Spring Training Hot Takes: Burning Questions for Fantasy
Published: Jun 29, 2020
Amidst all the negotiations, a pandemic and leagues already drafted, fantasy baseball owners not only need to be fluid in upcoming preparations for the 2020 season but also need to be adaptable within it. Complaints about how long the baseball season over 162 games no longer apply with a 60 game sprint to the finish providing the potential for wild outcomes and variability akin to playoff baseball.
Beneath all of this, the possibility of the coronavirus shortening the season even further if it cannot be contained across the United States. In an effort to streamline the latest information surrounding the news in baseball, some burning questions remain unanswered but going through them could help create a path to success in these uncertain times. First, here’s the announcement about the upcoming season:
2020 @MLB regular season announced; players to report on July 1st; openers anticipated for July 23rd or 24th in 60-game season pic.twitter.com/w72vagahLx— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) June 24, 2020
For this 60-game season, there will be a universal designated hitter and rosters will expand to 30 at the onset of the season. Teams can run taxi squads to train top prospects and prepare players to fill in for injury issues which will arise during a truncated season. As time goes on, the rosters will shrink but some unique situations remain on the docket going forward, like what happens if someone tests positive:
People keep asking how long a player who tests positive would be isolated. There's no set period.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 24, 2020
To return, that player:
*Has to test positive twice in a row
*Have no fever for at least 72 hours
*Pass a possible cardiac exam
*Be deemed by drs & MLB to present no risk to others
Also, with a shortened slate of games, how will rosters for the playoffs be determined:
More adjusted rules:— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 23, 2020
*To be eligible for postseason, players must be added to big-league roster by 9/15
*Season will start with 30-man rosters. Down to 28 after 2 weeks, 26 after 4 weeks.
*Pitchers/catchers report to camp first, then position players. https://t.co/Og6Ix7TBeE
Since the trade deadline will happen after just over a month of contests, it makes moving players difficult except for those with expiring contracts like Keone Kela of Pittsburgh. This will need to be weighed when drafting players as well as injury concerns, how many innings starter log, the impact of relievers and health of hitters. Plus, does one spend a first round pick on Mike Trout or Gerrit Cole knowing they could miss time to be there for the birth of their children? No one blames a player for being an active parent, but with less games, any time missed needs to be factored into their potential value.
Writing off the cuff here, some of the most intriguing topics will continue to evolve but here’s where some issues reside entering July draft prep.
Starting Pitchers vs. Relievers in 2020
Analytical knowledge of how pitchers fare after two times through the batting order along with injury issues made the “opener” strategy emerge but in a short season, what happens next? Teams with pitching depth in the rotation along with strong relievers could be a blueprint for success in this shortened season sprint. It also means starting pitcher values could be depressed in any drafts happening now until games start in late July. With every game owning more consequence over 60 contests, the pressure to win every game means potential overmanaging, paying close attention to pitch counts and stress on starters plus using some former starters as multi-inning relievers to shorten games.
Before reporting to the second spring training, teams already announcing how they will handle the rotations clouds how to value starting pitchers:
Mariners will use a six man rotation to start the season with some starters getting piggy backed— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) June 24, 2020
Seattle faces a tough schedule and with eyes on the future, protecting their young arms makes sense. Atlanta made the playoffs in 2019 and will also protect its staff:
#Braves' Anthopoulos said they'll be cautious with starters, could go just 2-3 innings, some 4, for the first couple of times through rotation and then use several others who can go 2-3 innings in relief behind them. To take advantage of their depth and be overly cautious.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) June 24, 2020
St. Louis Cardinals president John Mozeliak echoed these sentiments naming arms like Austin Gomber , Daniel Ponce de Leon , Alex Reyes and Génesis Cabrera as guys who could work in the fourth or fifth innings bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the bullpen. This will be a common theme at the onset of the season. This also means pitchers like Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol of the Dodgers become intriguing targets if they serve a similar role on a team projected to lead the majors in wins.
Joining Seattle on the six-man rotation bandwagon, the Angels will employ this strategy to maximize Shohe Ohtani:
Shohei Ohtani will be utilized similar to how he would in a regular 162-game season. He'll still pitch once a week. Maddon said he expects as a six-man rotation as a result.— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) June 24, 2020
Preseason reports back in March surmised Ohtani would pitch on Wednesdays to get Thursday off to recover and return to designated hitter duties on Friday through the weekend. In daily leagues, this could be very important to know in order to plan on his usage patterns. As more information becomes available, more pitchers to target as the bridge will be covered to target cheap wins. Getting depth arms on teams like the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Indians along with the aforementioned Dodgers could be pivotal if trying to mine wins rather than streaming pitchers in 2020.
What happens to rookies?
In a shortened season, younger players should display more resiliency and ability to bounce back in a sprint to the finish. With this in mind, it’s important to plan on how teams may manipulate service time issues:
Teams can take advantage of players’ service time during the pandemic https://t.co/BQUusPp5b8— HardballTalk (@HardballTalk) June 24, 2020
Covered in the article, teams can leave a player off the active 30-man roster for seven games to gain an extra year of control. This affects upside players like Nate Pearson . Of course, for the risk averse, taking Pearson late in drafts can still provide upside if one can wait a week for his arrival. More news will ensue regarding how teams will handle their talent, so stay tuned.
So, a universal designated hitter?
Months ago, musing about how National League teams could deploy a designated hitter seemed like spitting in the wind, but here we are. Although some teams could use one player in the role, others may not:
The #Dodgers won't have a full-time DH in 2020, Dave Roberts told us on @MLBNetworkRadio. He expects to utilize the spot as a partial day off for regular players, depending on handedness of the starting pitcher; he mentioned Justin Turner as one option in that regard. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 24, 2020
Expanded rosters not only allow for teams to be creative with pitching, giving veteran hitters a “day off” as the designated hitter also makes sense to optimize lineups. Again, teams with depth throughout the roster should thrive in this environment. Depth allows them to keep players fresh and survive the inevitable injuries which will occur. So, the tweet above adds value to Justin Turner but also provides hope to a player like Kiké Hernández to play all over the diamond for the Dodgers with some power upside well below the radar.
Soft tissue issues?
Writing about the KBO provides some insight here with players shifting to the injured list weekly with hamstring and oblique issues. This will happen in the major leagues as well and have been documented in research prior to any games played in 2020:
Injuries are piling up in #KBO and this is something #MLB players/trainers should closely monitor as MLB aims to start the season in July. Most injuries are hamstring/lower half related. Players waited a long time to start the season and that maybe 1 of the reasons? pic.twitter.com/awrsyKNKbY— Daniel Kim ??? ? (@DanielKimW) May 17, 2020
Tweaking a muscle, even in the heat means a player misses time. Hamstrings usually take a player out for two weeks with an oblique meaning a potential drop of a player in a truncated season since the issues can linger for weeks and into a players return sapping power.
Who throws more, the starters or the relievers?
A shortened season could provide an even further chasm in the innings pitched by relievers in any form in 2020 compared to the starters. In an article by Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs last postseason, this chart encapsulates how relievers continue to pitch more innings in recent seasons:
Add in the “bridge” relievers and this gets even more murky when trying to project how pitchers will be deployed this season along with how to value them in 2021.
Long term effects of this negotiation?
During my time on earth, I’ve never seen the players so united and galvanized prior to these negotiations. One of the most outspoken, Trevor Bauer :
If there’s going to be a fight the time for that fight is after the ‘21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. 5 years of potential change. We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. WTF kind of sense does that make? ??????????????????????????????— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 22, 2020
“I know the path we’re on is awful. What I don’t know is: What can change that path?”— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 17, 2020
New column: So you think it's ugly now huh? Here's what people on both sides in MLB see in the next 2 years
Lockout? Team bankruptcies? Blow it up & start over? Hoo boyhttps://t.co/dyjBPIF1qE
For now, it’s time to focus on how all of the factors will weigh into how a season like 2020 will play out where every game matters with effects on postseason hopes. Teams like the Rays could really thrive in this atmosphere:
Players are going to have to be responsible in adhering to #coronavirus restrictions/precautions, and player rep Tyler Glasnow says based on their group text chats and input from Charlie Morton and others the #Rays are set to “look out for one another” https://t.co/qFSAIwK1Ta— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) June 24, 2020
With depth in the lineup, positional players, rotation and bullpen along with a flush minor league system ready to fill-in, Tampa Bay could be a worthy dart throw looking at the republished odds to win this season:
Updated World Series odds (Bovada):— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) June 23, 2020
Noting how the redrawn schedule affects certain players also makes sense like this tidbit about Gleyber Torres :
One-sixth of Gleyber Torres's games will be against the Orioles in this 60-game scheduled. As Gary Thorne well knows, Torres against the O's in 2019: .394/.467/1.045 slash line, with 13 homers in 75 plate appearances.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 24, 2020
So, things will evolve and more news will emerge as to how to handle the upcoming season. More players like Charlie Blackmon will test positive for the coronavirus forcing fantasy players to make difficult decisions but this may be the most intriguing year in fantasy as a result. Overlooked in all of this, the moves the Padres made in their bullpen to provide more depth plus how the Brewers could use their pitching depth with Freddy Peralta , Corbin Burnes and a return of Corey Knebel may allow Josh Hader to flourish. Buckle in and stay with Fantasy Alarm to remain ahead of the competition. It’s about to get real.