How will a “de-juiced” ball affect the home run power of the players in 2021? 

If this were the 1500s, it would be the “To be or not to be” question.  Understanding projections and how to use them is important but understanding how they are flawed and what the ramifications of the changes in the game and the ball is what separates you from the pack.

Reviewing History of Stat Categories

There were 46 players in the history of Major League Baseball to hit more than 50 home runs in a single season.  If we were to take the number of games played last season (1796) and use the normal number of games played in a season (4860), we can normalize the 2020 statistics by multiplying by 2.706.  That means that if the trend line continued both Luke Voit (60) and Jose Abreu (51) would have hit over 50 home runs last season.

To understand the pace that Voit was on, the only players to hit 60+ home runs in a single season were the Babe, Maris, Sosa, McGwire and Bonds.  That is elite company, well, at least elite designer steroids.

My first fantasy baseball season was 1989.  Canseco went 40-40 as the most valuable fantasy baseball player.  Not sure how much was juice.  Throughout the 90s, we had to take that into account.  Was a player using PEDs? In those first years, I was 100% a SLAVE to the projections.  Naively thinking that the projectionists that I depended on took EVERYTHING into account.

Now, I find both projections and category targets to be incredibly important to the success in drafting winning fantasy baseball teams.  However, you need to use them carefully knowing that projections are flawed can help you change your thinking and win more often.

Some facts about projections: (1) the game changes constantly and projectionists do not always catch up or get it right; (2) the human element of players can never be included like when a player is traded or a contract year is upon us; (3) upside cannot be included in projections as the goal is to be right; (4) hype is often included way too much; (5) many projections are a regurgitation of the previous year's stats with minor changes to avoid being judged too harshly. 

Let us start our work here by examining historical numbers with the lens of age.  First, the chart below shows the age of home run hitters.  I added the projected numbers so you can see how the projections travel back to the previous year which could not be farther from the truth. 

Now, the truth.  The data shows that the age that players hit home runs is 25-27 years old and there is a decline after 27 years old.  Only Nelson Cruz has been able to defy the numbers well into his 30s and now 40s.

The reason for laying this out is simple.  When selecting players for the categories of home runs, runs batted in and runs scored make sure to take the younger players and get some bonus dingers for selecting those between 25 and 28 years old.  

Now let’s look at stolen bases.  There is no effect of the ball on this really.  Pedantic analysts will argue on the margins. This is fantasy baseball people, so let’s give ourselves a break on saying some hitters won’t hit the ball as hard and lose some average points.

Players who run tend to keep running until they turn 28.  After 28, they go steadily down.  There are the exceptions to this of course, like Starling Marte and Rajai Davis who ran until he was 38.

The Changing Game

We are going to examine some more charts below to understand what the likely scenario for this season is so that we can project our targets correctly.  Home runs normalized to 4860 games (162x30).

Home runs were down 8% from 2019 but are still up 48.6% since 2014. Why the drop in 2018?  Well, there was the humidor being used.  There were the balls being made less tightly wound, allegedly.  Umpires were instructed to expand the strike zone.  All factors.

The explosion in 2019 can be potentially explained by balls being wound tighter again, restrictions on pitchers, video training for plane swinging and of course, teams that were using electronic devices and buzzers to trigger a Pavlovian response to swing or not to swing caused some more long balls.  We cannot learn a whole helluva lot from last season as there were a lot of oddities.  The removal of in-game video is said to have hurt some of the power of the players.

Even if with the down trend and the “de-juiced” ball, the number is not likely to go back to 2018 numbers. So, let’s say that 6,000 home runs are hit.  Stolen bases will still carry more importance. 

I am hyper-sensitive to stolen bases and less sensitive to home runs since there are more.  Let us look at last year and see what percentage of home runs and steals were on rosters for the season. 

On Roster

Home Runs

Stolen Bases













Although these numbers seem similar, it needs to be noted that the number of home runs was 3X more than the number of stolen bases so get your bags.  Many pundits suggest that with the rising home run numbers you need to make sure you get those.  Of course you do, but I am arguing that those will come with drafting players using the SMART System as it makes sure that you draft players on good teams who are young and the power pops for the younger crowd as we stated above, at ages 25-27 years old.

A major flaw in projections is that they do not consider the changing game. Here are four trends in Major League Baseball that affect what we do for projections: (1) hitters are sacrificing batting average for home runs more each year; (2) more teams are employing defensive tactics like the shift which is lowering batting averages; (3) starting pitchers are throwing less innings because of the individual roles; (4) the changes in the ball expected.

Home runs are up 48.6% since 2014.  Stolen bases down 13.6%.  Runs and RBI up 14% and 15% respectively.  What can we conclude from this?  We need those stolen bases and need more home runs to compete.  Don’t need a focus on batting average as much since it is going down as strikeouts go up.  So low average power hitters that come for cheap are now way more important than ever before.  Pay to get players who get BOTH stolen bases and home runs since the cost of stolen base only players to the rest of your roster will cause you to fall short in the counting categories.

Now look at pitching and we get some interesting insights here too.

We did not include the Wins category as there are the same number of wins every year.  It is important to understand that the wins are now being taken by middle relief and late relief pitchers more often, but there are the same number of wins so no trends.

Strikeouts were up an average of over 1500 strikeouts per year in the last six years and flattened with the small sample size in 2020.  Notice that WHIP is up but has stabilized.  It is ERA that is through the roof at almost 4.45 now and steady.  This coupled with the offensive data creates some important thoughts when making our category targets and deciding how to split our budgets or when to draft starting pitchers.

What We Know

  • Wins are getting scooped up more by middle relief pitchers.
  • Roles are causing starting pitchers to pitch less innings.  There were only 6 pitchers with more than 200 innings pitched last year after normalizing to 162 games.  ONLY 6.  There were 14 in 2019 and this is going down every year.
  • Saves are decreasing every year so you need to get the guaranteed closers to get enough of those.
  • ERA rising for the bottom starters, bulk pitchers and middle relievers.  Stud starting pitchers still delivering so need to be targeted.
  • Home runs inflated by juiced ball and sign stealing in 2019 adjusted some last year but with “de-juiced” ball they could come back to 2018 totals
  • Stolen bases are scarce

What Actions We Should Take

  • Draft Starting Pitching earlier and spend more on starting pitching on the top end.  Those pitchers will allow you to dominate four of the five pitching categories.
  • Draft steals with home runs when you can.
  • Draft home run only players later in the draft as you must get enough power.
  • Batting average only players are no longer necessary.  They will not do enough to make up for the home runs that you will lose.
  • Stolen base only players are difficult to roster as well.  You need fifteen plus home runs from every player on your roster.  You can roster a 15-home run and 30 steals player, but not a 5-home run and 40 steals player.

Upside is always lost with projections. 

All projectionists try to come up with the most likely performance of all the players. This causes many to miss on the outliers.  Getting more players right means that they will have a wider margin of misses on the high-end and low-end of the spectrum. 

Here is an important corollary: be careful that you ALWAYS look for UPSIDE in your picks and then let the projections define your targeting.  That way you will always have way more stats than your projections sheet.

Hype & Regurgitation

In 2019, I talked about HYPED players and referenced Vladimir Guerrero.  His 15 home runs for $25+ made him a huge bust.  I grabbed Bo Bichette everywhere for $1 or on reserve or from the waiver wire. Even with less than 200 ABs, I could spend $24 other dollars on players to help me win.  Players who have not played long in the majors can get WAY overhyped.  You can take them, but for $1 and not $25.  Let someone else take those risks. Hopefully, you got that point. Stay away from overhyped players.  Examples from 2020 are tainted by the small sample size so I think this makes the point.

Regurgitation is bad.  Really bad.  Don’t use last year’s stats as your projections.  Period.  Full stop.

Support Your League Rules

Make sure your projections have the statistics that your league uses.  If your league uses holds, make sure you start with projections that have holds.  If your league uses quality starts (QS), make sure you start with projections that have QS.   Obvious, but stated just in case.

Using Projections for Targeting Players

Now, why are we doing this?  Well, it is to learn more about the players that you should target and how to build your roster.  Here is how you should use projections to target players.

First, review projections by sorting them by each category that your league uses.  Review the players from a lens of them helping your team in that category.  Look for players that others or experts are not high on and take down their names.  Getting bargains that help you in tough categories like stolen bases or saves are important for you to know about. 

Using Projections for Targeting Categories

So now we understand the changing game and how to decide on your projections.  Now, we connect that to the categories.  Remember, knowledge is power. 

Here are some rules about setting your category targets:

  • Don’t Look at Winner for Targets:  Look at Top 25% for your target.  Finishing in the Top 25% in all categories makes you a winner in your league.
  • Category dominators: Look at players who are Category dominators and consider them when potentially down against your targets.
  • Get SBs from Every Player: When targeting hitters, make sure that you get some steals.
  • Move $$ or Drafting to Stud SPs: Target the 200 innings pitched, 200 strikeout guys early and maybe often.
  • Don’t Dump Categories: Only the best players can win this way.  I am not one of them.  Think of myself as top 10% player, but it takes an incredible amount of skill and effort both in the draft and in-season.  If that is you, then why the heck are you reading this?

Here is a chart that specifies the targets that I use in the leagues that I play in.  Again, you should examine your leagues to see if there are anomalies based on league members dumping categories or playing in a different way than the leagues that I play in. 

Using a Tracking Sheet for Projections & Targeting Categories

After all these years, I use some complicated tracking spreadsheets.  They are created and augmented year after year. You can start simple. Just have a sheet with your players and the scoring categories that your league uses.  Using something that looks like this.  This is from the Colton & The Wolfman team drafted with the FSGA on February 22nd, 2021.

Notice that by tracking targets, we were able to adjust the end game to get a power hitter in Kole Calhoun and a speedster in Edward Oliveras.  On the pitching side, we saved things with four 160k+ pitchers in our last five picks.

There is a lot here and you do not need to use it all.  If anything in here helped you, then that is one more thing in your arsenal.  Don’t be a slave to projections or targets.  Use them as tools along with your knowledge at finding players who will deliver upside. 

And have fun, it is the best thing to have!