State of the Fantasy Game: Mid-Season Report

It’s been a unique fantasy season in which I’ve never experienced. Pitchers should be dominating the landscape with strikeouts at an all-time high. They’re not because home runs are also at an all-time high. With this unique environment, the fantasy norms which owners have been familiar with no longer exist. No one has played fantasy baseball in this high strikeout and home run environment because it has never existed before.

Here are some new guidelines for navigating this season and thinking towards next season.

Home runs have pushed scoring is up, but not to any historical levels

Here are the average runs (not earned runs) scored per innings over the past 15 seasons broken into four timeframes.

Run Scoring Buckets
Time Frame R9
2003 to 2006 4.51
2007 to 2010 3.95
2011 to 2015 3.43
2015 and 2016 3.85

The game is not in the PED era when any pitching was appreciated but it’s not in the “every pitcher is great era” (2011 to 2015). Some workable fantasy strategies are in transition and owners need to adjust their philosophies accordingly.

The first concept involves moving from the idea that good pitching can be readily found on the waiver wire. It’s harder to find now. Teams who used to spend little to no resources on pitching can’t find decent options on the waiver wire especially with every other owner feeling like they are struggling for pitching.

Rob Silver (last year’s overall NFBC champion), Paul Sporer, and I recently discussed how the lack of starting pitching is changing the game. The three of us talked about the pendulum swinging from pitching everywhere to hitting everywhere. I’m not sure the game is at the “hitting is everywhere” yet. Owners may have been deprived of available hitting for so many years that anyone competent on the available on the waiver wire seems like a win.

I examined several metrics like standard deviation and average talent over different time frames, and the best I can determine is that the game’s offense production is most similar to the 2007 to 2010 timeframe. The scoring environment has been historically worse (pre-2007). During this time, there was a larger difference between the league’s best and worst starters making the better ones more valuable as the replacement level quality drops.

Smart owners will likely put a premium on quality pitchers even if some will be lost to injuries. Which moves us onto the next subject …

The 10-Day Disabled List is causing roster uncertainty

It seems like every player is hurt this season but I don’t believe that the number of injuries is up. I just think more players are going onto and off the DL so owners see them as hurt with the Red Cross sign next to their name. With the DL designation, owners are wanting to put the injured players into their already full DL slots.

In previous seasons, these players would have just been sitting on the owner’s bench not contributing. Pitchers would have their starts skipped because of a small injury. Now they just go on the DL so the team can bring up a bullpen arm. Overall, the fantasy game is playing the same but with more DL’ed players on the bench.

I’ve seen some owners pushing for more DL spots. If a league is considering this action, they need to decide if they are willing to dilute the free agent player pool even more. The starting pitcher pickings already seem slim and could get worse.

Saves are down

This change should be expected. As scoring increases, games will be further out of reach and fewer Save chances exist. Also, the chances for Blown Saves increase as it is easier to score runs. Here are the graphs of Runs score versus Saves and Blown Saves over the past 15 seasons.

The overall number of Saves will be down but the drop should affect each closer proportionally.

The one change which owners may have to deal with is managers changing closers more regularly since they were used to managing in the lower run scoring environment. I tried to study if this quicker hook was real and couldn’t find a decent way to test the conclusion.

Heavier focus on groundball pitchers

With the new juiced baseball, home runs rates are up, and they are the main driver for the scoring increase. If a pitcher can limit home runs, they will be affected less and the easiest way to do this is to generate ground balls. Looking back over the past six seasons, here is how hitters have done against groundball and flyball pitchers according to

OPS for Hitters Against GB & FB Pitchers
Seasons OPS vs. GB Pitchers OPS vs. FB Pitchers
2012 to 2014 0.711 0.715
2015 to 2017 0.734 0.749
Increase 0.023 0.034

Both types of pitchers had similar overall OPS’s between 2012 and 2014. But as the home run rate started to increase late in the 2015 season, the production off groundball pitchers has been less than flyball pitchers.

Now, targeting groundball pitchers could be a fool’s errand as every owner may have the same idea. These groundballers’ added value could disappear quickly.

Tying in all together

I am sure I am missing some obvious trend but these are few are the ones I find people in the game currently dealing with. The main issue in an increase in scoring caused by more home runs. The higher scoring has made finding good pitchers harder and good batters easier. It’s made Save chances decline and could put a focus on groundball pitchers. Also, the 10-Day disabled list has caused some more noticeable roster construction issues. The game is changing and the strategies and rules of thumb owners implement will need to evolve as the game does.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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I think it’s not just putting more value on good pitchers, but redefining what a good pitcher is. Even if you invested heavily in aces, they’re still only pitching once or twice a week and you have to fill in the gaps with some SPs you would have never started in the past.

There’s another angle to all this as well, when HRs and scoring are up, it makes it even more important to invest in the best batters to win those categories. If everyone can pick up offense in the waivers, your team has to go above and beyond to succeed.


Lots of us play weekly leagues where this isn’t reality. You set your lineup on Monday and it locks for the whole week.