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Exploiting Early Strength of Schedule for Starting Pitchers

It's important to have a strong starting rotation for your fantasy teams. If you rely on too many high-upside arms with wide ranges of outcomes, you could be struggling to keep up in pitching categories the rest of the season, especially ERA and WHIP. High-volume pitchers with elite strikeout rates are hard to find in the later rounds or on the waiver wire, so you need to make sure that you secure at least one top-tier pitcher early in your drafts.

The problem is that it can be difficult to determine which pitchers to target. When ranking starting pitchers, we look at track record, peripheral skills, pitch usage, and team context, but one factor is often overlooked: strength of schedule. While it's tough to rely on projected matchups for starting pitchers in August, we can target April as a way of getting ahead of the competition in the early stages of the season.

In this article, we'll focus on every team's schedule in April to help determine which starting pitchers have the best opportunity to start their season off strong after dominating a few weak lineups. We'll use last season's data combined with my own projections to help group each offense into tiers. This research can help act as a tiebreaker if you're deciding between two similar starters and also identify some intriguing streamers. Let's start the season off strong by taking advantage of exploitable matchups.

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2020 Review

While the 60-game season is a much smaller sample, it's important to use this data as a baseline to determine 2021 outlooks for each offense. When targeting an opponent, we need to look at their overall wRC+ along with their RHP/LHP splits. It's also important to examine their K% to see if the matchup has increased upside for strikeouts.

Let's dive into last season's numbers to help project the strongest and weakest offenses for the upcoming season.

Team wRC+ K% vs. RHP wRC+ vs. RHP K% vs. LHP wRC+ vs. LHP
LAD 122 (1st) 20.2% (2nd) 126 (T-1st) 20.7% (4th) 113 (8th)
NYM 121 (2nd) 22.4% (11th) 125 (3rd) 20.8% (T-5th) 114 (7th)
ATL 120 (3rd) 23.6% (14th) 126 (T-1st) 27.8% (29th) 101 (15th)
NYY 116 (4th) 21.4% (7th) 122 (4th) 22.6% (15th) 97 (T-18th)
SD 115 (5th) 20.7% (4th) 119 (5th) 23.2% (16th) 106 (10th)
SF 113 (T-6th) 22.2% (10th) 107 (9th) 21.8% (12th) 127 (3rd)
CHW 113 (T-6th) 26.2% (27th) 105 (T-12th) 21.7% (11th) 142 (1st)
TB 110 (8th) 26.3% (28th) 105 (T-12th) 28.5% (30th) 121 (T-4th)
PHI 109 (T-9th) 21.9% (T-8th) 106 (T-10th) 20.8% (T-5th) 118 (6th)
LAA 109 (T-9th) 20.9% (5th) 112 (6th) 22.0% (14th) 102 (T-13th)
BOS 106 (11th) 23.3% (13th) 108 (T-7th) 24.5% (24th) 102 (T-13th)
TOR 105 (12th) 21.9% (T-8th) 106 (T-10th) 23.7% (18th) 105 (T-11th)
WAS 104 (T-13th) 21.0% (6th) 97 (19th) 18.5% (1st) 121 (T-4th)
BAL 104 (T-13th) 22.8% (12th) 105 (T-12th) 23.3% (17th) 98 (17th)
OAK 102 (15th) 23.7% (15th) 105 (T-12th) 24.2% (23rd) 93 (22nd)
MIN 101 (16th) 25.5% (24th) 108 (T-7th) 21.3% (10th) 81 (24th)
HOU 100 (17th) 19.8% (1st) 102 (16th) 19.7% (2nd) 95 (20th)
MIA 96 (18th) 25.1% (21st) 89 (T-25th) 23.9% (21st) 111 (9th)
STL 93 (19th) 24.3% (19th) 92 (T-21st) 21.2% (9th) 97 (T-18th)
CHC 92 (20th) 25.9% (26th) 98 (18th) 24.9% (T-25th) 74 (T-28th)
KC 91 (T-21st) 24.5% (20th) 91 (23rd) 21.9% (13th) 94 (21st)
CIN 91 (T-21st) 25.6% (25th) 96 (20th) 24.0% (22nd) 78 (T-26th)
SEA 91 (T-21st) 24.0% (17th) 99 (17th) 27.3% (28th) 72 (30th)
MIL 89 (T-24th) 27.2% (29th) 84 (26th) 24.9% (T-25th) 105 (T-11th)
DET 89 (T-24th) 28.2% (30th) 76 (28th) 23.8% (T-19th) 141 (2nd)
ARI 88 (26th) 20.4% (3rd) 92 (T-21st) 21.0% (7th) 78 (T-26th)
CLE 87 (27th) 23.8% (16th) 89 (T-25th) 20.5% (3rd) 84 (23rd)
COL 76 (T-28th) 24.2% (18th) 74 (29th) 23.8% (T-19th) 80 (25th)
TEX 76 (T-28th) 25.3% (22nd) 78 (27th) 26.0% (27th) 74 (T-28th)
PIT 73 (30th) 25.5% (T-23rd) 64 (30th) 21.1% (8th) 99 (16th)

Tier 1: Dodgers, Yankees, Padres

The Yankees were able to finish fourth in wRC+ despite getting only 208 plate appearances combined from sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Tier 2: Braves, Mets, White Sox, Rays, Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Nationals, Cardinals, Astros

The Mets ranked second in wRC+ in 2020 and they just added shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher James McCann to their lineup. They should remain as one of the best lineups in baseball. The Blue Jays have a young and talented lineup with power from 1-9. George Springer should help them take the next step. The Cardinals should be much improved with the addition of third baseman Nolan Arenado. The Astros lost Springer, but the return of Yordan Alvarez will add some much-needed power into their lineup if he can stay healthy this time around.

Tier 3: Brewers, Reds, Athletics, Twins, Cubs, Giants, Orioles, Diamondbacks

The Brewers and Reds each under-produced while the Giants and Orioles performed above expectations relative to the skill in their lineups. Expect bounce-back seasons from Milwaukee's Christian Yelich and Cincinnati's Nick Castellanos. These offenses have potential but they should not be feared.

Tier 4: Mariners, Royals, Marlins, Indians, Rockies, Rangers, Tigers, Pirates

These offenses will be terrific matchups for your pitchers this season. The Indians lost Francisco Lindor, so their offense looks to remain as one of the worst in baseball. The Rockies no longer are the threat they once were, especially after trading Arenado. Obviously, you have to approach Coors Field with caution, but this is not a formidable lineup by any means. The Pirates were awful last year and they just traded one of their best hitters in Josh Bell.


April Schedule

Let's now take a look at each team's schedule in April. You'll find the opponent's tier in brackets as well as their mean tier in the second column.

Team Mean Tier Rank
CHW 3.56 at LAA (2) at SEA (4) KC (4) CLE (4) at BOS (2) at CLE (4) TEX (4) DET (4) CLE (4)
MIN 3.33 at MIL (3) at DET (4) SEA (4) BOS (2) at LAA (2) at OAK (3) PIT (4) at CLE (4) KC (4)
HOU* 3.11 at OAK (3) at LAA (2) OAK (3) DET (4) at SEA (4) at COL (4) LAA (2) SEA (4) at TB (2)
KC 3.00 TEX (4) at CLE (4) at CHW (2) LAA (2) TOR (2) TB (2) at DET (4) at PIT (4) at MIN (3)
DET 3.00 CLE (4) MIN (3) at CLE (4) at HOU (2) at OAK (3) PIT (4) KC (4) at CHW (2) at NYY (1)
LAA 3.00 CHW (2) HOU (2) at TOR (2) at KC (4) MIN (3) TEX (4) at HOU (2) at TEX (4) at SEA (4)
SF 3.00 at SEA (4) at SD (1) COL (4) CIN (3) at MIA (4) at PHI (2) MIA (4) COL (4) at SD (1)
HOU 3.11 at OAK (3) at LAA (2) OAK (3) DET (4) at SEA (4) at COL (4) LAA (2) SEA (4) at TB (2)
LAA 3.00 CHW (2) HOU (2) at TOR (2) at KC (4) MIN (3) TEX (4) at HOU (2) at TEX (4) at SEA (4)
CHC 2.89 PIT (4) MIL (3) at PIT (4) at MIL (3) ATL (2) NYM (2) MIL (3) at ATL (2) at CIN (3)
PIT 2.89 at CHC (3) at CIN (3) CHC (3) SD (1) at MIL (3) at DET (4) at MIN (3) KC (4) STL (2)
LAD 2.89 at COL (4) at OAK (3) WAS (2) COL (4) at SD (1) at SEA (4) SD (1) CIN (3) at MIL (3)
CLE 2.78 at DET (4) KC (4) DET (4) at CHW (2) at CIN (3) CHW (2) NYY (1) MIN (3) at CHW (2)
BOS 2.78 BAL (3) TB (2) at BAL (3) at MIN (3) CHW (2) TOR (2) SEA (4) at NYM (2) at TEX (4)
CIN 2.78 STL (2) PIT (4) at ARI (3) at SF (3) CLE (4) ARI (3) at STL (2) at LAD (1) CHC (3)
STL 2.78 at CIN (3) at MIA (4) MIL (3) WAS (2) at PHI (2) at WAS (2) CIN (3) PHI (2) at PIT (4)
SD 2.78 ARI (3) SF (3) at TEX (4) at PIT (4) LAD (1) MIL (3) at LAD (1) at ARI (3) SF (3)
MIL 2.67 MIN (3) at CHC (3) at STL (2) CHC (3) PIT (4) at SD (1) at CHC (3) MIA (4) LAD (1)
NYY 2.67 TOR (2) BAL (3) at TB (2) at TOR (2) TB (2) ATL (2) at CLE (4) at BAL (3) DET (4)
BAL 2.67 at BOS (2) at NYY (1) BOS (2) SEA (4) at TEX (4) at MIA (4) OAK (3) NYY (1) at OAK (3)
TB 2.56 at MIA (4) at BOS (2) NYY (1) TEX (4) at NYY (1) at KC (4) TOR (2) OAK (3) HOU (2)
OAK 2.56 HOU (2) LAD (1) at HOU (2) at ARI (3) DET (4) MIN (3) at BAL (3) at TB (2) BAL (3)
NYM 2.56 at WAS (2) at PHI (2) MIA (4) PHI (2) at COL (4) at CHC (3) WAS (2) BOS (2) at PHI (2)
ATL 2.44 at PHI (2) at WAS (2) PHI (2) MIA (4) at CHC (3) at NYY (1) ARI (3) CHC (3) at TOR (2)
MIA 2.44 TB (2) STL (2) at NYM (2) at ATL (2) SF (3) BAL (3) at SF (3) at MIL (3) at WAS (2)
PHI 2.33 ATL (2) NYM (2) at ATL (2) at NYM (2) STL (2) SF (3) at COL (4) at STL (2) NYM (2)
TEX 2.22 at KC (4) TOR (2) SD (1) at TB (2) BAL (3) at LAA (2) at CHW (2) LAA (2) BOS (2)
SEA 2.22 SF (3) CHW (2) at MIN (3) at BAL (3) HOU (2) LAD (1) at BOS (2) at HOU (2) LAA (2)
TOR 2.22 at NYY (1) at TEX (4) LAA (2) NYY (1) at KC (4) at BOS (2) at TB (2) WAS (2) ATL (2)
WAS 2.22 NYM (2) ATL (2) at LAD (1) at STL (2) ARI (3) STL (2) at NYM (2) at TOR (2) MIA (4)
COL 2.22 LAD (1) ARI (3) at SF (3) at LAD (1) NYM (2) HOU (2) PHI (2) at SF (3) at ARI (3)

*The Rockies have a bottom-tier offense, but they're much better at Coors, so keep that in mind when looking at these matchups.



The White Sox have a fantastic schedule to open up the season, facing Cleveland (three times), Rangers, Tigers, Mariners, and Royals. This means that you should bump up Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn in your rankings while also considering Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease as back-end starters or streamers.

The Twins also have a flurry of exploitable matchups, including Cleveland, Pirates, Tigers, Royals, and Mariners. You should definitely target Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios while monitoring Michael Pineda, Randy Dobnak, and J.A. Happ as streamers.

The Blue Jays will have to deal with the Yankees (twice), along with the Red Sox, Rays, Angels, Nationals, and Braves. I would bump down Hyun-Jin Ryu in your rankings, especially due to his lower strikeout rate. However, you could stream one of their pitchers in exploitable matchups against the Rangers and Royals.

Any NL West team besides the Dodgers and Padres is going to have a tough time dealing with these two juggernauts as well as Coors Field. The Rockies are in the worst spot and you should continue to take each of their starters off your draft boards.


Key Takeaways

Use this chart to help you draft late-round streamers that will let you start your season strong. The Royals get to face the Rangers and Cleveland in the first two series, so pitchers like Brad Keller and Brady Singer should be on your radar. The Tigers take on Cleveland twice, so you could look at one of their young arms like Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, or Matt Manning in the later rounds as potential streamers.

Overall, it's a great idea to target AL Central pitchers this season, especially elite arms like Lucas Giolito and Kenta Maeda. While you shouldn't downgrade pitchers with tough early-season schedules too much, it's definitely in play as a tiebreaker. Strength of schedule is too often overlooked in fantasy baseball.

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