MLB Short-Season Strategy: AL Pitching Rotations
Greg Jewett takes a look at each of the American League pitching rotations and looks at how teams might handle them in a shortened season and what that means for fantasy baseball
While the first round of opt-outs occurred without any losses in American League rotations, trying to plan for a shortened season sprint comes with many pitfalls. Innings limits, pitch counts, tandem or piggyback starts, and flexible bullpens provide doubt across the landscape. Building on Friday’s column about how teams may handle their staffs, the second part of the series tries to account for how American League teams may strategize in the truncated season.
Before delving into the potential ramifications, news this weekend about the MLB’s COVID-19 testing casts more doubts about how games will proceed:
Nats: Per MLB’s protocol, all players and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Friday, July 3rd. 72 hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests. We cannot have our players and staff work at risk. Therefore, we have cancelled our team workout this morning— Britt Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) July 6, 2020
Some teams cancelled Monday workouts until testing results arrive to ensure safety of players and staff. However, for those teetering on whether or not to play this season, this must be unsettling:
Just wanted to give props to guys like Mike Trout , Buster Posey and Sean Doolittle , among others, for their comments in recent days, which will inevitably draw criticism. The sport, their fans and the general public desperately need their honesty right now.— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) July 5, 2020
And encapsulated in more detail by Sean Doolittle :
I don’t know who needs to hear this but I brought these things up because I want to play. I want there to be a season. And I want everyone to be as safe as possible. The sooner we figure these things out, the better chance we have to resume the 2020 season. https://t.co/PaTtizVG1w— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) July 5, 2020
Many hope to get fans in the stands going forward but if a simple task like wearing a mask cannot be adopted across our society, how does baseball handle it? Strengthening the awareness and firming up the testing protocol needs to be addressed as teams decide how to move forward:
Clarification on Angels, per source: Workout delayed Monday to make sure testers are present. Two other, unidentified teams had same issue on Sunday - testers failing to show. https://t.co/MZULg6tnHu— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 6, 2020
Returning to the task at hand, going through voluminous articles on MLB.com along with The Athletic for each team in the American League took time all weekend with the following results plus projected pitching staffs as of this writing along with some “bulk” or tandem pitching options of interest.
American League East
Toronto Blue Jays
- Projected rotation: Hyun-Jin Ryu , Chase Anderson , Tanner Roark , Matt Shoemaker , Trent Thornton
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Nate Pearson , Ryan Borucki , Wilmer Font , Thomas Pannone
Toronto is keeping how they approach the rotation close to the vest. An intriguing young team brimming with offensive upside and fire power, can Ryu anchor this staff? With so much focus on how the team will handle uber-prospect Pearson garnering most of the fantasy speculation, if the team keeps him off the 30-man roster opening the season for seven days, they get an extra year of control under the bargaining agreements. So, missing a week or one turn in the rotation makes sense but the Blue Jays may assess how effective Anderson looks and pull the plug after two-to-three turns then giving his spot to Pearson, especially if they go for a playoff spot.
- Projected rotation: John Means , Alex Cobb , Asher Wojciechowski , Wade LeBlanc , Kohl Stewart
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Tommy Milone , Hector Velasquez, David Hess , Cesar Valdez
Not going to spend much time here since Baltimore will struggle to win games. There’s many higher on Means than me, so if looking for innings you can take a flyer but would rather use a bulk guy on a team projected with more wins like Jonathan Loaisiga over anyone listed above.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Projected Rotation: Charlie Morton , Blake Snell , Tyler Glasnow , Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Brendan McKay , Jalen Beeks , Trevor Richards , Anthony Banda , Shane Baz
No organization in recent times shows more initiative and forward thinking about pitching than Tampa Bay. A shortened season allows Morton to fire away avoiding injury issues and Glasnow could be a sneaky Cy Young bet with high strikeout totals adding to his arsenal. Armed with a deep and flexible bullpen, the Rays can shorten games, use openers or bulk guys to maximize matchups, and therefore applying pressure to the Yankees competing for the division. Prior to the start of the regular season, the franchise implied Yarbrough and Chirinos would work as regular starting pitchers, but the shortened season could change things if they deploy Andrew Kittredge and Diego Castillo in familiar opener roles for them. Suffice it to say, Tampa’s stocked with arms to make this an intriguing team advantageous for streamers in fantasy.
One overlooked thing in the ramping up to play, possible closer Nick Anderson spoke to how pitchers bounce back under this three-week leadup to games:
#Rays Anderson said he has been throwing regularly and "could jump into a game tomorrow" but the recovery side would still be an issue. Said players have to keep in mind their future as well— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) July 5, 2020
Boston Red Sox
- Projected Rotation: Nathan Eovaldi , Eduardo Rodríguez , Martín Pérez , Ryan Weber , Brian Johnson
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Collin McHugh , Marcus Walden
Losing Chris Sale took this staff off the rails. Add in Eduardo Rodríguez being delayed to camp awaiting COVID test results and it gets even more barren. New manager Ron Roenicke spoke of using multiple openers if necessary, to survive the season casting many doubts on how to take a pitcher for fantasy other than Eovaldi and Rodriguez at this point.
New York Yankees
- Projected Rotation: Gerrit Cole , Masahiro Tanaka , James Paxton , J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Michael King , Luis Cessa , Clarke Schmidt, Nick Tropeano , Jonathan Loaisiga
Splashing in the off-season for the services of “ace” Cole, New York avoided a potential headache when his wife gave birth to their first child. Avoiding serious injury at the moment, it appears Tanaka suffered a mild concussion on a 112 MPH comebacker by Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend. This led to Paxton firing his simulated game with the help of an “L” screen:
Reports suggest “Big Maple” looked terrific striking out the side in the first inning of his workout and he will start the season on the mound for the Yankees. But, early articles about how the team will handle its starters suggested 60 pitch count maximums the first time through the rotation which needs to be monitored. As pitchers build up stamina, it may be a case by case handling by the team which cannot be ignored. This makes a pitcher like Loaisiga who surged in the spring before the shutdown a possible streaming gold mine if he enters a game with New York leading and fires two-to-three strong innings of relief stealing wins. Welcome to tandem starts in 2020.
American League Central
Cleveland Indians (For now, perhaps Spiders?)
- Projected Rotation: Shane Bieber , Mike Clevinger , Carlos Carrasco , Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Adam Plutko , Jefry Rodriguez , Logan Allen
Unlike many teams, Cleveland lets its starters work deep into games, especially in 2019 leading all American League teams in innings by starters (930.1), trailing only the Mets and Nationals in the majors. This equates to 5.2 innings per start for the team translating to investing in Bieber, Clevinger and Carrasco, worthwhile for fantasy. Plus, upside lies in Civale or Plesac if they nail down spots in the rotation. There will be less interest in the bulk guys on this team as a result.
Kansas City Royals
- Projected Rotation: Brad Keller , Danny Duffy , Jakob Junis , Mike Montgomery , TBA
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Jorge López , Glenn Sparkman , Jesse Hahn
Not going to lie here, most focus on the future of the Royals rotation, not the present for fantasy. Keller added a change-up in the three-month interval between spring training and the summer restart. How this translates to a shortened season remains to be seen. Duffy turned in a strong spring as well, but will Kansas City go for it this year? All articles suggest the team prefers Lopez and Sparkman in relief so there may be tandem starts for them as the fifth spot in the rotation as the year ensues. As for the talented bevy of arms in the minors, check out: Brady Singer , Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Austin Cox. Mercy.
- Projected Rotation: Matthew Boyd , Jordan Zimmermann , Iván Nova , Daniel Norris , Spencer Turnbull
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Tyler Alexander , Rony Garcia
Like Baltimore above, wins may be fleeting for this squad depressing fantasy value. However, Boyd recorded five wins against four losses with a 2.85 ERA and 10.9 K/9 his first 12 starts last year. Another strong start could be a very sneaky play this season and if Detroit flips him to a contender for much needed prospects on the hitter side, things get even more positive for Boyd owners. At some point Michael Fulmer could rejoin the staff as he progresses in his rehab. Deep league owners can also keep tabs on Turnbull, he may turn the corner this season and provide strong spot starts as a streamer during positive matchups.
- Projected Rotation: José Berríos , Jake Odorizzi , Kenta Maeda , Homer Bailey , Rich Hill
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer , Lewis Thorpe , Jhoulys Chacín
Armed for a sprint, the Twins added depth to the rotation in veterans Bailey and Hill while Michael Pineda will spend 36 days serving his suspension. Pineda can return for the last 24 contests and qualify for the postseason roster. Hill threw without restrictions last Friday and could thrive in this truncated season barring blister issues. Many seem to be overlooking Berrios, but his history of strong starts may yield a Cy Young campaign this year. He fired 96 pitches on Opening Day last year but may not be allowed to repeat it this season.
Chicago White Sox
- Projected Rotation: Lucas Giolito , Dallas Keuchel , Reynaldo López , Dylan Cease , Gio González
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Michael Kopech , Carlos Rodón , Carson Fulmer , Dane Dunning
So many ways this could play out for Chicago with one of the keys being if one of or all three Lopez, Cease and Kopech breakout this year. Due to a spoil of riches, the White Sox could really be creative at the start of the season using arms like Kopech and Rodon in relief following their starters shortening games. Rodon fired 45 pitches in a simulated game on Friday snapping off his fastball and plus-slider. Maybe he could emulate his gamer tag of “hard_karl55” as a reliever. Of course, fantasy owners taking note of Giolito’s tremendous 2019 pushes his draft stock up in a shortened season and his gamer tag only reinforces the love, “El Jefe Gio”. Also worth noting, Dane Dunning has impressed in camp and his addition to the 30-man opening roster could be worthwhile as well.
American League West
- Projected Rotation: Andrew Heaney , Julio Teheran , Dylan Bundy , Griffin Canning , Patrick Sandoval, Shohei Ohtani
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Matt Andriese , Félix Peña
One rotation with more questions than answers at this point. For instance, what day will Shohei Ohtani pitch? During the preseason, Joe Maddon hinted it could be Wednesday, then he would receive Thursday off and return to designated hitting duties for the weekend. Fantasy owners can plan on Ohtani hitting three-to-five times a week but when this occurs makes a difference in leagues without daily moves.
Question two, what happens with both Patrick Sandoval and Julio Teheran yet to enter camp? They represent one-third of the six man staff but getting too far behind may prohibit their innings at the start of the year. Both Matt Andriese and Félix Peña will be stretched out in case the Angels need them in the rotation or as bulk relievers during the season.
Third question, how long can Griffin Canning pitch after receiving a PRP injection which led his teammates on a path to Tommy John surgery? Canning tossed 60 pitches in a three-inning simulation on Friday and recorded 96 strikeouts over 90.1 innings last season. Potential upside with inherent risk.
- Projected Rotation: Justin Verlander , Zack Greinke , Lance McCullers Jr. , Jose Urquidy, Josh James
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Framber Valdez , Austin Pruitt , Cy Sneed, Rogelio Armenteros , Bryan Abreu
Due to the delayed start of the season, Verlander rehabbed his groin surgery and will start on Opening Day provided no setbacks occur during the ramp up portion of Summer Camp. Teammate Greinke flies below the radar in average draft position but went 8-1 after joining Houston last year with a 3.05 ERA over 10 starts. Almost what this season could yield given Greinke will make 10-to-12 starts in 2020. McCullers remains on track to rejoin the rotation despite not throwing a pitch in the majors in more than 600 calendar days. It’s easy to forget McCullers Jr. went 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA in 15 starts back in 2017. When spring camp ended, it felt like Urquidy and James would win the last two spots in the rotation but stay tuned to how these battles evolve leading up to games. One pitcher to key on how he’s deployed, Bryan Abreu who scouts rave about.
- Projected Rotation: Mike Fiers , Sean Manaea , Frankie Montas , Jesús Luzardo , A.J. Puk
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Chris Bassitt , Burch Smith , Daniel Mengden
Another team with question marks about how they will handle innings exists in Oakland. If they go for it, the A’s could push Luzardo and Puk but remember they worked in the minors using tandem starts to protect innings and limit extended exposure to lineups. This could happen in 2020 as well. If so, keep Bassitt in mind in the late round of drafts and if healthy, Mengden could be a sneaky option in daily leagues if working after Puk or Luzardo. While many push Luzardo and Puk up draft boards, using boring pitchers like Bundy may be more warranted.
- Projected Rotation: Marco Gonzales , Yusei Kikuchi , Justus Sheffield, Kendall Graveman , Taijuan Walker , Justin Dunn
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Nestor Cortes Jr. , Erik Swanson , Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock
Ahead of the resumption of Summer Camp, Seattle announced plans to enact a six-man rotation to protect its bevy of young arms and returners from injury. This really caps upside when mining starting pitchers, even in stream situations. However, from the second list of bulk guys, if Gilbert or Hancock join the major league roster after the seven days expire to ensure service time manipulation, they could be intriguing in deep leagues for cheap wins working after the starters leave. Swanson can join this list if Austin Adams proves healthy enough to rejoin high leverage in the bullpen.
- Projected Rotation: Lance Lynn , Mike Minor , Corey Kluber , Kyle Gibson , Jordan Lyles
- Potential Bulk Pitchers: Alex Speas, Jonathan Hernández
Who bet on Texas putting together a team with perhaps the least amount of controversy surrounding its pitching staff? Add in rumors of the team’s new ballpark leaning towards pitchers and this makes the Rangers rotation worth speculating on. For instance, from Levi Weaver’s column on The Athletic:
All it takes is a quick look at some pitching lines to get a glimpse into the mismatched states of preparedness.
Corey Kluber : 5 IP*, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 85 pitches, 55 strikes
Mike Minor : 4 IP*, 1 BB, 10 Ks, 77 pitches, 47 strikes
Derek Law : 2 IP*, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 32 pitches, 21 strikes
Kyle Gibson : 4 IP**, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 59 pitches, 35 strikes
Jonathan Hernández : 4 hitters faced, 4 strikeouts
Noting how many pitches each tossed along with an outlook in the West division, Texas does not get much hype as a potential playoff contender but in a wide-open set of circumstances, how the Rangers fare could be very interesting. And in fantasy, their arms come much cheaper than other unproven pitchers.
All situations will continue to evolve along with how baseball will address player safety with this week off to a rough start. Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm to remain ahead of the competition across all fantasy formats and be safe.