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2024 Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Last year’s base-stealing surge was just the beginning

February 21st, 2024

As 2023 saw an MLB-wide resurgence in steals, Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first player to hit at least 40 homers and swipe 70 bases in a season. Fantasy baseball managers must account for the need for speed in drafts. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

By the end of the 2023 season, even the most dour and curmudgeonly baseball fan had to admit that all those rule changes enacted to increase action and improve pace-of-play had been wildly successful.

In fact, it can be easily argued that MLB’s initiative to trim dead time from the game while increasing baserunning was the most significant, well-executed and beneficial rewriting of rules we’ve seen in several decades. Run-scoring was up, average game time was way down, and unsurprisingly, attendance spiked. It was a staggering success.

[Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

Let’s review a few details, just to put a finer point on things:

  • The average MLB team scored 4.62 runs per game in 2023 compared to 4.28 the prior season

  • The average time of a nine-inning game dropped to 2:39:49, the shortest it had been in nearly 40 years and 24 minutes quicker than 2022

  • Only six games in MLB lasted four hours or more last year, and each of those six went at least 12 innings

  • Batting average increased modestly league-wide, from .243 to .248, but batting average by left-handed batters on hard-hit balls to the pull side jumped dramatically, from .219 to .279

  • The average major-league team swiped 116.8 bags last year, up from 82.9 in 2022, and the overall success rate on stolen base attempts was a single-season record 80.2%

If there exists a fan who enjoys needlessly long delays between pitches and who emphatically hates base-stealing, I have yet to meet them. Limits on defensive shifting have brought traditional batted-ball outcomes back into the game, which should be appreciated by anyone who considers themselves a traditionalist.

Again, all things considered, the rule changes were an overwhelming win in terms of both pace and quality of play.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Fantasy managers, however, have some adjusting to do. Benchmarks across all hitting categories have jumped, and the stolen base landscape has changed to an outrageous extent. If you don’t take a different approach to the stat this season, it could cost you a league title. Whatever your target was for steals entering your 2022 draft, you should probably increase it by 50%. We’re managing in wild times.

Last season, Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first player since Jose Reyes in 2007 to clear the 70-steal plateau, and Acuña was one of six players to swipe at least 40 bags. Fifty-one big leaguers stole 20 bases last year, and a whopping 118 reached double-digits. Twenty-one MLB teams cleared 100 total steals (and the Blue Jays swiped 99).

In 2022, Jon Berti led all major leaguers in steals with a relatively modest 41. He was one of only 24 players who stole 20 or more bases. Only eight teams reached 100.

So we are suddenly in a very different era. Stolen bases are now everywhere — which is great — and you are going to need to think about steals in every round of your draft and at every roster spot. Eleven first basemen stole at least 10 bases last season, and seven catchers managed to swipe five or more. In 2024, there are simply no free squares where this stat is concerned. At each position, you need to consider speed.

Which brings me to my one hard-and-fast, inviolable, etched-in-stone rule for fantasy drafts this spring: I am limiting myself to no more than one pure slugger, a player with monster power but no speed.

I have a well-documented fondness for Kyle Schwarber, so for me, he will often be that guy. But if I do happen to take Matt Olson, Yordan Alvarez or Pete Alonso in an earlier round, Schwarber would be off my board — and so would Jake Burger, Triston Casas, Jorge Soler and various others.

One beefy mauler with a 40-homer, zero-steal projection is a luxury, but two is a mistake. Three means you should punt stolen bases altogether because you have no shot to compete in the current environment.

With the league-wide stolen base success rate north of 80%, it seems likely that the handful of teams that didn’t run aggressively last season will flip on the green light in 2024. We shouldn’t assume base-stealing will level off. If we’re lucky, last season was just the beginning of the base-running binge.

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This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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