Fantasy Forecaster updated Saturday, April 4, at 10:58 a.m. ET.
On tap: The 2015 Major League Baseball season begins with St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs on "Sunday Night Baseball," Sunday, April 5 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2. From there, the other 28 teams play their Opening Day games on Monday, April 6; this is one of those years in which no team has to wait until Tuesday to play.
Opening Day is chock-full of great pitching storylines: Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester square off in the Sunday night opener aiming to rebound from health questions, Wainwright his end-of-2014 elbow surgery and Lester his spring "dead arm" period; Masahiro Tanaka has a similar aim, having missed much of 2014 with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, in a Monday Yankee Stadium start versus the Toronto Blue Jays; new $210 million man Max Scherzer makes his Washington Nationals debut at home against the New York Mets; and Cole Hamels pitches against a team he was widely linked to in trade rumors, the Boston Red Sox.
We'll get our first look at Matt Harvey since Aug. 24, 2013, his final start before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery, on Thursday. It'll be in a matchup of young hurlers who have Tommy John surgeries on their résumés, with Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Nationals. Matt Kemp will play his first game for the San Diego Padres at his old home ballpark, Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, on Monday. And here's a fun one: The 2015 World Series Games 1 and 5 starting pitching opponents will get to face off on Saturday, as new Padres ace James Shields (then with the Kansas City Royals) battles the San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner.
Quickly jump to any section, if you want specific intel
ESPN leagues that have weekly deadlines will lock for the entirety of Week 1 at the start of the Sunday, April 5 game; that means lineups will lock at 8 p.m. ET that day and remain locked through the games on Sunday, April 12.
ESPN leagues that have daily deadlines will lock players at the start times of each of their respective games. That means an 8 p.m. ET lock time on Sunday, April 5, for Cardinals and Cubs, for example, and a 1 p.m. ET lock time for Blue Jays and Yankees players on Monday, April 6.
Remember that game times have tremendous influence upon daily fantasy sports (DFS) planning, so be aware of every day's first scheduled pitch. This week, they are: Monday, 1 p.m. ET (Blue Jays at Yankees); Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET (Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays); Wednesday, 1:08 p.m. ET (Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers); Thursday, 12:35 p.m. ET (Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds); Friday, 3:05 p.m. ET (Blue Jays at Orioles); Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET (Red Sox at Yankees); and Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET (Tigers at Cleveland Indians).
In addition, if your league has not yet drafted, be aware that drafts that occur after the start of the regular season will lock the drafted starting lineups into place retroactively, meaning that if you draft an injured or minor league player into an active roster spot, that player will remain there either through all of Week 1 in a weekly league, or until the next eligible roster deadline in a daily league. In other words, if you draft Anthony Rendon as your starting second baseman in a Thursday, April 9, draft, he will remain in place in that spot through Sunday, April 12, even though he will be on the DL for the first few weeks of the season.
In order to ensure your lineup locks the way you want it mid-draft -- this pertaining to those who draft after 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 5 -- within the draft room, when selecting a player, use the "Choose Slot" option beneath the "Draft Player" button to place him into any empty slot.
The "Game Score" ratings system
Both our Forecaster and Daily Notes files utilize the same pitcher rating system, which is based upon a projected Bill James Game Score formula. For those unfamiliar with the formula, here it is:
Begin with 50 points.
Add one point for each out (meaning three points for every full inning).
Add two points for each inning completed, beginning with the fifth.
Add one point for each strikeout.
Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
Subtract two points for each run unearned run allowed.
Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
Subtract one point for each walk.
By the Game Score measure, a 50 is roughly the equivalent of a "quality start," while anything higher than a 70 is regarded a dominant start. The record for Game Score was 105 by Kerry Wood, during his one-hit, no-walk, 20-strikeout, shutout performance on May 6, 1998.
For your reference, here's how often starting pitchers beat that 50 "quality start" threshold, as well as reached other higher quality plateaus, in 2014:
50 or greater: 60.5 percent
60 or greater: 37.1 percent
70 or greater: 15.1 percent
80 or greater: 3.6 percent
90 or greater: 0.4 percent
Now here's how often starting pitchers performed beneath that 50 threshold:
Less than 50: 39.5 percent
Less than 40: 21.6 percent
Less than 30: 9.9 percent
Less than 20: 3.3 percent
Using those measures, you can expect most projected Forecaster/Daily Notes to range between 30 and 70, with 70 roughly the measure of a must-start pitcher, a 30 effectively a must-sit. Remember, these account for ERA, WHIP and strikeout potential for the pitcher in question, providing a more accurate Player Rater-style projection for the individual matchup. For instance, keep in mind that the following two stat lines would generate identical Game Scores of 54:
5⅔ IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 12 K
7 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
This week's interleague series:
Red Sox at Phillies (three games, Monday, Wednesday-Thursday)
Rays at Marlins (three games, Friday-Sunday)
Red Sox's traditional DH: David Ortiz. It's quite a contrast in schedules here for the Red Sox, who, after waiting until Memorial Day weekend to make their first trip of the 2013 and 2014 seasons to a National League ballpark, begin their 2015 in an NL venue. With it comes the inevitable Ortiz question: Will he play first base? All signs point to him playing Monday's opener and Wednesday's Game 2 before sitting Thursday's series finale with Mike Napoli manning first base, in order to give Ortiz Tuesday and Thursday off (though he might pinch hit on the latter day).
Rays' traditional DH: John Jaso. The Rays face a similar problem with Jaso, who has played some left field this spring. He could pick up 1-2 starts during the Rays' weekend series in Miami, especially since the Marlins possess an entirely right-handed rotation. Steven Souza would presumably sit for Jaso.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a projected Bill James Game Score for each day's starter.
The Orioles haven't yet officially named a fifth starter, but all signs point to Ubaldo Jimenez getting Saturday's start. Thanks to Thursday's off day, however, the team could push back a decision to April 14 (Tuesday of Week 2).
Joe Kelly (biceps) was expected to begin the season on the DL, but as such a move would presumably be made retroactive to March 27, he'd be eligible to be activated in time to start Sunday for the Red Sox.
Justin Verlander (triceps) will begin the season on the DL, but he's eligible to be activated in time to start Sunday, the first time his Tigers need a fifth starter.
The Los Angeles Angels plan to use a four-man rotation until April 14.
The Rays have not announced their fourth and fifth starters or whether the latter will pitch during Week 1 -- they can skip a starter thanks to Thursday's off day -- but Erasmo Ramirez appears likely to be No. 4, and Matt Andriese looks likely to be No. 5, but making his first start on April 14 (Tuesday of Week 2).
With Trevor Cahill traded away on April 2, the Arizona Diamondbacks will slot Archie Bradley into their rotation. He and Chase Anderson will pitch on Friday and Saturday, with Bradley likely working Saturday due to his being termed the "fifth starter."
The Braves, who acquired Cahill, will go with him and Eric Stults as their fourth and fifth starters, but due to Thursday's off day they'll push Cahill's first start back to April 14 (Tuesday of Week 2).
The Cubs announced Travis Wood as their fifth starter, and indicated that they would use a traditional rotation rather than using Monday's and Thursday's off days to keep their top starters on four days rest.
Eddie Butler (shoulder) is questionable for his scheduled Wednesday start, forcing the Colorado Rockies to consider fifth-starter candidates -- that spot being unnecessary during the opening week -- Christian Bergman, Chad Bettis and Jon Gray as fill-ins.
Sean O'Sullivan is the leading candidate to serve as the Phillies' fifth starter when they first need one on Sunday.
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-SD (Shields), Sat-@ARI (Bradley)
Max Scherzer (WSH) -- Mon-NYM (Colon), Sun-@PHI (O'Sullivan)
Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sun-@OAK (Hahn)
Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-@ARI (Collmenter), Sat-@SD (Shields)
Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Mon-@HOU (Keuchel), Sun-DET (Verlander)
David Price (DET) -- Mon-MIN (Hughes), Sat-@CLE (House)
Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-PIT (Liriano), Sat-STL (Martinez)
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Thu-NYM (Harvey)
Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-BOS (Buchholz), Sat-WSH (Fister)
Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Mon-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@MIL (Lohse)
Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Wed-NYM (DeGrom)
Jon Lester (CHC) -- Mon-STL* (Wainwright), Sun-@COL (Lyles)
Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Tue-SD (Ross), Sun-@ARI (Collmenter)
Alex Wood (ATL) -- Tue-@MIA (Latos), Sun-NYM (Colon)
Tyson Ross (SD) -- Tue-@LAD (Greinke), Sun-SF (Peavy)
Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Mon-@CHC* (Lester), Sun-@CIN (Iglesias)
James Shields (SD) -- Mon-@LAD (Kershaw), Sat-SF (Bumgarner)
Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Wed-@HOU (Feldman)
Masahiro Tanaka (NYY) -- Mon-TOR (Hutchison), Sun-BOS (Kelly)
Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Mon-TEX (Gallardo), Sat-SEA (Walker)
Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Thu-@WSH (Strasburg)
Jeff Samardzija (CWS) -- Mon-@KC (Ventura), Sat-MIN (Pelfrey)
Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Fri-@PHI (Williams)
Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Mon-@MIA (Alvarez), Sat-NYM (Gee)
Chris Sale (CWS) -- Sun-MIN (Hughes)
Chris Archer (TB) -- Mon-BAL (Tillman), Sat-@MIA (Cosart)
Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Wed-@CIN (Leake)
Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@SEA (Hernandez), Sat-KC (Guthrie)
Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Fri-PIT (Locke)
Jacob deGrom (NYM) -- Wed-@WSH (Zimmermann)
Jake Arrieta (CHC) -- Tue-STL (Lynn)
Yordano Ventura (KC) -- Mon-CWS (Samardzija), Sun-@LAA (Wilson)
Rick Porcello (BOS) -- Wed-@PHI (Harang)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-@TB (Archer), Sun-TOR (Hutchison)
Michael Pineda (NYY) -- Wed-TOR (Dickey)
Michael Wacha (STL) -- Fri-@CIN (Marquis)
Taijuan Walker (SEA) -- Sat-@OAK (Gray)
Mat Latos (MIA) -- Tue-ATL (Wood)
C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Tue-@SEA (Paxton), Sun-KC (Ventura)
Lance Lynn (STL) -- Tue-@CHC (Arrieta)
Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Wed-MIN (Nolasco)
Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-@PHI (Hamels), Sat-@NYY (Warren)
Jake Peavy (SF) -- Tue-@ARI (De La Rosa), Sun-@SD (Ross)
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Wed-LAA (Shoemaker)
Phil Hughes (MIN) -- Mon-@DET (Price), Sun-@CWS (Sale)
Dallas Keuchel (HOU) -- Mon-CLE (Kluber), Sun-@TEX (Lewis)
Scott Kazmir (OAK) -- Wed-TEX (Detwiler)
Drew Hutchison (TOR) -- Mon-@NYY (Tanaka), Sun-@BAL (Tillman)
Jake Odorizzi (TB) -- Tue-BAL (Chen), Sun-@MIA (Alvarez)
Derek Holland (TEX) -- Fri-HOU (McHugh)
Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Wed-@KC (Duffy)
Jesse Hahn (OAK) -- Tue-TEX (Lewis), Sun-SEA (Hernandez)
John Lackey (STL) -- Wed-@CHC (Hammel)
A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Thu-@CIN (DeSclafani)
Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Mon-ATL (Teheran), Sun-TB (Odorizzi)
Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Wed-@LAD (McCarthy)
Doug Fister (WSH) -- Sat-@PHI (Hamels)
Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Mon-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-LAD (Greinke)
Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Thu-SF (Hudson)
Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-@SD (TBD)
Bartolo Colon (NYM) -- Mon-@WSH (Scherzer), Sun-@ATL (Wood)
Matt Shoemaker (LAA) -- Wed-@SEA (Iwakuma)
Drew Pomeranz (OAK) -- Fri-SEA (Happ)
Danny Duffy (KC) -- Wed-CWS (Quintana)
Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Mon-COL (Kendrick), Sun-PIT (Liriano)
Wei-Yin Chen (BAL) -- Tue-@TB (Odorizzi)
Shane Greene (DET) -- Fri-@CLE (McAllister)
Brandon McCarthy (LAD) -- Wed-SD (Cashner)
Collin McHugh (HOU) -- Fri-@TEX (Holland)
Tim Hudson (SF) -- Thu-@SD (Kennedy)
Shelby Miller (ATL) -- Wed-@MIA (Koehler)
James Paxton (SEA) -- Tue-LAA (Wilson)
Dan Haren (MIA) -- Fri-TB (Ramirez)
Matt Garza (MIL) -- Tue-COL (Lyles)
Daniel Norris (TOR) -- Thu-@NYY (Sabathia)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
First, let's get to the two big-name pitchers with backdated DL moves: Sale, the No. 4 starting pitcher selected on average in ESPN leagues this preseason, tossed a successful six-inning, 90-pitch game against Reds Class A prospects on April 1, putting him on track for a second minor league start on Monday and then a return to the White Sox rotation on Sunday. His pitch counts put him about where he needs to be for a first regular-season start, and as he'll start at home against the Minnesota Twins, he's well worth taking the risk of a setback with him in your active lineup.
Verlander, meanwhile, will remain back at Tigers spring training, though he has no official minor league outing scheduled in advance of his planned Sunday return. He'll throw bullpen sessions in the meantime, but with a limited pitch count a possibility and a road game against the lefty-heavy Indians his matchup, he's one to limit to your AL-only rather than mixed-league lineups.
Wins might be a problem for Braves and Mets pitchers this week, but that doesn't mean you should ignore either staff. After all, the National League East projects to be baseball's lightest-hitting division for the second consecutive season, and four of the six series played by NL East teams will be played within the division. As an aside, one of the two interdivision series involving a team within that division is the Marlins hosting the Rays, another offense projected to be weak.
The Mets stand a legitimate chance at opening their season 0-3 despite a realistic prospect at three consecutive quality starts and despite their pitching young phenoms Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey in Games 2 and 3 at Washington. Remember, the Nationals will be without their traditional Nos. 1-2 hitters, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon, so unless wins are paramount to your league's scoring, there's no reason to sit a deGrom or Harvey, or perhaps not Opening Day starter Bartolo Colon, either.
We'll get an early read on how strikeout-prone this year's Houston Astros are as Indians strikeout artists Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer take them on during their opening series. Considering the Astros still have Chris Carter, Jason Castro and George Springer in their lineup, and have added Evan Gattis, they're likely to rank among the five-most whiff-prone offenses in baseball for the fourth consecutive year. Lean more toward the K rather than power angle when evaluating Astros matchups for your opposing starters, at least with the more elite candidates.
Here are this week's Streamer's Delight picks (pitchers must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time on Friday):
Brandon McCarthy (SD, Wednesday): One of the reasons McCarthy's ownership percentage is so small was his ranking, which accounted for injury risk. From a matchup-by-matchup perspective, that's now irrelevant, and this is a good one: at Dodger Stadium and against a righty-heavy Padres team.
Drew Pomeranz (SEA, Friday): It's a gamble to take because, first, it's a home game, second, he's coming off a solid spring in which his strikeout rate was an impressive 33.8 percent and third, he's facing a Mariners team that, despite the addition of Nelson Cruz, still leans heavily left-handed.
Jake Peavy (@SD, Sunday): Hey, why not? It's his first start at Petco Park since the Padres traded him in 2009, and he'll be facing a Padres lineup that is extraordinarily right-handed. From 2012-14, he had a wOBA 26 points lower against righties (.290) than lefties (.316).
Jesse Hahn (TEX, Tuesday): He's a sinkerballer coming off a solid spring, and he'll be facing a Texas Rangers team that hit for limited power and had the fourth-highest ground ball rate in 2014, not to mention won't have the home-field/ballpark advantage.
Trevor Bauer (@HOU, Thursday): As mentioned above, Bauer is a worthy streamer because of his strikeout potential coupled with a matchup against the Astros' three big, K-prone right-handed bats. Bauer's spring K-to-walk ratio was 18:1, so maybe he's beginning to figure it out. Again: Maybe.
Henderson Alvarez (ATL, Monday): The Braves' lineup projects to be one of the game's worst, and in 2014, with better personnel, it wasn't a good fastball-hitting team (against either two- or four-seamers), with the majors' second-worst wOBA against all fastballs (.312). Alvarez's two-seamer, meanwhile, graded fourth best in terms of PitchF/X runs above average (16.8).
Dan Haren (TB, Friday): It's a home game at spacious Marlins Park coupled with a matchup against the light-hitting Rays.
The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
Here are this week's "volume plays," defined as the teams that play the most home games or games against right- or left-handed starters:
Total games: Oakland Athletics 7, Rangers 7, Padres 7, Giants 7.
Home games: Athletics 7, Yankees 6, Diamondbacks 6, Reds 6, Marlins 6, Milwaukee Brewers 6, Phillies 6.
Versus RH: Dodgers 6, Pirates 6, Giants 6, 17 teams face five right-handed starters.
Versus LH: Royals 4, Diamondbacks 3, 10 teams face two left-handed starters.
Six home games, three of which will be played against the pitching-starved Rockies, represents an outstanding opening-week schedule for the Brewers. Remember, Miller Park is one of the more hitting-friendly venues in baseball, and almost every regular member of the Brewers' lineup enjoyed a scorching spring training. Yes, those stats aren't relevant now, and were potentially inflated by the hitting-rich Cactus League environment, but let's also remember the Brewers will play the entire week in a controlled environment -- Miller having a retractable roof -- so there's no major shift in temperature at play for this team when it travels north.
In particular, that the Pirates will throw two left-handers against the righty-heavy Brewers -- Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez are five of their most productive bats, and all are right-handed -- works in the Brewers' favor. Friday, a game against lefty fifth starter Jeff Locke, presents an outstanding matchup opportunity, including possible DFS stacking. Adam Lind could also be a standout in the opening-week series against three Rockies right-handers.
Owners of Red Sox hitters might see Hamels on their schedule as their Opening Day opponent, but that's no reason to doubt their overall Week 1 matchups. The remainder of the Phillies' rotation ranks among the weakest in baseball, and the three starters the Red Sox will face at New York's Yankee Stadium during their weekend series do have downsides: Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and Masahiro Tanaka.
The Red Sox are another team that enjoyed a strong spring, and the top two of Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia belong in any fantasy lineup. Only the first-base/DH conundrum with Napoli and Ortiz, referenced above, limits any individual Red Sox hitter's fantasy potential. But keep this in mind: Ortiz routinely plays well against the Yankees, and while he and Pablo Sandoval struggled during Grapefruit League action, that both of them can take aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch for three games Friday-Sunday makes them both well worth you activating them.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have matchups within their early- and late-week series that rank at polar extremes: They tangle with the front end of the Cardinals' rotation to open the week, but then they face the back end of the Rockies' rotation at Coors Field from Friday-Sunday. That's a good time to exploit lesser-valued Cubs such as Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler and Tommy La Stella.