Baseball is coming back, and I imagine pretty much all of us need some refreshers at this point. So, here’s a look at some of what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been adjusting my rankings these last three months.
The No. 1 spot: I had Christian Yelich at the top of my rankings when the draft guide debuted this year, barely ahead of Ronald Acuna Jr. That was before the Marcell Ozuna signing, though, and that added boost to the Braves lineup was enough to give Acuna the slightest of edges in my predictions. Acuna’s perch is a little more comfortable now as a result of the universal DH. While that should benefit the Brewers a little more than the Braves on the whole, Acuna’s status as a leadoff man gives him an extra lift, as he’ll be batting behind Ender Inciarte or Johan Camargo instead of the pitcher.
The No. 1 pitcher: That Jacob deGrom got the nod over Gerrit Cole originally was a function of his easier assignment in the NL East. Now that every game in the 2020 season will feature a designated hitter, there’s no longer much of a bias in favor of NL starters in my projections. Cole has assumed the top spot, and 16 of my top 30 SPs are American Leaguers. Of course, deGrom is still a strong No. 2, and while the schedule isn’t great for NL East pitchers, I see no reason to avoid him in drafts.
The second-tier shortstops: Beyond the first-round trio of Trevor Story, Trea Turner and Francisco Lindor, I placed Alex Bregman 17th, Fernando Tatis Jr. 22nd and Adalberto Mondesi 24th in my original top 300 this year. Now, though, Mondesi is 16th, Tatis is 17th and Bregman sits 22nd. Mondesi was iffy for Opening Day after shoulder surgery, but he should again be fully healthy and he looks like the best bet in the league for steals this year. Tatis was also dinged because of injury risk, but he’s more likely to get through 60 games than he was 162 and he’ll also benefit from getting out behind the pitcher in the Padres’ lineup. He might even DH on occasion.
Starting pitchers with injury histories: It’s the season without innings limits, and many of the pitchers who would be lousy bets to get through 30 starts in a normal year should be better positioned to pitch just 12 times. Tyler Glasnow, James Paxton, Charlie Morton, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill are among those moving up some in my rankings now that I’m not worrying much about durability, and Julio Urias, Jose Urquidy and Jesus Luzardo have moved into my top 30 SPs since innings just aren’t really a factor. If I had a draft tonight, I wouldn’t want to go nuts drafting starting pitchers, since a number will surely come up with strains and sprains while trying to quickly ramp up for the season. However, in late drafts, I’ll be changing my typical hitter-pitcher mix some, valuing the currently healthy pitchers higher (as compared to hitters) than I typically would.
Risky closers: Managers have itchy trigger fingers with closers during the best of times, and 60-game seasons certainly don’t qualify as the best of times. As a result, I’m not valuing upside with relievers as much as I usually would. Edwin Diaz opened up as my No. 3 closer, but if he blows a game in the first week of the season, he might never see another ninth-inning lead. He’s seventh now with the potential to tumble further if doesn’t look sharp next month. Craig Kimbrel and Nick Anderson have also slid some in my rankings, while Aroldis Chapman, Ken Giles and Sean Doolittle, all of whom have durability concerns, have moved up.
NL designated hitters moving up: Ryan Braun, Howie Kendrick and Wil Myers rated as the biggest beneficiaries of the universal DH in my rankings. Braun, who seemed destined to sit against the majority of righties as a result of the Avisail Garcia addition, jumped from No. 250 to No. 186 on my list. Kendrick is No. 201, and Myers comes in at No. 240. I’m also a lot more excited about Nick Senzel again, as the DH spot should free up room of the Reds to use him regularly in the outfield.
AL DH’s are helped, too: It doesn’t apply to all of them equally, but those American League designated hitters who can’t play the field no longer have to worry about interleague games on the schedule. In a typical season, that’s 5.6 percent of the time Nelson Cruz or Shohei Ohtani would be limited to pinch-hitting appearances. Taking that out of the equation lifted Cruz a couple of spots.
Boosts for NL leadoff men: As already mentioned in regards to Acuna and Tatis, it’s a pretty nice lift for NL leadoff men to be batting behind hitters instead of pitchers. It’s especially important for those batters with pop, like Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant and Jonathan Villar. Bryant had been among my least favorite picks this year because of his lofty price tag and lack of RBI opportunities. I still rate him as a poor value, but not to the same extent that he was a few months ago.
Of course, all of the adjusting I’ve done since the shutdown to take my projections from 162 games to 108 to 81 and now to 60 could look like small potatoes compared to what’s coming over the next four weeks. Some players will opt out of the season. Some will suffer new injuries or experience setbacks with previous ailments. Unfortunately, some will catch COVID-19, and while many of those cases could prove asymptomatic, it’s unclear how long it will take for anyone diagnosed with the virus to be cleared to return (it will require two negative tests).
I also need to dig in and make some adjustments to account for a schedule that sees teams play 10 games each against their division rivals and 20 games total against the corresponding division in the other league. That’d seem to benefit the Central division clubs, particularly the Twins, Indians and White Sox in the AL. 20 games each against the Tigers and Royals will be very nice, and while the other Central is no pushover, it’s probably the weakest division in the NL. I was quite a bit lower than the pack on Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi this spring, but given the schedule they’ll be facing, they definitely need to move up some in my rankings.
Anything goes in a 60-game season. We make our best guesses, but it’s not like projections are all that reliable for 162-game samples. Now we’re just taking a 37% chunk of that while also having little way to account for the three-month pause in between spring trainings and everything this virus could do to teams and players. It’s going to be a free-for-all, and I hope to have fun with it. However, when it’s over, we probably shouldn’t make many judgments based on the results.