neris, Liam Hendricks, Raisel Iglesias, and Hansel Robles. Kirby Yates has a natural tandem partner in Drew Pomeranz and could be traded, but I still think he could be included in the above list, and Edwin Diaz's name could be added too if he starts the season looking like the 2018 version of himself since the Mets don't have a natural left-handed tandem partner for him.
Once you get beyond the above list, there are reliability concerns for most other relievers in terms of saves. Obviously, Josh Hader and Taylor Rogers could still provide you tremendous value in ratios, K/9, and wins if they have to split closing duties, but from a pure saves perspective, they do come with some risk.
This also means that unquestioned closers on mediocre teams, like Joe Jimenez and Ian Kennedy, may provide more value, again from a strictly save perspective, than a potential committee closer on a better team, like Ryan Helsley or Mark Melancon.
Personally, I am trying to get one of the reliable guys from the aforementioned list and then waiting and taking relievers who will be part of a committee or help with my ratios and maybe chip in a few saves here or there. However, I think it would be a mistake to de-value saves as a category all together since it seems that we can identify a few players who should give us a clear advantage over our competition.
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Calling all roto players! As you all prepare for the shortened season, I'm sure you are wondering how your strategies may change and how to approach certain categories, particularly for pitching staffs. Well, I have been thinking about the same things as you and will lay out some of my thoughts on how you can view certain statistics a little differently for this unique 2020 season.
I will be focusing on categories that will be deflated/devalued due to the shortened season, or rather categories that will be harder to draft for or predict. Each league has its own rules and categories, but, after considering the five categories in standard leagues (wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, saves), I believe that wins and saves will be the two most deflated categories.
I will start each category by explaining why I think it will be deflated in a 60-game season and then mention some pitchers who will be most affected. With the season fast approaching, let's dive into the analysis!
It is no secret that wins are difficult to predict/tie to a pitcher's performance because a lot of effort behind earning a win comes from the rest of the pitcher's team (the team has to field well, score runs to support the pitcher, etc.). Further, a starter must pitch at least five innings to qualify for a win. This second point is one that will hinder starters more with a shortened season. Pitchers have not had as much time to get stretched out with the shortened Summer Camp, and some managers have already discussed easing pitchers into innings or keeping them on relative innings limits per game. Additionally, the shortened season means that every game counts more, so starters will likely be on shorter leashes.
This won't impact stud starters as much, who have established trust with their managers but will definitely hurt mediocre/back-end starters. Starters who could pitch five innings and win a game 6-5 in 2019 likely won't last that long in the 2020 season. Those potential wins will instead be scattered across middle relievers who come in to stop the bleeding, making those wins very difficult to capture from a fantasy perspective.
So, which of these "mediocre starters" will be hurt most by this phenomenon in the 2020 fantasy season? As a rough indicator, I pulled a list of average shortest innings pitched per game started (IP/GS) for qualified starting pitchers from Fangraphs.
Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of starters who were streamers and overall fantasy values throughout the 2019 season but also had some rough patches (Wade Miley, Julio Teheran, Jose Quintana, Anibal Sanchez). A comparison of these pitchers' ERA and SIERA indicate that they outperformed throughout the season. Given potential regression in 2020, these are some of the pitchers who may perform at a lower level than they did in 2019, which means they will be less likely to hit the five-inning threshold.
However, there are some higher-end fantasy names towards the top of this list, such as Robbie Ray, Dakota Hudson, and Max Fried. Ray's short outings make sense because he throws a lot of pitches, both in strikeouts (31.5% strikeout rate) and walks (11.2% walk rate). I think Ray's strikeout upside outweighs his proclivity for walking hitters, even in a shortened season. However, his fantasy value will be hurt if he cannot pitch with more control.
Hudson had the same walk issues as Ray (11.4% walk rate) but without the strikeout upside (18% strikeout rate). Combine that with his poor batted-ball profile (exit velocity and hard-hit rate in the bottom-30 percent of baseball) and I fear that Hudson will get hit hard with the negative side effects of the shortened season. Finally, Fried has both strikeout upside (24.6% strikeout rate) and control upside (6.7% walk rate). Given that 2019 was his first full season in the big leagues, his inning count was likely watched closely. However, the shortened season makes an overall innings limit irrelevant, so I think Fried is a solid option for this fantasy season.
My logic for thinking that saves will be deflated this season is similar to that of wins. Each regular-season game holds so much more weight for a team's playoff chances, so teams cannot afford to blow leads late in games. As such, bullpen usage may look different from how it has been in the past. Again, well-established closers who are trusted by their managers will be given the ball without fail barring multiple complete collapses, making them even more valuable for fantasy this season.
Further, teams who are undecided on a single closer or are thinking of using a closer committee (Orioles, Mariners, maybe Mets) will also make things tricky in pinpointing sources of saves. Owning any one of the above-mentioned players in these sets will likely net you some saves, but those saves will be more spread out across your fantasy leagues because there will be more players getting a piece of the saves pie.
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Limited sample sizes are scary territory for pitching results and analysis. In this year’s upcoming 60-game season, starting pitchers are going to be maxing out with around 12 starts, meaning that just one or two blowup games could cause a pitcher’s season-long numbers to look quite ugly.
So how do fantasy managers adjust? The key is centering in on stats that are less wavering and less reliant on a full season’s worth of data. We want to instead focus on the stats you can be more confident in every time a pitcher takes the mound.
These are the stats that fantasy owners should be putting more weight in entering the shortened 2020 season…
Strikeouts and K/9
Pitchers who yield high strikeout numbers should continue to deliver consistently regardless of what their other stats look like. Even during a blowup outing, high strikeout pitchers should still be providing at least adequate support in the strikeout category – call it “blowing up in style” in Buzz Lightyear terms.
Strikeout kings like Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander obviously stand out with this in mind, but if you look a bit deeper amongst the pack of starting pitchers, you can find more bang for your buck.
Robbie Ray, always reliable in the strikeout department, tied with Verlander for third in the league with 12.1 K/9 last year. Over his first six starts last year, despite posting an ERA north of 4.00, he struck out a sturdy 37 batters in 32.1 innings.
Lucas Giolito and Matthew Boyd tied for fifth in K/9 last year with 11.6. Giolito had a season defined by splits in 2019. He had a picturesque May where he won all six of his starts and posted a 1.74 ERA, but his strikeout rate for the month (46 strikeouts over 41.1 innings, 10.1 K/9) was actually slightly worse than his strikeout rate in his worst month of the season, July, when he went 1-4 with a 5.65 ERA but struck out 35 batters over 28.2 innings (11.2 K/9).
Boyd recorded eight or more strikeouts in 17 of his 32 starts last year – including all five of his starts in July, despite going 1-4 in the month. While Boyd will suffer in the wins department and could be middling or worse in ERA, he’s a sure thing for strikeout help.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the poster child for the #ChaseStrikeoutsIn2020 movement. Yu Darvish had an abysmal start to the 2019 campaign, with just three quality starts in his first 12 appearances. However, during that same stretch, he also struck out 73 batters over 61 innings, good for 10.8 K/9.
While ERA figures to be a dangerously fickle metric in 2020, WHIP offers more stability due to its ability to normalize quicker when pitchers settle in. Starting pitchers who are known to regularly limit base runners should have somewhere around 50 or 60 innings at least, and around 180 or 200 individual batters faced, to make their marks in the category.
Despite having his worst MLB season by most metrics last year, Madison Bumgarner still posted a solid 1.13 WHIP, good for seventeenth best in the league. The move from San Francisco to Arizona should hurt his ERA more than his WHIP. Bumgarner walked just 43 batters over his 207.2 innings last year.
Mike Soroka showed excellent WHIP potential in his first full MLB season in 2019. He posted a 1.11 WHIP, walking just 41 batters in 174.2 innings. His minor league numbers back up his ability to limit baserunners even further as he posted a 1.09 WHIP over 153.2 innings in Double-A in 2017.
Mike Fiers has been a WHIP extraordinaire since joining the Athletics in mid-2018. He posted a 1.08 WHIP over 10 games with the A’s in 2018, followed by a 1.19 WHIP over 33 starts the team last year. His low strikeouts (126 over 184.2 innings in 2019) are something to be wary of, but he has an ADP north of 300 right now, so hopefully, you can make up for his strikeout deficiencies with other draft picks along the way.
Over 32 starts with a 2.43 ERA in 2019, Jacob deGrom still managed only 11 wins on the season. In the shortened 2020 season, it could be tough for deGrom to muster even four or five wins. That’s a tough nugget to swallow given the high draft capital you need to spend on the Mets ace.
Targeting pitchers who figure to have the most run support, and thus the higher win potential, could give you a big boost in the category for the shortened season. The Yankees, Twins, Astros, and Red Sox were the highest-scoring offenses in 2019, followed by the Dodgers, Nationals, and Braves.
Okay, so this one probably sticks out as a surprise given the fact that saves are clearly one of the most fickle of all fantasy sports stats on a year-to-year basis. However, most of that fickle behavior comes from the middle tier, or even the top-middle tier, of relief pitchers.
It should always be a general rule of thumb to avoid the one-season wonders like Blake Treinen who converted 38 saves in 2018 despite a mediocre half-decade in the league preceding the season. Treinen was one of the first closers off the board in 2019, only to struggle mightily and lose his job to Liam Hendriks – who should be considered just as much of a risk this year as Treinen was last year.
Less-proven closers will be given an even shorter leash in a shorter season, which means that extra value should be given to the proven, experienced closers at the top.
Don’t be afraid to reach a bit higher than normal for Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, or Aroldis Chapman. The picture gets a lot fuzzier after that and other owners without one of these four might be scrambling for saves on a weekly basis or punting the category altogether. If you lock down one of these top four and then throw a few “closer darts” later on in the draft, you could find yourself in a good position to regularly come out ahead in the saves category.
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We have already seen several players opt out of the season and others having their outlooks for the beginning of the schedule clouded by COVID-19. There will certainly be more players forced out of action, and some may even elect to walk away when they reach certain service time thresholds or if their team falls out of contention.
It is very important to ensure your roster against possible losses of players for any period of time. Those who qualify at multiple positions have become more important and essential to fantasy baseball survival in this completely unique season of uncertainty. Throughout your draft, you may want to move multi-position eligibility types up your board a smidgen more than usual. These versatile performers can ease some roster concerns when players suddenly become unavailable, especially in leagues with limited reserve spots.
Some of these hitters will start for your team regardless, yet will make lineup maneuverability easier when you inevitably have to deal with players becoming unavailable. While we feature some of our favorites that can qualify at three or more positions based on 20 games logged last year, do not forget there are many players who can qualify at two positions, and that also helps your flexibility. If a player qualifies at both first base and outfield, for example, he can essentially play 1B, OF, and slide in at corner infield. Those types can be quite valuable as well this year.
In this shortened season, you want to put an increased emphasis on hitters who can deliver a higher batting average, as they may tend to be less streaky. McNeil is one of the best all-around combinations of versatility, BA, and some power. He hit .337 last year with 23 homers and his .385 WOBA was in the top 8 percent of the league. McNeil had an xBA of .290 and an xWOBA of .355, so he won’t fall too far off from last season’s levels. His K% of 13.2 was in the top nine percent.
McNeil hit 14 homers in 57 games at Double-A ball and the HR/FB rate of 15.4% is not extremely unusual. McNeil is a superb hitting technician and a very valuable piece for 2020. The ADP of 81 is a bit low when you consider the all-around appeal of eligibility and somewhat safe production.
He can fill any corner infield and two middle infield spots. Muncy is a risk to get streaky, but he could also give your team a significant power boost if he gets hot for awhile during the reduced schedule. Muncy dropped his K% a bit to 25.3 last year and his HR output is consistent, as he has hit 35 in each of the past two seasons. Muncy’s xWOBA of .385 was in the top eight percent of MLB last year and his BB% was top four percent, making him even more valuable in OBP leagues (.364).
He scored a career-best 101 runs last year and fits well in the second slot in the Dodgers lineup. Pitchers will be more fidgety on the mound against him this year with Mookie Betts in the Los Angeles leadoff spot. The ADP of 65 is very fair.
You may have to wait a bit for his return from quarantine, but LeMahieu will be so important when he does come back. He is coming off a career season and like McNeil, he should be reliable and possibly less prone to cold streaks while also supplying some power. LeMahieu hits at the to of a superb lineup in a great hitter’s park which seems to suit him even better than Coors Field did.
His XBA of .322 was third-best in MLB last year and the xWOBA of .379 was in the top ten percent of the league. The Exit Velocity of 91.1 was Top 8 percent and the Hard Hit% of 47.2 was in the Top 10 percent. LeMahieu’s move to New York has boosted his fantasy allure to new heights and much of the advanced numbers indicate his 2019 season was no fluke. Don’t pass on him at an ADP of 62, as he is just the kind of hitter you need when he returns because of the versatility and dependability required in 2020. He may not miss much time.
He just misses being eligible at 2B in many formats, playing 17 games at that position. In Yahoo leagues, however, he qualifies at every infield position other than catcher. His true value, though, is because he can qualify at corner infield and outfield, plus he provides a power/speed combo at an ADP of 133.
Santana was a pleasant surprise last year and you can get him at a bargain because of lingering skepticism. Santana’s Exit Velocity of 91.4 was top 10 percent in MLB last season as his launch angle jumped from 9.4 percent to a new career-high of 13.4. The Hard Hit% of 43.4 was also a new career standard. The Sprint Speed of 27.7 was not great nor bad. But base stealing has always been an element of his skill set. The BABIP of .353, outlier HR/FB% of 24.3 and K rate of 29.5% point to concerns for regression, but considering the ADP of 133 it’s worth the gamble to still get some pop and SB and the ability to move him around in your lineups.
Health concerns could conceivably force him to be popped in anywhere for the Rangers at any time, possibly stretching his eligibility range wider. Santana should hit fifth for Texas but had his most at-bats in the No. 2 hole last year, so he can also jump around in the Rangers lineup as needed.
In terms of pure versatility, it does not get much better than Berti, as he can qualify at corner infield, middle infield, and the outfield. Seemingly headed for a career in the minor leagues, his scrappiness impressed Don Mattingly last season and he stuck. Considering the Marlins are always looking to patch a hole, he is on the right team to continue getting opportunities to play often.
Berti is a great later pick for cheap speed, as he stole 17 bases in just 256 plate appearances last season. His Sprint Speed of 29.8 was fifth in MLB last year. He also popped six homers and you had to like the Hard Hit Rate of 39.0%. Berti does not have a solid position or lineup spot entering the season, but Miami lacks depth and has a few projected starters that could easily flame out quickly and open up a place for Berti. Plus, the addition of the DH to the N.L. can help create more lineup room. He is totally worth the late flier, as his ADP is 267.
The Top 20 MLB players in Sprint Speed for 2019, with Jon Berti at 13th. Leaderboard via baseballsavant.com
He is an unheralded late target in terms of roster flexibility. Heck, Goodrum qualifies just about everywhere except for 3B, but he can man a corner infield spot for you. What you see is what you get with Goodrum, as both his surface and batted ball numbers are very similar over the past two seasons. He will deliver a mediocre batting average and respectable power and speed totals as he plays often for a bad team. Goodrum’s 29.2 K% was in the bottom eight percent of the league, but he still produces those decent power and speed numbers.
He is off the fantasy radar in many leagues at an ADP of 313, yet you should take him as an insurance pick in the final rounds. You may end up appreciating him when you need to plug some roster holes during this unusual season.
It can be fun to look back at previous things you’ve written, gaining a window into your state of mind in that moment. I originally wrote much of this piece back in March, when baseball seemed like a distant dream. From March:
"The last few weeks have been challenging. In the grand scheme of things, our collective safety and well-being is the only thing that matters. It’s up to each of us to do everything in our power to minimize the impact of COVID-19, like staying home and informed, when possible. In doing so, perhaps there’s still a role for temporary pockets of reprieve — listening, reading, writing, among other things. Personally, I’ve found new podcasts from all the baseball personalities we know and love to be oddly therapeutic — more so than normal. I’d like to think that the two — our civic responsibilities and need for occasional “diversions” — aren’t mutually exclusive. With that, I’ve continued to occasionally draft, read, analyze, listen, write, etc. Not because I know there will be a season — I have no clue — but because, well, I need it!"
Now on the verge of return, I’m cautiously optimistic — and excited — about its return! One piece of analysis I’d been toying with all offseason, and that I’m excited to unveil as we head into this 60-game sprint, is the mental weighting of our shiny new Statcast metrics.
Statcast: Who's The Best?
Scroll through your Fantasy baseball-related Twitter feed and you’re bound to find numerous references to newer statistics like launch angle, exit velocity and barrels. But which ones are the best? And by how much? And how do they perform relative to “old reliable” metrics, like strikeout and walk rate?
Al Melchior and Alex Chamberlain, both of FanGraphs, took an initial pass at some of these questions back in 2018, emphasizing the importance of barrels and flyball distance for power metrics like HR/FB, ISO and Hard Hit Rate.
Building on their work — and armed with an additional season’s worth of data — I set out to test which metrics best predicted future hitter performance, as defined by weighted on-base percentage (wOBA). While not the perfect measure of 5x5 Fantasy goodness, it serves as a useful proxy for a hitter’s Fantasy value. Worst case, even if it didn’t, perhaps we can better understand who the best hitters are — that’s a skill that’s unlikely to go out of style.
An Attempt At Weightings: "POWA"
To do so, I pulled 2015-2019 (five seasons) data from Baseball Savant for all hitters with at least 500 PA (n = 359 season pairs). You can find the full test results here for all of the metrics tested.
Similar to our weighting of various pitching measures to create ACES, I was seeking to understand: which metrics should we use and how to weight them?
After testing which metrics in one season (“season-n”) were most predictive of the following season’s wOBA (“season-n+1”), the following combination and weightings were found to be most predictive — shown broken into two groups here, plate discipline and contact quality:
This seems to make sense! A near 50-50 mix of plate discipline (47%) and contact quality (53%) contributed to better future performance — thus, the formula for our new metric is:
Minimize strikeouts (27%), take walks (20%)
Hit the ball hard (measured in different ways, but combined for 48% — average exit velocity, barrels per batted ball event, percentage of batted balls hit greater than 95 MPH, maximum exit velocity and average distance)
Don’t hit the ball soft (5% — percentage of batted balls poorly topped)
For reasons that will become clearer in the “testing” section below, let’s call this metric: Prediction of wOBA Attempt (POWA), preferably pronounced as “POW-uh.”
2019 POWA Leaderboard: Top & Bottom 15%
More importantly, who ranks well by POWA? Here’s a leaderboard with the top and bottom 15% POWA hitters from 2019 (minimum 30 PA):
Does it pass slightly more rigorous testing, however? Should we be using POWA to evaluate hitters? Or is it part of the “problem,” introducing additional noise and complexity into a world already exploding with new metrics? Let’s test and find out — specifically, we’ll test its predictiveness and season-to-season reliability (often referred to as “stickiness”).
Using the same testing sample (2015-2019 hitter data from Statcast, minimum 500 PA, n = 359 season pairs), here’s POWA’s predictiveness:
Without context, it’s hard to judge. Testing within the same sample, let’s compare POWA to wOBA and expected wOBA (xwOBA):
While not quite as predictive of wOBA as wOBA itself — hence the “A” in POWA, for “attempt” — POWA did test as nearly 10% more predictive of future wOBA than the more widely used xwOBA! It tested even better against other “expected” stats, such as expected batting average (xBA) or expected slugging percentage (xSLG).
(To be fair, xwOBA and other “expected” stats weren’t necessarily designed to be predictive. According to Tom Tango, Senior Database Architect of Stats for MLB Advanced Media, xwOBA was designed to be descriptive. I surmise the results would be different — and likely better — if they were intended to be predictive.)
Still, you might be disappointed to see that you could use plain old wOBA to better predict future performance. I hear you. However, despite being slightly less predictive than wOBA, season-to-season stickiness is where POWA really shines:
With an r-squared exceeding 0.66, POWA is far stickier season-to-season than both wOBA and xwOBA:
In other words, if a hitter displays POWA skills in one season, they are much likelier to display those skills the following season — at least relative to skills captured by wOBA and xwOBA. Given POWA largely includes only raw skills — strikeouts, walks, exit velocities, etc. — rather than outcomes like wOBA, that shouldn’t be particularly surprising.
It may be a statistical oversimplification, but here’s another way to think about it: approximately 66% of a hitter’s POWA score can be explained by the previous season’s POWA score. By contrast, a hitter’s wOBA in one season is explained by only 30% of their previous season’s wOBA — simply put, wOBA is much more volatile season-to-season.
To recap, POWA is more predictive of future wOBA than xwOBA and more than two times stickier than wOBA. Not bad!
So how should we be using POWA? It’s great that it identifies Mike Trout and Christian Yelich as elite hitters, but then again, we didn’t need any fancy math equations to figure that out. Instead, POWA might help us identify under-the-radar hitters going later in Fantasy drafts but with similarly compelling raw hitting talents. Stay tuned for more, when we’ll identify just who some of those late hitting targets might be … find the POWA.
The methodology used to calculate POWA is eerily similar to ACES — that is, it relies on the use of z-scores across each incorporated statistic:
Z-scores are calculated across each statistic (e.g., strikeout rate, walk rate, average exit velocity, etc.) using the average and standard deviation from the full 2015-2019 player universe (minimum 500 PA)
Z-scores for each statistic are weighted by the determined weights mentioned above in the piece:
Plate Discipline — 47%
Strikeout Rate (K%) — 27%
Walk Rate (BB%) — 20%
Contact Quality — 53%
Average Exit Velocity — 15%
Barrels per Batted Ball Event — 14%
% of Batted Balls Hit 95+ MPH — 10%
Maximum Exit Velocity — 6%
% of Batted Balls Poorly Topped — 5%
Average Distance — 3%
The weighted z-scores are then summed, resulting in a hitter’s POWA score
Percentiles are calculated within each season (e.g., Mike Trout’s 100th percentile POWA rank in 2019 is relative to 2019 hitters only)
Win Big With RotoBaller
Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
Host Michael Florio of RotoBaller Radio discusses the 2020 fantasy baseball season. In this episode, he brings you his approach in a 60 game fantasy baseball season.
Like and subscribe to the RotoBallerchannel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, and also Saturday/Sunday mornings from 6-8 AM ET. You can find new weekly shows from the entire RotoBaller crew on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.
You can hear Michael Florio and Scott Engel on SiriusXM every Saturday and Sunday morning from 6-8 AM. Listen in live or on demand anytime on the SiriusXM app or site!
Fantasy Baseball Strategy in a Shortened Season
Michael Florio discusses:
Should you target elite pitchers early?
What to do with closers
How to get stolen bases
Emphasizing multi-positional eligible players
and a whole lot more!
Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.
Fantasy baseball fans, the 2020 season is finally almost upon us, which means it’s time to start thinking about drafting and valuing players all over again! As I am sure you are all aware, the shortened season and rule changes will impact aspects of your fantasy baseball strategies, some more than others.
One of the biggest impacted areas will be platoon battles or teams with undecided starters for certain positions. With each game, at-bat, or inning pitched significantly more valuable in a 60-game season, fantasy players cannot afford to have a player on their roster who may only see a portion of playing time.
With that in mind, I am going to take a look at a few murky situations that you should steer clear of for fantasy purposes. There is still time for some of these situations to be resolved during summer camp, but I will focus on a few that are still as unresolved as they were when Spring Training originally started.
Cincinnati Reds Outfield
The first glaring example of potential platooning for multiple players in multiple positions is the Cincinnati Reds outfield debacle. The team made some big outfield additions this offseason by signing Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, both of whom are shaping up to be everyday players whether by playing the field or filling the universal DH spot. That leaves Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Nick Senzel, and Aristedes Aquino (who is in the player pool but not training at Great American Ball Park) to potentially fight for playing time, among others.
I was very excited about Jesse Winker as a fantasy asset when he got called up in 2017. I thought his approach to hitting and plate discipline would allow him to hit for average and get on base a ton. However, that potential has yet to come to fruition due to both injuries and platooning. Winker posted a disappointing .269/.357/.473 slash line with 16 HR and 38 RBI in 384 plate appearances in 2019 and missed the last two months of the season with a cervical strain. He’s now healthy and the potential is still there, but the big impediment to full playing time for Winker is his inability to produce against left-handed pitchers. He owns a career .176 batting average against lefties and therefore does not get many at-bats against them; only 50 of his 384 plate appearances came against lefties in 2019. I don’t see the Reds suddenly letting Winker hit against lefties in a shortened season.
The player who has usually taken Winker’s potential at-bats against lefties has been Phillip Ervin. The 27-year-old compiled a respectable .271/.331/.466 slash line with seven HR and 23 RBI in 260 plate appearances in 2019. His numbers against lefties specifically were impressive; he compiled a stellar .349/.411/.628 slash line over 95 plate appearances. However, Ervin struggled against right-handed hitters, managing a meager .227 average. Given their respective performances, the Reds would not be critiqued for starting Winker exclusively against righties and Ervin against lefties in left field, much like what they did last season. Unfortunately, this will limit their fantasy upside since they will be on your bench a good portion of the time.
Now take a look at the Reds center field situation. The player who spent the most time in center field in 2019 was top prospect Nick Senzel, who put forth a respectable rookie campaign. The 25-year-old showed his exciting combination of pop and speed, compiling a .256/.315/.427 slash line with 12 HR, 42 RBI, and 14 stolen bases batting mostly leadoff. This all sounds great, so why are we talking about Senzel as a player to avoid? As mentioned earlier, the Reds signed Akiyama, a true center fielder to a three-year, $21 million contract. Further, manager David Bell mentioned back in March that Akiyama would likely hit leadoff in the games that he starts. The contract size coupled with these types of comments makes me worry that Senzel will take a back seat to Akiyama this season. Senzel is definitely still a high-end fantasy dynasty/keeper value, but his value in single-season leagues is lower given his unknown current playing status.
Finally, I will quickly mention Aristedes Aquino even though he is not currently training at Great American Ball Park. As fantasy players will fondly (and then unfondly) remember, The Punisher burst onto the scene last August, hitting .320 with 14 HR, before hitting a frigid .196 with a 30.9% strikeout rate in September. The inconsistencies in Aquino’s batting approach are likely why he is not training with other starters. However, his power seems legitimate (28.3% HR/FB rate, 18.2-degree launch angle, 39% hard-hit rate), so it would not surprise me to see him at the big-league level at some point during the 2020 season, which will only add one more cook to an already crowded kitchen.
Boston Red Sox CF
I’ll next take a look at another potential outfield platoon situation, this one a bit more straightforward. The Red Sox signed veteran defensive whiz Kevin Pillar after a surprise offensive season in which he posted a .259/.287/.432 slash line with a career-high 21 HR and 88 RBI for the Giants. However, the Red Sox already had a stellar defensive center fielder in Jackie Bradley Jr. as well as young talents in Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo. With four valuable outfielders and only three spots, how will this impact fantasy decisions?
There have been talks that Pillar will receive regular playing time against left-handed pitchers; all of the other Red Sox outfielders bat left-handed and Pillar has a career .281 batting average against lefties. While Pillar could hypothetically replace any of the others on a given day, both Benintendi (.277/.354/.442 career slash line) and Verdugo (.282/.335/.449 career slash line) have better overall offensive production and upside compared to Bradley Jr. (career .236/.317/.409), so it looks like Bradley Jr. would make the most sense as the one to yield time to Pillar. Bradley Jr. has never been much of a fantasy consideration given his lack of offensive production. However, Pillar was a useful fantasy option last season and always provides some steals. Unfortunately, his projected value for 2020 (platooning against lefties in a 60-game season) will not be enough to justify rostering him.
Boston Red Sox 1B/2B
I’m going to stick with the Red Sox here but turn my attention to the right side of their infield. The Red Sox have a bunch of decisions to make regarding lineup composition and have three viable 1B/2B player combinations depending on the daily matchup. At 1B they have veteran Mitch Moreland and sophomore Michael Chavis. Both Moreland and Chavis played significant time at 1B for the Red Sox in 2019, with Chavis splitting time between 1B and 2B. While both put up almost identical numbers overall (Moreland: .252/.328/.507 slash line, 19 HR, 58 RBI over 335 plate appearances; Chavis: .254/.322/.444 slash line, 18 HR, 58RBI over 382 plate appearances), Chavis performed relatively better against lefties compared to Moreland (Chavis: .226 average, .481 slugging percentage, eight HR over 111 plate appearances; Moreland: .204 average, .315 slugging percentage, one HR, seven RBI over 60 plate appearances). So while neither are great at hitting lefties, it would make sense to play Chavis at first more often against lefties and Moreland against righties.
Shifting to 2B options, the Red Sox have Chavis as well as newly-acquired Jose Peraza. Peraza had a disappointing 2019 with the Reds but has been a productive player in the past and is a nice source of steals for fantasy. Peraza has had success hitting lefties throughout his career (.297 average, .406 slugging percentage), so it would be a possibility for him and Chavis to platoon at 2B throughout the season, with Peraza starting against lefties and Chavis starting against righties.
There are plenty of interesting possibilities here. If Chavis platooned at both 1B and 2B (1B against lefties, 2B against righties), he could essentially be an everyday player. If Peraza sees positive regression towards his career .273/.312/.374 slash line and starts stealing bases again then he could grab the starting 2B job and be a stealthy fantasy option. Unfortunately, all three of these players' fantasy values are capped until any of this pans out, as fantasy players can't afford to waste a bench spot on a player who may not be able to contribute consistently from the start.
The final platoon I will investigate can be found in the Braves bullpen. As most fantasy players are aware, bullpen usage has gotten messier for fantasy purposes over the past several seasons with openers, followers, and closers by committee. However, the Braves back end of the bullpen is particularly puzzling because they have three/four somewhat-proven closers. RosterResource (now on Fangraphs) shows the following hierarchy but it could change throughout the season. Notice Will Smith is absent because of his COVID diagnosis.
Luke Jackson served as the Braves closer through the All-Star break, posting a respectable 3.19 ERA but only converting 17 of his 24 save opportunities. The Braves then bulked up their bullpen, acquiring Tigers former closer Shane Greene (who had 54 saves over the past season-and-a-half when he joined the Braves) and veteran reliever Mark Melancon from the Giants, who had not been closing for the team but had served as an effective closer for both the Pirates and the Giants in the past. Former temporary closer A.J. Minter also looms as a left-handed arm if the situation calls.
Melancon took over as the Braves closer and appeared to be on his game, posting a 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate while converting all 11 of his save opportunities. It would reason that Melancon would be the go-to closer for the Braves in 2020, right? Well, think again.
This offseason, the Braves signed former Giants closer Will Smith to a three-year, $39 million contract. Smith was excellent in 2019, posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, a 37.4% strikeout rate, and a 34/38 save conversion rate. Keep in mind that Melancon was on the Giants with Smith for the first half of the season and did not see save opportunities.
With four competent closers, Smith and Melancon being the top two, it really is anyone’s guess as to who will get the ball at the end of each game. There have been talks of both Melancon and Smith taking over closing responsibilities, but nothing has been confirmed yet. While these players would be surefire fantasy options if all on different teams, the fact that they are all in the same bullpen drastically lowers all of their fantasy values.
Earlier this week, we took a look at which hitters have been helped the most by the recently announced 60-game schedule. Now it's time to take a look at the hitters who might be hurt the most by it.
Remember that in order to fully break down the way in which a schedule may impact a hitter, we need to keep three things in mind: player talent, strength of schedule, and directional park factors.
Read about hitters on the rise based on the revised schedule right here.
Analyzing player talent means that we're not going to focus on players who are going to be fantasy studs regardless of their schedule. Hitters like Joey Gallo and J.D. Martinez have only slightly below average schedules for power production, but they are both players who don't need a friendly ballpark to hit home runs. You're not going to move them down your board because other players with less natural talent have a slightly better schedule for power.
The second thing we're going to consider is the overall strength of schedule. I know it's tough to be 100% positive on those numbers when no games have been played, but we still have a pretty good idea of each team's talent level. In particular, when it comes to predicting the success of hitters, we'll be looking at the opposing rotations they are set to face and raising cautious about some players who will likely have a considerable number of games against elite or above-average pitching.
Lastly, we'll be analyzing directional park factors. There are many strong park factors metrics, but in this article, I'll be using Max Freeze's Directional Park Factors (FreezeStats) article to suggest how each park played last year and how it might impact hitters with their 2020 schedules.
As always, this should be a piece of your larger evaluation. Just because a player is on here doesn't mean he's a "must-avoid" or you need to plummet him down your board. Use it in conjunction with other tools, like Ariel Cohen's ATC projections or Statcast metric, and change the valuation based on your comfort level.
Pete Alonso was already becoming a riskier fantasy commodity in a short season given his tendency to strikeout and overall streakiness. The release of the schedule didn't exactly help him. Being stuck with so many games within the division means he's likely to face a higher concentration of elite pitchers. It also means that he'll play games in three of the nine worst stadiums in the league for power to LF. Marlins Park is below average for HR and overall slugging to both left and center and Atlanta's Trust Park is also well below average for power to both LF and CF. He'll also get three games in Yankee Stadium, which many people think of as a bandbox, but is actually 9th-worst in the league in terms of suppressing right-handed pull power. That means that over one-sixth of Alonso's games will be played in parks that suppress his most valuable asset; an asset you need given his issues with batting average.
Now, Alonso definitely has the power to put the ball out of any park, but his below-average schedule is compounded by his struggles at home last year.
While the power numbers are similar, the batting average discrepancy and increase in strikeouts despite fewer at-bats give me a little bit of pause. It could obviously be nothing since it's only one MLB season, but the schedule and park concerns, when paired with Alonso's streakiness, are enough to give me pause considering the draft capital that you need to use to draft him. I'd rather take a more consistent and reliable hitter in the first three rounds.
Cooper and Aguilar are two players whose stock seemed to be on the rise given that the presence of the universal DH that would give them each more consistent at-bats. However, the Marlins were saddled with the second-hardest schedule in the league, which could limit overall at-bats per game and the opportunities each man has to hit with runners in scoring position.
As mentioned above, the Marlins Park is the fourth-worst stadium in the league in terms of right-handed pull power, but the Marlins will also play seven games in Atlanta and three in Yankee Stadium, which means the Marlins will get two-thirds of their game in bottom-nine stadiums for right-handed pull power.
On top of that, both men are on one-year contracts entering arbitration years, so if the Marlins lose a bunch of games quickly and are no longer in contention for anything, it's possible that they could ship either player off for younger assets. That could take each man out of the lineup if they become bench bats on contending teams, all but eliminating their value. If you decide to use a late-round pick on either player, make sure you have a contingency plan for them in the second part of the season.
Biggio and Hernandez are representative of the larger concern that the Blue Jays, despite being a young and talented team, will play 77% of their games against teams who were above .500 last year. While many people like to taut the offensive prowess of the "AL Beast," the division still has some talented pitchers, particularly on the Yankees and Rays, and the Blue Jays had a winning percentage of only .423 within their own division.
They will now also face some pretty phenomenal pitchers in the NL East too: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Mike Soroka, and many others. That's not exactly a recipe for offensive success and is particularly troubling for some of the young hitters who have high K-rates. The two that jump out the most are Hernandez (31.8% career MLB K%) and Biggio, who had a 28.6% K-rate last year but had K% above 25% in 2017 in high-A and 2018 at AA. We know that he's a patient hitter, but if he's waiting for the right pitch against some of the aforementioned arms, he might be headed back to the dugout with the bat still on his shoulder.
Santander is mainly on here as a placeholder to tell you that the Baltimore Orioles have the third-hardest schedule in the league now. He might also be especially impacted based on the parks he's going to be playing in. Santander is a switch-hitter who hits for more power from the left-hand side and pulls the ball 46% of the time. That means Santander (and also Chris Davis, if you were still considering him) would see most of his home runs come to RF. That's not great news given his schedule.
Yes, the Orioles and Yankees parks both play up for left-handed pull power, but Baltimore is only 14th for power to RF, so it's really only a slightly above-average park for left-handed power to RF. On top of that, the Red Sox are the second-worst park in the league for power to RF (unless you hit it literally down the line to the Pesky Pole), the Nationals Park is 22nd overall for power to RF, Marlins Park is 17th (but a black hole to right-center), and Tropicana is 19th. That means Santander, and other Orioles lefties, will not only be facing tougher pitchers but also play a quarter of their games in parks that suppress power to RF.
Since that's part of what made Santander fantasy-relevant to begin with, it all but removes him from my radar this year. You likely weren't leaning on many Orioles hitters to begin with, but it's something that you should certainly keep in mind when thinking about filling out your bench roles.
I was already a little down on Goldschmidt as a fantasy player since he's all but stopped running. However, I'm even warier of him with his new short-season schedule. Without speed in his game, Goldschmidt needs to hit balls out of the yard and knock-in runs in order to be successful. That's going to be much harder with games against AL Central teams who play in relatively cavernous ballparks.
The overall quality of starting pitching in the AL Central isn't great (aside from the Indians and half of the Twins rotation), but the parks Goldschmidt will travel to are notoriously hard for right-handed power, especially considering Goldschmidt has a 38% Pull% but 37.6% Cent%. Hitting the ball so much to center and left-center is not good in his own home park, which is second-worst in the league in terms of power to LF but also not good for inter-division games against Pittsburgh since PNC is the worst park in the league for right-handed pull power. Then he'll also go to Kauffman, which is 29th in power to left-center and Comerica, which is below-average to left-center and the worst stadium in the league for power to CF.
So, basically, Goldschmidt has stopped running and now has to make his fantasy value by hitting home runs in some of the hardest places to hit home runs based on his spray chart. I'm not plummeting him down my ranks, but I do have him outside my top-10 first baseman now.
La Stella is also here as a pseudo placeholder to let you know that the Angels have the hardest schedule in the league in terms of opponents winning percentage. That's not going to scare you off from Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, or Mike Trout (if he plays), but it's bad news for a player like La Stella, who was only on the fringe of fantasy-relevance before. Another knock against La Stella is the park factors working against him.
One of the only reasons La Stella was fantasy-relevant last year was the career-high 16 HR (more than triple his previous career-high). For anybody that thought he was primed to repeat that, the schedule is the final bucket of cold water. The left-handed hitter has a 40% Pull% and 34% Cent% and plays his home games in a stadium that is 26th in the league in pull power for left-handers (although it does play up in right-center). He'll also play in Oakland (24th for pull power to RF), Los Angeles (20th), San Francisco (30th), Seattle (29th to right-center) and Petco (28th to right-center). If he's only going to hit four or five home runs, against tough opponents, while potentially leading off for a team that may be without its best player, are you really going to roster him?
We already mentioned that the Oakland Coliseum is friendlier to right-handed power than left with the park ranking 15th in power to left field (mainly due to tremendous left-center metrics) but only 25th in power to right field and even worse the closer you get to dead pull. That's part of the reason Olson had such drastic home/road splits last season:
Those are sizable differences in both HR and AVG, which are not going to be helped by this year's schedule. The A's only play two games at Coors, while getting three at Dodgers Stadium, three in San Francisco, and two at Chase Field. Many people think of Chase Field as a hitter's park, but it's only league-average in terms of power to right field. Dodgers Stadium is 20th, thanks to a welcoming right-center but brutal right field, and the Giants play in the worst park in the league for left-handed pull power.
In fact, most of the parks he plays in, except Houston and Texas, are, at best, league-average for lefty power, which concerns me a little considering Olson sports a 51.7% Pull% and only an 18.2% Oppo%, meaning pretty much everything is hit to right field. Without a welcoming schedule to balance out his clear home/road splits, I would be cautious of his fast-rising draft price.
Seattle Mariners Hitters
There are few Mariners hitters who are being drafted high this year, but they have a few younger players who have been discussed as intriguing sleepers, like Shed Long Jr., Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis, or Evan White. Saddling those young players with a season with few breaks and the fourth-hardest schedule in the league is not a recipe for success in my book. The Mariners are also one of the few AL West teams who don't get to travel to Coors Field and play five road games in San Francisco at Petco, which could be brutal for offensive outputs.
Again, this likely isn't drastically changing anybody's draft approach, but if you are torn between the upside of Fraley and White or players similar in ADP (from June 7th to now) like Alec Bohm, Brendan Rodgers, or Kevin Cron, I would prefer not to have the Seattle hitters on my roster.
So….real, actual baseball games are almost upon us. Opening Day is July 23rd. And yet, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. At the time of my writing this, by my calculations, at least 90 players have had COVID-19 or have gone through the COVID Protocol due to players being traced back to a positive party. This represents about 5% of the current 1800 players in the player pool- (60 players, 30 teams).
There also have been 14 players opting out of the season entirely to this point for various reasons related to the pandemic. Overall, to this point, around 5.8% of the entire MLB player pool has been affected. MLB teams are not supposed to disclose who had the virus and who hasn’t but when a player is put on IL for an unknown injury, specifically someone put on the COVID IL, it becomes obvious.
As fantasy players, we need to be aware of how to navigate this new “injury” and proceed accordingly.
A New Kind of Injury
Last year, 49.7% of pitchers (at least 10 innings pitched) landed on the IL while 52.4% of hitters (at least 70 abs) were on the IL at one point. If we add this new, additional, “injury” to the mix, I expect there to be a higher percentage of players on the IL this year when compared to last year. The injuries of prior years (shoulder, knee, elbow, wrist etc…) are basically “knowns”. We know how long it takes for a player to come back from Tommy John surgery or a wrist fracture. We know how long it takes for a back or oblique issue to resolve, more or less. COVID-19 is called a novel virus because it is just that. It is brand new and we are learning about it all the time. It has only been around since last year (that’s what the 19 represents in its name).
The medical profession has a basic idea of how long someone is infectious with it and how long it usually takes for someone to show symptoms. With the current protocols in place, MLB and the MLBPA will try to prevent a league-wide outbreak and at the same time have the league function as “normal.” Dr. Gary Green, the medical director of MLB has put out certain guidelines that have to be followed.
MLB players will be tested every other day. This is done with the hope to be able to prevent, as best as possible, an outbreak. Players will have their temperature checked multiple times a day and a player with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be sent home and quarantined. Basically, once quarantined (which could be anywhere from 7-14 days or more), if the player tests positive, he must be symptom-free for 5-7 days and have two negative COVID tests before he will be cleared to return by the MLB and MLBPA joint committee. If the player is COVID positive and symptom-free, he must quarantine at least 5-7 days and have 2 negative COVID tests in order to return. Each team will have its own “COVID-19 Action Plan.” This means that each team’s protocol may vary (from state to state), but in the end, this joint committee must give the go-ahead to return.
How to plan what to do with a player who is in the COVID protocol and also on your fantasy roster is the question of the hour. Any person who is symptom-free and fever-free (without using medication to lower the fever) is not considered “catchy” after 5-7 days. So, if a player went into quarantine August 1st, stopped having symptoms August 5th, they must wait at least an additional 5-7 days (sometimes longer- again, varies by state) so as to avoid a possible spreading of the virus- so the earliest possible return is August 12-19. But it is not even that simple.
Fabian Ardaya, who is an Angels beat writer for The Athletic, reported the following story on Twitter regarding Angels 1st baseman Matt Thaiss. “Matt Thaiss said he was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 when he was working out and tested positive in early June. It took him until Sunday [August 12th] to get two negative tests. He was asymptomatic and isolated for 28 to 29 days... Thaiss said he took 10 to 11 saliva tests, and a couple of nasal tests (“which were pretty uncomfortable”) before he finally tested negative twice for COVID-19...” This story alone shows that it is a lot more complicated than just being symptom-free.
Making a Plan for Fantasy Purposes
So what’s the plan? To drop or not to drop? Let’s base the answer on some of this knowledge we now have. Of the players that have gone through the protocol, 11 players have returned so far with others being able to return soon. The earlier in the season a player is taken out of circulation, the better chance of a return during the course of the season. Asymptomatic players will also return sooner. Length of illness can differ, which is the big X-factor. But given the fact that a quarantine stay can last ~7-14 days or more (with negative testing), we can say that a player could miss at least 7-14/60 games, or 11-23% of the season. Knowing this, fantasy players could begin to manage their rosters, and their IL spots if they have them, with more confidence.
In an NFBC-style league, every roster spot is of such importance. So, if a player goes into the protocol with two weeks left in the season, I do not see a reason why they should be kept on their roster. If a player goes into the protocol September 1, there is a chance for them to return and there is a risk/reward of dropping a player only to have to pick them up again.
Oh, but there is a snag I didn’t mention. Hitters should be able to get back in the lineup pretty quickly upon return. But pitchers, especially starting pitchers, may have to work up their stamina and innings before a full return. So there is a possibility that if a starting pitcher goes into the COVID protocol, he may come out of it, for the rest of the season, as a middle reliever or a long man, and not as a starter.
Player safety is paramount in all of this. They are humans just like we are and they all have families to consider. There will be players, during the course of the season, that may decide not to come back. We can not hold it against them because we may do the same thing if we were in their place. MLB and its players will hopefully get through an entire season without major issues. That, in itself, should be considered a win.
List of Fantasy-Relevant Players Affected by COVID-19 Protocol
Alvarez, Yordan (DH, HOU)
Astudillo, Willians (C, MIN)
Beer, Seth (1B, ARI) - Returned
Bethancourt, Christian (C, PHI)
Blackmon, Charlie (OF, COL) - Returned
Brito, Socrates (OF, PIT)
Brinson, Lewis (OF, MIA)
Cabrera, Genesis (RP, STL) Calhoun, Kole (OF, ARI) - Returned Cano, Robinson (1B/2B, NYM) - Returned Cessa, Luis (RP, NYY)
DeShields, Delino (OF, CLE)
Dietrich, Derek (1B/OF, CIN)
Drury, Brandon (3B, TOR)
Elias, Roenis (RP, SEA)
Freeman, Freddie (1B, ATL) - Returned Garica, Jarlin (RP, SF)
Glasnow, Tyler (SP, TB) - Returned Grichuk, Randal (OF, TOR)
Guerra, Junior (RP, ARI) - Returned Hamilton, Billy (OF, SF)
Haseley, Adam (OF, PHI) - Returned Hayes, Ke'Bryan (3B, PIT)
Hernandez, Darwinzon (RP, BOS) - Returned Hirano, Yoshii (RP, SEA)
Hunter, Tommy (RP, PHI)
Jansen, Kenley (RP, LAD) - Returned Joyce, Matt (OF, MIA)
Kela, Keone (RP, PIT)
Keller, Brad (SP, KC)
Kendrick, Howie (1B/2B/3B/OF, WAS) - Returned Kingery, Scott (2B/3B/SS/OF, PHI) - Returned Lauer, Eric (SP, MIL)
LeMahieu, DJ (1B/2B, NYY) - Returned Luzardo, Jesus (SP, OAK) - Returned Mahtook, Mikie (OF, DET)
Mateo, Jorge (SS, SD)
Meadows, Austin (OF, TB)
Moncada, Yoan (3B, CHW) - Returned Neris, Hector (RP, PHI)- Returned Nola, Aaron (SP, PHI) - Returned Norris, Daniel (SP, DET)
O'Hearn, Ryan (1B, KC)
Perez, Salvador (C, KC)
Pham, Tommy (OF, SD) - Returned Robles, Victor (OF, WAS)
Sano, Miguel (1B/3B, MIN) - Returned Smith, Will (RP, ATL)
Soto, Juan (OF, WAS) - Returned Suero, Wander (RP, WAS)
Teheran, Julio (SP, LAA)
Toussaint, Touki (SP/RP, ATL)
Urias, Luis (2B/SS, MIL)
Urquidy, Jose (SP, HOU)
Players Opting Out of the 2020 Season
Castillo, Wellington (C, WAS)
Desmond, Ian (1B/OF, COL)
Hernandez, Felix (SP, ATL)
Hicks, Jordan (RP, STL)
Koepech, Michael (SP, CHW)
Leake, Mike (SP, ARI)
Markakis, Nick (OF, ATL)
Noesi, Hector (RP, PIT)
Posey, Buster (C, SF)
Price, David (SP, LAD)
Ross, Joe (SP, WAS)
Ross, Tyson (SP, FA)
Smith, Joe (RP, HOU)
Zimmerman, Ryan (1B, WAS)
Follow my work here on RotoBaller and follow me on Twitter for regular updates on this ever-changing situation.
As the sun prepares to rise on the 2020 MLB season (I'm all about hopeful metaphors these days), it also marks the end of draft season for fantasy baseball. This weekend will see a flurry of activity from fantasy league owners trying to figure out how to properly value players amid a global pandemic. Good luck with that.
All of this went into practice as the RotoBaller staff conducted one final mock draft for the 2020 fantasy baseball season. The idea wasn't to focus on roster construction but to look for ADP outliers. Many players have seen their value shift dramatically in recent days. Let's see who climbed or fell the most in our analysts' eyes.
Final 2020 Mock Draft Board
The New IL
This exercise would be futile if we didn't address the obvious situation. Many Major League players have tested positive for coronavirus and have either been placed on the Injured List or not reported to camp. Since MLB clubs inexplicably don't have to identify whether a player has COVID or not, we are left to guess in many cases. Thankfully, some key names are already known. Here are the main players relevant to 12-team leagues or smaller that have been confirmed to have COVID.
In some cases, our analysts' views of a player reflected that of high-stakes players. A player who was diagnosed early on and is expected to return in time for the season with little setback, such as Scott Kingery, will see a negligible effect. Players who tested positive more recently, such as Aroldis Chapman, may see a bigger drop on draft day.
Early-Round Positional Breakdown
Unsurprisingly, there were few surprises in the first couple of rounds. Mike Trout going fourth actually feels early to me based on playing time concerns. Fernando Tatis Jr. as a first-rounder probably doesn't happen in most 12-team leagues, but Scott "The King" Engel wanted his guy at the turn since he knew he'd be long gone by the end of round three.
I stuck by my rankings and grabbed Gerrit Cole at sixth overall before following up with Jack Flaherty in round three and Patrick Corbin in round six. Starting pitchers went at a rate equivalent to NFBC ADP over the past two weeks, with nine SP selected within the first 30 picks and 15 SP selected within the first 50 picks.
Here is the positional breakdown after the first 50 picks:
Draft Reaches Relative to ADP
Pete Alonso was taken at 22 overall, which is 11 spots higher than his NFBC ADP and 12 spots higher than our RotoBaller consensus rankings. Around this range, the focus is typically on grabbing the few remaining aces. Case in point - in this round, five pitchers were taken. Perhaps Alonso would have been available in another round, but the fact that Freddie Freeman is on IL makes an already-thin first base position even thinner, which could explain this pick. Any hitter who relies primarily on the long ball is at risk of being a bust, especially in this 60-game season where the separation in categories won't be as pronounced.
Charlie Blackmon is usually a rock-solid source of average, power, runs, and RBI. The speed is gone, so we can't call him an all-category contributor anymore, unfortunately. ATC projects him to steal exactly one base this year. The real issue with Blackmon is that he was one of the first MLB stars to be officially diagnosed with COVID. That has left him out of summer camp and landed him on the IL. The good news is that he has been cleared to resume playing and has been training on his own, which has brought optimism that he will be ready for Opening Day. That could make Blackmon a sneaky bargain, but that is only if he is taken around or after his ADP of 63. Before the season was suspended, Blackmon was being selected around pick 42 on average, so maybe we should view Blackmon in a different light.
Jorge Soler has lived just outside the top 100 in terms of ADP all offseason. Scott claimed him at pick 71, reaching about 30 spots to grab the Cuban slugger. While Soler broke out in his age-27 season with 48 HR, 117 RBI, and a .922 OPS, he is the type of hitter that should draw red flags in a shortened season. He still has high swing-and-miss tendencies, posting a 13.2% Swinging Strike rate in 2019. He won't post a high-enough average to carry him through a slump or prolonged power surge, if one should occur. Soler did increase his xSLG as the year went on, not slumping or trailing off in the second half with his power numbers except for a slight dip versus offspeed pitches.
It's possible that pitchers feed him fewer fastballs but that alone isn't reason to fade him. The concern that a short season makes him less valuable based on a pronounced advantage in one category is the concern. Coming off a career year, Soler still has the talent to be among the HR leaders but the risk of a fall-off is too real to reach for him this soon.
Our man Kev made a point of grabbing the pitcher version of Shohei Ohtani with the 113th pick. I know this because during the draft he accidentally made a different pick and wanted to roll it back to get Ohtani instead. He probably could have waited a round or two, as his current ADP sits at 130. Ohtani did benefit from the delay in order to fully recover from UCL surgery, which means we could see him taken closer to his March ADP of 115. Truth be told, he might have been better off forsaking the pick altogether.
Ohtani is always going to be on an innings/start limit based on his usage. He joins a six-man rotation and will not be stretched out in order to preserve his health and bat. As far as performance, he has the stuff to be a frontline starter but just won't put up the counting stats to do so in fantasy. Nicklaus Gaut shows Ohtani to be one of the most overpriced pitchers when comparing ADP to ATC Projections. In particular, the fact that this mock was set for QS instead of wins might hurt Ohtani's stock, unless you are optimistic that he will be left in for six innings or more each time out.
Draft Bargains Relative to ADP
Lucas Giolito made an incredible turnaround from 2018 to 2019, cutting his ERA by more than two and a half runs while doubling his strikeout rate to 32.3%, good for fourth among qualified starters. Everything in his profile suggests he is now a frontline starting pitcher and second-tier fantasy SP, but there is still skepticism. Ariel Cohen recently told me that he does not view Giolito as the type of player he would target early on based on his ADP, nor will he take a step forward to full-fledged ace status. He may have been pleased to see Giolito taken with the 60th pick instead then, a full 15 spots lower than he's going in NFBC. Giolito also feels safer than Trevor Bauer or Mike Soroka, who were taken immediately after him.
If Pete Alonso went so early, why did Matt Olson go so late? He's seen his ADP climb to 49 as the fourth first baseman in NFBC. In our mock, he was there at 69 as the eighth 1B-eligible player off the board. This is probably truer to his actual value. Olson has tremendous power and could still be growing as a hitter, but he only hit .267 last year and scored 73 runs despite hitting in the heart of the A's lineup. Fantasy owners have been reaching for him as a top-50 player but our analysts did well to let him slide. He's a safe asset to secure before the talent level really drops off at the position, although I still don't understand why Josh Bell is being taken even later. I mean, the Pirates can't be that bad can they?
The optimism around Aaron Judge keeps growing. There is no doubt that the long delay has allowed him to rest and recover. Yankee fans can't be more stoked to see him taking BP these days. Can't say I blame them.
Of course, just as we get word that he might be ready for Opening Day, Judge woke up with neck stiffness and was held out of the most recent intrasquad game. Judge says he will keep playing the game hard, which is what you want to hear as a fan but also not what you want to hear as a fantasy owner. Judge, like his brittle teammate Giancarlo Stanton, will always be at risk for injury. If he falls outside the top 75 like he did in this draft, pull the trigger and hope for the best.
Tim Anderson at 121 seems criminal. The reigning AL batting champ is usually a slam-dunk top-100 pick, going at 89 overall in NFBC these days. Sure, he's not a fan of the walk and may see regression in his .399 BABIP, but he also brings power and speed to the table and is a legit five-cat contributor who could see a sharp drop from last year and still bat over .300. In fact, his profile compares favorably to Fernando Tatis Jr., who is a top-20 pick everywhere.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis has more power, but aside from a couple of HR, their roto profile is eerily similar. In points leagues, obviously Anderson takes a big step back due to his lesser plate discipline. In 5x5 leagues, the discount for Anderson seems worth waiting on. Plus, he looks to be in midseason form already, launching three homers in intrasquad games this past week. Let people keep doubting him and take advantage.
Win Big With RotoBaller
Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy baseball articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut are joined by Ariel Cohen to discuss his revised ATC projections for the 2020 MLB season. How should hitters be valued over a 60-game season and what can the projections tell us on draft day?
Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.
Pierre and Nick talk with Ariel Cohen about valuing roto categories for fantasy baseball and identify some undervalued and overvalued hitters for the shortened 2020 season.
In true 2020-style, baseball is about to get funky. Maybe you’re excited about the idea of getting some strange baseball, or maybe the word “fluid” reminds you of the morning after your last visit to Taco Bell. Either way, it’s time to start sorting the chalupas from the chimichangas.
Let’s acknowledge that we’re venturing into uncharted territory. Even as the Rotoballer team has been working to unpack the rule changes, 60-man rosters, new schedules, etc., we keep getting more news, and that’s ignoring the fact that we don’t know which baseball will show up, which players might still opt out, or that games haven’t even begun.
Despite those limitations, we’re going to do what we can to make sense of this season, so without further ado, here is your crash-course guide for the sprint season.
It’s Only 60 Games
It’s almost impossible to overstate how dynamic this season is going to be. While I’m not betting on the Orioles to make the playoffs, the sample of a 60-game season in 66 days is so frenetic that we’re going to see some absolutely meteoric performances and some epic busts. Normal baseball always has those, but consider this juxtaposition from the first 66 days of last season:
Clearly, Player A was more valuable for the first 66 days of the 2019 season, but the educated reader will not be surprised to hear that these roles had reversed by the end of the season and that Player B was far more valuable than Player A. As an experienced fantasy baseball player, you’ve known that was the direction of this section since the start of the last paragraph. Here are the identities and full seasons of those same players:
We know that sample size distorts the accuracy of results. While 60 games are just enough to start normalizing most player performance, the results are still noisy. That will be particularly true of streaky players. Managers will have to approach players like Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, and Eddie Rosario judiciously. Over a full season, those hitters can be expected to generate their stats despite the concerns about injury or streakiness. However, banking on too many players like that could be problematic.
Let this caution be clear though, to win in 2020, you’ll have to take risks, and you’ll have to target some high-risk players to set yourself apart. As a sprint-season manager, I want some players with that type of potential because I’ll need some extraordinary performances to win. If I’m going to lose, I don’t really care if I finish fifth or 10th.
The point here isn’t to avoid streakiness and risk. It’s that we’ll have to manage it. In a 162-game season, I could draft Edwin Encarnacion and give him his two-month vacation whenever he got into one of his funks. This season, that’s going to be a total loss. You’ll always have one or two of those in a season, but this year, there’s less time for positive regression. Get your studs and rock-solid anchors at the start of the draft, then go collect your meteors, just try to avoid the Earth-smashing, life-destroying kind. 2020 has already been chaotic enough, thanks.
Moving to the other side of the baseball, I think I’m more committed than ever to getting an ace to start my drafts this season, and that’s with all of my concern about some of the top SPs being overpriced. We know that what sets elite starters apart from good-but-not-great starters is their consistency. I might not get elite value from my ace, but I’m probably going to get at least a top-20 performance from them. If someone attractive falls, I could do the double-aces. After the elite starters, I might not take another pitcher until after pick 120 or 130.
Given the reduction in volume, managers should remember to prioritize hitters locked into a lineup spot at the top of the order. One home run or one steal may well be the difference in winning a league this season. Many of these bats will come earlier in the draft. Hitters like Bo Bichette, Austin Hays, Andrew McCutchen, and Kolten Wong are available at different stages of the draft and are likely to bat first or second for their respective teams.
For 2020, teams will have three weeks of Spring Training at their home parks. While players will be facing more major-leaguers or near major leaguers, the level of intensity for zero-fan, intra-squad games won’t match the work from Spring Training, which was already a few levels down from MLB in-season work. Scott Engel addressed this point in his recent Baseball-Insider article and in a previous one.
There is some dispute over whether hitters or pitchers will benefit more from the quick start, but the sources I’ve seen and heard all indicate that we’ll probably see pitchers scuffle through the first few outings as we normally do in early April. Some of that will be mitigated by weather, the use of openers, and tandem pitching starts. Still, it seems reasonable that pitcher performance may be even more erratic because of the combination of the short season and the quick preseason.
Hello Short Starts, Goodbye Innings Limits
Remember that Spring Training allows pitchers to proceed through fairly extensive and scheduled ramp-ups. The preseason routine involves doing more and more pitch mixing throughout longer outings. Certainly, they’ll be working up to their normal status, but we’ve all seen pitchers struggle in their first two or three starts as their managers declare that they are still rounding into form. The simple reality is that there will be some starters who don’t hit full speed until the second month of the season.
**After submitting this article for publication, Zack Meisel reported on Twitter that Carlos Carrasco was built up and ready to throw six innings already. If that is indeed the case for Carrasco and other top-100 starters, it will change the landscape of short starts and reliever use.**
The complementary point is that teams are more likely than ever to use tandem starters or simply rely on openers or long-relievers to protect starters from facing hitters for a third time. It may be easier to find strong ratios this season but harder to get wins. I’ll discuss how this impacts relievers in the section about expanded rosters.
Combine the higher stakes for each game and the shortened season, and there is no such thing as a pitcher with an innings limit this season. If you’re convinced that Jesus Luzardo is the second coming, you should draft him accordingly. Luzardo and other young SPs should not be too limited by an innings cap. Look for Frank Ammirante to cover this topic in an upcoming article.
The DH Goes Universal
The implications of a universal DH are relatively straightforward. NL pitchers are going to give up more runs this season than they did last season. The NL will probably still be the lower scoring of the two leagues because the AL teams are built to leverage the DH spot more effectively, but the difference is probably going to be an increase of about .1 to .2 in ERA and a corresponding shift in WHIP. There’s a difference in strikeouts as well, but it’s a bit more marginal.
That leaves drafters needing to devalue NL pitchers by about $1.5 from their preseason-March values. For instance, that moves a pitcher like Walker Buehler from being projected as the 15th most valuable player to the 22nd. For a pitcher like Zach Wheeler, it moves him from 142nd to 153rd. Obviously, those numbers shift depending on the projection systems, player-value weighting, etc. Regardless, drafters should apply a definite discount to the original price of NL pitchers from before the shutdown. Hopefully, I’ll have time to publish a longer article on this topic next week.
For hitters, fantasy managers find themselves in a veritable gold rush of outcomes. Everyone is looking at batters like Howie Kendrick, Dominic Smith, and Kevin Cron as potential bonanzas. Kendrick’s positional eligibility and balanced splits make him particularly attractive, but remember that if most of these hitters were absolute studs capable of hammering both lefties and righties, they wouldn’t need the universal DH to give them full-time jobs. To that end, if you’re looking to calculate the real increase to a player’s value, you need to use a player’s splits when you calculate the additional volume. Many of the new NL DH candidates are strong platoon players and marginal or unusable against their weak side.
Expanded Rosters and Taxi Squads Will Allow Teams to be More Aggressive
For teams with playoff aspirations and a particular weakness, we’ll likely see them use the expanded roster and taxi squad to add flexibility or options to shore up that weakness. That could mean that marginal fantasy players will lose playing time as teams try to leverage their opportunity for victories. Two of the most obvious example of that will be starting pitchers who struggle with the third time through the order or closers who are going through rough patches.
For example, regardless of whether Freddy Peralta has successfully added a new pitch, I fully expect that the Brewers are going to do everything in their power to limit him to two times through the batting order, especially early in the season. That might very well make him a stud for ratio stats, but it probably hamstrings his potential wins. I still want Peralta, but fantasy managers need to be cognizant of how that impacts a pitcher’s potential to earn wins. 2020 is likely to give us a higher percentage of tandem starts and bullpen days than any previous season.
Strong teams with sketchy closers or bullpens are going to experiment with using their best reliever in different roles. Alex Fast has written extensively on this topic, and Eric Samulski just released two articles about the ramifications. Both authors are required reading.
Eric’s article, “How to Draft Saves in a Shortened Season” is a must-read for recalibrating how to approach relievers: his premise is that teams without a clear understudy are more likely to stick with their established closer and that teams with strong setup men (or established committee patterns) are going to be more fluid with their approach. Eric offers far more insight and identifies specific teams and targets, so you need to give his piece your attention. His second article, “Why You Need Middle Relievers In 2020,” focuses on middle-relief pitchers and how to use low-cost relievers to boost your categories.
For me, I’m aiming for a star (singular) and scrubs approach with closers. I think we’re going to see reliever use that simulates what we normally see in the final two or three weeks of the pennant run: firemen being used in critical situations, multi-inning saves, and teams trying to ride two or three guys to eke out every win. My approach then is to get one of Hader, Yates, or Chapman if I can. After that, I’m just looking to diversify my saves at the lowest possible cost without putting myself in a position where I’m effectively punting saves. That will absolutely mean drafting setup men and committee guys who are afterthoughts for most managers.
Pool Play – Aim for the Shallow Central
Of the three regions (East, Central, and West), the Central has the clearest combination of weaker pitching staffs and weaker lineups. There are still some formidable players and teams, but where I’ve previously debated between Tim Anderson and Bo Bichette, I’m now set on Anderson. Likewise, in my personal conflict over Matthew Boyd and Dinelson Lamet, I’ve made my choice to target Boyd.
If all else is nearly equal, avoid players stuck facing the collective pitching staffs and batting orders of the East and West. Much better to have players who can capitalize against weaker opponents.
If nothing else, 2020 is the chance to experiment and try some different things in Lemonade Leagues*. Encourage your home league to try something unique: establish rivalry weeks, expand rosters, institute Sacko punishments, you know…fun, friendly things.
Similarly, consider new strategies: If you’ve never tried a LIMA strategy before, do it this season. Go stars and scrubs in auctions. Build a pitching staff based on streamers or middle relievers. Maybe you zig where I’ve recommended zagging, and you target as many streaky and upside players as possible. Experiment and have some fun. If we’re going to wander into the unknown of the 2020 baseball season, we might as well explore and enjoy the experience.
* Author’s Note: I spent 20 minutes googling and sifting through my podcasts to try to figure out who started using the term Lemonade League for their 2020 fantasy baseball league adjustments but to no avail. If you know, feel free to message me and claim it as your own or let me know who deserves credit for that term.
Punting categories in a roto league is something I've always shied away from. After all, you're willingly lowering your team's overall points ceiling on the hope that sacrificing a category benefits your team elsewhere. In general, punting should not be pre-planned and, if used, it should be decided while drafting based on your team so far and who is still available.
To be clear, punting a category means only on draft day, not a deliberate attempt to avoid the category all season. Like Zero RB in fantasy football, punting is not being afraid of an immediate weakness to build an immediate strength. If you wind up punting a category on draft day you should still address the category at some point through trades or the waiver wire to at least collect some points in the category.
That said, is punting a smart choice on draft day given the unpredictable nature of the 2020 season?
To Save or Not to Save?
The best case to be made for punting in 2020 is saves. Bullpen turnover will be at an all-time high this season and the relief pitcher will have a bigger impact on fantasy baseball than in a normal season. With only 60 games to work with, managers will have a very short leash with their closers. A bad five-game stretch this season could torpedo a team's chances at the playoffs so managers will lean on whoever is pitching well. Aroldis Chapman may be one of the best relievers in the game, but if he has a bad stretch, the Yankees have too many other quality arms to let Chapman work through issues in the ninth.
The 60-game season will bunch up the saves leaderboard like tourists on a crowded Florida beach. Through the first 60 games last season, 18 relievers had at least 11 saves. Only one (Kirby Yates) had more than 20 saves. Expect most closers to wind up in the 10-15 range in saves with a handful of other relievers in the 5-10 save range. Thirty-one relievers had at least five saves through 60 games last season.
The other elephant in the room when it comes to closer pecking order is COVID-19.
We may not want to admit it, but there will be positive tests. Teams will be missing key players who test positive and others will miss games here and there because they came in contact with an infected individual. This is in addition to the normal amount of injuries we will inevitably see that shake-up closer depth charts. Throw in the fact teams will only have six off-days and you have a perfect storm for more relievers than usual getting save chances.
This means any semi-conscious fantasy player should be able to fall into some saves if they hit the waiver wire once in a while. If you're an astute player, you could probably finish in the upper half of the league in saves, despite investing minimal draft capital into the category.
With saves bunched up like that, the true difference makers at relief pitcher will be those that contribute in other ways. 20 qualified relievers had a 2.50 ERA or lower last season, 11 of them had less than five saves. Emilio Pagan, Will Harris, and Tyler Duffey all had an ERA of 2.50 or better, a WHIP of 1.01 or better, and all averaged more than a strikeout per inning.
Pagan, Harris and Duffey carry average draft positions of 275th, 401st and 481st, overall, respectively. None are their team's immediate closing option but should contribute in strikeouts and the ratios while picking up a few wins and saves here and there. If they wind up in as the closer, they should thrive based on talent. This is the type of player to target to fill RP spots late in the draft.
The relief pitcher will have a greater impact on the game than ever before in 2020. Not only will relievers throw a higher percentage of their team's innings, but they should be the most-ready when games start.
All players will face challenges to get ready for the season with only three weeks between the time they report and the first games. However, relievers will be the best equipped to deal with the abbreviated "spring" training. Most pitchers have been throwing during the shutdown so it should only take a few workouts and simulated games for relievers to feel in midseason form, as opposed to starters building up their innings, or position players re-adjusting to live pitching and the rigors of playing nine innings every day.
Starters will need to build up their arm strength and very few pitchers will go more than five innings in the first two weeks of the season, hence the 30-man rosters early on. Managers will rely heavily on their bullpens and fantasy managers should absolutely lean into the middle relievers that will pitch important innings early in the season.
Targeting relievers in fantasy is a unique opportunity to get off to a good start in ERA and WHIP and many relievers will pick up wins if your league still uses them. Most of those relievers won't cost a dime on draft day and will make an immediate impact. Then, as teams play musical chairs with the closer role, some of them will wind up as a closer and be apart of the 5-15 save group of relievers. Just like the RPs of others in your league that drafted Alex Colome or Hansel Robles in the middle rounds.
Punting a category can be dangerous, but these days a simple trip to the grocery store is also dangerous. So put on your mask, enter the draft room, and load up on the other nine categories. In a season with such high statistical variance, I'm betting against traditional closers and loading up on as many early-round hitters and starters as I can. Saves can be addressed later.
Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut are joined by Ariel Cohen to discuss his revised ATC projections for the 2020 MLB season. How should starting pitchers be valued over a 60-game season and what can the projections tell us on draft day?
Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.
Pierre and Nick ask Ariel Cohen about the process for ATC projections and how to properly use them for fantasy baseball drafts based on a shortened season.
Heading into the 2020 fantasy baseball season, much of the talk is focused on the randomness that we're likely to see unfold. With a 60-game season, it feels a bit like anything can happen. However, instead of that reality causing you to throw your hands in the air in dismay, I think it's the perfect opportunity to search for a leg up on your competition. The best place to find that is with middle relievers.
We already know that starters likely won't be fully stretched out until around their third start. We also discussed how managers will be treating every game as if it were a playoff game. That means talented middle relievers could be more of a strategic weapon, opening up the game against a difficult lineup, coming in early for a tiring starter, being used for multiple innings to get the ball into the hands of the closer, or perhaps even being forced to close a game out if the manager turns to his closer earlier in the game.
In addition to sneaking you some highly-coveted wins, and potentially a save here or there, a versatile and talented middle reliever will give you some much-needed ratio support. Without a full 162-game to settle down the ratio spikes from bad starts or closers getting tagged, having a couple of dynamic middle relievers on your squad will help to keep your ERA and WHIP in check and guard against the randomness and inconsistency that is likely to come with starting pitching in 2020.
Do's and Don'ts
In order to identify which middle relievers I wanted to target, I checked four things:
1. Which teams limit their starters the most or experiment the most?
If a team has been more prone to experimenting with their staff or pulling their starters early, then the middle relievers on those teams are more likely to find themselves in high leverage spots that can be useful in fantasy. Eno Sarris also covered this in a piece he did recently in The Athletic, but history tells us that the teams who toy with their staff the most are the: Angels, Rays, Yankees, Brewers, Rangers, Padres, and Pirates.
2. Which teams have the easiest schedule or are most likely to win games?
Middle relievers can't pick up wins if their teams don't win games. Groundbreaking theory, right? Since teams will be playing the majority of their schedule against their own division, it's a little bit easier to determine strength of schedule than it would be in recent years. Currently, the teams with the easiest schedules appear to be the Twins, Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Astros, and then also the Yankees and Rays.
So far two teams (Yankees and Rays) have appeared on both lists.
3. Which pitchers have provided consistent ratios or innings, even if they don't get strikeouts
Strikeouts are not going to be as important from your relievers this year. Yes, it's always nice to get strikeouts, but if a reliever goes one or two innings, he's only going to give you perhaps two to four strikeouts. That would be great, but with only 60 games in the season, it's not enough to really add up to a major difference in your standings. You shouldn't ignore high strikeout relievers, but it's more important to focus on relievers who are consistently used for 50+ innings during a regular season and who have a history of ratio-suppression.
4. Avoid players at the back of rosters who might be impacted by the taxi squad
If relievers are being used more, then organizations are going to want to keep them fresh. Try to avoid pitchers who have lots of minor league options left or could conceivably be moved on and off the taxi squad during the season in order to give the team a strategic advantage.
So, with all of that said, which middle relievers, or non-closers, should you target?
RP Targets for 2020
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros - Pressly has thrown at least 60 innings in three of the last four years. His ratios since coming to Houston have been elite, and the team has shown that it will turn to him in high leverage situations. That should put him in line for a good amount of wins this year, and I could see him pushing 30 innings. He's likely the top middle reliever target for me in most drafts.
Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres - Pomeranz is a former starter who found a new level in the bullpen and is now inching into Pressly territory in regards to relief pitching value. The Padres were on the list for teams that experiment with their staff more than most, and Pomeranz's former life as a starter means that he could open some games or be used in a multi-inning role to get the ball to Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates late. Pomeranz had a 1.88 ERA in 28.2 innings out of the bullpen last year, with all the K% metrics cited below, so I'm buying into him as a great relief option.
Drew Pomeranz faced 112 batters as a reliever in 2019.
Seth Lugo, New York Mets - Lugo has emerged as a multi-inning magician for the Mets out of the bullpen. As another former starter, Lugo has elite stamina for a reliever and threw 80 innings last year, so the Mets will likely be using him often in 2020. Yes, he took over the closer's role briefly when Edwin Diaz struggled last year, which means he could earn a few saves, but I think he'll be far more valuable for the Mets as an opener or a multi-inning follower after some older/average starters like Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello.
Emilio Pagan, San Diego Padres - If you don't buy into Pomeranz, maybe you'd like to take a shot on his teammate. Pagan was tremendous as the Rays' closer last year, but he also threw 70 innings, which suggests that he could be used more often out of the pen for the Padres since they have Yates entrenched in the 9th inning. Pagan came out of nowhere a bit last year, but he has never had a high BB%, so he's a near-lock to keep the WHIP low. In fact, he and Lugo were two pitchers that induced the softest contact in all of baseball last year.
Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins - The Twins have one of the easiest schedules and also a lot of question marks in their rotation. Jake Odorizzi rarely faces a lineup more than twice, Homer Bailey is a reclamation project, and Jhoulys Chacin is currently penciled in as their number five starter. That could lead to a lot of early entrances into games for Duffey, who, as a former starter, has proven that he can be dangerous for multi-inning stints. He also finished in the 94th-percentile in xwOBA and K% and the 91-st percentile in xBA, so he limits hard contact and can get you some strikeouts ott.
Andrew Miller, St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals have a lot of questions about how they're going to use their bullpen. How healthy is Jordan Hicks? Will Giovanny Gallegos be the closer? Is Junior Fernandez ready? Amidst all of that uncertainty, Andrew Miller stands out as a safe and experienced option. As the best lefty in the bullpen, Miller could be used often to put down the opponent's best left-handed bats, which could lead to a good number of innings and a mix of wins and saves that should make him useful in fantasy leagues. For as much as the narrative has been about his struggles, he still finished in the 84th-percentile in xBA and 82nd-percentile in Whiff% last year, so the talent hasn't vanished.
James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians - Earlier in the year, I expected Karinchak to take over the closer role from Brad Hand. The Indians now seem more likely to keep the left-handed veteran pitching at the end of games, but Karinchak has the ability to be a dynamic option in high leverage situations for a team with one of the easiest schedules in baseball. That could lead to a lot of wins.
James Karinchak, Knee-Buckling 85mph Curveball & Tornado Tom Hallion's Legendary K Yell. 😯🌪️
Chad Green, New York Yankees - As mentioned above, the Yankees are more than happy to go to their bullpen early, and they also have one of the easiest schedules in the 2020 season. That could lead to a lot of wins for Green, who is their best multi-inning option out of the pen. The 29-year-old has thrown at least 69 innings in each of his last three seasons, and his inflated ERA last year may have had more to do with bad luck since he registered a .346 BABIP.
Adam Ottavino, New York Yankees - Ottavino is another arm that could benefit from the Yankees' reliance on their bullpen. If Aroldis Chapman is likely going to be saved for the ninth innings, and I believe he is, then the Bronx Bombers need one or two guys to consistently handle the high leverage innings leading up to him. Again, with every game having playoff stakes, I think teams won't spread that responsibility out over a few arms, so bank on the Yankees turning the ball over to Ottavino a lot during the year. If they do, the red in his Statcast profile is really all you need to know.
Colin Poche, Tampa Bay Rays - The Rays were the first to use the opener, so you know they're not afraid to experiment with their pitching staff. They've used Poche to open games, close games, and everything in between. He's earned the trust of the organization and is their best left-handed pitcher aside from Jose Alvarado, who is expected to serve as part of a closer committee, so expect Poche to be a consistent part of a bullpen that faces a relatively easy schedule.
Yusmeiro Petit, Oakland Athletics - The A's are always open to doing the unconventional, so we have to plan for them to use their bullpen in unique ways. If there is one guy who could benefit from that, it's Petit. The veteran has been used in a number of ways since coming to Oakland, throwing 83 and 93 innings and picking up five and seven wins over those two years. As the graphic below shows, he's not a high K% pitcher, but that shouldn't worry you this year since he suppresses quality contact at such a tremendous rate.
Ross Stripling, Los Angeles Dodgers - We know the Dodgers are going to do some crazy things to manage the innings of their pitchers, so even though Stripling is currently listed as a reliever, he could easily start games. He may not be used often enough to be fantasy-viable, but he's a name to keep an eye on because he's the exact type of pitcher who could start and relieve and end 2020 with eight wins and be among the most valuable fantasy arms in any league.
Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers - Peralta, like Stripling, is another pitcher who could be used in multiple ways by an organization that has no problem going to the bullpen early. He has not been a consistent ratio contributor, so keep him on a short leash, but he could pitch enough to be an impactable fantasy option this year.
Recently, the RotoBaller MLB staff provided their thoughts on the best draft strategies for a shortened season. You can read that article right here.
The fantasy baseball season is ready to kick up (finally) but things won't be the same as usual. Some players may be more appealing now that they've had time to work through injuries, while others who may have provided long-term value may not be worth drafting in this "sprint" of a season.
With that in mind, I polled our writers and asked who their top risers and fallers were for 2020. Here's what they said.
What players are climbing up your draft board due to the delayed/shortened season?
Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Correa. Strasburg is such a talented pitcher who had his first true ace season in years but is prone to missing significant chunks of time. In 2019, he pitched at least 200 innings for the first time since 2014 and with a shortened season he can once again pitch a "full" season. Correa is basically the hitting version of Strasburg. Elite when on the field, but hasn't played in more than 110 games since 2016. -Kev Mahserejian
Pitchers who I liked before as a late-round flyer have become almost must-roster arms. Guys like James Karinchak who now could see save opportunities frequently will still have plenty of value for Ks, ERA and WHIP. I expect the teams with serious playoff aspirations (which should be all 30 this year) to have even shorter leashes for their closers too as wins are even more vital and managers are unlikely to want to let their closer work things out while blowing wins in a 60-game season. -Jamie Steed
The short season will mean teams will play the majority of their games within their own division. As a result, I have more interest in AL Central pitchers thanks to the weak lineups and pitcher's parks in that division. I particular, I love Twins pitcher Kenta Maeda who has always been elite on a per inning basis but was never given the chance to throw a ton of innings while with the Dodgers. -Mike Schwarzenbach
Jack-of-all-trade players who can contribute in all five categories, at least the counting stats, such as Danny Santana are going to rise. I'm not worrying much about batting average in a 60-game window, but players who can contribute power and speed will be big. And those slated to hit leadoff or cleanup to kick things off may also get an additional nod. -Nick Mariano
Injury-risk players like Giancarlo Stanton are typically off my draft board, but if they only need to stay healthy for two months, I'm more comfortable selecting them this year. If a major injury does happen, it'll be easier to cut bait early instead of them occupying bench space while waiting several weeks for a return. While it's still an uneasy feeling to potentially lose that draft capital, with COVID-19 still lingering, any player could go down for multiple weeks at any given time, so I'm not concerned about injuries. -Riley Mrack
For hitters: Tim Anderson, Ozzie Albies, Starling Marte, Garrett Hampson. Not that these hitters were low on my list to begin with, but with the shortened season, any hitter that can provide help in power, runs, RBI and stolen base categories will be even more of a huge commodity in a short season.
For pitchers: Edwin Diaz, Mark Melancon, Keone Kela. I tend to punt closers in fantasy drafts. Instead, I typically focus on talent over role in an effort to grab handcuffs late in drafts who may inherit the closer role over the course of a full season. That said, with a 60-game season, there will be far less chance for closer turnover, putting greater value on those, otherwise, shaky guys who already have the closer role to start the season. -Nick Ritrivi
Players climbing my draft board include all front-end SP as well as young pitchers who may have been on an innings limit (Zac Gallen, Dustin May, Julio Urias, etc.) -Connelly Doan
Veteran starting pitchers that can go deeper into games are moving up my draft board. Hitters that have higher contact rates and put the ball in play more often. Multi-positional players will have much more added value. Expanded rosters will produce more platoon situations so lineup flexibility will be huge. -Dave Swan
What players are you no longer considering in 2020?
I was not huge on prospects already, but players like Luis Robert are definitely off my board. Also, Jesus Luzardo’s price is too high as he likely will only throw 3-4 innings early on and maybe most of the season. -Brian Entrekin
Jo Adell, Spencer Howard. Rookies who were originally forecast to be called up mid-season may not get their opportunity at the MLB level in 2020. Despite their talent, it is questionable whether major league clubs will be willing to impact precious service time for a season that may not even be completed due to COVID-19 issues. -Nick Ritrivi
Starting pitchers in the top 100 of average draft position. Starting pitching is difficult to project in a normal year, this year forget about it. Guys will get hurt due to the layoff. Starters will be pulled early. Innings limits won't matter. Right now I have as much interest in Zac Gallen and Matthew Boyd as I do in Gerrit Cole or Jacob deGrom. -Mike Schwarzenbach
Pitchers toward the back end of the rotation are a no-go for me this year. The bullpen is going to chew into starter innings more than ever, but at least with high-end starters you can get the most out of their innings and they are more likely to last until the sixth or seventh inning. Guys without a high K-rate can be erased from the draft board. That means no Reynaldo Lopez, Sean Manaea, Dallas Keuchel, Miles Mikolas, or those types. - Pierre Camus
I was subscribing to taking an ace early when drafting in March, but now the likes of Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom will go long before when I'm ready to select them. Pitchers on new teams also make me a bit skittish since unfamiliarity with a new mound or catcher could result in a sluggish start. One or two bad outings can make an early-season ERA and WHIP totals difficult to even out with not as many games to help recover in these categories. -Riley Mrack
"Availability is the best ability" is one of my draft mottos but that is out the window now. Players I typically would draft with the assumption of playing 162 games like Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer are off of my board. Both have been on the decline but their ability to stay healthy and provide counting stats without killing your average has been valuable. -Kev Mahserejian
Anyone who has an injury question mark or a guy I'd draft late with question marks over their health. People seem to be pro-rating injuries but a hamstring injury which takes six weeks to recover from will still take six weeks to recover from in a shortened season. The difference being instead of missing ~25% of the season, they'll now be missing ~65% of the season. Byron Buxton is a prime example, as much as I like him, I won't be taking him anywhere near his current ADP. -Jamie Steed
I am no longer considering back of the rotation starting pitchers. They are not going to go deep enough in games to pick up the wins. I am also steering clear of crowded bullpens. The margin for error will be thinner than ever and I predict closers will lose jobs quicker than ever. -Dave Swan
While I may still look at these types of players at the end of drafts, players who are dropping for me include those battling for playing time like Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel. -Connelly Doan
I am not shying away from anyone in particular, sans injury-risk players as Aaron Judge, and ill players like Carlos Carrasco. I'd simply move away from one category players like Mallex Smith. One thought though, any players expected to miss time should be lowered slightly. Mike Trout will miss time for his family ... you may not want to pick him early in the first round this season. -Ariel Cohen
I feel less inclined to make a conscious effort to draft those safe, innings-eaters at SP. Since nobody is throwing 180+ innings, I don't need steady results over a long period of time. Now, that's not to say I want volatile arms - two bad starts can crush you - but I don't care as much about a pitcher's innings totals over the years. That means I'm not going to look at guys like Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, Kyle Gibson, etc. -Eric Samulski
Upon hearing that Major League Baseball was finally set to return to action and the fantasy season was back, a million questions popped in my head. Sadly, I forgot most of them by the next day so I'm left with just 30, coincidentally a nice even number.
Actually, my initial plan was to do 60 questions, one for each game of the new season, but that proved too ambitious. Instead, I'll honor the new active roster sizes with these 30 questions. Then again, if you add up the questions and answers together, it still makes 60... eh, let's not worry about it.
Numbers aside, here are the most pressing questions that fantasy managers might have before the 2020 season gets underway.
The fact that the season is now one-third its normal length means that end-of-year adjustments will be minimal. Those fringe prospects or stars-in-waiting with service time considerations who become September call-ups can provide a boost to fantasy teams down the stretch. Players like Austin Hays, Kyle Lewis, and Gavin Lux provided some pop down the final playoff stretch last season. Now, it's unlikely we will see late-season movement considering that the rosters will actually shrink as the season progresses. Those in deep leagues or AL-Only/NL-Only formats will have a harder time finding help later on as well. In other words, draft wisely.
Are starting pitchers devalued in a short season?
The prevailing wisdom among fantasy pundits was that grabbing a top-tier ace would be more important than ever relative to the previous few years. Aces are in short demand; only 15 pitchers broke the 200-inning threshold last year and early ATC projections had a whopping total of one pitcher posting an ERA under 3.00 this season (Jacob deGrom of course). Seven of the first 25 draft picks are typically starting pitchers and that shouldn't change. The drop-off after approximately pick 120 may be more pronounced now, however, as mid-rotation and end-of-rotation pitchers may see shorter outings. The cream of the crop may be more valuable than ever, so grabbing aces early is still a viable strategy. The middle rounds should focus more on bats, as streaming and plugging in relievers for ratios seems to be a better strategy.
Is this the year to punt steals in roto leagues?
There are two ways to look at it.
A) The gap between league leaders and everyone else will be minimal, so don't overpay for a specialized category if it hurts you in the power or average categories.
B) Stolen bases are in short supply already and this is going to be a sprint, not a marathon (to coin a phrase for the first time ever) so prioritizing speed is a must.
I lean toward the former approach, as I've always preferred to gather my SB from a variety of players in small bunches rather than putting all my eggs in one basket. For perspective, after 60 games last year, Adalberto Mondesi led MLB with 22 SB. Next was Mallex Smith, who had 14 steals along with a .191 average. The rest of the pack was largely muddled and many of the top base thieves were among the top draft picks because of their five-cat contributions (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Christian Yelich, etc.) If you go pitching-heavy early then you may consider punting or taking a chance on a speedster to at least keep you out of the basement in that category. Otherwise, find balance in your lineup and don't worry about that area too much.
Do I avoid closer committees or punt saves?
Our staff had a variety of opinions on this subject. Generally, it's a good idea to get saves wherever you can. As with everything else, this year is a different beast. With so much bullpen turnover, fantasy owners tend to grab closers-in-waiting just in hopes of earning a handful of saves at some point during the season. There just isn't enough time for managers to mess with the fireman role trying to figure out who will lock down the job. My best guess is that we will be able to predict the saves leader for each club better than usual, so there's no need to avoid closers at any point as long as you don't overpay.
If my league drafted back in February or March, should we draft again?
Why wouldn't you? Back in March before Spring Training 1.0 was suspended, our RotoBaller Experts League voted on whether to go ahead and draft during the uncertainty of the approaching pandemic before it hit the U.S. or to wait. My thought process then: "They'll probably start the season in May, maybe June at the latest. What's going to change from now until then?" Ah, the good old days. We were so naive and innocent then...
While the early rounds shouldn't see a massive ADP shift, many injured players will be ready to go, prospects will see their debuts delayed (see below), and rule changes such as the universal DH (also see below) will affect many player values. Don't get me started on first-half/second-half splits and park factors! It's unlikely anyone is thrilled with their original team at this point so just call a mulligan and enjoy drafting a second time. That's the best part of the fantasy season anyway.
What impact will the universal DH rule have in fantasy?
It goes without saying (but here goes anyway) that National League starting pitchers will see slightly inflated ratios as a result of facing another capable batter. Eight of the 10 highest Team ERA totals belonged to American League teams, with Colorado and Pittsburgh the only NL representatives.
Several NL batters will also get a regular gig now that another lineup spot has opened up. The crowded Reds outfield might have seen young stud Aristides Aquino start the year in the minors, but now he has a shot to contribute regularly.
What about the three-batter limit for relievers?
Normally, anything that affects middle relievers wouldn't be on the radar for fantasy leagues. We win and lose roto leagues with starting pitchers and closers, not the guys doing the dirty work in between. That was before 2020. We've already heard that organizations like the Dodgers and Brewers are planning to keep their starters on a four-inning limit for the first turn or two in the rotation. That could end up being 16% of the season.
Who is helped by expanded rosters (30-man active roster to start the year, 60-man Player Pool)?
Many teams will opt to roll with a deeper bullpen along with some additional utility players, but that doesn't carry much weight in fantasy. The most intriguing aspect of the expanded rosters is the fact that some teams will start the year with top prospects on the roster rather than waiting for the traditional post-All Star break or September callups. In fact, several players who were just drafted a month prior to the new Opening Day could find their way onto the 60-player pool.
Players like Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic would have made for exciting second-half pickups and now they enter the conversation as late-round draft fliers.
Could there be players not on the 60-man Taxi Squads who will have fantasy relevance?
It's possible, as some teams elected to leave extra spots open in order to fill them later on. The Orioles took this to the extreme by picking only 44 players in their initial player pool. Some prospects could move their way up to active rosters, but by that point it's unlikely they will be able to make a big splash in fantasy leagues. This isn't the season for second-half speculation.
Does the extra-inning rule with a runner starting on second base matter?
Not really. If you think about it, extra-inning games don't end until someone scores anyway. This just might expedite the process a bit. Actually, I'm not sure what this rule really accomplishes. If you don't like free baseball, you're not a true fan!
Will the players be affected by not having crowds in the stands?
For the Marlins, there won't be any difference at all! *ba dum tss
The correlation between home attendance and team win percentage is fairly strong. Of the top 10 teams in attendance last year, half were playoff teams and only two had losing records.
Of course, if there's a causal relationship, it would be that winning leads to fans showing up. The lack of fans might neutralize a bit of the home-field advantage teams like the Cardinals and Cubs have, but it isn't likely to have a statistically significant impact that can be predicted in terms of performance. Anyway, park factors are still in effect now that we know teams are playing in their own stadiums. Don't worry too much about it.
If you believe his personal Instagram account, then hell yeah! He began throwing off a mound in mid-June and should ramp things up in recovery from his groin surgery. Not to speak on behalf of Mr. Upton's personal physician but it appears he will resume dominating hitters with no restrictions by the time the season begins. I have him ranked sixth among starters, 22 overall.
Likewise, Paxton is likely to be in the Yankee rotation for the start of the year after dealing with back issues that required surgery. He has been throwing simulated games for well over a month now, so bump him back up your draft board. In fact, if the additional spin rate on his fastball proves as effective as Lucas Giolito last year, he could turn into a short-season pitcher MVP for fantasy owners.
What is the Dodgers rotation going to look like?
Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and David Price are no-brainers for the first three spots. It looked as if Alex Wood had the inside track on a rotation spot back in March; as long as he's healthy there is no reason he wouldn't claim one. Julio Urias is the best bet to earn the last spot and has some of the best upside outside the top-100 overall picks. Ross Stripling still gets love because of his 2018 season but he's likely stuck as a swingman or long reliever. Rookies like Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin are still a year away from fantasy relevance unless numerous injuries pop up. Don't even think about Jimmy Nelson.
The Angels are also deploying a six-man rotation, but that is mainly due to Shohei Ohtani's presence. The Dodgers easily could employ six arms out of the names listed above, but it looks like they will stay at five for now. Even if most teams stay with a five-man rotation, innings could be capped for many starters all year long.
Which closers should I target/avoid?
I'll pass this question on to our Eric Samulski, who provided a great explanation on how to approach saves in a shortened season. The biggest takeaway is that the top-tier closers that are trusted by their managers should be safer to draft at or slightly ahead of their ADP, while the fringe/committee closers should be avoided. That means Joe Jimenez > Nick Anderson. 🙁
Speaking of Rays, can I trust any Tampa starter?
Not really. No team loves tinkering with its staff and employing the "opener" strategy more than Tampa Bay. Guys like Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough saw their IP totals fluctuate each week and while they provided solid ratios, they don't necessarily move the needle in fantasy. Even Blake Snell is hard to trust based on his earlier comments regarding salary. On the one hand, you can't blame a guy for wanting to get paid, but now I wonder if he shows up and, if so, how much his heart is going to be into giving 100%. You should be fairly safe with 36-year-old Charlie Morton, but for what it's worth OOTP 21 simulated a 4.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 6-7 record for him. That's gotta mean something.
Who are the biggest risers with the National League DH being introduced?
Possibly all of them. Stanton's injury was simply a calf strain, so he should have no limitations. At least until his next injury.
Hicks is a different story, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery last October. He has been throwing and batting recently, so he may be good to go.
Judge is the iffiest based on his injury type. He suffered an injury to the ribs and pneumothorax, which has taken longer to heal. He just began taking swings, so it's a step in the right direction but he may not be 100% by Opening Day. There is a great deal of risk with all of these players, most of all Judge, so draft accordingly.
Nobody's rooting against the Polar Bear to mash at the rate he did last year, but we need to tread carefully. There is a good possibility that he sees a drop in his 30.6% HR/FB rate. Power-heavy players are going to assume bigger risk over the shorter season anyway because they are prone to slumps and high strikeout numbers, along with lower averages. He hit a respectable .260 last year, but any decrease in performance could bring him closer to the middle of the pack among first baseman. For someone being drafted in the second round, that would be a massive loss of ROI.
In roto, he can easily propel you to a win in steals along with strong power numbers at the position. Or he could slump terribly like he did in June and July of last year. His lingering shoulder issues aren't very reassuring either. Mondesi is currently going 37th overall in NFBC drafts, so if you're not the risk-averse type like me (see below) and want to secure speed early, go for it. I'll probably let someone else take him, for what it's worth.
It appears the Giants are still the frontrunners and rumors have them inking him to a deal very soon. That makes him a nice value at his current 186 overall ADP, especially now that the DH is in place for NL clubs. He would stay within the division to play more games against the Rockies and against his former club, the Dodgers.
Which hitters will be great draft values over 60 games?
Every time I discuss my philosophy of targeting safer players who provide a strong average and a high floor at a cheap cost, Pittsburgh outfielder Bryan Reynolds always pops to mind. He slashed .314/.377/.503 as a rookie along with 16 HR, 68 RBI, and 83 R. The Pirates won't be the best offense in the league, or the division, but he will hit at the top of the order with RBI man Josh Bell not far behind. Grab players like Reynolds, Jeff McNeil, Jean Segura, and Kolten Wong before the competition.
Which top prospects have the best chance to make a difference on offense?
Before I name names, remember this caveat: many of the young studs who begin 2020 on MLB rosters may find themselves back in the minors by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. Rosters shrink as the season progresses and with more teams in the playoff hunt, they may be less likely to rely on rookies.
Luzardo's ADP is too rich for my blood, so I'm more likely to take a shot later on Pearson, Puk, or McKay.
Are 2020 draftees ready and able to help MLB teams already?
Not initially, but don't be surprised if some make their big-league debuts sooner than usual. Several have been added to their team's Taxi Squad already such as sixth pick Emerson Hancock (Mariners) and others like top pick Spencer Torkelson (Tigers), third pick Max Meyer (Marlins), or 10th pick Reid Detmers (Angels) could make an appearance later on. They aren't worth a roster spot in re-draft leagues but bear monitoring on waivers if their time comes.
As with all injured players, he should have benefited from the extra rest time. He has been declared "ready to go" as of a month ago and is one of the players who now has a clearer path to at-bats with the new DH rule. He could be a steal outside of the top 200 picks.
I'm rolling with Robles here. A lot of people are picking Robert as the presumptive AL Rookie of the Year, but he's a much bigger risk and is probably being overdrafted at 75 overall. Robles is usually taken just before him at 71 overall in the NFBC and isn't without warts himself. ATC projections have Robles hitting .265 and he is likely to start the year batting seventh, which would hurt his counting stats. In Robert's case, he is projected by Roster Resource to bat eighth and will be facing big-league pitching for the first time. Robert's SB upside isn't greater than Robles' and the difference would be negligible in such a short season anyway. Don't take on the risk with Robert that early - he may be a year or two away from fantasy stardom.
Aren't rookies going to be risky this year?
Aren't they risky every year? Don't you hate when someone answers a question with a question? It's almost like a non-answer, isn't it?
Baseball is coming back and it's about time! The announcement of a 60-game season comes as a blessing and a curse. It's barely over one-third of a normal MLB season and will come with several modifications to the rule book. Then again, at this point we are just happy to have baseball (or any live sports in the U.S.) at all, so we'll take it.
Fantasy leagues are ready to fire up again with the onset of a new draft season. These unique circumstances will require a whole new line of thinking, however, and nobody knows quite what to expect.
In order to prep for fantasy drafts, we gathered intel from several members of our MLB writing staff on their approach to the 2020 season. Here are some revised draft strategies to consider.
What is the biggest change in draft strategy with a 60-game season?
As I have indicated in my Insider Reports, you cannot afford to lean too heavily on streaky hitters that strike out often. If a hitter goes cold for a good chunk of the schedule he could really hurt your outlook and may press for longer knowing there is not much time to turn things around. -Scott Engel
How to construct your pitching staff will be crucial especially in leagues that have maximum or minimum IP allowances. There are already reports of teams going with 6-man rotations and it's more than likely that those non-closers in relief who can help your ratios while accumulating strikeouts will have even greater value over such a short stretch. With "Taxi-Squads" in use, teams will have some of their top prospects used frequently this season so streaming starting pitchers will also be more prevalent. -Jamie Steed
I am going to focus on loading up on high-end pitchers early. Given the shortened season, there will be less time to catch up on pitching categories with waiver-wire pitchers who pop up through back-of-the-rotation battles. -Connelly Doan
Draft offense early. The 60-game season will create a lot of outlier statistical performances and I want as many early-round hitters as I can get hoping one of them is the guy that goes ballistic and slugs .700 for the season. Pitchers will be more interchangeable than ever in fantasy so it will be imperative to keep up in the offensive categories. -Mike Schwarzenbach
Quantity over quality. With a short season, a Mike Trout having a bad month has less time to right the ship and put up a great season-long line. He has a smaller chance of finishing as a first-round player this year. 6th round players who heat up could finish #1. Take more stabs at hitters early on. Throw more darts at pitchers later. Bank more 5-category players than usual, who will provide a baseline of stats. -Ariel Cohen
Injured/Capped pitchers see a huge change in perceived pre-draft value. They are much more attractive now. The NL adopting the DH is huge as well but there are more injury-prone pitchers who benefit than hitters whose value is significantly altered. -Kev Mahserejian
I am trying to stay away from injury-prone players as they will miss a larger portion of the season if nicked up. My pitcher focus is on ratios and trying to draft pitchers with minimal walk rates. National League starting pitchers are being pushed down slightly due to facing the DH now. -Dave Swan
With the shortened MLB season now implemented, the top-tier starting pitchers are no longer as valuable seeing as they'll only start a maximum of 12 games. Considering a few of these starts will likely be played on a pitch count, wins will become more elusive, and they won't throw enough innings to separate themselves statistically from other hurlers. I won't pay up for an ace in the first two or three rounds in lieu of the shortened season and will target more middle-tier starters and bullpen arms. -Riley Mrack
Players having strong roles out of the gate are worth so much more to me. Whether that be a closer, a rotation spot, leadoff duties, the percentage of time with a leash at the start is weighted. Of course, teams may be more prone to swift change given the playoff windows, but no expanded playoffs should keep that in check. -Nick Mariano
Less emphasis on starting pitching depth, more emphasis on hitters. In a shortened season, while elite SP is still important for ratios, there is going to be less of a difference in overall innings pitched, resulting in lower disparity in pitching counting stats, such as strikeouts. As a result, my emphasis will be focused on grabbing hitters and middle relievers who rack up strikeouts, once the elite pitchers have gone off the board. In leagues where I must start SPs (and cannot insert a reliever into a SP slot), I will round out my roster by playing the waiver wire and streaming SPs strictly based on matchup. -Nick Ritrivi
When it comes to pitching I firmly believe you have to look at pitch counts. Starters who go deep into games can make a big difference when it comes to counting stats. -Michael Simione
I hate to say it, but I'm playing it safe more than usual. Give me the high-floor hitters with a clear starting role and no injury or playing time concerns over volatile, high-ceiling players who could flame out. That's why I'll be owning more shares of Bryan Reynolds than Luis Robert. -Pierre Camus
I'm still imagining my strategy, but as of now, I'm more likely to lean into the risks. If a guy is old and needs rest, I'm more likely to draft him with only 60 games. A pitcher gets hurt every season? I'm more likely to draft him with only 60 games. A young pitcher has never thrown over 70 MLB innings? You get the idea. One or two hot weeks from any player could drastically impact a season, so I'd rather try and get the guys who could explode than the guys who are safe and consistent since they won't have as many games to accrue their stats. We don't have time for the tortoise to win this race. -Eric Samulski
Should fantasy owners punt categories like steals or saves?
No. In a short season, there will not be great disparity between the fantasy teams in first in steals and saves and the fantasy teams in the bottom of the pack in those categories. A strong two or three-day swing in saves and/or steals may greatly impact the standings in those categories (and overall). Additionally, owners should focus on grabbing one or two closers in drafts much earlier than they may have previously done in a "normal" season. With only 60 games to be played, there will be much less chance for closer turnover than we are used to. -Nick Ritrivi
No way, punting to start a season requires a marathon-length grind to wear down your opponents who may have sprinted out to start. If your plan was to punt entirely and never target steals or saves then that's one thing, I suppose this doesn't change that, but giving up on categories in a sprint is just tying weights to your feet. -Nick Mariano
Absolutely not! Chasing down saves may be more difficult though so work the waiver wire early for them. Stolen bases will be harder to find in season. I would suggest balancing your team with multiple hitters that steal bases and not the one-category contributors like Mallex Smith or Dee Gordon. -Dave Swan
I've never been a believer in punting categories, and I don't think I'll start now. If anything, the shorter season will make it harder to catch a team that has somebody like Trea Turner or Ronald Acuna Jr.. Now, that may drive up their price in drafts, and I wouldn't aggressively draft somebody for steals or saves, but I think having an elite asset in that category will be more valuable this year than in year's past. -Eric Samulski
Absolutely punt saves. Relief pitchers will be on a shorter leash than ever before as managers will value each game more than a typical regular-season game. I expect high turnover in the closer role so even if you punt on draft day, you can still fall into some saves throughout the season. -Mike Schwarzenbach
No, every contribution in these categories now become more precious and vital. Grab two good closers in the first 11 rounds or so and nab value plays on steals later, such as Kevin Newman. -Scott Engel
There is no need to punt saves. We know with a fair amount of certainty who the regular closer will be for two-thirds of MLB clubs. I won't spend a top-100 pick on a closer, but I plan to grab an established fireman or two shortly thereafter and then fill out the rest of my bullpen with ratio champs. I'm more likely to avoid speed-only players but if you get the right mix of combo players early on, you don't need to worry about it. A Christian Yelich/Jose Ramirez/Fernando Tatis Jr. start would do the job nicely without sacrificing any category. -Pierre Camus
Normally you can’t do that but in a shortened season it seems pretty viable. You won’t need much in a single category to grab a few points. -Michael Simione
Absolutely not, but saves have to be drafted differently. We're going to see remarkable parity in saves distribution. -Dave Emerick
In a singular league, without an overall champion, punting saves and even wins can be an option. Steals can still be attacked in a draft. -Brian Entrekin
I never advocate for punting categories, and in 2020 it's no different. The end goal hasn't changed in roto leagues, so why change your strategy? We know the same stolen base threats will continue to steal, and while we may see more bullpen committees, the same top-tier relievers should dominate save opportunities for their respective teams. -Riley Mrack
When it comes to the draft, you need to be flexible. If you're lacking in steals, for example, later in the draft, I'd feel much more comfortable in stacking another category rather than reaching or overpaying just for steals. Saves are a different kettle of fish entirely and I'm not one who will pay for saves early in drafts and in a 60-game season, I expect more pitchers to record saves than normal. -Jamie Steed
I don't think so. There is no inherent disadvantage in drafting towards all of the roto scoring categories. One caution though - steals may be down overall. In a typical season, April & May provide more stolen bases than July/August. There may be some players who simply won't run this year. Watch spring training 2.0 very carefully to see who is running and who isn't ... or more importantly - which teams are running. -Ariel Cohen
Since the spring, I have been conducting interviews with many notable and well-informed MLB sources on the 2020 season. On the condition of anonymity, current and former players, scouts, executives, media members and others have shared their unfiltered insights, and I have supplied my in-depth fantasy baseball takes on the information they have shared.
As we approach the condensed 2020 season with much anticipation, it’s a good time to revisit my award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Reports series from this year, which started in spring training. Despite the delayed start to the schedule, most of what I have covered to this point remains highly relevant.
In this special roundup edition, I provide key highlights of the series to this point, including recommended draft strategies and top players to target. I then tell you how my conversations with these MLB sources have changed my own draft strategies for this shortened schedule. Links to all previous Insider columns are provided throughout the article so you can further immerse yourself in these exclusive reports. Enter KING at checkout for a discount on the RotoBaller Season Pass, and more Insider Columns are on the way as the 2020 season finally gets closer to becoming a reality.
Do Not Build Around Streaky and Strikeout-Prone Hitters
One former MLB executive who is a broadcaster and longtime fantasy baseball player strongly suggested to not spend early hitting picks on hitters who have higher strikeout rates and are not contact hitters. Cold streaks will be magnified in a 60-game season and some hitters who are struggling may press more, knowing they don’t have nearly as much time to bust out of a slump. I will be steering clear of Pete Alonso (26.4 K%) and Bryce Harper (26.1). Hitters such as Anthony Rendon (13.3) and Nolan Arenado (14.0) are likely to be my types of cornerstones as they combine low K percentages with high batting averages. More from this source here on slow starters and early cold spells and how they can damage your outlooks.
Who Will Have the Edge Early: Pitchers or Hitters?
I talked with several prominent sources on this subject and received varied responses. One current MLB player told me, “I do not need many swings to be ready to go.” A former MLB pitcher said “I just needed a few bullpen sessions when I was playing and I felt like I was in mid-season form.”
An MLB scout said the hitters should have an early advantage, as they have been able to simulate better during off time, as pitchers can only throw off flat ground and not against live hitting. We came to the conclusion that there will be no absolutes here, and you should not be overly concerned about any trends being altered in a major way. More Insider views on the delayed start to the season that still ring true now here.
Will There be Heightened Concerns on Injuries?
I sought the advice of a longtime and highly respected pro sports athletic trainer on this topic. He did not expect much of anything different in terms of injuries because of how players handle their conditioning. “Players nowadays always keep themselves in good shape leading up to spring training. In years past players would be out of shape and would use spring training to get back into shape," he said. This source stressed that the second spring training ramp-up period will give players ample time to ready for the resumed season and will really help the pitchers get into proper form. More from the trainer on health concerns in a condensed season here.
Still, there are some injury-prone players I will avoid even if the long layoff has given them extra time to heal. A veteran Yankees beat reporter warned to stay away from Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge because of their workout regimens. “They hit the weights constantly and that affects them. Their bodies can only take so much. Both of them are more susceptible to injuries because of their size. They both have similar physiques and body frames.” More on other notable Yankees here, including commentary on why ace and fantasy SP1 Gerrit Cole may not be quite as dominant as he was in Houston, here.
Bonus Choices Among the Designated Hitters
The insertion of the DH into National League lineups will give us some fine later options in drafts. Howie Kendrick (ADP of 434) now becomes a very good later target. He hit .344 with 17 home runs last year and led the Majors in xBA at .336. “Kendrick would not project to play five or six days per week and now he can get more playing time,” said the former exec and current broadcaster. The DH type with the most overlooked upside may be Yoenis Cespedes, who is totally off the draft radar at an ADP of .462.
Cespedes looked terrific in spring workouts and the Mets’ original intention was to ease him into action and then let him loose for a big second half. More on Cespedes here and other nifty DH targets are mentioned here.
Per Baseball Savant, Howie Kendrick ranked in the Top 9 percent or better in all of the above Statcast categories last season.
We Will See Edwin Diaz Regain Respect
A former MLB pitcher who competed in the NL East believes Diaz’s highly disappointing season was due to him losing the handle on his best pitch and absorbing the wrath of the New York fans. “The experience of being booed constantly is something he will have to overcome mentally. If he can get over that hurdle the talents are still there for him to shine,” he said. Diaz has worked with both Jacob deGrom and Pedro Martinez in his efforts to become dominant again,
More details on Diaz’s quest to reclaim his spot among the best closers, and more in-depth takes on key Mets and Marlins here. The former pitcher also provides comprehensive insights on many notable Phillies and Braves here.
Bank on a Benintendi Bounce-Back
More than one source I consulted with strongly believes Andrew Benintendi will rebound from a disappointing 2019 campaign. “Last year he was injured and was engulfed by a malaise that befell the whole team, as the team did not contend and the clubhouse atmosphere was not good,” said a 40-year Major League scout. Benintendi’s xSLG of .461 was 30 points higher than his actual slugging percentage, and his hard-hit rate of 37.7% was a career-high.
You can view more scouting observations on Benintendi here, with other essential insights on additional important players, and get the take from a current MLB veteran on the Boston outfielder here. Benintendi is a very intriguing target at an ADP of 110.
The longtime MLB scout we spoke with about several players is high on Lamet for 2019. “His changeup is improving. If he can fully harness it with his slider and fastball he can have quite an arsenal,” he said. Lamet fashioned one of the best strikeout percentages in baseball last year (33.5 K%). He is well worth the ADP pf 122, as the Padres will need him to make a quick impact and prove he is ready to help the team right away in a shortened season. More on Lamet and other players the scout recommends here.
I spoke with a longtime and current MLB veteran who saw Kluber up close earlier this year and was very impressed. He told me he witnessed a lot of Kluber’s past Cy Young form, even though he may not be fully on par with that past version of himself. For an ADP of 98, you could get a very solid shortened season run this year, with an ERA well under 4.00 and a sub-1.20 WHIP. More insights from this player on who else he is expecting to perform well and disappoint, including Hyun-Jin Ryu, here.
As I build my starting pitching depth, I will be targeting David Price in his debut season with the Dodgers. One former MLB player I talked to believes the new home park and outfield defense with his new team could lead to some good win totals and a tidy WHIP. “He will play a surprisingly big role for the Dodgers. He is going to be a quality third starter for them,” he said. More NL West observations from this former player, including a breakout performer in Colorado, here. Also, his views on Ketel Marte and other Diamondbacks and Padres, here.
2019 Catch Probability Leaders via baseballsavant,com. Dodgers outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger are in the Top 20 and are now working behind fly ball pitcher David Price ((36 percent career fly ball rate, 35.5 in 2019)
Adjusted Draft Approach
Since doing these interviews, some of my draft strategies have changed, while others have not. Here’s a quick look at my current mindset.
-I am targeting players in the high batting average cohorts early.
-I want at least two top starting pitchers in the first four rounds, as the best starters should still go deepest into games, and those types now seem even more valuable.
-I am veering away from high-strikeout, power types early, but they become more unavoidable by the double-figure rounds, where you do need that boost if you can get it.
-I have been advised that when teams go deeper into rotations, they may yank their lesser starters early. So I am avoiding fourth and fifth starter types very often, and looking for middle relievers that can potentially snag wins and a few saves, such as Seth Lugo.
-I am less apt to go for rookies such as Luis Robert. Some rookies will be pressed into significant early action, and if they go cold early, there won’t be enough time for them to pick up their play and help me like they would later in a full season.
-I am targeting DH types such as Kendrick and Cespedes as fine final round choices. There aren’t many of them that are overly appealing, so the ones that stand out will get my attention.
-Multi-positional eligibility types become important with pandemic concerns. I want players like Jon Berti and Niko Goodrum later in drafts.
-I want two good, established closers. I cannot wait to chase saves and wait for potential firemen to emerge.
-I know what I will likely get from predictable veterans and will still target them where I would over a full season. Those types of players will form my core. Streaky and less proven players are the ones I will leave on the board in tight decisions. I will still shoot for upside whenever it makes sense. But if I believe a player has a shaky outlook for 2020 I will lean to the safer option.
-I am not altering my draft approaches to worry more than usual about injuries, but minor health concerns will pop up for sure because of the layoff, even though I won't be as concerned for major injuries.
Now that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have finally come to an agreement and locked in a plan for the upcoming season, the RotoBaller staff is churning out content to try and get you ready for the 2020 fantasy baseball season. A lot of us have questions about how the shortened season, new league rules, and new division-focused schedule will impact fantasy leagues. There are frankly too many questions to focus on in one article, so we'll take it one topic at a time. For today, let's discuss how we're approaching closers and saves in the 2020 baseball season.
For the last two years, Alex Fast from PitcherList has made the argument that we're drafting saves wrong. The overall number of saves is dropping, and more relievers are getting saves, so it's harder to pinpoint exactly who will get saves. As a result, he concludes, we're drafting save assets too high in fantasy leagues. However, this year may be different.
While I think his piece is a tremendous read and great for planning for the 2021 season, I'm going to respectfully pivot a little bit from that in regards to the shortened 2020 season. In this article, I'll walk you through a few details we know about the new season and explain how those impact my thinking in regards to drafting for saves. Then, I'll tell you the strategy that I will personally be using in my fantasy drafts this year. Hopefully, by explaining the thinking that leads up to the decision, you can find some interesting takeaways or even solidify your own approach, even if it differs from mine.
Things We Know About the 2020 Season
1. Relievers Will Be More Ready Than Most
While games begin on July 24th, it's safe to say that relief pitchers will be perhaps the closest to the ever-alluring "mid-season form." Most pitchers have been throwing during the quarantine, and they really don't need anything to stay on their throwing regiment other than one other person who can catch a bullpen. Additionally, relievers require less ramp-up time than starting pitchers because they throw fewer pitches.
While throwing a baseball for any amount of time is taxing on your arm, relievers have always been able to bounce back quicker because they throw fewer pitches. They may also not need as many rest days as hitters who may have been working out but will still need to adjust to the toll of nine-inning games day after day.
All of which means that relievers may be the readiest to go out of the gate and can be treated by their managers as if it was the middle of the season.
2. Every Game Matters = Use Your Best Arms
With only 60 games on the schedule, every single game matters to a team's hopes of making the playoffs. One losing streak could cost a team five or more games in the standings and end their postseason hopes. As a result, I expect managers to be managing every game as if it has those kinds of stakes. If you're in a close game in the ninth inning and you need to win to make the playoffs, are you going to try and play the matchup - especially now that whatever reliever you bring in needs to face three batters - or are you going to turn to your best arm for three outs?
To me, the answer is obviously that you turn to your best arm. If you bring in a lefty specialist to face two lefties and one of those gets pinch hit for, you now have a lefty in for one left-handed batter and two right-handed ones while your best reliever sits in the bullpen. I can't imagine it would sit well with the Phillies if Adam Morgan comes in to face lefties instead of Hector Neris, and he blows the save.
In my opinion, managers are not likely to screw around with untested pitchers at the end of games and are going to rely on their best arms to seal the deal.
3. Rosters Aren't Being Expanded As We Thought
At one point in time, we thought that rosters could be upwards of 40 or 50 players, which would have given managers incredible bullpen flexibility. Now we know that rosters will actually be whittled down to 26 after just a few weeks. That means bullpens will be operating at relatively the same size, which restricts wide-sweeping strategy changes.
It may be likely that managers use those bullpen arms more often as openers or in the fifth and sixth innings to help manage the innings of starters or prevent a big inning. However, that would mean that teams would need to have less of a revolving door at the end of games in order to free up the other relievers for such versatility.
For example, if the Giants use Drew Pomeranz's multi-inning ability to open some games or come in to relieve a shaky starter before the game gets out of hand, then it's far less likely he's also able to be held back to close out many games. I think this is going to be true for a lot of multi-inning relievers this year, who will likely be valuable pieces on your roster for ratios and wins, but unlikely to also be used regularly for saves. That could give extra security to guys like Edwin Diaz or Raisel Iglesias if Seth Lugo and Michael Lorenzen are used in more versatile roles. It might also be a reason the Diamondbacks turn away from Archie Bradley as their closer. Just thinking out loud here.
4. Schedule Has Less Variance This Year
With teams playing 40 games against their own division and 20 games against their geographic rivals in interleague play, there is much less variance in the schedule. This means we have a better idea than most years about which teams will likely be seeing the most save opportunities. Now, nothing is certain. Injuries or poor performance could derail a team's season in a hurry. However, the talent level of each team hasn't changed much from where it was in March before Spring Training was shut down.
For example, we knew the Red Sox were going to struggle a little bit without Chris Sale and Mookie Betts. They were unlikely to be the title contender they've been in recent years. Now we also know that their games will be almost entirely composed of matchups against the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles. Plus, they'll get additional games against the Phillies, Nationals, and Mets. The only teams on there I feel comfortable that the Red Sox are better than (and I say this as a Red Sox fan) are the Orioles and Mets. This makes me less inclined to want to take a chance on Brandon Workman since his overall number of save chances is likely to be lower than, say Alex Colome, who not only gets the Royals and Tigers in his own division but the Pirates and Reds in interleague competition.
5. Teams Don't Have Time To Try New Things
With only a 60-game season, managers will have less time to evaluate the season-specific performances of their players, try guys out in different roles, and mix-and-match to find the best fit. I believe that managers will naturally play to what they consider to be their strengths. If an organization or manager likes to use multiple closers, they'll likely do that now. If a manager or organization sticks with one closer, they'll be more inclined to do that now.
What that means is that organizations like the Blue Jays, Pirates, Mets, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Cubs, Reds are more likely to stick with their guy. In contrast, organizations like the Rays, Twins, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Giants, and Phillies (now under Girardi) are more likely to keep their committee approach.
6. Reliever Committees Will Shrink
OK, so this one isn't a fact, but I wanted to end on this because I think it might be the point where I stray the most from common fantasy belief and the area where you can capitalize the most on the competition.
In that great article by Alex Fast, the threshold for team's reliance on multiple pitchers at the end of the game was if they didn't have a closer with more than 70% of the team's saves. A pitcher getting 70% of saves is still a clear suggestion that the manager trusts him.
So here is where I think you'll see the biggest difference this year: those near-70% save guys from year's past will get more saves at the expense of the relievers at the small end of the committee.
For example, last year the Rays had 11 pitchers get saves. However, only three of those 11 pitchers had more than three saves. It's clear that the Rays trusted three relievers - Emilio Pagan, Diego Castillo, and Jose Alvarado - considerably more than the rest of their bullpen. In a 60 game season, I don't believe you'll see the Rays turn to Peter Fairbanks, Colin Poche, Oliver Drake, and the others to close out games much. That means 11 saves are being redistributed to the most reliable arms. If that becomes two to five extra saves for a specific reliever in this short season, that could be a crucial difference in the standings.
If you look at the graphic below, also from Fast's article, you'll see that the teams that used the largest committees last year still had two preferred options for saves. The only teams with more than two closers getting over five saves were the Rays, Cubs (who signed Kimbrel mid-way through the year), and the Cardinals (who lost Jordan Hicks mid-way through the year).
What this means is that I think you're going to see every team tighten up their closer committee, if they had one to begin with, to two or three main arms. That means fewer chances to take saves away from Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers, Aroldis Chapman, etc.
It also means that, at the end of drafts, it might be a good idea to take advantage of some of the Closer Committee stigmas on some of these relievers and draft guys like Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller, Corey Knebel, and others and assume that the smaller committees will give them a higher percentage of their team's save chances than they would have gotten in a normal season.
Sidenote: Knebel may be sneaky valuable this year if the Brewers decide to use Josh Hader in the highest leverage moment of any game, regardless of inning. They did this before last year and perhaps would go back to that strategy now that Knebel is healthy again.
So What Does That Mean For Strategy?
1. Perennially strong closers are safer this year than in year's past.
I use the word "perenially" here because I think it's a crucial distinction. If a pitcher has proven for a few years that they are a reliable end-of-game option, then I imagine the trust he's built up will cause a team to go back to him with games on the line. This is especially true since, as I mentioned before, each game is crucial and other relievers won't have the time to build up the trust of their manager for these crucial situations.
On the other hand, with each game being so crucial, closers without a track record of success will be far more likely to lose their job after a bad stretch. However, and this is important, I can only see this happening if a team has a clear back-up option. For example, Ian Kennedy doesn't have a long track record of success. If he struggles for a stretch, the Royals could look to another option. But who would that be? Scott Barlow? Will they be the next team to bank on a Greg Holland resurgence? As a result, I'd imagine Kennedy gets a little more of a rope than, say, Gallegos since the Cardinals have ample options with experience behind him.
Some consistent closers that I would feel confident in drafting are:
I will also add Brad Hand to this, even though I was confident he would lose his job this year. With a short season and the options behind him having so little MLB experience, I think it will be less likely.
Josh Hader will also absolutely remain valuable all year, but his save totals may drop for the reason I mentioned earlier - punished by his own unique skillset.
2. After you grab a perennial strong closer, wait...and wait... and wait.
I want to make clear that I'm not suggesting waiting because I think teams will be actively trying to spread out saves. As I said above, I believe the opposite is true. However, with only 60 total games, the number of saves that will separate the middle of the leaderboard should be negligible. I believe there will be some clear separation at the top, but you're going to also see a lot of closers with somewhere between 6-10 saves because they're either on mediocre teams, in committees, or pitched inconsistently enough to lose their job for a stretch.
I'd much rather pass on the volatility of Nick Anderson, Wade Davis, or Archie Bradley to draft other positions at that spot and then roster guys like Seth Lugo, Joe Jimenez, Corey Knebel, Jose Alvarado, and Daniel Hudson who may not wind up with many saves but will cost me much less draft capital.
3. Don't Spend As Much Time Speculating on Saves
With a shorter season, there is less time for players to earn their way into roles. We may see the impact of that more at the back-end of a bullpen than anywhere else. It will take a few good weeks for a pitcher to come out of nowhere and earn his manager's trust at the end of games if he didn't have it at the start of a season. Those weeks are crucial in such a short fantasy season, so if you're rostering a pitcher only in hopes that he eventually takes over a closer's job, you're likely wasting a roster spot.
If a player is not a team's closer or part of a committee at the start of the season, I won't be drafting him. I'd rather use that roster spot on a middle reliever who I know will pitch well and help my ratios than hope I luck into saves while rostering a pitcher that could just as easily get blown up and kill my ratios. I can always use my FAAB when a closer change becomes apparent if that seems to be the best course of action for my team at the time.
This goes double for pitchers on bad teams. I'm not going to wait around for Sam Tuivalala to maybe take over the Mariners' closer job or Scott Oberg to possibly beat out Wade Davis again. If those guys aren't pitching consistent innings that help my ratios, they are of no use to my fantasy team in a short season.
You'll likely have a lot of reliever turnover on your teams as you try to locate the guys getting the most consistent, highest leverage innings, and that's OK. Just don't hold onto mediocrity in hopes of a few saves.
4. Don't Shy Away From Committee Closers on Good Teams
If we accept my earlier points that managers are more likely to consistently turn to their best arms to close out games, and we feel a sense of security in knowing who those players are, then it follows that closers who share a job on a good team are likely to see more opportunities than closers who are atop the depth chart on a bad team.
For example, many people believe Sean Doolittle could find himself in a committee since he is a left-handed pitcher in a deep bullpen. However, he pitches for a strong team that could win 40+ games. If he is one of the primary closing options on a team that figures to see more save opportunities than average, I'd rather take him than a player like Jose Leclerc or Joe Jimenez who have inconsistent track records and are on teams that are liable to see fewer opportunities overall.
If Doolittle were to remain in the committee, he'd likely see a near similar amount of save opportunities as Leclerc. However, if Doolittle pitches well or Leclerc struggles, the difference in opportunities could be tremendous, while I would find it hard to imagine Doolittle flat out losing his job.
So, to summarize, my strategy will be to identify a reliable closer on a solid team and get him to lead my bullpen. I'll then try to add two options that are clearly entrenched in the backend of a team's bullpen, even if they're in a committee (preferably on good teams, of course). Lastly, I'd round out my bullpen with ratio-aiding relievers that should be used consistently in any role out of the bullpen. I think this setup gives me a good chance to remain in the mix to win saves, with the upside to win the category if one of my committee options hits, and also gives me the safest floor to avoid a bullpen that will crush my ratios in a short season.
Having now passed the ides of June, there is still no start date for the 2020 season and no guarantee that we'll even ever get one. MLB and the MLBPA continue to pass proposals back and forth, with each side taking their turn at rejection. This puts baseball in a situation where Commissioner Rob Manfred is likely to unilaterally imposed a season length of his own determination, a power given to him in the original March agreement between baseball and the player's union.
All signs seem to point to around a 50-game season being the number that Manfred is most likely to land on, as that's the number of games that owners have said they can financially manage, given the player's insistence on getting the fully prorated salaries they had already agreed to. A 50-game season will have none of the subtlety, with no time to iron out the randomness inherent to the game. With only less than a third of a season, statistics (and their fantasy value) will run to extremes that just aren't usually seen. Lots of suspect pitchers can run elite ratios for 10 starts and stumble their way into a relative pile of wins. For example, after the first 50 games of 2019, Zach Davies was the 10th-most valuable starter in fantasy and Zach Eflin was #22. Marcus Walden was the #3 reliever and John Gant was #5.
Let's look back at the first 50 games in 2019 and see if there will be any strategies for the small-sample carnival that appears likely in 2020. We'll begin with the starting pitchers.
Methodology For a 50-Game Season
We obviously don't have any precedent for a pandemic-shortened 50-game season. Even in a strike-shortened 1994 season, teams still played around 115 games and plenty of pitchers still had a sample size of innings that allowed more confidence in their numbers. It was a different game and all but 40 pitchers still managed over 150 IP and 37 finished with double-digit wins. And let us never forget that in just 115 games, Greg Maddux had a 1.56 ERA in 202 innings. Praise be to Maddux.
To get a more exact picture of how extreme samples in just 50 games could get, I determined the player values for a standard 12-team 5x5 Roto league using only the first 50 games played in 2019. I used the first 50 games, as opposed to the last 50 because even though the season wouldn't be starting until mid-July, players will still be at the beginning of their season in terms of hitters having seen major league pitching and vice-versa. Using the last 50 games I think would be judging players on the time after they'd been able to make adjustments that they won't have time to make in 2020.
With these "full-season" stats, I then used a standard z-score treatment for assigning dollar-values to each player. Note that this was an attempt to determine the best 108 pitchers and 154 position players in a standard league, not serve as a hindsight draft guide. So while more players than these would've been on rosters, these are the players who finished above replacement-level.
Z-scores (or zed-scores, as my Canadian friends call them) are a popular statistical tool used to assign fantasy value by judging how far away from average a player's particular stat is. The actual number of strikeouts a pitcher has doesn't matter; what matters is how that number compares to that of his peers. In other words, having 300 strikeouts isn't that great if everyone else averages 295 strikeouts.
After calculating and totaling the z-scores for each category (putting the rate categories on a scale that properly accounts for the number of innings pitched/plate appearances) I made positional adjustments and translated the totals to dollar-values. The dollar values were determined using a typical budget of $260 per team, with a 67-33 hitter/pitcher split.
50 Game Leaderboard
Included with stats and fantasy values from the first 50 games, are each player's overall and positional rankings, as well as 2019 ADP the difference between ADP and final rankings. Of the 108 best pitchers in our hypothetical season, 58 were starters. Here are their rankings after 50 games, as well as their final starting pitcher ranking in 2019 according to the Fangraphs auction calculator:
Did you know that Yusei Kikuchi had earned more after 50 games than Jacob deGrom? The eventual NL Cy Young winner dwarfed Kikuchi in strikeouts (75 K to 49 K) and they both had three wins but Kikuchi narrowly edged deGrom in both the ratio categories. Is this just a funny anamoly or can we we learn anything?
Before we get there, let's also look at the important players who failed to qualify. Here are the remainder of the pitchers who were within the top-300 of ADP but weren't in the top-108 of earnings after 50 games. In addition to their 2019 ADP and 50-game stats, are the eventual starting pitcher ranks for the entirety of the season according to the Fangraphs auction calculator:
Parsing through the above lists isn't about trying to gain insight about the stats themselves, or the players that could be helped or hurt by a hot or cold start in a shortened 2020. This is about seeing if there are any strategies that can be identified in the patterns of where value flowed to. Excepting saves, let's go category by category.
Ahh, the category that is both the most fickle and the least indicative of skill. One pitcher had nine wins through 50 games, one had eight wins, and three had seven wins. Of the 40 pitchers drafted inside the top-500 who finished below-replacement, only Aaron Nola (5) had more than four wins. Domingo German had a terrific ERA but his nine wins were a big part of him finishing as SP 6.
I think wins in a short-sample world will be even more disproportionally weighted. When we get to relievers, we'll talk about how I think this call for a more aggressive bullpen strategy but for now, there are some takeaways for evaluating starters in a shortened season.
Strong offense - A lot of wins are going to come from backend starters on good teams. Or above-average teams facing a relatively easy schedule. Martin Perez wasn't a superstar in 2019 but he was backed by the league's best offense and he picked up wins against Toronto, Seattle, and Cleveland, with two against Baltimore.
Strong Bullpens- Ask Zack Greinke if there was a difference in going from Arizona to Houston. And good relievers will protect leads for average pitching just as they will for the aces.
Going Deep - The longer you're in the game, the better chance you have to pick up the win. And the more efficient you are with your batters, the longer you'll potentially stay in the game. Simply put, we want the horses. Here are the top-25 pitchers in 2019 in terms of average innings per start (min. 10 starts). Also included is the average number of batters faced per innings and the accompanying rank:
Bad Offense - We must of course drop the inverses of the attractive situations from above. It's always hard to pick up wins when you're backed by a poor offense but every win will be that much more important in a shortened season and good pitchers on bad teams are getting dinged more in my book.
Here are the 20 pitchers taken inside the top-200 in 2019 who didn't finish above-replacement level after 50 games, along with how their team offenses were ranked in April/May:
Bad Bullpens and Defenses - Whether streaming, drafting, or trading, I'm not messing around with average pitchers backed by subpar pitchers coming in behind them. Please tell me more about all of the wins that the Angels bullpen will hang on to for the starters...I'll wait. And whoever thought to pair an atrocious Mets defense with a rotation full of pitch-to-contact pitchers, could you please stand up? Now please imagine all of New York simultaneously booing you.
Elite strikeout rates are like warm and fuzzy security blankets in fantasy. Not only are they incredibly reliable from year to year but they are often the saving grace when pitchers go through rough patches in the other fantasy categories. When the ratios are running high and the wins have been dry, at least you'll always have the K's.
In a shortened season, however, there won't be as many games for differences in strikeout rates to prove to a be a separating factor in the final tally. Being as consistent as it generally is, elite k-rates are a grinding force compared to lesser rates. With every game that passes, the bigger the gap in strikeouts becomes. But with only 50 games, there just isn't enough time for the gaps to become canyons.
Take a look at the top-25 earnings from strikeouts in our mini-2019, along with their starting pitcher rank and ERA earnings rank. What seemed to contribute more to the overall value?
Of the 25-highest strikeout earners, only five finished as top-10 pitchers and they all had ERA earnings that were as good or better than from strikeouts. On the other hand, seven finished outside of the top-50. Strikeouts by themselves will not save you and we won't be able to go by Bed, Bath, and Beyond either. There just won't be enough time.
Mitigating the Risks
Don't think I'm saying to avoid high strikeout pitchers. That would be silly. I'm only saying to be aware that they won't have the difference-making fantasy effect of year's past. Besides being aware, can anything else be done?
One Trick Ponies - I'm downgrading pitchers whose carrying trait is their whiffery if they could be dicey everywhere else. In a full season, I'm fine risking an ERA near four with Dinelson Lamet because of the power of his 30%+ K-rate. Not so much in one-third of a season.
Purge the Walkers - Pitchers with questionable walk-rates are also going to take a hit in my book. If your K-BB% is held aloft by a lot more K thank lack of BB, I'll be treading lightly. Rooo-bbie Ray!... Do not come on down!
No Homers Allowed - Once again, the more valuable strikeouts are, the more warts high-K guys can get away with having. And having a homer problem when strikeouts are cheaper and each earned run will count against you more than ever, is a big wart to have. It's hard to make me say something bad about Matthew Boyd but what if the homer issue from last year (1.89 HR/9 overall, 2.30 HR/8 in the second half) comes back in 2020? Looking at different bad stretches in his game log last season is downright terrifying. Two games with four home runs, three games with three home runs, and over two different three-game stretches, Boyd allowed a combined 8 HR. When Boyd's slinging up dingers, he does not mess around and that's the kind of volatility that I'm not keen to roster in a shortened season.
If you thought wins were important, wait until you get a hold of the ratios. Nothing in baseball is easy but lots of pitchers are capable of going on a 10-start stretch of elite ratios. And these men will be the kings of pitching in 2020 while making paupers of the rest.
Going back to z-scores for a minute, ratio stats are a hair trickier because the value isn't just about the actual number, it's about how long of a period that stat was achieved over. A 2.95 ERA over 200 IP is going to be worth more than a 1.50 ERA over 100 IP, etc. I won't bore you with the math but calculating z-scores for ratios takes this factor into account and puts all stats on a level playing field, regardless of innings pitched.
By looking at the separate categorical z-scores, we can then determine how much of a player's value came from each category. Here again are the top starting pitchers from the first 50 games, with their ERA and WHIP, as well as their total z-score, their combined z-scores from the two categories, and what percent of that total was earned from ratios.
50 G Rank
You don't have to have high scores in both categories but you better nail one of them. Zach Davies wasn't the #11 starter because of his five wins (2.0 z) and 36 K (0.3 z), or even his 1.18 WHIP (o.6 z). It was because of a 1.54 ERA over 53 IP that was good for an 8.1 z that was the 4th-highest, just behind Justin Verlander's 8.2 z.
Ratios (especially ERA) are going to be the dominant fantasy force for pitchers. Why was Jacob deGrom only the #43 starting pitcher? Just three wins didn't help but it was still above the 1.7 wins that the rest of the pool averaged. His 1.18 WHIP was below the average 1.28 WHIP and deGrom's 75 K was the 13th-highest. However, while his 3.72 ERA was below the average 4.2o ERA, his 1.6 z-score was the 60th-highest among starters. And that's how you turn a top-10 draft pick into an SP4. It's not just deGrom's mediocre ERA, it's also how good everyone else's was.
Playing Ratio Whack-A-Mole
You're still going to draft Jacob deGrom and you're still not going to draft Zach Davies. Pointing out the above is about understanding the risks that starters will carry in a shortened season. However, can we really do anything but draft good pitchers and hope for the gods of luck to smile upon them? Sure we can!
Diversify Your Bonds - I'm going to want "safe" starters with less ceiling but more floor; and I'm going to want more of them. In terms of who returns the most total value, the trio of Scherzer (16 ADP), Strasburg (29 ADP), and Paddack (50 ADP) would be the favorite over Ryu (146 ADP), Hendricks (153 ADP), and Maeda (162 ADP). However, given their respective draft prices, I'd far prefer the latter group.
Protect Your Neck - In defense of my ratios, the bar will be lower for sitting a good pitcher with a tough matchup. You usually want to trust the process with pitchers; always start your studs and you're usually going to start your top three or four guys in a majority of their matchups. But I'll have my safety vest on this year and will be willing to send anyone to the pine. And if baseball is played in normal stadiums, I promise my pitchers will pitch zero innings at Coors. Zero. The upside won't be worth it given that just one bad start can blow an entire season of value.
Nothing to FAAB With - No time for waiting, no time for caution. I'm not saying to bust your bankroll early and often, but rather be more willing to gamble on (and pay for) pitchers who may be set up for any sort of hot streak. And also be ready to drop them like hot lava. Look at the below example of our poster boy, Zach Davies, if we were to jump his 2019 season forward in time to our COVID reality of 2020:
Davies started improbably, giving up just three earned runs in his first four starts. Given that starts three and four were against the Dodgers, you probably wouldn't have wanted to open the wallet then. But after he got through them with a 1.19 ERA and staring at an upcoming schedule of St. Louis, Colorado (at home) and the Mets, I'd be looking to spend big, if necessary.
I wouldn't be counting on him keeping it up all (shortened) season, I'd just be looking to squeeze whatever juice was left. Catching even a three or four-game stretch in the middle of a hot streak could be enough to earn back a large FAAB expenditure in this shortened season.
Wrap It Up
The statistical extremes that will come along with a shortened season will make projecting performance (and fantasy value) even more difficult than usual. We can't predict the future but that doesn't mean we need to throw our hands up and declare it all a game of chance. It just means that we have to stack every advantage we can, no matter how small.
We've covered the starters but I think relievers will have just as much potential to return excess value and could fill in any holes left by being more careful with some of the players covered above. Next time out we'll dig into the bullpen and see if there are any golden nuggets to be mined. Until then, may Maddux shine down upon all of us and bring tidings soon of a 2020 season.
The award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller, this time with in-depth takes on the shortened season from a former MLB executive and current broadcaster. Every year, Scott Engel talks to prime MLB sources to get exclusive nuggets of information. On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, media members and others close to the game provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott supplies his fantasy baseball viewpoints on the commentaries.
These reports contain viewpoints that you will not find anywhere else, from the most authentic experts on the game: those who play it, have played it, and cover it and work inside the clubhouses. The sources interviewed are all informed that they are being asked questions for fantasy purposes, so they focus on projected player performance and trends that will drive statistical production in their answers.
This latest installment of the Insider Series features comprehensive insights from a former MLB front office man and current analyst who is also a fantasy baseball player with championship credentials. He focuses on how the projected shortened 2020 MLB season may affect player projections and fantasy strategies. The outlooks he discusses can cover any length of a reduced schedule, but he emphasized they become more urgent in a 50-game scenario.
Insider Insights On a Shortened Season Affecting Fantasy
"It’s going to be a smaller sample size so once we figure out who is getting hot early you will have to stick with those guys a little longer. As for the reverse, those who usually start slow don’t panic over a full and long season. Those guys might now tend to press more. Slow starters are usually good buy candidates but not in a shortened season. If someone starts slow this season now, there is less time to rebound. It is so important to get off to a good start this season. And benching injured players to stash them is something you can’t really consider."
Engel’s Fantasy Angle: In a shortened season, hot and cold spells will be magnified. There is much less time to wait out cold streaks and injuries. If you know some players are notoriously slow starters, those are hitters you may want to pass on in tight draft decisions. Streaky hitters will become bigger gambles; if they start hot, you will get a boost in the standings, but a cold start could be a big drag. As this insider source indicated, those types may press at the plate and struggle even longer.
It's hard enough to fall behind early in a full season Rotisserie league and catch up, now it will seem impossible to win if you are down deep in the standings early. In head-to-head formats, every win becomes more precious and fantasy baseball results can take on a football type of feel. You may have to react to trends and injuries more aggressively with add/drops, a there will be much less consideration and thought for players who will miss several weeks with an injury.
The ideal player to avoid in a shortened season is Giancarlo Stanton. In his breakdown of players who have been known to go cold at the beginning of the schedule, RotoBaller's Mike Florio notes that Stanton has a .231 BA and .251 ISO in March and April. On top of that, Stanton is recovering from yet another injury (calf) and is always a risk to go down and miss significant time.
Giancarlo Stanton's career splits for the beginning of the season. While the power is still there, he has struggled in BA and OBP. You cannot rely on power performers that may go cold early in a shortened season.
Insider Insights on Rookie Contributions
“We will have to watch carefully who is projected to start the season with the MLB clubs and who may be projected to come up during the season. If there are players who are considered to be helpful now, they will start the season with the big club right away. Jo Adell is very important to the Angels, so I would expect him to start the season with the team right away. Dylan Carlson may be a year off a breakout pace, so I would expect him to see him up with the Cardinals very soon because he is a top prospect.”
Engel’s Fantasy Angle: We will likely be looking at expanded rosters for the shortened season, ensuring that some rookies will begin seasons on MLB rosters in cases where they might often begin the year in the minors. Teams must make firm decisions on if they believe the rookies can help from the start or in a shorter window. Adell should be expected to begin the season on the Angels roster. As pointed out in my last MLB Insider report, he has a very low ADP and the potential to contribute in the power and speed departments rather quickly. Adell did struggle at Triple-A last year, however, and if he starts slowly, you can’t wait too long to bench him. We will have detailed scouting reports on Carlson and Carter Kieboom from this insider in our next edition.
Insider Insights on the DH for National League Teams
“It will certainly affect National League pitchers, no doubt. You are still going to go for the dominant N.L. pitchers in fantasy drafts, but there will not be much of an advantage over A.L. pitchers at all. A lot of N.L. teams are still not built for the DH anyway. Most won’t have one option. They may rotate some hitters. But for the Nationals, Howie Kendrick would not project to play five or six days per week and now he can get more playing time. The DH spot should be ideal for Yoenis Cespedes. Going back to Dylan Carlson, there would not seem to be a clear spot for him in the Cardinals outfield. Now the DH plays a role there. The Braves can use Marcell Ozuna at DH, especially coming off a shoulder injury, and that should open up some more at-bats for Nick Markakis. Joc Pederson should now be in the lineup nearly every day for the Dodgers.”
Engel’s Fantasy Angle: When you are faced with a close draft decision between a National League pitcher and an American Leaguer, the league designation no longer gives the N.L. choice the advantage. You must also consider the strong possibility that NL teams will now play AL ballclubs with revised divisional alignments. I may now be more moved to take Corey Kluber over Trevor Bauer. Both are rebound candidates, but before the DH and divisional realignments, I may have opted for Bauer based on playing in the NL. However, Bauer plays in a surefire hitter’s environment while we have yet to see how the new Globe Life Park will play. I have heard, though, from a current player, that Kluber was looking like he had regained his better form in spring training before it was shut down, and that will be my tiebreaker, not the league designation.
You will have to cherry-pick the National League DH options that are possible contributors, but Yoenis Cespedes could be a major value play. You will see in this recent Insider Report that Cespedes was impressing onlookers in early spring training. I was told that the Mets were planning to bring him along slowly and let him loose in the second half of the year in what could be a big comeback campaign. Now they can potentially let him contribute right away, and he looks like a great flier at his 463 ADP. He is totally being ignored in drafts and that may be a mistake.
Kendrick now becomes more appealing at his low ADP after hitting .344 with 17 homers last year and proving he's still an offensive factor at age 36. Kendrick also led MLB in xBA (.336), was fourth in xSLG (.622), and his 48.2% Hard Hit% was in the Top-8 percent of the league. He should be penciled into the seventh spot in the Washington lineup but should still produce very good numbers, particularly considering his draft price. Markakis won’t help much in other than BA but could help Ozuna get some more rest at DH. Pederson seemed ticketed for a platoon role in LF with the Dodgers, but the DH opportunity could mean more consistent playing time overall and keep him as a valued fantasy power source if he starts off well. He is definitely worth the later flier at a 211 ADP.
Per Baseball Savant, Howie Kendrick ranked in the Top 9 percent or better in all of the above Statcast categories last season.
Fantasy Insider Insights on Pitching vs. Hitting
“Results will heavily depend on how deep starters are allowed to go. You are going to see many teams go to their bullpens more. Teams with better bullpens are going to have a distinct advantage. The dominant starters should perform as expected, but when you go down to the tiers of third and fourth starters for many teams, you will have to watch those guys carefully. It’s never easy to chase wins for starters and now it will be more difficult than usual. You should keep a few middle relievers on your bench, because they are going to steal a good amount of wins. With those third and fourth starters, they may go three to four innings before teams go to a good middle reliever.”
“Pitchers should be ahead of the hitters early. I was talking to (a veteran hitting coach) and he believes pitchers will focus on high-end velocity and breaking balls right out of the gate. I would stay away from high strikeout guys. Contact hitters will go into slumps less frequently and have much less variability. I want guys like Anthony Rendon and Michael Brantley. They are less likely to slump, and the high strikeout types can crush you out of the gate quickly in a shortened season. It’s going to be much harder to be patient in fantasy leagues.”
Engel’s Fantasy Angle: You may want to change your later-round approaches to pitching based on the advice given here. Instead of throwing those darts at strictly late-round starting pitcher fliers and closer longshots who may not have the time to emerge, you can bolster your staff with some quality middle relievers. Luke Jackson of Atlanta will add to your strikeout totals (25.4% K-BB% in 2019) and he had a 2.80 SIERA last year while collecting 11 wins. Seth Lugo had a 28.0% K-BB% and 2.80 SIERA and also had seven wins. He is capable of being more productive in wins on a consistent basis in a shortened season.
When making early-round decisions on your anchor offensive players, you should take contact hitters over power types with high strikeout types when you have a close call. For example, if trying to make a decision between Rendon and Bryce Harper, the latter’s 26.1% K-rate should give the nod to Rendon. Once again, avoiding a player such as Stanton makes a lot of sense. Save your riskier power picks for later in the draft. Streakier types will be less predictable as for whether they will start out hot or cold, and if they struggle early, you may have to bench them.
If you're looking to liven up your fantasy experience, trying your hand at an Only league could be a great way to bring a fresh perspective to one of your favorite pastimes. While standard mixed leagues are largely a race to accumulate as many elite performers as possible, Only leagues allow owners to demonstrate their knowledge of the entire player pool. You can take pet players that wouldn't be viable in standard formats and still have a shot at the glory. Better yet, you can take a bow when your pet player finishes the season firmly on the fantasy radar. Believe me: it's a great feeling.
Some people balk at the idea of an Only league because they like players in both the AL and NL. "Why would I want to limit the choices available to me?" they might ask. Personally, I find the best way to combat this is to participate in both an AL and NL Only concurrently. You're still working with the entire player pool between the two leagues while having a reason to care about that nondescript prospect who started getting reps in San Francisco.
Other owners claim that Only leagues are too much work, and I concede that a lot more research goes into them. Ironically, that makes right now the best possible time to give it a shot. A lot of people don't have much to do in the age of social distancing, so why not dive into the rabbit hole of learning a new fantasy format? This article is intended to jump-start a novice owner's Only draft prep with four tips I personally learned after a few Only leagues. Let's get started!
1. Playing Time Is Key
If you take nothing else from this article, you must understand that the team that records the most PA and IP is very likely to finish in the money. Owners in standard leagues usually look for upside when one of their core players land on the IL, but your waiver wire will be a barren wasteland in an Only format. You'll be ecstatic to find a .240 hitter with little power or speed who qualifies at your position of need.
Thankfully, you can prepare for this eventuality on draft day. I typically burn late-round picks in mixed leagues on speculative saves, hoping to find a closer without paying for one. When I tried the same strategy in an Only league, I fell so far behind in PA and IP that the team was a total dumpster fire (even though I did end up with a "free" closer). Don't repeat that mistake in your first deep league. Invest in bench bats that cover every position, and prioritize multipositional guys to give you some versatility when you're scouring the waiver wire.
2. Outfield Is A Scarce Position
Outfield is one of the deepest positions in fantasy, ranging from perennial All-Stars like Mike Trout to exciting prospects like Luis Robert. Owners in standard leagues never need to consider a player's outfield eligibility as a positive when assessing his value, but some basic arithmetic shows that it's different in an Only league.
Assuming a 10-team league with standard deep rosters (2 C, 5 OF, CI, MI, U), your league wants to roster 50 outfielders (10 teams times five per team). However, each of the 15 real MLB clubs only has three outfielders. That works out to 45 starters (15 teams times three per team) before we even consider platoons and teams that don't really have an everyday option at the position. Considering that outfielders are the glue that hold fantasy rosters together, coming up short at the position is a great way to finish in the bottom half of your league.
The math isn't as bad for infielders. Your 10-team league wants to roster 15 third basemen (10 teams with a 3B slot plus half of the CI slots), which is the exact number the 15-team AL and NL provide. Catchers are also scarce, but they play less often and put up poor numbers anyway. Therefore, you must treat outfielders as a scarce commodity and take pains to ensure that you leave your draft with at least five everyday players at the position (six would be better). Otherwise, you'll spend the entire season trying to correct your OF deficiency. I speak from experience.
3. You Can Wait On Pitching
Again assuming the roster construction above, your league wants to roster 90 pitchers (10 teams times nine pitcher slots). All 15 of the guys currently earning saves should be owned in an Only league, and some owners may roster an additional reliever to improve their ERA and WHIP. If we say that an average of 20 relievers will be rostered at any one point, we need 70 starters to meet our league's demand.
Each MLB club has a five-man rotation, meaning that 75 starters have jobs in the league at a time. That's actually more than we need to fill out all of the starting rosters: the only position with surplus in the entire format. The starters you find on waivers won't be good, but they will start. That's more than you can say for all of the offensive positions, so you don't need to invest in as much SP depth. Remember: even terrible pitchers can be worthwhile fantasy plays with the right matchup, especially in an Only.
Closers are a challenging commodity to manage in Only leagues. Your fifth-ranked and tenth-ranked closers don't differ by enough to offset the loss of an everyday position player, but you also need to compete in the saves category. The ideal strategy is to take the last two closers on the board, setting you up to finish in the top half of your league in saves for as little draft-day capital as possible. You should also do everything in your power to make sure that any unexpected closers land on your roster as opposed to a rival's. Be diligent!
4. Adopt One of Two Waiver Strategies
You will have two golden chances to add free talent to your team once the season starts: early-season breakouts and any stars that shift leagues at the trade deadline. You can do both if your league uses FAAB, just make sure to hold enough in reserve in case a dominant pitcher or cleanup hitter suddenly becomes available. However, you'll probably only have one shot if your format uses waiver priority instead.
The best use of waiver wire priority is to grab a surprise breakout that delivers value for the entire season. For instance, Bryan Reynolds went from no-name to elite performer in 2019. However, a hot first month doesn't necessarily mean that the player is for real. You have to do your research to figure out if your breakout is a future star or lucky waiver wire fodder. Most leagues that use waiver priority have a free agency period where you can add to your roster without burning it, so you can and should churn while waiting for the right match.
If you don't use waiver priority, save it for the trading deadline. Big names are moved at the deadline almost every year, giving you a great chance to add a free impact piece with minimal research. I'm proud to say that I added J.D. Martinez to my NL-Only roster when he was traded to Arizona in 2017.
Playing in an Only league is a different experience than many owners are used to, but it can actually be more engaging if you're looking to add more strategy to the hobby. Rotoballer offers a variety of resources to help novice and experienced owners alike with all of the research that goes into it, so why not try an Only league this season?
Welcome to Part Two of the ADP Risers and Fallers series, where I will examine key changes from March to the present day. If you missed Part One, where I evaluated injured players and prospects, you can read it right here. Those were the easy risers and fallers.
In this article, we will delve into some other ADP movers that may not be as clear at first glance. We will look at a category called Surprise Movers. Referring to a group of players who moved up and down draft boards without clear cut reasoning, at least without some more in-depth analysis. We will also look at a trend that developed with relief pitchers and catchers moving up draft boards a bit.
It will be fun to see the changes in ADP from April/May to June once we have a locked-in plan for the 2020 season. For now, we have the March and April ADP to run through and look for edges to make us more prepared for draft season. Let’s check out the risers and fallers that might turn some heads.
With most ADP risers and fallers it was easy to determine why certain players moved. That was not the case for all players. There were a handful of players that moved for differing reasons, some that took more digging to figure out. Some of the players may thrive on a shortened season as they were usually on an innings limit. Others were just flat out head-scratchers. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger risers and fallers from a surprising standpoint.
Wood arrived to spring training this season with an increased fastball, thanks to the help of Driveline, and that new velocity had many running to draft him in March. Even with all the excitement, there were some that were still somewhat hesitant with the Dodgers’ way of toying with a pitcher's innings. Well, the shortened season could potentially change that and his draft price has gone up accordingly. That and the fact he will now be 100% healthy when the season starts.
Before an injury-riddled 2019, Wood had thrown at least 150 innings in back to back seasons, good for almost a strikeout per inning, and some really solid ratios. He will be pitching for the heavy favorite in the National League and should be in line for wins as well. Wood is a really solid pick this season and the increase in price is justified. With that being said, I would rather gamble on Rich Hill over Wood, but no problem drafting Wood if the feeling of a big season is strong.
Starlin Castro, Washington Nationals
Old ADP 265, New ADP 249
Castro will be entering his eleventh season in the bigs yet is only 30 years old. Year after year he is overlooked in drafts but continues to put in quality production hitting 16 or more home runs in three of the last four seasons while also hitting at least .270. Castro puts up consistent production and now joins the defending world series champion Nationals.
When Castro signed with the Nationals there were still questions of Castro playing every day. That question was answered when Dave Martinez said Castro was the every day, starting second baseman. There were some drafters still concerned with all the platoon options that the Nats had, but they don’t need to worry nearly as much with the universal DH coming into play. Castro makes for a nice later round 2B or MI options in drafts and the improved price tag still is not high enough.
Jose Peraza, BOS - For some unknown reason, Peraza is climbing up the ADP charts. He is slated to platoon with Michael Chavis for the Red Sox and hit near the bottom of the Red Sox order. If he were playing every day there could be an argument as a late stolen base target, but for now the price bump makes no sense.
Teoscar Hernandez, TOR - Hernandez, and his teammate Randal Grichuk have been making their way up draft boards. Both are solid power sources later in drafts, but Hernandez has shown the ability to run a bit more than Grichuk. I would rather wait and grab Hernandez a few rounds later with his upside.
C.J. Cron, DET - Cron has been a great later round 1B option after the top targets are off the board. He will still hit for solid power with the Tigers and his price tag is still fine for the slugging first baseman. His price tag likely moved up as others are jumping on the Cron train, as well as the idea of the Tigers not playing in Comerica. Do not worry where he is playing and enjoy some Cron in your life.
With the idea of a shortened season, the need for more consistent at-bats appears the be on the minds of many drafting. Over the last few seasons we have seen many more platoons or 65/35 type splits at the catcher position. With the idea of consistent at-bats, some catchers that would usually wait for later in the draft are moving up the draft boards.
Jansen was a popular sleeper target in 2019 and he disappointed greatly. His barrel rate dropped by four percent, his wOBA was only. 275 and his average was a horrible .207. This all seems very bad, but there is hope. He hits in a loaded Jays lineup and still managed a .358 xwOBAcon, 40% hard-hit rate, and a really nice 37.4% ideal contact rate. There is definite bounce-back potential with Jansen and at pick 243 he is worth the gamble, especially as a second catcher in a two catcher league.
Jorge Alfaro, Miami Marlins
Old ADP 218, New ADP 210
Alfaro was traded to the Marlins last season and many were concerned the offensive production would plummet in that not so hitter-friendly ballpark. No need for concern as Alfaro hit .262 for the second straight season with 18 home runs and even threw in four stolen bases. It gets even better as Alfaro had career highs in barrel rate at 11.5%, hard-hit rate at 44.8%, and a .452 xwOBAcon. Alfaro continues to improve offensively each season and is still being drafted outside the top 10 at the catcher position. Do not miss out on another solid offensive season from Alfaro.
Travis d'Arnaud, ATL - d’Arnaud joins the Braves and for some reason people are all over him in drafts. He can hit for some power but is a massive average liability. Besides those concerns, the major concern is being a catcher for the Braves who are notorious for having a near 50/50 platoon split at catcher, and Tyler Flowers is still on the team.
With a shortened season there will likely be more of a push for secure counting stats. The saves stat has already shown some volatility in recent years and a shortened season may enhance that volatility. With fewer saves to be had, more reliable closers or drafting more closers may be the answer. We can see in the ADP changes that a lot of closers, regardless of just how good they are, are moving up draft boards.
Harvey is the biggest ADP riser and it makes sense. Right before the stop of the season, Harvey was announced as the likely closer for the Orioles. The young flame thrower showcased some back of the bullpen upside at the end of 2019 and he is leaving fantasy owners with some high hopes for 2020. Even at his current price he is a solid RP3 on your roster, but be careful as wins will be very hard to come by for the Orioles, so there will not be a ton of save chances, to begin with.
Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
Old ADP 137, New ADP 124
Anderson took the fantasy world by storm in 2019 by just dominating hitter after hitter. His dominance has led many to anoint the 29-year-old as the full-time closer for the Rays. He deserves to get his shots and will get many, but this is also the Rays. They love spreading saves around their bullpen and have many qualified candidates to share the wealth with. Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado will get their fair shake as well and at a much lower draft price than Anderson.
Hansel Robles, L.A. Angels- Robles took over closing duties in 2019 and never looked back. His pitch mix changes made him a lethal closer and he is still being drafted too late. He’s a great RP2 or even RP1 if you wait on saves.
Giovanny Gallegos, STL Cardinals- Seems everyone is running to draft Gallegos as the Cardinals closer, without worrying about the other options in the bullpen. The Cards will be getting their regular closer Jordan Hicks back as well as other talented options in the pen. Just be careful when reaching for Gallegos.
As you can see there were many changes from the stop of spring training to the new shortened season propositions. The next set of changes will take place when the new season is announced and the three-division format is put in play. Until then, we will keep preparing with the data we have and look to find edges wherever we can find them.