The Cleveland Indians failed to make the playoffs in 2019, but it wasn’t because they played poorly. The Indians won 93 games and outscored opponents by 112 runs, which would have been enough to quality for the postseason in many seasons. However, a stacked top of the American League kept Cleveland out of the playoffs. Three AL teams won at least 100 games–the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and the AL Central winner Minnesota Twins–and the Wild Card game was composed of the 96-win Tampa Bay Rays and the 97-win Oakland Athletics. The Indians enter 2020 in position to contend for the postseason.
Will Jose Ramirez have a bounce back season?
— Division Winner: +280
— League Winner: +1100
— World Series: +2500
Corey Kluber, SP; Jason Kipnis, 2B; Yasiel Puig, OF (currently a free agent)
Cesar Hernandez, 2B; Domingo Santana, OF; Emmanuel Clase, RP; Sandy Leon, C; Delino DeShields Jr., OF
2020 Fantasy MVP
Jose Ramirez, 3B
Ramirez was a fantasy monster in 2017 and 2018, ranking as the sixth best qualified hitter by wOBA while providing strong pop and speed, combining for 68 home runs and 51 stolen bases from 2017-18. However, Ramirez had a mysteriously steep drop in production in the first half of 2019. Through the end of June, Ramirez hit just .214 with an impotent .325 slugging percentage despite a league-wide surge in power due to a juiced ball. The drop in production was apparently due to an approach change in an attempt to beat the shift. By mid-2019, Ramirez folded his new approach and went back to an approach similar to his 2017 and 2018 seasons, which resulted in a spike in production. After the All-Star break, Ramirez’s power output exploded, slugging .739 with 16 home runs in just 178 plate appearances while hitting .327. Ramirez’s boost in production was also supported by a spike in contact quality, seeing his exit velocity and batted ball angle derived expected wOBA rise significantly in the second half of the season. Ramirez looks primed for a big bounce back season and appears set to resemble something similar to the fantasy producer he was in 2017 and 2018.
2020 Fantasy LVP
Zach Plesac, SP
Plesac’s run prevention was excellent in 2019, posting a 3.81 ERA in 21 starts, which was 21 percent better than league average when adjusted for park and league. However, Plesac had some alarming peripheral statistics that suggest his ERA may not be sustainable. Plesac’s 10% strikeout-minus-walk rate was worse than average on the back of striking out just 19% of batters, worse than the SP league average of 22%. His FIP of 4.94 was a full run higher than his ERA. Sometimes pitchers can skillfully outperform their FIP by generating weak contact, but Plesac didn’t do that, either. Plesac’s exit velocity and batted ball derived expected wOBA allowed was about 30 points higher than his actual wOBA allowed, a swing that took him from better than average by wOBA against to worse than average by expected wOBA against. Plesac also missed bats at a worse than average clip on a per pitch basis, generating a swing and a miss on only 9.5% of his total pitches, below the SP league average of 11%. Fantasy owners can likely brace for a decline in run prevention for Plesac in 2020 unless something changes in his repertoire.
2020 Breakout Player
Mike Clevinger, SP
“Breakout player” as a term can be left up to some subjectivity. It’s strange to call a player who finished 2018 as a top 15 fantasy starting pitcher a “breakout player”, but there’s a whole new level that Clevinger may be able to reach in 2020. Last season, Clevinger changes his mechanics in an effort to throw harder, and it resulted in a huge spike in bat-missing. Clevinger struck out a titanic 34% of batters faced and generated a swing and a miss on a heavy 15% of his total pitches, both significantly better the SP league averages of 22% and 11%, respectively. Clevinger was also one of the most difficult pitchers to square up and hit well, ranking as the fifth best starting pitcher by exit velocity and batted ball angle derived expected wOBA against. Clevinger’s fantasy value was depressed in 2019 by a lack of volume, as he threw only 126 innings over 21 starts due to injury. With the MLB season set to be significantly delayed, Clevinger will have extra time to heal from an offseason knee procedure, which will put him in better position to accumulate the volume he needs to put himself into that next tier of elite starting pitchers.
Sitting in a division with the 100+ win Minnesota Twins and much improved Chicago White Sox club will make things a challenge for Cleveland, but they have the pieces to contend. SS Francisco Lindor is one of the best two-way players in the game, combining elite defense with plus offense. 3B Jose Ramirez looks primed to return to elite form. 1B Carlos Santana is one of MLB’s best at reaching base, walking in a massive 16% of his plate appearances and posting a .397 on base percentage last season. Despite trading former ace Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers in the offseason, the top of Cleveland’s rotation could be great if Carlos Carrasco is able to return to form after an unfortunate cancer diagnosis cost him most of his 2019 season. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger both carry big upside as front of the rotation starters, and each were two of only 13 starting pitchers to strike out more than 30% of batters faced in 2019. The Twins look like the favorite to repeat as AL Central champs, but Cleveland is right in the mix and could win the division if things break right.
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