MLB DFS Strategy: Notable Offseason Lineup Upgrades/Downgrades
As is the case every offseason, plenty of personnel moves were made around the league, and lineups are looking different heading into the season. Stacking is a big part of daily fantasy baseball so figuring out which teams will be formidable within splits should help fantasy owners get ahead of the curve. This article paints a picture of which teams upgraded their lineups in the offseason and which teams went in the opposite direction.
Since there are no real expectations for the Twins, it is unlikely the public takes notice and fully appreciates the upgrades that were made to the lineup this offseason. Sure, the team lost Brian Dozier but that was the only real subtraction from the lineup and the additions more than made up for it. While Dozier only posted a .292 wOBA and 33.9-percent hard-hit rate against lefties in an extremely disappointing 2018 season, the newly-acquired Nelson Cruz managed a .389 wOBA and monstrous 50.0-percent hard-hit rate in the split. The team even did an excellent job at accounting for their gaping hole at second base after Dozier left by signing Jonathan Schoop. Like Dozier, Schoop suffered through a down season last year, but he has hit 21-plus homers in three straight seasons. He is not a disciplined hitter at the plate, as evident by his .294 career on-base percentage (OBP), but he is replacing a player who posted just a .305 OBP in his own right. As if that were not enough, the team also added C.J. Cron to play first base, and he posted a .390 wOBA and 152 wRC+ against lefties a season ago. When all said and done, the Twins finished 21st in both wOBA and wRC+ and 26th in ISO against left-handed pitching (LHP), and the presence of the Cruz/Cron alone should lead to improvements in all those categories.
New York Mets
After finishing last season with Jeff McNeil as the team’s starter at second base, the Mets opted to look to the trade market to upgrade the position…and boy did they ever. The team traded Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista and a few prospects for Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz. The team rated as a middle-of-the-road offense against righties, so there was not a dire need for Cano, at least not as much as the team needed help against southpaws. Not only did the Mets finish 28th in wOBA against LHP last year but they also struck out at the second highest rate (24.7-percent), produced the fifth lowest wRC+ and fourth worst ISO. Sure, the park had something to do with that, but their extremely left-handed lineup did not help, and neither did Yoenis Cespedes only playing 38 games. Amongst all active catchers with at least 200 career plate appearances versus lefties, Wilson Ramos owns the ninth-best wOBA and wRC+, so he was a much-needed upgrade. Furthermore, the team signed Jed Lowrie coming off a career year where he hit 23 homers and drove in 99 runs. Against lefties specifically, he had a bit of a rough year (99 wRC+), but this is a player with a career .334 wOBA and 110 wRC+ in the split. The ballpark will still be working against the Mets but the improvements to the lineup should lead to the team being closer to a league-average offense against both sides of the plate compared to just one.
The blatantly obvious offense that upgraded in the offense is the Phillies who signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. Only the White Sox and Padres struck out at a higher rate against right-handed pitching (RHP), which Harper will not help much (projection systems have him around a 24-percent K rate once again this year), but he should help dig the Phillies out of their hole in other categories in the split: .310 wOBA (22nd), 93 wRC+ (19th), 29.5-percent hard-hit rate (by far dead last in the league) and 19.7-percent line drive rate (28th). Since the Harper signing was so monumental, the acquisitions of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and J.T. Realmuto have flown under the radar a bit, but this is a completely revamped offense. According to FanGraphs, the current version of the Phillies would have ranked 15th in wOBA against RHP using their 2018 statistics and FanGraphs’ projection systems all expect Harper to rebound from a down season where he finished with a .376 wOBA overall. Steamer, ZiPS and THE BAT projections all have Harper for at least a .388 wOBA overall in 2019, and that improvement could propel the Phillies into a top 10 offense against RHP. Meanwhile, McCutchen’s career .405 wOBA against LHP ranks 11th best amongst active hitters with at least 100 plate appearances in the split and Segura’s .316 career wOBA against LHP, which is a massive upgrade to Scott Kingery‘s .255 wOBA in the split. All-in-all, the Phillies probably feature the most improved offense, but the signing of multiple big names will lead those playing DFS to flock towards them early on in the season.
Losing Paul Goldschmidt was a gigantic loss but that is not where the offseason losses list ends. A.J. Pollock was lost to free agency as he signed a four- year, $55 million contract with the Dodgers, leaving the Diamondbacks to move on without either their two best bats from last season. To make up for the losses of their main sluggers, the Diamondbacks signed a 33-year old Adam Jones to a one-year contract, and they signed Wilmer Flores to take Goldschmidt’s infield spot. Although Flores has always been a decent hitter in the split versus lefties (.328 career wOBA), but he is not in the same hemisphere as Goldschmidt (.426 career wOBA). Additionally, Jones failed to top a .320 wOBA against either side of the plate last season whereas Pollock mashed against right-handers (.352 wOBA). Using a humidor baseball toned down the run production in Arizona and now the team will have to battle through a watered-down lineup. Jake Lamb moved to first with all this change to the infield and he will potentially platoon at both corner infield spots with the likes of Christian Walker and Eduardo Escobar. Walker proved all he needed to prove in Triple-A, finishing with 18 homers, 71 RBI and a .299/.354/.568 slash line in 84 games last year, and the team will have to rely on the 27-year old by default. In seasonal leagues, Walker could prove to be a nice sleeper, as he certainly features some potential, but this Diamondbacks team looks like a bottom third offense against lefties in 2019, which would have been unthinkable a year ago.
First, the Indians traded Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners for Carlos Santana and then the team shipped Yonder Alonso to the White Sox for a prospect. A few days later, the Astros signed outfield Michael Brantley to a two-year deal, confirming the Indians would be without two of their lefty impact bats moving forward. To replace Brantley in the lineup, the team signed Leonys Martin, who almost died towards the end of last season, and they brought in Hanley Ramirez to take over at the designated hitter spot. When healthy, Ramirez has proven his worth in the past (career .365 wOBA), and projection systems love Martin’s prospects moving forward (almost all have him finishing around 15 HRs and 15 SBs), neither player played more than 84 games a year ago (and neither has played more than 133 games in either of the past two seasons). Yan Gomes moved onto the Nationals in the offseason leaving the Indians with offensively-challenged Roberto Perez as the starting catcher (career .283 wOBA and .205/.298/.340 slash line). To make matters worse, Francisco Lindor is questionable to make Opening Day following a calf injury with an expected return timetable of 7-9 weeks that he was diagnosed with the first week of February. The team went from one of the most loaded offenses in the league to relying on their top-heavy middle of the lineup with volatile pieces like Jake Bauers (.201/.316/.384 slash line last year), Martin and Ramirez around them in the lineup. Any lineup with Ramirez and Lindor is never going to be awful, especially in this hitter-friendly park (fourth best park for run production last year according to ESPN Park Factors), but this is looking like more of a mediocre offense than the titan they were last year.
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