In last week's 2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends column, we examined the dead-ball environment baseball saw for the first four weeks of the season and, how we should manage our fantasy rosters around this new normal. When discussing the topic on the Fantasy Six Pack podcast last week, we raised an interesting question. Is Streaming Pitchers a better Idea in a low run environment? Or put another way, should I be more willing to stream than in years past because I should expect better results with fewer runs being scored?
It makes intuitive sense that with record-low offensive numbers so far in 2022, pitching would be up as a whole. Even the most mediocre streaming candidates would theoretically benefit from a dead ball and from large drops in hitter power. How do the "streamers" this year compare to seasons in the past? Is there any advantage to gain this season by rotating through a steady stream of pitchers?
This weekly column will look at some of the more intriguing trends over the past week and provide actionable advice on how to handle the data we collected. For this week's piece, we will examine if it's wiser to stream in 2022 than in years past.
2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Is Streaming Pitchers A Better Idea in a Low Run Environment?
To determine if streamers are a more reasonable option than in past seasons, we first need to set a baseline of "What is a streamer?" Here are the boundaries I set up.
In determining who qualifies as a streamer, I wanted to get a sample of starting pitchers who were not universally rostered and that any average 12-team league could potentially find him on their waiver wire. Fortunately, several fantasy sites offer roster percentages on their fantasy stats pages. ESPN fantasy was the site I selected due to the ease with which I could download the data.
My first step was to take all of the starting pitchers who were between 10% and 50% rostered and download their season stats for 2022. I chose those numbers because more than 50% rostered starts getting into the "everyone is going to have them" territory. Also, I eliminated less than 10% rostered pitchers, knowing we would get just the most atrocious pitchers imaginable if we included pitchers below that number.
A 10% roster percentage number represents there is at least a noticeable segment of the fantasy population holding onto the pitcher.
I eliminated any starting pitchers with less than 10 innings this year. I also eliminated pitchers who are rostered in the 10%-50% range but haven't thrown a single pitch (i.e. Lance McCullers). I did this through May 8th for 2022 and for all of 2021.
I then went back and downloaded the league average stats from 2017-2021 to get a sense of how the normal streamer in 2022 would stack up against a 50th percentile pitcher. This leaves a sample of 33 pitchers in 2022, and 36 pitchers for 2021 streamers. The 2017-2021 league average stats captured all starters in those timeframes over on Fangraphs.
Here are the ERA, WHIP, and K/9 for each of those sets of pitchers:
|2022 League Average
|2021 League Average
|2020 League Average
|2019 League Average
|2018 League Average
|2017 League Average
What do we see here in regards to 2022 streamers compared to 2021 and past league averages? First, there is very little difference in the WHIP and K/9 in 2022 and the rest of the observed years. Even in rabbit ball years like 2019, we only have a 0.03 difference in WHIP between 2022 streamers and the league average pitchers. And you would actually get MORE strikeouts from an average pitcher in 2019.
Where we do see differences between the streamers this year and average pitchers from the last half-decade is in ERA. Compared to most of those seasons, streamers in 2022 give us a half-run better ratio despite them being in the bottom half of ownership. You can also see that the streamer rates for all three stats line up almost identically to the league average stats for the first month of this season.
To Stream or Not To Stream
Considering how drastically bad the offense has been this season, I initially expected a bigger gap, especially in WHIP and strikeouts. But the more I thought about what baseball is dealing with this year, the more it made sense. Batters are still reaching base via hit and via walk.
Pitchers are still able to strike batters out with this 2022-version dead ball. The runs are minimized, however, by the power being sucked out of many hits, causing massive drops in slugging percentage. That's what is keeping ERA down across the board this year. Far fewer extra-base hits.
Of course, streaming a pitcher and getting a better ERA than you would two or three years ago is a double-edged sword. Pitching ERA is down for streamers because ERA is down for EVERY pitcher this season. ERA is more than half a run lower league-wide compared to last season. The numbers also say you're not really gaining anything in WHIP and ERA compared to past years.
There will always be strong streaming options based on matchups and lineup and parks. But beyond a little help in ERA this season, we are not getting any oversized help from our streaming pitchers. And in case you're thinking maybe you'll just stick with streaming pitchers in a narrower range such as those who are 25%-50% rostered.
I checked on that as well. WHIP stays the same and ERA is actually a quarter-run worse than with the whole group.
As always, streaming remains about the matchups and opportunities. Despite a dead-ball environment, we still can't just pick up the random guy facing the Orioles or the Athletics and expect a quality start.
Thanks for reading the 2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Is Streaming Pitchers A Better Idea in a Low Run Environment? Make sure you bookmark the F6P Fantasy Baseball page for premium content all season long!