While the ongoing coronavirus outbreak forced several professional leagues in the United States to stop their activities indefinitely, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the players’ association are looking for creative ways to play out the season with the closest possible number of games to 162. Those managing a fantasy pitching staff, therefore, need to change their strategy somewhat, as COVID-19 is even forcing us to alter our draft strategy. But first, let’s explain the current real-life landscape.
According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the players and the league are discussing the idea of starting to play regular-season games at some point in May. These games would be held with no fans in the stands.
Sources told ESPN that the scenario “has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
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All games in Arizona?
Passan explains the details of the currently discussed idea: “The plan, sources said, would dictate that all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staff and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.”
Before starting to play regular-season games in May, there has to be some sort of extended spring training for players to prepare, at least a couple of weeks. Therefore, late-May or June seem like realistic targets in case the plan goes through.
Starting in late-May or June would mean that there probably won’t be 162 games per team. Something closer to 100 is more realistic, but it is likely that MLB pushes for more. In that case, there could be lots of seven-inning doubleheaders and very few rest days, which will alter real-life rosters and, of course, our fantasy pitching staffs.
Putting together your fantasy pitching staff in times of crisis
But first things first. Who will benefit the most by a late start of the season? The injured stars. Guys like Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto or Aaron Judge, for example, will be ready whenever the action begins. Heck, even Aaron Hicks could make it for the early part of a hypothetical season.
But we are here to help you put together a competent fantasy pitching staff. That’s why it may behoove you to know that the likes of Shohei Ohtani, James Paxton, Rich Hill, Dustin May, Mike Clevinger and Justin Verlander, all of whom were slated to miss at least a few weeks of the regular season, will likely be ready to rock from scratch. Probably Cole Hamels, too.
Now, it’s certainly not the same to approach your fantasy pitching staff as you have been doing it all these years than if a shortened, compressed schedule presents itself. Here are some pointers to cope with the changes:
- Aces gain some value because if seven-inning doubleheaders are played, the odds of qualifying for wins increase, as the road from the end of their outing to the end of the game will be shorter and, therefore, smoother.
- Frontline pitchers also get an additional boost in leagues that count complete games and shutouts. The seven-inning doubleheaders will provide more opportunities to achieve these stats.
- Setup men and handcuffs to closers also become quite valuable to your fantasy pitching staff if that kind of season presents itself. Because of the compressed schedule, there will be times in which three save chances appear for teams in a span of two days, for example. Because of workload management of their closers, managers will be more inclined to give a save chance or two to these top setup men. In this case, guys like Will Harris, signed by the Washington Nationals to spell closer Sean Doolittle on occasion, will gain more value. Others like Seth Lugo, Will Smith, Aaron Bummer, Michael Lorenzen, Ryan Pressly, Blake Treinen, Sergio Romo and Emilio Pagan come to mind.
- Middle relievers or setup men with a high K/9 also become more rosterable than ever. Owners will have a need to make the most of their innings, and despite some of them failing to rack up the saves, these strikeout artists can help your fantasy pitching staff, especially since they likely won’t hurt your ratios:
- Matt Barnes, 15.39
- Will Smith, 13.22
- Luke Jackson, 13.13
- Tommy Kahnle, 12.91
- Tyler Duffey, 12.80
- Amir Garrett, 12.54
- Emilio Pagan, 12.34
- Adam Ottavino, 11.94
- Ryan Pressly, 11.93
- Michael Feliz, 11.73
- Seth Lugo, 11.70
- Trevor May, 11.05
If you want to spot potential breakouts in the pitching department, here is a top-notch guide.
We hope these pointers can help you. We badly miss fantasy baseball and while this plan to start in May seems a little far-fetched at this point, MLB won’t go through with it if the conditions don’t allow for it. So, we are allowed to dream, right?
With whispers that the baseball season may not be too far away, it’s time to jump back in! For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content and updating everything the minute we know when the season will start!
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