I’m sure everyone is aware of the trend baseball has shifted to. We’ve seen electric arms, generating numerous strikeouts, on the mound, with hitters hitting an insane amount of home runs to start the 2019 season. There has been more emphasis on getting loft under the ball, compared to years past where players tended to get more backspin on the ball and use the entire part of the field. Think of this as hitters taking what the pitcher gives them. Yes, there are still complete hitters that will do so, but more and more we see players that want to drive the ball as much as possible, and managers shying away from playing small ball. Instead of manufacturing runs, with bunts, we see nearly every team playing for the big inning insuring they put a crooked number on the scoreboard. Trends have happened across all sports, and not only baseball. For instance, in hockey, we’ve seen teams constructed around speed with very few enforcers in the league. Also, look at basketball and football. We’ve seen more emphasis put on the three-point shot, and the NFL has shifted to a pure passing league. With baseball, more home runs have lead to an unprecedented number of strikeouts. This week, I want to look at home runs and strikeouts in this week’s installment of “That’s Amore!” Fantasy & Real Life Implications of Home Run and Strikeout Rates Increasing.
Looking at the chart above, we can see the past three seasons (2016, 2017, & 2018) have seen the highest increases in home runs and strikeouts compared to years past. 2016 started the trend of National League offenses being built to rival their American League counterparts. Even so, the 2016 World Series featured a Chicago Cubs team that was superior to the Cleveland Indians. During the same season, we saw more graphs, chatter, and overall emphasis on launch angle, and players getting loft under the ball. At the same time, we started seeing more teams hitting the 1500+ strikeout mark. What can be paralleled with such numbers? From an offensive standpoint, it’s easy to see that the more a ball is placed into the air, the more likelihood home runs will occur. Look at the league now. How many players do you see that are line drive/gap hitters compared to players that strive to get loft under the ball? On the pitching aspect, we’ve seen more players with velocity that reaches the high-90s coupled with hitters that don’t lay off pitches high in the zone. This has a direct correlation to pitchers and hitters having higher strikeout totals. Looking deeper, in years past we saw few players striking out in the high 100s to 200 range. Adam Dunn is the perfect example. He’s a player that was always in the 170+ strikeout range, with a low batting average, that would hit 30+ home runs per season. Fast-forward to the past few seasons, and we seem a higher number of players that not only rack up an abundance of strikeouts, but hit a high number of home runs (e.g. Joey Gallo, Chris Davis [forget the past few seasons], Aaron Judge, Khris Davis, Giancarlo Stanton, etc). Not only has this shift let to the aforementioned increase in home runs and strikeouts, but teams are scoring more runs by doing so.
Is this good or bad for the game? What are the implications? There can be a debate to go on for days on the topic if it’s good or bad for the game. Everyone has their opinion, but at the end of the day, it’s baseball. Players are more athletic and pitchers have better arms. We see players of smaller stature (e.g. Jose Altuve) putting up numbers to those that we would expect from a four-hole hitter. At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly rare for any pitcher to not reach 95+ on the radar gun. One thing is for sure, any pitcher who can’t hit mid-90s with their fastball, absolutely needs to hit their spots or they will be obliterated by this generation’s talented hitters. Simply put, with hitters looking to drive the ball, the margin for error becomes minuscule. Back to the question of whether or not the current style of play is good or bad for the game isn’t for me to answer. I love the game, and every generation will be different to the ones of the past. For one, it becomes exciting seeing every hitter with the ability to hit the long ball. However, this can become an issue in the later innings of games when runs are needed and players are losing their plate discipline in order to change the score with one swing of the bat. At the same time, I feel teams are more reluctant to player small or ball, or generate runs, if you will, in the later innings of games. In a playoff series, I feel we can still see the “old” style of baseball with teams taking each game, and playing to win under any means necessary. Yes, this would involve a player laying down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner.
In terms of implications, we are seeing the results in the changing of statistics from year-to-year. The more emphasis on loft has lead to more home runs, and by doing so, we are seeing a higher number of strikeouts. This offensive strategy is also something players are learning at a younger age. With more metrics, and analysis, available we’ve seen veterans give in to analytics to help their careers, but as I mentioned, many of these young, dynamic hitters started this “renaissance” of offensive approach in high school, college, and in the minor leagues. One thing I will add is the ability of utility players. Take for instance Marwin Gonzalez and Tommy LaStella. Each player has produced significant numbers while playing periodically, but once given a full season of at-bats, we’ve seen them succeed at a higher rate. My point being, even utility players have the ability to produce like a player tabbed as an everyday player. Opportunity and at-bats are the key.
Fantasy Implications Batting average will always have a solid stance in the game of baseball. While it may not carry as much weight as we’ve seen in the past, it will give you a solid ground on what to expect of a hitter. With that being said, we are seeing more power hitters with lower batting averages, but with high on-base percentages and slugging percentages. Take for instance Bryce Harper. He’s arguably a premier power hitter in the game. While he’s a life-time .277 hitter, he post a career-best 100 RBI in 2018 with a second-best home run total of 34 home runs while batting .249. If we look deeper, his .393 (OBP) was just short of excellent. I bring up batting average because with the current offensive strategy, batting average doesn’t carry as much weight in fantasy scoring as OBP or OPS does. Again, we can see numerous players that may hit for a low batting average, but display great on-base and slugging percentages followed by a dynamite OPS.
Looking at the pitching side of things, I’d say it’s vital to get high-strikeout pitchers on your team. Look at recent fantasy drafts, especially this one in particular. A majority of the premier (high strikeout) starting arms were taken within the first few rounds of drafts (specially redrafts). If you waited until rounds three or four, more than likely you were looking at second-tier starting pitchers. It will take two or three mid-level starters to equal the production of one top-of-the-line starting pitcher (i.e. Think Kyle Gibson’s 179 strikeouts  & Jameson Taillon’s 179 strikeouts  just surpassing Max Scherzer’s 300 strikeouts ). This completely changes one’s way of thinking, and strategy, during fantasy drafts.
Overall, there are direct implications to both Major League Baseball and fantasy baseball in regards to the recent shift in offensive approach. A game that saw few hitters hit 30+ home runs, sees it from numerous players regardless of stature/age. Also, strikeouts and a low batting average once hindered a player, but now they are accepted as long as the hitter makes contact, and can hit home runs and drive in runs. There are arguments to be had in regards to whether or not this is good or bad, but I will say one thing, baseball is still exciting, at least for me, as it always has been.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday May 16th, 2019 from 7:30-9pm EST for episode #160 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Cole and Kyle will discuss the latest happenings in the world of MLB and fantasy. They will take a look back on the previous few days and a preview of the coming weekend. Including spot starts, bullpens, offense, and minor league players.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show Join host Cole Freel live on Sunday May 19th, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #161 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week.
Our guests this week are Joe Iannone and Bryan Luhrs. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and his articles publish every Sunday. Bryan is the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports and is also a league owner as well as a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com.