Lineup Lowdown: American League

Lineup Lowdown: American League

This article is part of our Lineup Lowdown series.

The goal with Lineup Lowdown is simple: we're looking for trends which could help identify players that might be undervalued or overvalued. Who is playing more/less? Who is moving up/down? We'll be doing a deep dive into one league each week as we navigate the lineup landscape.

Baltimore Orioles

-- After a fantastic April, Jorge Mateo has crashed and burned in May, going just 6-for-56 with a 30 percent strikeout rate. As a result, he's been on the bench in three of the last eight games and, after seeing some starts up in the fifth and sixth spots in the Orioles' batting order, he's been only in the lower third of the lineup the last couple weeks. Mateo has dealt with some leg soreness which could have contributed to his struggles, but with Baltimore playing well and having other options at shortstop, it's possible Mateo's leash is getting shorter.

-- One of those other shortstop options, Joey Ortiz, has started four of the last five games and five of eight tilts since his recall. Three of those starts have come at shortstop, with one apiece at second and third base mixed in. He's picked up four hits in his last nine trips to the dish. Ortiz might not have the offensive upside of some of the O's other top infield prospects, but he's a strong defender.

Boston Red Sox

-- Connor Wong started just two of the first eight games of the season when the Red Sox were facing

The goal with Lineup Lowdown is simple: we're looking for trends which could help identify players that might be undervalued or overvalued. Who is playing more/less? Who is moving up/down? We'll be doing a deep dive into one league each week as we navigate the lineup landscape.

Baltimore Orioles

-- After a fantastic April, Jorge Mateo has crashed and burned in May, going just 6-for-56 with a 30 percent strikeout rate. As a result, he's been on the bench in three of the last eight games and, after seeing some starts up in the fifth and sixth spots in the Orioles' batting order, he's been only in the lower third of the lineup the last couple weeks. Mateo has dealt with some leg soreness which could have contributed to his struggles, but with Baltimore playing well and having other options at shortstop, it's possible Mateo's leash is getting shorter.

-- One of those other shortstop options, Joey Ortiz, has started four of the last five games and five of eight tilts since his recall. Three of those starts have come at shortstop, with one apiece at second and third base mixed in. He's picked up four hits in his last nine trips to the dish. Ortiz might not have the offensive upside of some of the O's other top infield prospects, but he's a strong defender.

Boston Red Sox

-- Connor Wong started just two of the first eight games of the season when the Red Sox were facing a right-hander. It's pretty much been an even split versus righties since then, though, and he's been behind the plate for all but two games against lefties. All told, Wong has made 30 starts at catcher to Reese McGuire's 18. His quality of contact has been good, but Wong's propensity for swinging and missing has left him as a borderline second catcher in fantasy leagues.

-- Pablo Reyes made six straight starts and has started seven of nine contests since being acquired from the Athletics earlier this month. Part of that was due to Enrique Hernandez missing a little time with a hamstring injury, but Reyes has made half of his starts at second base. The switch-hitter's productive start at the plate is sure to taper off, but he could play enough to be useful in single-league formats, particularly with his multi-position eligibility.

New York Yankees

-- After assuming leadoff duties for the Yankees in mid-April, Anthony Volpe has since made each of his last nine starts either in the sixth or seventh spots. The rookie's .212/.298/.388 batting line has been lackluster, but seven home runs and 13 stolen bases has meant he's been plenty useful for fantasy purposes. Worth noting, too, is that Volpe's expected stats say he's been a bit unlucky and he's also often been a slow starter at a new level in the minors before eventually mastering it.

-- It hasn't been former leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu ascending back to the top of the order with Volpe moving down, but rather Gleyber Torres has been there for seven of his last nine starts, with Jake Bauers also mixed in. Torres traditionally hasn't been a great on-base guy, but he's sporting a healthy 11.9 percent walk rate this year to go along with just a 12.4 percent strikeout rate. LeMahieu, meanwhile, has mostly been batting cleanup of late. The Yanks will be forced to adjust again soon when Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) returns, likely around June 1.

Tampa Bay Rays

-- It seems virtually impossible, but the Rays have faced only two left-handed starters since April 19. It's meant a guy like Luke Raley playing more than he probably would have in most circumstances, although Raley has made his presence felt with eight home runs. One guy who has probably played a little less because of the weird schedule has been Isaac Paredes. He's "only" started 13 of the last 19 games even as Yandy Diaz missed four games during that span with an injury.

-- I've been getting my wish with Josh Lowe playing more this month, but, frankly, he should be playing even more, as there's really no reason he should have been on the bench on three occasions in May against righties (in addition to two games versus lefties). Lowe, by the way, still hasn't started a game versus a left-hander but is 4-for-14 with one home run against them in 2023. Perhaps he should be in there every day? OK, maybe that's a tad greedy.

Toronto Blue Jays

-- After a woeful April, Brandon Belt entered play Monday batting .356/.482/.556 with one home run and six doubles so far in May (and he then had a pinch-hit RBI single in Monday's contest). In large part due to him finally heating up, Belt has started 13 of the last 15 games for Toronto and has even hit cleanup for each of his last two starts.

-- Another reason Belt has been playing more lately is he's had less competition for at-bats in the designated hitter spot. That's because it's been hard for manager John Schneider to justify using Alejandro Kirk and his .234/.353/.324 line at DH. Just one of Kirk's last eight starts have come at DH, and overall he's started only 11 of 20 May tilts. Meanwhile, Danny Jansen has started 14 games during that stretch. I'm fine with cutting Kirk loose in one-catcher leagues, especially since his batted-ball data is way down. I'm holding tight in two-catcher formats.

Chicago White Sox

-- Yoan Moncada is back, but Jake Burger has still made eight straight starts. He's gone 11-for-29 with three homers and nine RBI over that span and is slugging a robust .667 on the year, popping 10 longballs in just 106 plate appearances. Yes, he's going to swing and miss a bunch, but only Aaron Judge is barreling the ball at a better rate than Burger this season. Eloy Jimenez (abdomen) could be back before the end of the week, which is going to complicate things, but it would be difficult to justify sitting Burger right now. The club has entertained the idea of using him in the outfield.

-- Andrew Vaughn is batting just .194 so far in May and that, combined with Moncada's return, has meant a move down in the batting order. After batting fifth in four of his previous five starts, he was down in the six spot Monday, the lowest he's been in the lineup since back on April 3. He might move down even lower when Jimenez returns.

Cleveland Guardians

-- Mike Zunino went on quite the run of futility in his first 10 games of May, going 0-for-27 with 21 strikeouts (to his credit, he's 2-for-5 with a two-run homer since then). He's started just 11 of 19 games this month even as Cam Gallagher has been even worse than Zunino this season overall. Especially since the offense has struggled so much on the whole, one might wonder when Bo Naylor could get a look. I wouldn't count on it, though. Manager Terry Francona has historically placed very little emphasis on offense from his catchers.

-- Gabriel Arias has started 11 of 15 games since Oscar Gonzalez's demotion. Each of his last five starts have come against righties, too, in part because Jose Ramirez was on bereavement for a few days but also because Arias has started to show a little something at the plate with two homers and two doubles during the aforementioned stretch. I'd like to see Gonzalez get another shot in right field, but unfortunately he hasn't done much at Triple-A Columbus.

Detroit Tigers

-- Andy Ibanez has become an everyday player for the Tigers since being called up in late April, starting 19 of 21 contests. He's started games at five different positions and made an additional two starts at DH, predominantly manning second and third base. The 30-year-old is batting just .191/.225/.309 with the opportunity he's been given, so he could be running out of chances. It's not as if the Tigers are teeming with other options, though.

-- Spencer Torkelson has batted cleanup for each of Detroit's last 10 games. He's finally getting some results this month, entering play Monday with a .787 OPS and a couple home runs. The expected stats say he's been unlucky, too, as he ranks 17th baseball in terms of his gap between wOBA (.286) and xwOBA (.333). I still have a difficult time totally buying in, though, given his dreadful supporting cast and difficult home venue.

Kansas City Royals

-- The Royals had already been cutting Hunter Dozier's playing time dramatically and on Monday they officially moved on from him in designating him for assignment. Maikel Garcia had been receiving the lion's share of playing time at third base, although he's started just one of the last four games there and on Monday he played second base while Nicky Lopez – fresh off the IL – was at the hot corner. Michael Massey has turned things around in May following a horrific April, so I fully expect him to be the primary second baseman at least versus righties. Garcia hasn't done much at the plate yet, but it would be disheartening if Lopez played more than him.

-- Bobby Witt was dropped to the sixth spot in the batting order for Monday's contest, marking the first time since April 14 he started somewhere other than the leadoff spot and the first time all season he hit lower than third. Witt is hitting the ball a bit harder this year and is striking out at virtually the same rate as last year. The counting stats have also been just fine with seven dingers and 13 stolen bases. The expected stats are awfully similar to 2022. Witt has been a perfectly fine fantasy option, he just hasn't taken a step forward as many hoped.

Minnesota Twins

-- Since Max Kepler (hamstring) went down, we've seen Joey Gallo moved to the leadoff spot against right-handed pitching. Gallo is on the record as saying he'd prefer not to hit at the top of the batting order, but the results say perhaps manager Rocco Baldelli should stick with it, as Gallo sports a 1.066 OPS with three home runs during his brief time at the top of the lineup.

-- Since Jose Miranda was optioned to Triple-A St. Paul earlier this month, Kyle Farmer has started 11 of 12 games at third base and has been incredibly productive while doing so. Prior to going hitless Monday, Farmer was sporting a .381/.435/.548 line with a couple home runs since returning from a scary hit by pitch to the face. Royce Lewis (knee) is eligible for activation in a week and I like him to eventually take over at the hot corner for the Twins, but Farmer will probably get some leash. Lewis could also be an option at second base if Jorge Polanco's hamstring injury lingers. The Twins have used three different starters at the keystone since Polanco went down.

Houston Astros

-- Jose Altuve is back from the injured list and in his customary leadoff spot for the Astros. The struggling Jose Abreu hit cleanup in Altuve's first three games back before sliding to fifth Monday while Kyle Tucker hit cleanup (Altuve actually had the day off). Manager Dusty Baker said how many left-handers the opposition has in the bullpen will go a long way in determining whether he splits up Yordan Alvarez and Tucker. We can debate the merits of ever batting a guy with a .541 OPS cleanup (or fifth) regardless of circumstances, but that Baker still trusts Abreu is good news for those holding out hope for a turnaround.

-- It's difficult to get a handle on Baker's preferred option in center field. Chas McCormick started the first game after returning from a back injury, but he then sat out four straight after his back flared up again. Since then, he's started six of eight contests, although just three of those have come in center field. Meanwhile, Jake Meyers has started five games over the same span, but he's been in center field for four of the previous five tilts and that's the only position he's played this season.

Los Angeles Angels

-- Mickey Moniak is doing his best to stake claim to the Angels' left field job. He's started two straight games there and three of the last five at the position. Moniak cranked a go-ahead home run during Monday's victory over the Red Sox and has gone 12-for-28 with three longballs since being recalled earlier this month. All seven of his starts have come in the leadoff spot, and he's started two games in center field and one in right in addition to four in left. I can't imagine Ward is going to be pushed aside just yet given what he did last year, but he's struggled this season and is obviously the most vulnerable member of the outfield.

-- Jared Walsh returned from migraines and insomnia over the weekend and has made three straight starts at first base, batting sixth once and fifth twice. Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela and Luis Rengifo each started two of three games during that stretch. Rengifo certainly looks like the most vulnerable of the group and could see his playing time deteriorate further when Anthony Rendon (groin) returns.

Oakland Athletics

-- Nick Allen didn't play much the first couple weeks of the season before being optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. He returned at the beginning of May, though, and has essentially been the everyday shortstop since then, starting 17 of the last 20 games there. He's finally showing signs of life at the plate, too, going 10-for-30 with one homer across his last nine contests. Meanwhile, Opening Day shortstop Aledmys Diaz has started just four of eight games since returning from the IL and just one of eight versus righties.

-- Jordan Diaz was making the third of what wound up being 10 straight starts when he had a three-homer game against the Yankees back on May 9. He went just 3-for-27 at the plate after that big night, though, and on Monday was optioned to Vegas. It appears that Tony Kemp will now be the A's second baseman again by default, but he's now sporting a hideous .167/.250/.227 line after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Monday.

Seattle Mariners

-- It's been a precipitous fall for Kolten Wong. After beginning the season briefly as the Mariners' No. 2 hitter and on the strong side of a platoon at second base, it now appears he's out of a job. Jose Caballero has started five straight at the keystone, including three against right-handed pitching. He homered for the second game in a row Monday and also added a three-steal game Sunday.

-- After a one-game drop down to the six hole and one turn at cleanup, Julio Rodriguez has settled in as the Mariners' No. 3 hitter for each of the last eight games while J.P. Crawford handles the leadoff spot. We have yet to see J-Rod take off, although he did have a three-hit game Monday, his second since being shifted to the three hole (and his only two this season).

Texas Rangers

-- Leody Taveras appears to have entered manager Bruce Bochy's Circle of Trust, having started each of the last 18 games in center field for the Rangers. He's earned that trust not only by playing excellent defense in center, but also by batting .391 with one home run and four stolen bases over that 18-game span. The next step might be a move up in the batting order, as seven of Taveras' last eight starts have come at the bottom of the lineup even amidst his hot streak (and he batted eighth in that other start).

-- Ezequiel Duran started four straight games even after Corey Seager returned from the IL before sitting out Monday's contest. Duran boasts a .973 OPS over his last 30 games, popping seven home runs and stealing three bases over that span. It seems like a waste sticking him in the DH spot since he's got a strong glove, but DH might be Duran's easiest path to playing time right now with Seager back. Left field is also an option with Robbie Grossman doing very little, but Duran hasn't played left since early April.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Boyer
Ryan has been writing about fantasy baseball since 2005 for Fanball, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus and RotoWire.
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