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Lineup Order Risers and Fallers: AL West 2020 Review

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. 

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Oakland Athletics 

Key Free Agents: Tommy La Stella, Marcus Semien, Robbie Grossman, Jake Lamb

Returning from injury: Matt Chapman 

  • 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. 

 

Texas Rangers

Key Free Agents: Shin-Soo Choo, Jeff Mathis

Returning from injury: Danny Santana, Elvis Andrus

  • 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. 

 

Los Angeles Angels

Key Free Agents: Andrelton Simmons

Returning from injury: Luis Rengifo and Franklin Barreto 

  • 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 lineup might be set in terms of David Fletcher leading off with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani hitting either in the 2-4 or 3-5 range.
  • 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. 

 

Seattle Mariners 

Key Free Agents: None

Returning from injury: Jake Fraley, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, Mitch Haniger, Shed Long Jr., Tom Murphy

  • 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. 
  • Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager are solidified in the middle of the order. 
  • 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.

 

Houston Astros 

Key Free Agents: Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, George Springer 

Returning from injury: Yordan Alvarez 

  • 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.

  • 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.



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