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2020 Schedule Outliers - NL and AL Central Starting Pitchers

One of the many weird things about the 2020 MLB season was how the schedule was re-done.

In case you have forgotten, every team played all 60 of their regular-season games against teams in the same division or corresponding geographical division as them. That resulted in some natural advantages.

It seemed pretty obvious at the time that Central divisions were a great place for a pitcher to be. Looking back, that turned out to be true.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Schedule Factors

Here is a breakdown of the regular season numbers by division:

The National League Central was by far the worst offensive division with a .222/.309/.381 slash line and also the highest strikeout rate. The American League Central was not much better with a .244/.313/.411 line with a 24.7% strikeout rate.

Here is the team-by-team breakdown for these divisions:

So it's obvious that pitchers in the central division had a unique advantage for fantasy purposes. Now we can explore which pitchers in this subset had the easiest schedules.

I tried to be scientific with this and do more than just an eye-ball test, so I took every Central Division pitcher that threw more than 35 innings, found the share of their total innings thrown against each opponent, multiplied that number by each opponent's team OPS, and added them all up. So a pitcher that threw a big share of his innings against a team with a low OPS would gravitate towards the top of this list, and vice versa.  Here are some stand-outs.

 

Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals

He just barely made the cut here, throwing just 40.1 innings last year, but he came in with the easiest schedule of the bunch. He threw 13 (32% of his total) innings against the Pirates (a team .641 OPS), and wholly avoided the only good offenses in the central divisions (Twins, White Sox). As you may know, he did not take advantage, posting some pretty discouraging numbers. However it was a really weird year for the guy with injury and with the Cardinals crazy COVID situation, so it's probably not wise to factor the 2020 schedule too much into your evaluation for 2021.

 

Brad Keller, Kansas City Royals

Keller comes in second here, throwing 46% of his innings against the Reds (.715 OPS) and Indians (.689 OPS). He too avoided the Twins and White Sox, a total Yahtzee. Unlike Flaherty, Keller took full advantage, posting a 2.47 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP with a 0.33 HR/9. Baseball can be random, but it's a pretty good bet that those numbers (especially the low home run rate) had a lot to do with the schedule.

 

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds

Castillo had the best season of his career in 2020 with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 30.5% strikeout rate. Helping those numbers was the schedule, as he piled up 39 of his 70 innings against teams with OPS's below .700 (Pirates, Indians, Cardinals, Tigers). He also missed the White Sox and just made one start (four innings) against the Twins.

 

Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

Like his teammate, Gray also had a phenomenal season while avoiding the potent White Sox lineup and making just one start against the Twins. He threw 69% of his innings against National League foes (Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals), and added on starts against the Indians and Tigers.

 

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

Breakout of the year candidate Burnes also benefited from the schedule in a major way, facing the Pirates for 19% of his innings and throwing just 14.5% against the two good offenses on his team's schedule (White Sox and Twins).

 

Carlos Carrasco, New York Mets

Another name that had the fortune of not having to face the White Sox, Carrasco racked up 65% of his innings against the Royals, Cubs, Tigers, and Pirates. He took advantage and posted some awesome numbers in 2020, really showing that he was fully healthy after a tumultuous 2019 season.

This should be in our minds as we approach drafts in 2021. Central division pitchers had a natural advantage in 2020 and may have over-performed a bit because of it. There are exceptions, of course, here a few names who really did not benefit from pitching in the Central.

 

Zach Plesac, Cleveland Indians

Plesac was awesome in 2020, and got no help from the scheduling gods. He had to throw 37% of his innings against the tough White Sox lineup, with another 13% against the Twins. That's half of his innings against the only two good offenses around, and two of the best offenses in the league to boot.

 

Kris Bubic, Kansas City Royals

Overall, the rookie was not very good in 2020 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP while posting just a 22% strikeout rate. He did have the misfortune of facing the White Sox and Twins for half of his starts and 48% of his innings. That's tough for any pitcher to deal with, and especially a rookie.

 

Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians

You may have thought Bieber's Cy Young season was propelled by pitching in the central, but you would be wrong. He threw 27% of his innings against the tough Twins lineup and another 14% against the White Sox. There was some relief (42% of innings coming against the Tigers, Royals, and Pirates), but all-in-all Bieber faced a pretty normal strength of schedule.



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