This week, we ask the Touts:
What are some things you will be paying extra attention towards early in the season? It can be player or team specific or an overall league-wide consideration.
Michael Rathburn (Rotowire, @FantasyRath): The impact of the shortened spring training on starting pitching
Brad Johnson (NBC SportsEDGE, @BaseballATeam): Closers in general. There’s so much still up in the air, and it’ll probably remain this way all season. But if there are any tea leaves to read, those who find them first will profit.
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): where MLB teams are not deploying players as projected and whether we think that will continue or further changes are on the horizon.
AJ Mass (ESPN, @AJMass): Quite frankly, I’m going to be holding my breath each time one of my pitchers takes the mound for the first time, fearful of a “ramp it up” injury due to the abbreviated spring. Hitters will eventually figure out their timing, but one wrong landing by a pitcher and a 60-day IL stint looms. Pins and needles.
Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): I’m most curious about early season spin rates and how the ball is playing by comparing April average fly ball distance to past Aprils
Sara Sanchez (bleedcubbieblue.com, @BCB_Sara): How the DH will impact players’ total at bats in the NL, ie, who gets those extra bats. Related, how the DH pushes up NL ERA/WHIP numbers. I tried to draft with this in mind, but am curious to see the actual impact
Nando Di Fino (The Athletic, @nandodifino): I’m resting my brain the first three weeks or so — there are so many variables to consider (short spring training, a lockout where team officials and players couldn’t communicate on ramp-up and rehab plans, the NL DH, new managers, a ton of prospects starting with their teams) that I’d like a little of the dust to settle before I start analyzing things that won’t have clear-cut reasons behind them
Ian Kahn (The Athletic, @IanKahn4): In the first weeks in Dynasty leagues, I will be looking for teams who were looking to compete, that might have a really tough start to the season. I will then look to move some of my young bats to teams for some of their older guys who can help me in my push to win a crown. I am targeting late April as the time to start reaching out.
Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): Pitch counts, looking for bargain pitchers who are being held back now because of the shortened spring training that will get stronger in a month. Players getting a shot because on injuries if they can keep jobs, and always, closers.
Dan Strafford (FNTSY Radio, @DanStrafford): I will be keeping an eye on velocity changes for starting pitchers in an effort to get out ahead of any potential injuries to start the year. While it isn’t fool proof, tracking large changes in velocity has shown to provide a sign of potential injury. This will help in two ways. One is simply to track your own pitchers and be able to pivot to the waiver wire were necessary, potentially prior to the injury list. Secondly, it may provide a chance of depth chart/minor league scouting on future FAAB bids if the pitcher in question does in fact hit the IL.
Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): Keep an eye on lineups in the early going. A manager once said, “I don’t know what I’m doing until I do it.” Sure, it was a manager of a Pottery Barn, where I was working, but I think it applies here, as well.
Matt Williams (The Athletic, @MattWi77iams): I will be paying attention to how new managers handle stolen base opportunities (Showalter w/ Marte & Lindor) and how teams handle at-bats for the new DH in the National League.
Justin Mason (Friends with Fantasy Benefits, Fangraphs, Fantasy Alarm, @JustinMasonFWFB): How will offense change with all parks now having humidors and how live of a ball do we have this year?
Michael Florio (NFL Network, @MichaelFFlorio): Rookies! They’ve been all the rage and seeing climbing ADP. Will monitor them closely and keep a close eye if other teams start following suit and quickly calling up their top prospects.
Tim McCullough (Baseball Prospectus, @TimsTenz): Pitching! How long are starters staying in games? Which middle relievers are being used for multiple innings and their potential to garner wins and holds. About half the league is still “fluid” in terms of closers, so I’m looking to see who gets the high leverage work and the ninth inning. I’m always on the lookout for FAAB pitcher targets in all roles.
Alex Fast (Pitcher List, @AlexFast8): I’ll be paying a close eye to a lot of those closer-by-committee bullpen situations (SEA, CIN, MIA, etc.) to see if there are front runners or if managers are actually sticking to the committee approach.
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): Closers and bullpen situations that are fluid, but also platoons (or non-platoons) and how they shake out for my deeper leagues.
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): Pitcher velocity, pitcher velocity and pitcher velocity. Early on, I look keenly at lineups as well as bullpen usage. More than individual players – I look at which teams attempt many stolen bases.
Ryan Bloomfield (BaseballHQ, @RyanBHQ): Agree with Ariel — I’m focused on finding the “next Lucas Giolito”, homing in not only on velocity changes for individual pitchers, but also pitch mix changes. Those tangible changes in approach can separate signal from noise early in the season when we otherwise don’t have enough of a sample size to draw from.
Rick Wolf (Fantasy Alarm, @RickWolf1): Important for all fantasy players to understand how the designated hitters will be used for each team in the NL. In the AL, we know the managerial styles surrounding the use of a steady DH or a cycle approach. Understanding that in the NL will help you find the players that can help your team especially in NL Only leagues. Also, will be watching how this affects innings for starters as they will not need to be pulled for a pinch hitter.
Bret Sayre (Baseball Prospectus, @BretSayreBP): Lineup construction, at least certainly more than usual. Due to the short spring, the crunched season and the larger rosters, I will pay more attention to who is getting days off and how managers are using non-full-time players. Even in weekly leagues, if we can get a sense for who is playing 4, 5 and 6 days a week (and against what kind of arms), we’ll be able to make better lineup decisions.
Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I’ll look at roles as much as anything else. Volume is so important in terms of plate appearances and innings. I’ll look at platoons, lineups etc. to figure out which players are set for favorable volume.
Chris Welsh (In This League Podcast, @IsItTheWelsh): Rookie usage. It’s been exciting see the influx of prospects break camp, but with expanded rosters, will the teams beyond the Royals and Witt give major playing times. Do the Phillies let Stott play between SS and 3B the majority of April? Do the Padres use CJ Abrams like a full-time player? Does Nick Lodolo get significant starts? Besides Witt, Julio and Tork, we put some last minute stock in Lowe, Stott, Kwan and Abrams. Are teams committing themselves to these players, or is this a product of expanded April rosters?
Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): I’m a Met fan, so I’m curious how they handle the DH – and the PT of Davis, Cano and Smith.
Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): Keep it simple. Pitch velocity and arsenal changes. Who teams go for Saves? Look over lineups for platoons and lineup positions. Don’t over react to the first few days when mangers let everyone play.
Nick Pollack (Pitcher List, @PitcherList): What Jeff said. April is the time of surprising pitchers doing new things that allow us to jump in quickly. Monitor velocities, approach shifts, pitch counts, etc. and if it matches with a favorable schedule, jump in and see what happens.
Lenny Melnick (LennyMelnickFantasySports, @LennyMelnick): Min Innings will be carefully watched
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): Generally I will be paying closer attention to all pitchers early in the season. The shortened spring training and overall trend of starters not going deep into games will have a detrimental effect on starting pitchers’ overall performance and stats. Closers are always volatile, so it will be interesting to see who comes out of the gate and emerges as a viable closer or is quickly replaced. The waiver wire will be key for pouncing on those middle relievers who suddenly ascend into a 9th inning role.
Dr. Roto (DrRoto.com, @DrRoto): How quickly managers give the hook to their starters
Derek VanRiper (The Athletic, @DerekVanRiper): I’m looking for early flashes of skills growth through Statcast. For young players, it might be getting actual reads on them for the first time. For more established players — is there an uptick in velocity, a new pitch, a change to the previous pitch mix, more raw power than expected? Anything that might put me in a position to make an early-season move that could offer a longer-term impact is on my radar at the moment.
Andy Behrens (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): I can’t recall a season in which I’ve been so invested in so many first-year players. It’s basically the golden age of prospecting. In recent days, I’ve really drafted myself into a spot where I’m gonna need C.J. Abrams to—at the very least—hold down the favorable side of a platoon arrangement while running like crazy. He’s swiped 28 bags in 76 minor league games, so I’m confident he’ll run when he plays.
Greg Jewett (Fantasy Alarm, @gjewett9): Will starting pitcher workloads reflect the 2020 shortened ramp up with most lasting four inning or fewer? Taxing bullpens early will have an effect on them down the road. Plus, will humidors across the league affect spin rates? Even more injuries for pitchers than we can imagine? At least Statcast will be provided for all games, not the limited data we receive during spring training.
Scott Engel (Rotoballer, @scotteTheKing): How Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard look early on. Will be watching closely to see if Christian Yelich can quickly begin to put lthe last two years behind him.
Matt Truss (Razzball, @MattTruss): Bullpens, bullpens, bullpens. There are so many gigs up in the air right now and so often the first guy that gets trotted out there and gets a save is the guy a team runs with. BAL, MIA, COL, TEX just to name a few.
Toby Guevin (BatFlipCrazy Podcast, @batflipcrazy): I’ll be paying attention to velocity readings and Statcast player breakdown pages for changes at the skill level (velocity, pitch mix, whiffs, etc.) as well as usage patterns in lineups and lineup spot. It’s hard to find meaningful changes early in the season, but velocity bumps (or decreases) and changes in pitch mix are some of them.
Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): This seems kind of obvious but bullpen usage. Not so much who gets the saves in the early going but which pitchers are getting more high leverage work than expected and thus can be grabbed cheaply before the FAAB crazy bidding on a Sunday after the manager anoints them closer
Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): Offense overall, but particularly homers. The first 7-10 games of the season in recent years has been a very strong indicator of how the season would play out for homers. Spring Training has already shown increased offense while the HR/Contact rate this season is down from both the 2021 Spring Training and 2021 regular season.
John Laghezza (The Athletic, @MLBMovingAvg): The ball, the way it carries, outliers in YOY HR/FB% or anything regarding power that raises an eyebrow
Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): Mainly paying attention to lineups and who gets used as a Closer in situations where that isn’t obvious going into the season. It’s never too early to start making incremental improvements to your roster via the waiver wire.
Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN, @SultanofStat): I’m the guy who has fought for years for quality starts replacing wins in traditional rotisserie scoring, so starting-pitching workloads are of particular interest to me, especially how they trend in the final two weeks of April and into May as well as over the course of the full year. If the league’s average for innings per start hovers around five, as it did last year (5.02), I’ll be making my pitches to quickly pivot off that category for future years.
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): Pitcher velocity. I always pay attention to that metric all season anyway, but with a shorter spring training, some pitchers may not have had as much time to build up their arm strength as they typically need. It will be interesting to see if strikeout rates are down a bit over the first couple of weeks compared to the same time period historically.
Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): So many things to watch early. The DH in the National League and how teams that didn’t go out and get one (Nelson Cruz) will handle it with their rosters. Early returns on CJ Abrams, Bobby Witt, Josh Lowe, Julio Rodriguez. Closer situations that were in flux coming into the season, and if starting pitchers (outside of studs) continue to go fewer innings
Shelly Verougstraete (Dynasty Guru, @ShellyV_643): As many have said before, I’ll be watching velocity, strikeout rates for both hitters and pitchers, and well as HH/PA for hitters. I’ll also keep my eyes on the high minors. How well are Oneil Cruz, Nick Pratto, MacKenzie Gore and when is it time to stash them on my bench?
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Closer situations are usually a primary interest early on, especially in clearly unstable ‘pens like TEX, BAL and OAK. I’ll also be keeping an eye on prospects who start the year on the big-league roster, and noting who’s next in line should the prospect flame out.
Chris Blessing (Baseball HQ, @C_Blessing): In nearly every league I’m in this year, it’s been incredibly difficult to grab pitching of value off the wire. It’s causing me to be more speculative filling out pitching depth than ever before. I’m really counting on nabbing a few post-hype guys to get me over the pitching hump. Guys like Taylor Hearn, JT Brubaker and Bruce Zimmerman. Dudes I don’t really believe in so much as I’m hoping for one of them to outperform and give me a legitimate depth option in case someone goes down in my rotation.
Alex Chamberlain (Rotographs, @DolphHauldhagen): Rosters will shrink by two spots in May. The players who could be optioned may be of little consequence from a fantasy standpoint, but it will almost certainly impact AL/NL-only leagues, so keep an eye on playing time as the month wears on.
Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): Pitch counts affected by the shortened spring and the subsequent use of bullpens. I expect many pitching staffs, both rotations and bullpens, to be in a constant state of flux and more this to start from the very early portion of the season.