Fantasy Baseball Lessons Learned: Biggest takeaways to carry with you next season

Fantasy baseball managers have had to deal with too much in the past few years. The 60-game season in 2020 was nearly impossible to navigate, as was 2021, when we were forced to project players who were coming off the shortened campaign. And this year we dealt with an abbreviated spring training before diving into the first trial of back-to-back 162-game season in a while. But we made it through, and we are just a few days away from the completion of the 2022 regular season. The goal posts continually move in all fantasy sports, and baseball is no different. Here are my biggest takeaways from the 2022 season, with some notes on how these conclusions can be applied when preparing for 2023.

Closer chaos continues

Forget the days of 40 saves, finding a reliever who can get to the 30-save plateau is a major victory nowadays. Several teams have thumbed their noses at fantasy managers by purposely staying away from having defined bullpen roles. Some managers decided to steer into this problem rather than avoid it, using premium picks on the closers who were viewed as the top options. But that plan wound up being a big mistake. Josh Hader (major bust) and Liam Hendriks (slightly disappointing) were drafted among the top-50 picks. The next two closers off the board in typical Yahoo! drafts were Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias, who have combined for 24 saves. Other names who were selected among the top-13 closers included Mark Melancon, Jake McGee, Giovanny Gallegos and Blake Treinen. Woof. I know that pounding the waiver wire for saves is a frustrating errand, but it’s also a necessary part of a winning plan.

Top of the line closers like Josh Hader have been disappointments for fantasy baseball managers this season. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Top of the line closers like Josh Hader have been disappointments for fantasy baseball managers this season. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The catcher position is infuriating

Even in one-catcher leagues, managers have struggled to fill their catcher position all season. Adley Rutschman (11 HR, 33 RBI) and Cal Raleigh (.205 average) have been top-12 options. J.T. Realmuto is the only catcher among the top-65 players, and his lofty ranking is primarily thanks to a surprising steals total. The best plan for 2023 Yahoo drafters is to try for Realmuto or Will Smith, and if you miss out, draft a catcher in the late rounds and then stream the position until you find someone serviceable.

Rookies are worth the trouble

For all of the hype received by top prospects, they often let fantasy managers down. But Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt Jr. have greatly exceeded expectations, as both players rank among the top-30 options so far this season. And on the pitching side, Spencer Strider sits 17th among starters so far. Enthusiasm is part of what makes this game so great, and those who want to get behind a talented prospect in their 2023 drafts can have the three major success stories from this season in the back of their mind.

The Dodgers have everything figured out

Simply put, the Dodgers are doing almost everything right at the moment. The organization will always have a massive payroll, which is a big part of their success. But beyond their acquisition of star players, Los Angeles has figured out how to get terrific production from the fringes of their roster, especially within their pitching staff. The club will have at least three first-round fantasy picks — Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman — next year. And managers should be willing to grab just about anyone who cracks their 2023 rotation, as their group of starters this year has posted a 2.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP despite having the likes of Tyler Anderson, Tony Gonsolin, Andrew Heaney, Mitch White and Ryan Pepiot make a combined 78 starts.

Injury optimism is not your friend

Those who drafted near Opening Day this year knew that two players who would have been first-round picks — Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jacob deGrom — would miss significant time due to injury. Tatis wound up missing the tail end of the campaign due to a suspension, but the takeaway for fantasy managers should be that neither player met their expected timeline of a June return. deGrom made his season debut on August 2 while Tatis would have returned in the middle of August at the earliest. If similar situations occur with high-end players in 2023, managers would be wise to add a few weeks to their projected return date.

The changes never stop

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this season is that the 2023 MLB rule changes are going to have a major impact in how players are going to be valued in fantasy leagues next year. Alterations to how many times a pitcher can throw over to first base will combine with an increase in the size of the bags to create an environment where players swipe bases at a higher rate. Of course, a higher volume of steals around the league will lessen the value of each individual swipe. Additionally, regulations on where fielders can stand should serve to increase batting averages, which will alter the bar for what fantasy managers find acceptable in that category from each player. And the rise in batting marks will not be uniform, as some players have been more negatively impact by defensive shifts than others. The increased incentive to plan for a base knock and steal of second could lessen the inclination to sell out for home runs, which would lower the totals in that category and make each round-tripper more valuable. And everything I just mentioned does not apply only to hitters, as some pitchers will be adversely affected more than others by the altered offensive strategies.

Does your head hurt by now? Don’t worry — we have several months to come to terms with these changes. For now, sit back and relax, enjoy the final days of the regular season, and be proud of yourself for navigating the fantasy baseball landscape of 2022.