We haven’t seen anything like this before. All of our debates, discussions, profiles, draft plans… all of it has to change as the MLB elected to suspend the start of the regular season for at least two weeks.
Like many, I’m not going to assume baseball starts on April 9th, but rather is more likely to be pushed back to Thursday April 30th or Friday May 1st, in other words, five weeks of a twenty-six week season. It’s not what we want, but with needed spring training to ramp back up and the fact that COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear in a short week, we’re going to be missing baseball for a good while.
Update: The new hope is for a July 4th weekend opening day. The same ideas apply as the season could be pushed through October with neutral warm-weather sites for playoff games.
It changes things. A lot. Player analysis in the pre-season is predicated on expected playing time and we’re simply in the dark right now. How will MLB handle the schedule once baseball starts again? Do they extend the regular season into October? Do we simply eliminate roughly 30 games from team schedules? (Off days will likely not be limited due to the Players Union likely pushing back on that idea)
There is no right answer. It’s why a lot of us are at a loss at the moment. We need some foundation to root our analysis, but if we don’t when games are played and how many will take place, we can’t discuss with conviction.
So for my own sanity, I’m going to assume May 1st is our day with 140 games played per team (I’m assuming an extension into October). Doing quick math, that’s roughly 15% fewer games played. Update 3/31: This is more likely closer to 100 games at this point, which translates to about 40% fewer games. Allow me to go into each area where this matters.
At first glance, this means 15% fewer Runs/RBI/HRs and doesn’t mean anything. However, this isn’t entirely safe for hitters. Some players may get fewer days off given the shorter season – there’s isn’t a need to take as many breaks if you’re playing as much. And while you’d think this doesn’t matter at all – those that were elite will still be elite above the rest of the field as the 15% drop is universal – it does slightly lower the gap between tiers. The fewer games that are played, the fewer games there are for elite players to separate themselves from the average players.
I don’t believe I will be drafting hitters any differently based on this, but it does make me wonder if you can ride out hot hitters on the wire a little better than we used to. Think Bryan LaHair and his 10 Hrs with a .361 average through his first seven weeks. The shorter a season gets, the more chances there are to ride a hot streak.
The classic “I don’t pay for saves, I’ll find a closer on the wire” may be a bit harder this season. This strategy relies on chaos, the innate minute sample of relievers where jobs can change hands after a week of blowups. Thing is, the shorter a season, the fewer chances for cataclysms, and by the time it comes around, you may be too far in the dust to catch up properly (well, for roto leagues, less so in H2H).
I’m not saying you have to pay for Hader or Yates, but it’s a bit more important to get two closers out of the gate with locked jobs. There just isn’t as much time as there used to be.
Starting Pitcher Questions
Okay, here’s where it gets tricky. 40% fewer games should equate to about 70 lost innings – this is assuming about a 6 IPS and 12 start loss. That’s not always the case and a massive estimate, but it helps us grasp what’s going on. That means 130 IP is the new 200 innings and it. Changes. EVERYTHING.
I’ve been talking plenty about HIPSTERs – Headache Inducing Pitchers who Stifle The Entire Roster – and how I don’t want to draft these players. They often fall into three camps:
- Innings limits where I don’t know when I’m getting the innings
- A volatile pitcher
- Being on the Dodgers/Brewers/Rays where they micromanage starts and innings and it drives us crazy
The latter two are not impacted by delaying the season. German Marquez still pitches in Coors and Eduardo Rodriguez is going to undulate his performance through the year. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have too many starters and will make owning Ross Striping, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin a pain, the Brewers could be super weird and not let either Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, or Freddy Peralta see six innings ever, and the Rays are sure to mess around with Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Trevor Richards, and Brendan McKay with openers and relief stints.
But innings limits…that’s where things get interesting. Here are the innings limits we expected heading into this season:
- Chris Paddack – 180 IP
- Brandon Woodruff – 170/180 IP
- Adrian Houser – 160 IP
- Lance McCullers Jr. – 120/130 IP
- Julio Urias – 140/150 IP
- Jesus Luzardo – 140/150 IP
- AJ Puk – 140/150 IP
- Jordan Montgomery – 150/160 IP
- Griffin Canning – 150 IP
- Jose Urquidy – 170/180 IP
- Josh James – 150 IP
- Mitch Keller – 170/180 IP
- Max Fried – 180/190 IP
- Dylan Cease – 170 IP
- Michael Kopech – 150 IP (starting in minors, though)
- Tyler Beede – 170 IP
- Austin Voth 140/150 IP
- Luke Weaver – 160/170 IP
- Shohei Ohtani – 110/120 IP
That’s a lot of names. And just one under 120 IP. Of these players, here are the ones that this impacts the most:
- Chris Paddack – I was critical of his draft stock inside the Top 20 as there wasn’t a chance he could go 200 IP like others. Now he’ll pitch straight through the season and I think he’s valued appropriately now. Crazy.
- Brandon Woodruff – My concerns were a bit more rooted in his ultra reliance of heat and I’m still slightly out on him. I just don’t see myself pushing him higher on my board
- Julio Urias & Jesus Luzardo – I never questioned the skills here, but I had no idea how the Dodgers/Athletics would squeeze out their respective 140 innings. Now that the season is plenty shorter, I’m starting to heavily consider chasing them in drafts. “140 is the new 170” after all.
- Jordan Montgomery – With the delay, James Paxton will be close to returning and it may lend to a slower start to the year. However, any concerns we had about “how long” he could go for are essentially thrown out the window now. I’m still in.
- Luke Weaver – I feel the only concerns we had were if he would be pushed past 170 innings or not. Now with the delay, I’d feel more confident in the Diamondbacks allowing Weaver to pitch through the year.
- Shohei Ohtani – He’ll be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and will be on a once-a-week schedule to pitch. Huge jump in value here.
But this doesn’t just affect the young guys. This should also impact the value we place on “stable innings”. Yes, I’m talking about Zack Greinke, Jose Berrios, Madison Bumgarner, Aaron Nola. With more pitchers available to pitch through the season – albeit, still at a slightly lower IPS than the names above – it does make me question if I should be drafting Bumgarner for his roughly 25 more innings than Luzardo. I’m starting to think I wouldn’t. MADNESS.
Lastly, there are the injury-prone pitchers that generally take a hit in drafts due to an expected injury, and these don’t change. There’s an argument to be made on both sides here: Should we favor them more as fewer innings = less time to get injured? Or should the risk of their injury be more impactful given fewer innings overall = a larger need to roster them? (Every inning lost has a larger impact.) These pitchers include (and I’m sure I’m missing some):
I do wonder if I’m slightly more in on Morton as his injuries seem to happen later in the year rather than early. I’m curious to your thoughts here, leave a comment and let’s talk it out.
Currently Injured Players
The biggest discussion has been surrounding players who have already bit the injury bug and if this in some ways helps revitalize their 2020 draft stocks. Let’s look at every currently injured fantasy-relevant player:
Trey Mancini – He had a malignant tumor removed from his colon, and there are a lot of questions still up in the air. It’s still a risk to invest at the moment and wishing him a speedy recovery.
Alex Verdugo – Should gain a bit of traction as he was going to be delayed about a month with his stress fracture in his back. Could hit leadoff instead of Benintendi and well outperform his current 215 ADP.
Chris Sale – Oh man, I’m still not touching this. At least we’ll have a definitive answer on his strained flexor tendon before the season starts to his health, but I feel like his elbow is going to be an issue all season.
Mike Clevinger – He had knee surgery and is currently way ahead of schedule. I’m personally skeptical that his knee is good to go (I think he rushed it!) and I’m not ready to throw Clevinger back up as the #6 starter.
Carlos Carrasco – He had a hip flexor strain and now elbow inflammation while still having some questions about his leukemia. It’s sad and I’m not sure that even this delay is going to bring back the Cookie we want. I’m going to avoid unless it’s a massive discount.
Oscar Mercado – He’s been dealing with a mild wrist sprain, and this delay will help him get back to full health for the start of the year. Take advantage of a drop in ADP.
Michael Fulmer – He’s recovering from TJS, but had the surgery in March of 2019. There’s a chance he returns for a good amount of the season…or not see a single inning. JUST SAYIN’.
Jameson Taillon – It’s an expected longer timeline for Taillon, but the same applies as from Fulmer, with plenty higher upside.
Justin Verlander – Lat strain. I’m worried this is going to stick around (or at least be a nuisance) all year, so even with the delayed season, I’m not buying in.
Max Scherzer – He’s dealing with “side discomfort”, which likely won’t last for the next 7+ weeks. Any dip in price should be elevated back up to SP #3 now.
Griffin Canning – They shut him down for a month in the first week of March, which may allow him to make a return this season. It feels like it’s stalling for TJS, but I’m willing to take a late flier on Canning now as it could line up perfectly.
Shohei Ohtani – Was expected to return Mid-May for about 110/120 innings as he starts once a week. Definitely improves his draft stock and makes me wonder if he’s Top 40 now.
Byron Buxton – Recovering from shoulder surgery and there is no doubt he’ll be 100% in time for the start of the year. Here’s a look into Buxton from yesterday that you should read.
Aaron Judge – Dealing with a stress fracture in his rib on top of shoulder stiffness early in camp. He’s been recently cleared to work out with the team, so I’d anticipate he’ll be 100% ready for the start of the year. That’s wonderful, I think he still deserves a slight drop from his late 2nd round ADP in the early offseason as he’s clearly deserving of the “injury prone” label now.
Giancarlo Stanton – Enduring a strained calf. I imagine this should be enough time for him to be healthy for the start of the year.
Adalberto Mondesi – He was in question for opening day with a shoulder injury, he should be good to go now.
James Paxton – A huge bump goes to Paxton who was already aiming for a mid-May return as he started throwing with the team. He’s not a Top 30 arm because of the small delay, but he deserves your attention.
Rich Hill – Expected to be sidelined at least until June, if not until July or even August as he had surgery to reattach his UCL. May have more value now given less time on the IL, but still not someone I’d stash.
AJ Puk – He has a mild shoulder strain and was shut down for a moment. I think this is enough time to give him rest for the start of the year, though I do wonder if the A’s will play it safe and feature him mostly out of the pen.
Mitch Haniger – He’s recovering from two surgeries in three weeks due to core muscle injuries. I think this is a sad tale of a talented player who just doesn’t have the body that will let him play as well as he should. I understand chasing him as a last round flier, but I think you’ll find he takes up your IL spot.
Blake Snell – Got a PRP injection and was scheduled to pitch in a sim game this weekend. I’m still a little cautious that there is a greater injury here that will show itself during the season, so I’m slightly out, even if he should be ready for the rotation by the time the season eventually starts.
Willie Calhoun – His timetable is unclear after taking a pitch to the jaw and requiring surgery. We don’t know exactly how long he’ll be out, keep tabs on this one as he could be a very sneaky play at the end of drafts.
Cole Hamels – Dealing with a strained shoulder, though there’s a chance he’d be ready by May 1st. Still not strongly on my draft radar, but if the timetable turns into May 15th, this could be a solid Toby for deeper leagues.
Brendan Rodgers – Had right labrum surgery in July last year, was hoping to be ready for opening day prior to the season suspension. He could be a very sneaky late pick as he may fight for a position in that infield.
Jimmy Nelson – He’s battling groin soreness and could be fine by the start of May, though the Dodgers are a bit cluttered in their rotation in the first place. I wouldn’t chase this.
Luis Urias – Urias fractured one of his hamate bones in January, he should be ready to go by the time the season starts. Solid MI value to be had here.
Yoenis Cespedes – We’ve been wondering if we were going to see Cespedes in action for the start of the year, this may finally give him the proper opportunity to position himself in the Mets lineup. We’ll see.
Andrew McCutchen – There were doubts he’d be ready for opening day, but these extra weeks will allow McCutchen to be fully recovered from knee surgery in time for the start of the year. Sorry Jean Segura, back to the lower half of the lineup.
Tyler Beede – Beede has a flexor strain and I’m not expecting him to produce a whole lot now in 2020. I hope he does, it just seems like his elbow will bark at him all year. It’s too bad, really.
Miles Mikolas – Mikolas is also dealing with a flexor strain and was expected to miss the start of the year. There’s a chance he’s ready to go when the season starts back up, so monitor this one…if you’re looking for a Toby, that is.
Note that I didn’t list suspended players here, including Domingo German and Michael Pineda. Both of these arms will still need to serve out their suspensions, which makes a shorter season heavily impact their overall production of the season. They simply have fewer games to play this year now.
Prospects Getting The Call
There’s another question that we’re very much in the dark about: How does this affect prospects and service time?
It’s unclear if this delay will have any sort of impact, though I’d argue it hurts their chances a bit. For major named callups, most clubs will wait until the Super Two has clearly passed, which happens around 40% of the season. That’ll be likely in July or so, which is not ideal, at all.
Save for Dylan Carlson (and even he is in question), there are few players like Vlad Guerrero Jr. or Kris Bryant of the past who were held down until mid-April to pass the 172 days of MLB play for an extra year of arbitration. We expected Luis Robert to be held the same way, but he signed a contract with the White Sox. Maybe Mackenzie Gore gets an early nod now? We’re still in the dark here, keep an eye for it.
We also have injured players getting more time to heal, reducing the necessity for owners to push their prospects into the spotlight quicker.
Lastly, plenty of front offices elect to make sure their top prospects pass the test in Triple-A. However, with a shorter season, we may have to wait longer to see players get the call as they simply haven’t had enough Triple-A experience yet.
All in all, I expect the delay to hurt more than help young players from making an impact in 2020.
It’s an unprecedented experience and we’re going to get through this together. It goes without saying that I highly recommend putting off drafts until as late as possible when we know more and can properly understand the season that’s ahead. Wait to properly assess the innings of pitchers, find out if injured players are properly nursed back to health, and take a few more fliers for your hitters in the early stages of the season.
We’ll get through this together. Stay healthy, take precautions, and at least we’ll finally know if Corey Kluber truly is the greatest pitcher of our generation if he doesn’t pitch in April.
Adapted by Zach Ennis (@zachennis on Twitter and Instagram)