Five Lessons We Learned in 2023 Fantasy Baseball

What we learned in 2023, and how we can use this knowledge in 2024.

The 2023 baseball season is firmly behind us and as a baseball-starved community, we watched a flight tracker from Anaheim to Toronto with bated breath. I’m sure my friends loved all of the Shohei Ohtani-related tweets I continued to send them that uneventfully ended with, “Tyler O’Neill is going to Boston.” Which hey, great get for Boston and could be a nice late-round target in fantasy.

And look at that, now Ohtani is a Dodger. Ouch. At least I get to watch him at Coors Field or whatever I’ll keep telling myself.

As we wait for baseball to come back, it has given me time to reflect on what we learned from 2023. We saw the introduction of the pitch clock, bigger bases, reduced shifts, and new pick-off rules, all of which had a fairly large impact on the fantasy side of things. Let’s look at five lessons we learned from the past fantasy season and how they can help for 2024.


Five steals, and five… more steals.


The bases are bigger, much bigger. A pitcher can only make three pickoff attempts and that third attempt has to get the runner out or else the runner is awarded a base. With these changes, it was clear that the MLB wanted to see players run wild on the base paths and guess what, they did. Shocking, I know.

To put things into perspective the average amount of stolen bases in a season from 2012-2022 (I did not include 2020) was 2,857. In 2023, a total of 3,500 bases were swiped. That is the second-highest total ever only behind 1987 where players ran to the tune of 3,585 bags. In 1987 the totals were much more top-heavy. Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals led the league with 109 bags, Harold Reynolds had 60, six players were in the 50s, and 24 players stole either 40 or 30. Last year, we only had 18 players steal 30 or more bases whereas 33 players had 20 or more.

What this shows is that in 1987, there were premier base stealers and a high number of good to great base stealers who could get their team 30+ bases. In 2023, we had Ronald Acuña Jr., Esteury Ruiz, and Corbin Carroll go for more than 50 bases, premier runners, and then just a smattering of good to great base stealers. With the new rules, instead of producing more top-tier base stealers, it felt like more players who in the past only produced a few stolen bases had the confidence to run more.

Freddie Freeman is probably the best example of this. In 2022, Freeman stole 13 bases, which at the time was his career high. In 2023 he stole 23 bases and was only caught once. It feels like in 2022, Freeman wanted to modestly add stolen bases to his game, and with the 2023 rule changes, he took it a step further.

George Springer is another example. In 2015 he stole 16, and in 2022 he stole 14. Other than those years he never stole more than 10. Here come the new rules and Springer produced his first 20-20 season.

In fact, 19 players produced a 20-20 season in 2023. In 2022? 9.

What does this mean for fantasy? Well, more players are good for 10+ bags in a season whereas in the past it was a smart choice to draft a speedster to produce in the stolen base category. This strategy isn’t dead of course. Esteury Ruiz was good for 67, Willi Castro had 33, and Jorge Mateo had 32. It isn’t a must to go after a bags-only player in 2024, but of course, it couldn’t hurt.

I suspect 2024 will be no different with stolen bases. The 20-20 player is here to stay and more prospects are on the way that can hit for power and steal bases.


Prospects? Prospects! You’re not looking at the big picture.


Speaking of prospects, more than a handful of prospects played meaningful innings in 2023 and appear to be a part of the big picture. In the past for redraft leagues, prospects were players to keep an eye on, but it was not advisable to use high or even mid-tier draft picks on a youngster. In 2023, Corbin Carroll, Gunnar Henderson, Royce Lewis (still rookie eligible for 2024, crazy), Josh Jung, Eury Pérez, Elly De La Cruz, Anthony Volpe, Jordan Walker, Grayson Rodriguez, skip to the next paragraph here if you are tired of reading names, Triston Casas, Bobby Miller, Zack Gelof, Matt McLain, Nolan Jones, Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, Logan O’Hoppe, Ezequiel Tovar, and there are actually more but I’ll stop there.

This is wild. This is truly wild. Some, of course, played more than others but everyone listed above was useful for fantasy at one point in the year, and I guarantee I’m missing a few. In one of my redraft leagues, I squeaked out a championship with O’Hoppe, Gelof, Carroll (drafted in the 4th round), Rodriguez, Logan Allen, and Tovar in my starting lineup.

There are new incentives for teams to start their rookies thanks to the agreement made by the MLB and players’ union pre-2022. If a player wins Rookie of the Year, their team is rewarded with a pick “after the first round” and a second or third-place finish earns their team an additional international pick. One disclaimer to this is the prospects in question have to be consensus top 100 prospects from either MLB.com or Baseball America.

So, we learned that prospects will be aggressively called up throughout the year, or more likely to start Opening Day. I remember when Trevor Story started for the Rockies Opening Day in 2016 and at the time, many were shocked that ownership wasn’t manipulating his service time like the Cubs did with Kris Bryant.

This of course will not change in 2024. I still do not think it’s the smartest choice to bet big on a prospect even after what we saw in 2023. When I drafted Carroll pretty early last year, at times it didn’t feel like the right choice. And I’m sure Henderson owners were sweating after his less-than-stellar start to 2023. Both ended up panning out in a big way of course, but that does not mean this will happen with each top prospect every year. Wyatt Langford, Jackson Holliday, and Jackson Chourio are most likely going to be the big prospect names heading into 2024 drafts. All are still going below pick 150 according to NFBC, but once we have more news, I’m sure each will rise. Will they be able to put up Carroll or Henderson numbers? It could be a risk worth taking in 2024, just err on the side of caution.


You’ve changed pitchers. It used to be about the music.


Pitchers come and go due to health reasons all the time. Tommy John can affect anyone, even you maybe, and just about every pitcher these days is good for at least one operation sadly. Pitchers did get hurt in 2023, and since the end of the year, we’ve lost Sandy Alcantara, Brandon Woodruff, Johan Oviedo, and Kyle Wright, to name a few, for the 2024 season already. Not all are sidelined with TJ though. It wasn’t necessarily injuries that shot up in 2023. In fact, across all levels, there were fewer Tommy John surgeries in 2023 than in 2022, 88 as opposed to 102. Check out this super sweet Google Doc.

Injuries are going to happen to both pitchers and position players. The thing was, in 2023 it felt like once reliable pitchers took a step back. The pitch clock had something to do with it, to an extent. When watching games, with runners on base, many times it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a miscommunication between pitcher and catcher leading to a “safety” pitch being thrown to avoid a pitch clock violation. And sometimes, this safety pitch would be a fastball in the zone. In years past, the pitcher could of course just step off. If a pitcher has to speed up and possibly throw a pitch they aren’t confident in, it can lead to runs.

Here is Pitcher List’s 2023 fantasy pitchers ranking for pitchers, published this year in February. Numbers one and three are Corbin Burnes and Sandy Alcantara, respectively. At the time, of course, they were number one and three. However, both put up disappointing 2023 seasons, with Alcantara being a bit of a liability all year before getting TJ at the end of the season. Thankfully Burnes was at least serviceable. Also, all of Tier 2 on this list were massive disappointments: Carlos Rodón, Shane McClanahan, Brandon Woodruff, and Justin Verlander. Yes, injuries were involved with these names, but even when pitching, some were just plain bad (looking at you Rodon).

There is no way to predict injuries or outcomes. Fantasy baseball can be cruel in that you may draft the best team, and then that team either gets destroyed by injuries, or everyone underperforms. Pitchers in 2023 seemed to really underperform. Yu Darvish, Shane Bieber, Julio Urías, Alek Manoah, Dylan Cease, and Cristian Javier, to only name a few, all put up either their worst professional year or close to it. Some of these names aren’t yet completely established like Cease, Manoah, and Javier, but many, including myself, thought they would at least take positive steps forward because their stuff is just too good.

This is a tough lesson to learn because a fantasy team needs pitching. I think what I learned, is that, at least in points leagues, offense can be king on your roster these days. In one of my dynasty leagues, prior to this year I had the best or close to the best pitching. I came into 2023 with Burnes, Alcantara, J. Urías, Woodruff, and Wright as major parts of my rotation. Mid-season, after a lot of lackluster returns from my pitching staff, I pivoted to focus on offense by trading what I could to get top-tier hitters. This pivot helped me win the championship over the team with the best pitching and a really solid offense.

Where does that leave us with roto leagues? After the uneven returns on pitching in 2023, it seems the best option heading into drafts is either snagging a top guy who’s safe, Gerrit Cole for example, or betting on a few bouncebacks. I’d wager that more than a few regain their form. At least, I hope more than a few regain their form.


O Outfielders, Where Art Thou?


Where are all the good outfielders? I know, at the top of the list of outfielders, there are some of the best players in the game. The issue isn’t the top talent at the position, it’s the rest of the position. Outfield is looking so top-heavy heading into 2024 thanks to 2023 that early NFBC ADP has Nolan Jones in the 5th round. I love Jones but I would be hesitant to take him in the 5th round over names like Mike Trout and Jazz Chisholm Jr., even with their injury history. It’s early, but let’s look at ADP for 2024.


Essentially, drafting an outfielder in the first or second round is almost a must. Past round 10 there are still a few options, but the options leave less to be desired.

A few prospects are coming that could shift this fast. The aforementioned Langford and Chourio are starting to show up in early mock drafts. Possible breakouts from Evan Carter and Jordan Walker could be in the cards as well. But usually with players like that, they wouldn’t cost anywhere near a pick in the first 10ish rounds unless they were very highly touted. Outfield gets slim in a hurry so banking on a few prospect breakouts is almost a necessity.

I think everyone learned this lesson fast in 2023. A few injuries hit me at the end of the season and I had to start Mark Canha a few different times. Heck, T.J. Friedl ended up being a massive waiver wire pickup for many.

Draft outfield early and often in 2024. Staring down the barrel of Esteury Ruiz in the 11th round is something I don’t wish for anyone.


Closers never say die.


In 2022, it almost felt like the closer was becoming a thing of the past for most major league teams. Some, most notably the Rays, really started to run out a closer by committee with Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks being the top options. Even as the top options both only had eight saves on an 86-win team. That started to feel like the direction many teams wanted to go and the true closer job was left to the elite options and Daniel Bard (34 saves in 2022, he’s 38, Rockies gave him an extension instead of trading him. Masterful gambit, Monfort).

This did not happen, at all, in 2023. In fact, the list of 20 save pitchers went from 15 in 2022 to 23 in 2023. It felt like the fantasy community was able to breathe a sigh of relief on that one.

Relief pitching, like all pitching, can be fickle, so moving forward it may be hard to trust certain closers. Emmanuel Clase produced a league-leading 44 saves but blew a league-leading 12 saves which is a real Larry David situation. He is still going to be the first reliever off the board or close to it, but I think what 2023 did was help remind us that saves are indeed out there with the right players and by keeping a close eye on the waiver wire. It does not need to be a category that is punted entirely. Saves are back and that is a refreshing thing to say.

Seth Klusmire

Seth Klusmire is a Fantasy Baseball writer here at Pitcher List. His past writing credits were with BSN Denver (now DNVR). He is a certified Sommelier and would happily suggest which wine pairs with what team.

One response to “Five Lessons We Learned in 2023 Fantasy Baseball”

  1. gregory churchill says:

    “There is no way to predict injuries or outcomes. ” dude

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