2018 Lineup wRC+ Projections and Strategy
The Marlins suck. The Astros rock. Any casual baseball fan could tell you this much. But on draft day, or March 30th when you are already looking to stream starting pitchers, the casual baseball fan won’t win you your league. Being able to quantify and visualize lineup strength is vital to making decisions on, or breaking ties between, SPs on draft day or for midseason streaming.
The following graph examines Steamer Projections (via Fangraphs) projected average wRC+ of the projected top 9 players (by sorted Plate Appearances) for each MLB team, giving a visualization of offensive lineup strength. We can use this information to evaluate which pitchers we should invest in, based on the line-ups they will be facing.
Invest in the AL Central. More specifically, invest in the Cleveland Indians pitching staff. The Carlos Carrascos and Corey Klubers are going to go as fantasy aces, but Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and even Josh Tomlin will get to play three of the WORST projected offenses in baseball dozens of times this season, and that alone should bolster their value. Clevinger, a common 2018 breakout candidate, preyed upon his weaker divisional opponents, posting a 1.51 ERA across 41.2 innings pitched against Tigers, White Sox, and Royals lineups.
According to projections, the notoriously hitter-friendly NL West could be worth a second a look in 2018. Chase field acquired a humidor and lost a J.D. Martinez, the Rockies project to be human outside of Coors, and the Padres/Giants play in monstrous pitchers parks. The impact of the Diamondbacks’ new humidor could be vital to the success of opposing pitchers at Chase Field, as their eighth-ranked offense was carried by the second most runs at home in 2017.
Daily fantasy or daily-locking lineup leagues invite the strategy of streaming pitchers. For that, we need to go beyond divisional analysis and focus on particular teams. For these purposes, there is a clear ‘Streaming Five‘ of targets to stream against during the season: the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Miami Marlins. To go a step further, Miami, Kansas City and Tampa Bay play in home stadiums ranked in the top 10 most pitcher-friendly parks over the last few seasons, so they are ideal streaming team/stadium opponents.
Despite the presence of one of our Streaming Five teams, AL East as a whole has been, and seemingly always will be, a formidable division. As good as the Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees rotation horses could be, the fact that they will have to play in the AL East parks, and against the AL East lineups, is an immediate red flag. While you weren’t drafting anyone from the Orioles rotation anyway, the beast that is the AL East is especially worrisome for the Rays rotation, namely Chris Archer and Blake Snell.
While the AL East’s offensive potency is no news, the days of taking advantage of the NL East (particularly the Braves and Phillies) seems to be on the decline. While recent memory dictates that the Phillies, Mets, and Braves own stagnant offenses, their projected starting nine are right there with the DBacks, Rockies and Mariners. The Braves and Phillies in particular sport young, explosive, and high-upside studs that could ruin your starter’s day- Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Scott Kingery, and Rhys Hoskins.
Like the NL East, the AL West was once a division to pitch against. However, according to projections, the AL West has the lowest floor team in all of baseball AS WELL as the highest ceiling. The AL West is a formidable division for pitching opponents (even with the division’s pitcher-friendly parks), especially anyone taking the mound versus the Astros and their 118 wRC+ lineup.
Notes, Anomalies, Exceptions:
The biggest note is, as always, projections are projections for a reason. Basing draft strategy on projections alone is an easy way to lose your league and miss out on breakouts. That being said, the analysis of lineups’ projected wRC+ does give a pretty reliable picture of lineup strength and the odds of radical variation from these projections is generally pretty low.
Specific teams whose projections fail to account for their unique circumstances are the Brewers and Rockies. The Brewers plate appearances could very well be the most difficult in the league to project, with as many as four All-Star caliber outfielders, and seemingly five middle infielders. The projections used in these charts did not account for the offensive production of Hernan Perez, Keon Broxton, or Stephen Vogt, leaving the possibility of more unaccounted-for variance here than for many of the other teams. The Rockies have the pleasure of playing in Coors Field, but they also have the burden of having to play 81 games not in Coors. Steamer projections see the inflated Coors field BABIPs of many of the Rockies players and attempt to project regression, but every fantasy owner should know the unique nature of drafting a Rockies player, and should never be streaming a pitcher in Denver regardless of what these graphics seem to show.