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MLB DFS Season Preview: American League

MLB DFS Season Preview: American League
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American League

AL East

Boston Red Sox

New Faces: Alex Verdugo, Martin Perez, Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Lucroy (agreed to a minor league contract; still has to make the team), Kevin Plawecki.

Significant Departures: Mookie Betts, David Price

Projected win total: 88.5

Fantasy Spin: The Red Sox traded Mookie Betts, the second-best player in baseball, this offseason. David Price was also traded (packaged with Betts) and while he was clearly overpaid when the Red Sox signed him to a massive contract a few years ago, he was easily the second or third best pitcher on the roster. It gets worse. Chris Sale, the Red Sox ace, is now battling elbow discomfort after dealing with elbow issues last season as well. It’s his left elbow, too. All signs are pointing towards Sale missing significant time. If we project Sale off the rotation, things get ugly quickly. Eduardo Rodriguez would be the Red Sox’ top pitcher, with injury-prone Nate Eovaldi serving as the number two and Martin Perez serving as the number three. Ryan Weber projects to round out the rotation. You heard that correctly. If the Red Sox don’t trade for pitching before the season starts, their projected 4.90 runs against per game for this season could be on the lighter side, especially when you consider that they play in the AL East. While their offense should be plenty good even without Betts, they’ve quickly emerged as a team to stack against with confidence in DFS.

UPDATE: The Red Sox have signed pitcher Collin McHugh. He’ll immediately serve as a starting pitcher for a rotation that’s in desperate need of quality arms.

New York Yankees

New Faces: Gerrit Cole

Significant Departures: Dellin Betances, Edwin Encarnacion, Jacoby Ellsbury (just kidding)

Projected Win Total: 94.9

Fantasy Spin: The Yankees have the third-highest odds of winning the World Series this season. Their acquisition of Gerrit Cole, who’s coming off two absurd seasons, compiling K rates of 34.5% and 39.9%, is clearly very significant. With that being said, the major storyline for the Yankees is their health to open up the season. Luis Severino, a top three pitcher in this rotation, is done for the season. James Paxton won’t be ready to join the rotation until May at the earliest. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge both project to be on the injured list to open up the season, and Stanton is coming off a season in which he was limited to 72 games. While their bullpen remains ridiculous, spearheaded by Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton, there will be opportunities to stack against this team in DFS early in the season while their rotation is a bit shakier. In general, this won’t be a team you’re stacking against regularly, but you’ll be stacking their bats aplenty, especially when Judge and Stanton are back. After all, the Yankees project to score 5.38 runs per game this season, which is a top three projection in all of baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays

New Faces: Hyun-jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson

Significant Departures: Justin Smoak

Projected Win Total: 74.7

Fantasy Spin: The Blue Jays’ rotation is starting to look a bit more stable with their offseason acquisitions of Hyun-jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson. Unfortunately, they’ll have to deal with the AL East and play in a hitter-friendly environment. Those three pitchers have pitched in the National League throughout their careers, so the expectation is that their run prevention will look a bit worse. Despite the upgrades to the rotation, you’re still stacking against this team. However, you’re now stacking their bats, too, as the Blue Jays turn to their young studs in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio. Randal Grichuk, who’s coming off a career season in which he hit 31 home runs, will hit towards the middle of the lineup as well. Guerrero Jr., Bichette and Biggio were called up to the big leagues last season, which gave them a taste of what to expect at this level. The Blue Jays finished last season as the 20th ranked team in wRC+. This season, we’re expecting them to be more towards the middle of the pack. They’re on the rise for DFS.

Tampa Bay Rays

New Faces: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Hunter Renfroe, Jose Martinez, Manuel Margot

Significant Departures: Tommy Pham, Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia

Projected Win Total: 91.4

Fantasy Spin: The Rays lost a few key bats this offseason and replaced them right away with international signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (projects to be an above-average hitter), Hunter Renfroe (career-high 33 home runs in 494 plate appearances last season; projects for 30+ home runs once again this season) and Jose Martinez. Their 1-2 punch of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton will be lethal. The back of their rotation, which consists of openers backed up by Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough and Trevor Richards were successful in their roles last season. While these pitchers aren’t known for missing bats and should see some regression on the run prevention side, they’re still better than trotting 2-3 below average inning eaters. All things considered, the Rays are going to compete for the Wild Card and perhaps even the division title if the Yankees can’t get healthy. From a DFS perspective, they’ll be somewhat annoying to stack because they’ll platoon a good number of hitters. Rostering pitchers from this team that aren’t Snell or Morton will be trickier. We’ll selectively target against them but this won’t be a team you’ll be stacking against on a regular basis, particularly in their home park (Tropicana Field) where offense, particularly power, is hard to generate.  

Baltimore Orioles

New Faces: Jose Iglesias, Tommy Milone (agreed to minor league contract), Wade LeBlanc (agreed to minor-league contract)

Significant Departures: Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar

Projected Win Total: 59.7

Fantasy Spin: The Orioles project to allow 5.86 runs against per game this season. Last season, they allowed 6.06 runs against per game. Nothing has changed here. They’ve replaced Dylan Bundy with home run prone southpaws in Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc. Additionally, losing Jonathan Villar, one of if not their most event-oriented player over the last couple of seasons, is a clear downgrade for DFS purposes as he’s being replaced by Jose Iglesias. The latte makes more contact than Villar, but he’s only hit double-digit home runs once and it was last season, hitting 11 home runs while playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. The Orioles’ offense won’t be fun to stack but we’re looking forward to picking on their pitchers regularly.

AL West

Houston Astros

New Faces: Jared Hughes

Significant Departures: Gerrit Cole, Robinson Chirinos, Collin McHugh, Wade Miley

Projected Win Total: 97.2

Fantasy Spin: The Astros lose Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency, and they still own the second-highest odds of winning the World Series (18.8% according to fangraphs). Lance McCullers is back and if he can return to health and previous form (26.6% K rate, 3.86 ERA/3.43 xFIP), that should help offset the loss of Cole. Ultimately, the Astros didn’t make any additions, particularly on the hitting side, because they don’t have to. They’re going to trot out George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel on a regular basis. Trash cans or not – this lineup should do plenty of damage everywhere. Alvarez posted an absurd .432 wOBA and .342 ISO in 369 Pas last season. Most projection systems are projecting high 30s home runs for Alvarez this season. You’ll be stacking Astros’ bats with confidence once again this season.

Oakland Athletics

New Faces: Jesus Luzardo

Significant Departures: Blake Treinen, Tarren Roark, Jurickson Profar

Projected Win Total: 87.8

Fantasy Spin: The Athletics aren’t facing much roster turnover this season. Losing Blake Treinen and Jurickson Profar hurts some. Treinen was an important part of their bullpen and Profar was a player that could play multiple positions. With that said, the addition of Jesus Luzardo should be a significant addition to their rotation. Luzardo did appear with the team for six games last season and pitched well. The 22-year-old southpaw projects to throw anywhere from 140-150 innings this season and he’s struck out over a batter per inning in each stop in the minors. Projection systems are calling for Luzardo to be over a strikeout per inning pitcher this season with an ERA ~3.50/3.70 and a FIP ~3.70-3.90. The most important takeaway with Luzardo is that his K rate should be above league average and his home games are going to be played in a pitcher’s haven that inflates strikeouts due to the expanded foul grounds. From a macro perspective, the Athletics should remain a difficult team to stack at home but there will be opportunities (looking at divisional games in Texas) where you’ll be able to stack their bats and stack against them.

Los Angeles Angels

New Faces: Anthony Rendon, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy, Matt Andriese

Significant Departures: Kole Calhoun, Trevor Cahill

Projected Win Total: 83

Fantasy Spin: The Angels finally added a big bat in Anthony Rendon that can complement Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Rendon is going to regress some this season as last season was a bit of an outlier. Still, he projects to hit around 30 home runs and his .370 wOBA projection is clearly above league average. The Angels don’t have the benefit of playing in great hitting environments in their division outside of Texas, but the offense should play at an above-average level. As a result, their bats will have stacking appeal and their pitching should be suspect enough that you can stack against them as well.

Texas Rangers

New Faces: Corey Kluber, Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles

Significant Departures: Nomar Mazara, Hunter Pence, Delino DeShields

Projected Win Total: 78.4

Fantasy Spin: The Rangers play half of their games in one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball – Globe Life Park. Joey Gallo is going to be one of the league leaders in home runs once again, projecting for a home run total in the 40s. Todd Frazier is a new addition and he should be able to hit 20-25 home runs this season given the league change and environment boost. Rougned Odor has hit 30 home runs in three of his last four seasons. This Rangers’ lineup is going to have a good amount of power to it and their pitching will improve some with the acquisition of Corey Kluber and the return of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor. Their home games are going to remain a hot commodity for those that are stacking bats.

Seattle Mariners

New Faces: Carlos Gonzalez, Taijuan Walker

Significant Departures: Felix Hernandez, Tim Beckham, Domingo Santana

Projected Win Total: 65

Fantasy Spin: Based on current win totals, the Mariners project to be the second-worst team in all of baseball. Their best regular hitter projects to be Kyle Seager, who’s at best a league-average hitter, posting a 112 wRC+ mark for his career. It’s going to be a very long season for the Mariners. To top things off, their ballpark is a below-average hitting environment, which makes it difficult to stack their below league average offense or the offenses that are coming into town. Their price tags for DFS should be on the cheaper side the entire season but that’s about the only positive takeaway here.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

New Faces: Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez, Luis Robert (from the minors), Nomar Mazara, Steve Cishek, Yasmani Grandal

Significant Departures: Welington Castillo

Projected Win Total: 84.3

Fantasy Spin: The team with possibly the most hype entering the 2020 season is the White Sox and it is honestly for good reason. The team addressed their lack of power by adding Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara and Yasmani Grandal while also paying top prospect Luis Robert (guaranteeing he will start the year in the Majors). Their lineup is so deep that arguably the top hitting prospect since Ronald Acuna Jr. (Robert) will be slated to hit in the eight-hole with names like Eloy Jimenez and Nomar Mazara in the spots just ahead of him. DailyRoto’s Ricky Sanders covered in-depth why Luis Robert may be actually be getting underrated by fantasy circles despite the fact he is consistently being drafted in the top 80 of seasonal leagues. All of a sudden, the White Sox possess one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball, with All-Star catcher James McCann coming off the bench. Jose Abreu led the American League in RBI last year without much lineup protection so these new recruits only enhance his value. Yasmani Grandal is amongst the elite players in the game according to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, so his presence will assuredly be welcomed in a power-friendly park as well. Tim Anderson almost assuredly will not lead the league in average, but still is a threat for 20-20, and Yoan Moncada improved greatly last year on his contact skills (K rate dropped nearly five full percentage points from 2018) which should create reason for optimism for him this year as well. Concerns in the rotation were also addressed in the offseason as the team added both Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to the mix..and those may not even be the most impactful developments within the rotation itself. Pushing the start of the season back will only lead to Carlos Rodon being able to return earlier in the season from Tommy John surgery and top pitching prospect Michael Kopech’s development could lead to him entering the rotation mid-season as well. If all goes well, the White Sox could be looking at a rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease by the end of the year. For these reasons, we are bullish on the prospects of the White Sox winning the American League central, and believe the Vegas total (84.5 games) is much too low.

Cleveland Indians

New Faces: Cesar Hernandez, Delino DeShields, Emmanuel Clase, Sandy Leon

Significant Departures: Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Jason Kipnis, Nick Goody

Projected Win Total: 87

Fantasy Spin: After trading Trevor Bauer right before the trade deadline last season, the Indians already subtracted depth from their rotation, and the loss of Corey Kluber this offseason did not help those prospects either. Even with Bauer and Kluber gone, the rotation is not a dumpster fire by any means, especially now that Mike Clevinger will have additional time for his knee to heal following the start of the season getting pushed back. Shane Bieber proved to be one of 2019’s breakout stars as he stopped pounding the zone at such an insanely high rate and instead started inducing swings outside the zone at an elite 35.0-percent rate. Furthermore, Bieber ranked ninth amongst qualified pitchers in swinging-strike rate (14.0-percent), so he has clearly emerged amongst the elite starters in the game. Aaron Civale is the sneaky asset in this rotation with the potential to bust out in 2020. Civale is not being drafted as a top 100 pitcher in drafts and yet he ranked 20th amongst starters (min. 50 innings) in FIP last year. In the Majors last year, Civale walked over 5.7-percent of batters for the first time at any professional level, and he had always been able to induce swinging strikes at an above-average rate in the minors. In other words, his 8.8-percent swinging-strike rate can be chalked up to his inexperience at the big league level, and something that can easily be improved upon. He is one of our favorite late-round fliers in deep leagues. The offense is headlined by Francisco Lindor but the power prospects of Franmil Reyes are quite intriguing now that he will be playing a full season in power-friendly Progressive Field. Reyes increased his already impressive hard-hit rate in his second MLB season and increased his fly ball percentage by nearly five percentage points (while his infield fly rate held steady). This combination of facts leads us to believe 40 home runs (HRs) is not out of the question for a player ranking outside the top 135 of ADP.

Detroit Tigers

New Faces: Austin Romine, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Ivan Nova

Significant Departures: None

Projected Win Total: 67.2

Fantasy Spin: Once again, the MLB’s worst offense from a year ago is lacking fantasy assets, but the combination of C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop do inject some pop into an otherwise lifeless lineup. A year after posting just a .302 wOBA and 85 wRC+ against LHP, Cron and Schoop should prove the Tigers with some of the Twins’ lineup offensive magic from 2019 in the split. Both hitters posted a wOBA over .375 against LHP a season ago with Cron sitting well over .400. Comerica Park is an above-average power park for RHHs so it is not a surprise that FanGraphs’ projection systems expect each hitter to duplicate their power production from a year ago. Exactly two players rank in the top 215 of ADP from the Tigers are they are none other than staff ace Matt Boyd and closer Joe Jimenez. Last year, Jimenez produced an ERA over a full run higher than his SIERA but he relied incredibly heavily on fly ball outs (29.5-percent GB rate) and walked nearly 9.0-percent of the hitters he faced. The main selling point for Jimenez is his elite strikeout ability (14.8-percent swinging-strike rate, 31.9-percent K rate) but his 4.66 FIP and 1.32 WHIP left much to be desired. He should remain a solid closing option as long as he can hang onto the job which is no sure thing. At just 25-years old, the team will likely give him a long leash, which is the good news if drafting him. Matt Boyd is also a strikeout-reliant starter whose strikeout stuff sort of came out of nowhere. He improved from a 10.2-percent swinging-strike rate in 2018 to a 14.0-percent rate in 2019 despite only averaging 0.3mph above his career average fastball velocity. While he posted a 32.0-percent K rate in the first half of the season, that number depreciated to 27.9-percent in the second half, which seems like a safer estimate moving forward. The starters are being drafted in a similar range to Boyd are Mike Minor, David Price and Sean Manaea, which is reasonable in strikeout leagues. The Tigers’ ace is always going to struggle with the long ball due to his propensity to allow fly balls but the 4.56 ERA last year still seemed unlucky comparatively to the solid underlying numbers (including a 3.61 SIERA).

Kansas City Royals

New Faces: Maikel Franco

Significant Departures: None

Projected Win Total: 72.4

Fantasy Spin: Maikel Franco brings a bit more pop to a lineup that hit just the third fewest homers last year despite getting 48 bombs from outfielder Jorge Soler. Projection systems expect a logical regression from Soler this year but only down to the mid-30s in homers instead of nearly 50. Anyways, Franco will get a downgrade in terms of power favorability from his home park and he is never going to be incredibly valuable in leagues that value on-base percentage (.302 career). Even with all the homers in this lineup, the cream of the fantasy crop on the team still in lies with Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield. Mondesi played just 102 games last year and he still stole the second most bases of any player in the league. A shoulder injury cost him 60 games last year but, despite starting Spring Training late due to the issue, Mondesi was finally healthy and ready to start as of Mar. 12. A healthy year from Mondesi could resemble a Carl Crawford year from his prime which is essentially what projection systems expect (minus the average). Average is volatile from year-to-year but it remains possible he hits just .250 even if he lights it up in all other categories. Merrifield is more reliable in the average category but is unlikely to post the gaudy steals numbers of Mondesi. Sure, Merrifield stole 45 bases two seasons ago, but projection systems expect closer to 20 to be the norm. While we like Merrifield, being taken at pick 52 is a bit optimistic, despite the fact projection systems may be too low on his average (all around .280). His line drive percentage has sat at 28.5-percent or greater in back-to-back years which is typically a characteristic of a consistent .300 hitters as opposed to .280. One value we love in drafts is Salvador Perez who should return to a full-time role this season and yet he is being drafted as C7 in drafts. The difference between him and Willson Contreras is nearly 40 draft spots in ADP even though Perez has been a lock for 20-plus homers when healthy over the course of the past five seasons. If waiting on a catcher, but preferring a catcher with upside, or if playing in two catcher leagues, targeting Perez after pick 120 makes a lot of sense. Most catchers with equivalent upside are being drafted in the top 100 which makes Perez a perfect mid-round target.

Minnesota Twins

New Faces: Homer Bailey, Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard

Significant Departures: C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Martin Perez

Projected Win Total: 90.7

Fantasy Spin: The 2019 Twins set a record for most HRs in a single season and added more pop to the lineup when they signed Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 Million deal. Donaldson is one of four active Twins hitters to have posted a .360-plus wOBA versus LHP last year and he now leads Twins, active hitters, in career wOBA in the split. Essentially the whole lineup broke out in a big way in 2019 with Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco amongst the biggest surprises at their position. The Twins offense is not going to sneak up on anyone this year with seven of their hitters being drafted in the top 155 picks of drafts. Polanco specifically is being drafted behind the likes of Amed Rosario, Elvis Andrus, and Corey Seager, which is a bit strange after Polanco hit 22 homers and hit close to .300 towards the top of this potent lineup last year. Polanco does not steal many bases, which limits his appeal a bit, but his skill set, especially against RHP, is legit as evident by a 25.7-percent line-drive rate and 48.2-percent hard-hit rate. We have interest in nearly all Twins hitters including Luis Arraez, which is amongst the elite average/contact hitters in the game already, and Byron Buxton (despite his shortcomings). If nothing else, Buxton should run quite a bit, but he swings outside the zone way too often. His hard contact rate did sit at a career-high last year and there is significant upside beyond his draft spot if he could ever improve his on-base percentage to closer to .330. The pitching staff added some veterans in Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill and took a shot on Homer Bailey following his best season since 2014. Maeda still owns a career 3.75 SIERA and he is the one who we feel is worth the risk at his respective ADP (pick 181). With stubborn Manager Dave Roberts, Kenta Maeda often did not pitch deep into games, but that certainly has the potential to change with the Twins. After pitching throwing 153.2 innings last year, it would not be surprising for Maeda to eclipse 160.0 innings this season and flirt with 180 Ks. From a pitcher this low in ADP pitching on one of the best teams in the league, the profit potential is unmistakable.

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