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How a Revamped MLB Season will Impact Fantasy Baseball

No matter how this MLB season plays out it will look like something we have never seen before. Not only is the start of the season already delayed, but there is no definitive end in sight. If we do see baseball this season, the game is going to look very different. First, there will be certain rules in place for player safety that will change the look of the game. Rules like no fans in the crowd and no players in the dugout – that’s right, players would have to sit in the stands, which to me sounds pretty funny. MLB is thinking of different ways to ensure that there is a season. And while we are all rooting that there is, the truth is there will be a great impact on the fantasy baseball season.

The latest proposal is having teams play in their spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona. Instead of the National and American leagues, we will have the cactus and grapefruit leagues. Divisions and schedules would change, the ballparks teams call home will change, and even the weather will change. I discussed this with Scott Engel on RotoBaller Radio on Sirius XM this weekend (you can go back and listen on demand) and the more we talked, the more ways I thought how this will impact the fantasy season.

While this plan is not official yet, the likelihood is that if we do see baseball, it will be in a version like this. In different parks, in different cities, with players likely quarantined away from the rest of the world. We may not be able to watch baseball right now, but we can certainly still prepare for the fantasy baseball season! And knowing how these proposed changes will impact the game is the perfect place to start.

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Different Divisions

The first big change in this proposal is making teams play in their spring training facility in either Florida or Arizona. Due to that, divisions would be changed for the season, based on the location of your spring facility, rather than the location of your MLB city. The proposed revamped divisions are below:

This would greatly change the schedule as teams naturally face teams in their divisions more. Additionally, I imagine MLB would try to limit the amount of times a team has to travel across the country. With many of these spring training facilities being near one another, it is much easier to travel in the same state than it is to fly across the country.

The first step is to dissect each division and how it will impact the players involved. Let’s start with the Grapefruit league. The North would see the Phillies, Tigers and Pirates join AL East foes Yankees and Blue Jays. Basically, swap out the Red Sox, Rays and Orioles from the AL East. To me, this is a clear boost for both the Yankees bats and arms. They now get to face two teams projected to finish towards the bottom of the standings (Tigers and Pirates) while not having another top-level team in their division.

There is a similar boost for Phillies players, although not as big cause they still have to face the Yanks. The other two Grapefruit league divisions are probably the hardest in baseball. The South is made up of the Red Sox, Twins, Braves, Rays and Orioles. This is a blow to the Rays pitchers, as they lose out on the Yankees and Blue Jays, but they get replaced by the tough lineups of the Braves and Twins.

In the West, we have the Astros and Cardinals joining the Mets, Nationals and Marlins in what can be considered the new NL East. Losing the Braves helps, but they also lose the Phillies and have to replace both with playoff teams in the Astros and Cardinals. This is a blow to all three NL East teams pitching staff. It also would be strange to see both World Series teams from last year sharing a division.

In the Cactus league you have the Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies and A’s in the Northeast. That is a competitive division, but there is no elite lineup or pitching staff to worry about. To me, that provides a boost to the teams involved. No team that won a division last year would play in this division.

The West includes the Dodgers, White Sox, Reds, Indians and Angels. That is a very competitive division, but I would still expect it to be dominated by the Dodgers. The pitching here takes the biggest hit, as all five teams can post competitive lineups, with the Indians likely being the weakest.

Lastly, the Northwest would be made up of the Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rangers and Royals. Teams here get two punching bags in the Mariners and Royals and getting to face those lineups often is a clear boost in value for the pitchers in this division. Additionally, the Brewers, Padres and Rangers bats get a boost getting to pick on those weak rotations.

 

Different Ballparks

Under this proposal, teams would have to play in their spring training ballparks. Each MLB ballpark and environment are different. Some stadiums are defined as pitcher parks while others are favorable towards hitters. Those park factors will usually play at least a small part in a player’s fantasy value. Well, you can throw everything we know about park factors out the window if this happens. There will be new dimensions and parks for all 30 MLB teams under this proposal.

Perhaps no team will be impacted more by this than the Colorado Rockies. If you play fantasy baseball, you know the beast that is Coors Field. It is where bats go to produce, and pitchers usually go to get rocked. Last year the Rockies hit an MLB best .300 at home. No other team hit over .285 and only the Astros (.284) had over a .280 average at home. Additionally, their .222 team ISO at home was the second-best in all of baseball. Compare that to the road where they combined to hit an MLB worst .230 on the road with a .158 ISO (26th best in baseball).

The Rockies' bats literally went from being the best at home in terms of average, to the worst on the road. Getting to play 81 games at Coors is such an advantage for Rockies hitters, and yes, while they will be playing in Arizona where plenty are expecting the ball to carry well, they no longer have that upper hand on the rest of the playing field. The Rockies had that home-field advantage because it was something that only those players got to do. Now, if every player that gets to play in Arizona has the advantage of the ball carrying better, the Rockies are no longer special. They are suddenly on an even playing field.

Due to that, I would not want to draft the Rockies at their current price, because even if their numbers don’t take a huge hit, other players in the same environment now get a boost in value. The best example would be if half the league got to play their home games in Coors Field, you would no longer be pushing the Rockies players up the draft board.

But the opposite can be said for the Rockies pitchers. Last season their pitchers had an MLB worse 6.20 ERA at home. They also had a 5.29 FIP with a 19.3 percent strikeout rate at home. Those numbers improve to 4.92 ERA, 5.17 FIP with a 20.1 percent strikeout rate on the road. The biggest winner here is the Rockies best pitcher, German Marquez. Last season he pitched to a 5.01 ERA at home and 3.72 on the road. Coors Field is undefeated, and we all know that. That has been the biggest knock on Marquez the last two seasons. Well now, he won’t have to go up against Coors Field, which makes him an instant buy at his current price.

 

Weather

Both leagues will partake in warm weather states. In fact, both will be extremely hot in the summer. But there is one big difference between the two states: Florida is very humid, while Arizona is more of a dry heat. The ball carries well in warmer weather, but it carries even better in the dry air. I am sure that there will be studies based on this by people who know the effects of weather a lot better than I do, but in my simple understanding of how weather can impact baseball, it leads me to think that batters in the cactus league will have an advantage over those in the grapefruit league. However, the opposite effect will be had on the pitchers.

 

Condensed Schedules

MLB will try to have as many games played as possible. That means we could routinely see teams playing six or seven games per week. One idea is even scheduling doubleheaders (a proposed idea is a weekly double-header where each game is seven innings long). A schedule like this leads to less off-days, which means we could see players sit out more regularly. Especially given that they will potentially be playing outdoors in Florida and Arizona in the summer. The heat will naturally force people to take more time off than usual. This particularly worries me with older veterans and rookies, as both will likely sit more in an attempt to avoid hitting a wall.

It will be hard to predict exactly who will sit, but one thing is for certain to me: this only further devalues the catcher position. Catchers will be forced to sit more often due to less off-days in the schedule, the heat and potentially scheduled doubleheaders. I am never a fan of investing in the catcher position early, but this year I will adamantly be avoiding the early round catchers.

 

Delayed Start

We already know the season will not start on time. The belief though is that there will be a two-three week spring training before starting the MLB season. That can be enough time for hitters and relievers to get ramped up, but it may not be enough for starters to get stretched out. Due to that, I would be more inclined to draft those elite middle relievers that give you strikeouts and strong ratios and use them over fringe starting pitchers early on.

Once a pitcher shows that he is fully ready and can go a normal amount of innings you can start them. However, in the first couple of weeks there will be a lot of risk, especially if a pitcher can only go four or five innings. That gives you so little room for error, as one bad inning can completely blow up your ratios early on.

 

Quarantine if Injured or Leaving Team

Scott brought up a good point on our show that I hadn’t thought of. If a player has to leave the team facility due to injury or a personal reason, they will likely have to self-quarantine for two weeks before they can return to play. If a player suffers an injury that cannot be treated on site and they need to go to a hospital or any medical facility, then they will likely have to self-isolate.

The same can be said for any players who are expecting a child. Two superstars that come to mind are Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole. If they decide to be present for the birth of their child (and I mean who can blame them?) will those players have to self-isolate? Likely, yes, which means paternity leave may go from two to three days, to two to three weeks. This is a hard scenario to plan for, but it will certainly affect the season.

 

Minor League Players

It is already difficult enough to work out the logistics to have an MLB season this year. I think we can all kiss the minor league season goodbye. Instead, what has been discussed is having players stay with teams in their facilities and either have an expanded roster or a taxi squad. Something where these players will be with the team and ready for action if they are called upon. But rather than staying ready and further developing against other minor leaguers, they will be working out in the teams’ facility.

While I am sure they will all do as good a job as possible staying in shape, you simply cannot replicate live pitching. Especially if you are getting called up and seeing major league pitching for the first time. Going from the minors to the majors is already a huge jump and success is never a guarantee, but going from hitting in a cage to suddenly facing some of the top arms in the world? That is a way more substantial jump and makes me think we could see some prospects really struggle when they get the call. If this is the scenario that plays out, I will be lowering the prospects on my board and likely miss out on them for some safer options. I will also be less inclined to spend a bunch of FAAB on any mid-season call ups.

While we are not sure how the MLB season will definitely look like yet, we do know it will be nothing like we have ever seen before. Due to that, you need to throw away your old strategies and be ready to readjust as we go. As the old saying goes, “If you stay prepared, you never have to get prepared.” That is exactly what we are doing here with the game of fantasy baseball that we all love!

Make sure to send me any other ways you guys think this could impact the fantasy baseball season to me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio

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