Fantasy Baseball

2021 Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Trends


Welcome to the 2021 Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Trends.

I’m usually one to take on the more time-intensive articles here at Fantasy Six Pack over my six years of writing. However, in an effort to declutter my life and reduce the excess stress/anxiety that those articles brought, I’m taking over a different challenge this year.

I appreciate the F6P team for allowing me to take this one-off idea and run with it and hope that readers can find some value out of it! And, hey, if you don’t find value or fun in this light reading, that’s just one less thing you have on your list of things to read each week. I’d say it’s a win-win!

Each week, I will provide a trend or two that is interesting for Fantasy Baseball and discuss how we can apply this information to our future strategy. I’m going to take a step back and look at the Fantasy Baseball landscape from a different view than the usual nitty-gritty of the roster management and waiver wire pickups that you’ll usually see.

Once the season gets rolling, I’ll start looking at specific player trends. With just one week of baseball underway though, I thought I would have a little more fun with this one.

For Week 1, we are going to analyze starting pitchers over the last decade-plus and what to expect here in 2021.

2021 Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Trends

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Starting Pitcher Metrics: 2007 to 2021

Okay, big-ass chart time. Don’t be alarmed – I’ll go through each of the columns in more detail below. The best thing about this chart is that this took almost minimal work thanks to FanGraphs and their incredibly user-friendly splits tool(s).

2021 Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Trends

Despite all my words below, remember that it’s super early and we don’t want to overreact to just a week of baseball. I just found this fascinating and will definitely be updating this chart as the year progresses. Okay, on to the reckless speculation…

Can’t Spell “Winning” without “Inning(s)”

I don’t think anything presented here is surprising to the regular baseball fan. Starting pitchers have been trending towards fewer innings over the last several years and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

In 2020, we saw starting pitchers average under five innings per start (as seen in the yellow column titled “IP/GS” above) for the first time in the history of the sport. While this downward trend has been going on since 2015, many were curious as to whether the shortened season gave teams the opportunity to employ/experiment with new strategies.

Well, through the first week of 2021, nothing’s changed in that department. Starting pitchers are averaging about 4.8 innings per start, which is right in line with 2020.

Additionally, the potential for wins among starters is crashing hard. This makes sense, right? Starters have to go five innings to get a win, but they can record a loss no matter how many innings they go. Simple math says over half the starts in the league in 2020-2021 have given starters only two outcomes: no-decisions and losses.

Perhaps a more telling stat is the highlighted “Wins/GS” column above. Between 2020 and 2021, starters are only recording a win in one of every four starts. That’s a season-long pace of eight wins in 32 starts. That’s being generous considering you can count on one hand the number of pitchers that last a full season without an injury or some form of “load management.”

Three-True Outcomes

Win, loss, and no-decision aren’t the only trio of outcomes that pitchers are worried about. It’s intriguing to see the data surrounding strikeouts, walks, and homers over the last several years.

No shock here, strikeouts are up. And if you thought they were going to slow down, check out that crazy jump here after Week 1 of 2021!

Back at the beginning of my Fantasy Baseball career, I remember using 8.0 K/9 as a solid barometer for Fantasy starters. Now, the league is averaging 9.6 K/9.

The increasing pitch velocities (see “vFA” for fastball velocity in the chart above) certainly have a lot to do with this climb.

A 2021 season where starters average over 9.0 K/9 is a scary thought, especially for opposing hitters!

Walk rates are also up. However, the strange thing here is that there is no consistent trend with BB/9. K/9 ratios basically steadily increase annually, BB/9 ratios have been all over the place between 2.7 and 3.2 in the last 15 years.

With both of these ratios up in 2021 though, we’ve seen increased pitch counts earlier in games, thus resulting in the pulling of these starters earlier. If I had to guess, we will see K/9 and BB/9 decrease as the season progresses.

It typically takes longer for hitters to get going than pitchers at the beginning of a season.  (That may deserve a case study in itself!)

Taking Juice Out of the Diet?

It’s no secret that MLB altered the balls. Various studies were done independently and by the league itself back in 2017 that proved this notion. (LOL, MLB really needed to conduct that internal study.)

Many interviews and research articles have expressed this too. It’s easy to see the jump in homers in the chart above around 2016. Among starters, homers per flyball (HR/FB) hovered around 10.5% between 2007 and 2014. Then, they skyrocketed to around 14.0% in the last five years. HR/9 for starters increased from 0.91 in 2014 to 1.44 in 2019, which is slightly absurd.

A lot of coverage was dedicated to the “new” baseball this spring. I learned more about drag force and projectile motion in February of 2021 than I did in my two semesters of Physics back in my freshman engineering curriculum. The article below by a couple of the O.G. juiced ball theorists suggests that the ball hasn’t changed much.

To their point, it is interesting to see that HR/FB is still fairly high in Week 1.

HR/9 are down but, as mentioned before, less contact is being made against starters than ever before. Fewer balls in play mean fewer opportunities for homers.

Since the season is so young, I’ll keep an eye on this as the season progresses. This may require a trend article to itself with an increased sample size. Then do splits by Statcast data and ballpark factors.

Final Word

I hope you drafted those stud starters early in your draft because it’s a hellhole out there. My idiom of the week is “hold your (work)horses”. Set their market value higher than their draft value and force other league members to overpay for them (or leave you alone).

Thanks for reading! If you want to engage in friendly discussion regarding this topic or have any ideas for future trend articles, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@therealwody).

Check out the rest of our 2021 Fantasy Baseball content from our great team of writers.

About Tyler Thompson

Follow me on Twitter at @therealwody. For all the latest news and best advice out there, like us on Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

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