For those of us playing in the four-day opening series there are Start Em/Sit Em decisions to be made and because it is the first set of games that actually count, there isn’t recent data to rely on to make them. Spring Training is practice. They are the warm up games. They aren’t irrelevant, but spring training performance shouldn’t be considered determinant. They should enlighten us along the fringes of a decision rather than be the main factor that on-field data can be. Opening weekend is four days and in some cases, three. Even Must-Start All-Stars can be Must-Sits when it’s such a short series and because of or in spite of the fact that we don’t have recent data to lean on. Start Em/Sit Em decisions are difficult every week, but this week, with each and every at-bat meaning that much more, they are even more difficult this weekend.
A common belief amongst Fantasy experts is that you shouldn’t overthink things when it comes to your stars and, for the Fantasy playoffs at least, you “dance with who brung ya.” In real-life practice, this means that absent of extensive and compelling evidence or data, which we can’t possibly have on opening weekend, start your stars and sit your scrubs. Well, I am here to be your contrarian and tell you, Not So Fast.
The regular season is almost upon us! Don’t worry, there’s still time to add that “one more league!” Leagues are still forming at Fantrax.com, so head on over and jump in one today.
One of the reasons why owners should be more selective than usual about who they start and who they sit this weekend is that every at-bat, or lack thereof, matters more than usual. It isn’t as meaningful in rotisserie formats where opening weekend is only three or four games out of 162, but in head-to-head leagues that are using opening weekend as a self-contained series, it is. There are teams that have only three games scheduled and in some cases, due to poor splits or a bad head-to-head batter/pitcher history, there will be must-start batters who may only play two games. For teams with legitimate alternatives, an early round pick in the wrong circumstances may not have enough at-bats or could be in too many poor matchups to rank ahead of lesser players with more, or better, opportunities.
Opening Day Series
Here are the teams and matchups that have a four-game series opening weekend of the baseball season and what’s relevant to know.
Boston Red Sox @ Seattle Mariners
What To Know: The Red Sox are scheduled to face three left-handed pitchers while the Mariners are likely to face two with David Price as a potential bullpen arm or long-inning reliever as a warm up to his first start in week two.
Boston Red Sox
2018 vs. Lefties:
.229 – .172 on the road – One HR
Devers was the 16th drafted third baseman with an ADP of #131.28 on Fantrax.com, making him a borderline Ci and not a must-start player for many owners in anything outside the deepest of leagues. His poor, though limited, track record against left handed pitching means that this weekends matchups aren’t the week owners should be choosing him at Ci or Utility.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
2018 vs Lefties:
.562 OPS – .185 BA – .169 on road – Two HRs
JBJ is only a consideration in deep leagues under optimal circumstances. Facing predominantly left handers on the road are not those for Bradley. Bench him, four games or not.
2018 vs Lefties:
.269 BA – One HR – .809 OPS – 108 at-bats
Bogaerts was drafted as the fifth-best shortstop in Fantasy with an ADP of #51.19, making him a must-start player regardless of position. Bogaerts didn’t hit for average or many home runs against left-handed pitching in 2018, but he did maintain a solid .809 OPS. Seattle is a tough place for hitters and with only 16 career home runs against left handed pitching and eight stolen bases in 2018, the peripherals don’t inspire confidence. It’s all about the alternatives here. The weekend series circumstances are strongly against Bogaerts, but the possible alternatives to him likely leave owners without a real choice. For those fortunate to have one, I suggest benching Bogaerts.
2018 vs. Lefties:
.247 BA – .694 OPS – Four HRs
Benintendi was drafted as a top 10 outfielder and top 30 overall player. Hitting in a difficult ballpark against three left handed pitchers in a shortened head-to-head Fantasy series for a team that, from time to time, will look for ways to find outfield appearances for J.D. Martinez and at-bats against lefties for Steven Pearce is a scenario that will lead to nights off for Benintendi in 2019. But, not this weekend. Steven Pearce will begin the season on the Injured List combined with Seattle’s spacious outfield won’t have Martinez in the outfield and Benintendi on the bench this weekend. In extremely deep three-outfield formats (I have such a team in such a league) Benintendi may be a Sit consideration, but those leagues are few and far between.
Career vs. Lefties
1,657 at-bats – 77 HRs – .226 BA – 485 Strikeouts
Bruce was drafted as a deep league fourth/fifth outfielder and outside of the top 300 according to Fantrax.com. I like him as a deep league consideration because of his power potential and dual OF/1B eligibility, but this weekend isn’t the series for owners to slide him into their lineups. He’ll face two left handed starters and David Price potentially being a reliever that could result in Bruce being pinch hit for or removed with a defensive replacement.
St. Louis Cardinals @ Milwaukee Brewers
What To Know: Milwaukee is a great place to hit, especially for left-handed sluggers, and both teams have formidable, hard-throwing bullpens.
2018 vs. Righties
30 HRs – 16 at home
Shaw makes his living against right handed pitching and he eats even better at home. Shaws eligibility at as many as three different positions (2B/3B/1B) provides owners with the opportunity to fill holes or be an alternative upgrade for many teams weaknesses. Opening weekend is the ideal scenario for Shaw and makes him a must-start in all league formats. He will be an intriguing Daily Fantasy Sports consideration as well.
2018 vs Righties:
26 HRs – 18 at home
Aguilar had to earn at-bats all season long for a very deep Brewers offense and he did it, especially well at home and against right handed pitching – a rare reverse split. A four-game opening weekend series against a staff of right handed pitchers makes Aguilar a must-start play for Fantasy owners.
2018 vs. Righties
15 HRs – 11 at home – .223 BA – .804 OPS
The Brewers offense is loaded with options and while Thames was one of their best against right handed pitching at home, many of his teammates were just as effective. Yearly leagues can ignore Thames, but Daily Fantasy players should keep an eye on the Brew Crew starting lineup cards. If Thames gets a start, DFS players should seriously consider the bargain and use the savings to invest in stars elsewhere.
Colorado Rockies @ Miami Marlins
What To Know: A bad hitters park will help two mediocre to poor starting rotations. The matchups don’t make the start/sit decisions much easier in this one. The Rockies left handed bats will benefit from facing four right-handed starters, but not enough to significantly swing a decision in their favor, in the case of David Dahl for example. Ian Desmond, a right handed bat, has been a better hitter against left handers (.279 BA vs .259) but has been a more powerful slugger against righties, so the right on right matchup isn’t a disqualifier for Desmond.
San Francisco Giants @ San Diego Padres
What To Know? The Giants are one of the least talented offensive rosters in baseball while the Padres are one of the most crowded. Neither pitching staff should scare an opponent’s best batters while Petco Park is a place that pitchers love to throw in. Fantasy owners can’t love their 2019 chances if they are living or dying with a Giants batter and in the early going, it’s difficult to know exactly who will receive the at-bats in San Diego. The Padres will travel two rookies, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Francisco Mejia, and an outfield overloaded with a variety of comparable players with similar, but slightly different skill sets. The must-start talents – Wil Myers, Manny Machado – remain must-start players, while the remaining decisions should be based entirely on an owners alternatives. The matchup can be ignored with one exception – the benefit of a four game series. That extra game could be what breaks a tough tie.
Los Angeles Angels @ Oakland Athletics
What To Know: There aren’t a lot of must-start players in this series and there aren’t a lot of distinguishing factors to make owners start/sit decisions for them. Neither pitching staff should scare starters into being sitters and they are playing four games as opposed to three, but they are pitching in a friendly park with a lot of foul territory.
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers
What To Know: Both teams are likely to face three right handed pitchers in their four-game opening series. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy killed right handed pitching in 2018, so if they are somehow a start/sit consideration they are must-starts this weekend.
David Peralta – OF Arizona Diamondbacks
2018 vs. Righties
22 HRs – .318 BA – .946 OPS
Peralta had an ADP of #127.67 and was drafted as the 32nd outfielder on Fantrax.com, making him a starter in many, but not all leagues. Peralta benefits from having an extra game than some of his alternatives and that he will bat against a heavily right-handed Dodgers rotation and bullpen, a split he benefited from greatly in 2018. He is close to a must-start for owners with anything less than an All Star team of a roster.
Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays
What To Know: The Rays pitchers will face a potent Astros lineup while the Rays bats have one of the toughest pitching matchups of the opening weekend. They lack must-start pitchers – with the exception of Blake Snell – and automatic start hitters while the Astros are loaded with both. This is a series where Fantasy owners should be loading up on Astros and dialing down their shares of Rays.
Detroit Tigers @ Toronto Blue Jays
What To Know: This is a series loaded with yawns. Neither team has much of anything to get excited about or scared of. Nick Castellanos is a must-start in most scenarios while Marcus Stroman’s pedestrian skill set benefits from a lackluster Tigers lineup. The one interesting Fantasy aspect to this series is that both teams have a lot of dual-category batters who are potential alternatives rather than must-start options whose cases are bolstered by a four game set in a friendly hitters environment. Niko Goodrum, Josh Harrison, Kevin Pillar and Freddy Galvis being a few considerations.
Matchup Buy or Sell
An advantage in potential games played and total at-bats is one place to look for answers to difficult start/sit questions, but it isn’t the only one. Pitcher matchups is the next best place. Most batters don’t have to face three aces in an entire week, nevermind a weekend series, but it does happen to an unfortunate few and it will in our shortened opening series in 2019.
Here are some of the tougher opening weekend matchups:
New York Mets @ Washington Nationals
Vs. Mets: Max Scherzer – Stephen Strasburg – Patrick Corbin
Vs. Nationals: Jacob deGrom – Noah Syndergaard – Zack Wheeler
Both teams in the same series face potential aces every night. That’s a rarity. Facing an ace, or a handle full of them, doesn’t in and of itself make a start a sit, like in the case of Anthony Rendon, but it goes a long way to making a borderline must-start player a much less confident one or a potential sit. Such as an established veteran like Robinson Cano or a 2018 breakout rookie like Juan Soto?
New York Mets
Keon Broxton, OF
Max Scherzer: 1-2 – One HR
Patrick Corbin: 4-6 – A double, triple – Two walks
Stephen Strasburg: Zero At-bats
Total: 5-8 – A double, triple and home run
Broxton struggled this spring and he is unlikely to receive many starts this weekend, but if he does, the expected bargain price tag in DFS should be a serious consideration for Daily players looking to save money. He’s a flier, in tournaments at least.
Robinson Cano, 2B
Max Scherzer: 2-13 – .154 BA – Zero Home Runs
Stephen Strasburg: 0-3 – Two Ks
Patrick Corbin: 1-2 – One HR
Total: 3-18 – One Home Run
With Cano’s decline in power, lack of base stealing speed and rise in age are concerns, but he is still an elite hitter who makes a ton of contact. It’s understandable for Fantasy owners to bench him in a short series against three of the 10-15 best pitchers in the National League if comparable alternatives are available. The head-to-head sample size is so small it probably should be ignored, but Cano’s limited history against the Nationals big-three has been ugly. The alternatives at 2B or Mi are likely weak – he was drafted as the #10 second baseman and #126.65 overall – so Cano is probably starting, but I won’t eat an owners lunch who chooses to go another direction – such as Jonathan Villar, Yoan Moncada or Rougned Odor. They have more flaws but more upside, a better all around Fantasy skill set and better matchups. The difficult matchup and only three games are a meaningful part of the decision on starting or sitting Cano.
Michael Conforto, OF
Max Scherzer: 8-23 – Four HR
Stephen Strasburg: 3-18 – Two HRs
Patrick Corbin: 4-8 – Three HRs – One double
Total: 15-49 – Nine HRs – One double
This was a bit of a shocker for me. A lot of drafters have high hopes for a breakout 2019 from Conforto and the guy can clearly hit, but he has almost dominated the Nats big three. He is not only a must-start in yearly leagues, but a serious consideration in DFS as well. Small samples and head-to-head matchups aren’t the best way to pick a DFS player, but these numbers are difficult to ignore. Check the price and lock him in.
Jacob deGrom: 2-23 – One double
Noah Syndergaard: 9-26 – Two HRs
Zack Wheeler: 9-26 – Zero extra base hits
Total: 20-75 – Two HRs – One Double
Rendon has a fairly large sample size and relatively moderate levels of success. If he was a borderline decision he would be an unenthusiastic start, but as a must-start player he is a must-start this weekend, three tough matchups or not.
Juan Soto, OF
Jacob deGrom: 1-3
Noah Syndergaard: 1-6
Zack Wheeler: 2-6
Total: 4-15 – zero extra base hits
Owners drafted Soto as the #11 overall outfielder with an ADP of #30.8 according to Fantrax.com after batting .292 and hitting 22 home runs with a .923 OPS in 2018. A small head-to-head sample size and lack of any real success against the three-headed Mets monsters isn’t enough to justify benching a player with Soto’s offensive ability with the expectations on his back in 2019. That being said, if he was a lesser player with lower expectations and a borderline decision, I would lean sit with the matchups he faces this weekend. But, he isn’t a lesser player and owners expect him to come through beginning in Week #1.
Minnesota Twins vs. Cleveland Indians
The Twins face the American Leagues version of the Washington Nationals and New York Mets in the names of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco Carrasco. They all struck out 200 or more batters in 2018 and could all finish in the top in Cy Young voting in 2019. One good thing about the Twins is that they make a lot of contact and swing-and-miss much less than most teams. Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Jake Cave were the only Twins to strike out at least 100 times and Rosario did it in 138 games. Hardly a high K/9 by today’s standards. Byron Buxton is a small sample exception to what appears to be a Twins hitting philosophy.
Byron Buxton, OF
Career vs. Right Handed Pitching
693 ABs – 22 HRs – .231 career BA – 240Ks
Buxton struggles to make consistent contact and he faces a three-game series of pitchers that might be one of the most dominant strikeout staffs in baseball. A batter that swings-and-misses a lot against a staff that could strike out 700 batters or more in 2019. He has had a strong spring, four home runs and only five strikeouts, but he was drafted as the 42nd overall outfielder because he is a borderline starter. This is a week that the matchups are bad, the data is lite and every wasted at-bat is magnified because of the shortened series. Owners may be better off being conservative and choosing a safer alternative.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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