Baseball schedules are on the way. While we await the full picture, we already have the high level details. Teams will play their division-mates 10 times apiece. They’ll pair with a specific interleague rival for six games. Finally, the remaining 14 games will be split between the other interleague teams of like division. East-to-East, Central-to-Central, West-to-West.
Here’s a simple visual courtesy of Baseball Brit (@BaseballBrit)
It almost needn’t be said: the unusual and lopsided schedules will have asymmetric effects on quality of competition. The teams of the AL East get to play 16.67% of their schedule against the Orioles. The Orioles! Meanwhile, the World Champion Nationals benefit from an Alfonseca-handful of matches against those same Squishy O’s. The poor Mets have to spend those six contests against the Yankees.
Let’s focus our attention on the East divisions with an eye towards winners and losers. First, here’s a peek at projected team ERAs courtesy of Roster Resource and FanGraphs.
The Rays can really pitch. The Orioles cannot. There are some shortcomings to this approach. For example, Nate Pearson is not listed among the Blue Jays pitchers. He’s expected to spend the bulk of the season in the rotation – probably as a serious upgrade on Trent Thornton or a similar option.
We’re also not projecting all innings. Assuming they play 60 nine-inning games, that’s 540 innings per team. The Nationals, Yankees, and Braves are projected to be well on their way. The Orioles, Blue Jays, and Red Sox fall short. Most of those unlisted pitchers will be terrible.
For the sake of completeness, here are projected rotation and bullpen ERAs individually.
It is most common to target starting pitchers when setting lineups or trawling the waiver wire for home runs, hits, or stolen bases. Unsurprisingly, you would do well to shoot at those Ori-Oh-Noes. The Rays and Nationals offer scant opportunity for exploitation.
Daily Fantasy players know it’s important to also consider the relief corps. That’s doubly true this season with most starters expected to begin the year on three-to-five inning outings. The Rays remain a menace. Several more clubs join them in the sub-4.00 ERA club. Even the lowly Orioles aren’t terrible. The Red Sox have the most meaningful discrepancy between their starters and relievers. A little under half of their projected innings are tied to their bullpen, and it’s really not that terrible a group.
Ok, that was a whole mess of exposition. Shall we move on to specifics?
America League East
Toronto Blue Jays
This is a relatively decided lineup, barring injury. A few down-lineup position battles probably won’t have much effect in fantasy. The AL East has no shortage of left-handed pitchers which is especially bad news for Cavan Biggio and Travis Shaw. If your league is deep enough to consider Derek Fisher for sneaky pop and speed, think again. The catcher battle between Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire could be solved with a strict handedness platoon.
When smelling small sample platoon splits, there are two basic ways to hunt for signal – plate discipline and quality of contact. Biggio maintained his discipline versus same-handed foes, but he did stumble via an increase in ground ball contact. Personally, I’m cautiously optimistic he can grow into more power. The extra matches against the Rays and left-handed pitchers are at least partially offset by the Orioles and visits to Camden Yards, Yankees Stadium, and Citizen’s Bank Park.
With an ADP of 319 Shaw was already an afterthought or an emergency patch at best. Unlike Biggio, we have sufficient sample to say Shaw cannot hit left-handed pitching. His hard contact rate is dreadful (career 28% in 539 PA), and his walk rate halves. Leave the rebound gamble to somebody else.
An important caveat to consider with the Jays – we still don’t know where they’ll play. They’re reportedly negotiating ways to use their home stadium in Toronto, but it seems more likely they’ll settle in Dunedin or Buffalo.
Tampa Bay Rays
With both the best rotation and bullpen in the division, there is a tangible benefit to not facing themselves. Unfortunately, the lineup is littered with platoon bats, making this a high effort collection to manage. Their divisional rivals have a near-even blend of left-handed (9) and right-handed (11) starters. In shallower leagues, this is an excellent place to look for streaming candidates – especially when you know they’re about to face the Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, or Marlins.
Few Rays beyond Austin Meadows and Willy Adames are locked into near-daily starts. Adames, barring a breakout, is a simple volume play. Meadows will face an inordinate volume of southpaws. While his 120 wRC+ in a tiny sample against same-handed pitchers is quite pleasant, it’s worth noting his walk and strikeout rates by handedness.
Versus LHP: 5.1% BB%, 29.9% K%
Versus RHP: 10.9% BB%, 18.8% K%
Handedness platoons tend to be misleading. They’re molehills built from very erratically shaped samples. A higher-than-desired strikeout rate is possible this season which could affect his batting average and stolen base opportunities. I expect the quality of contact to be unaffected.
With his blend of power, average, and non-zero speed, Meadows has a 32 ADP. If you expect an improvement in 2019, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, his projection of about 10 home runs, five steals, and a .271 average seems accomplishable. Whether that’s enough to justify his current ADP is another matter. Fifteen picks later, George Springer projects for 12 home runs, three steals, and a .273 average.
The big winners on the Rays include lefty-masher Jose Martinez (career .331/.405/.570 vs. LHP in 289 PA), Yandy Diaz (career .296/.389/.458 vs. LHP in 234 PA), and Hunter Renfroe (career .269/.345/.579 vs LHP in 444 PA). You’ll largely want to avoid them when opposed by righties. If you have room on your bench for spot starters, these guys could be the key to victory.
Conversely, southpaws like Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe, and Kevin Kiermaier will have fewer favorable matchups than in a normal season. Even so, they should still work well off the fantasy bench.
If you find yourself reaching for cheeky shares of post-hype prospect Chance Sisco, consider a new plan. Already a fringy bat, there are just too many left-handed pitchers on the docket. Pedro Severino is both a better hitter and target. Similarly, the Chris Davis rehabilitation tour is on life support. I’d also avoid Rio Ruiz and DJ Stewart.
On the plus side, Renato Nunez could repeat his deeply weird 2019 power breakout. He preyed on left-handed pitchers. Switch-hitter Anthony Santander should find himself with less competition from Dwight Smith Jr. thanks to the latter’s left-handedness. Hanser Alberto was a hit-machine against southpaws last year (.398 AVG), while Austin Hays is poised to bat leadoff in a number of diminutive parks.
Boston Red Sox
This is another locked-in lineup. The one thing that’s missing is a right-handed platoon-mate for Mitch Moreland. Perhaps Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec? Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, and Jackie Bradley Jr. will also be hampered with a hefty log of same-handed opponents. Verdugo and Benintendi haven’t demonstrated a platoon split. Devers had an 89 wRC+ last season but was better in the past. Bradley Jr. legit can’t hit southpaws. Overall, I’m only truly avoiding Moreland and Bradley Jr. Not exactly spicy analysis, huh?
Lefty dominator J.D. Martinez is the big winner. He’s a career .316/.387/.608 hitter with the platoon advantage. And that’s not something he’s aged out of – .404/.494/.887 versus lefties in 2019. The other right-handed Red Sox doesn’t have notable splits.
New York Yankees
The bad news for the Yankees is they face the Rays and Mets in one-third of their contests. Those opponents comprise two of the best pitching staffs in the league. Admittedly, the Mets rotation is shallow. Of course, the Yankees feasted upon the Orioles last season. They account for 16.67 percent of the schedule.
It’s tempting to point a finger at Gleyber Torres. After all, he whomped 13 home runs in a meager 75 plate appearances against the Orioles. However, I believe this is more of a shared effect than a Gleyber-specific bonus. The Yankees do not lack for power. Half their games are scheduled against homer prone opponents at homer-friendly venues.
The biggest losers of potential playing time are probably Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, and Brett Gardner. It seems unlikely the club will start more than one of their left-handed outfielders against any lefty. Ford already had a tenuous path to playing time back when the Yankees were dealing with a pile of injuries. Now he’s thoroughly blocked.
For non-schedule reasons, Aaron Judge is something of a wild card. He’s rehabbing from a serious rib and lung injury. Despite optimistic recent reports about hitting off a tee, he’s still a risk to miss as much as the entire season. It’s also possible he’ll return by the new Opening Day.
National League East
New York Mets
The NL East lacks a whipping boy of the Orioles ilk. We anticipate the Marlins will occupy the basement, but that’s more about a lack of star-power than pitching. Only the Braves feature more than one left-handed starting pitcher. The Phillies rotation is entirely right-handed. Therefore, this is a fantastic division for left-handed hitters. Like, for instance, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith.
Of this quintet, only Conforto and possibly Cano (mixed results in recent seasons) actually struggle against lefties. Fortunately, aside from interleague matchups, they’ll mostly see northpaws. Conforto in particular exhibits tangible gains in strikeout, walk, hard contact, and fly ball rates when he has the platoon advantage.
The designated hitter will help J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Cano to occupy regular lineup slots. Despite the fanfare, Yoenis Cespedes has much to prove before he’s more than an infrequent pinch hitter. Those who aren’t paying attention might assume Amed Rosario will reprise his role as the leadoff hitter. Alas, he’s clearly the best fit to bat ninth. Plan to avoid him.
The World Champions receive a modest boost to their title defense via six games against the Orioles. A shortened schedule could hurt uninspiring accumulators like Starlin Castro. On the flip side of the token, the designated hitter role is perfect for fragile hitting maven Howie Kendrick.
The right-handedness of the division’s starters plays into the hands of Eric Thames – probably at the expense of Ryan Zimmerman. Thames struggles to make quality contact against left-handed pitchers. We’ll frequently see Thames start with Zimmerman or Kendrick on call to counter left-handed relievers. This presents something of a mixed bag. Thames will have plenty of high-value matchups, but he’ll also frequently take only three plate appearances.
The designated hitter also cracks open the door for Carter Kieboom. The Nationals decided to diversify their second and third base options with the quintet of Castro, Kieboom, Kendrick, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Now there’s room for three of the four to start on any given day. If Kieboom or Cabrera is in the lineup, they’ll probably bat seventh or later – hardly ideal for fantasy purposes.
The Braves are the odds on favorites to win the division. Even so, there are some unsettled matters in their lineup. Austin Riley and Johan Camargo are battling for the third base role. Riley could also fit into the left-field or designated hitter picture. He’d have to make a lot of noise to shove Nick Markakis to the bench.
Ender Inciarte is the only true center fielder on the roster. Ronald Acuna is probably the backup. In recent seasons, Inciarte has been hidden from left-handed pitchers. Fortunately, only Caleb Smith, Steven Matz, and Patrick Corbin lurk in the division. He’ll get more bench time during interleague action. In 2018, Inciarte was one of the leading base thieves. He also hit for healthy batting averages as recently as 2017. You could do worse for a fantasy bench bat.
Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna, and Camargo have reputations as lefty mashers. If targeting a cheap Atlanta catcher with pop, I’d take aim at Tyler Flowers. He’s a proven league average hitter against righties. d’Arnaud is not. I’m less concerned with Ozuna’s past splits while Camargo seems doomed to bat ninth – if he even starts!
The Marlins did some nifty depth building in preparation for 2020. Among the imports are Matt Joyce and Corey Dickerson, both of whom should enjoy the NL East landscape. Prospect Isan Diaz was hopeless against fellow left-handed pitchers. He also flailed against righties. I still expect Jon Berti to start over Diaz – at least until the Marlins confirm they’re out of the postseason hunt. Roster Resource has Lewis Brinson penciled into right field, but… yikes…
A possible loser with this schedule is presumed cleanup hitter Jesus Aguilar. He’ll likely retain this role, but he does have internal competition in the form of Joyce and oft-injured Garrett Cooper. It’s been a long time since Aguilar roasted the NL in the first half of 2018. Since the 2018 All-Star Break, he’s a below-average hitting first baseman (94 wRC+ in 619 plate appearances).
The extended rest likely helped Andrew McCutchen in his recovery. He’ll serve as a solid anchor atop the lineup. Bryce Harper, Jay Bruce, Didi Gregorius, and Adam Haseley will have the platoon advantage more often than not. Bruce and Gregorius are known to struggle against same-handed pitchers. The club was talking about hiding Haseley from lefties back during the first Spring Training. A platoon with Roman Quinn seems obvious. It’s also possible Scott Kingery will return to the middle pasture with prospect Alec Bohm sliding to third base.
The Phillies could initially eschew an Alec Bohm promotion since his most obvious role is as a platoon designated hitter with Bruce. However, any injury to an infielder will probably force the club to summon Bohm. And again, Kingery is a possible solution to center field. Even if using Bohm at third base doesn’t work, veteran switch hitter Neil Walker is expected to make the roster as a utility man. He’s always been considerably better from the lefty batter’s box.
This article remained fairly surface level by design. Much of the analysis pertained to basic ERA projections, the supply of left-handed pitchers in the AL East, the flood of right-handed arms in the NL East, and the advent of the designated hitter in the NL.
Weather plays a huge role in home runs and will obviously vary by locale. Late-season games in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston could be quite cold. Generally, April is usually the coolest month. August is the hottest. Expect the ball to fly.
Ballparks matter too. The Marlins moved in the fences over the offseason – we’ll see if it’s noticeable. Besides the Rays, the AL East is a collection of tiny parks. Fenway is interesting in that it plays tiny to left and huge to right (unless you snipe the pole). Yet another incremental advantage for right-handed hitters in the AL East. The NL East has a mix of power-friendly (Citizen’s Bank Park), hit friendly (Nationals Park), and pitcher-friendly (Citi Field).
Finally, we could dig far deeper into individual data. Certain hitters have launch angles that thrive against specific pitcher-types. Cavan Biggio, for instance, is highly desirable against any right-hander who works down in the zone. Yandy Diaz looks amazing opposite a left-handed fly ball hurler (sorry John Means). Most hitters have an optimum opponent-type. This wonky schedule is going to ensure some guys face their strengths while others wallow against their weaknesses.