Every MLB season is different, and that's been especially true lately with all of the juiced balls and de-juiced balls and mid-season sticky-stuff crackdowns and last year's whole slate of rule changes. We've seen dramatic impacts on the way the Fantasy Baseball landscape looks pretty much every year over the past decade, but the hope is, we're reaching a state of equilibrium. 

Last year's rule changes regarding baserunning and the pitch clock are still in place for 2024, and we have no reason to believe the baseball is going to play dramatically differently than it did last season -- there's no new construction mandate (that we know of) for the baseballs themselves, nor have there been any changes to how the balls are stored like that one year when they introduced the humidor. Major League Baseball appears to have reached a place where they are happy with how the game is played, and hopefully that should lead to a bit more predictability for 2024 than we've had in a while. 

Of course, that doesn't mean we know exactly what the offensive environment will look like in 2024. But, I do think last year's numbers should serve as a pretty effective baseline for establishing expectations for 2024. And that's what this column is about. I took a look at all 12-team, 5x5 Roto leagues played on in 2023, to look at what the average league's results looked like in each category. 

Here's what your average league looked in 2023:

12-team, CBS Fantasy Leagues


(Note: This is for 12-team leagues. I've included a chart for 2023 results based on NFBC Main Event leagues, which are 15-team leagues at the bottom of this story for those of you playing in deeper leagues.)  

To add some context for how much things have changed, here's what 2021 looked like (2021 is the last season I have this data for): 


Just two years ago, you could win your league with 149 steals; in 2023, that would've been good for seventh place. And, while batting averaghe was pretty much the same from 2021 to 2023 (a few points higher across the board for 2021, but nothing dramatic), runs, homers, and RBI were all down across the board in 2023. There were fewer home runs hit across the league in 2023 than 2021, but not that many fewer; there were 76 fewer across the entire league in 2023 than 2021, and there were actually more runs scored in 2023 than either 2021 or 2022.

That this wasn't necessarily reflected in the Fantasy production tells us something about how the distribution of Fantasy production has changed over the past couple of seasons. While a well-rounded, power-speed threat is almost always going to be more valuable than the Esteury Ruiz types who provide basically nothing in the power and run-production categories, it gets harder to ignore those one-category specialists when you need more steals than before, and I think you can see that reflected in the distribution of production -- scoring was up in 2023 relative to the previous couple of seasons around the league, but it wasn't necessarily reflected in the Fantasy production because we had to focus more on speed than power, a notable shift from the way Fantasy Baseball has been played for the past decade or so. 

Put another way: In 2021, 53.8% of all runs scored in MLB were accounted for in the average CBS Fantasy league, while 57.6% of homers were; in 2023, those numbers were down to 52.8% and 54.1%, respectively. Now, there were also more "wasted" steals, relatively speaking -- 52.7% of steals were accounted for in Fantasy leagues, compared to 54.7% in 2021 -- but there were also nearly 1,300 more steals available in 2023. 

For first place in each category, it comes out to a .271 average, 76 runs, 22 home runs, 74 RBI, and 16 stolen bases from your 14 Roto lineup spots, which doesn't really sound like a lot. But here's every single player who hit each of those marks in 2023: Ronald Acuña, Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt, Corbin Carroll, Freddie Freeman, Kyle Tucker, Shohei Ohtani, Jose Ramirez, and Cody Bellinger. So, eight first-round picks and Cody Bellinger. Getting true five-category production from a hitter is rare. 

Now, one thing that's interesting is on the pitching side, where we definitely felt the impact of scoring being up in 2023. Whereas in 2021, a 4.00 ERA would have ranked 10th in an average league, it would have been eighth in 2023, and a 3.90 mark would have been a middle-of-the-road mark. Now, it's worth noting that, in 2023, the 70 highest-earning starting pitchers did collectively put together a 3.47 ERA, but that list includes 21 pitchers who didn't throw more than 120 innings, which meant a lot of innings were being thrown in Fantasy lineups by pretty crummy pitchers -- at least for the non-first place teams. 

Of course, you should know that you don't need to win every single category to win your league. We can show this by changing our perspective a bit. Let's look, not at what it took to win every category, but where every league-winning team finished in each category in 2023, here's their average standings points for each category (12 points for first place, 11 for second, and so on): 

  • AVG: 9.4
  • R: 10.7
  • HR: 11
  • RBI: 10.3
  • SB: 9.5
  • W: 10
  • K: 9.5
  • S: 8.8
  • ERA: 9.4
  • WHIP: 10

Two key takeaways: One, is that you don't need to win every category, or even any category to win your league. What you need is fairly evenly distributed excellence. A top-three finish in every category probably pretty much guarantees you'll win your league, and every spot you fall in one category is something you need to make up elsewhere. 

The other is that league-winning production was not evenly distributed, and that's not particularly surprising. The average first-place team finished higher in home runs than in steals, which makes sense; every steal just means you got a steal (and maybe marginally increased your chances of getting an additional run); every home run directly increased your total in runs and RBI, as well as batting average. If you have to prioritize one thing, power will always be king. 

There's also one other thing to keep in mind, which is a simple axiom: You don't want to get caught fighting your last war. Which is to say, just because last year's results looked one way doesn't mean this year's results will be identical. In 2023, the average league-winner won stolen bases by 1.3 category points ahead of the average second-place team, which I think mostly reflects how often Ronald Acuña and his 73 steals ended up on first-place rosters at a marginally reduced price. Getting Acuña even with the second pick last season gave you a bigger advantage than taking him 1.1 will this year. 

In future posts, I'll be looking into targets and strategies for each category for your drafts, but I wanted to make sure we had the baseline established first. That's what this is. 

15-team, NFBC Main Event Leagues: