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Ariel Cohen's Takeaways From The 2023 Fantasy Baseball Season

Ronald Acuna Jr. - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, MLB Injury News, Betting Picks

As the 2023 Major League Baseball World Series has now concluded, I would like to share several takeaways that stand out to me from the fantasy baseball season.

Some of these points will be a data-driven look at 2023 trends or anomalies. Some of these topics will help shape some fantasy draft strategy in 2024. Some of these are simply a reflection of what stood out in the most recent baseball season.

Without further ado -- and in no particular order -- here are my reflections on the 2023 season.

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:


Stolen Bases Are Aplenty!

If you are reading this article, you are already aware of the dramatic increase in stolen bases in 2023.

Season League SB
2010 2959
2011 3279
2012 3229
2013 2693
2014 2764
2015 2505
2016 2537
2017 2527
2018 2474
2019 2280
2020 885
2021 2213
2022 2486
2023 3503

During 2023, there were a whopping 3503 stolen bases, up an incredible 41% from last year’s 2486 (and up 58% over 2021). In fact, in the last 100 years of baseball, it was the second-highest total number of swipes, second only to 1987’s 3585 stolen base total.

Looking at various thresholds:

At Least 2023 2022 Increase
5 SB 216 168 29%
10 SB 124 84 48%
15 SB 70 40 75%
20 SB 51 24 113%
25 SB 27 12 125%
30 SB 18 6 200%
35 SB 9 2 350%
40 SB 6 1 500%
50 SB 3 0 N/A
60 SB 2 0 N/A

There is a stark increase in the quantities across the entire league, but primarily at the top.

Let’s take a closer look at the distribution of the top 30 stolen base artists from 2022 and 2023:

No. Name 2023 SB Name 2022 SB % Increase Smoothed % Increase
1 Ronald Acuña Jr. 73 Jon Berti 41 78% 76%
2 Esteury Ruiz 67 Jorge Mateo 35 91% 70%
3 Corbin Carroll 54 Cedric Mullins 34 59% 66%
4 Bobby Witt Jr. 49 Randy Arozarena 32 53% 59%
5 CJ Abrams 47 Tommy Edman 32 47% 47%
6 Nico Hoerner 43 Bobby Witt Jr. 30 43% 42%
7 Ha-Seong Kim 38 Ronald Acuña Jr. 29 31% 40%
8 Julio Rodríguez 37 Trea Turner 27 37% 37%
9 Elly De La Cruz 35 Marcus Semien 25 40% 34%
10 Willi Castro 33 Kyle Tucker 25 32% 33%
11 Jorge Mateo 32 Adolis García 25 28% 33%
12 Josh Lowe 32 Julio Rodríguez 25 28% 32%
13 Francisco Lindor 31 Josh Rojas 23 35% 32%
14 Bryson Stott 31 Jake McCarthy 23 35% 35%
15 Trea Turner 30 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 22 36% 38%
16 Kyle Tucker 30 J.T. Realmuto 21 43% 40%
17 Andrés Giménez 30 Thairo Estrada 21 43% 41%
18 Wander Franco 30 Myles Straw 21 43% 41%
19 Fernando Tatis Jr. 29 Dylan Moore 21 38% 41%
20 Christian Yelich 28 José Ramírez 20 40% 39%
21 José Ramírez 28 Ke'Bryan Hayes 20 40% 38%
22 Tommy Edman 27 Andrés Giménez 20 35% 36%
23 TJ Friedl 27 Nico Hoerner 20 35% 35%
24 Whit Merrifield 26 Michael Harris II 20 30% 35%
25 Jake McCarthy 26 Christian Yelich 19 37% 37%
26 Brice Turang 26 Steven Kwan 19 37% 36%
27 José Caballero 26 Jose Altuve 18 44% 37%
28 Starling Marte 24 Elvis Andrus 18 33% 36%
29 Dairon Blanco 24 Starling Marte 18 33% 36%
30 Ji Hwan Bae 24 Amed Rosario 18 33% 33%

(The smoothed increase is the average of the five surrounding % increase figures.)

We can see that the distribution of the top six steals leaders dramatically outpaced the 41% average increase in stolen bases. In fact, the smallest smoothed % increase in the top 30 players is 32%. 2023 is a vastly different brand of baseball.


The Value of Stolen Bases Has Plummeted

Sure, stolen bases are booming in 2023, but what does that mean for fantasy? It is important to note the following:

  • What matters for fantasy baseball players is not what happens at the very top.
  • What matters for fantasy baseball players is not what happens in all of baseball.
  • What matters is how the fantasy-relevant player pool is affected.

First, we need to address player valuation. I’ll do a brief overview.

There are many ways to ascertain the value of players. Standings Gain Points (SGP) and Percent Value Method (PVM) are two commonly used approaches. My preferred system is the Z-Score method, which equates each of the rotisserie categories by converting them to standard scores.

Where: Z[i] = Player i’s Z-Score;  X[i] = Player i’s Category Stat;  X-Bar = Average Stat for the category;  S = Standard Deviation for that category.

A Z-Score of exactly zero indicates that a player has exactly the average category stat of the player pool. A +1.00 indicates that a player is one standard deviation over the mean, and a -1.00 indicates that a player is one standard deviation under the mean.

For the resulting (above replacement) fantasy player pool -- below are the calculated averages and standard deviations over the past few years for offensive counting categories. For completeness, note that these figures have been calculated for 15 team / 5x5 leagues (NFBC settings).

(With only 60 games played, the 2020 COVID stub year is not on the same basis and has been excluded from this study.)

Again, it is important to understand that we are not looking here at the entirety of baseball. We are only evaluating the players who would have contributed to our own fantasy teams.

For example, in 2017, there were 6105 HRs in Major League Baseball, which rose to 6776 in 2019 (the juiced ball year). However, the fantasy-relevant average for HRs was 24 in 2017, which is higher than the 21 in 2019. That is because a large part of the rise in home runs occurred below the fantasy baseball replacement level.

Even more importantly, what the averages do not tell us explicitly -- how the value of the category relates to one another.

The Z-score standard deviation is the statistic that depicts the relative value of the scoring categories. As SD appears in the denominator of the Z-score formula, the higher the category standard deviation, the lower the value of the category. With a standard deviation of 12 in 2023, the stolen base category has been severely devalued as compared to where it was in 2022 (eight).

Plugging some figures into the equation, a mere 11 stolen bases this past season equated to a 0.0 Z-score. Back in 2021, 11 stolen bases evaluated to a +0.5 Z-score. A player would have to steal 17 bases nowadays to accumulate the same +0.5 metric. Going from 11 to 17 is a 55% increase in output! That is a lot!

In the fantasy baseball world for the past few years, we have been pushing up stolen bases in our drafts. Claiming that SBs were scarce, analysts have all advised us to make sure that we acquire stolen bases in the early rounds and to pay a premium for them throughout the draft.

Mathematically, this is no longer the case.

Does this mean you should ignore SBs?

No. Stolen bases are still a required scoring category with smaller absolute quantities than the other ones.

Instead, we should be firmly back into securing overall value with our picks, keeping an eye out not to inadvertently punt the category. You no longer need not to be overly aggressive to secure bags. Do not pass up on smarter value plays as they arise in 2024.


Minimize Risk Early On

Below are the returned fantasy values in a 15-team, 5x5 (NFBC) format since 2018 for a particular MLB player.

Can you name him?

Year Roto Value
2018 $ 30
2019 $ 33
2020 $ 42
2021 $ 30
2022 $ 39
2023 $ 44

Wow! In the past six years, he had accumulated three $39+ seasons, with 2023 being his best fantasy season to date! In the six-year span, he has averaged $36 of returned value with a minimum of $30. Essentially, this player is a perennial first-rounder, and typically he is a top-five overall player. It does not get much more consistent and guaranteed than this.

Before revealing the identity of this superstar, where should you draft such a player?

The case can be made based on experience and risk that he should be drafted as the #1 overall player. At the very least, blindly, he should be a top-three draftee. A guaranteed late first-round (valued) player should always be prioritized over a player with early first-round upside.

Oh, have you guessed who the player is?

The player above is none other than Freddie Freeman.

Where is Freeman being drafted now in early 2024 NFBC drafts?

His early ADP in NFBC Drafts is 8.25.

At #8, you are getting an almost guaranteed full return on your investment (assuming health)…or more. Last year, he was an unbelievable value as his ADP for the month of March in NFBC was 13.4. I would argue that Freeman is still a steal at #8.

Sure, Corbin Carroll and Bobby Witt Jr. are tremendously exciting. Yes, each has a sky-high upside in all five roto categories. But they have not proven themselves over a long period of time. Or take a player such as Fernando Tatis Jr. -- we all know what he can do, but he is continually injured.

Year-over-year stability is worth a risk-adjusted price increase. I’d prefer to draft Freddie Freeman or Mookie Betts over either one of the young or injury-plagued stars. In the first two rounds of drafts, be extremely risk averse.


Minimize Projection Uncertainty

From an actuary’s perspective, the key motto for statistical models is that the past is predictive of the future. In my field, we base quantitative predictions on the tenet that given the same long-term conditions, past numerical outcomes and distributions (if properly parameterized) will continue for the foreseeable future.

Fantasy baseball projections are not dissimilar. We study the true talent of players in the past, and adjust for age, park factors, etc. -- in order to predict how major leaguers will perform in the upcoming season.

It is important to note that the baseball projection process is predicated on a stable playing environment. Sure, there are trends year over year. Players can start to steal more bases, and pitchers can throw harder. Minor trends are regular and do not disrupt the normal flow of forecasts.

However, over the past few seasons, we have not had the stability that we had enjoyed for a long time. Since 2019, we’ve had major disruptions in the normal flow of baseball. Some of them include:

Year Disruption
2019 Juiced Ball
2020 COVID
2021 COVID (still)
2022 Lockout
2023 New rule changes

In the face of data that contains major predictive challenges, the question becomes -- how can we minimize projection uncertainty?

FantasyPros is one such resource that computes projection accuracy, using an absolute error methodology. Below are the resulting system scores for a few aggregation systems (ATC & Zeile), plus the average of the three best standalone projection systems for the year (a lower score is more accurate).

Overall Accuracy Score ATC Zeile Avg Top 3 Non-Aggregate
2018 -1.7 -2.0 -1.2
2019 -2.0 -2.0 -1.2
2020 -1.6 -1.4 -0.6
2021 -2.3 -2.0 -1.6
2022 -2.4 -1.7 -1.7

The Average Total Cost projections (ATC), an aggregation projection system, has been the top projection system for the past four years, per the FantasyPros study. Despite containing the convolution of the prior few years of irregularity, ATC has further set itself apart from the standalone systems in the later years (2021 & 2022). FantasyPros' own system, Zeile, has also performed above the cut in recent years.

The clear lesson here is to use -- or at the very least -- be aware of the results of aggregate projections. The high-stakes fantasy market has already adapted to this concept. A standalone projection on its own has a far greater chance of yielding inadequate results in any given season. Aggregation systems are better at avoiding "landmines."

The projections accuracy for 2023 have not yet been published, but I expect the trend to continue. Perhaps the gap in accuracy scores for 2024 will tighten slightly -- but that assumes a relatively stable baseball environment. Are you confident that baseball will remain absolutely unchanged?



First, let’s take a look at the top relief pitchers from 2023 in terms of both accumulated value* and pure saves:

2023 Top-10 RPs by Value

No. Player Value ADP$
1 Felix Bautista 19 16
2 Devin Williams 18 19
3 Tanner Scott 12 0
4 Alexis Diaz 12 12
5 David Bednar 12 13
6 Camilo Doval 11 15
7 Josh Hader 10 22
8 Craig Kimbrel 10 2
9 Evan Phillips 9 5
10 Emmanuel Clase 8 25
11 Jordan Romano 8 20
12 Raisel Iglesias 7 20
13 Kevin Ginkel 7 0
14 Jhoan Duran 7 11

2023 Top-10 RPs by Saves

No. Player Saves ADP$
1 Emmanuel Clase 44 25
2 David Bednar 39 13
3 Alexis Diaz 37 12
4 Devin Williams 36 19
5 Paul Sewald 34 7
6 Felix Bautista 33 16
7 Ryan Pressly 31 18
8 Kenley Jansen 29 6
9 Kyle Finnegan 28 4
10 Jhoan Duran 27 11
11 Alex Lange 26 6
12 Peter Fairbanks 25 10
13 Evan Phillips 24 5
14 Craig Kimbrel 23 2

*Based on NFBC style 15 team / 5x5 league settings.

In the above, Average Draft Position Dollars (ADP$) is the player’s Average Draft Position (ADP) translated into a comparable earnings format. It is more helpful in comparing the accumulated final season value to the ADP$ than to the ADP alone.

In the season with the highest closer premium market of all time, the top closers in 2023 cost $20+ on average to roster. Emmanuel Clase ($24), Josh Hader ($22), Jordan Romano ($20), and Raisel Iglesias ($20) cost significant draft capital to roster in the month of March. If you recall, prior to his injury, Edwin Diaz demanded a $25 average price tag.

After the elite, the following three closers cost owners $18+. It was only just a few years ago that the TOP closer would go for a mere $18.

What a change!

There were a few reasons for the market’s hefty premium on closers this year.

  • Full-time closers are no longer being utilized in baseball for a large number of teams. Closers which command 90%+ of the team’s saves are harder to find.
  • Injuries or underperformance for RPs has largely increased. Closers are not guaranteed their role for the entire season. Fantasy managers are willing to pay more for the perceived higher certainty of saves.
  • Edwin Diaz’s WBC injury most certainly added further pressure to the top of the saves market for much of the 2023 draft season.

Was the market justified in pushing up prices? Should we as fantasy players pay up for the elite closers?

As far as the market being justified…markets need not justify themselves. The market is the market. As a fantasy owner, it doesn’t quite matter...we just have to learn how to navigate through it.

As for whether we should pay for elite closers…I believe that there is empirical evidence to suggest that we purchase top closers, but not elite ones.

Sure, if you pick the right players, you will always succeed. But the idea is to “play” in the space of the highest returns on investment. In terms of return on investment, I made the case back in 2019 that the optimal range of closers is the second-tier closers. The price range of the most valuable saves lies just after the elite relievers.

Looking at the top-performing RPs above, the mid-teen dollar outlays were the most fruitful in 2023 once again. David Bednar ($13 ADP$), Alexis Diaz ($12 ADP$), Devin Williams ($19 ADP$), Felix Bautista ($16 ADP$), and Ryan Pressly ($18 ADP$) comprised five of the top seven RP values in 2023.

Aligning with historical results, the class of second-tier RPs exhibits the largest chance to become profit hubs. They are the optimal blend of cost and return. Other than an extraordinary strikeout reliever such as Edwin Diaz, there isn’t a need to invest in the elite closers.

Every year is different, of course, but this particular trend has presented itself for quite some time now and should continue. Alternatively, use $20+ resources on an extra hitter or the right starting pitcher.


One Dimensional Players

Luis Arraez had a phenomenal 2023 baseball season. Arraez accumulated 3.4 fWAR -- the 59th-highest total of all major league batters, and largest of all Marlins hitters this season.

From a rotisserie standpoint, the NL batting champ accumulated $19 of value -- securing him fifth-round value.

However, there is tremendous risk to Arraez’s player profile. Namely, the fact that virtually all of his value is contained in just ONE scoring category.

Below is Luis’s Z-score profile for 2023:

The batting average component (shown as zxH -- for excess hits) is a whopping 4.32 standard deviations above the average active fantasy player. That is a fantastic figure.

But what if his average suddenly plummeted? What it if dipped to say .275? It very well might happen. After securing the batting title in 2022, Jeff McNeil’s batting average lowered this season to .270.

What if Luis got injured? What would happen to your fantasy team’s aggregate batting average?

Now, we do expect Arraez to hit near the top of the league in 2024, but BA results are variable. If Arraez’s Z-score for batting average was at 0.0 this season, he would have earned only $6. This assumes that his runs and RBIs would still be lofty, which it wouldn’t either. In other words, it won’t take much for the Marlin to turn into a horrible investment -- all because his value is all in one basket.

Even if he doesn’t turn into a negative investment, with the increase in his market price year over year (his current ADP is 130), the expected return on investment is already negative and as per my argument…with downside.

To give a second example, Esteury Ruiz has a similar story.

Ruiz accumulated $13 of rotisserie value this season. Should you draft him in 2024, you will be counting on him to provide a large part of your aggregated fantasy team’s steals. He has a negative Z-score in literally every other category. Rostering him at market value will provide an overreliance scenario (assuming that you draft a balanced roster).

The term for the risk of an outsized performance affecting your fantasy team’s aggregate value is called profile risk. Profile risk is generally hard to quantify, but luckily, the ATC projections have a statistic that provides one such measure. The ATC IntraSD measures the dimension of a fantasy player’s categorical profile. You can read more about InterSD here in its introductory article.

Be careful about paying full price for players in 2024 with an extreme IntraSD value.



There were a large number of prospects this season that ended up above replacement. In 2023, teams have promoted talent more quickly than they had in the past few seasons. There are a few reasons for this.

  • There are now more Wild Card teams in baseball, which means that more teams will be “going for it.” The calculus tells teams close to a playoff spot to promote and utilize their young talent more quickly than in the past.
  • As COVID canceled the 2020 minor league season, there was a general delay in the development of prospects. The major leagues are now catching up with the regular flow of talent upwards.
  • The new rules of the MLB favor more stolen bases -- which correlates with the talent of the youth. The rules lend themselves to younger players going forward.

Reason #2 is a temporary disruption in baseball. Reasons #1 & #3 are here to stay. For 2024, I would expect the rate of prospect promotions to decrease slightly from 2023’s pace, but to remain higher than it has been prior.

Especially in shallow leagues, I typically have discouraged fantasy owners from paying large attention to prospects other than the elite ones. However, as the playing time of prospects is now significantly larger -- one must pay more attention.

Allocate more of your yearly waiver wire budget to larger expenditures, and limit weekly streaming bidding slightly.



The key to success in fantasy baseball is to practice good long-term principles. What I mean by that is to make roster decisions by employing strategies that have exhibited success over the long run.

From the takeaways above, some examples include minimizing first-round risk, selecting second-tier closers, and avoiding one-dimensional players. Design and map out your draft strategies to take advantage of pockets of players who have exhibited long-term fantasy success.

Have a wonderful baseball offseason!

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Jaxon Smith-Njigba Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Dynasty Fantasy Football Buys and Sells - 2023 Rookie Class Edition

As dynasty managers turn their attention to the 2024 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back at the 2023 rookie class. Bijan Robinson was the clear top prospect and the 1.01 in both non-Superflex and one-quarterback leagues. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the top wide receiver in the class, while Anthony Richardson battled Bryce... Read More

Will Levis - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

2024 Free Agency Preview: Biggest Positional Needs for the Tennessee Titans in 2024

It's a new day in Tennessee. We just don't know yet if it's a sunny day, a gloomy day, or a day filled with thunderstorms and a potential tornado. They're making the right decision moving on from Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. Moving on from Mike Vrabel...that one we cannot answer yet. This trio has... Read More

Michael Pittman Jr -Fantasy-Football-Rankings-Draft-Sleepers-Waiver-Wire-Pickups-icon-rotoballer

2024 Free Agency Preview: Biggest Positional Needs for the Indianapolis Colts in 2024

The Colts were impressive in Shane Steichen's first year as a head coach. While they missed the playoffs, the team finished with a winning record and were in playoff contention through the entire season. Their first-round draft pick, quarterback Anthony Richardson, played just four games, making the team's performance even more of an accomplishment. Given... Read More

2024 NFL Draft Top 10 TE Rankings: Pre-Combine Rookie Tight Ends Analysis

The Super Bowl might be over, but football season never ends at RotoBaller! The countdown is on for 2024 fantasy football drafts with NFL teams and fantasy football fans preparing for the 2024 Combine and upcoming Draft. Matt Donnelly discusses his favorite tight ends in the 2024 NFL Draft class and ranks his top-10 pre-combine... Read More

Michael Penix Jr. - CFB DFS Picks, Daily College Fantasy Football, NFL Draft Rookies

Will Michael Penix Jr. Be A First-Round Pick? 2024 NFL Draft Outlook

Former Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be a popular name in the 2024 NFL Draft. After spending his first four college seasons at Indiana (2018-2021), Penix revived his career by transferring to Washington and putting up big numbers. The gun-slinging lefty finished eighth in Heisman Voting in 2022 and then as the runner-up to... Read More

Calvin Ridley - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

2024 Free Agency Preview: Biggest Positional Needs for the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a tough bunch to figure out. After making the playoffs in 2022, they seemed to take a step back despite it being the second year for head coach Doug Pederson. The team also finally got Calvin Ridley on the field and an elite season from pass-rusher Josh Allen. Ultimately, the Jaguars... Read More

Anthony Richardson - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL News

Three Early 2024 Quarterback Breakouts For Fantasy Football

It is never easy to predict which quarterbacks will break out every year. There's a lot to be taken into account, including the supporting cast, protection from the offensive line, and the overall situation. During the 2023-2024 season, the biggest quarterback breakouts were C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love. Very few people predicted these breakouts, so... Read More

C.J. Stroud - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

2024 Free Agency Preview: Biggest Positional Needs for the Houston Texans

The Houston Texans were the darlings of the 2023 season. Despite having a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback, the Texans still managed to make the playoffs. They excelled when very few thought they could. The hiring of DeMeco Ryans and the selection of C.J. Stroud have made Houston a team to watch out... Read More

Nico Iamaleava - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NCAA College Football, QB Prospects

Federal Judge Rules Against NCAA In NIL Enforcement Lawsuit

A federal judge in Tennessee issued a temporary injunction on Friday that will suspend the NCAA from punishing student-athletes, universities, and boosters for negotiating or signing name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals. While the temporary injunction issued by Judge Clifton L. Corker is not the final ruling in the case, it is effective immediately and... Read More

Is Mac Jones Finished? Dynasty League Outlook and Potential Landing Spots

Check out one of our top 2024 fantasy football videos as we begin to look ahead to next season! RotoBaller's LaQuan Jones discusses New England quarterback Mac Jones' dwindling Dynasty League value. LaQuan shares thoughts on why Jones might still have some long-term upside, as well as an interesting potential landing spot for the much-maligned... Read More

2024 NFL Draft Top 10 WR Rankings: Pre-Combine Rookie Wide Receiver Analysis

The Super Bowl might be over, but football never sleeps at RotoBaller! The countdown is on for 2024 fantasy football drafts with NFL teams and fantasy football fans preparing for the 2024 Combine and upcoming Draft. Matt Donnelly discusses his favorite wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft class and ranks his top-10 pre-combine WRs.... Read More

Calvin Ridley - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Will The Jaguars Re-sign Calvin Ridley? 2024 NFL Offseason Outlook

This past regular season wasn't ideal for year one of Calvin Ridley in Jacksonville, as he showed flashes of why they traded for him, but drop issues and a lack of consistency held him back from being a true top option. However, he made $11.1 million in 2023 with a valuation of $14.6 million, per... Read More