2022 spring training is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Beyond being shorter than usual, this year’s March calendar has also been full of massive trades and free-agent signings. At Yahoo, we have been doing our best to keep managers aware of the major transactions, and those details can be found HERE.
With so many major stories this month, the usual spring training tidbits are often being overlooked. After all, most managers will fail to keep track of injuries and position battles when the likes of Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa are changing teams.
If you’ve felt overwhelmed by the news cycle over the past few weeks, this article should get you up to speed in a hurry.
tenth inning rule
One of the most controversial rule changes in recent seasons has been the addition of a base runner at second base during extra innings. Most reporters initially believed that baseball would return to a traditional extra-innings format this year, but it seems that the recent changes are here to stay and plenty of games will be decided by the extra offense that is produced in the 10th inning. The fantasy ramifications of this rule are significant, as teams often use high-leverage relievers in the 10th inning, knowing that it is foolish to save them for later frames that are unlikely to happen.
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Twenty-nine pitchers won seven games while making fewer than five starts in 2021, and the win totals of talented relievers should continue to be high this year. For this reason, I highly recommend that Yahoo managers (especially those in leagues with daily transactions and/or innings caps) emphasize finding skilled setup men early in the campaign.
Checking pitchers for illegal substances
As though fantasy managers didn’t have enough on their plates, Major League Baseball added one more wrinkle to the 2022 season by announcing that umpires would be more diligent in checking pitchers for illegal pitching-aid substances, based on the premise that some hurlers returned to their cheating ways at some point last summer. I can’t give you a list of pitchers who were cheating down the stretch last year, but there are some such as Aroldis Chapman who experienced a performance dip immediately after the crackdown occurred and then returned to normal a few weeks later.
My best advice for managers is to keep close tabs on spin rate data during April and be ready to quickly move away from hurlers who experience a sharp drop in both spin rate and overall success.
Leads on the way
Possibly the most positive change to the collective bargaining agreement is that there are some incentives for teams to promote their top prospects early in the season. It remains to be seen if clubs will actually make these moves, but we have heard optimistic timetables coming from camps of the Royals, Tigers, Reds and Mariners.
In previous seasons, I was skeptical about the timetables for notable prospects, believing that anything more than a May debut felt optimistic. But now I expect to see Bobby Witt Jr., Hunter Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene on Opening Day, with Oneil Cruz and Adley Rutschman debuting in May. In 10 or 12-team leagues, I would draft Witt, both Greenes and Torkelson.
Many teams entered March with unsettled bullpens, and most of them have remained that way. Here is a quick rundown of teams that have given recent updates on their plans.
-The Nationals would like to see Tanner Rainey run with the closer’s role. The right-hander has the necessary swing-and-miss abilities but lacks the control skills to be more than a final-round dart throw in mixed leagues.
-The Cardinals continue to look at other closer options, despite having a great one right under their nose in the form of Giovanni Gallegos. Although the club would like to use Gallegos in a versatile role, the guess here is that they still give the right-hander plenty of save chances.
-The Mariners are fully invested in a closer committee that currently consists of Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Ken Giles and Drew Steckenrider. I expect this team to stay without a full-time stopper for several months.
-The Giants are expected to open the season with Jake McGee (31 saves in 2021) as their bullpen anchor.
-The Pirates will share the closer role between David Bednar and Chris Stratton. Both pitchers are now unappealing options as part-time stoppers on a squad that will win just a couple of games per week.
-The Rangers remain unsettled in the ninth inning, although many fantasy managers are treating Joe Barlow as their closer. In my opinion, Barlow is being drafted too early in most leagues.
-The Cubs have narrowed the field to a three-way race between Mychal Givens, David Robertson and Rowan Wick. I would handicap them in the order listed above.
As expected, several key players are already dealing with injuries. And also as expected, most of those players are pitchers. Here is a quick rundown of key players who have been added to the injury report in recent weeks.
–Fernando Tatis Jr. (wrist) will miss roughly half the season and can be considered in the range of pick 75-100.
–Chris Dirty (rib cage) has no timetable to return and does not make sense within the top-150 picks.
–Zack Wheeler (shoulder) should return in mid-April and can be drafted in Rd. 4.
–Jack Flaherty (shoulder) will miss a significant amount of time and is a late-round option in mixed leagues.
–Dylan Floro (arm soreness) will open the season on the IL, giving teammates such as Anthony Bender a chance for early season saves. The possibility exists that Bender could run with the role.
–Alex Reyes (shoulder) is already on the 60-day IL and therefore out of the Cards’ ninth-inning picture.
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–Adley Rutschman (triceps) is no longer an option for Opening Day and should spend April getting up to speed in Triple-A.
–Luis Urias (quad) will open the season on the IL before returning in mid-April. He still warrants a late pick in all leagues.
–Shane Baz (elbow) will resume throwing in mid-April, making a mid-May return seem plausible. He can fall to waivers in shallow formats.
–Andrew Vaughn (hip) will open the season on the IL and return in mid-to-late April. He should open the season on waivers.
–Lucas Sims (elbow, back) won’t be ready for Opening Day, putting him behind the other closer candidates in Cincinnati. I’m no longer interested in drafting him.
–Evan Longoria (finger) is recovering from surgery, will miss all of April, and is not a mixed-league draft option.
–Michael Conforto (shoulder) remains unsigned and is recovering from an offseason shoulder injury. He is undraftable in most mixed formats.