2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: MLB Offense Trending Up

by Ryan Kirksey
2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: MLB Offense Trending Up

Welcome to 2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: MLB Offense Trending Up!

We are not even three weeks into the 2023 Fantasy Baseball season, but plenty of trends are starting to emerge.  Managers know that certain players have started off white hot. We also know that stolen bases have begun to trend up. But what impact are the new rule changes having on fantasy offenses and fantasy pitching staffs as a whole?

A tweet from Codify (@CodifyBaseball) compared the first 222 games between 2022 and 2023 and came up with the following breakdown.

Clearly, just about all aspects of offense are trending way up through most teams' first 16 games. Can we expect that to continue, and also what impact is it having on pitching in 2023? Let's dive into some data and find out.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: MLB Offense Trending Up

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MLB Offense Could be the Most Prolific Since the Early 2000's

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The introduction of larger bases and fewer pick-off moves for pitchers was supposed to increase speed, scoring, and action on the basepaths. These are things that have been lacking since the dawn of the three true outcomes craze and Major League Baseball wanted to turn that ship around.

What was unknown at the time of its introduction is how the shortened pitch clock would affect pitchers and their endurance, especially early in the season.

A 49% increase in stolen bases is probably attributable to two things.

First, the base size makes it easier to steal more bases. Headed into Monday's games there were seven players with at least seven steals this year. In 2022, there was one player with seven steals through this many team games - Jorge Mateo. In fact, 2011 was the last tine even five players had at least seven steals through this many team games.

That season, eight players finished with more than 40 steals. It seems clear we are going to reach or break that number in 2023.

The second thing is that managers aren't gauging whether their players have good jumps on pitchers or are able to read their moves to first better. It seems more baserunners have the green light than ever before.

There has also been a massive 30% jump in total home runs. This could be attributed to a lot of things: new ball from MLB, hitter approach to favor fly balls, or more relief pitchers in the game as starters get accustomed to the new pace of games.

Considering the early 2023 returns on hard-hit rate, barrel rate, exit velocity, and HR/FB are all slightly up over last year, whatever the combination of factors is, we are seemingly headed back into 2019 rabbit ball territory with the potential for more.

Pitching Stats are Predictably Headed in the Wrong Direction

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Of course, as Newton taught us in our high school physics classes, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For our purposes, that means pitching stats are skewing the way of 2019 (and the rabbit ball) and the early 2000's when MLB has yet to crack down on steroids.

As you can see below from the data taken from Baseball Reference, despite batting average on balls in play (BABIP) being largely unchanged over the last 20 years, the run environment now looks a lot like the first years of the century instead of the dead-ball years of 2010-2018. WHIP is the highest it has been since 2010. Only 2019 saw more runs per game over the last 15 years than this season's 4.66. While walks are at a 20-year high.

There are two ways to look at this for Fantasy Baseball purposes. The first is to soak in this data and have it help explain why my Corbin Burnes or Alek Manoah or my Lance Lynn shares have been plummeting through three weeks. The other is to look at it and use it to set a new baseline for our expectations.

As long as everyone is on the same playing field, all the teams in my Fantasy leagues are being affected. If that means that my team starting pitcher ERA has a "4" in front of it going forward instead of a "3," that's ok as long as I am tracking with the rest of my league. We can't view any fantasy stats in a complete vacuum. It's all about how am I doing relative to the rest of my competition.

The New Rules Aren't Going Anywhere

MLB game times averaging around 2:38 this season and run production has increased. This is the impact MLB wanted. More action, less dead time, and games that can keep the attention span of a new generation of viewers.

What this means for our Fantasy teams circles back to those managed expectations. We will certainly be seeing offensive production (especially in stolen bases) unlike any past seasons. We haven't even reached the warm weather season, so as the offense and our pitching go in opposite directions during the summer months, just remember we are all swimming in the same direction.


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