Mining the MLB cellar for fantasy baseball gold

Looking at the standings, it’s apparently hip to be in disrepair.

Through 27 days of action, the Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins all find themselves on pace to lose more than 120 games. The White Sox in particular have been historically bad, losing 20 of their first 23. That’s tied for the second-worst start by any team during the modern era. They also rank last in runs per game on offense (2.17), which is nearly two-thirds of a run beneath the next-worst team (Oakland’s 2.83) while pitching to the game’s third-worst ERA (5.14).

The Rockies, for their part, have been held to two runs or fewer in six of their first 11 games at Coors Field. Meanwhile, the Marlins can’t seem to keep any starting pitchers healthy, not to mention that the team is off to its second-worst 25-game start in franchise history.

When we look at these three teams, as fantasy managers we often can’t see further than a trio of dream matchups for our opposing players, especially starting pitchers. It’s not an outrageous takeaway, considering that 11 of the 20 best single-game, individual pitching scores of 2024 have come against these three teams. Yes, it seems highly likely that the White Sox at any venue and the Rockies away from Coors (and perhaps even sometimes at their hitting-heaven home) will remain the two most advantageous matchups for opposing pitchers all season.

But these teams, bad as they might be, can be a source of fantasy value.

Let’s flash back to last season, when four teams lost at least 100 games (the White Sox, Rockies, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals). Bobby Witt Jr. of the Royals was still the No. 14 overall scorer in terms of fantasy points. The Royals also had baseball’s third best-scoring pitcher over the season’s final two months in Cole Ragans. The White Sox had a pair of 300-point scorers in Luis Robert Jr. and Dylan Cease. Nolan Jones of the Rockies scored 268 points from the date of his May 26 recall forward. And even the Athletics got 166 points from Zack Gelof following his July 14 promotion.

The lesson is that the 2024 White Sox, Rockies and Marlins can still contribute something to our teams, be it over the entire remainder of the season, or a specific portion of it (as was true with Ragans and Gelof last year). A primary reason why is that these teams have more opportunities to hand out, being mired in rebuilding situations, and are in much better position to take chances on youngsters or reclamation projects from other teams (à la Ragans).

Going in reverse order of my projected, season-ending win totals for each, let’s take a look at what value you can extract from each of this seemingly sad-sack sides.


White Sox (projected record of 50-112)

Tuesday’s loss was particularly distressing, not only from a pure baseball perspective as the team blew a 5-2 lead after 7⅓ innings versus an 8-13 Minnesota Twins team, but especially so for fantasy, as we watched theoretical closer Michael Kopech contribute to the late-inning meltdown. Kopech, one of the few things that had gone right for the White Sox bullpen, entered in the bottom of the eighth and delivered his second poor outing in his past three (1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 HR in this one).

As Kopech is an intriguing late-inning arm, his prospects for saves on what should be a terrible team rekindles the question about closers for 100-loss teams. There have been 42 teams to have lost that many in a season since 2000 and, among that group, their leading save-getters have averaged 17.4 saves. Fifteen (36% of the group) had a leading save-getter notch at least 20, six (14%) reached 25-plus, and three (7%) had 30-plus, with Ian Kennedy (30) of the 2019 Royals being the most recent.

However, the bar gets higher (and tougher to hurdle) when a team loses at least two-thirds of its games. Nine teams have done that since 2000, and the leading save-getter from that group has averaged just 13.2, with only two notching 20-plus — Shane Greene (22) with the 2019 Detroit Tigers and Trevor May (21) with the 2023 Athletics.

That tosses cold water on the Kopech enthusiasm, although a pitcher who can reach 100 mph — 24% of his fastballs thrown this year have reached at least that velocity — who can also add a slider that has a 53% whiff rate certainly bears watching.

As for the rest of the team, being a probably historically bad squad, short-term opportunities are the name of the game in anything 12-team mixed or smaller. Luis Robert Jr. is the most obvious fantasy asset on the roster, and news is that he will be on the shorter end of his recovery timetable of six to eight weeks from his Grade 2 hip flexor strain, putting him on track for a mid-to-late May return. That’s promising. He’ll instantly recapture universal fantasy start status once activated.

Beyond that, Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez, each off to terrible starts, should deliver fantasy utility in time. Jimenez’s downside is injury risk — the same as Robert’s — but his combination of above-average contact and raw power makes him worth slotting into your lineup anytime he’s healthy. Jimenez remains available in more than three-quarters of ESPN leagues.

Rotation members Erick Fedde and Garrett Crochet, too, warrant regular streaming status. Fedde, back in the States after a year in the KBO (South Korea), has brought back both the sweeper and splitter he developed overseas, fueling a 27.3% strikeout rate that’s well above any of his prior years in the majors. Crochet, thanks to his 96.3 mph fastball and slider, has a 32.7% strikeout rate. Still, as a converted reliever only two years removed from Tommy John surgery, workload will be a season-long question.

One final nugget: If you’re looking for a Gelof type for 2024, prospect Colson Montgomery could fit the bill. Though he is off to a sluggish start for Triple-A Charlotte, hitting just .219/.305/.343 through 18 games, he should be a candidate to take over the starting shortstop job sometime this summer.


Rockies (projected record of 51-111)

Despite their early struggles at Coors Field, Rockies hitters remain among the strongest streaming choices when scheduled for home games. Remember, offense tends to rise along with the temperatures at Coors. From 2021-23, the Rockies and their opponents averaged 10.92 runs per game at Coors in March and April, and 11.42 — half a run greater — from May 1 forward.

Charlie Blackmon, Elias Diaz, Ryan McMahon, Ezequiel Tovar and Nolan Jones all remain fantasy-relevant whenever they’re scheduled to play at Coors. Each averaged at least 1.86 fantasy points per game at home last season. Jones, off to one of the worst starts of any top-100 preseason pick, remains a top buy-low candidate.

It’s the road games that are the problem for Rockies hitters, and this year’s roster (outside of perhaps Jones) shapes up as a clear “stream them at home” squad. No Rockies hitter has scored as many as 140 fantasy points in their road games in any season since Nolan Arenado in 2019. To provide further perspective, 152 hitters scored more fantasy points on the road than the team’s highest scorer, McMahon (115), did last season alone.

Kris Bryant could be a fantasy factor in both home and road games, so long as the back injury that has him sidelined doesn’t become a long-term concern.

As for the pitching staff? No, nothing to see there.


Marlins (projected record of 60-102)

Though not forecasted as a playoff team, no one expected the Marlins to be as historically bad as they have been through nearly a month’s worth of play. The Marlins have a near-entire rotation’s worth of pitching on the IL in Sandy Alcantara (out for the season due to Tommy John surgery), Eury Perez (ditto), Braxton Garrett and A.J. Puk, which is what made Max Meyer’s recent demotion to the minors so puzzling.

Pitching is usually the name of the game in Miami, if only because of the team’s pitcher-friendly home environment at LoanDepot Park. Jesus Luzardo, the Marlins’ earliest-drafted player on average during the preseason, remains an attractive buy-low candidate for so long as his underlying metrics indicate bad fortune (6.58 ERA, but 4.70 Statcast xERA). His average fastball velocity might be down slightly, but he’s still getting better-than-40% whiff rates with both his slider and changeup.

Edward Cabrera, Trevor Rogers, Meyer and Garrett remain streaming options for their home games or against below-average offenses, at the very least. Cabrera’s raw stuff makes him a prospective breakthrough candidate, as he has thrown four different pitches at least 15% of the time in his two starts, and three of them (changeup, curveball and slider) have generated at least a 32% whiff rate.

How about the closer situation, which ties back to the previous point about closers on 100-loss teams? Tanner Scott appears to have a grip on that role, thanks to his combination of a 96-mph fastball and an elite slider, though his historically shaky control leads to inconsistency. Scott is one of the game’s more underrated save-getters, but the worry with him, which ties to the team’s performance, is that he’d be one of the most likely relief pitchers to be traded in-season. That’s why there’s so much chatter about how Anthony Bender, Andrew Nardi and Sixto Sanchez are faring behind him, and fantasy managers should be vigilant as to who is next in line all summer.

On offense, the slow-starting Luis Arraez and Jazz Chisholm Jr. are worthy every-week fantasy options. The former represents a buy-low candidate; the latter would qualify except for his checkered injury history. Fantasy managers could probably also squeeze situational value out of players such as Tim Anderson, Josh Bell and Bryan De La Cruz.

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