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The Bigger Picture - Sizing Up 60 Games

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. fantasy baseball rankings MLB news sleepers DFS lineup picks

We did it. We got through 60 games of the Major League season and yet, it isn't nearly over.

Of all the trials and tribulations the abbreviated 2020 season brought, one of the greatest difficulties is having to invoke the caveat of the shortened season when conducting statistical analysis. Although we could take the current sample size of the 2021 season and compare it to the full 2020 season, it isn't exactly an apples-to-apples analogy since there were so many oddities last year aside from the brevity of the schedule.

Since most teams are at the 60-game mark, I will look at some league-wide statistical variances from the past season to determine if things are really that different.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Bad Apples

The first question to pose is one we already know the answer to. Is offense in the majors down league-wide?


With roughly the same amount of games played overall, the counting stats are slightly lower than they were a year ago.

Season G HR RBI R SB
2021 26212 2061 7456 7878 826
2020 26721 2304 7978 8344 885

If we look at the rates per plate appearance for each category, there isn't a dramatic shift but it's apparent that everything is lower.

Season HR RBI R SB
2021 0.030 0.111 0.117 0.0123
2020 0.034 0.119 0.125 0.013

Homers are down as are stolen bases, which continues to be a trend; the rate of steals has been steadily decreasing since 2017.

As of June 10, the San Diego Padres are the only team averaging more than one stolen base attempt per game at 1.15. Last year, there were five such teams: Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, and Miami. It's not as if steals have become non-existent but another dip in could make a big difference by season's end if it continues.

In order to crack the top-10 leaderboard in 2020, 10 steals was the minimum requirement. In 2021, there are eight players with 10 steals and six more with nine steals. If Adalberto Mondesi and Luis Robert hadn't spent most of April and May on IL, along with extended stints by Starling Marte and Trent Grisham, this could be a different outcome.

Home runs are a similar story. The sums might be lower for each team but it's not a drastic difference on an individual basis when evaluating the players at the top who make an impact in fantasy leagues.

In 2020, the HR leaders were Luke Voit (22), Jose Abreu (19), Marcell Ozuna (18), Jose Ramirez (17), Mike Trout (17), and Fernando Tatis Jr. (17). The top 15 power hitters each had 15 or more long balls.

In 2021, the HR leaderboard includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (18), Ronald Acuna Jr. (18), Jesse Winker (17), Shohei Ohtani (17), and Adolis Garcia (16). The top 15 all have at least 14 home runs.

A negligible difference to be sure. The lower offensive production we've seen so far has been frustrating for some fans but it isn't changing the landscape of fantasy by any means.

It might not surprise anyone to find out that plate discipline for batters is getting worse again as strikeouts continue to rise and walks are slightly down. Called strike rates are identical at 16.8% and swinging strike rates are only up one-tenth of a percent, so the increase in Ks can be attributed to a higher overall swing rate. Contact rates are also the same.

Season BB% K% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2021 8.9% 24.1% 46.7% 75.3% 11.5%
2020 9.2% 23.4% 45.9% 75.3% 11.4%

Moving on to quality of contact, we see a lower hard-hit rate yet a higher barrel rate. This could be attributed to the "launch angle revolution" where batters are watching more film, tweaking their stances, and trying to generate better contact. Or it could just be a random and meaningless variance. The league-wide launch angle is down from 12.7 to 12.1 this year but barrels require a specific set of criteria that isn't as simple as a higher launch angle. Fortunately, we have a weekly Statcast series that recently delved into Barrels.

I've lumped in slash-line averages along with the most interesting ratios for hitters:

Season BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA Hard% Barrel% HR/FB
2021 0.289 0.237 0.313 0.396 0.31 31.5% 8.1% 13.4%
2020 0.292 0.245 0.322 0.418 0.32 33.3% 7.6% 14.8%

The dip in hard-hit balls and home runs per fly ball brings up the obvious question (again) about the state of the baseball itself these days. Devan Fink of Fangraphs dug into this data after April ended and concluded that 2021 could see fewer HR than 2019. But we must keep in mind that homers have been historically high over the past few years, so relative to any previous season it won't rank as a low output and shouldn't be felt by fantasy managers.


Apples to Oranges

So, what doesn't apply in the attempt to compare the current season with the previous one?

Park Factors have to top the list. In 2020, the regional schedule led to a majority of games being played within the division. That led to plenty of outliers when pitchers like Zach Plesac threw half his starts against bottom-feeders like Kansas City, Detroit, and Cincinnati and wound up with a 2.28 ERA and 27.7% K%. This year, he looks a lot more like the pitcher he was in 2019 with a 4.14 ERA and 16.2% K%.

The limited number of innings pitched by many starters in 2020 also seems like a blip on the radar. No-hitters are getting all the attention but I already addressed the fact that complete games are making a comeback. Over the course of a full season, starters will have the opportunity to fully stretch out and managers aren't going to wear out their bullpen on a nightly basis in an effort to qualify for an expanded playoff. Couple the bounce back in innings totals with the dead ball and starting pitchers become a lot more valuable than they were in 2020.

The minor leagues are back! That means fewer prospects bouncing back and forth between taxi squads just to get some game action.

Finally, the list of players sent to the COVID IL has been mercifully small this season and we haven't seen a rash of games canceled en masse due to teams quarantining. Multi-positional eligibility isn't as vital as it was and fewer players are playing around the diamond. I don't have any stats to back this up, but that statement feels right so I'll roll with it. Truthiness at its finest.

The processes behind MLB's daily operation are mostly back to pre-COVID times and the same goes for fantasy baseball. Despite the decrease in offense, we can all agree that 2021 has been far more enjoyable than 2020 for multiple reasons. The best part is that now that we've reached the 60-game threshold, we get to enjoy 100 more games!

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