As the battle wages on between MLB players and owners, fantasy baseball players might be able to watch the current negotiations with a bit of optimism. After all, the sides are just 10 games and about $250 million apart, and though that dollar figure sits beyond the comprehension of regular joes like you and me, it is but a drop in the bucket for the parties at-hand. We could even see a deal done by the time you find yourself reading this column, and if that’s the case, it’s time to look at some potential targets for either upcoming drafts or trades.
When a season is eventually announced, MLB will designate roughly a three-week period for spring training. In past years, fantasy analysts have told you to ignore spring training numbers in your evaluations. Many hurlers are working on new pitches or, if they are just stretching out, will throw fastballs only. Understanding that hitters have an easier time, and we not only see inflated ERA totals, but we see unusually strong batting averages and power numbers.
This season, you want those players who are crushing the ball in spring training. Their timing is on-point and it is much easier to carry that momentum into the regular season. In a normal year, those bats stay hot early and tend to fade in the upcoming months. This season, not only is there less time to fade, but the power numbers you could be looking at from just the first month could vault you to the top of the standings and make it almost impossible for your competition to catch up. While they struggle to find a bat heating up, you are simply maintaining your position thanks to a few strong spring performers.
You are also going to want to study the breakdown of teams amid the new divisional alignment. A merging of the eastern divisions means hitters are going to have a much more daunting time at the plate given their opposition on the mound. Think about facing the Nationals’ rotation and then mix in the likes of Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola — not to mention the bullpens of the Rays and Yankees. Over a 60- or 70-game season, you could be looking at a serious power decline and a boatload of strikeouts.
Strong spring training performers and hitters who will be facing subpar pitching based on the division realignment are just the first steps in building a team that can sprint to the finish in a truncated MLB season. Focus on hitter-friendly ballparks for your bats and pitcher-friendly venues like you see in the western divisions.
It will take a bit of extra research and a lot of forgetting what you know about a normal fantasy baseball season, but so long as the payoff has you in the winner’s circle, that’s all that matters.
Howard Bender is the VP of operations and head of content at Fantasy-Alarm.com. Follow him on Twitter @rotobuzzguy and catch him on the award-winning “Fantasy Alarm Radio Show” on the SiriusXM fantasy sports channel weekdays from 5-7 p.m. Go to FantasyAlarm.com for all your fantasy baseball advice.