The one certainty about the 2020 baseball season if we get one: it will be a bumpy fantasy ride like never before. As we head into the month of May, there is more than a glimmer of hope that we will get major league baseball this year. ESPN’s MLB Insider Jeff Passan posted a lengthy article about the prospects of an MLB season on Monday. Then on Tuesday, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale published a piece discussing a realigned, three-division plan with a 100-game season starting in late-June where teams would only play within their divisions.
Everyone involved, MLB officials, MLB owners, players and the union want to make it happen, yet there are more questions than answers about how they will all get there. Those of us who project and analyze fantasy baseball have very little to work with thus far. It is difficult to dole out strategic advice when there is no framework so these last couple days of news is certainly promising.
Educated inferences can be made, though. Based on the prospects of a 100-game season, whether in Arizona, Florida and/or Texas ballparks or in teams’ own stadiums, we know that there will be nothing typical about a 2020 season. The possibility of eight-game weeks, frequent doubleheaders, National League DH’s, expanded rosters and minor league baseball taking an official year off means that the fantasy landscape will be the Wild, Wild West. A shorter season will certainly breed more volatility and outliers. Which will, in turn, cause countless market inefficiencies and incorrect assumptions as we head into the 2021 fantasy season.
Certainly, we would be dealing with different sets of rankings and projections if games will be played in teams’ own stadiums versus neutral locations. Each major league ballpark has its own set of distinct features, dimensions and idiosyncrasies which helps and hurts both hitters and pitchers in its own way – but you already knew that. The one part of the equation that we are nearly certain about this season is that we probably won’t have fans in the stands. At least through the better part of the summer. There is no telling how players’ performances will be affected by the lack of fanfare, noise and energy in the stands. Or which hitters and pitchers will perform better or worse because of it.
No reason to dive too deeply in fantasy analysis before we are provided with definitive details but there is certainly no harm in assessing the realigned divisions from a baseball perspective. For the fun of it, let’s take a look at how these three new divisions shake out and what their respective records may look like based on a 100-game season despite not knowing where these teams will be playing.
|1||New York Yankees||68||32|
|2||Tampa Bay Rays||65||35|
|5||New York Mets||53||47|
|6||Boston Red Sox||51||49|
|7||Toronto Blue Jays||48||52|
The most notable thing about this division is that it’s the most unbalanced of the three. The biggest gripe folks would have is that the Pirates and Braves should swap divisions since that would be more geographically suitable, travel-wise. Since nothing is yet set in stone, such a swap would make sense and would create greater balance among the divisions given that the Pirates are very likely to be a cellar dweller while the Braves would strengthen the East and create more competition near the top of the standings.
The Yankees and Rays would be a clear 1-2 punch at the top tier as the two teams most likely to battle it out for the division. Despite the loss of Luis Severino, the Yankees still have one of the league’s best rotations with the addition of Gerrit Cole and a top-notch bullpen. This offense finished last season second in baseball in both homers and RBI and was tops in the league in runs scored – and that was without one of the league’s premier run producers (Giancarlo Stanton) for most of the season. The Rays don’t necessarily have the star power, but one of the league’s most well-rounded squads, winning 96 games last year, they boast arguably the league’s best pitching staff. Their rotation and bullpen (combined) posted the major league’s third-best ERA (3.67) and WHIP (1.17) behind the Dodgers and Astros.
The second tier of teams (Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, Blue Jays) is clear, though the order in which they finish in the standings would likely garner heavy debate. I’ve got the Nationals third due to their trio of SP studs (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin), though a long-term injury to any of these three would certainly be reflected negatively in the standings. Nevertheless, I’d expect a standings glut with these squads in the context of a 100-game season where they’ll be stealing games from one another as they become accustomed to playing each other more frequently than in a typical season.
I’m more bullish on the Blue Jays than the consensus as I believe they possess the perfect blend of talented youngsters (Guerrero Jr., Gurriel Jr., Biggio, Bichette) mixed with power veterans (Grichuk, Shaw and even Hernandez) who would be well-suited for a hot run in a shortened season. The concern of course is a lackluster pitching staff and bullpen. On the bright side, they added Hyun-Jin Ryu to their staff, could promote and utilize future star Nate Pearson and have one of the league’s best (and most underrated) closers in Ken Giles. A healthy Matt Shoemaker, budding Trent Thornton and innings-eater Tanner Roark are all better than advertised.
Without Chris Sale, the Red Sox have one of the league’s worst pitching staffs and to be honest, I’m probably giving them too much credit with a 51-49 record. But this offense is still outstanding despite the loss of Mookie Betts and they’ll have plenty of opportunity to pounce on this division’s doormats, the Marlins, Pirates and Orioles.
|4||Chicago White Sox||55||45|
|6||St. Louis Cardinals||53||47|
|9||Kansas City Royals||38||62|
There is only one way to categorize this division: loaded. In fact, every team with the exception of the Royals and Tigers have at least some chance to win this division. The Twins have a truly overpowering offense, deep from 1 through 9 in the lineup and have added Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to the rotation. With the likelihood of a universal designated hitter this season, Austin Riley has an opportunity to notch everyday at-bats for the Braves with him and Johan Camargo alternating at DH and third base.
The Reds were already looking like one of the most improved squads heading into the 2020 season with the additions of Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and overseas veteran Shogo Akiyama to help compliment one of baseball’s deepest starting rotations. Not to mention a loaded bullpen of Iglesias, Lorenzen, Garrett, Strop (new addition) and Stephenson. Oft-injured second-year outfielder Nick Senzel would see more plate appearances with the universal DH scenario.
Your guess is as good as mine as to how where those top-eight teams fall within the standings come end of the season and we will all surely have our biases built in whether it’s Cubs, Cardinals or Brewers fans. That NL Central was wildly competitive for most of last season so it will be interesting to see four of those five teams battling it out within this proposed realigned league. The White Sox are another one of those teams that had high hopes going into the 2020 season with the addition of Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara, Edwin Encarnacion and rookie phenom Luis Robert to add to a legitimate base of talent including Jimenez, Moncada, Abreu and Anderson.
Having a universal DH would provide an opportunity for talented young outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas to get more playing time for the Cardinals.
You may note the large discrepancy between the winning percentages of the top (Twins 62%, Braves 61%) and bottom teams (Tigers 29%, Royals 38%) as well as similarly stark differences in the other divisions. Yes, even baseball’s worst teams rarely find themselves with a win percentage lower than 33 percent. And only one team last season had a rate below that (Tigers – 29.2%). But in a shortened season with these teams only facing those within their respective divisions, it is very likely that we see a large number of series sweeps with the more talented teams feasting on the weak ones.
|1||Los Angeles Dodgers||73||27|
|4||Los Angeles Angels||54||46|
|7||San Diego Padres||44||56|
|9||San Francisco Giants||34||66|
Quite frankly, this is the Dodgers’ division to lose. The entire National League West is reunited in this proposed realignment and this is a group of teams that the Dodgers have been pounding on for quite some time now. With a designated hitter, they will likely be able to mix in Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor for Joc Pederson when a southpaw is on the mound and both guys can play the infield as well. Of course, A.J. Pollock would get more at-bats (in place of Joc) and pop in the lineup as their designated hitter.
You may find it controversial, but I do believe the A’s have a good shot of winning more games than the Astros this season. Giving Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk meaningful innings will do wonders for this team as will a full season of health from Khris Davis and Matt Olson. Just turning 27 this week, Matt Chapman could be a legitimate MVP candidate in a shortened season. The Astros’ cheating scandal will negatively impact projections and divisional bets coming in on the Astros, but I very much doubt we’ll see a significant regression from this offense. This is still one of the baseball’s most potent group of hitters. Much of the luster coming off the ‘Stros following their 107-win season within the standings comes from the loss of Cole and concerns about the health (and age) of Justin Verlander.
The Angels, Rangers, Dbacks, Rangers and Padres are your four middle-of-the-pack teams in this division and I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked to see one of them step in and finish top-three in this division while topping the 55-win mark. All four of them have well-rounded pitching staffs. The Angels’ staff isn’t exactly talent-laden, but it’s extremely deep with the addition of Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran, Matt Andreise and hopefully Shohei Ohtani. Getting Justin Upton back and adding Anthony Rendon makes this 2-through-5 in the lineup (with Mike Trout) incredibly dangerous.
The Rangers added Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to a group of solid innings-eaters in this rotation, which should help with the fact that their bullpen is far below average.
The Diamondbacks added Madison Bumgarner in the offseason and have a truly deep rotation along with Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver and second-year stud Zac Gallen. Despite adding Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun in the offseason, their offense isn’t particularly deep and could find itself in trouble if notable injuries strike. They can only utilize Jake Lamb as their DH against right-handed pitchers so it’s likely we see guys originally on the roster bubble like Josh Rojas and Kevin Cron on the team in an expanded roster scenario and seeing frequent at-bats. Perhaps we’ll see last year’s Statcast Sprint Speed leader Tim Locastro in the mix and getting an opportunity to lead off occasionally in this lineup.
The Padres have a deep enough offense to offer some solid hitters more playing time. Expect more Wil Myers in the lineup under the universal DH scenario with power/speed freak Franchy Cordero becoming more fantasy relevant with every day at-bats.
If we get a few months in neutral parks, it will be interesting to watch how starting pitchers German Marquez and Jon Gray fare. The universal DH means that Garrett Hampson will be privy to more playing time than originally expected and we’ll certainly be interested in the production of borderline fantasy first-rounders Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
Finally, I leave you with a list of all the “National League” teams and the most likely beneficiary in terms of playing time based on the universal DH. Not necessarily who will be these teams’ actual designated hitters in games, but the guys more likely to have increased fantasy value (more plate appearances) because their teams will be utilizing the DH.
Mets – Dominic Smith, Yoenis Cespedes?
Phillies – Jay Bruce, Nick Williams
Nationals – Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera
Marlins – Jon Berti, Garrett Cooper
Pirates – Jose Osuna, Cole Tucker
Cubs – Victor Caratini, David Bote
Reds – Nick Senzel, Josh VanMeter
Brewers – Ryan Braun, Jedd Gyorko
Braves – Austin Riley, Johan Camargo
Cardinals – Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas
Dodgers – A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor
Rockies – Garrett Hampson, Sam Hilliard
Diamondbacks – Tim Locastro, Kevin Cron
Padres – Wil Myers, Brian Dozier
Giants – Alex Dickerson, Wilmer Flores