Brace yourselves, baseball traditionalists. Baseball is changing.
The 2023 Major League Baseball season brings with it an expansive set of rule changes and, coupling these with 2020's changes (including the "three batter minimum" and "ghost runner for extra innings" rules), as well as 2021's playoffs expansion and the permanent installation of the universal designated hitter, the past three years have arguably involved the greatest amount of change on the rules front in a half-century -- specifically, the 1969-73 era's lowering of the pitcher's mound, expansion and creation of divisions, expanded playoffs and the American League's original introduction of the DH.
This season, we'll see a restriction on defensive shifts, larger bases, a pitch clock, a limitation on pickoff throws and a more balanced schedule. Additionally, baseball continues to experience the lingering effects of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, particularly when it comes to pitching workloads, to the extent that the three seasons during the live-ball era (1920 forward) that saw the fewest number of pitchers qualify for the ERA title (at least 162 innings pitched in a full season, and 60 in 2020) have occurred in the past three years (39 in 2021, 40 in 2020 and 45 in 2022).
Fantasy managers who have only recently begun playing our grand game might not truly grasp how much these factors can influence the statistical results.
This is where Inning 7 of the Playbook comes into play. Here, we will keep you apprised of these latest happenings around Major League Baseball, informing you of trends that might have an impact upon your rankings, draft-day plans or in-season strategy.
Each of the links below takes you directly to the specific topic, if you'd like to skip ahead.
Banning the shift, the No. 1 2023 rule change at the forefront of any fantasy manager's mind.
Will stolen base totals rebound in 2023, accounting for the new changes to the rules governing pickoff moves and expanding the size of the bases themselves?
The pitch clock has arrived at the MLB level, with the hopes of speeding up game times.
A more balanced schedule will have a subtle, yet meaningful, impact upon 2023 results.
The universal designated hitter helped make up for some of the offense lost to changes with the baseball in 2022.
Wins and saves and quality starts, oh my! Pitching specialization has heightened the challenge for accumulating each of these stats.
Banning the shift
The most talked-about rule change for 2023, MLB's new restrictions on defensive shifts were implemented in direct response to the game's rising "three true outcomes" -- where, in each of the past six seasons, more than one-third of all plate appearances ended in either a home run, strikeout or walk -- tendency. The hope is that limiting fielders to specific defensive spots will increase the amount of game action, fueled by greater contact and higher batting averages.
The 2022 season, for example, had a .243 leaguewide batting average, only six percentage points higher than it was during the pitching-rich 1968 season -- a year that elicited a similar rule-change response as the league lowered the mound the following season. Additionally, the league's strikeout rate was 22.4%, which seems like a noticeable improvement upon 2021's 23.2% until you consider the lack of the DH in the National League that season -- non-pitchers struck out a comparable 22.6% of the time.
The shift had a clear influence on those numbers, particularly batting average. Statcast shows that defenses employed a shift on 33.6% of all plate appearances in 2022, and 55.0% of those that came against left-handed hitters, both of those more than double the rates from just a half-decade earlier (12.1% and 22.1% in 2017). Per FanGraphs, the leaguewide batting average on balls in play in 2022 when the defense employed a shift was .288, the third consecutive year that number was below .300 -- and 30 points beneath where it was a decade earlier (.318 in 2012).
Left-handed hitters had it particularly tough because of the rising usage of the shift. In 2022, left-handed hitters totaled 1,053 outs on hard-hit line drives. This was a massive increase as a decade before, in 2012, it was just 201. Now, not all of those line drives would have necessarily gone for hits, but it's further evidence that lefties, on the whole, have suffered a noticeable number of lost hits as a direct result of defensive shifts.
How much those numbers rebound under the new rules is a compelling debate, and it might well be the most fantasy-relevant development of 2023. Some believe that the leaguewide batting average might rebound by as many as 50 points. Others, including this columnist, think the category will most certainly increase, but take a more conservative approach, assuming something in the 10- to 15-point range is more rational and that it will be tougher than we think to determine precisely which hitters are the ones who will most benefit. Fantasy managers who wind up with the correct answer to this debate might have a significant advantage over their competition.
Before diving into those individual hitter types, one thing to bear in mind is the specific language of the rule itself. According to the rule, two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when the pitch is released, with all four infielders having both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. There is nothing preventing a shortstop, for example, from playing two steps to the third-base side directly behind second base, then scooting to his left toward the second baseman's position, perhaps with the second baseman backpedaling into the outfield in a sort of modified shift, immediately after the pitch's release. Some hitters also argue that simply having a defender positioned up the middle, directly behind second base, significantly cuts down on the potential for base hits.
There is also no rule preventing teams from shifting their left fielder into the "martini glass," short-right-field position previously occupied by the second baseman under the old rules, while risking left field going undefended. Whether teams employ, or even attempt at all, either of these strategies is unclear, but if a team finds success with either angle (or perhaps one not even dreamed up here), that could temper some of the effects on the numbers. Remember, it was creativity on defense that spawned the shift in the first place, and you can be sure creative teams will be eager to find new, winning strategies to counter these changes.
As far as the individuals most impacted by defensive shifts, left-handed hitters, as mentioned above, suffered the most. Lefties on the whole batted .315 on balls in play last season, compared to .329 for right-handers. Only five years earlier, in 2017, righties batted only two points higher (.337) on balls in play than did lefties (.335).
Pull-conscious lefties are likely to reap the rewards of the new rules, since they're the ones who would have put the ball into play in the direction of said shift. Last season, 10 left-handed or switch-hitters managed at least a 50% pull rate while totaling at least 250 plate appearances: Daulton Varsho (a league-leading 58.8%!), Jonah Heim, Trent Grisham, Carlos Santana, Robbie Grossman, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Jose Ramirez, Anthony Rizzo and MJ Melendez.
Using FanGraphs data, the list below comprised the top 15 left-handed and switch-hitters in terms of batting average differential between when they were shifted versus when they were not. For this list, batting averages when shifted from 2022 are used, and batting averages when not shifted are a five-year total (2018-22), to give a larger sample for the latter. These hitters all had at least 100 shifted plate appearances in 2022, and at least 50 non-shifted plate appearances from 2018-22. Those on the above list of pull hitters are highlighted in bold.
Yordan Alvarez: .319 BA when shifted in 2022, .429 on non-shifts 2018-22 (73 PA)
Rizzo: .218 BA, .326 BA (138 PA)
Muncy: .234 BA, .342 BA (116 PA)
Kyle Tucker: .255 BA, .352 BA (71 PA)
Franchy Cordero: .307 BA, .400 BA (55 PA)
Yoan Moncada: .251 BA, .339 BA (479 PA)
Grossman: .256 BA, .343 BA (511 PA)
Abraham Toro: .179 BA, .262 BA (193 PA)
Grisham: .231 BA, .312 BA (174 PA)
Vimael Machin: .220 BA, .296 BA (109 PA)
Rowdy Tellez: .219 BA, .294 BA (87 PA)
Juan Soto: .249 BA, .323 BA (526 PA)
Brandon Lowe: .270 BA, .339 BA (116 PA)
Yasmani Grandal: .233 BA, .302 BA (263 PA)
Steven Kwan: .293 BA, .361 BA (239 PA)
Additionally, 10 left-handed or switch-hitters had at least 300 shifted plate appearances with a sub-.250 batting average in those situations in 2022. The five of them who were not part of either of the two lists above were Corey Seager (459 PAs, .242 shifted BA), Anthony Santander (355 and .240), Jurickson Profar (323 and .238), Kyle Schwarber (323 and .246) and Rougned Odor (306 and .248).
This isn't to say that all of these players are destined for immediate batting-average rebound, nor are those who should significantly improve confined to this list. Again, it's my belief that the biggest benefactors will be remarkably difficult to predict, meaning that it's best to merely keep the above names tucked away as reason to spend the extra buck at the draft table if the opportunity presents itself.
Will stolen base totals rebound in 2023?
The stolen base, which was seemingly a dying art in recent years, could be in for a noticeable rebound in 2023. Before this winter's set of rule changes, MLB saw the four lowest single-season SB rates of the divisional era (1969 forward) in the past four seasons (0.60 attempts per game in 2021, 0.64 in 2019, 0.66 in 2020 and 0.68 in 2022). Those came with greater accuracy, however, as the three seasons in the modern era (1900 forward) with at least a 75% success rate on stolen-base attempts were the last three full seasons (75.7% in 2021, 75.4% in 2022 and 75.2% in 2019).
Both the new rules expanding the size of the bases, as well as the pitch timer and new rules governing pickoffs could reinvigorate the stolen base as a game strategy. Bases, which were previously 15 inches square, will expand to 18 inches square beginning this season, shrinking the distances between first and second base as well as second and third base by 4½ inches. That difference might not sound like much, but considering how close many stolen-base calls tend to be, it could mean a significant rise in success rate, and if teams react to that greater amount of success by granting a greater number of green lights to base stealers, it could mean a noticeable bump in SB totals (albeit, perhaps, with a stabilizing or even a small decrease in success rate, depending upon how aggressive teams ultimately are).
The pitch clock could also spawn a greater number of stolen-base attempts, as the 20 seconds afforded pitchers with runners on base both narrows a pitcher's ability to hold runners as well as requiring an adjustment, and the rule limiting a pitcher from disengaging the rubber -- which includes pickoff throws -- more than twice per plate appearance will also hamper his opportunity to hold on runners.
None of these changes is easily quantifiable, but MLB reported that, in the minor leagues this past season, stolen-base attempts per game rose from 2.23 in 2019, with a 68% success rate, to 2.83 in 2022, with a 77% success rate, thanks to the implementation of these rules. There's little doubt that the stolen base, as a strategic element, will be a more beneficial strategy.
So who, specifically, might benefit? Speedy players who didn't seem to fully utilize their skills might be the best candidates, though like with the previous section, it might be difficult to precisely guess the right names. Listed below, however, are 10 players who had 90th-percentile Statcast sprint speed scores last season, but whose SB totals were mostly forgettable:
Corbin Carroll: 30.7 feet/second sprint speed, 2-of-3 stealing bases in 41 opportunities
Trea Turner: 30.3 feet/sec., 27-of-30 in 318 opportunities
Jo Adell: 29.8 feet/sec., 4-of-6 in 95 opportunities
Amed Rosario: 29.5 feet/sec., 18-of-22 in 245 opportunities
Jeremy Pena: 29.4 feet/sec., 11-of-13 in 195 opportunities
Lane Thomas: 29.4 feet/sec., 8-of-12 in 180 opportunities
Andres Gimenez: 29.3 feet/sec., 20-of-23 in 235 opportunities
Byron Buxton: 29.1 feet/sec., 6-of-6 in 143 opportunities
Gunnar Henderson: 29.1 feet/sec., 1-of-2 in 56 opportunities
CJ Abrams: 29.0 feet/sec., 7-of-11 in 114 opportunities
Note the youth on the list, as with the new rules, it might be easier for inexperienced players to get better reads on pitchers, leading to quicker success at the big league level. Carroll and Abrams were two of the best speedster prospects at the times of their big league debuts, and both should be regulars entering 2023.
It is also my belief that less-speedy players with greater stolen-base success rates could see the new rules as an opportunity to capitalize by taking more chances. Austin Slater (28.2 feet/second sprint speed, 91.5% stolen-base success rate from 2018-22), Kyle Tucker (26.6, 86.9%), J.T. Realmuto (28.8, 86.2%), Paul Goldschmidt (26.2, 85.7%), Ketel Marte (27.0, 85.7%) and Christian Yelich (28.1, 85.7%) are all players who lack top-shelf, blazing speed, but managed at least an 85% success rate on stolen-base attempts (with a minimum of 25) over the past five seasons combined. Certainly all of them should be able to at least match their 2022 stolen-base output.
Take into account pitchers' pickoff and stolen-base rates in your fantasy analysis as well, because the new rules are bound to have an adverse impact upon some pitchers. Over the past three seasons combined, Max Fried (13), Taijuan Walker (10), Ryan Weathers (9), Patrick Corbin (8) and Robbie Ray (8) comprised the top five in pickoffs, while Ray (14), Adrian Houser (13), Corbin (12), Aaron Nola (12), Marcus Stroman (12), Sandy Alcantara (11), Shane Bieber (11), Max Scherzer (11) and Brandon Woodruff (11) comprised the nine pitchers who had more than 10 caught stealings.
Again, this isn't to say that all of these base stealers, nor all of these pitchers, are destined to see an extreme shift in performance because of the new rules, and there will certainly be many names who do see big changes who weren't even mentioned. The names above are meant to highlight a handful who might warrant additional attention as you prepare for your drafts.
The pitch clock
The pitch clock was an unqualified success at the minor league level in 2022. MLB reported that the average length of minor league games dropped from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 in 2022, a full 26-minute reduction. Having attended numerous minor league games myself to witness the effects first-hand, I can attest that its installation should only benefit, rather than detract from, the game. It's a good thing.
From a fantasy perspective, however, the impact of the pitch timer might be difficult to gauge, at least as far as draft preparation is concerned. Spring training might give us a bit of a window into how each individual adjusts, but for now, it's worth tucking away the pitchers who struggled the most with tempo (this measures the number of seconds they averaged between pitches). These could be the individuals who most struggle to capture their footing in the season's early stages, and they're the ones at greatest risk of being called for time violations.
Nine pitchers in 2022 averaged at least 22.5 seconds between pitches with the bases empty, and at least 27.5 with men on base -- that's at least 7.5 seconds over the new limits for 2023 in either situation -- while having thrown at least 200 total pitches: Kenley Jansen (25.6 seconds with bases empty, 31.4 with runners on), Giovanny Gallegos (25.8 and 30.6), Devin Williams (24.7 and 30.5), Alex Colome (23.6 and 30.3), Kyle Finnegan (25.5 and 28.2), A.J. Minter (23.0 and 28.0) and Alex Vesia (24.5 and 27.7). Aroldis Chapman (24.6 and 28.3) came three pitches away from qualifying.
You'll notice that all of those names are relief pitchers, a group that will probably require greater adjustment. From the starting pitching side, here are some of the pitchers who came closest to having problematic tempos in either area: Josiah Gray (27.2 seconds with runners on), Luis Garcia (21.2 with bases empty, 27.1 with runners on), Shohei Ohtani (21.7 and 26.9), Zac Gallen (26.8 with runners on), Martin Perez (26.7 with runners on) and Jose Suarez (22.1 with bases empty).
This doesn't mean that you should avoid Ohtani, among other names on the list, nor should you completely punt relief pitching in your draft. Some pitchers will be quicker to adapt than others, some of those will be ones on these lists and some will not be, and there will surely be some pitchers who do struggle to adapt who weren't even listed above. The names are provided to give pause, an effective "tiebreaker" if you're struggling to choose between similarly valued pitchers.
A more balanced schedule
With the expansion of the playoffs, three wild cards in either league now advancing to the postseason, putting teams on an equal playing field takes on greater importance.
For many years now, teams played a rather unbalanced schedule, often playing as many as 18-19 games against each divisional opponent, while completely avoiding 10 of the teams from the other league. Beginning in 2023, every team will play every other team for at least one series, teams will see their interleague schedules expand from 20 to 46 games, and teams will face divisional foes only 14 times apiece.
While a seemingly minor change over a 162-game schedule, there will be twists and turns related to the schedule that fantasy managers can and should exploit. Ultimately, a more balanced schedule diminishes the impact of schedule-driven performances. That's another good thing, as far as our analysis moving forward.
Among some of the factors to keep in mind:
The Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, all of them divisional rivals of the Colorado Rockies, will each lose 3-4 games per year at hitters' heaven Coors Field. Coors saw the greatest runs-per-game average (5.75) of any ballpark in 2022, nearly a run and a half greater than the league's average (4.28), so the loss of that many contests there can have a noticeable impact.
Using Statcast's three-year Park Factors -- I always recommend using a multiple-year approach to these -- the National League Central (102 average run scored factor, 106 average home run factor) and American League East (102 and 104) have the most hitting-friendly collective group of home ballparks, while the AL West (95 and 99) and AL Central (100 and 94) have the most pitching-friendly groups. Balancing the schedule takes some of the strain off AL East pitchers, while granting AL Central hitters more of a benefit, to pick two examples from that group.
AL Central pitchers, meanwhile, garnered quite the advantage in 2022 as a result of the division collectively averaging the fewest runs per game (4.05) of the six divisions. Comparatively, the NL West (4.53) and AL East (4.51) each averaged nearly a half-run per game more. Fewer games against AL Central opponents could make things more challenging for pitchers like Dylan Cease, who had a 1.14 ERA in 13 intradivision starts but 2.99 in 19 against everyone else, Shane Bieber, who had a 2.28 ERA in 16 intradivision starts but 3.57 in 15 against everyone else, and Zack Greinke, who had a 2.44 ERA in 14 intradivision starts but 5.28 in 12 against everyone else.
The universal designated hitter
The designated hitter rule, used in the National League during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, returned to the NL (presumably for good) in 2022.
As mentioned in the previous Playbook installment, run scoring was down 5.4% last season comparative to the season before it, but the return of the DH helped alleviate some of those ill effects. For example, the league saw more plate appearances as a whole (an increase of 234 leaguewide), had 871 more hits and struck out 0.8% less often. Simply eliminating the near-5,000 annual plate appearances of pitchers batting, in which they hit .108 with .132 wOBA and a 44.8% strikeout rate in 2021 and .122, .141 and 41.4% over the past five seasons in which the NL lacked the DH, made a noticeable -- and actionable for our purposes -- difference.
Using Player Rater data, there were 22 more positive earners who had a collective 2.3% increase in overall value, reflecting the increase, albeit small, in the player pool. That's something that NL-only managers especially should tuck away for their 2023 planning, as the return of the DH to that league specifically impacted that pool's depth.
As predicted in several columns last preseason, the added DH at-bats didn't necessarily go to individual DH prototypes, but rather teams continued the trend of using the lineup position as an effective "half-day off," shuffling several players between the role and other defensive spots. To that end, only 12 players amassed 300-plus plate appearances as a DH in 2022, and only Shohei Ohtani (658), J.D. Martinez (596) and Nelson Cruz (505) managed at least 450.
The DH did have a welcomed effect on the injury front, as Bryce Harper would probably not have played nearly as much as he did without the new rule in place, due to his elbow injury that required November surgery. The DH, too, gives Harper more of a chance at an earlier return from the operation in 2023. The DH also expanded the opportunities of players like Albert Pujols, Daniel Vogelbach and Marcell Ozuna, players who otherwise wouldn't have near the amount of plate appearances as they did.
Thanks to the more pitching-oriented environment, the leaguewide ERA actually dropped by three-tenths of a point, from 4.27 to 3.97, masking the adverse impact of the DH on pitchers. With the aforementioned new rules governing shifts, the pitch clock and pickoff moves, it's entirely possible that this will be the season where things swing in the wrong direction for pitchers. Tuck that away, especially for pitchers who made quite a living feasting off their batting positional brethren, and therefore might have had unusually generous three-year averages.
Among pitchers who most feasted against batting pitchers, using stats from the past five seasons (three of which were full-season, no-DH-in-the-NL campaigns): Madison Bumgarner (139 PAs, .031 BAA, .043 wOBA, 54.0 K%), Tyler Mahle (129, .096, .094, 48.8%), Jack Flaherty (114, .048, .067, 52.6%), Patrick Corbin (163, .113, .120, 53.4%) and Freddy Peralta (83, .041, .078, 54.2%).
Wins and saves and quality starts, oh my!
Though it can reasonably be claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic still has lingering effects on our grand game, the two full, 162-game seasons that followed the shortened 2020 indicated that teams might now prefer a more specialized approach to building their pitching staffs and approaching in-game pitching strategy.
As mentioned at column's start, a record-low number of pitchers qualified for the ERA crown in 2020 (39), and while we saw a mild rebound in that total in 2022 (45), even eliminating the 2020 or 2021 (40) numbers would still make 2022 the lowest such total since the creation of the American League in 1901. Additionally, the 2022 season saw the second-fewest pitchers reach 200 innings (eight) in a non-shortened campaign in the modern era; 2021 (four) was the only year with fewer. The 1,977 pitchers to work six-plus innings in a start, too, trailed only 2021's 1,789 among all seasons since 1962.
That six-inning threshold is particularly important on the quality-start front, as an integral part of the statistic's definition (minimum six innings pitched, maximum three earned runs allowed). Since reaching their peak in 2014 (record 2,626 quality starts), the leaguewide quality start total has dipped to 1,782 last season, after 1,593 in 2021, with those the lowest two totals in any non-shortened campaign since the 1960s, when there were fewer teams in the league. Yes, that means that only 36.7% of all starts last season, and 32.8% in 2021, resulted in a quality start. To put that into perspective, at least 45% of all starts resulted in a quality start in every season from 1913-2016.
As mentioned in this space last year, a renewed focus on quality -- and not necessarily "quality start," but rather effective outings -- of pitching performances has taken center stage. Nine of the top 13 pitchers in terms of Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement, for example, also placed among the Player Rater's top 13 starting pitchers, and nine of the 13 -- granted, some of them different names -- also placed among the position's top 13 in fantasy points.
More importantly, fantasy commissioners should be having the conversation among their league's managers about scoring settings, accounting for the ever-changing pitching landscape. I've been vocal in recent seasons, for instance, that I'm increasingly hesitant to endorse my rotisserie 6x6 format, which on the pitching side replaces wins and strikeouts with quality starts, innings pitched and K/9 ratio, in large part because of the sharp decline in quality starts. In fact, reinstating wins in place of quality starts is a viable substitution (in the absence of a better option, which I'm still seeking).
If your league hasn't at least had the "IP as a category" discussion, it should. Innings pitched is an increasingly strong measure of pitching success, as by definition it credits a pitcher's primary purpose, to record outs. Eight pitchers in 2022 reached the 200-IP plateau, and in descending order of finish in that category, they placed first, 10th, 33rd, third, 11th, fourth, 24th and 14th in fantasy points among pitchers, as well as third, 12th, 28th, eighth, 18th, 14th, 31st and 19th among starting pitchers on the Player Rater. Miles Mikolas (33rd/28th) and Merrill Kelly (24th/31st) were the two closest things to "outliers" on that list, and each of them had an ERA at least a half-run better than and a WHIP at least one-tenth of a point beneath the league averages.
Shifting the focus to saves, the rise in closer-by-committee arrangements, non-contenders trading closers and the specialization of bullpens has had a similarly dramatic effect on the saves category in recent years.
Ten pitchers reached the 30-save plateau in 2022, after nine did so in 2021, both of those the lowest single-year totals in a non-shortened campaign since 1988. Ten teams, meanwhile, had at least three different pitchers notch five or more saves, the most to do that in a year since 1987. Additionally, the Dodgers and New York Yankees had 12 pitchers apiece notch a save, that tied for second-most in history and those accounting for two of the game's eight all-time instances; and you can add the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, each of whom had 11 different pitchers notch saves, to the list comprising four of the 22 such instances of that in history.
The leaguewide saves total, however, has remained mostly consistent, with 2022's 1,232 representing the 10th-largest total in history, and the second-most in any of the last five full seasons. It's the "spreading out" of the saves pool that has heightened the challenge for fantasy managers.
That could be a reason why, at least in early National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts, the top two closers off the board, Edwin Diaz and Emmanuel Clase, have gone within the first 35 picks of drafts on average (using exclusively January data), while the top seven closers have all gone within the top 70 picks. Note, however, that NFBC contests restrict in-season trading, and are frequently 15 teams deep, factors that do enhance the value of top-shelf closers. It's testament, still, to elite-skill relievers with a high probability of capturing the majority of their teams' saves -- pitchers like Diaz, Clase, Devin Williams, Josh Hader, Jordan Romano, Raisel Iglesias and Ryan Pressly -- having more fantasy value today than they might have a decade ago, even had they delivered an identical stat line then.
That said, the spreading-out of the saves pool also enhances the "don't pay for saves strategy," meaning that both approaches -- going all-in or barely investing anything at all -- can be correct strategies. This was a point made in the previous Playbook, which included the fact that four pitchers who went completely undrafted in ESPN leagues entering 2022 notched at least 20 saves: Daniel Bard, Jorge Lopez, David Robertson and Tanner Scott.
As with wins and quality starts, it's league commissioners who should bring this discussion to their leagues. Should a league progress forward with saves an integral part of its scoring? Many leagues have begun to include holds in the scoring in some fashion, either including it as its own category, or bundling it with saves (saves plus holds, or saves plus 0.5 holds).
I've been resistant to utilize holds in fantasy scoring, if only because it lacks a clear, universal definition among statistical providers, for example, some willing to credit relievers who worked before the sixth inning, others applying it only to those who enter in the sixth inning or later. Nevertheless, incorporating saves plus holds into the scoring in 2022 would've more accurately reflected relief-pitcher quality. Eight of the top 12 pitchers in WAR -- Bard, Edwin Diaz, Alexis Diaz, Romano, Scott Barlow, Clase, Evan Phillips and Ryan Helsley -- would have placed among the top 12 relief pitchers last season in a rotisserie league that used saves plus holds instead of simply holds.
That's not to say that every league must adopt changes for 2022, and in fact, I'd strongly urge that any league commissioner introduces such radical changes to a league's scoring system gradually and delicately. For example, long-standing and/or keeper or dynasty leagues should plan at least a year ahead for such changes, implementing them beginning in 2024 rather than immediately, and leagues that do make such a change for 2023 should require unanimous approval.
Seven Playbook "innings" are now in the books, so you should be ready to take your fantasy baseball game to the advanced level. In the next edition, we'll dive more deeply into advanced statistics such as Statcast, defense independent and luck-based statistics. Stay tuned!