Lance McCullers Jr.
McCullers has never pitched in more than 130 innings in a season, but it's hard not to get excited about his career 3.24 FIP and 17.3% K-BB%. Over the past couple of seasons, McCullers introduced a sinker into his pitch mix at the expense of his four-seam fastball, helping the pitcher induce weaker contact and generate whiffs at a higher rate. Overall, McCullers' 32.4% chase rate and 13.5% swinging-strike rate from 2018 should keep his strikeout rate north of 25% while his .361 xwOBA on contact should keep his BABIP and HR/FB ratio around the league average marks. McCullers is fully healthy after missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and should post an ERA below 3.50 with a strikeout rate above 25% in 2020.
A hamstring strain held Springer to 122 games last season, but the outfielder had the best season of his major league career with a .292/.383/.591 slash line. Springer's plate approach was excellent last year with a 22.8% o-swing rate and a 72.1% z-swing rate, and his contact quality improved as well. Springer's barrel rate jumped to an impressive 14.3% with his hard-hit rate rising to 44.8%, pushing his xwOBA on contact up to an elite .463. It's unlikely that Springer's HR/FB ratio will stay over 20% (21.1% last season) given his 15.8% career average, and his improvements may not all stick in 2020, but Springer is likely to post an OPS well-above .850 again this year based on last season's performance.
Osuna led the American League in saves last season with 38 and has a very strong chance at doing so again in 2020. Osuna enjoyed a number of encouraging trends in 2019: his average fastball velocity sat just under 97 mph for a career-high, and he increased his slider and changeup usage at the expense of his cutter. Both Osuna's changeup and slider offer an improved swinging-strike rate and xwOBA compared to his cutter, and the result of the adjustment was a career-best 16.9% swinging-strike rate and a .334 xwOBA on contact that ranked among the top five percent of the league. Osuna has been flat-out dominant since reaching the major leagues in 2015 and should once again be a top tier fantasy closer in 2020 after making his pitch mix adjustment last year.
After struggling to find a foothold in the major leagues over the past few years, Daniel Vogelbach broke out last year, making the All-Star game with a .881 first-half OPS. An extremely patient plate approach (Vogelbach's 34.1% swing rate was the lowest among qualified) powered Vogelbach to a near league-leading 16.5% walk rate last season. Vogelbach pairs his patient plate approach with solid contact skills (74.6% contact rate) and above-average power (88.9 mph average exit velocity, 10.8% barrel rate, 37.7% hard-hit rate), resulting in a solid .346 xwOBA on contact. A poor second half of the season that saw Vogelbach post a .626 OPS might scare some fantasy owners, but his poor performance was largely driven by an uncharacteristically high chase rate, something that is unlikely to be as much of an issue in 2020 given Vogelbach's career so far. Vogelbach has his problems -- he has a heavy platoon split that favors righties, and his low 52.2% z-swing rate leaves something to be desired -- but he should hit at least 20 home runs with an OPS above .750 in 2020, making him a bargain at his 423 ADP.
In a rotation filled with performance question marks, Dunn may own the highest upside. Armed with a solid fastball that sits in the mid-90's mph and a strong slider, Dunn struck out more than a batter per inning over his minor league career and enters the season with a shot to crack the Mariners' Opening Day rotation. Dunn struggles with command and will have to develop his changeup to reach his ceiling, but if he can work through those issues this season then he could be an important part of a fantasy rotation late in the year. Dunn is unlikely to make an immediate fantasy impact, but fantasy owners should monitor his changeup and command as the season progresses and have Dunn on their radar coming into the season.
Nola comes into 2020 set to split time at catcher with Tom Murphy but should be a valuable DFS option for those wanting a cheap catcher. Nola didn't hit much in the minor leagues with a career .679 OPS, but 30-year-old has flashed some power and posted a .796 in 79 major league games last year. Nola owns an advanced plate approach that features a 24.8% o-swing rate. Combined with a solid 78.9% contact rate, Nola is likely to own slightly better than average strikeout and walk rates that prop up his floor. Nola hit the ball decently hard last year with an 87.1 mph average exit velocity and a 35.6% hard-hit rate. Nola isn't going to be an elite fantasy catcher, but with a strikeout rate below 25%, a walk rate around 9%, and an OPS above .700 he should be a usable DFS catcher.
Around the League
James Paxton (NYY) - After undergoing surgery to remove a cyst on his back, Paxton could resume throwing as soon as Wednesday. If Paxton's health continues to progress well, then a return in early May is the most likely possibility, though fantasy owners should plan for Paxton to be sidelined into May to be safe. Last season, Paxton posted a 3.82 ERA with a 29.4% strikeout rate. Paxton has increased his cutter usage in each of the past two seasons. The pitch is his best by swinging-strike rate at 21.64% last season and helped fuel him to a second consecutive season with a strikeout rate above 29%. Fantasy owners should expect an ERA below 4.00 with a strikeout rate that approaches 30% again in 2020, making Paxton a strong middle-rotation fantasy option.
Matt Adams (NYM) - Adams is back in the Mets' lineup on Monday after missing most of the past two weeks while dealing with heart issues. Adams is fighting for a spot on the Mets' roster this year but could be a usable DFS option if he makes the team. Though he struggled to make contact last season with a 68.8% contact rate, Adams hit the ball well with an impressive .464 xwOBA on contact. If he can get his contact rate back up over 70% (75.6% career average) and continue to make strong contact, then Adams is likely to post an OPS near .800. If he does make the roster, Adams will likely sit against southpaws and receive inconsistent playing time. As a result, Adams isn't much of an option in full-season leagues but should be on the radar of DFS players.
Hector Velazquez (BAL) - Velazquez was claimed off of waivers by the Orioles. The move from the Red Sox to the Orioles should allow Velazquez to make some starts this season in one of the weakest rotations in baseball, making him worth keeping an eye on for DFS players and fantasy owners in deeper leagues. It's a small sample size, but Velazquez made strides in generating whiffs last season with a career-high 9.8% swinging-strike rate, and he did so largely by decreasing his sinker usage (4.92% swinging-strike rate). Encouragingly, Velazquez also saw his average fastball velocity sit at a career-high 92.6 mph. Velazquez should post a strikeout rate between 19% and 25% with an ERA below or around 4.50 this year, making him a potentially usable fantasy option in deep leagues depending on his playing time.
Deivy Grullon (PHI) - Grullon was optioned to Triple-A on Monday after slashing .200/.238/.400 in ten spring training games. Despite his lackluster spring, Grullon has hit well recently with an .840 OPS over the past two seasons in AA and AAA. A solid hit-tool and some intriguing power make Grullon worth watching in the minor leagues this season as he could be a fantasy-relevant catcher in the near future. Injuries are unlikely to open a spot in the major leagues up for Grullon this year as Phillies starting catcher J.T. Realmuto has played in at least 135 games in three of the past four seasons, but Grullon is a catcher to keep an eye on in dynasty leagues and could make a fantasy impact at some point this season.
Luke Weaver (ARI) - The Diamondbacks are reportedly keeping an eye on Weaver's innings this year and may put an innings limit on the starter. Weaver posted an impressive 2.94 ERA last season but has never pitched in more than 140 innings in a season and lasted only 64 innings last year while dealing with an elbow injury. Weaver increased his cutter usage last season in a move that helped increase his swinging-strike rate and decrease his wOBA, so his pitch mix bears watching this year. When healthy, Weaver is likely to post an ERA below 4.00 with a strikeout rate of around 23% based on his 10.4% swinging-strike rate and .391 xwOBA on contact, so fantasy owners should view him as a usable but not excellent starting pitcher, especially if he comes into the year with an innings restriction.
Justin Verlander (HOU) - Verlander was shut down with a lat strain on Monday and is extremely unlikely to be ready for Opening Day as a result. The Astros didn't provide a clear timeline for Verlander's return, but pitchers missed anywhere from 10 to 120 games with a similar injury last season, so Verlander should be expected to miss a minimum of a few weeks. Verlander is an unquestionable ace when healthy after posting a sub-3.00 ERA with SO/BB ratios above 7.00 in each of the past two seasons, but his health will be worth monitoring as the season approaches. Fantasy owners who have yet to draft should plan on Verlander missing one to two months and be an elite pitcher again when healthy.
Shogo Akiyama (CIN) - Reds manager David Bell announced on Monday that Akiyama will bat leadoff when he plays this season. Akiyama will compete for playing time in a crowded Cincinnati outfield, but appears likely to start against right-handed pitchers this year. Batting leadoff should allow Akiyama to accumulate stolen bases after he stole 112 over nine seasons in Japan. Akiyama is also likely to score at a relatively high rate from the leadoff spot as he's likely to be followed by Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, and Nick Castellanos. Akiyama is best suited for DFS players because of his potential for irregular playing time, but the outfielder should be a decent full-season option as well.
Mike Clevinger (CLE) - Clevinger is slated to throw a bullpen session on Monday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery three weeks ago. If Clevinger doesn't suffer any setbacks, then he could be ready before May this season. Clevinger has been an ace over the past three seasons but was particularly impressive last year with a 2.71 ERA and a 26.5% SO-BB%. Encouragingly, Clevinger's average fastball velocity was up to a career-high 95.64 mph last season. Clevinger also increased his slider usage last season. Clevinger's slider was his best pitch by both swinging-strike rate and xwOBA, so the adjustment proved beneficial last year. When healthy, Clevinger should post an ERA around or below 3.00 with an elite strikeout rate around 30%, and fantasy owners should monitor his knee over the next couple of weeks.
Aaron Nola (PHI) - Nola was scratched from his scheduled start on Monday due to the flu. Nola had a relatively disappointing season last year with a 3.87 ERA and a 4.03 FIP, and he's no longer an ace after struggling to induce soft contact in 2019. In 2018, Nola owned an impressive .323 xwOBA on contact that ranked near the top of the league thanks to his 85.9 mph average exit velocity and 4.6% barrel rate. Command was the primary issue for Nola last year, as his walk rate shot up to 9.4% (7% in 2018) and his zone rate fell from 44.7% to 39.9%. If Nola can regain his command in 2020 then he should be a safe bet to post an ERA around 3.50 with a strikeout rate above 25%, so his control is worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of his spring starts.
Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) - Cespedes hasn't played in a major league game since 2018, but the 34-year-old has begun running to first base at full speed. It's unlikely that Cespedes will be ready for Opening Day, but he could be a solid DFS option this season. Cespedes only played in 38 games in 2018, but his power was still there with a 90.8 mph average exit velocity, a 46.2% hard-hit rate, and a 10.8% barrel rate. Cespedes' strong contact pushed him to a solid .821 OPS in 2018 and made it his fourth consecutive year with an .800-plus OPS. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect Cespedes to return to his pre-2017 form, but his progress is encouraging so far and he should be a usable fantasy option if healthy this year.
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