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September Schedules Part 1: AL East

Mark has the day off today, and I can’t do what he does…so I’ll just get a head start on what I do. September is approaching faster than it looks. Seriously, I was walking on brown leaves all the way to the coffee shop where I’m writing this, and that means it’s time to start planning for the Most Important Month of the Year.*

*Tied with all the others in roto-style fantasy leagues and in real baseball, technically.

Your roto league has split into the haves and the have-nots and you’ve just got to keep it together for one more month if you’re on top (like I am), or make one last push for semi-respectability (also like me).  Of course, you might be playing in a head-to-head league, in which case we’re rolling into the playoffs and forgetting all that went on before for a last-month roll of the dice 

It’s time to load those dice in your favor.

The league I’ve played in longest is a highly non-standard head-to-head, multiple-opponents, points-counting, weekly-changes, one-free-agent-per-week type of league. It’s intense and it involves a lot of planning ahead. For years, it seemed like my uncle was killing us all with good luck in September, and then we figured out his trick: he was loading up on pitchers with extra two-start weeks in September by trading for them and picking them up off the waiver wire weeks in advance. Well played, Uncle Steve.

Of course, now that everyone has the Internet (seriously, the league is that old), that trick is a little harder to pull. But you know what? It’s still worth doing and now is the time to get started. Since most of us aren’t in weekly-change points leagues, two-start pitchers aren’t quite our targets. Who can we target instead for 5x5 purposes (or points purposes, those will work too)? Players with favorable schedules.

Over the next few articles on RotoAuthority Unscripted, we’ll be, well, working with a script. Team-by-team, we’ll see who has favorable schedules throughout September, for hitters and for pitchers, looking into opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as home and away park factors. Over the course of the whole season these issues don’t matter all that much, and when they do matter, they’re factored into draft slot or auction value. But over the course of a single month, things can be very skewed. This is your shot to skew them in your favor. 

To keep my evaluations more uniform and less subjective, I’ll be using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors. If I make a suggestion based on something else—like the fact that a team has changed their players significantly during the season, a la the Oakland pitching staff--I’ll let you know where I’m coming from. 

So that’s more than enough introduction for one article…which is why I’ll be trying to post this in relatively bite-sized chunks. But here’s the first installment anyway. And don’t forget: these figures are all for the month of September—you’re on your own for the last two weeks of August.

Let’s get rolling with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles
Home: 14 (0.863 park factor—30th—very pitching favorable) | Road: 13
Opponents: Yankees (8), Blue Jays (6), Red Sox (6), Reds (3), Rays (3), Twins (1) 

First of all, I wouldn’t get too excited over the fact that Camden Yards has been the most pitcher-friendly in baseball this year, as it played as a hitters’ haven in ’13, ’12, an ’10, and neutral in ’11. They also get four games at Yankee Stadium, which has played as the second-best pitchers’ park this year—but again, I suspect that to be a bit of an outlier. With other away games in Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston, the park factors combine to be pretty neutral.

The O’s have six games against the heavy-hitting (third in baseball) Blue Jays and the rest are from mid-pack teams when it comes to hitting. If you believe the park factors for Baltimore and New York are sustainable, then you might want to target Orioles pitchers.

At bat, the O’s play three of the top pitching clubs in baseball: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays...but all three of those teams have lost significant pitchers to trades and injuries. Unfortunately, their hitters don’t get to exploit any true bottom feeders either.

Final Grade: Neutral for hitters and pitchers

Boston Red Sox
Home: 12 (1.034 park factor—10th—hitting favorable) | Road: 14
Opponents: Yankees (6), Orioles (6), Rays (4), Royals (4), Blue Jays (3), Pirates (3)

A lot depends on if you really believe that the Orioles and Yankees parks really deserve their slots as the best pitchers’ parks in baseball. If you do, that will partially even things out…but if you don’t, this could be a pretty hitter-friendly schedule as far as the parks go. I’d play it safe and not get too excited about the Sox’s waiver wire pitchers—especially since nearly half of Boston’s games (12) come against top-six offences (Baltimore, Toronto, and Pittsburgh). Yeah, I’d avoid Boston pitchers next month.

Hitters should have a medium-favorable schedule on the parks (again, unless you really buy the Yanks and O’s as the two hardest parks to hit in—which would make it closer to neutral). Sox hitters will face plenty of bottom-half opponents, but only the Pirates have truly weak pitching. 

Final Grade: Boston hitters should have a good month, but stay away from their pitchers.

New York Yankees
Home: 17 (0.877—29th—very pitching favorable) | Road: 10
Opponents: Orioles (8), Red Sox (6), Rays (6), Blue Jays (4), Royals (3)

With all those Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards games—a huge majority—the entire park factor grade comes down to what you think of those teams’ yearly park factors. It’s worth keeping in mind that New York has played neutral once in the last four years and as a hitters’ park in the other three. So no, I do not think those factors are sustainable. But that's how the parks have played so far and you can't just write it off either. I wouldn’t bet heavily either way on Yankees players based on park factors. 

Their opponents, however, are a different story. The Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays can all hit; while the Red Sox and Royals aren’t intimidating, that’s not enough for me to recommend Yankee pitchers.

The hitters will get to face weaker Baltimore and Toronto pitchers—as well as the depleted Boston and Rays staffs, leaving the Royals as the top pitching opponents. (Though the Rays might still be better even without David Price). I’d still go ahead and snag Yankee hitters off the waiver wire or put them in your lineup.

Final Grade: Yankee hitters are neutral to favorable, but their pitchers look risky.

Tampa Bay Rays
Home: 13 (1.049—7th—hitting favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Yankees (6), Blue Jays (6), Red Sox (4), Indians (3), Orioles (3), White Sox (3)

Most of Tampa Bay’s games are in hitters’ parks this year, at home and in Toronto, Boston, and Chicago. For pitchers, that’s exacerbated by the fact that most of their opponents are decent or better at the plate: only the Red Sox are below average. Of course, Tampa Bay has pretty good pitchers, but this will cut into their numbers.

Hitters get better news though: the Orioles, White Sox, and Blue Jays are bottom-third pitching staffs, while the Yankees and Red Sox are (as mentioned above) pretty significantly depleted. I’d feel comfortable picking up Rays hitters that are on the fringe.

Final Grade: Rays pitchers are good enough not to avoid, but their schedule won’t do them any favors. Rays hitters make good waiver wire targets and should be picked up.

Toronto Blue Jays
Home: 13 (1.092—5th—very hitting favorable) | Road: 13
Opponents: Orioles (6), Rays (6), Yankees (4), Mariners (4), Red Sox (3), Cubs (3)

Toronto’s home games aren’t quite balanced out by playing in pitchers’ parks on the road, but Seattle, Chicago, and whatever is happening in Baltimore and New York could take some of the shine off Blue Jay hitters and save their pitchers from a couple beatings. Actually, the Orioles are the only top-third offense that Toronto hurlers have to face, giving their pitchers a pretty neutral schedule altogether. 

The Blue Jays hitters should be a little better off: their opponents look mostly mid-pack in pitching quality, but remember the pitchers dealt away by (or injured on) the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs. These aren’t the pitching staffs who put up those numbers. And the Orioles are still pretty marginal. Sit your hitters for those four games in Seattle, though. 

Final Grade: Toronto looks pretty neutral on both sides of the ball: maybe a little unfavorable for their pitchers, but a little helpful for their hitters.




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