BASEBALL IS IN MY BLOOD…My mother was so devoted to the Dodgers that her nickname in Rye High School was “Brooklyn”.  In the late 1940s she listened to the radio broadcasts of Red Barber and scored the games including Jackie Robinson’s first on April 15, 1947.  She loved baseball. 

My mother’s divorce from my father was awful. She struggled mightily as a single mother.  She tried to raise five kids.  My two oldest siblings were eight and ten years older than me.  By the time I turned seven, they were into booze, drugs, and sex.  Candidly, it was left to my 10-year-old sister to do much of the mothering for 7-year-old me.  

Not surprisingly, I had few rules and a lot of alone time growing up.  Fortunately, I found baseball.  There was a game on every night. I had no bedtime.  We had a playroom with no furniture except an old RCA console.  I set up paper plates as the bases and acted out every great moment from 1972-1975 when we would move to a small apartment in Harrison.  

I remember April 8, 1974, like it was yesterday. Hank Aaron was my hero.  He was the bravest person on Earth. He had to endure so much including, sadly, racist death threats. He handled every moment with unparalleled class and grace.  Vin Scully said it perfectly after his 715th homer off Al Downing that night: “A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.” [While this article and the above is certainly not about race in America, I am gratified that we have made progress since that moment in 1974 but there is little doubt, we have a long way to go].

About 5 years ago, my mom became too sick to care for herself. We moved her to a nursing home.  While clearing out her house, my sister found some press clippings that allowed me to understand why I love baseball so much.  

Below are my relatives, the Van Cotts, playing in one of the early games in Connecticut in 1869 watched by Judge William Van Cott, the first President of the National Association of Baseball Players.

Holy crap! Baseball was in my mom’s blood…so it was in mine!!

 

NEW MLB RULES 

Notice this was one of the first games using new RULES.  I had NO RULES growing up, so I don’t want all these rule changes in baseball this year.  My family is just getting used to having foul lines.  Jeez.

All the rules’ changes and effects associated with projections and the category targets for your Rotisserie leagues need to be analyzed.  Here is the problem (or a cop-out for me), until you have data from the new rules, it is an educated guess as to what will happen.

Let’s break it down.  For the specifics on each rule change, here is a great article from MLB.com.  Let’s also be clear that they did test these rules at the minor league level, so we have some data there.

DEFENSIVE SHIFT LIMITS 

Synopsis: Four infielders MUST be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.  No switching sides within the inning. If the infielders are not aligned properly, the hitter can take a ball or the result of the play.  An outfielder can be in the infield or shallow outfield.  Four outfielders are prohibited.

Effect: Whenever there is a new rule, there are smart people who will figure out how to use it to their advantage.  This is a crushing blow for projectionists in the first year.  What is possible and which players will have 5 infielders?  What will the alignments be on the biggest pull hitters?  One thing seems sure, batting averages WILL go up.  

MLB PITCH TIMER

Synopsis: Fifteen-second clock with no one on base and twenty seconds with runners on. Hitters must be in the box by the eight-second mark.  Only two pick-off or step-off attempts may be made in an at-bat. 

Effect: This will affect a small number of pitchers who will need to change their approach.  Relief pitchers who throw hard tend to take much longer so late in games, this will become a factor.  It affects projections slightly in favor of hitters and raises all base stealers' numbers slightly.  We will use 5% until we have data.

BIGGER BASES

Synopsis: Bases changed from 15 inches square to 18 inches square adding a reduction of 4.5 inches between the bases.

Effect: Have been told my whole life that 4.5 inches is a lot.  Hey now.  My take on this is that it takes some of the guile and skill from stealing bases and makes it more about raw speed.  When projecting players' stolen bases, their speed will need to be a big factor.  Here are a handful of guys who benefit: Trea Turner (of course), Amed Rosario, Jorge Mateo, Brandon Nimmo, Julio Rodríguez, Steven Kwan, and Jeremy Peña.

BALANCED MLB SCHEDULE

Synopsis: All 30 teams will play each of the other 29 teams at least once.  

Effect: Teams will play 24 fewer games in their division.  This affects location.  NL West teams will go to Coors less which could help pitchers and hurt some hitters from the Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers.  This affects talent.  The hitters in the pitching-rich AL East will benefit.  The pitchers in the Central divisions will be hurt by facing their division teams less.

DATA FROM THE DH BEING ADDED IN NL

The initial data impact of the statistics in the National League is nominal.  The only real push was a 20% increase in stolen bases.  Speculation says that is from the pitcher’s spot not bunting so there is just generally more movement. Not much else here really.  Odd.

Five-Year Trend for National League

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WITHOUT CONTEXT, IT IS ALL JUST NUMBERS 

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s examine statistics, projections, and category targets keeping ALL the above in mind of course.

HOME RUNS & STOLEN BASES

The total number of home runs dropped from last year to 5,215 from 5,944 in 2021.  That is a 12.3% drop meaning that the predicted targets for categories in home runs would be down, but likely not by 12.3%.  I looked at the percentage of home runs and stolen bases rostered, and it was between 62 and 69 percent for both.  This is from my leagues so I guess that can have some anomalies to it as well.
 

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Notwithstanding the huge year with Judge hitting 62, there were fewer individual players to hit over the important thresholds.  Only four had more than 40.  Only 23 had more than 30 and only 72 had more than 20 home runs in 2022.  In 2021, over 100 different players hit more than 20 home runs.

Contrary to that, stolen bases went WAY up and back ahead of 2018 numbers.   


 

Only six players had more than 30 stolen bases and only one player had over 40 stolen bases (Jon Berti). There was a total of 2,213 stolen bases in 2021 and oddly, a 12% increase to counteract the 12.3% decrease in home runs.  With the larger bases and the pitcher clock rules, stolen bases should shoot up by 15% at least.  Knowing which players will get an advantage is important.  See above in the rules section for that.

Expect 2,800 stolen bases and fewer on the bench as the fastest players will be more valuable. 

PROJECTIONS & CATEGORY TARGETS 

Now, I find both projections and category targets to be incredibly important to the success in drafting winning fantasy baseball teams.  However, you need to use them carefully knowing that projections are flawed in many ways can help you change your thinking about many players and win more often. 

Some facts about projections: (1) the game changes constantly and projectionists do not always catch up; (2) the human element of players can never be included like when a player is traded or a contract year is upon us; (3) upside cannot be included in projections as the goal is to be accurate; (4) hype is often included way too much; (5) many projections are a regurgitation of the previous year's stats with minor changes to avoid being judged too harshly; (6) new rules could have many over projecting players like Joey Gallo who was the most penalized by the shift, but he still has to play baseball after having a sub .200 batting average.  There is a human element that will take more time to come out in the performances. 

Let's start our work here by examining historical numbers through the lens of age and its effect on home runs and stolen bases.  

First, the chart below shows the age of home run hitters.  I added the projected numbers so you can see how the projections travel back to the previous year which usually is not the case.  

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Notice the anomaly in the data here.  Normally, the largest number of 30+ home run hitters are between 25 and 27 years old with the largest boost in power happening in the age 25 season.  Last year, many more older players hit more home runs.  This trend was true in 2021 also. More hitters had more 25+ home run seasons after 29 than the younger group.  Age is VERY important for the breakout, but hitters are doing it longer.

Now let’s look at stolen bases.  

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Players who run keep running.  If you notice that the higher numbers are reflected in the next age trend line.  With the new rules, stolen bases should increase by 15% at least for the fastest runners who will tend to be younger.

STRIKEOUTS, ERA & WHIP

Now looking at pitching is WAY more interesting.  ERA, WHIP, walks and strikeouts are all down.  In the aggregate that is amazing for top-line pitchers.  Is it the ball?  Is it the shift having more pitchers to play to contact?  Is the MLB cracking down on umpires to have more accurate strike zones? 

Walks are down significantly again but the drop in strikeouts is there too.  Down almost 10% in two years including 5.96% from last year.  Earned runs were down almost exactly as much showing the correlation between walks and runs scored.  ERA was sub 4.00 and down almost 7% year on year.  WHIP came down a lot as well.  

The drop in ERA and WHIP represents potentially bigger problems when trying to nail down targets necessary to win at Rotisserie baseball. 

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It is important to understand that the wins are now being taken by middle relief and late relief pitchers more often, but there are the same number of wins so no trends.  It is a good strategy in “ONLY” leagues to look for and target a team’s “vulture”, the player who enters the game when the game is tied.  That pitcher intrinsically gets more wins.  It is not a strategy for mixed leagues as you can find better starters with a higher win probability and more strikeouts.

What We Know

  • Wins are getting scooped up more by middle-relief pitchers.
  • Roles are causing starting pitchers to pitch fewer innings.  There was only one pitcher with more than 205 innings pitched last year (Sandy Alcantara). 
  • Saves increased last year, so you need to get the guaranteed closers to get enough of those.
  • ERA and WHIP dropped a lot last year, but we will treat it like an anomaly because of the rules changes likely change some of that back.
  • Stolen bases will be more plentiful with rules changes and the growing trend of older players running more.

FINDINGS AND LESSONS

Upside is always lost with projections. 

All projectionists try to come up with the most likely performance of all the players. This causes many to miss on the outliers.  Getting more players right means that they will have a wider margin of misses on the high-end and low-end of the spectrum.  

Here is an important corollary: Be careful that you ALWAYS look for UPSIDE in your picks and then let the projections define your targeting.  That way you will always have way more stats than your projections sheet.

Hype & Regurgitation 

Every year there are players everyone thinks will be the next Barry Bonds (yes, the best fantasy player ever).  Need to make sure that you follow the SMART System and stay away from players with less than a full season in the majors.  We like to use 800 at-bats as the marker for what is acceptable to chase full value for a player.  Too often players take time to adjust or have enough at-bats taped for pitchers to review and find their holes.  Watch out for “best shape of my life” statements.  Instead, get behind when a pitcher has a new pitch.  That is real.

Regurgitation is bad.  Really bad.  Don’t use last year’s stats as your projections.  Period.  Full stop.

Support Your League Rules

Make sure your projections have the statistics that your league uses.  If your league uses holds, make sure you start with projections that have holds.  If your league uses quality starts (QS), make sure you start with projections that have QS.   Obvious, but stated just in case.

Using Projections for Targeting Players

Now, why are we doing this?  Well, it is to learn more about the players that you should target and how to build your roster.  Here is how you should use projections to target players.

First, review projections by sorting them by each category that your league uses.  Review the players from the lens of them helping your team in that category.  Look for players experts are not high on and take down their names.  Getting bargains that help you in tough categories like stolen bases or saves are important for you to know about.  

Using Projections for Targeting Categories

Now we understand the changing game and how to decide on your projections.  Let’s connect that to the categories.  Remember, knowledge is power. 

Here are some rules about setting your category targets:

  • Don’t Look at Winner for Targets:  Look at the Top 25% for your target.  Finishing in the Top 25% in all categories makes you a winner in your league.
  • Category dominators: Look at players who are Category dominators and consider them when potentially down against your targets.
  • Get SBs from Every Player: When targeting hitters, make sure that you get some steals.  Look for players who will provide more of them with the new rules.  The fastest players will get a few more which win categories.
  • Move $$ or Drafting to Stud SPs: Target the high innings 200 strikeout guys early and often.
  • Don’t Dump Categories: Only the best players can win this way.  I am not one of them.  Think of myself as a top 10% player, but it takes an incredible amount of skill and effort both in the draft and in-season.  If that, is you, then why the heck are you reading this article for?

CATEGORY TARGETS

Here is a chart that specifies the targets that I use in the leagues that I play in adjusted for 2023 with the new rules and pitching trends.  Again, examine your leagues to see if there are anomalies based on league members dumping categories or playing in a different way than the leagues that I play in.  

When factoring in all the rules changes and data trends, the numbers all changed at least a little bit.  Do not be a slave to targets.  They are just that targets.  The area around the bullseye counts too.

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Using a Tracking Sheet for Projections & Targeting Categories

After all these years, I still use some complicated tracking spreadsheets.  No software.  Just makes me in control of what I know.  They are created and augmented year after year. You can start simply. Just have a sheet with your players and the scoring categories that your league uses.  Using something that looks like this.  This is from the Colton & The Wolfman team that won Tout Wars AL Only League in 2021.

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Notice that by tracking targets, we were able to adjust the end game to get some speed with Cedric Mullins who turned into a league winner.  If we had not been tracking targets, we would have gone with a different upside player.  On the pitching side, after closers went too high, we were forced to ABANDON targets completely to take a lot of relief pitchers behind unproven or unsteady closers.  We would attack in reserve picks and in-season to make up for the starting pitching that was under-drafted.  Never be a slave to the targets.

There is a lot here and you do not need to use it all.  If anything in here helped you, then that is one more thing in your arsenal.  Don’t be a slave to projections or targets.  Use them as tools along with your knowledge at finding players who will deliver upside.  

If you want any of these spreadsheets or have any questions, I am always available at rick@fantasyalarm.com.  

Winners “make” it happen.  Losers “let” it happen.  

MAKE IT HAPPEN!

 

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