A lot of pitcher fantasy analysis centers around pitcher quality: Velocity, stuff, BABIP, Statcast, recent performance…balancing out all of the available metrics to determine cost (draft slot, $ value) is the name of the game. Today we’re going to look at a metric I rarely see discussed in the pre-season: strength of schedule (SoS).
In-season, starting pitcher matchups are gold, whether you’re playing the streaming game or DFS. But pre-season, I rarely see analysis go any deeper than AL-vs.-NL comparisons. At the individual-SP level, this makes sense: projecting out specific full-season matchups for an SP is impossible.
At the team level, however, we can get get a pretty good handle on who may have advantageous matchups and who has a tough road. More specifically, we’re interested in the extremes: How frequently will each team face really tough matchups, or really easy ones? The middle 60% will be mostly based on pitcher quality; at the margins, we have actionable start/sit decisions.
- Take projected runs-scored per team (Fangraphs).
- Look at the full, game-by-game schedule.
- Adjust opponent average runs-per-game by the Park Factor where the game is played.
- Categorize every single matchup to bottom 20% (target), top 20% (avoid), and the middle 60% (no action).
This whole analysis is caveated by “projections aren’t perfect”. However on the margins, we can get a sense for witch teams are likely to be avoids (top 20%) and which are likely to be streamable situations (bottom 20%).
If you didn’t already skip to the chart, it’s now time (click to embiggen):
You want to be further to the right (more starts to target against the worst 20% of the league), and further towards the top (fewer starts against the toughest 20%).
First of all: this is not a list of targets/fades to outperform their season-long projections. Any projection system worth it’s salt already includes some element of opponent quality, and we don’t want to double-count opponent strength.
So how should you use this info?
For your SP1/SP2, you won’t be swapping them in/out of the lineup based on matchup; if you start them 100% of the time, you’ll get their full-season projections. You should ignore this for top SP.
On the flipside, your SP 6/7/8/etc. are likely to be streaming spots, daily if available, or weekly targeting great matchups/2 starts. You SHOULD NOT be holding those guys full-season. Ignore full-season SoS for players you don’t plan to hold all season. You’ll have much better information in-season on specific matchups to target.
If you’re doing the math, we’re left with SP 3/4/5 (adjust to suit your league) – those SP you’re hoping to hold all year, but need to start/sit based on matchups. You already know you’ll be swapping these guys into your lineup when facing a poor opponent, and benching when facing a tough one. This chart tells you which teams are projected to face more/less of each category.
Let’s get to a few more specific teams and names. First, the upper-right quadrant: mid-rotation arms to target:
- The Mets and Dodgers leap of the page. By this methodology, more than half their games are spots to target. What’s up? Park Factors. Citi Field and Dodger Stadium depress runs-scored significantly. A league average offense (say, the Cubs) at 4.83 R/G would be expected to only score 4.06 in Citi Field (quality of pitcher notwithstanding). That turns home games against average teams into target opponents. Julio Urias, David Price, and Marcus Stroman will have VERY startable schedules most of the year.
- The Padres benefit from the same in-division and inter-league matchups as the Dodgers, just with a slightly more hitter-friendly home park. Still, Dinelson Lamet, Joe Musgrove and Chris Paddack should have plenty of spots you want them in your lineup.
- Unsurprisingly, the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals have similar schedules, with 25-35% of their matchups against the bottom-20% of the league. They also almost NEVER face a true “must-sit” opponent, due to the middling offenses and not-extreme parks in the division. Kyle Hendricks isn’t likely to ever come out of your lineup. Keep an eye on Zach Davies, Kwang-Hyun Kim, and Josh Lindblom. If they show potential early, the schedule is there for a strong season.
- The Giants and Marlins should have plenty of startable spots with few must-sits; more reasons to like Kevin Gausman and all the Marlins young arms (Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara, and Elieser Hernandez).
Who are the teams & SP likely lining up for a much tougher schedule this year?
- First of all: Colorado isn’t even on the chart. With their home park, a full 55% of their games qualify as “top 20% in the league” matchups. I had to remove them just to make the rest of the visual more readable. Continue ignoring Rockies SP. Yes, that includes German Marquez – you’ll likely want to bench him more than half the time.
- Boston and Baltimore have really tough schedules. More than a third of their games are definite sits, and they have very few targetable opponent situations. Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez and John Means have talent but more often than not, you’ll want to bench them.
- Cleveland is also facing a tough road. Bump down Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale, as less usable than you may think.
- The Yankees should rack up a lot of wins, but don’t expect a lot of great situations from Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, or Jordan Montgomery.
- Other mid-rotation arms facing a tough road include the Angels’ Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, and Shohei Ohtani.
- Outside of Hyun-Jin Ryu (who you should be starting full time), the Blue Jays, Rangers and Royals don’t have any SP good enough you should plan on holding all year. Just play the matchups with their late fliers in-season.
To summarize: outside of the set-it-and-forget-it top-tier pitchers, you want to draft SPs on teams who are projected to face soft schedules. Don’t just focus on talent; you need to maximize the usable spots these pitchers will be facing.