Baseball, pending America’s sad attempt to corral COVID-10, is back, which means Fantasy Baseball is back.
A few fantasy-specific items bouncing around in my head following the news of baseball’s 60-game season:
A shortened season could mean a full one with Jesus Luzardo in the Oakland rotation.
--- Hopefully, deciphering the messages teams deliver about pitcher usage won’t be as difficult as it could be. I’d caution everyone to avoid getting too worked up about anything a front office says. This Braves quote being a prime example:
If this is still the tune in three weeks, adjust accordingly. While teams will want to be cautious with starting pitchers, they also need to win baseball games, and there aren’t nearly as many of them to win this season. That said, the National League teams with deep bullpens could be more aggressive with power pitchers who occasionally run their pitch counts up or arms who struggle mightily the third time through the order.
--- Speaking of pitching plans, something like Alex Anthopoulous discussed above is more of a possibility because of the implementation of a universal DH. Finally, the National League will play some real baseball. Yeah, I said it. Go watch that Bartolo Colon highlight for the 249th time if you want to see a pitcher hitting.
Who benefits the most from the National League adopting the designated hitter?
Kyle Schwarber, Nick Senzel, Ryan Braun, Dom Smith (#FREEDOMSMITH), Andrew McCutchen, and Howie Kendrick come to mind.
Many National League teams will probably platoon the role. For bad defensive players (Schwarber), aging hitters (Kendrick, Braun), or talented but often injured players without a clear defensive position (Senzel) there will be at-bats to gain. Talented young players like Smith should be given an opportunity to win the job outright but are always subject to a platoon. In the case of McCutchen, he’s coming off a knee injury and the designated hitter allows him to rest his knee on occasion by limiting his defensive assignments.
Does the addition of the NL DH aid players who often make a trip to the DL at least once a year, like Justin Turner? Perhaps, but I’m not sure how much there is to gain in that regard over a 60-game sprint as opposed to a 162-game marathon.
--- And again speaking of pitching plans, pay close attention to how aggressive teams will be with their young prospects. Will Oakland immediately insert Jesus Luzardo, AJ Puk or both into their rotation and leave them there the entire season? The Padres are in win-now mode… what does that mean for MacKenzie Gore? Can Nate Pearson pitch his way immediately into Toronto’s rotation?
Based on a recent interview Jeff Passan did with a Toronto outlet, the Blue Jays could hold Pearson back for seven days and gain an extra year of control. On one hand, seven days isn’t long. On the other, that could be at least 10% of the season. Regardless, if a pitcher with the talent level of Pearson or Gore misses just one start, there’s major upside available.
--- In terms of strategy, I think – emphasis on ‘I think’ – right now I’ll downgrade the likelihood I’ll select starting pitchers early in drafts. While hitters can more reasonably pick up where they left off, pitchers are being asked to do something they’ve never done before – ramp back up during another Spring Training after ramping up in a Spring Training three months ago. Plus, as mentioned above, now all clubs could be more likely to operate with a quicker call to the bullpen, and National League pitchers no longer have the benefit of facing the opposing pitcher in the lineup.
Assessing pitcher risk isn’t impossible; past history is the best indicator of future results. While 60 games instead of 162 likely decreases the risk of wear-and-tear occurred over an entire season, a starting pitcher missing a couple weeks with a muscle injury suddenly misses at least 20% of his season starts if not more. Yes, this is applicable to hitters as well, but we know pitchers are more likely to endure significant injuries.
--- In Razzball.com’s latest Steamer/Razzball projections, there are 10 players projected to steal 10 bags or more. There are 66 players projected to hit 10 or more homers. However, it doesn’t appear the overall ranks projections changed significantly – or even at all – among the established top players.
--- Where you’ll likely find some change in rankings is among top prospects who were knocking on MLB’s door and some short AAA seasoning away from making the jump. For example, I’ll be paying close attention to teams like the White Sox. Nick Madrigal was the subject of some recent comments from GM Rick Hahn and sounds like a top prospect capable of playing his way into the big club’s lineup immediately. Obviously, any bat that can give you speed and batting average with upside is attractive in the late rounds.
--- In drafts, I’ll be taking the approach of looking ahead to the initial schedule and drafting for early matchups in the final rounds. Why? This is a sprint and a week wasted can be the difference between first and second. Instead of drafting somewhat for the potential future long-term value, I’ll be drafting with the intention of cycling through the bottom of my hitting and pitching roster routinely in order to build counting stats and help ratios.
Photos courtesy AP Images