How MLB Delay Impacts Injured Yankees' Fantasy Stock

Concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus has pushed back Opening Day of Major League Baseball. This news boosts the fantasy baseball value of injured New York Yankees Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and James Paxton.
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We’re living through unprecedented times in the sports world. Nearly all major sports leagues and organizations are shut down for at least the next month due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, including Major League Baseball. Spring Training is over (for now) and the start of the 2020 MLB season will be pushed back at least two weeks and probably longer.

Forgive us for not delving too deep into the scary real-world issues that caused all this. Instead, let’s escape, at least for a moment, from the chaos and evaluate how a delayed start to the season affects the fantasy baseball draft stock of several superstar players. Let’s focus on a trio of currently-injured New York Yankees, in particular: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and James Paxton.

Aaron Judge — Outfielder — Current Rank: OF11 (No. 40 overall)

2020 Projection: 99R - 38HR - 93RBI - 6SB - .265 (495 ABs)

The news around Judge ever since the Yankees reported to camp has been murky at best and concerning at worst. The star outfielder complained about discomfort on the right side of his chest and early MRIs didn’t uncover any issues. The pain persisted and we eventually found out that he had a top right rib stress fracture that may require surgery. We won’t know if that will ultimately be the case until his CT scan on March 20, but even Judge himself joked that he “wouldn’t mind a couple more weeks to recover.

So what should fantasy managers do with all this information? Let’s start with the fact that the two-week period the Yankees shut him down for (March 6-20) will be offset by the delayed start to the season. Judge said he was hoping to be ready by Opening Day (March 26), but later said Mid-April or even May was a possibility because he wasn’t sure. Let’s walk through what those potential return dates could mean.

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 9, Judge returns April 16

April 9 is the absolute minimum timetable for MLB to start its regular season. April 16 is also probably the earliest we can reasonably expect Judge to return to full action. I had Judge missing the first week of the season already baked into my projections, so he’d stay at OF11 and No. 40 overall in this scenario. He’ll still be an injury risk even when his rib is healed, however.

  • Projection: 99R - 38HR - 93RBI - 6SB - .265 (495 ABs)    
  • Rank: OF11 (No. 40 overall)                     

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 9, Judge returns May 1

Once again, this is the absolute minimum timetable for MLB to start its regular season, but now Judge misses the first three weeks of the season. That will affect his numbers a bit. If we drop him down for 495 to 450 at-bats, here is what he new projection and ranking looks like:

  • Projection: 90R - 34HR - 85RBI - 5SB - .265 (450 ABs)    
  • Rank: OF25 (No. 89 overall)                     

While returning on May 1 won’t be as detrimental as it would’ve been if everything started on time, it’s still a significant blow to Judges single-season value.

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 23, Judge returns May 1

Same as Hypothetical No. 1.

  • Projection: 99R - 38HR - 93RBI - 6SB - .265 (495 ABs)      
  • Rank: OF11 (No. 40 overall)                   

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts and Judge returns to field at same time

This is where things get fun. Let’s say Judge doesn’t need surgery and is healed up in time to at least play DH on whatever the new Opening Day is.

  • Projection: 105R - 40HR - 98RBI - 6SB - .265 (525 ABs)   
  • Rank: OF10 (No. 30 overall)                   

No matter what, the extended time off will only benefit Judge. Just keep in mind how much value could be added depending on when your league drafts and when you believe MLB will return.

Giancarlo Stanton — Outfielder — Current Rank: OF14 (No. 52 overall)

2020 Projection: 88R - 41HR - 101RBI - 2SB - .268 (490 ABs)

After missing all but 18 games last season, Stanton was hoping to start the 2020 season healthy. That won’t be the case as he’s dealing with a Grade 1 right calf strain. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on March 11 that the team had no plans to rush him back by Opening Day (March 26), but he wouldn’t explicitly rule it out. Now with at least a couple extra weeks to heal, Stanton may be able to take the field for Game 1 of 162.

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 9, Stanton returns April 16

This scenario adds three full weeks from the original Opening Day date. That should be plenty of time to get Stanton up and running in a DH role, assuming he doesn’t have a setback—something one would assume is less likely now that there’s no real pressure to be ready before mid-April. In this case, my current projection holds steady.

  • Projection: 88R - 41HR - 101RBI - 2SB - .268 (490 ABs)     
  • Rank: OF14 (No. 52 overall)

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts and Stanton returns to field at same time

This is the best-case scenario for Yankee fans, Stanton and fantasy managers. I also think it’s fairly likely to happen. If there was even a small chance Stanton was able to play by the end of March, he should be ready to roll by mid-April or even May if the league’s start date is delayed further. We still haven’t seen the best of Stanton in pinstripes. Maybe that changes in 2020.

  • Projection: 93R - 44HR - 107RBI - 2SB - .268 (520 ABs)     
  • Rank: OF10 (No. 33 overall)      

James Paxton — Pitcher — Current Rank: SP49 (No. 180 overall)

2020 Projection: 9W - 3.86ERA - 1.19WHIP - 147SO (126 IP)

The biggest beneficiary of this bad situation on the Yankees might be Paxton, who was already making solid progress in his recovery from back surgery to remove a peridiscal cyst. He threw pain free for the first time in 2020 on March 11 and the hope is he can make a return sometime in the middle of May. That’s Paxton’s personal timeline, which is still best-case scenario, but the middle of May isn’t going to be that far away from Opening Day now. Let’s work with that timetable.

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 9, Paxton returns May 15

The delay to open the season is only a slight boost in this instance, but again this would be the absolute soonest MLB would return to regular season action. Still, fantasy managers might get three more starts out of him than they were anticipating.

  • Projection: 10W - 3.86ERA - 1.19WHIP - 164SO (141 IP)    
  • Rank: SP43 (No. 159 overall)                    

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts April 23, Paxton returns May 15

In this scenario, Paxton now shoots up to SP3 territory. Getting over the 150 innings pitched threshold is important and he’s now worth a pick somewhere near the 10th round. This scenario is also the same if the league returns in the first week of May and Paxton returns around Memorial Day.

  • Projection: 11W - 3.86ERA - 1.19WHIP - 182SO (156 IP)   
  • Rank: SP33 (No. 129 overall)                    

Hypothetical: MLB regular season starts May 1, Paxton returns May 15

Pushing out the regular season start date to May would obviously be the biggest boost to Paxton’s value. He becomes a Top 30 option again, as he’ll essentially be serving the minimum amount of time on the IL.

  • Projection: 11W - 3.86ERA - 1.19WHIP - 189SO (162 IP)  
  • Rank: SP29 (No. 116 overall)                 

There’s still so much uncertainty surrounding the real and sports world right now. Let’s look for the few positives where we can. For the three Yankees listed above, and their fantasy managers, a delayed start to the season should only help them reach their full potential.