If you've been playing Fantasy Baseball at Yahoo since we launched our game in 1999 ... well, first of all, thank you. We're grateful — sincerely, deeply, unwaveringly grateful. Someday we'll get all of the original Yahoo owners together for a big reunion, with appearances by Tony Batista, Jay Bell, Greg Vaughn and Shawn Green. Those were good times. Simpler times.
[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Back when many of you began your fantasy careers, there were loads of homers to go around, available at all positions. Everyone hit 'em. Thirteen different major league players hit at least 40 bombs in 1999, and 45 guys launched at least 30. Two players topped 60. We found 30-homer pop at shortstop (A-Rod), second (Bell) and catcher (Piazza, Pudge, Lieberthal). Everybody cleared the fences.
But these days, power isn't quite so easy to find. Last year, just two players reached the 40-homer plateau and only 14 managed to hit 30 — and of those 14, eleven were corner infielders. In 2014, if you're shopping for serious power, you're looking at first and third and basically nowhere else. It's also well past time to tweak your definition of "serious power." Take a quick look at the average MLB team home run total over the past 15 seasons:
1999 - 184
2000 - 190
2001 - 182
2002 - 169
2003 - 174
2004 - 182
2005 - 167
2006 - 180
2007 - 165
2008 - 163
2009 - 168
2010 - 154
2011 - 152
2012 - 164
2013 - 155
That's right, we're getting 35 fewer homers per team than we did in 2000. The Miami Marlins somehow hit only 95 total home runs in 2013. Ninety-five ... that's it. Back in 1999, Mark McGwire and Fernando Tatis combined to hit 99 bombs for the Cards. In 2001, teammates Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez also combined for 99. That same year, the Barry Bonds-Rich Aurilia combo hit 110 for the Giants.
So we now have entire major league rosters failing to reach homer totals that were once delivered by the 3-4 hitters in baseball's best lineups.
With power receding throughout the game (inexplicably; can't imagine why), it's perhaps time to re-set some benchmarks for elite slugging. Many of you don't consider 30 homers to be a significant total, but, not so long ago, it was actually considered a massive number. Between 1971 and 1977, no hitter in the American League produced a 40-homer campaign — not Reggie, not Rice, not this badass.
We obviously haven't returned to mid-'70s power levels, but we've certainly entered an era in which fantasy owners have to recalibrate. You can't bring decade-old expectations to your 2014 draft, and you can only get so picky about your power sources. Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo might be liabilities in batting average, for example, but they have league-leading power potential. It's perfectly reasonable to construct a draft strategy around Alvarez or Trumbo. Ten years ago, you'd never have done such a thing for a 70-35-90-.240 hitter. (Of course we should also note that a .240-ish AVG isn't such a killer in 2014. Last year, league-average was .253. In 2004 it was .266. In 1999, .271)
The bottom line is this: The run-scoring environment isn't what it was. If you somehow aren't getting pop from your corner infielders, then good luck competing in the power cat's. First and third are where you'll find the moonshots. Most of baseball's best power-hitting prospects are corners, too — guys like Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant, Jose Abreu and Maikel Franco — so these spots will continue to supply the big flies.
In an average Yahoo draft, eight of the first 20 players selected will be corners, with Freddie Freeman and Evan Longoria not far behind. Several of baseball's most reliable, durable fantasy assets occupy the corners; mixed leaguers will find an abundance of talent at first and third, enough to satisfy your Util needs. Even in N.L./A.L.-only formats, these positions are relatively rich — third may get sketchy in the late rounds, but it's far from the worst spot in our game.
Position averages for the top-20 fantasy first basemen, last three years
2013 – 80.8 R, 24.7 HR, 92.7 RBIs, 5.5 SB, .289 AVG
2012 – 79.6 R, 28.0 HR, 95.1 RBIs, 4.0 SB, .288 AVG
2011 – 84.3 R, 27.2 HR, 95.7 RBIs, 4.9 SB, .294 AVG
Position averages for the top-20 fantasy third basemen, last three years
2013 – 74.5 R, 22.1 HR, 78.9 RBIs, 4.3 SB, .278 AVG
2012 – 80.0 R, 24.1 HR, 87.7 RBIs, 8.5 SB, .283 AVG
2011 – 69.1 R, 18.6 HR, 71.0 RBIs, 7.0 SB, .280 AVG