I started playing fantasy baseball in 2001, the tail end of what we now refer to as “The Steroid Era.” It was a 12-team mixed league with only nine starting hitter slots, and although I finished in 9th place that year, I did manage to lead the league in home runs with 284, which comes out to 31.5 homers per slot. At the time, it didn’t seem like an exceptionally high number, but what did I know? I was a rookie. On the pitching side, I wasn’t quite as fortunate, as my 4.41 ERA and 1.36 WHIP ranked 10th and 9th respectively. Only five of the 12 teams finished with an ERA below 4.00. Only five of the 12 teams finished with a WHIP below 1.30. That didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but what did I know about ordinary? I was a rookie.
13 years later, I’m not a rookie anymore, and in hindsight, it’s easy to take the stats from that time period and throw them out the window. The game is different now. It’s more of a pitcher’s game these days. Last season, only two players, Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera, reached the 40-home run plateau and only five players hit at least 35 homers. Back in my rookie fantasy season of 2001, there were 12 guys with at least 40 longballs. The 35-plus home run club had 24 members. This year, the #24 ranked player in the category has 23 homers with a little more than two weeks to go. But let’s take a shorter term view while shifting our attention back to the fantasy game. Let’s focus on 2012 through 2014, the three years that I have been competing in Mixed Auction Tout Wars.
First, take a look at this table, which compares the median finish (the 8th place total in this 15-team league) in each of the 10 categories over the three seasons. Note that since 2014 is not complete, I’m using the Baseball HQ projected end of season stats as of September 13. Also, since we used AVG rather than OBP in 2012, I’ve left that box empty.
Pretty convincing stuff, right? Home Runs, RBI and Runs have steadily decreased while the median OBP has also taken a tumble. On the pitching side, both the median ERA and WHIP continue to fall and strikeouts are on the rise.
What if instead of the median number, we used the 3rd place number? A popular strategy when preparing for drafts, particularly auctions, is to construct a roster that, based on projections, can finish in at least 3rd place in all of the categories. Here’s the same table with the 3rd place stats.
This one doesn’t correlate quite as well as the first table, particularly when comparing the 2013 and 2014 totals in RBI and WHIP, but of the three seasons, 2012 remains by far the most hitter-friendly.
Whatever the reason, whether it’s tougher PED penalties or improved pitching, particularly in the area of specialty relievers, the bottom line is that home runs are down and offense in general is down. If you plan on placing near the top in the pitching categories next season, lowering your target ERA and WHIP and raising your target strikeout total would be a good idea. Go ahead, spend an extra few dollars to secure that ace pitcher on draft day.
I know I will.