Welcome to the third and final entry in this series about the schedule and which hitters are most noticeably affected by it. Back on July 1, we talked about the eastern divisions as well as the schedule in general. I also outlined the next steps of analysis if you’d like to take things to another level. More recently, we hit upon those winners and losers in the western division. It’s time to close it out with the flyover states.
I saved the central for last because there really isn’t a lot to say. The AL Central is the weakest division in baseball. We knew that long before COVID reared its ugly head. The NL Central is… fine. Parity rules the day. Each division has one all-righty rotation and a total of around seven left-handed pitchers. In other words, some left-handed hitters get a very small but appreciable bump in value.
As before, projected rotations and playing time are taken from Roster Resource. Some notable pitchers like Kwang Hyun Kim, Michael Kopech, Jose Quintana (thumb injury), and Randy Dobnak aren’t a part of the current rotation projections.
The Indians, Cardinals, and Reds have the best pitching staff in the middle states with the Brewers and Cubs not entirely lagging behind. Unsurprisingly, the Tigers and Royals are expected to hemorrhage runs. Note the Tigers projected innings. With a 550+ inning season, they’ll be employing quite a few walking disasters.
This is where the Indians, Cardinals, and Reds figure to set themselves apart. Cleveland and St. Louis also have considerable rotation depth beyond their top five. Cincinnati is banking more on health.
The Brewers have some scary relief arms, but the stock of talent falls off quickly – hence a modest 4.01 ERA projection. Most of these bullpens are neither good nor bad overall. Again, St. Louis has a deeper crew than the rest of the competition.
American League Central
I rather like the Twins rotation and bullpen despite modest expectations from projection systems. Between the Royals and Tigers, they have two starting pitchers I could see pitching for a contender – Matt Boyd and Brad Keller.
Since the NL Central teams are fairly comparable from a pitching perspective, there isn’t much scope for a schedule-based advantage.
I’ll say this once, but it also applies to the Twins and White Sox – facing the Tigers and Royals in one-third of their games is an enormous boon for the offense. Get yourself as many hitters from these clubs as you can stomach.
As an added bonus, the Indians will probably have quite a few streamable hitters. Domingo Santana is a lefty masher who is also passable against right-handed pitchers. Catcher Roberto Perez also did some serious platoon damage last season. Too bad there isn’t an overabundance of lefties to prey upon. Still, you can pick your spots and benefit from this pair.
A Jose Ramirez rebound feels like a savvy gamble. Not only did he finish 2019 on a high note (.321/.356/.722 over final 202 PA), he’s also one of the best power-speed double-threats in the league. A plethora of weak opponents should pad his stats. Carlos Santana and Oscar Mercado are also perfectly positioned to feast on weaklings while piling up counting stats.
Next up in my #2020PlayerBreakdowns Series is:
Jose Ramirez, 3B
27 years old
Drafted: N/A, Int’l FA
Let’s get started…
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) March 6, 2020
In OBP leagues, consider Cesar Hernandez as a late-round second base patch. I’ve found second basemen to be over-drafted in recent industry mock drafts. Franmil Reyes is a volatile lottery ticket. His aggressive, high-whiff approach could fuel anything from a complete disaster to a league-best home run total. I’m betting on the sunnier side of the distribution thanks to plenty of hot-weather games against scrub-arms.
Kansas City Royals
For a terrible team, there are a lot of interesting pieces to this lineup. The saddest part is they won’t face Royals pitching. Adalberto Mondesi should be exceptionally popular in drafts. With health, he’s very likely to lead the league in stolen base attempts. Plus his injured shoulder got extra time to recover.
Personally, I don’t want any shares of Whit Merrifield. His recent value has been driven purely by volume. He’s extremely inefficient when attempting steals. Batting leadoff against mostly competent pitchers in a shortened campaign offers only downside at his current ADP.
Jorge Soler is the brand name version of Franmil Reyes. I’ve noticed Soler falling surprisingly late in recent mock drafts. He won’t steal bases but should pile up run production while batting third or cleanup. Hunter Dozier also looks like a value play, albeit with considerably less power. Ryan O’Hearn should get an extended look at first base thanks to the right-handedness of their division rivals.
As a bonus, Kauffman Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher’s park, but it can skew towards hitters during the warmest summer months.
The Tigers suffer the same curse as the Royals – they don’t get to face themselves. What’s worse, their lineup is craptastic. Niko Goodrum, Miguel Cabrera, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop probably have a place as late-round patches simply because they hit in the middle of a lineup. Cameron Maybin, when healthy, can do some surprising things with BABIP, power, and/or stolen bases. Usually not at the same time. He’s expected to bat leadoff.
Let’s move on…
After hitting ALL the home runs last year, it’s tempting to bet on regression. However, the division is once again shaping up to provide a bonfire to the suddenly potent Twins lineup. I do have some modest concern about Josh Donaldson. His recurring calf issues might not take kindly to a rapid ramp-up to the regular season. And if he does trigger a twinge, it’ll cost him a big chunk of the season. I love his role as the Twins cleanup hitter, but I’d still prefer to nab him after pick 100.
Pretty light day for the Twins at Target Field, but here’s a little Josh Donaldson taking cuts in BP. pic.twitter.com/WSMsQHanf1
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 7, 2020
Nelson Cruz, with his UT-only status, is often a solid bargain. He’s one of the safest bets to be among the league leaders in home runs. Pre-COVID, Eddie Rosario looked like he might find himself in a platoon role this year. A right-handed platoon-mate never materialized and likely won’t with the player pools fairly restricted. In AVG leagues, he looks like a solid value at an 89 ADP.
Since baseball went on hiatus, Miguel Sano has dealt with bizarre kidnapping allegations (he was cleared) and COVID. For now, I assume he’ll mostly be on track to handle first base duties. At pick 106, I’d rather throw the dice on Rhys Hoskins, Michael Conforto, or (if you need steals) Oscar Mercado. However, Sano has slipped down draft boards recently and should be monitored for a bargain opportunity. I’d look to nab him in the pick 126 to 135 range. Remember, so many Tigers and Royals!
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox might well provide a fulcrum for fantasy owners. Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert are all going far earlier than their past performances support. Even so, I find myself actively seeking shares of Moncada and Robert. As for Jimenez, he’ll need to escape his role as the sixth hitter if fantasy managers are to return value on his 55 ADP.
Robert is the ultimate risk and reward play. He is projected as the eighth hitter by Roster Resource, but his skill set offers a dynamic leadoff alternative to Tim Anderson‘s career .303 OBP. Physical parallels to Fernando Tatis Jr. offer easily speculation about a fiery hot start to his season. And since teams have almost no spring scouting and a shortened season, Robert could be well on his way to a .400 BABIP before opponents identify his weaknesses. Rival scouts had yet to unravel Tatis through 84 games and 372 plate appearances last year. The Royals and Tigers might not even try.
Forgotten man Nomar Mazara (236 ADP) could benefit from a change of scenery and network effects – especially if Jimenez, Moncada, and Robert are earning their ADP. If you’re betting on that trio to mash, you might as well double-down on Mazara as a value play versus mostly right-handed opponents.
National League Central
All five of these rotations are pretty solid and have at least modest depth beyond the listed names. The Cardinals presently projected for an all-righty quintet, could spice things up by finding a spot for southpaw Kwang Hyun Kim. Even the division-worst Pirates really aren’t that bad.
The Pirates and Cardinals get extra games against the Tigers and Royals respectively, giving them a mild advantage over their fellow NL Central foes.
While not a scheduling-related matter, adding the designated hitter to the National League frees up Ryan Braun and Justin Smoak to both participate in the regular lineup. Braun especially is getting plenty of hype from baseball touts. He’s expected to bat cleanup after all!
One player who really comes out on top from a scheduling perspective is Eric Sogard. The Brewers plan a third base platoon with Jedd Gyorko, but Sogard will get the bulk of the starts. While hardly a big-name player, he’s a reliable source of batting average thanks to a consistently high line drive rate. He also has just enough pop and speed to avoid killing his fantasy managers. As the presumed leadoff hitter, he’ll score a bushel of runs. Sogard is undrafted even in 15-team leagues (527 ADP).
St. Louis Cardinals
Once again, adding the designated hitter was more helpful than anything calendar-related. Sliding Matt Carpenter out of the infield mix means Tommy Edman can play on a regular basis. Edman was already a popular draft target (128 ADP), but that required some wishcasting on playing time. Now it’s more assured. The switch-hitter offers a slightly unusual scouting profile – he’s neither powerful nor patient. He is, however, adept at making hard, low-angle contact. Coupled with his well above-average speed, he looks like a throwback fantasy talent capable of a .300 average with at least 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases over a full season. He’s also position eligible all over the field. Roster Resource has Kolten Wong leading off, but Edman is definitely in the mix for the role.
In fact, this is one of the most difficult lineups to project. Depending on who’s looking sharp in Summer Camp, we could be treated to virtually any combination of Cardinals. We know Paul Goldschmidt will hit in the heart of the order while Harrison Bader will almost certainly be found at one of the extremes – first or last. The rest could really fall in any order. The wild card (or perhaps the linchpin) is top prospect Dylan Carlson. With a 283 ADP, there’s no downside to taking a shot on the switch-hitter. As with Luis Robert, the league might not have enough time to find an exploitable weakness.
Steven Souza was originally tabbed for a platoon with Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber. His right-handed bat won’t be needed as often now. Still, he’ll offer a decent streaming target on those rare occasions a lefty crosses the Cubs docket. Schwarber looks like an obvious beneficiary of both the DH and the schedule. The probable cleanup hitter has a career .245/.349/.523 line versus righties backed by plate discipline and quality of contact. Also benefiting is Heyward. He’s developed into an extreme platoon hitter.
Less obviously, Jason Kipnis has a real shot to outlast Nico Hoerner, David Bote, and Daniel Descalso in the war for second base. Whoever emerges will likely bat eighth. Hoerner and Bote are right-handed while Descalso collapsed in limited action last season. Kipnis hasn’t had an easy time of it in recent years, but he does have a reputation for solid performances against right-handed pitching. He’s a career .269/.347/.442 batter with the platoon advantage.
Anthony Rizzo doesn’t need to hide against fellow southpaws. He destroys right-handers though. I do have some concerns over the nagging back soreness which has affected him in recent years. On paper though, this looks like perhaps the best year yet to grab Rizzo shares – especially in OBP formats.
Quite a few lefties get a boost in Pittsburgh, doubly so because they’ll face the Tigers a few extra times. Teammates are hyping Gregory Polanco on social media, specifically the health of his long-injured shoulder. He could benefit from rotating on and off the field. Bryan Reynolds (a switch-hitter) has his share of skeptics due to a sky-high BABIP. However, his batted ball profile supports such output. He makes tight, hard, low angle contact. Put another way, he serves line drives over the infielders and in front of the outfielders while avoiding easy ground outs and pop flies.
Less exciting names to nudge up the draft board include Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, and Jarrod Dyson. Frazier doesn’t have fantasy carrying traits, but he’ll probably bat in the heart of the lineup without killing any categories. In a normal season, Moran would have lost his job mid-way through to some combination of Ke’Bryan Hayes or Cole Tucker. Now the Pirates seem committed to Moran’s exceptional brand of blandness. Ninth hitter Jarrod Dyson figures to be a useful repeat target for stolen bases off the waiver wire.
Great American Ballpark plays as one of the smallest venues. The Reds have leaned into this by stocking a lineup of sluggers. Of the locked-in starters, only Eugenio Suarez and Nick Castellanos don’t bat left-handed. It’s not as if they can’t handle right-handed pitching too.
The right-handedness of the divisional pitchers is a modest detriment to Castellanos. He’s merely average against fellow righties. He’s well-known for annihilating southpaws. On the flip side, Jesse Winker slays right-handers and appears poised to feast this year. His 385 ADP is bothersome in its cheapness. Sure, you’ll probably have to put up with some bench days, but it’ll be well worth committing a bench slot to a backup outfielder.
You’ll notice I’ve left out Nick Senzel. Roster Resource has him batting down in the order as the designated hitter. In truth, the Reds will probably shuffle players around to keep them fresh. They have a serious surplus of offensive talent. As a righty who can play all over the field, Senzel might draw a sort of short straw. If I were managing the Reds, I’d plan to bring him in against tough left-handed relievers in big spots. The Cincy lineup skews lefty so they’ll be prone to specialists. Josh VanMeter and/or Mark Payton could grab a slice of that DH pie.
Also worth mentioning are Shogo Akiyama and Mike Moustakas, two more left-handed hitters. Akiyama is something of an unknown quantity with scouting reports ranging from fourth-outfield-type to standout jack-of-all-trades. Projection systems have chimed in with a sort of shrug, pegging him for league average offense with a touch of power and speed. Moustakas has morphed into a consistent power threat who should enjoy the friendly confines of Great American Smallpark. He’s going one pick after Josh Donaldson and offers a similar offensive profile, a cleaner recent injury history, and multi-positional eligibility.