While the thought of that may make you feel all warm inside, first you have to do the research! But look, we get it, you got really into Fantasy Football, started your research in the summer and by September you were completely checked out of baseball. It is ok, it happens. I have not written about baseball since the summer, although it is my favorite sport. Football just has that effect and becomes the focus starting every July. However, as you start to dive back into baseball, you should not simply just start looking into players you want to draft. First, you need to look back at last season, see all the numbers and trends, compose a strategy and then find players to fit that strategy. My goal with this article is to get you up to date with as many of those trends as possible for both hitters and pitchers! Later articles will use these trends to come up with a strategy, and then there will be articles that find the best players to fit that strategy. So, be sure to continue to come back all draft season!
It is no surprise that there has been an uptick in power over the last two seasons. However, you may not realize that last year there were more home runs hit than ever before. We thought we saw a lot in 2016, and we did, as there were the (now) third-most ever hit that season. However, last year there were 6,105 homers, which was 495 more than in 2016. Yeah, that is a lot of homers and it comes with some trends you may expect. Dating back to 2010, we saw a high in runs (22,582), RBIs (21,558), and in strikeout rate (21.6 percent) last season. The three-true outcome (home run, strikeout, or walk) game is in full affect as the 8.5 percent walk rate was tied for the highest rate since 2010.
It is one thing to see that total home runs are up but maybe this will put it into perspective: 117 batters hit
at least 20 home runs last season. Think that is bad? Well, 41 hit at least 30 and 74 hit at least 25. You have to Men In Black-style erase your memory of what is a good power season. It used to be 20 homers was a solid year and 30 was great, now 20 is around or below average. In fact, there were only 144 qualified hitters last season and 89 of them hit 20 homers, which equates to roughly 62 percent. You simply cannot look at 20, or even 30 homers the same way. Players have to do more for your team than simply provide some power or else they are not worth owning.
While fans may love the long ball, it is killing the stolen base. Think about it. With home runs on the rise so much, a hitter is basically in scoring position once he is on first base. Due to that, it makes the chance of being thrown out an unnecessary risk. Last season there was only 2,527 steals, on par with the previous two seasons, which have been dramatically low. Just a handful of years ago, in 2012, there were over 3,200 steals recorded. We went over the drastic number of players that hit 20 home runs. Guess the number that stole 20 bases? Only 29. Up it to 30 steals and the number of players to reach that plateau shrinks to just six. You need to emphasize stolen bases in your draft, whether you decide to take someone like Dee Gordon or try to load up on guys who can give you around 15; it is a must.
The uptick in power has truly had a negative effect on pitchers. Both starters and relievers had the highest ERA, FIP, xFIP and HR/9, since 2010. Starters also had the highest BB% and WHIP since 2010, while relievers were a little better in that aspect. The only real positive for pitching is that strikeouts continue to be on the rise.
However, the increase in offense is not the biggest impact on starting pitchers. If you have watched any game over the past couple years you know that managers are quick to pull their starter and get into the bullpen, which is now filled with highly paid elite arms and specialists. That leads to fewer innings accumulated by starters. This was evident by last season, which saw just 15 starting pitchers reach the 200-inning mark. No one reached 220 innings, while Chris Sale came the closest at 214.1 IP. While the number of pitchers to reach 200 innings matches 2016, the fact that no pitcher reached 220 innings is astonishing. I went back every year all the way to 2000 and there were multiple pitchers throwing 230, 240 innings, and in some years more; yet, this is the way of the current game.
You have to take this into consideration when drafting your team. I have been a believer for the past couple of seasons that you should take two pitchers in the first four rounds, and I believe that even more as innings start to dwindle. If you can grab two pitchers that are going to give you around 200 strong innings, it gives you such an advantage. We discussed earlier how offense is up, meaning that it will be easier to find later in drafts. Prioritize pitching!
If you have any baseball questions feel free to throw them my way on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.