Mea culpa friends. This was supposed to be posted last week, but hopefully you can still derive some useful tidbits. Oh yeah, some of you are wondering what this is all about. Several times throughout the season, the Touts will be asked a question, with their replies posted in a timely manner (from here on out).
Contributors will be tagged on Twitter if you’d like to follow up (and you’re on Twitter).
The first question of the 2023 season is
Which of the following altered your 2023 draft prep the most: More balanced schedule, shift legislation or likely increase in steals?
Alex Fast (Pitcher List, @AlexFast8): The shift legislation most impacted my 2023 draft prep as, in my opinion, that’s the least nebulous data point. There’s not a lot of concrete data behind what the more balanced schedule will do for teams; we can guess that it will benefit AL East teams or hurt NL Central teams but that’s just a guess. The increase in steals will most certainly lead to a jump in steals but I wonder if that will just balance itself out (or make steals easier to get off the wire). When it comes to the shift legislation though, I can use Baseball Savant to search which pitchers were most impacted by the shift. I can search to see which lefties had the most hits taken away by the shift.
Rick Wolf (SiriusXM, @RickWolf1): The increase in steals is what most affected our prep for the 2023 season. With more steals being spread around, it is less important to focus on that one category as we had in the past. We studied the minor league trends from the changes and then worked to understand the significant differences between minors and majors: age of players, speed of players, catcher play, experience of pitchers, etc. So, when drafting in 2023, age and speed are more important. When two players are close in value, we favor those players who have those specific attributes. In conclusion, adding Age, Speed and Shift to the SMART system gives us the acronym that we should have had all along.
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): The steals. Because to me – it is the largest unknown. The balanced schedule is already very easily factored into projections – it is a simple matter of alterning average ‘away’ ballpark factors based upon the new schedule. The shift ban is somewhat measurable, but more importantly, it affects the fewest number of players. Steals … we aren’t quite sure what will happen, or to whom. Will 40 SB players approach 50 now? Will 10-15 SB players now steal 25? The attempt to answer that question, and how it affects relative values of scoring categories requires the most guesswork, and thus the most prep work.
Phil Hertz (Baseball HQ, @prhz50): The shift change was probably the biggest issue for me, but to be honest I decided not to make too many changes in my draft prep. I doubt anyone can be sure how the changes will affect things and which players will adapt/take advantage better.
Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): I’ll go for the shift legislation – I have no idea how much that’s likely to impact the batting average/on-base percentage you’ll need to be competitive in a larger league, and the team scores for those categories tend to be a lot more clustered than stolen bases. With stolen bases, I have no idea whether it’s going to have more of an impact on the more infrequent base stealers, or those who were already among the league leaders. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d pick the latter group, but I wouldn’t make changes to player projections or drafting/auction strategies without knowing more than I do now.
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): The biggest impact is the likely increase in stolen bases because there are so few players that produce significantly in that category. Players who tend to steal should likely attempt more, and other players who are fast are more inclined to run. It is a category that is often sacrificed once the predominant base-stealers are off the board, so this opens the door for GMs to try and be more competitive. The shift legislation will likely increase some players’ batting averages, but I don’t think the difference will be significant enough to affect draft strategy. The reliance on home runs, exit velocity and launch angles will still keep batting averages down for most pull hitters. It will take some time to see whether the pitch clock affects pitchers’ motions and routines to the point where batters gain an advantage by avoiding strikeouts and putting the ball in play more frequently.
Eric Samulski (Rotoballer, @SamskiNYC): The likely increase in steals is the factor that most impacted my draft prep for 2023. A bit reason for that is that we have tangible evidence to go off of when predicting how it will impact fantasy this year. There has been a lot writtern about the impact of the pitch clock, disengagement rules, and bigger bases in the minor leagues. People have done studies not only on how stolen bases overall were impacted but which types of players were most impacted. We can use that information when projecting which MLB players will be impatced the most, so it doesn’t have to be speculative changes. Plus, I believe that the rise of stolen bases across the league would have a drastic impact on the fantasy landscape since more stolen bases across the board (like years) would mean less value for speed-only players, etc. I’m very curious to see how it all plays out
Sara Sanchez (bleedcubbieblue.com, @BCB_Sara): I adjusted my draft strategy most due to what I percieve will be a 20-30% increase in steals that is likely to come from the mid-tier SB guys (10 SB –>15 SB for example). Relatedly, I was more concerned with the power outage from the last two years due to both the changing baseball and the use of humidors at all of the ballparks that created some interesting effects, particularly early in the season. So I found myself drafting home runs in a way that was more akin to how I treated SB in the past. I found it much more difficult to predict the way that the shift rules would impact pitchers and just tended to rely on projection systems there, although I was much more likely to draft pull side power bat with lower batting average. I similarly found it was much easier to rely on projection systems for the purpose of estimating the impact of the balanced schedule, but I do plan to need to adapt there through FAAB pickups and trades as the season progresses.
Dylan White (Baseball America, @the__arrival): Studying how the steals landscape is projected to change within the player pool was for me the biggest element of the three that impacted my draft prep. Will it be a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ scenario or would only specific ‘bins’ (whether of SB Opportunities or SB success percentages, for example) be expected to change substantively? That being said, the dynamics of every draft often throw all of this out of the window anyway. If my league mates over- or under-draft steals (whether directionally correct or not), I would (should) alter my actual drafting. So, really, the value of the research was in helping me “prepare to prepare” for a variety of different potential draft room dynamics. Prep goes out the window as soon as you’re punched in the face…I believe Mike Tyson said that when describing his 15 team mixed draft.
Doug Anderson (Fantrax, @rotodaddy): I haven’t made any huge changes to my draft preparation but the small tweaks I have made are based on the assumption that there will be more stolen bases. I’m not so sure the top stolen base guys will run all that much more, so instead I’ve bumped up those hitters who previously add 12-15 stolen bases. I think those are the guys who will share the relative benefit most. I don’t think any of us can claim to know exactly how any of these changes will play out.
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): The likely increase in steals, although I didn’t make any earth shattering adjustments. I’ve found that while these rule changes due have significant impacts league wide they frequently don’t change much for individual player valuation.
Greg Jewett (The Athletic, @gjewett9): I think steals likely increasing changed my prep the most. Targeting a stable amount of stolen bases, then adjusting in-season will be a goal, especially when streaming hitters in deeper formats. Building a balanced roster, with reserve players capable of steals may yield dividends for the upcoming season.
Erik Halterman (Rotowire, @erik_halterman): Definitely the new shift rules, though whether that’s a smart strategic adjustment or merely an opportunity for me to double down on my own biases remains to be seen. I already had a strong preference for strikeout pitchers over groundball pitchers, and this year I’m leaning even further away from starters whose most notable strength is their ability to keep the ball down, especially those who pitch in front of shaky infield defenses. I also already loved lefties with strong hit tools, so I was very willing to give them all a boost. I’m not making major adjustments for the others. The schedule changes are real but minor, and while I expect a very noticeable increase in steals, I anticipate those extra swipes will be distributed close enough to proportionately that you shouldn’t need to draft speed very differently than you did in the past.
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): It will take a year to determine the distribution of any SB increase: More for the elite speed guys? Smooth distribution across the spectrum? The balanced schedule might be really important, but again the assessment will probably take a seson to suss completely. So I’m going with the ban on the shift, which seems like it must have tangible and significant effects for GB pitchers, especially RHPs, and for pull GB hitters.
AJ Mass (ESPN, @AJMass): I think the biggest mistake one can make is to assume how much impact these changes will have on any individual player. Sure, the shift should help some LH bats, but not all the same and, quite frankly, some not at all. Sure, the likely increase in steals may devalue some “elite swipers” in relation to the league average, but perhaps not all that much — and it’s not like guys like Daniel Vogelbach are suddenly going to get the green light. Don’t try and overthink it.
Rob Leibowitz (Rotoheaven, @rob_leibowitz): Heading in I did not want to make any major adjustments to my projections or at the very least, not make any drastic popluation shifts based on educated guesses, rather I applied the shift adjustment and stolen base adjustments by hand to specific situations where a particular player’s past and current skills and talents might be most affected the changes.
Michael Govier (FTN Fantasy, @mjgovier): For me it was the balanced schedule because it reduced the opportunities not just for starting pitchers to feast on weak lineups, but for hitters to mash against weak pitching consistenlty. The Cardinals for example can no longer use the Pirates as a punching bag to pad their stats. This year they have been reduced to only 13 match-ups with the Bucs. That reduction in opportunity also means they face teams like the Blue Jays and Angels who will give them a harder time. It’s not a massive change in overall statistical output, but it’s enough for me to adjust the rankings of players who had another week’s worth of games to add to their stat lines against weaker competition.
Frank Ammirante (The GameDayHQ, @FAmmiranteTFJ): The likely increase in steals altered my 2023 draft prep the most because it’s difficult to determine which players will see the biggest uptick in stolen bases resulting from this rule change. There are several questions to consider here. Will the perennial leaders steal more? Will the mid-tier base-runners get the biggest jump? Could it just be a league-wide thing? Will some teams become more aggressive to take advantage? We won’t know the answer until we see the impact come to fruition. The way I approached it was to just project stolen bases to increase throughout the league, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Carlos Marcano (Triple Play Fantasy, @camarcano): I believe that the biggest hurdle we are all having this year relates to all the new rules that affect the base running, let it be the bags sizes, the pick off limitations and even the pitch clock. These are things that, even having the minor leagues history, turns a little unpredictable at MLB level. I had a hard time trying to adapt my SBs projections but ended up with a formula in which I believe that this will not be widespread all around the league but it will help the most those already efficient players. Let’s see if I’m right!
Matt Williams (The Game Day, @MattWi77iams): The most difficult change to prepare for, in my opinion, was stolen bases. Mostly due to the rule change potentially producing the biggest “unknown.” Will teams that already run a lot steal even more? Will teams that did not like to run all of sudden run wild? Will is impact high-end base stealers or mid-level base stealers? So many unknowns.
Dave Adler (BaseballHQ, @daveadler01): As spring training has shown…there will be a lot more stolen bases. But at the end of the year, how will they be distributed? It’s likely that more hitters will steal bases…and that may actually DEVALUE the one-trick speed ponies who do nothing else well. So while the Miles Straws of the world still rack up steals, the lack of power and contact skills makes him worth less. Shift – not as big of an effect as expected, most likely. Defenses can still shift somewhat, as long as the third player is on the dirt and near 2B. And someone will try the left fielder in short right field…and it likely will work.
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): The change in shift rules. We know which hitters have been hurt by the shift, as we have that data (mostly slow, left-handed pull hitters), so these hitters should benefit most with an increased BABIP, and resulting batting average.
Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): Shift and steals are the obvious answers, so, just to be contrarian, I will say the more balanced schedule, which is also likely impossible to account for. Like the maze in The Shining, I call that a confusing hedge.
Shelly Verougstraete (NBC Sports EDGE Baseball, @ShellyV_643): The bigger bases and the limit of pickoff moves had me moving those mid-tier stolen base guys up my board ever so slightly. That being said, we don’t really know which player tier will actually benefit, so maybe I over/underestimated. Shrug. I think the key to pay attention to your league mates at the draft table. If you feel they are over/under drafting steals (or any category for that matter), take the value!
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I did not value anything differently because it would just be rank speculation on my part. I read all the rationales of others and see their points, but I am always nervous about Kentucky windage type adjustments.
Kev Mahserejian (Fox Sports, @RotoSurgeon): The likely increase in steals is what influenced my draft strategy most with shift legislation a close second. My baseline thoughts are that those players who already steal will continue to at a higher (or similar) rate while those that don’t bother will remain effectively nil in that category. With that, we have no way of knowing which players specifically that steal will increase their percentage and to what degree, therefore, my focus on gaining steals earlier is lessened allowing me to take shots on players down in drafts who have even low double-digit yearly attempts.
Rick Graham (Pitcher List, @IAmRickGraham): I think the potential increase in steals has impacted my draft prep the most, as I feel it devalues those players we’d draft only for steals (the Billy Hamiltons of the world). Now I’m not expecting everyones steals to go up this season, but for those that typically steal 8-10 bags a year, I think we may see those numbers get closer to the 15-20 range this season.
Lauren Auerbach (Fantrax, @lkauerbach): It didn’t alter my draft prep a ton, but I definitely paid more attention to shift data this offseason. We don’t know how any of these rule changes will ultimately affect player valuations. But the link between players affected by the shift is more concrete than trying to determine which players will steal more bases (and to what degree) or how impactful a balanced schedule will be.
Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): There will be more steal attempts by those that already are know to steal bases, but I don’t see a big increase in these numbers for mid to low base stealers going forward. It would be interesting to see a study of those hitters that benefit from the shift legislation as these hitters should see an increase to their average and on base percentage, but by how much remains the question.
Chris Clegg (Pitcher List, @RotoClegg): The increase in steals is probably what affected my 2023 draft prep the most. Spending a lot of time at Minor League ballparks that have been testing out the new rules, their stands the be a large increase in stolen bases. So far this spring we are seeing an increased amount of stolen base attemps and over a five percent increase of success from last Spring Training. The high stolen bases players are still likely to end the year at the top of the leaderboard, but where we could see a difference is in those players who steal five-to-ten stolen bases. I could see that ranger of players jumping to 15-20. This completley devalues those platers who are only valuable for stolen bases.