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MLB Barometer: Schedules Down The Stretch

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.


MLB Barometer

(Vlad Sedler is off this week getting all hitched and stuff).

Since the fallout from the trade deadline has been analyzed to death in terms of its impact on individual players, I wanted to take a slightly different tack and focus on its impact across the schedule. When all the wheeling and dealing was done, there were four clubs who appeared capable of running out juggernaut rotations with no real weak spots: the A's, Tigers, Cardinals (I can't quit you, Shelby Miller!) and Nationals. With 50-odd games left on the schedule, are there any clubs who have to face those rotations an inordinate number of times?

Boy howdy, are there.

Six clubs have four series against those rotations: the Braves (three against the Nationals, plus one against the A's), Mets (also three Nats and an A's), Phillies (two Nats, an A's and a Cards) and Mariners (two A's, one Nats and one Tigers) each play 12 games, while the Pirates (two Cards, one Tigers and one Nats) play 13 and the poor, poor Twins have 14 games against them (three Tigers and an A's). Five other teams also play double-digits games against those rotations over three series: the White Sox (two Tigers and an A's), Reds (all against the Cards), Royals (two Tigers and an A's), Angels (all against the A's) and Marlins (two Nats and a Cards).

On the flip side, none of those four rotations have to face each other, while the fifth team to duck out of facing any of them is the Red Sox, who frankly could use some good news this season. Seven other clubs only have one series against any of them: the Orioles (three games against the Cards), Rockies (three games in St. Louis), Dodgers (three games against the Nats), Yankees (three against the Tigers), Padres (four games against the Cards), Rays (three games against the Tigers) and Blue Jays (three games against the Tigers).

Scheduling generally doesn't mean a whole lot in standard roto leagues, given the length of the season and the way things tend to even out, but with the calendar growing shorter any edge can be a valuable one in a tight race. Hitters who are spending 20 to 25 percent of their remaining games facing ace after ace after near ace are going to have a much tougher go of it than the ones who aren't. Especially if you still have a trading window in your league, you may want to adjust your roster accordingly.

RISERS

Chris Coghlan, OF, Cubs: Coghlan is one of those players everyone loves to hate. After a fluky Rookie of the Year campaign for the Marlins in 2009 fueled by a truly monstrous second half .406 BABIP, his production plummeted and he went from being an exciting part of the Marlins' future to a total bum who washed up on the Cubs' roster. He doesn't have a lot of power or speed, so when he's not hitting it where they ain't, Coghlan doesn't have much fantasy value at all. Funny thing about that fluky second half of 2009 performance though... he's doing it again in 2014. After posting sub-.300 BABIPs in limited playing time through May and June, Coghlan exploded in July with a .376/.449/.600 line and .414 BABIP, and he's been even hotter through the first few days in August. Sure, it's unsustainable over the long haul, but you don't care about the long haul right now, you care about the next six weeks. And just as he did five years ago, Coghlan may just stay hot down the stretch. It's certainly won't cost you much to find out if history will repeat itself.

Josh Harrison, INF/OF, Pit: The only thing better than a super-utility player is a super-utility player who can hit, and that's what Harrison is doing right now. Over his last 90 at-bats, he's slashing .344/.381/.644 with five home runs and five steals, and he's already played enough games at second base, third base and the outfield to carry those qualifications forward to 2015 in most formats. Harrison is getting regular playing time at the top of the batting order, and with the Pirates in the thick of the NL wild card hunt they will ride him as long as they can. If you have fond, nostalgic memories of Tony Phillips, Harrison is rapidly becoming the 21st century version.

James Paxton, SP, Sea: Paxton finally made it back on the hill for the M's after losing three months to a strained back muscle, and while he wasn't overly sharp in his return Seattle will be counting on him to shore up the non-King Felix portion of their rotation as they try to stay in the AL wild card fight. Left-handers who can average just shy of 95 mph with their fastballs have lots of upside, especially when they have forgiving home ballparks, and his first six starts in the majors prior to getting hurt weren't too shabby (1.75 ERA, 0.861 WHIP, 34:9 K:BB ratio in 36 innings). A strong finish to 2014 could affect a lot of fantasy pennant races.

Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees: There's still a chance at least one club in the blockbuster Yankees/Mariners deal from a couple years ago will have something to show for it. Pineda looked strong in April before getting suspended for doctoring the baseball, and then promptly strained a back muscle during his suspension and has been on the DL ever since. He tossed 3.1 shutout innings at Triple-A in his first rehab start last week though, and the Yankees may throw him right back into the major league fire rather than stretching him out any further in the minors. Like with the Mariners and Paxton, a rotation boost from Pineda would do wonders for the Yankees' postseason hopes, and he has the talent to make a late impact for you.

FALLERS

Nelson Cruz, OF, Bal: Remember when Cruz was the toast of Baltimore, the key offseason signing that solidified the middle of their order? Good times. Cruz has been absolutely miserable over the last month, hitting a woeful .108/.202/.169 in 83 at-bats with just one home run. Suddenly, instead of one sinkhole in the offense in Chris Davis, the O's have two. The club is still pacing the AL East, but if their big bashers don't find their strokes soon, that lead will vanish in a hurry with the Jays and Yankees hot on their tail. Cruz isn't hurt, and his numbers on the season now look like last year's (or 2011's), so perhaps this was just an inevitable correction to his hot start. For the Orioles' sake though, they better un-correct in a hurry.

Salvador Perez, C, KC: Dear Ned Yost - for pity's sake, give this kid a break already. With the Royals tantalizingly close to a wild card spot and their first postseason games since 1985's World Series win, Yost has ridden his star catcher into the ground, and as a result Perez is hitting just .239/.245/.348 over the last month. The Royals picked up Eric Kratz at the end of July from the Blue Jays to provide Perez with some relief, and since then Yost has given Kratz exactly one start. Hashtag smack my head. If Yost doesn't go easier on Perez down the stretch, a further deepening of the slump (or, worse, an injury) seems almost inevitable.

Josh Beckett, SP, Dodgers: Things haven't gone well for Beckett since he came off the DL. Three starts, 12 innings, 21 hits and seven walks, and 11 earned runs are a good way to squander all the goodwill your strong beginning to the season generated. Manager Don Mattingly seems reluctant to remove him from the rotation, but Beckett doesn't look like his hip is fully recovered and if he gets rocked again, the Dodgers may have no choice but to put him back on the shelf and let him heal up a little more. He could still be a factor for the Dodgers, and for you, down the stretch but in the short-term you probably don't want Beckett on your active roster.

Jon Niese, SP, Mets: Like Beckett, Niese recently came off the DL and has struggled (5.76 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 16:6 K:BB ratio in 25 innings over four starts). Unlike Beckett, Niese's injury was to his shoulder, and his already just-adequate velocity has dipped into less than adequate territory. The shoulder issues can be traced back to last season, and in 2013 the Mets had to give him a two month layoff in order to build up the strength necessary to be effective. Given that there are less than two months left in the current campaign, it's entirely possible another DL stint would end his season for good. There's little reason for optimism here. The Mets are seven games and five teams back in the wild card chase, and would probably be better served using Niese's rotation spot to audition someone else.