Successful fantasy gamers will generate their 2019 takeaways right now before the winter dulls our memory of the fantasy landscape we experienced over the past six months.
Here are the big-picture takeaways from this season that will impact 2020 drafts.
Traditional starters are a dying breed
With some teams using openers and many traditional starters failing to even last the necessary five innings to pick up a win, the waiver wire options for starting pitchers are worse than ever before. On almost every day of 2019, we would see multiple pitchers listed as the starter who, either by design or ability, had absolutely no chance of earning a win or racking up more than a few whiffs. This season, I constantly found myself in desperation mode when trying to fill out my final pitching spots each week. The lack of pitching options has pushed up the value of the few remaining workhorses.
30 saves is the new measuring stick
In 2014, seven pitchers collected 40 saves. Only Kirby Yates will reach the 40-save plateau this year. Similar to wins, saves are now widely distributed around some staffs, as managers get creative with their pitching usage. Gamers should now expect 30 saves from their closers, a total that has been reached by just 10 relievers thus far in 2019. The lower bar for save-totals means that there is greater value in the effective setup men who can find their way to roughly 10 saves while also posting low ratios and a high strikeout total.
Whiffs are everywhere
Although pitchers are struggling to work deep into games, they certainly aren’t having a hard time compiling strikeouts in their shortened outings. In fact, we already have 23 hurlers with at least 200 whiffs this year, in comparison to 12 at the conclusion of the 2016 campaign. Overall, gamers need to shift their benchmark on strikeouts. Starters with a K/9 rate of 9.0 used to be stellar but are now pretty much the norm in shallow formats. And those with low K/9 rates (roughly 7.0) are hindering a fantasy staff.
Steals scarcity drives roto value
Managers continue to limit baserunning aggressiveness to greater degrees, which is driving up the value of a stolen base in fantasy circles. Just 2227 bases have been stolen this season, and the final 2019 total will be at least 200 fewer than that of just one year ago. In fact, Major Leaguers will steal 1000 fewer bases this year than they did in 2011. The absence of swipes means that there is tremendous roto value in rostering one of the few players who can produce more than 30 steals. Additionally, those who produce 10-15 steals — an insignificant total a few years ago — now make a real difference in the steals standings. Wise gamers will not leave the early rounds of their 2020 drafts without a solid foundation of steals.
Everyone is hitting homers
The league-wide rise in home runs was the most discussed topic in baseball coverage this season. We now live in a world where a rookie (Pete Alonso) can hit 50 homers, an undrafted fantasy asset (Jorge Soler) can go deep 45 times and more than 50 players can reach the 30-homer plateau. Those drafting in 2020 should have a standard of rostering one 40-homer stud and at least 3-4 other players from whom they expect more than 30 long balls. The good news is that prodigious power will be available throughout every round of fantasy drafts.
Rookies are worth the risk
Pete Alonso leads the Majors in home runs, Mike Soroka is challenging for a Cy Young award, Victor Robles sits ninth in steals, Eloy Jimenez has reached the 30-homer plateau, Kestin Hiura is a five-category asset and Yordan Alvarez has been a first-round caliber player since making his Major League debut. Sure, there have been busts among this year’s freshman class, but the success stories show that pouncing on rookies is generally worth the risk. Gamers should go into their 2020 drafts with the intention of rostering at least one player who is on the verge of his debut.
Veterans may not be worth the risk
While rookies are generating all sorts of positive buzz, veterans are struggling more than ever to hang onto their former glory. Sure, Nelson Cruz and Justin Verlander are proving that aging players can remain productive. Among the 55 players with at least 30 home runs, just four (Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Yuli Gurriel) were at least 33 years old on Opening Day. And Jarrod Dyson is the only player with at least 20 steals who was 31 or older when the season began. More than ever before, gamers need to be skeptical of players who have strayed too far from their 30th birthday.
Major League Baseball has never been a beacon of parity, but the gap between the haves and have-nots seems to be greater than ever before. In fact, with three days remaining to collect victories, there are 11 teams (37 percent of the league) who still have a chance to lose 90 games this year. More than ever before, winning fantasy baseball gamers will be the ones who identify the most favorable matchups and stream players in the best situations into their upcoming lineup. This new development creates more work, but it also gives smart gamers more ways to get ahead.