Baseball Picks Daily Fantasy Expert Advice
2017 MLB DFS Preview - AL Central
Welcome to the first in DFSR's series of MLB previews as we look ahead to the 2017 MLB season for FanDuel and DraftKings. Here we'll catch you up, division-by-division on player movement, projected rotations, and how teams improved (or not so much). You can check out our first installment in the series with the AL East DFS Preview.
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Chicago White Sox
2016 record - 78-84 (4th in Central)
The AL Central sees a lot of change this year as the identity of a lot of teams are gone. That certainly includes the White Sox, who traded away Chris Sale for the number 2 prospect in baseball Yoan Moncada. The rotation as a whole will take a huge hit with one of the absolute best pitchers in baseball disappearing. Jose Quintana will step into the "ace" role and do his best to follow in Sale's footsteps. He's really the only consistent arm in the rotation with a sub 3.88 FIP in 4 straight seasons. Quintana also removed the slider from his repertoire last season, letting him focus on his other pitchers. In turn, he upped his K% on every pitch and lowered his BB rate. Quintana is a solid pitcher and we will look to target him against teams that struggle stringing together runs, like the Rays or Padres.
Carlos Rodon follows and has the most upside in this rotation. The Sox drafted Rodon just two years ago in 2014, taking just one season to get all the way to AAA and to the majors in the next. He is now a guy they will rely on heavily for success as the rest of this rotation is extremely unreliable. Rodon pitched 165 innings last season on route to a 9.16 K/9 and allowed a low 27% hard contact rate. On the contrary, he walked nearly 3 batters per 9 innings. If Rodon is able to get more control on his fastball, he will absolutely be dominant. However, I doubt he perfects anything at just 24 years old. He is a guy you can target in almost any matchup GPP's as he has the upside to strikeout 12 at any time. He also has the floor to walk 4 in this 1st inning and throw 40 pitches.
After Rodon, they should be charging more money for outfield tickets at U.S. Cellular. With three batting practice machines following up in this rotation, it will be extremely fun to target power hitters against them. The White Sox have made the brilliant decision to keep James Shields as the number 3 starter, even though he is one of the absolute worst pitchers in baseball. His inability to keep the ball down led to a 1.98 HR/9 in 2016, which was 2nd worst among all qualifying starters in the AL. He also gave up a combined .377 wOBA and 5.35 xFIP. With Shields turning 35 over the off-season, I expect nothing out of him. Look for Shields to be out of the rotation after the first month or two. You can target literally every single batter against him if the game is in a neutral or positive hitting ballpark.
Miguel Gonzalez will follow Shields and is much more reliable. Sporting a sub .300 wOBA against both lefties and righties, Gonzalez showed his ability to contain explosive AL East offenses. However, he still struggled with the long ball. While his HR/9 wasn't crazy, he gave up a 34% hard contact rate and a .331 BABIP. Gonzalez profiles as a very average starter and he is a guy you can target with good hitters, but isn't a guy we'll stack against too often. Derek Holland will bookend the rotation and be a guy who is very easy to target against. Allowing a .346 wOBA to righties and a .260 to lefties, it's quite clear who you want to play. He also gave up a 36% hard contact rate and a 1.76 HR/9 at home. We will target powerful righties against Holland every single time he takes the mound. There may also be some spots we want to target Holland. If he takes on a very left-handed heavy lineup like the Mariners, he could be a good cheap play with strikeout upside. All in all, this rotation is pretty bad and one that we will often stay away from with a few exceptions.
There was a reason the White Sox finished 4th in this division with one of the best pitchers in baseball. Outside of the inconsistent pitching rotation, the White Sox have a very lackluster lineup. With Alex Avila, Adam Eaton and Justin Morneau all leaving in free agency, the lineup as a whole will take a huge dip against righties. Tim Anderson will likely hit lead-off and he was a guy who impressed quite a bit last season, hitting 9 home runs and stealing 10 bases in less than 100 games. He also hit for a .283 average, which ended up being the 3rd best on the team. He is a guy you can target against both lefties and righties, though I'll be more likely to roster him as part of a stack. Melky Cabrera will follow and be a guy who hits .290 in both splits. There will be very few times he's a guy you will want to target outside of a stack. Next, we have the only 2 guys keeping this organization afloat. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier will hit 3 and 4 and do a lot of damage. While Abreu has seen a significant dip in power since his rookie year, he has still been a very good overall hitter. Frazier on the other hand, hit 35 and 40 homers over the last 2 seasons. Frazier is better against lefties and is high variance. He will have plenty of games where he strikes out 3 times and gets you a big 0. Abreu is better against righties, though he crushed both last season. He also hit for a much higher average than Frazier and offers more consistency. Both of these guys will remain on the radar all season long.
After Abreu and Frazier, this lineup has a steep drop. I would expect Lawrie or Saladino to hit 5th, with the rest of the 4 spots being mixed around all season with bench players and guys they call up. Oman Narvaez is a defensive catcher and you will want to avoid him at all costs. Lawrie and Garcia are pretty good against lefties and Garcia does have 2 HR upside against a bad southpaw. Tilson and Williams are more of unknowns, though the both have fared well against lefties in the time they were in the minors.
Remember, the White Sox traded for Yoan Moncada. While he likely won't start the season on the roster, he should be there pretty soon. He will jump right into the top of the order and make a difference. Don't hesitate to target him once he hits the majors. As for the rest of this bottom part of the order, there isn't much to love. You will want to target pitchers against this team, especially when outside of hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
2016 record - 94-67 (1st in Central)
This rotation as a whole finished the 2016 season with the 4th highest K% and 3rd best XFIP at 3.31. They will sport the exact same rotation this season with the only difference being the young guys (presumably) getting better. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco head the rotation as the best and most consistent arms, finishing the season with 9.23 K/9's and elite xFIP's. The knock for Carrasco would be his hard contact rate, sitting at an astronomical 37% to Kluber's 28%. That's most likely due to his erratic control and inability to paint the corners, causing him to groove pitches in unfavorable counts. Both of these guys are ones we will target a ton, mostly against right-handed heavy teams that tend to strikeout. Kluber is more of a cash game play while Carrasco is better in tournaments due to his variance.
Danny Salazar sits in the middle of this rotation as possibly the best number 3 starter in the league, competing with just Rick Porcello. Salazar had a higher K/9 than both Carrasco and Kluber at 10.55. On the other hand, he walks nearly 5 batters per 9 innings. Due to that fact, he is a guy you will rarely target in cash games. He will have plenty of outing where he only lasts 2 or 3 innings and gets destroyed. He will also have some 7 inning outing where he goes for 50 fantasy points. Salazar is better against righties, though the splits aren't as drastic as usual.
After that elite set of 3, we have a healthy step down to Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. Both of these guys aren't nearly as strikeout heavy as the top 3, but also don't have the walk rates of Salazar or Carrasco. They are a bit more consistent, but the Indians tend to use their elite bullpen when these guys pitch. Outside of a few exceptions, these guys will rarely go more than 6 innings. They are invaluable to the playoffs as the Indians lack anyone in the farm system or bullpen that is ready for the rotation. Bauer sported the 2nd lowest hard contact rate on the team behind just Corey Kluber, at a close to elite 30.5%. That is mostly due to his decrease in throwing fastballs. In 2015, Bauer threw 1256 4-seamers to only 339 2-seamers. In 2016, he turned that around completely with 780 4-seamers and 740 2-seamers. This greatly improved his hard contact rate and efficiency against lefties, who struggle against 2-seamers. You can target him against weaker offenses that strikeout. Josh Tomlin finishes off the rotation as one of the biggest reverse split guys of 2016.
C - Yan Gomes
1st - Carlos Santana
2nd - Jason Kipnis
3rd - Jose Ramirez
SS - Francisco Lindor
LF - Michael Brantley
CF - Tyler Naquin / Abe Almonte
RF - Lonnie Chissenhall / Brandon Guyer
DH - Edwin Encarnacion
With the loss of Marlon Byrd, Coco Crisp, Napoli, and Rajai Davis, this team will be much worse against lefties. Byrd, Napoli, and Davis were all some of the most extreme lefty-smashers in the game. They each held a +.340 wOBA against lefties in 2016, which is close to elite. They did pick up Edwin Encarnacion, who will be the power bat they have needed for years. He mashes both righties and lefties and will have plenty of success in Progressive Field. Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley will surround him and be leaned on to produce consistently. Kipnis and Lindor have been extremely consistent over the last two years and I would expect nothing less in 2017. Brantley on the other hand, is coming off a year where he was riddled with injury after injury, playing just 11 games all season. However, he was a dominant bat against righties in 2015, hitting for 15 home runs and a 146 wRC+. He comes in as a bit of a wild card, but has as much upside as anyone in the lineup. Carlos Santana is coming off a solid 34 HR, .864 OPS season that saw him decrease his K% rate dramatically.
The Indians sported one of the more productive bottom of the orders in baseball last season, fueled by Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez. Naquin, a 25-year old sophomore, hit for a .378 wOBA against righties last season. He is a guy I will be willing to target nightly against righties, especially if he is in the bottom of the order and therefore low-owned. All in all, the Indians played to splits a lot last year and will likely do more of the same as they saw great success, though falling short in the end.
2016 record - (2nd in Central)
The Tigers are basically the same exact team they were last year, with the only real difference being the loss of Cameron Maybin. As for the rotation, nothing has changed. Justin Verlander is now 34 years old and it will be interesting to see how he does as the ace of the rotation. He was extremely productive last year against both righties and lefties, sporting a combined .272 wOBA. Michael Fulmer is just 23 years old and had an elite rookie season. In 159 innings of work, Fulmer struck out 152 batters in route to a 3.52 xFIP. He should only get better with age and he's a guy I'm willing to target early and often throughout the year. From 2010-2015, Jordan Zimmerman was one of the more consistent pitchers in the game, never holding a +.400 wOBA or 4.00 xFIP. That all came to a crashing end last season, when Zimmerman managed to sport a 4.84 xFIP and a 1.20 HR/9. He also only struck out 5.84 batters per 9 innings, which is pitiful for DFS. With that being said, he's also not a guy we will target many hitters against. He doesn't get blown up too often as the Tigers hold a pretty tight leash on him. All in all, he can be avoided as a whole in most spots.
Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd will fill out the rotation as guys who are pretty young and risky. Norris has been one of the bigger prospects in baseball over the last few years and finally had his first chance at the majors towards the end of last season. H did well, holding a 9.22 K/ and a 4.00 xFIP in nearly 70 innings of work. While that's not nearly enough of a sample size to judge a guy on, he has been a strikeout pitcher throughout his career. Norris is also a left-hander and you will rarely find a guy with 4 ++ pitches from the left side of the mound. With a fastball over 94 and a slider that held a .141 wOBA against, Norris should transition just fine to the majors. He is a guy with upside and should be pretty cheap, at least to begin the season. As for Boyd, he's pretty lackluster. He's a classic left-hander that destroys lefties and gives it up to righties. You can target right-handed power hitters against Boyd, considering he gave up 15 homers to righties in just 15 innings.
Cameron Maybin was a glue-guy for the Tigers last season and held the offense together at times when Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were either struggling or hurt. The Tigers will rely on the progression of Nick Castellanos and James McCann, who are both one year older and hypothetically one year better. Castellanos destroyed left-handers last season and I love him on small slates with limited options at 3B. Miguel Cabrera will continue to be the machine his and you can target him against anyone. Justin Upton and Victor Martinez are probably the biggest uncertainties in the lineup, as both are extremely variant. While Martinez has been consistent while on the field, he's had a tough time staying off the injury report. Upton on the other hand, is just a very inconsistent hitter. He has raked lefties over the course of his career and I'm willing to target him in tournaments. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler are 2 guys I targeted a ton last year and plan on repeating this season. They each held a +.380 wOBA against lefties with Martinez ending in the top 20 in HR's. Iglesias and Mahtook are just lineup-fillers, though they could see the 2 spot against certain pitchers. The Tigers have been known to make sub-optimal lineups and it's something you can take advantage of at times.
Kansas City Royals
2016 record - 81-81 (3rd in Central)
This rotation is not looking too great. With the unfortunate death of Yordano Ventura, the future plans were scrapped. Danny Duffy will now head the rotation and do his best to keep it afloat. Duffy had the best season of his career last year, finishing with a 3.79 xFIP and a 9.42 K/9. Kauffman Stadium helped a lot and I will be targeting more often at home. Ian Kennedy is officially the number 2 starter, but he's not very good at all. He gave up a 4.67 xFIP last season and a 1.52 HR/9, which is astounding considering half of his games were in the best pitchers park in baseball (Petco). With that bing said, he isn't atrocious, at least not in Kauffman Stadium. He won't get blown up too often and will usually finishing with about 5 or 6 innings and give up 2 or 3 runs.
Jason Vargas sits in the middle of this rotation as a very average southpaw. Vargas missed most of 2016, pitching just 11 innings. In 2015, he gave up a .349 wOBA to righties, which we'll look to take advantage of when the Royals are away in a hitter's ballpark. The Royals acquired Jason Hammel in the off-season after having 2 very nice seasons with the Chicago Cubs. Hammel did struggle against lefties last year, allowing a 34% hard contact rate. Nate Karns will bookend the rotation as a very boring, but consistent pitcher. He is actually one of the better number 5 starters in the league and I would expect him to finish with a better season than Ian Kennedy.
This lineup should be one of the most consistent (read: very boring) in the league and will do it's best to make up for the spotty rotation. Alcides Escobar and Whit Merrifield will head the lineup. Escobar is a guy who should probably be back in the 8 or 9 spot, but the Royals have insisted on keeping up top. he has some stolen base upside and can hit lefties well. Merrifield burst onto the scene last year and immediately made a name for himself. He has hit both righties and lefties well and will be a good cash game play on a day in and out basis. Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain are the top bats in this order and will be the bats that keep the motor running. Cain is a dominant bat against lefties and will be a fantastic play on the road against southpaws. As for Gordon, he's more of a cash game play that will usually put the ball in play and drive in a run or two. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two glue guys that will either create or destroy big innings. They both hit righties well but struggle mightily against lefties. Moss and Soler are both big swingers that will strikeout a ton and hit some homers. Those guy can be played in tournaments no matter the spot.
2016 record - 59-103 (5th in Central)
This division is full of lackluster rotations and we have another one here in the Minnesota Twins. The Twins rotation lacks appeal and I doubt we roster anyone all that often. Ervin Santana has found himself back in the ace role in 2017, after constantly disappointing for the past 5 seasons. He does have some potential but I will take a wait & see approach for the first few starts. Hector Santiago is a very streaky pitcher, often having starts where it takes him 50 or more pitchers to get out of the 3rd innings. This causes him to only pitch 5 or 6 and it greatly lowers his strikeout upside. With that being said, he is a guy you can target against left-handed heavy lineups in good pitcher ballparks. Kyle Gibson is one of the more average pitchers in baseball and should struggle pretty often this season. In most, cases, he is a guy we will avoid at all costs on both sides. Jose Berrios follows in the 4 spot with the type of upside to be the most productive starter on this team. He has insane strikeout upside and as the arm to last 8 or 9 innings. He is young, so the Twins may be somewhat cautious to begin the season. Tyler Duffey holds the last spot here and we'' be targeting him plenty. He's horrible gainst both lefties and righties, sporting a +.340 wOBA to both sides of the plate. Target Field is pretty neutral, so a lot of these guys will get bumps or downgrades depending on the stadium they are in.
The Twins finished in 5th last year and I expect the same thing this season. The additions of Ben Paulsen, Jason Castro, and Drew Stubbs were meant to bolster the backend of this lineup, though I think it does the exact opposite. Castro and Paulsen are both very high strikeout hitters who lack the ability to hit the ball to all fields. Max Kepler, Miguel San, and Brian Dozier were some of the few bright spots for the Twins in 2015, all having extremely nice seasons. Byron Buxton should join that trio as he has been one of the most hyped up prospects in baseball since 2012. His ability to hit both righties and lefties has been duly noted in the minors and he's also shown the upside to swipe 40 bags in the majors. He may have some growing pains but should be just fine at the end of the day. Joe Mauer is now about 65 years old and there will be few, if any times I roster him. He has absolutely no upside and has a ceiling of 2 singles and 2 RBI's. Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario, and Kennys Vargas are all very inconsistent hitters who become relevant when they see the top of the order. All in all, this is a team we will ignore in a lot of match-ups. they struggle to put the ball in play on a consistent basis and lack the coaching to overcome that.
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- Jose Abreu: (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
- Corey_Kluber_on_June_27,_2013: By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version)UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Miguel Cabrera: (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
- Royals Brewers Spring Baseball: (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
- Brian Dozier: (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)