MLB Short Season Strategy: National League Rotations
Greg Jewett breaks down the National League rotations for the upcoming 60-game season.
Wrapping up our redraft strategy coverage of starting rotations, rosters remain fluid with opt-outs, positive test results for COVID-19 and teams preparing for the upcoming season with different approaches for the 60 game sprint. In an effort to streamline the data, each team will be covered by division with projected rotations and potential “bulk” innings arms who may vulture wins based on usage. In case you missed Tuesday’s American League primer, “piggyback” starts or tandems may be employed by teams like Milwaukee with a starter going 3-to-4 innings then another starter taking over bridging the gap to high leverage relievers. In this scenario, one wants the second starter or the piggyback in DFS or as streaming options when trying to mine wins in this truncated season.
Keeping all of this in mind, it’s time to take a spin around the National League by team and updates occurring overnight in this ever fluid roster evolution.
National League East
In line for the fifth spot in the rotation, King Felix decided to sit this season out for personal reasons. Luckily for Atlanta, Cole Hamels seems ready to return for the start of the season leaving the fifth spot to either Wright or Newcomb. It will be very important for fantasy purposes to see which pitcher starts and which works after in this scenario when streaming for wins. Due to the three month gap between spring training and the upcoming season, the Braves plan to be careful with their staff in a quote from David O’Brien’s article in The Athletic:
“Braves plan to be cautious following the three and one half month layoff and have most starters work only two or three innings per outing early in the season.”
When using pitchers in this rotation for fantasy, knowing how many innings or pitches each logs in intrasquad scrimmages or simulated games will be very important to gauge how they will be handled at the onset of the season. For the Fried truthers, some good news:
#Braves' Max Fried threw during the shutdown with Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty at Harvard Westlake High in L.A., where they were teammates. Worked a lot on his delivery and his change-up. Said he feels great where he's at right now with everything.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) July 8, 2020
Literally all hands on deck for the Marlins with 2020 first round draft pick Meyer given a chance to make his debut later this season in a potential relief role. Miami’s in a tough spot in a loaded division and their interleague games against the American League East division. But, there could be some intrigue if the team decides to take the training wheels off as the season progresses:
Another trend I think we will see, especially in final 30 games, if teams are in it, starting pitchers used in relief. Could look like spring games when two starters each throw 3/4 innings in same game. For #Marlins this could mean prospects like Edward Cabrera in that role.— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) June 24, 2020
As for Meyer, the Marlins seem to be hyping his arrival quite well with he and other prospects hoping to appear in games this year:
Unlike their divisional counterparts, the Mets need their rotation to do the heavy lifting without prospects on the cusp of helping the team in a piggy back or tandem role like the Marlins. Luckily for New York, no other team in the majors received more innings from its starters last year than the Mets. Can they replicate this? It’s possible if everything holds together but after the first three with the loss of Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery, they may only get five innings per start from Matz and Wacha.
As for their stud, can deGrom win a third straight Cy Young? He’s preparing with the mentality to:
"As a player, you have a short window to perform and be competitive."— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) July 7, 2020
Coronavirus or not, Jacob deGrom intends to maximize his:https://t.co/OKIW5SnpHr
deGrom’s on track to throw 85 pitches in his last game in summer camp. Also, a note while reading all the articles about the staff, Seth Lugo could work two multiple inning outings a week meaning he may throw four-to-five innings a week based on last year’s usage patterns making him like a fourth or fifth starter in fantasy but with much better ratio protection. Food for thought.
Opt-out: Joe Ross
It appeared as though Joe Ross would be handed the last spot in the Washington rotation but his opt-out creates a spot for either Fedde or Voth. Many hope Voth will garner the spot due to his 3.30 ERA over 43.2 innings last year with 44 strikeouts against 13 walks. Time off provided this staff with much needed rest after a World Series win in 2019 and they recorded the second most innings by starting pitchers last year trailing only the Mets in the majors.
It’s been a whirlwind start to summer camp for Philadelphia with their “ace” just returning to action after some issues with COVID-19:
Aaron Nola was exposed to an infected individual and quarantined for seven days. He did not test positive for COVID-19. He believes he’s on track for the opener.— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) July 6, 2020
Further clouding the rotation happens in the battle for the fifth spot in it between Velasquez, Pivetta and Suarez. But, Suarez also suffered a delayed arrival to camp and two of these three seem on track for the bullpen or a piggy back role. Plus, Wheeler’s wife will give birth during the season putting him in a tough situation on how to handle being there and returning to play casting some aspersion on taking him for fantasy if he misses up to 10 days in a sprint of a season. Stay tuned.
National League Central
Reading the tea leaves for Milwaukee yields an approach similar to the one they exacted last September when the Brewers went 20-7 with a staff ERA of 3.01 striking out 272 in 245 innings. During this stretch, 17 times the starter lasted less than five innings with no pitcher completing seven innings and four working less than four in them. Milwaukee used at least six different pitchers in 13 of 27 contests and less than four pitchers once.
At the onset, Milwaukee can do this with the depth of their pitching but when rosters lock at 26 after the first four weeks, it may be more cumbersome to continue. However, if this strategy locks in, owning the second pitcher in many of these outings, not by Woodruff, become viable targets for streamers. So, if Anderson goes four innings and Freddy Peralta takes over with the Brewers ahead and he tosses two strong innings before giving way to the bullpen, Peralta would get the win. It’s not pretty but for those willing to put in the work, 2020 in daily moves leagues will be wild. Here’s a quote from manager Craig Counsell:
“We can match-up, we can ask some guys to do different things. Early on, we can piggyback guys. I think it is going to look different for what’s asked of us to do as starting pitchers, but we can do that.”
Delayed arrivals to camp may cause a ripple effect in the Cardinals rotation. Carlos Martínez tossed his first bullpen on Tuesday but his late entry to camp may result in his return to the bullpen. However, this report suggests otherwise:
“Yeah, we’re not going to go seven innings, 95 pitches (right away). It’s good to know he’s got that in the tank.”— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) July 9, 2020
Re-starter? Martinez used time away from team to continue to make his case. #cardinals #stlcards #MLB https://t.co/tQB20sQpJe
This temporarily moves Kim into the fifth spot of the rotation but it’s fluid and the late start to the season allows Mikolas to stake his claim back into it as well. While many hoped Alex Reyes could make a splash as a high leverage reliever or tandem pitcher, he’s not arrived at camp yet putting his start to the season on hold. How the St. Louis staff handles workloads may be a key to success but some intriguing young arms lie in wait if needed.
Fantasy owners want to see if Flaherty can maintain his tremendous second half form from last year when he registered a minuscule 0.91 ERA in 99.1 innings striking out 124 against 23 walks for a 0.71 WHIP. Mercy.
Injuries provide ripple effects for teams in this truncated season and the Cubs lost a starter at the onset due to a freak injury:
Injury update on Jose Quintana from the Cubs... pic.twitter.com/75d5SOPWxl— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 2, 2020
Good news lies in Darvish adding another pitch to his arsenal?
It’s tough to overlook the second half surge Darvish put together last year when he recorded a 2.76 ERA with a ridiculous 118 strikeouts against seven walks over 81.2 innings in 13 starts. As for the other guys, Rea owned the best ERA in the Pacific Coast League (3.95) and Mills could be an intriguing stream option with a strong change-up and slow curve in his arsenal fueling a 2.75 ERA in 57.1 innings last season. Also, do not sleep on Cotton as a piggy back arm. The former Oakland prospect could thrive as a tandem pitcher with a mid-90’s fastball and devastating change-up.
Opt-out: Héctor Noesí
It’s been a wild ride with the revolving door in Pittsburgh and its pitching staff. Lost to suspension, closer Felipe Vasquez. Then, two starters will miss 2020 due to injury or rehab in Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer . As if this was not enough, possible long reliever Noesi opted out of the season taking away another veteran arm for the Pirates. This leaves perpetual breakout candidates Musgrove and Keller standing amongst the arms. Reports speculate Kuhl will be the starter trying to work three-to-four innings giving way to his tandem pitcher Brault in one spot of the rotation. Long story short, it may be a long 60 games for this team if Musgrove or Keller struggle.
Cincinnati announced Sonny Gray as its Opening Day starter to no surprise looking to follow-up on his rebound season from 2019 during which he went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA with 205 strikeouts in 175.1 innings. Pending free agent Trevor Bauer hopes to regain form in a full season with his former pitching coach and may even pitch every fourth day if needed. It’s doubtful it happens but pitching coach Derek Johnson said it’s on the table. If Bauer bounces back and Castillo pitches like the first half and not the second half version, the top three in the Reds rotation could surge.
Noting the last two starters in the rotation, there’s a chance Tyler Mahle could breakout as a tandem starter this season. He owns terrific stuff and his split fingered fastball in short bursts could yield wins along with strikeouts bridging the gap to high leverage this season.
National League West
Opt-out: Mike Leake
Signing Madison Bumgarner to anchor the rotation in the off-season ahd hopeful the team analytics will help him transform his arsenal will be tested in this sprint to the finish. Pending free agent Robbie Ray shed 25 pounds eliminating dairy from his diet and his career 28.7 strikeout percentage ranks fifth among active starters with at least 750 career innings behind only Chris Sale , Scherzer, Strasburg and Darvish.
Keys to the season will be Zac Gallen taking another step forward in his development in the staff with Leake opting out. Gallen recorded a 2.89 ERA in eight starts after joining Arizona last season. Also, how Luke Weaver fares may determine if the Diamondbacks vie for a playoff spot in the tough West division. Keep tabs on Alex Young , at some point he may join the rotation or thrive as a tandem pitcher in the year ahead if Merrill Kelly struggles.
Opt-out: David Price
Sometimes the trades never consummated eventually work out in one’s favor. Remember when Ross Stripling and Joc Pederson were rumored to be dealt to the crosstown Angels but nixed by Arte Moreno? Well, when David Price opted out in 2020, it thrust Stripling into the projected staff for the Dodgers. It’s easy to overlook Kershaw as he ages but this tidbit seems enticing:
Clayton Kershaw has a 1.05 career ERA on Opening Day in 8 starts.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 7, 2020
That's the lowest Opening Day ERA in starts by any SP to make more than 5 Opening Day starts since ER became official in both leagues in 1913.
Like many, it seems like Walker Buehler should thrive in this sprint of a season but this tweet may temper expectations:
Walker Buehler said he will face hitters for the first time next week, calling himself traditionally a "slow starter." Would not project how built up he will be for his first regular season game.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) July 4, 2020
Long story short, Buehler’s a stud but it may take patience if he’s on your roster. Track his simulated game or intrasquad scrimmage pitch counts leading up to the season. Further depleting the depth of arms, Jimmy Nelson underwent back surgery taking him out of the long relief equation. Personal favorites late in drafts Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol could be terrific sources of wins on a team projected to win 38 games or more in this truncated season.
With a burgeoning farm system, it does not make sense to rush them to the majors this season unless absolutely necessary. San Francisco could capitalize on the trade deadline if their arms pitch well early on. Again, the West will be tough and adding games with Oakland along with Houston only enhances this for a team in a rebuild like the Giants. Arm of intrigue here, how well Gausman does as a starter regaining form as a reliever last year for the Reds.
San Diego remains on the periphery of the playoffs if its rotation takes shape this season. Paddack’s breakout last season puts him as the Opening Day starter hoping to build on his 2019 season in this shortened version on tap. While many teams opine about pitch counts or innings limits early on, it appears with good performance, the Padres starters will be ready for normal workloads early on in a quote from MLB.com:
“Rothschild feels the Padres are already ahead of the curve. A number of their starters have ramped up to three simulated innings. That puts them at roughly the same place they'd be with three weeks left before any normal season. Barring setbacks, it's fair to expect Padres pitchers to be at their usual Opening Day capacity on July 24, Rothschild said.”
For the prospect crowd, many await the arrivals of MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino, which may happen as soon as this season. It remains to be seen if either will make his debut but each tossed three innings during an intrasquad scrimmage this week. Stay tuned but if the Padres contend for a playoff spot, it may be all hands on deck.
Like most seasons, avoiding Rockies pitchers may make sense in this shortened season in hopes of protecting ratios. There’s a glimmer of hope for a Marquez rebound and Gray owns strikeout upside for the risk averse. Outside of this, the schedule and division do not provide many favors for this staff and it could strain the bullpen if the starters do not work five innings or more in their outings.
It’s going to be a wild ride if the season starts on time. There will be frequent in-season adjustments due to COVID-19 and fluid rotations. Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm to remain ahead of the competition.