This post is the second in a three part series about, well, you can probably figure it out from the title. We’re here to discuss the 60-game schedule and how it affects the hitters of the western divisions. Last week, we gave the eastern divisions a good sniff. Along the way, we learned the AL East has a large stock of left-handed pitchers. The NL East has a dearth of left-handed starters. Hijinks ensue.
Projected rotations* were lifted from Roster Resource. Pitcher handedness once again plays a role in matchup quality. The NL West has some seriously extreme characteristics while the AL West offers a more homogeneous atmosphere.
The Dodgers have by far the best rotation and also the second-best bullpen, hence the premium ranking. The Rockies, you might be aware, play half their games at Coors Field. As a reminder, 60 games times nine innings per game equals 540 innings. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Athletics, and Astros seemingly have a leg up on the competition in terms of projected innings. We can assume most of the leftover innings will be covered by terrible pitchers.
If the Rockies get close to three-fifths of their innings from starters, it will be a big win for them. I’m also not inclined to believe the Rangers or Mariners staffs will take on larger workloads than other run-of-the-mill clubs. Of note, the Mariners and Angels are projected to use six-man rotations.
A sub-5.00 ERA from the Rockies relief corps of Scrub Daddies would be yet another big win for the club. The Padres bullpen could be the best in the league. I picked them as such back in March. The Rangers bullpen could quickly devolve into a dumpster fire, especially if Jose Leclerc doesn’t recover his 2018 splitty.
American League West
The AL West has a typical mix of right-handed and left-handed starting pitchers. Quite a few of the right-handed pitchers (Mariners excluded) are of a high quality. The southpaws are rather run-of-the-mill. The rival NL West is more heavily populated with lefties, the majority of which are well above average.
Los Angeles Angels
Perhaps the most visible loser of the 60 game schedule is Mike Trout. With his wife due to give birth during the season, he’ll probably miss a minimum of one week. MLB paternity leave is typically three days – i.e. five percent of the schedule. But to rejoin the Angels, Trout will have to undergo re-entry procedures – the length of which is uncertain. It will take at least three days to conduct and receive test results. It’s probably more reasonable to expect a full week to pass. That puts Trout out from anywhere between six and 10 days. And this is the optimistic scenario. I know if I were Trout, I would hop on the restricted list until after my child was born. No sense taking unnecessary risks when you’re in the second year of a 12-year, $426.5MM contract.
Risk takers can set their targeting software on Jo Adell. The Angels have no margin for error in a tough division. If they determine Adell is one of their best outfielders, he should quickly gain a starting role. This is doubly true if Trout is spending a substantial chunk of the season on the sidelines.
However, I worry about two things in particular. As a young 21-year-old, the Angels actually have incentives to ensure they gain an extra year of club control down the road. The bigger issue is talent-based, specifically a below-average hit tool, huge swinging-strike rate, and at times indifferent outfield defense. Adell’s best path to playing time is through some combination of Brian Goodwin, Justin Upton, David Fletcher, Albert Pujols, and Matt Thaiss. They’re currently covering three lineup spots. As touted as Adell is, that uninspiring quintet could naturally outperform him.
Although he’s not a schedule-related find, Tommy La Stella (279 ADP) is currently penciled in as the leadoff man. There really isn’t an obvious alternative besides Fletcher. As a high contact hitter with decent pop, La Stella looks like a strong late-draft bargain. Just watch out for the interleague phase of the schedule.
The Angels will play six games against the Dodgers. Their only right-handed starter is Walker Buehler – hardly a cakewalk for left-handed hitters. Burning 10 percent of the schedule opposite the Dodgers pitching staff is a sink to all Angel hitters, especially the lefties. La Stella and Shohei Ohtani have modest platoon splits. Goodwin doesn’t appear to have any platoon issues.
The Astros’ interleague rival is the Diamondbacks. It’s a neutral matchup. Overall, there’s not a lot to say about this club. It’s an elite lineup set to face a whole bunch of Mariners and Rangers. Maybe they’ll have a trash-can hangover. The fan-less 2020 campaign mostly lets them off the hook.
To my mind, Kyle Tucker should come away as a winner of the shortened schedule with Josh Reddick drawing the short straw. The Astros have an excellent and well-established lineup, but it’s foolish to pull your punches over such a short time period. Remember that time the 2017 Dodgers lost 16 of 18 games then suddenly reverted to their regularly scheduled dominance? There’s no time for that in 2020!
Of course, I’m not the one setting the Astros lineups. That’s Dusty Baker. We can all agree he has a reputation for preferring veterans, but he’s also been known to work well with elite prospects on the rare occasions his club has left one at his disposal. I’m less concerned about Tucker than fringier prospects like Myles Straw and Abraham Toro. They can probably start building a quarantined fort in the dustiest corner of the dugout.
Carlos Correa bargain hunters may have to deal with a down-lineup role.
The Giants stand opposite the Athletics, a relatively friendly matchup despite an unfriendly ballpark for hitters. Oakland has the potential for a lot of moving parts – Seth Brown, Franklin Barreto, and Chad Pinder are all listed as bench players by Roster Resource. They’re also all threats to claim a decent-sized role – likely at the expense of Tony Kemp or Stephen Piscotty. And that’s ignoring Robbie Grossman. The switch-hitter is the plain yogurt of Major League Baseball – extremely bland but still
The interleague phase of the schedule is a small penalty to Matt Olson. He’s scuffled against fellow southpaws in the past. The Athletics feature a very right-handed lineup which should at least help Olson to avoid left-handed specialists late in games. If opponents do call on southpaws to tame Olson, Mark Canha could benefit. He has small sample reverse platoon splits, but a deeper dive into the data reveals he has better plate discipline and quality of contact versus southpaws. Lefty masher Marcus Semien should enjoy those interleague matchups.
The Mariners lineup suffers from several curses. Worst of those is they don’t get to face Seattle pitchers. That leaves only one soft opponent in-division (psst, the Rangers). The roster is young and unproven. Kyle Seager is the lone established starter (Dee Gordon appears slated for the bench). They’re also saddled with a cross-league rivalry against the Padres.
On the sunny side, several of these guys do have some sort of analytical hook. Shed Long, Jake Fraley, and Evan White are interesting slightly under-the-radar prospects with strong minor league statistical performances. Kyle Lewis flashed serious power in a brief debut last season. Beware an obscene whiff rate and middling discipline.
Tom Murphy looks like an excellent late-draft target if you miss on higher-performing catchers. He’ll bat in the heart of the order and has a Mitch Garver-like projection at a fraction of the price. Murphy is especially potent against left-handed pitchers.
Tom Murphy does it AGAIN. ⚾🚀
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 21, 2019
Like the Mariners, the Rangers are doomed to not face their own pitching staff. They have a new ballpark which Joey Gallo claims plays huge (i.e. it’s bad for power). This roster is not built for defense which is why their pitchers rate out so poorly. Willie Calhoun and Nick Solak are position-less hitters. Unfortunately, Shin-Soo Choo has a full claim on the designated hitter slot. Initially, Solak looks to be an odd man out.
Rougned Odor is worthy of a case study. The career .240/.293/.440 hitter is known for his blistering hot streaks and devastating slumps. Last season, he bashed 30 home runs to go with 11 stolen bases and a .205/.283/.439 triple slash. It was a tale of two halves. He hit just .186/.255/.364 through early July before morphing into a tolerable hitter. Since Odor isn’t exactly a plucky fielder, he could find Solak cutting into his playing time. Unless, of course, he comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders. I would bet against it.
A quick visit to Colorado is a solid benefit for Texas, especially since they have a left-handed leaning lineup against a mostly right-handed pitching staff.
National League West
The NL West is stuffed to the gills with left-handed pitchers. This excludes MacKenzie Gore and Alex Young, both of whom are solid bets to start for half or more of the season. Unlike in the AL East, there are fewer associated opportunities since most of these lefties are quite good.
Every NL West club can expect to play a hair over eight percent of their schedule at Coors Field. And another eight percent of their schedule hosting a fugly Rockies pitching staff.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will mix and match to keep their players fresh and in the best possible matchups. While the division as a whole skews to left-handed starting pitchers, Los Angeles is responsible for a goodly chunk of the crew – and arguably the four-best of the bunch. As such, there’s no cause to shy away from left-handed hitters like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, or Gavin Lux. Especially with the designated hitter available to take some of the pressure off an over-stocked roster.
Speaking of Lux, it’s reasonable to expect him to bat at the bottom of the lineup – assuming he earns the starting gig in the first place. Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, and the usual collection of untouted-but-good breakout candidates are also on hand. Will Smith, a popular catcher target, also appears doomed for a down-ballot lineup slot. This isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid these players since the Dodgers offense could pace the league. The network effects of a potent lineup aid the entire club. Just don’t go in banking on lofty run and RBI totals from Lux and Smith.
San Francisco Giants
The fast-fading duo of Evan Longoria and Buster Posey are still modestly useful against left-handed pitchers. Alas, the two worst southpaws in the division are on the Giants. Even so, you’ll have some ripe chances to stream Longoria. With a 254 ADP, Posey has devolved into a last-decent-catcher option. You might be able to stream him in 10- and 12-team leagues.
Michael Yastrzemski projects to be a league-average hitter with a mid-lineup role. The Rockies and Padres feature righty-centric rotations. At a 301 ADP, he’s another useful streaming target in shallow formats. Hunter Pence should enjoy a jaunt in the designated hitter role – likely batting first, fifth, or sixth.
Mauricio Dubón is beloved of some analysts. I see an eight-hole no-OBP hitter with only modest power and speed. Of course, the Giants have leaned into Brandon Crawford for the last several decades. Or so it feels. As hitters, Dubón and Crawford are the Giants best analog to the spiderman meme. You know the one.
It’s too bad the Diamondbacks have to play six games against the Astros. Then again, the top of their rotation is rather old and the final three spots are filled by guys who are either coming back from injury, unestablished, or both.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on this club as their entire bench has fantasy utility if gifted an expanded role. In particular, I’ve long served as the chairman of the Kevin Cron fan club. I’m utterly convinced he’s a superior hitter to fellow 1B/DH candidates Christian Walker and Jake Lamb. Cron should at least get the call against left-handed pitchers, although the Dodgers staff could make him look pretty bad. Lefty-swinging Josh Rojas is another favorite of mine. They had him taking reps at shortstop during Spring Training #1. Expect to see him all over the field. Plan to stream both. Walker, for as much as I consider him a placeholder at best, seems poised to bat fifth.
With a stronger supporting cast and no pitcher hitting, leadoff man Starling Marte shouldn’t be a complete zero in the RBI category. He might also be among the most impactful fantasy players in average, runs, and stolen bases. Alas, he’s not slipping through the cracks. Bargain hunters might instead focus on three-hole Eduardo Escobar at a 112 ADP. And while presumed cleanup hitter David Peralta should be benched against the plentiful left-handed pitchers of the division, he’s an easy start against any right-hander. His 242 ADP is attractive, although so are several of the names around him (Yandy Diaz, A.J. Puk, Ryan Braun, Mark Canha, and Hunter Renfroe).
San Diego Padres
Now, this is a team that desperately needed the designated hitter. An outfield of Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham, Wil Myers, and Franchy Cordero initially promised angina to fantasy managers. Now all four can play on a daily basis while staying fresh. Josh Naylor may also worm his way into the mix versus right-handed pitchers.
Pham is a classic lefty masher. His plate discipline takes a big step forward with the platoon advantage. He’s also no slough against same-handed pitchers. The same analysis holds true for Manny Machado, albeit to a lesser extent. Given his 57 ADP and a projection for 13 home runs, I view Machado as a solid opportunity to profit. Pham, however, is superior in all ways (except position) and available at a 74 ADP. Eric Hosmer may put you to sleep, but there are worse values than a 220 ADP for a cleanup hitter in a good offense. Plan to sit him against the Dodgers.
San Diego is a good place to look for speed. Despite quite a few good catchers in the division, Fernando Tatis‘ extreme aggression marks him as one of the best picks for stolen bases. Myers isn’t fast, but he’s a proven opportunist who consistently attempts over 20 steals per full season. It might not sound like a lot, but he’ll probably finish among the top 30 in attempts. Whether he continues to convert those attempts is another matter entirely.
If you whiff entirely on a second baseman, keep an eye on the camp battle. Jurickson Profar, Ty France, Jorge Mateo, Greg Garcia, Breyvic Valera, and Jake Cronenworth all have streamer-quality or better potential if they emerge with a predictable role.
Let’s address the Matt Kemp-sized pachyderm in the room. The Rockies stand to face a left-handed starting pitcher in around half their games. Kemp, despite fast-fading as a Major League quality regular, has long mashed southpaws. Last year, in a generally miserable showing, he swatted .286/.333/.571 with the platoon advantage (ahem, just 15 plate appearances). The Rockies could do worse for a part-time designated hitter. The guys he possibly shoves aside for these starts are lefties like Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon, and Sam Hilliard.
An obvious advantage of targeting Rockies is Coors Field. Even if you’re living in the Murphy or Garrett Hampson tier of Rockie, you can try to do a home/road platoon and come away with a late-round profit. Prepare to be frustrated when the club fails to make any sort of commitment to McMahon, Hampson, Hilliard, or Brendan Rodgers. We’re liable to see way too much of Raimel Tapia, Chris Owings, and Yonathan Daza. Even they can be useful streamers at home.
One thing to remember about the Rockies in general – the Coors Field advantage is asymmetrical. While a visit to Colorado is perceived as a good thing, it’s MUCH better for the home team as they’re better adjusted to the reduced pitch movement and physical requirements of playing at altitude. Kenley Jansen, for example, sometimes skips trips to Colorado entirely. Visitors are liable to miss-hit a meatball. However, this “visitor penalty” is fully counteracted (and then some) by a rather bad Rockies pitching staff.