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Tips to put together your fantasy pitching staff in a shortened season

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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1 Comment
  1. Louie Maggiotto says

    Let’s try to FINISH the article… If one group becomes more valuable in fantasy, then by definition, another group becomes LESS valuable. But who are in the second group? Closers? It depends on your format. It is likely true that they will now have a lower percentage of a team’s total saves. In the past, a typical good week for a closer was two save opportunities, plus one other appearance. In a condensed season, there will be more condensed save opps — possibly closer to THREE per week. If they’re sufficiently spread out, then the closer will get all three. But if they’re bunched, or if the closer is called in for a non-save opportunity, then of course, he will lose one of the save opps. What this means is in Roto leagues, total saves will be relatively lower for elite closers. (In other words, if MLB only has a 60% schedule, closers might get 50% of their typical save totals.) BUT in weekly leagues, particularly with points-scoring, you might have more BIG weeks where a closer does get 3 saves, because he had an extra opportunity, and all three were sufficiently spread out. With an extra game (or two) per week, there’s more chance a closer could get 3 saves, which is most formats adds up to a whole lotta points — more than almost any single SP single-game point total.

    But here’s a big thing to consider…. Will an Arizona-only season result in MORE RUNS SCORED? Surely! In Roto leagues, that doesn’t matter. You still need to win your pitching categories, and if ERA’s are up globally, the aces will still be RELATIVELY better than the other SP’s. “A rising tide lifts all ERA’s,” if you will. But in POINTS leagues, it means your pitchers will under-perform as a whole, and hitters will over-perform. So that means all hitters become relatively more valuable compared to all pitchers. If a typical hitting roster spot will now generate more points than a typical pitching roster spot, you should be drafting more high-end hitters and fewer aces. Unless…. rosters expand, and we think that will affect hitters more than pitchers. Perhaps hitters are more likely to sit out games and lose AB’s than individual pitchers are to lose IP’s. That seems likely, especially given the new “3-batter” rule where an SP is less likely to be pulled if the new pitcher has to face 3 batters. But with 7-game weeks, isn’t it likely that more teams will have a 6-man rotation, so that SP’s don’t have to pitch more often than they have been used to recently. So, if an ace typically pitched every 6th day (every 5th game), he got 20% of his team’s starts. Now, to pitch every 6th day, he will be pitching every 6th game, and that means only 17% of his team’s games. In weekly leagues, it probably will lower SP values a little, since a pitcher is less likely to get a two-start week. In Roto leagues, pitching counting stats will be 15% lower relative to the amount of games played. All SP’s will be affected equally, but that shrinkage of counting stats (even relative to the shrinkage of the shortened season) will make it harder for aces to stand out, and hold their value.

    Conclusion: It depends on your league format. Closers have relatively fewer total saves (bad for Roto leagues), but a wider range of outcomes in any given week (neutral for weekly/points formats). Aces will pitch relatively fewer games on the season (condensing their exceptionality, bad for Roto leagues), and they will have fewer 2-start weeks (bad or weekly leagues).

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