After the scattered schedule over the first three days of the 2017 regular season, all teams are set for Wednesday action, as likely will be the norm for much of the year.
This means fantasy baseball teams with daily roster moves will have plenty of choices. Studs probably shouldn't find themselves on the bench this early outside of extreme circumstances, but upside pieces that are mere complements to the core of a fantasy squad don't deserve blind trust.
Clicking Jerad Eickhoff (42.1 percent owned) into starting lineups on the road last year didn't end too well, as the heavy fly ball pitcher absorbed a 4.04 ERA away from Citizens Bank Park. So of course, using him during a trip to Great American Ball Park sounds like lunacy. This Cincinnati Reds lineup, however, doesn't scare pitchers much, given last year's departure of Jay Bruce and their February trade of Brandon Phillips. Eickhoff doesn't issue many free passes, which may limit the chances of walk-starved speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza reaching base and disrupting him. Cincinnati ranked 23rd in home runs last year and now showcases fewer boppers, which plays favorably to Eickhoff's tendencies, even in a worrisome stadium.
Wednesday's Los Angeles Angels-Oakland Athletics clash could produce two productive mound outings. The heavily owned Garrett Richards (56.9 percent) justifiably will wind up in many starting lineups, but Jharel Cotton (36.8 percent) looks ready to fulfill his duty as at least a spot starter in shallow mixed leagues. The A's defense carries valid concerns. However, the Angels' lineup -- while improving some spots -- should struggle against Cotton's diverse arsenal.
Now for some early bad news: Matt Moore (70.3 percent) reignited visions of his days as a top prospect with a 3.63 ERA after joining the Giants last trade deadline, though the left-hander might endure a nightmarish outing at hitter-friendly Chase Field. The Diamondbacks, after all, led the majors last year with a .348 weighted on-base average against left-handed pitchers, and that came with A.J. Pollock sidelined for nearly all of 2016. Moore came into 2017 as an intriguing value pick but looks bound to disappoint in his first effort.
Though his 2016 campaign (3.38 ERA, 7.36 K/9, 1.47 BB/9) hinted at greater things, especially coming off an almost three-year rehab from Tommy John surgery, Jameson Taillon (31.8 percent) faces a daunting assignment for his 2017 debut against the Red Sox. Last year's leaders in runs scored (878) and OPS (.810) touched up Gerrit Cole for five runs Monday. The breakout allure remains, but Taillon belongs on benches to start the year.
Projected game scores
Note: W-L, ERA and WHIP are full-year 2016 statistics. GS is the projected game score for the pitcher. A "*" means that the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate rating; these are the author's ratings.
Let's find one player at each position with less than 50 percent ownership in ESPN leagues in a favorable spot.
The Twins signed Jason Castro (2.2 percent) mostly for his standout pitch-framing work to help their pitchers grow. Still, the lefty swinger sometimes will help at the dish, notably against right-handed hurlers. His .757 OPS against them last year dwarfed his .478 against southpaws. Away from Kauffman Stadium in 2016, Ian Kennedy allowed a 3.89 ERA (48 points higher than in KC) and 21 of his 33 home runs. Target Field also doesn't hurt LHB. This is a fine example of how one-catcher fantasy players can cycle based on matchups.
Tommy Joseph's ownership share (49.0 percent) teeters on qualifying for this article, but being the rookie in this series, I'll take what's handed to me. The fly ball-heavy masher went hitless in four at-bats during his season debut but matches up almost ideally with Reds starting southpaw Brandon Finnegan, who allowed the most home runs to right-handed batters last season (27) along with a 1.83 HR/9 and .453 SLG.
Despite often hitting eighth in the order even against right-handed bats, Joe Panik (33.0 percent) deserves a spot in many lineups when he faces them. Note his career .761 OPS and 1.01 BB/K in 917 of those plate appearances. The Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker enjoyed a stellar spring but now must pitch at hitter-friendly Chase Field, and Panik could punish him for a few knocks if Walker finds too much of the plate.
Asdrubal Cabrera (34.1 percent) hit 23 home runs last year, his second-best career seasonal total. Bet you didn't remember or even know that. It even came with a career best in a career-best .474 slugging percentage. Cabrera even clubbed 20 of those big flies against right-handed pitchers and 18 at Citi Field, which almost as quietly has evolved into one of the game's best pull-power parks for left-handed hitters. Cabrera's breakthrough should continue while he faces former teammate Bartolo Colon, who had the second-highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone last year (49.7 percent), per Fangraphs, and relies heavily on pitching to contract.
Deep-league players desperate for help at corner infield may want to test the long-standing "Fenway Park hurts left-handed pitchers" theory during Chris Sale's Red Sox unveiling. Righty-hitting David Freese (6.2 percent), who's filling in for the legally obstructed Jung Ho Kang, sported a .963 OPS and a .407 wOBA over 105 plate appearances against southpaws in 2016. Freese typically prefers hitting to the opposite field but try to pull a bit more with the Green Monster calling out to him.
Gerardo Parra (4.5 percent) has an open avenue to playing for as long as Ian Desmond and David Dahl are sidelined. Sure, the Rockies start their season outside of Coors Field, but Miller Park is one of the few road parks to offer a similarly high offensive ceiling -- especially for Parra, who boasts a career .813 OPS in 296 plate appearances there from his time with the Brewers in 2014 and 2015. Wily Peralta will take the hill for Milwaukee coming off a rough 2016, in which he allowed a 5.23 ERA and .872 OPS at home, along with a .298/.366/.515 line against lefty hitters.
This spring, Astros starting pitcher Charlie Morton continued the improvements he showed before getting hurt in 2016, but he'll probably struggle to contain the Mariners' lineup, which remains just as strong as last year, when it was one of baseball's best road offenses. Left-handed batters have given Morton issues in his career (.375 wOBA compared to .295 for RHB), making Wednesday a fine time to call on Leonys Martin (4.8 percent) for replacement stats. Minute Maid Park plays up for hitters on both sides of the plate, and though his skill set doesn't play as favorably in points leagues, the speedster should log at least one extra-base hit.
How flexible can you be with a roster spot? Those who are cycling can consider a deep -- nay, a cavernous dive for Indians platoon weapon Brandon Guyer (0.7 percent). The righty bat held the third-best wOBA against southpaws last year (.437) among players with 150-plus plate appearances. The Rangers' Cole Hamels isn't typically hurt by platoon bats, but performed much worse at home last year with a 4.40 ERA compared to a 2.40 road number.
Notes: Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth, as well as past 21 days) and ballpark factors. "LH" and "RH" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is the primary statistic used in the calculation. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. So, for example, a 10 is a must-start rating, while a 1 should be avoided (if possible); a 1-2 is poor, 3-4 is fair, 5-6 is average, 7-8 is very good and 9-10 is excellent.