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Maximizing your volume of at-bats and quality of remaining matchups are critical in planning your hitting strategy for the final weeks of the fantasy season.
|Andre Ethier is hitting just .218 versus lefty pitchers this season (and .337 versus righties).|
At this stage of the season, at-bats, at-bats and at-bats are what count. Where and against whom they come is paramount.
Generally speaking, owners formulating their starting lineup should load up on the most-skilled batsmen first. You don't need my advice to know that Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols belong in your lineup every single remaining day of the 2012 season. But as every at-bat counts, and it's nearly impossible to fill every hitting slot with a productive bat, maximizing matchups is the way to go in the lower tiers.
Let's look at all 30 teams' remaining schedules, attempting to provide an edge to those seeking hidden nuggets to fill those back-end lineup spots.
As with Tuesday's 60 Feet, 6 Inches column, which analyzed schedules from a pitching perspective, today's Hit Parade focuses on the most hitter-friendly schedules. I've collected per-game data in the five primary rotisserie categories (batting average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and runs scored) for all 30 teams broken down by home or road games and for each remaining team game assumed that the opponent would perform at its average number to date. Totaling these stats provides each team's expected numbers in each category for the remainder of the season, assuming that every hitter performs at a league-average level and that the opponent performs at exactly the rates it has so far in 2012.
Here are some of the schedule highlights:
American League Central teams: At this stage of the season, teams are playing the majority of their games within the division, and the AL Central is the only division that doesn't have a team among the majors' top five in terms of team ERA. The Detroit Tigers have the division lead, but they rank 14th with a 3.94 ERA, and three of the five teams in the division rank among the 10 worst in team ERA. In fairness, the National League Central also has three in the bottom 10. But that's a six-team division, and its other three teams rank in the top 10 in the category. In the AL Central, we might as well adopt the saying, "Verlander, Sale and pray for hail."These are the remaining schedules for the five AL Central squads, their out-of-division games in bold: Chicago White Sox: @BAL-2, @DET-3, MIN-3, KC-3, DET-4, @MIN-3, @KC-3, @LAA-3, CLE-3, TB-4, @CLE-3
That's 38 of the remaining 168 games on AL Central teams' schedules that will be played outside the division, and after this week, the Indians will play just one more series outside the division the rest of the season. The Royals have a particularly advantageous schedule, playing 21 of their final 34 games at home, including both interdivision series.
From a pure hitting perspective -- batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs scored -- Royals hitters such as Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and even Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar shouldn't be underestimated in the coming weeks. But it's the Royals' No. 1 ranking in stolen bases that is most interesting. This team is ninth for the year in steals (100), second since the All-Star break (45) and first in the month of August (32). Intradivision games mean plenty of matchups against poor-armed opposing catchers such as Alex Avila, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Santana and Lou Marson, each of whom has allowed at least 50 steals, with the group giving up 227 total this season. Oh, and if you're of the mind that Joe Mauer is a top-shelf catcher in this department, think again; he has allowed 48 steals in 54 chances over 62 games. Suddenly, a part-timer such as Jarrod Dyson or a so-so bat with wheels, such as Lorenzo Cain, becomes all the more interesting.This isn't to say that all AL Central hitters instantly become more valuable commodities than more talented players from other divisions. It just means that in direct comparison of similarly valued hitters, go with the one getting to face a healthy chunk of Indians', Royals' and Twins' pitching the rest of the way. A prime example: Santana and Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann might be similarly valued on our Player Rater (2012 to-date value), and their perceived values going forward are similar, but Santana's remaining schedule is considerably more favorable. As such, he is ranked higher. Chicago Cubs: Coors Field games are at a premium, particularly for teams outside the NL West, and the Cubs are the only nondivision team that has a series yet to play there (Sept. 25-27). In addition, the Cubs' schedule gets softer once they get through the next nine days, after these upcoming San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals series. After that point, the Cubs play seven games against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates and six against the awful Houston Astros, not to mention a three-game series at hitter-friendly Chase Field directly after the Coors Series. Just because the Cubs have been noncontenders all year doesn't mean you should completely discard them in fantasy. Batting average is likely to present a problem for most of them, with Starlin Castro probably the most reliable in the category -- and he's hitting only .245 in August. But from a counting-numbers perspective, Anthony Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus should find a place in your lineup.
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds: We're nearing decision time, as Joey Votto's anticipated activation from the disabled list arrives Saturday, and with it the difficult call as to what the Reds will do with Frazier. As I've maintained for weeks, the Reds cannot afford to sit a hitter this productive, meaning third base is likely in Frazier's immediate future. He is a leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year honors, batting .314/.366/.533 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 44 games since the All-Star break, the homers and RBIs ranking him among the top 20 in baseball during that span. Frazier has a mere nine-point split in OPS between righties and lefties and is actually a better hitter in road games (.312/.375/.590) than at home (.277/.333/.518). There's every reason to believe he'll continue to rack up at-bats and perform at a productive level.Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks: He is in the midst of an outrageous hot streak -- hardly something new to him -- batting .311/.363/.676 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 19 games the past three weeks, propelling his season batting average to .296, which would represent a career high. In Hill's defense, he hasn't batted beneath .260 in a single month all year, and his .260/.321/.360 May was the only one that could be measured poor by fantasy standards. Hill really has only one weakness: He is a .265/.332/.435 hitter in road games, with his .324/.367/.572 rates at Chase Field making him a clearly superior starter at home. The Diamondbacks play 15 of their final 32 games at home, so make sure you have him in every lineup for each of them. Chase Utley, Phillies: The Phillies are another team that shouldn't be so casually discarded, not with productive veterans such as Utley and Ryan Howard edging ever closer to their past form by the day. Utley is a .272/.393/.489 hitter with four homers, 12 RBIs, three stolen bases and 14 runs scored in August, stats that would put him in the .260-20-75-20 range over a full year, which would challenge for top-five status at second base. More importantly, Utley is a .324 hitter in his past 10 games, eight of those at Citizens Bank Park. Don't lean on the injuries that have plagued him the past two seasons; lean on the fact that he is healthy and performing within range of his pre-injury form.
Mark Teixeira, Yankees: He's out through at least the weekend with a Grade 1 strain of his left calf suffered Monday, and it's unclear exactly when he'll return, considering the Yankees won't place him on the disabled list with the Sept. 1 40-man roster expansion only three days away. The Yankees have a three-game lead in the AL East race, so they don't have a pressing need to rush the slugger back, especially not with Steve Pearce on the roster and Casey McGehee eligible to return once rosters expand. An injury such as this might lead to additional rest for Teixeira down the stretch, even following his healthy return, particularly if the Yankees wrap up a playoff spot.Mark Trumbo, Angels: With his strikeout tendencies, Trumbo should never have been expected to bat .300-plus over the course of a 162-game season, but his struggles in August have reached the other extreme. He is a .198 hitter with three home runs and 39 K's in 96 at-bats this month. He has slipped into more bad habits in the process, chasing nonstrikes 39 percent of the time, up from 36 percent through July, and swinging at noncompetitive pitches (defined as offerings that are thrown at least 18 inches away from the center of the strike zone) 20 percent of the time, up from 16 percent. Though two seasons is hardly a sizable enough sample to make this kind of judgment, it's a disturbing trend that he has done this late in the year in back-to-back seasons. In 2011, he batted .253 with 10 homers and 41 K's in 186 at-bats over 49 games after Aug. 1, with his chase rate at 43 percent and noncompetitive swing rate at 24 percent. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers: He is a notoriously streaky player due to his penchant for strikeouts, and such players tend to be frustrating, especially in head-to-head leagues, during the critical playoff weeks. Weeks is a .185 hitter with only one extra-base hit, a double, and 13 K's in 54 at-bats in his past 14 contests. Here's what's even more frustrating: Formerly a useful source of steals -- swiping at least nine bags in each of his healthy seasons -- he has only two steals in his past 51 games dating to July 1.