Fantasy Baseball Hot Takes: Potential AL Schedule Wrinkles
With the timing of the start of the MLB season in doubt, Greg Jewett discusses possible wrinkles to the American League schedule if some of the rumors of the season starting are true, and how it could impact fantasy baseball
After lamenting how no Opening Day felt, it’s time to look ahead with hope about the return of sports, and for myself especially, baseball. Late Thursday evening, major league baseball agreed to a deal with the player’s union in the event there’s no season.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have a deal, sources tell ESPN. The players have voted on it already. MLB owners are expected to ratify it tomorrow. An excellent sign that draws a path forward as baseball tries to figure out when it will return.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 27, 2020
As part of Jeff Passan’s thread, baseball will advance players their April and May salaries to be kept if no games ensue. With this in mind, it’s nice knowing players will be treated well as the nation awaits a respite from the pandemic pining for a distraction which baseball represents. Commissioner Rob Manfred realizes this:
Rob Manfred to @notthefakeSVP: "Baseball will be back. Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic."— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 26, 2020
Every passing day makes May as a starting point seem fleeting. So, in an effort to stay ahead of the game, what happens if baseball resumes in June? Jayson Stark believes if this happens, the unbalanced schedule could resume as currently constructed courtesy of his free article in front of the paywall in The Athletic:
This represents a much different set of circumstances than in 1995 when a truncated season resumed once the work stoppage ended. An unbalanced schedule poses problems noting games lost. As our own Jim Bowden opined on our live show on Sirius, it’s possible baseball does open the season using the present schedule and then shifts May to October to play more games. There’s rumors of seven inning doubleheaders on Saturdays but until more information emerges, it’s all speculation.
Which leads us to the point of this article, what happens if games start in June? Will certain teams benefit from a sprint rather than a marathon schedule? For clarity, this explores match-ups from June first until the end of September. It also uses Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projected standings as a baseline for determining a team’s record in a 101 game season. Some teams would project for more than 101 games, but it’s a starting point to level the playing field in the American League. Taking each team’s projected winning percentage, then adding up the wins and losses to ensure they’re even, I applied them to each series by month and overall to determine strength of remaining schedules for each team. Again, this remains a fluid situation and could change as information emerges when a second spring training gets announced.
Given the information currently available, only four American League teams would face a remaining schedule with a projected winning percentage over .500:
- Baltimore .519
- Seattle .507
- Kansas City .507
- Chicago White Sox .503
On the flip side, contenders would benefit from starting in June with Oakland owning the easiest remaining schedule based on projected winning percentages (.476) and Tampa Bay (.480) ranked second. Knowing each team hopes to usurp Houston and New York respectively in the standings, it’s worth noting. Especially for owners loading up on pitchers from each team in drafts. Noting 2020 could be the wildest season for fantasy purposes in years, keep in mind this all remains conjecture. Still, here’s each team's synopsis of games from June first through the end of September with no doubleheaders added in along with recent roster moves and updates for the American League.
American League East
- Projected 101 game record: 36 - 65
- Strength of schedule rank: First overall in AL (toughest)
- Points of interest: 16 games remaining with Tampa Bay, 12 with New York
Talk about not catching a break, each of the remaining four months in the current schedule features a win percentage over .500 for the Orioles. June ranks as the toughest one with Baltimore slated to open at the Cubs, then face Houston, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, then Tampa Bay again and the Yankees with only Detroit mixed in projected to win fewer than 50 games in this month. Less than optimal.
For some good news, owners of Austin Hays could get a bump in his projections if he shifts to leadoff. Reports indicate it’s likely giving him a steady amount of at-bats. Flying well below the radar, one could do worse than Anthony Santander hitting in the heart of the lineup as a late round flier as well. Noting how difficult the schedule rates, saves and wins could be few and far between.
Boston Red Sox
- Projected 101 game record: 53 - 48
- Strength of schedule rank: 9th toughest of 15 (.493)
- Points of interest: Owns 16 games with Baltimore and New York, could surge in July
Although Boston faces the Yankees 16 times and would play Tampa Bay in 13 more contests, the Red Sox could build momentum in July facing Baltimore on two separate occasions along with four other series against below .500 projected teams. Losing Chris Sale for the season weakens the rotation so Eduardo Rodríguez (20:2 K:BB in 11 innings this spring) and Nate Eovaldi (12:1 K:BB in eight innings) need to step up while logging innings. A shortened season benefits each of these pitchers but how they form the rest of the rotation remains to be seen. As an added bonus to this delay, Alex Verdugo continues to make progress and makes for an intriguing stash late in drafts.
New York Yankees
- Projected 101 game record: 60 - 41
- Strength of schedule rank: 12th toughest of 15 (.487)
- Points of interest: Would lose seven games each to Baltimore and Tampa Bay, plays Boston 16 times in this scenario. Only September features a month of opponents over .500 out of four
Each passing day allows the Yankees roster to heal, which benefits the franchise greatly. There’s a chance New York opens the season with Giancarlo Stanton , Aaron Judge , and James Paxton ready for action. A far cry from an injury riddled spring. Plus, a player many seem to overlook may be a worthy stash:
With so many fantasy players trying to find targets with home runs and stolen bases, Aaron Hicks on the mend presents a fantastic last pick in upcoming drafts.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Projected 101 game record: 57 - 44
- Strength of schedule rank: 14th toughest of 15 (.480)
- Points of interest: Benefits with 16 games versus Baltimore from June first on, each month features a projected win percentage below .500, last series in September versus the Yankees perhaps playing for the division?
A roster built for chaos and a deep bullpen sets up the Rays well for a sprint. Reports suggest Tampa Bay will share the lead-off spot between Austin Meadows versus right-handed pitching and Yandy Díaz against southpaws. Although no closer may be named, if the season opened on time, beat reporter Marc Topkin suggested Nick Anderson would get the majority of chances. Two more wrinkles, Yoshi Tsutsugo returned home to Japan during the pandemic. So, his return to the United States could be delayed once spring training resumes. Also, with an eye on a shortened season, the Rays will keep Brendan McKay , Jalen Beeks and Trevor Richards ready with potential openers as a sixth spot in the rotation if necessary to keep their starters fresh. It feels like 2020 sets up well for a team built for fluidity like the Rays.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Projected 101 game record: 46 - 55
- Strength of schedule rank: 6th toughest (.4997)
- Points of interest: Would lose 13 games versus Baltimore, strong start in June but the remaining three months features .500-plus projected records against
With Bo Bichette gaining momentum in live drafts in March according to NFBC data (he went 37th overall this week in a 12-team draft), there comes a point when he’s overvalued. When perusing the schedule, Toronto may start fast but some adjustments will ensue during the season. If Bowden correctly predicts baseball shifting the May schedule to October, Toronto would get 10 games versus the Orioles back. Stay tuned.
As for the roster, Joe Panik hit his way onto the team with a robust .381/.462/.762 slash line in 10 games this spring and two home runs. He provides insurance for Cavan Biggio and remains on the periphery of mixed league intrigue. It seems like overkill, yet invest in the post-hype pending breakout by Danny Jansen . He overhauled his swing in the off-season and remains poised to be a second catcher with first catcher upside in fantasy.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
- Projected 101 game record: 51 - 50
- Strength of schedule rank: Fourth toughest (.503)
- Points of interest: Despite missing 10 games versus the Twins and getting all 19 matchups with Detroit, the White Sox face a tough road in August (.540) and September (.512) in terms of projected win percentage of their opponents
It starts rather innocuous with the White Sox opening with two straight months versus teams with combined records below .500 in June and July. However, August will be a struggle and September also looks tough. A strong start could buoy the team into the playoff picture but some of the players, like Luis Robert , represents a sell high candidate as the year progresses in terms of maximizing matchups. This could be critical for fantasy success. To no surprise, Chicago optioned Michael Kopech to the minors but he’s in line for success if he pitches well in the minors and a potential shortened season debut clouds his major league impact if the White Sox do drift in the standings when things get tough in August. One situation to monitor, Alex Colomé ended last year roughly and struggled early in spring outings. He’s not on the hot seat, but Aaron Bummer or others could be factors for saves if Colome carries over his second half from 2019 (21.1 innings, 3.91 ERA, 4.20 FIP).
- Projected 101 game record: 55 - 46
- Strength of schedule rank: 10th toughest (.492)
- Points of interest: Loses 13 games versus Detroit but plays Kansas City 16 times, only August of the four months with a projected schedule of opponents over .500
It’s a mixed bag for Cleveland in terms of the schedule, but their division along with a healthy Mike Clevinger changes their outlook in a shortened season. For all those hoping to mine value in Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac , this news hurts but, there’s a reason:
As their former teammate Trevor Bauer noted, this reeks of control manipulation. Cleveland cannot option Adam Plutko but Civale and Plesac have options. This also keeps Civale, Plesac and James Karinchak from accruing any service time not being on the active roster. It’s a cost saving measure not a death sentence to their 2020 seasons. Act accordingly. Once the season resumes, this will be eradicated. Although his price moved up, Franmil Reyes around pick 120 in NFBC drafts remains a bargain. Reyes raked this spring and could lead the majors in home runs in 2020, you heard me.
- Projected 101 game record: 39 - 62
- Strength of schedule rank: Fifth toughest (.4998)
- Points of interest: Stands to lose 13 games versus Cleveland, faces the White Sox all 19 times, only one month with matchups below a cumulative .500 record (August)
Look, there’s no spinning much positivity investing in Tigers other than Jonathan Schoop or C.J. Cron for power, Matt Boyd for strikeouts and Joe Jiménez for saves when they arrive. Maybe they play the White Sox tough and compete daily, it’s all fantasy owners hope for. Vintage Miguel Cabrera seems too far gone but some hope lies in him being a fantasy free space, in shape and armed with three home runs in 12 spring contests.
Kansas City Royals
- Projected 101 game record: 44 - 57
- Strength of schedule rank: Tied for second (.507)
- Points of interest: Tough break with 16 games each pending with Minnesota and Cleveland, this hurts the Royals offense along with opponents in all four months owning a win percentage above .500
Without knowing how much the Royals will run and the health of Adalberto Mondesi , the time off should help him prepare for the season. However, owners of Ian Kennedy should prepare for a potential shared role in saves.
Not only does Mike Matheny have a past with Trevor Rosenthal , the reliever lit up the radar gun in spring training positioning himself for a high leverage role in this bullpen giving up zero earned runs in five appearances. Also, do not forget about Josh Staumont (ten strikeouts in six innings, zero earned runs) for saves in the second half if Kansas City sells off Kennedy and Rosenthal in trades.
- Projected 101 game record: 57 - 44
- Strength of schedule rank: 11th toughest (.491)
- Points of interest: Benefits from 16 games versus the Royals along with 12 contests left against the Tigers. Bonus if they get May games added on with series versus San Francisco, Kansas City, Detroit and Baltimore for the stretch run
Lying beneath the lack of games, Rich Hill continues to rehab and could be primed to open the season in the rotation. Of course, the caveat of how many innings he can provide remains a question, but wouldn’t he be able to log more than rookies left in the minors to protect control years, looking at you MacKenzie Gore speculators. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a delayed start hurts Michael Pineda , since he needs to serve 39 more games of his 60-game suspension.
American League West
- Projected 101 game record: 58 - 43
- Strength of schedule rank: 13th toughest (.484)
- Points of interest: Only July presents a month with teams owning a record above .500 for Houston, as it stands they would play 54 road contests compared to 48 at home
Good news, Justin Verlander gets time to recover from his groin surgery. A delayed second spring allows him to open the season on the mound as time goes by. This is bad news for Josh James or Austin Pruitt speculators for a rotation spot if this happens. It’s also tough to speculate on Kyle Tucker and upside not knowing how his playing time shakes out battling veteran Josh Reddick for at-bats. Even without using trash cans, the Astros should provide return on investment in a depressed climate based on average draft positions. Only two teams in the American League play a weaker schedule, but one exists in their division.
Los Angeles Angels
- Projected 101 game record: 51 - 50
- Strength of schedule rank: Seventh (.495)
- Points of interest: Could benefit losing 10 games versus Houston and nine with Oakland while racking up 17 contests versus Seattle. Tough interleague games with the Dodgers and games against both the Yankees along with the Twins balance it out.
Knowing Shohei Ohtani will pitch on Wednesdays based on preseason reports so he can resume as designated hitter on Fridays makes owning him a bit easier to balance. Especially in daily moves leagues. In the shadow of a new team and helped by improved infield defense on the left side (Anthony Rendon , Andrelton Simmons ), will Dylan Bundy break out? Color me intrigued.
- Projected 101 game record: 55 - 46
- Strength of schedule rank: 15th (easiest, .476)
- Points of interest: One would think this paves the way for Oakland to steal the West, except Houston similarly benefits. Still, only August provides a cumulative month above .500 in terms of opponents for Oakland and they do not face the Astros in September with six games versus the Royals along with three versus Seattle.
A truncated season with all of the young arms in the A’s rotation paves the way to success. Jesús Luzardo looked filthy in his spring sample with a ridiculous 13:1 K:BB and 0.60 WHIP. He’s moved into the top 90 over the last two weeks of ADP data from the NFBC. This time off allows A.J. Puk to rehab his sore shoulder but he may be best deployed as a multi-inning reliever reprising a role Chris Sale filled for the White Sox his rookie season. If things break right, Oakland makes for an intriguing gamble to win this division to the delight of any anti-Houston sign stealing sentiments.
- Projected 101 game record: 39 - 62
- Strength of schedule rank: Tied for second most difficult (.507)
- Points of interest: Only July provides the Mariners with a month of competition below a combined .500 win percentage featuring 15 home games, riding the wave of momentum. August will be rough (.536 projected opponent win percent) along with September (.519)
For the save speculator crowd, cross Sam Tuivailala off the Seattle list, they released him. Time off could allow Matt Magill to build strength in his shoulder but keep tabs on Brandon Brennan early on if he’s needed in high leverage. Patient owners can stash Austin Adams for later in the season once he returns from rehabbing his knee (ACL) surgery. Late round flier for power Kyle Lewis needs to prove last year’s September surge will not be a mirage. Can he control his strikeouts enough to be relevant in fantasy? Like some teams above, trading Mariner bats after July could be savvy.
- Projected 101 game record: 46 - 55
- Strength of schedule: Eighth (.494)
- Points of interest: Texas plays a fairly balanced schedule but will face Houston 16 times in this exercise but Oakland only seven more from June forward. August features the easiest opponents (.456 projected winning percentage) to mine some value
With so many question marks around the infield, if Ronald Guzmán or Greg Bird do not make the final roster, it opens the door for Todd Frazier to shift to first base and Isaih Kiner-Falefa playing third. It’s easy to dismiss Kiner-Falefa’s strong spring with four home runs and robust on-base plus slugging percentage until realizing he’s only 25 with catcher eligibility. Can this remade rotation and perhaps improved lineup compete? Time will tell, but there’s room for this team to approach .500 if things go its way.
More information will emerge in the weeks ahead, and right now the focus remains on self-care. Be safe, protect your family and hopefully this exercise allows you to focus on something positive rather than dwell on the negativity clogging social media. So while trying to discern a possible competitive advantage based on the schedule as presently constructed, keep in mind:
When #MLB is able to start their season, teams are expected to expand their rosters from 26 players to 29 players the first month they begin playing games.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 27, 2020
Better days lie ahead and the thought of baseball remains a hope for an improved future. Be well and safe Fantasy Alarm family.
Dan Szymborski link: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/how-much-do-the-playoff-odds-change-in-a-shorter-season/