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How a Delayed Season Should Change Your Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy (2020)

Mar 17, 2020

Giancarlo Stanton is one player whose health would benefit from a late start of the MLB season.

There is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Major League Baseball season right now. It is incredibly disheartening for fantasy baseball players, as all of this happened very fast and very close to the start of the regular season.

Obviously there are bigger concerns than baseball in America right now, but this is a fantasy sports website so we’re going to talk about fantasy sports, dammit!

Let’s start parsing through this.

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 When Will The Season Start?

Everybody prognosticating on this should ask themselves “Am I from the future?” If the answer is “no,” you should not pretend to have any idea when the season will start. It seems pretty certain that no baseball will be played before May, and that’s pretty much all we can say at this moment.

A best-case scenario seems to be eight weeks missed, but the probabilities seem to be much more in favor of something like 10-12 weeks.

How Will They Make Up for Lost Time?

If we are going to miss more than a month of play, it would be a near-impossible task to get 162 games in. I am still living in a world of assumptions here, but it seems to be a pretty high chance that we will have a significantly shorter season.

Playing anywhere near 162 games would mean chopping off most of the scheduled off-days, playing tons of doubleheaders, and pushing the World Series back into November – which does not seem like an acceptable solution.

So What Do We Do About It?

Lots of leagues are going to be delaying their draft, which is a fine response to all of this. However, more public uncertainty leaves more room for an edge to the smartest players, so if it were up to me I’d still want to be drafting right now. Here are some things that change with the delay and how we can use it to find a competitive edge.

Embrace the Randomness

Fewer games mean less data, and less data means more variance. If you play in a head-to-head league you are well aware of how random your win/loss record can be over a short time period, and many fewer matchups on the schedule will accentuate those good luck wins or those bad beats.

A regular season in fantasy is typically 22-24 weeks long, it’s not outside the realm of possibility of losing nearly half of that. That would double the impact of every individual win/loss, and make it pretty tough to come back from a couple of bad luck losses.

You could consider changing your head-to-head league to a rotisserie-style league to combat this. While there is randomness involved in every game format, there is less of it in full-season roto, so that may be a better choice for this season.

Injured Players

The most obvious difference-maker involves players that were going to miss the beginning of the season. Any player that was going to start the year on the IL and miss less than a month of time has a really good shot at being in the lineup on Opening Day now. This gives their draft value a huge boost. Most drafts will probably account for this, but it’s possible that you can find a guy a few rounds too late now.

Here are some players that were being drafted later due to injury, but now are pretty much slam dunks to start the year healthy (assuming they do not get re-injured while taking a shower or something – I’m looking at you, Giancarlo):

Here are some less certain but hugely impactful names that have a chance of not missing any time (at least at the beginning of the season):

There are pretty big question marks about all of these guys. Surgery is still possible for Judge, Sale, and Canning. Lingering injury and negatively affected production is definitely possible for Verlander and Paxton, so there is a case to be made that they should not be drafted as if they are 100%. However, this is the group where you can get the biggest discount, and they could be league-winning picks if they fall far enough and things work out.

Innings Limits

200 innings pitched is a full, successful season in a 162 game season. Using that same ratio, here is what we would consider a “full season pitched” given a differing amount of total games played:

If we wanted to be totally correct, we probably would not use that same exact ratio (given some teams may opt to use their best starters more aggressively given the shorter season), but for these purposes, it is more than good enough.

Who benefits most here?

  • Jesus Luzardo: Despite the Athletics saying Luzardo had no “specific” innings limit at the beginning of the spring, nobody really expected more than 150 innings from him this year. He threw just 55 innings last year and 109 in 2018. Jumping past 150 would be an increase that just doesn’t happen in today’s league. However, now that 150 inning season would possibly be right there with the league leaders. He has pitched like an ace at every level and looked really strong in his 12 big league innings last year (0.67 WHIP, 16 strikeouts). He is an easy top 25 starter in my book with these developments.
  • Chris Paddack: Slight bump to Paddack here who will certainly be in the rotation with no restrictions all season, so long as his health holds up.
  • Julio Urias: Same story with Luzardo, but not as electric of a pitcher. There was a good chance the Dodgers were going to limit his innings to around 150 as well, and a move back to the bullpen at some points was potentially in the cards as well. Now I believe he has the opportunity to start every fifth day all regular season long if he can pitch well enough, which he is certainly more than capable of doing.
  • Brandon Woodruff: The Brewers ace was one of the biggest breakout pitchers of 2019. That has him being drafted as a top 30 starter, but there may be a reason to bump him up now. His career-high in innings pitched is last year’s 121.2, which was probably going to prevent him from coming near the 200 innings mark, but now he should comfortably be able to throw as many innings as he can.

Daily Lineup Decisions

This topic is up in the air as we really cannot even guess at what the schedule will look like at this point. There is the possibility of teams having significantly less off-days, which makes having a deep hitting bench less appealing. While you can still use your bench hitters to play the best matchups, there will not be as many opportunities to get a volume edge on your opponent in terms of getting more at-bats on light schedule days.

We don’t know if all of this will affect off-days, of course, but it is something to keep in mind.

Service Time Changes

We don’t have any news from the league on how they will adjust service time, but there are two options. You can read the MLB service time definition here. Either they leave the service time rules in place (stating that a player must be on a major league roster for 172 days to earn a full season of service time), or they change the number to fit the new season length.

If they would leave that number the same, chances are no player will actually accrue a year of service time, given there won’t be 172 days on the schedule. This would potentially be good news for teams that have prospects on their roster. For example, there would be less of a reason for the White Sox to hold down Nick Madrigal because either way, they will get that extra year of contractual control on him.

If they would change the number, things remain the same and teams will have no added incentive to bring their prospects up right away. You will have to keep an ear to the ground on what they decide on this because it could bolster some prospect value.

More Time for Practice

Chances are you have some extra free time on your hands now. You can use this time to run some more mock drafts and experiment with different approaches now that so much has changed. Head over to our mock draft tool and get to work! We’ll keep you updated on everything you need fantasy baseball, in the meantime I hope everybody stays healthy and happy! Thanks for sticking with us during this abnormal time.

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him@JonPgh.

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