Lineup Lowdown: American League

Lineup Lowdown: American League

This article is part of our Lineup Lowdown series.

The goal with Lineup Lowdown is simple: we're looking for trends which could help identify players that might be undervalued or overvalued. Who is playing more/less? Who is moving up/down? We'll be doing a deep dive into one league each week as we navigate the lineup landscape.

RotoWire's awesome Playing Time Changes tool aided me in putting this together.

Baltimore Orioles

-- After batting leadoff three of the first four times the Orioles faced a lefty, Cedric Mullins has hit ninth four of the last six times versus southpaws (he hit seventh once and was on the bench once). Mullins has actually been much better against left-handers (.899 OPS) than right-handers (.692 OPS) in 2023, although the opposite was true in 2022. He's still perched atop the order against righties, but it's certainly a hit to his counting stats outlook if Mullins remains at the bottom of the lineup versus lefties. Replacing Mullins at leadoff against left-handers has been Austin Hays. While Hays has fared better against lefties in his career, most of his production in 2023 has come at the expense of righties (.998 OPS). The 27-year-old has mostly batted fifth or sixth versus right-handers.

-- It has surprised me a bit how often Ramon Urias has played. He and Gunnar Henderson both have 11 starts at third base, and odds are Urias would've surpassed him had he not recently had to missed a couple games after being hit in the neck by a pitch. Urias also has an additional six starts at second base. The 28-year-old is coming off a Gold Glove-winning season at third and entered 2023 with a solid OPS+ of 109 in his career, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

Boston Red Sox

-- Manager Alex Cora said before the season that he planned to use both Alex Verdugo and Triston Casas in the leadoff spot versus right-handed pitching. Verdugo got the first crack at it, though, and hasn't let it go, sporting a .319/.390/.479 batting line through his first 24 games. Casas hasn't done anything to force a change, either, with a slow start which has had him mostly batting sixth. Verdugo has become the leadoff guy against lefties, too, having made five straight starts there versus southpaws. I'm not sure that will continue, though, since Verdugo's career-long struggles against lefties have continued.

-- Enrique Hernandez seems like the obvious guy to ascend to the top of the batting order against lefties if Cora does move Verdugo down. He's been hot over the last two weeks and, as a result, has already been moved up to the five spot with regularity lately. Cora also has a history with Hernandez as his leadoff man. It's not a spot he's a great fit for given his lack of on-base skills, but if he's used there semi-regularly it would be a boost to his pedestrian fantasy outlook. Hernandez has mostly been playing second base lately, with Yu Chang emerging as the preferred shortstop option, at least until he left Monday's game with a wrist injury. If Chang is out a while, Christian Arroyo could become a regular again. Adalberto Mondesi (knee) doesn't appear close to starting a rehab assignment.

-- Jarren Duran wasn't summoned right away when Adam Duvall (wrist) went down, but he's been in center field for each of his team's last seven games against right-handers. The 26-year-old has inched up to the No. 7 spot with a hot start. Duran is still struggling to make contact, but he's hitting the ball extremely hard when he does connect, and he should continue to see regular duty versus righties while Duvall is out. He'll be a stolen base threat, at the very least.

New York Yankees

-- Giancarlo Stanton's hamstring injury and Josh Donaldson's setback with a hamstring injury of his own has meant a shakeup in the Yankees' lineup. Anthony Volpe is no longer stuck at the bottom of the batting order, moving all the way up to the leadoff spot for each of the last eight games. Volpe still isn't getting a ton of hits, but he's drawing more walks from the top of the order and is a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen base attempts. Former leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu is now down in the No. 5 spot, with Gleyber Torres inching up to cleanup.

-- Oswaldo Cabrera has been used almost exclusively in the outfield, which has been a bit of a surprise. He's started 14 games in left field, two in right and just one each at second base, third base and shortstop. It's been slow going at the plate for him, although he has stolen four bags without being caught.

-- Franchy Cordero has cooled off after a hot stretch and Willie Calhoun has yet to get going, which has meant more Isiah Kiner-Falefa in center field while Aaron Judge shifts back to right. IKF deserves some credit for making himself a passable defender in center on the fly, but he's been predictably awful offensively. He, Cordero and Calhoun will be left fighting for scraps once Harrison Bader (oblique) returns and, in all likelihood, at least one of them probably won't be on the roster.

Tampa Bay Rays

-- The Rays have faced seven lefties so far and the Lowes (Brandon and Josh) have been on the bench, collectively, for all but one of them. That came all the way back on Opening Day when Brandon started at second base and batted seventh. The counting stats are frustrating if you're rostering either guy, but it's hard to argue with the results (Brandon's five-strikeout performance Monday notwithstanding).

-- Taylor Walls is usually the one to handle second base against lefties and he's essentially been an everyday player between playing time there, third base and shortstop. The 26-year-old has gotten off to a red-hot start at the dish, although batted ball metrics suggest he's been quite lucky. The Rays really value Walls' glove, though, so I suspect he'll still play plenty even if (when) his bat cools off.

-- Those rostering Christian Bethancourt in two-catcher leagues (or even one-catcher leagues) have been rewarded with a fantastic start. The 31-year-old's terrific batted ball data from last season has been even better this year and he's even started drawing some walks. Bethancourt has started 14 games at catcher to Francisco Mejia's nine.

Toronto Blue Jays

-- Daulton Varsho has started five of seven games against lefties and hasn't batted lower than fifth, which has been very heartening to his fantasy managers. As anticipated, he's hasn't caught at all, starting 15 games in left field and another six in center.

-- Santiago Espinal leads the Jays with nine starts at second base, followed by Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio with seven apiece. Merrifield is seeing easily the most playing time of the three overall, though, mixing in 10 starts in the outfield. He's seen his average climb to .317, too, following a 10-game hitting streak. Some more aggressiveness on the bases would be nice, though, as he's stolen just two bags on three tries.

-- Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen have virtually split catching duties, with Kirk making 12 starts behind the dish to Jansen's 11. Kirk has an additional three starts at designated hitter. Jansen is off to a brutal .150/.244/.250 start, rendering him unusable even in two-catcher formats.

Chicago White Sox

-- Manager Pedro Grifol has said that Oscar Colas is not a platoon player, yet he's been on the bench four of the five times the Sox have faced a lefty. Colas hasn't exactly pushed for more playing time, of course, with a .567 OPS and an average exit velocity that's been among the worst in baseball.

-- A guy who has had no problem with exit velocity is Jake Burger. He entered play Monday with an absurd 33.3 percent barrel rate 91.2 mph average exit velocity and a max exit velo in the 100th percentile. Burger is going to strike out a lot, but he's made a case for playing time, anyway, even after Yoan Moncada (back) returns. Unfortunately for him, his only path to playing time when Moncada does make it back seems to be at designated hitter, and the White Sox seem understandably resistant to using Eloy Jimenez in the field.

Cleveland Guardians

-- It's been a very disappointing start for Oscar Gonzalez. Not only is he hitting a woeful .172/.200/.276, he's also been in a pretty strict short-side platoon in right field with Will Brennan. The good news for Gonzalez is that the Guardians have faced an inordinate number of lefties, particularly of late with seven of their last eight games coming against southpaws. Brennan has been a bit better than Gonzalez, but that's not saying much.

-- Also off to a slow start has been Josh Naylor, although all those lefties Cleveland has faced hasn't helped. Naylor has been given seven starts against left-handers, but has continued to be dreadful against them in going just 2-for-21.

Detroit Tigers

-- Perhaps it's simply because they're lacking other options, but the Tigers seem high on Nick Maton. The 26-year-old has started 16 of 21 games and has been in the leadoff spot in six of the last eight contests. He did homer from the cleanup spot Monday (his fourth dinger of the season), as part of a two-hit night but is still batting just .154. Most of Maton's playing time has come at third base, although he's played some second, as well.

-- Kerry Carpenter has started every game against right-handers this season, splitting his time evenly between designated hitter and right field, with one start in left mixed in. He's also been the Tigers' primary cleanup hitter. Carpenter's production on the whole hasn't been great, but he has clubbed three homers and a 20 percent barrel rate coming into action Monday suggests there could be more to come. He hit 36 bombs between the majors and minors last season. The left-handed batter has zero starts versus lefties.

Kansas City Royals

-- I'm still buying MJ Melendez if anyone is selling. Yes, the strikeouts are a problem, but I'm not counting on him to be an asset in that area. I'd be shocked if a positive power regression doesn't come. He's among the elite of the elite in terms of average exit velocity (96.2 mph) and hard-hit rate (62.2 percent), but only has two home runs and a .624 OPS to show for it. He's slugging just .342, but an xSLG of .487 seems more indicative of how he's swinging the bat. The Royals also seem undeterred, as Melendez has been a regular fixture in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup. The cherry on top is a catcher-eligible who sees the bulk of his playing time at other positions, allowing for fresher legs and more playing time. Just five of Melendez's 20 starts have been behind the plate.

-- I was fond of Michael Massey as a late-round middle infield target during draft season, but there's no getting around the fact that he's been an utter disaster. He does have back-to-back two-hit games, but that brought his season batting line to an unsightly .167/.161/.183. Massey hasn't drawn a walk all season and is striking out at a 35.5 percent clip. He's started just four of the last eight games and a demotion could be in order soon.

Minnesota Twins

-- All 20 of Byron Buxton's starts this season have come at designated hitter and it doesn't appear as though the Twins plan to put him in the outfield anytime soon. The strategy has served its purpose in that Buxton has remained healthy, although he's yet to really get cooking at the plate. But while his strikeouts have remained high in 2023, Buxton has been drawing more walks and has hit the ball plenty hard when he does make contact. Unfortunately, the stolen bases no longer appear to be part of his game. He's yet to attempt even one stolen base this season, which given that he still has top-end speed, seems to be a conscious decision by the player, the team or both as a means help keep him on the field.

-- Trevor Larnach got off to an encouraging start the first couple weeks of the season, but he's trailed off dramatically since then. A light slate of lefties has meant Larnach remaining in the lineup regularly, but with Alex Kirilloff (wrist) due back soon he probably can't afford to slump any longer.

Houston Astros

-- With Jose Altuve (thumb) on the shelf, Mauricio Dubon initially shared the second-base job with David Hensley but eventually emerged as the clear starter at the position. He's also made nine straight starts in the leadoff spot since Chas McCormick (back) went down, and Dubon extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a leadoff triple Monday. Dubon doesn't have much power or stolen-base chops, but he makes a ton of contact and is worth using in fantasy while he's perched atop a powerful lineup.

-- The loser in Dubon's elevation to the top spot in the lineup has been Jeremy Pena, who had been moved down to the six spot before hitting second Monday. Pena has hit a bit better since being moved down in the lineup, and he's also been running wild lately with five steals in his last eight contests. Though his average sits under .220, Pena has still been a top-10 fantasy shortstop because his counting stats have been there.

-- Corey Julks played his way onto the Opening Day roster with a strong showing this spring and he might be playing his way into a long-term stay with his hot start. The 27-year-old is sitting on a .305/.311/.458 batting line in his first 17 games and has been in the lineup for nine of the last 14 contests. A 19:1 K:BB points to some potential trouble ahead, but Julks is hitting the ball when he makes contact.

Los Angeles Angels

-- The Angels made a big move back on April 15 in deciding to have top prospect Zach Neto skip over Triple-A and join the big club, with David Fletcher losing his 26-man and eventually 40-man roster spot in the process. The rookie was thrown into the leadoff spot in two of his first three games but has now settled in at the bottom of the batting order. It obviously caps his counting stats upside if he doesn't move up in the order, but Neto still boasts power and speed upside and will be given the opportunity to stick as the team's long-term shortstop.

-- With Jared Walsh landing on the injured list just before Opening Day due to headaches and insomnia, the Halos have used a collection of bodies at first base. Jake Lamb initially was seeing most of the starts at the position versus righties, but lately it's been Gio Urshela there more since Neto took over at short. Brandon Drury has drawn all seven of the starts at first against lefties and has started another 11 games at second. The production from the trio has been lacking, although Drury did pop two homers Monday.

Oakland Athletics

-- After occupying the nine spot for the first two weeks of the season, Esteury Ruiz has been elevated to the top of Oakland's batting order for each of the last eight games. His batted-ball data has remained fairly lackluster, but it's improved notably since last season and he doesn't strike out much. The speedster is also a perfect 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts and, frankly, it would be a surprise if he's not one of the league leaders in steals from here on out.

-- Brent Rooker made just three starts – all against left-handers – in the club's first 10 games of the season. Since then he's started all but two contests and one of those times he sat out due to injury. Rooker has also been situated in either the third or fourth spot in the A's lineup every time during the latter stretch. I'm highly skeptical that the contact gains Rooker has made this season will stick. He struck out at a 28.5 percent rate in the minors and came into this year with a 32 percent strikeout rate in the big leagues. The 28-year-old has been crushing the ball when he makes contact, though, and he's now gone deep six times in 16 tilts after a two-homer game Monday.

Seattle Mariners

-- The Jarred Kelenic breakout is happening. After a relatively quiet first week-ish of action, Kelenic is batting .342/.404/.854 with six home runs over his last 12 games, which includes a two-game homer streak that he'll carry into action Tuesday. After being benched each of the first three times the Mariners faced a lefty, Kelenic has been in the lineup the last three times versus southpaws and he's sporting a .975 OPS against them this season. The strikeouts remain a tad high, but not alarmingly so as they had been previously. He ranks in the 96th percentile in xwOBA.

-- Kolten Wong has yet to start a game versus a left-hander, first being benched in favor of Sam Haggerty in those situations and more recently for Jose Caballero. It's been a painfully slow start at the plate for Wong, and while things will surely get better, he's been a pretty low-ceiling option in fantasy even in much better situations.

Texas Rangers

-- Manager Bruce Bochy has used a pretty strict platoon at shortstop since Corey Seager (hamstring) went down, with Josh Smith starting against righties and Ezequiel Duran versus lefties. Those two, along with Travis Jankowski and Robbie Grossman, have taken turns in the two spot in the lineup. Smith has an on-base percentage approaching .400 thanks to eight walks, but he somehow has yet to tally an extra-base hit or an RBI. Duran has been hitting the ball hard in a limited sample but his plate discipline has been terrible. Jankowski has started nine of the last 10 games against righties and has swiped three bags in four attempts.

-- Leody Taveras got a late start to the season because of an oblique strain, but he's been the club's everyday center fielder since being activated in mid-April. The production so far hasn't been much to speak of, but Taveras is showing promising early signs in terms of his batted ball data and contact rate to go along with his usual elite sprint speed. The 24-year-old former top prospect could be a sneaky fantasy add before the production matches up with the Statcast data.

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Ryan Boyer
Ryan has been writing about fantasy baseball since 2005 for Fanball, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus and RotoWire.
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