We’ve come to the end of another baseball season. It seems like just yesterday that pitchers and catchers were reporting to spring training. Many fantasy analysts will offer up retrospectives centered on the most impactful and surprising breakouts and busts of 2016. While this sort of list is useful, it seems more instructive to dig deeper. What can we take away from what happened this season, and how can we apply it in the future? Let’s find out.
Pitching is forever volatile.
Since the start of the decade, offense had been trending down while strikeouts soared. Many owners, experts and casual alike, touted the importance of landing multiple aces in order to keep up with the Joneses. Unfortunately, many of the highest-ranked arms turned in lackluster performances as scoring increased and injuries mounted. Well-established aces like Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, and Felix Hernandez looked mortal. Several pitchers who finished in the top five in Cy Young voting a year ago (including AL winner Dallas Keuchel and third-place finisher Sonny Gray) were barely worth a roster spot. Even Clayton Kershaw’s dominance was undercut by an injury that cost him two months. At least half of the top 25 starting pitchers entering the year could be considered disappointments. It was a stark reminder that batters are more stable assets.
So are rookies.
There were certainly some electrifying debuts in 2016. Corey Seager should get some down-ballot votes in the NL MVP race in addition to winning Rookie of the Year honors; he would have faced stiff competition for the latter from Trevor Story if Story hadn’t gotten injured. Gary Sanchez and Trea Turner have been revelations since their midseason callups, and pitchers like Michael Fulmer and Steven Matz have bright futures. But unlike 2015, we also saw plenty of freshmen stumble out of the gates. Highly touted prospects like A.J. Reed, Jose Berrios, and Aaron Judge showed they still have some things to learn.
Speed has become more valuable.
In 2012, 45 players stole at least 20 bases, and 21 stole 30 or more. This season, those totals are down to 24 and eight, respectively. On top of that, many of the players who reached those thresholds in 2016 were not everyday starters. Leaguewide, stolen base attempts are at their lowest level in over three decades. You get the idea. Gone are the days when an owner could easily grab a rabbit from the waiver wire whenever in need of a speed boost. Guys who can swipe a bag may be more valuable in fantasy than they’ve ever been.
It’s only a game – and yet.
The tragic death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident on Sunday was a sobering reminder of how trivial this game truly is. In a way, however, it was also an affirmation of its importance, because baseball is how he touched so many lives. Fernandez’s joyous nature and enthusiasm for the game was as plain as day to anyone who ever watched him on the field. He was a truly special talent and, by all accounts, a special person as well. We are all poorer for his untimely passing.
Baseball –fantasy or otherwise – is a distraction. Distractions are important; anything that brings us pleasure or happiness can and should matter to us. Events like this shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty for caring so much about an ultimately frivolous pursuit, but they should offer a healthy dose of perspective. If you’re still in the race for the prize, enjoy that you’ve gotten this far, and remember that even if you fall short, it’s just a game. Good luck, and thanks for reading all season.