What We Can Learn From Spring Training Lineups (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
Every spring, dedicated fantasy baseball managers scour box scores to uncover any information that might give them an edge on draft day. Unfortunately, stats accumulated during spring training are generally useless for predicting regular-season performance. Just ask the king of spring, Jake Fox, who in 2011 hit 10 home runs with a 1.133 OPS in 27 spring games for the Orioles, only to be DFA’d on June 1 of that season. Spring hitting stats can be deceiving for many reasons, including facing lower-quality pitching to pitchers being less concerned with outcomes and more concerned with building arm strength and tinkering with new pitches. With that said, intelligent managers can still learn something valuable from the spring training box scores: lineup construction.
Fantasy baseball is a simple game, really. Just accumulate more stats than your opponents. And no matter how talented a hitter is, he can’t accumulate stats for your team without at-bats. The more at-bats a player gets, the more opportunity he can collect stats for your team. Per pitcherlist.com, based on 150 games played, the average leadoff hitter comes to the plate 698 times, while the average 9th place hitter has 567 plate appearances. That’s roughly 130 plate appearances per season where a hitter is not going to score a run, not going to steal a base, and generally not accumulating stats for your team. A hitter at the top of the lineup is more likely to be driven in by power hitters in the middle of the lineup. So while most spring-hitting stats might not matter, managers do tend to tip their hand on who will hit leadoff before the season starts. With this in mind, it’s essential to monitor spring lineups to see who is consistently hitting at the top. The Nationals and Astros are two teams where the leadoff spot may or may not be up for grabs.
While the Nationals might not be a particularly deep lineup, whoever gets the coveted leadoff spot in front of Juan Soto (OF – WAS), Nelson Cruz (DH – WAS), and Josh Bell (1B, OF – WAS) could be in line for a great season. Early rumors of Lane Thomas (OF – WAS) occupying this spot led to a lot of talk of a potential breakout for the 26-year-old outfielder who posted 7 HR and 6 SB across 77 games in 2021. The spring training lineups, however, show Thomas routinely hitting 6th. Instead, it is newly signed Cesar Hernandez (2B – WAS) who has consistently occupied the top spot in the Nationals lineup. With an average ADP of 366.8, Hernandez is shaping up to be a tremendous value in 2022. If Hernandez can replicate the 21 HR he hit last season and approach his career .345 OBP, he could easily score 90+ runs atop the Nationals lineup and is more than serviceable as a late-round middle infielder.
After losing Carlos Correa (SS – MIN) this offseason, many expected the Astros to sign a big-name SS as a replacement. Instead, the Astros look poised to let Jeremy Pena (SS – HOU) take the role. While he is still battling Aledmys Diaz (SS – HOU) for the job, all signs point to Pena making an immediate impact at the top of one of the best lineups in baseball. From 3/23-3/29, Pena started four of six possible games, but just as importantly, Pena hit leadoff in three of those four starts. FantasyPros currently projects Pena for 456 PAs, but if Pena wins the SS and leadoff jobs, he will likely come closer to 650+ PAs atop a strong Houston lineup. Prorating his current projections across 650 PAs yields a stat line of 85 Runs, 24 HR, 79 RBI, and 14 SB. Given his current average ADP of 393.8, Pena could be one of the best bargains for 2022.
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