Before starting the prep for any fantasy baseball season, a fantasy owner needs to understand the dynamics of at-bats and innings pitched. The goal on offense is to build a team with the players that will receive the most playing time and hit in the most favorable parts of the batting order.
Typically, a leadoff hitter tends to be an asset in runs while having a chance to be better suited to help in steals. The best players in baseball will hit third and fourth in the batting average. They are expected to deliver impact home runs and RBIs.
On the pitching side, a fantasy team needs to reach a competitive floor in innings pitched to compete in wins and strikeouts. Unfortunately, all pitchers have a wide range of outcomes while also owning a high level of injury risk. More innings can invite risk in ERA and WHIP.
Over the past two seasons in 12-team format with 1,764 teams in 2018 and 2,112 teams in 2020, the midpoint in at-bats came to 7,340 and 7,329. The goal in any individual league or even a league to win an overall championship is to finish in the top 20 percent in all categories. To help see the needed extra at-bats to reach a higher level in the standings, a fantasy owner needed 7,576 and 7,716 at-bats over the past two seasons. To rank in the top ten percent, those stats rose to 7,683 and 7,753 at-bats.
In a way, the higher targeted stats for at-bats could come from the quality of your two catches.
Based on the research in 2019 and 2020, a fantasy team most likely needs to post between 1,350 (mid-point) and 1,425 (top 20 percent) to compete in four of the starting pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP).
The pitching side of the game can be played in many ways, which will be dictated by league rules and inning pitched floors.
Last year the quality of hitting improved across the board in major league baseball, leading to the mid-point in batting average moving from .260 to .265 in one season. The same ratio came through at the top 20 percent (.266 to .271) and the top 10 percent (.269 to .274) levels. Batting average is a critical category to draft and manage if a team wants to compete for an overall title. In most drafts, the low average hitters will draw less attention from fantasy owners.
To finish at the mid-point in wins, a team needs 85 and 86 wins in 2018 and 2019. Ten more wins pushed a fantasy team to the top 20 percent, while 15 extra wins led to a top ten percent finish.
Wins are a frustrating part of the game, but they can be managed. In formats with once a week pitching moves, a fantasy owner can add some double starters during the year to hopefully push their win total higher. A double starter is a pitcher that will pitch twice from Monday to Sunday.
The downside here is the more a fantasy owner surfs the waiver wire for double starters, the more risk he invites in ERA and WHIP. In 12-team leagues, the free-agent pitching pool is much better while almost working as an extended bench if managed properly. In 15-team leagues, the free agent battle for upside arms is very competitive while having a ton of weakness as the season moves on.
From 2018 to 2019, the change in targets in runs scored moved up by almost 100 runs at each level (mid-point – 1,033 to 1,125, top 20 percent – 1,092 to 1,199, and top ten percent – 1,125 to 1,233).
Any movement in runs will be reflected in the output in home runs and the direction of the ERA.
Last year the mid-point in ERA fell to 3.997 compared to 3.730 in 2018. A fantasy team needed an ERA of 3.745 to ranked in the top 20 percent in 2019 and 3.612 in the top ten percent.
The home run totals in 2019 were mind-boggling. In a 12-team league, a fantasy owner needed to 348 home runs to be league average, which was 61 home runs more than 2018. With 377 home runs, a fantasy team would rank in the top 20 percent, and a championship type of team most likely finished with over 391 home runs.
The WHIP category parallels ERA, but the slide in targets were smaller in 2019. The midpoint rose from 1.214 to 1,230 while the top 20 percent (1.180) and top ten percent (1.157) remained low due to the impact of the best arms in the game.
In most seasons, the RBI targets come in about 25 spots lower than run targets. Last year a fantasy team needed 1,083 RBI to be league average. A push to 1,147 RBI led to a top 20 percent finish, while 1,185 RBIs earned a top ten percent ranking.
The target for strikeouts rose to 1,525 to reach the top 2 percentile, which was 64 more strikeouts than in 2018. The mid-point came in at 1,415 while 1,576 strikeouts earned a top ten percent ranking.
Both the save and steal categories have regressed over recent years for different reasons.
The quest for the three-run homer, creates fewer base stealing chances. Last year the mid-point fell from 122 to 114. A fantasy team needed 135 stolen bases to finish in the top 20 percent and 147 to rank in the top ten percent.
Saves were at an all-time low in 2019, and it shouldn’t improve in 2020 with the change in the reliever rule in major league baseball (a pitcher must face at least three batters before being removed). With 66 saves last year, a fantasy team was only mid-pack. A total of 82 saves earned 80 percent of the league points while 90 saves reward a fantasy owner with a top ten finish.
I’ve attached all the data for each category for fantasy owners to look at to possibly help find the best path in building their future baseball rosters. You will find each category tab on the spreadsheet, plus a listing of the final totals for all the teams that finished in the top ten overall.
For more game-breaking advice from Shawn Childs, a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ, subscribe to FullTime Fantasy. Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription & gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.