This week’s question: What are some of the takeaways from the 2019 season and how will they alter your approach to 2020?
Ian Kahn (Rotowire, @IanKahn4): The ball changes everything. The power is going to be there, but you still gotta get enough. It’s speed that will be in sharp demand. I’m looking for power and speed with my early picks next season. I expect that I will be passing on making sure that I get an ace. Scherzer’s struggles with health is a reminder that there really is no such thing as a guarantee as far as arms are concerned. I’m looking to start grabbing pitchers in the 3rd or even 4th round in 2020. Targets will be Trea Turner, Mondesi and Tatis from the jump. Gotta get those Stolen Bases or you will be playing from behind.
Brent Hershey (Baseball HQ, @BrentHQ): I’m going to pay more attention batted ball outcomes for pitchers, especially those with several years of MLB data to look at, when evaluating pitchers for 2020. Given the ball and our HR era, I think a viable “tie-breaker” when looking at similar pitchers could be: who can I trust more to NOT give up home runs? Might mean that pitchers with elevated GB rates (and/or hr/9 rates better than league average) get a small bump for me in 2020. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it IS something I will look at more closely as a way to combat the damage that the crazy HR numbers have on pitchers’ outcomes.
Lenny Melnick (LennyMelnickFantasySports, @LennyMelnick): Pitching Wins …Unlimited DL moves needed
Alex Chamberlain (Rotofraphs, @DolphHauldhagen): The juiced ball is here to stay at least through 2020 (as long as we take MLB/Rawlings at their word). Because hitting runs so deep now (these early mock drafts have been illuminating in this regard), I will either go very heavy on pitching early and rely on the absurd depth of power to keep me afloat, or lean away from pitching completely and wing it, loading up on the surefire bats to ensure my offense is competitive. I’m definitely better at drafting hitters than pitchers, so personally I’ll lean toward the former approach.
Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): This is hardly an epiphany , but once again I’m reminded that paying big for closers is not a good idea. Remember when Treinen and Diaz were must have relievers.
Andrea Lamont (LennyMelnickFantasySports, @RotoLady): Don’t expect the fully juiced ball in 2020
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): Paying for stolen bases in mid rounds … that is over-paying for stolen bases in mid rounds is turning into a poor investment. Ensuring that you get the power/speed combo players are quite important, and it is wise to come away with steals in the first three rounds of drafts. Also, streaming catchers was a fantastic proposition this year – there were so many #2 catchers or undrafted catchers that were viable and worthwhile at various times throughout the course of the season. You need not invest heavily in catching, you can stream effectively.
Steve Gardner (USAToday Fantasy Sports, @SteveAGardner): Ian and Ariel hit on my big takeaway. With stolen bases on the decline, I’m putting even more emphasis on getting at least one power/speed guy early. You just can’t afford to go fishing for one-category steals specialists when you need so much power to compete in the HR/RBI categories. As a result, I’ll bet former first-round “locks” who don’t run (Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, Aaron Judge) are going to see their ADPs fall and the guys who offer a little bit of everything (Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Starling Marte) are going to move up.
Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): Positional flexibility doesn’t equal production. This year I was in the draft and hold league so we couldn’t make in season transactions, so I purposely took players eligible at multiple positions. Some of them turned into a mistake. Guys like Jurickson Profar, Marwin Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond were able to play more than one place, but if they didn’t provide stats, what good is the position flexibility. I also agree with guys above me, multiple tool players at the top are the way to go. I tried with Jose Altuve and the average was a disappointment for him and there were no stolen bases. Next year will be better!
Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman, Fantasy Baseball Guide, @kroyte): We look for sure things, like get an ace or pick power/speed, and these ideas can work and they can not work, and there’s no way in any individual instance to know whether they will or not. The big thing, if you’re going after homers (for instance) is you find the guys you’re not paying for every homer they produce. Pete Alonso this year was a find, but if you’re paying first round money for him next year, probably not so much. He may not kill you, but the only way it works out is if you find next year’s Pete Alonso, too. The point is you have to keep shooting at the long shots, bought at a fair price (okay, or maybe a skooch more), and hope you land a few, which might put you over the top. That’s what it takes. Paying top dollar for top dollar talent, sure, but making the right picks on the breakout players is winning. Sorry, but this is the takeaway for every year, isn’t it?
Ron Shandler (RonShandler.com, @RonShandler): What Peter wrote. 2019 was no different than any other year. Some things we got right. Some things we got wrong. Those who rostered more overachievers than underachievers won. I typically don’t try to come up with takeaways from a single season because one season is one data point. Just because Max Scherzer didn’t earn back his draft slot in 2019 doesn’t mean that anchor starters are not a good first round/$30+ investment. There are some things that never change but odds are someone will still draft Kirby Yates as the first closer off the board next March. You just have to be smart by recognizing the fact that we aren’t all that smart.
Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): While in general I agree with Peter and Ron, I do think there are actionable trends influencing draft strategy. That said, I don’t believe the ball in the number one factor, even though it’s here to stay another year (at least). The trend I see involves saves. There are similar saves as previous seasons, but spread out among more relievers. I sense this will continue. The repercussion is there are fewer saves accrued in our fantasy standings. This is especially apropos in mixed leagues where two and a half closers are generally needed to compete. You can get away with one solid closer and mix and match for the second spot, availing more assets to funnel to hitting or starting pitching.
Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): All discussion starts with the juiced ball. Most preseason profiles will have either have a juiced ball outcome or a non-juiced ball outcome (see Freddy Galvis). The ball could be less juiced, the same, or even more happy. How players are evaluated on these outcomes are key.
Tim McLeod (Prospect361.com, @RunTMc59006473): You can never have enough starting pitching. Leave the draft/auction with at least 3/4 potential starters stashed in your reserves. The days of the one dimensional speed types being an asset are over. They simply don’t run enough to compensate for the lack of power. Leave the Mallex Smith/Dee Gordon types on the board and let their owners figure out come July why they’re bottom three in the HR/RBI cats.
AJ Mass (ESPN, @AJMass): I don’t think I would change anything, to be honest. Look, at one point this season I had 12 players on the IL. Injuries are going to happen, and there’s no way to predict when they will. So, I’ll “trust the process” and cross my fingers that my bumps and bruises are a little bit more spread out over time in 2020.
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Step One, as some have implied, is not to overreact to 2019 when strategizing for 2020. I think I’m likelier to focus my top bids/picks on the studly power-speed hitters, and try to use a skills approach to aim for SPs with upside later and/or cheaper. And remember that there are lots of “second-tier” power-speed guys, whose total HR+SB aren’t in the high-50s or higher like Yelich/Acuna/Trout/Bellinger, but useful contributors like Ozzie Albies (21-15, .289), Whit Merrifield, Austin Meadows (27-10, .287), Tommy Pham (20-20, .280), Kolten Wong (10-20, .288), Amed Rosario (12-16, .284) … And many of these guys will offer playable Runs and RBI tallies as well.
Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN, @SultanofStat): I know everyone still clings dearly to the “don’t play for closers” mantra — and I get it, with the Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen seasons — but I don’t think it’s quite as easy to piece saves together in the lower tiers than it was in seasons past, particularly with the rise in closers-by-committee and the increasing rate of roster churn across MLB. One effect: It was more difficult to get those “proven closers,” guys who are solo finishers for their team with strong current-year skills, on the trade market in-season, unless you were willing to pay the rising premium. I’m not saying that you MUST get a premium closer at your draft. What I’m saying is that you can’t waltz in with a lazy, “oh, I’ll just fill that later” saves strategy, because I think you’re going to find it a bit more difficult to execute than you think.
Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman, Fantasy Baseball Guide, @kroyte): Good points by Todd and Tristan about saves. Not getting the guy who has the job in spring training doesn’t mean you might get the guy who gets the job after the first guy fails, because he may be replaced by two or three guys.
Ryan Bloomfield (BaseballHQ, @RyanBHQ): Echoing the “don’t overreact” crowd — your 2019 takeaways might be vastly different depending on who you picked in your leagues. If you took Cole or Verlander early, you’re happier with the “draft aces early” strategy than those who took Snell or Bauer. Ditto the “don’t pay for saves” axiom with Diaz/Treinen owners… are the Kirby Yates, Josh Hader, and Felipe Vazquez owners singing the same tune? Probably not. Sure, the obvious juiced ball/low SB/low IP trends are important, but remember to remove your personal biases/experiences before you plan for 2020. And while few like to hear this, picking the right players always trumps macro-level draft strategy.
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): Don’t worry about the hitter you got stuck with projected for just 10 homers…he’ll most certainly break out to hit 40 dongs, like half the MLB player population. Since everyone is homering now and steals are way down, each steal is now worth significantly more than ever before, and exceeds each homer in value.
Zach Steinhorn (Baseball Prospectus, @zachsteinhorn): With steals becoming harder and harder to find, the natural reaction would be to place a premium on speed in drafts. But while each steal might be worth more than each homer, the home run spike also means that more homers are required to compete in the category. I agree with some of the above comments about the increased value of reliable power/speed guys but don’t undervalue the proven 30 HR/100 RBI players. You will need more of them than ever before.
Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): In hindsight the “livelier” ball should have led to less of a premium being paid for top Hitters (at least those whose name doesn’t rhyme with Strike Out). Of course, it’s impossible to say at this point what, if any, adjustments will be made to the baseball going in to the 2020 season. However, I’ll be keeping an eye on home run rates in Spring Training (in aggregate, not for particular players) for initial clues re whether any auction strategy adjustments appear warranted.
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): My biggest takeaway is to make sure to pay attention/keep paying attention to the categories we’re not talking about nearly as much as. Batting average still matters, and putting together a strong AVG (or, in Tout, OBP) squad is still important. The second takeaway is tanking isn’t going anywhere and paying a little extra for players on first division teams with better defenses/pitching staffs/opportunities for wins, runs and RBI matters even more than it used to.
Derek VanRiper (Rotowire, @DerekVanRiper): I think Mike’s point about the elite teams being a wide margin above the pack, and the bottom-end teams being awful will hold true again in 2020. Paying slightly more for the players on the elite teams could pay off in a big way with the extra counting stats they’ll pile up. I think the players whose value comes overwhelmingly from steals will rarely end up on my rosters next year, as the premiums paid for those particular bags will be even more dangerous at the inflated price. I’ll be looking for steals from players who do a lot of other things as well, meaning I’m a lot more likely to pay top dollar for Christian Yelich than to pay $4-5 less for Nolan Arenado…even though Arenado is a great player in his own right.
Michael Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): My first year in Tout Wars Draft & Hold League definitely made me realize that I need to put a higher priority on pitching depth. I had several pitchers go down with lengthy injuries and just could never make up any ground in the categories because I was forced to start less than average options. I also did not focus much on stolen bases so that is one category that needs greater attention, even if there are fewer and fewer optimal speedsters to choose from each year.
Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): Lots of talk about the ball. For those who may have missed it, this piece suggests there won’t be any changes until 2021 at the earliest: