How 2020 MLB Season Affects 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections & Strategy

The Game Day asked some of its fantasy baseball writers to answer some of the biggest fantasy baseball questions ahead of the 2021 season, and the first one asks how the shortened 2020 season and COVID-19 fallout affects 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections & Strategy.

How much did you weigh what happened in the shortened 2020 MLB season for your 2021 fantasy baseball strategy?

FRANK AMMIRANTE: It depends on the situation. Some players had challenging recoveries from COVID-19, which really suppressed their production. Austin Meadows, Yoan Moncada, and Hunter Dozier are three examples. This made me put less stock in their 2020 numbers.

Other players really thrived in the shortened season, like Randy Arozarena. I’m proceeding with caution with players like this because of his limited track record. At the same time, there were surprise breakouts that I’m really buying into, like Zach Plesac‘s. Plesac changed his pitch mix, decreasing his fastball usage in favor of his breaking and offspeed stuff. This allowed him to take the next step as a pitcher.

How 2020 MLB Season Affects 2021 Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Players who had COVID-19, like Austin Meadows, should get a mulligan for 2021 fantasy baseball prep.

Players who had COVID-19 during the 2020 season, including Austin Meadows, should get a mulligan for 2021 fantasy baseball prep. (Image: USA TODAY Sports)

JUAN CARLOS BLANCO: I’m largely treating a good chunk of what I saw in 2020 as an outlier, especially when it comes to players such as Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Nolan Arenado, Pete Alonso, J.D. Martinez and Yoan Moncada. They’re all exponentially better than last season’s slash lines. Pitchers also saw their usual early-season edge over hitters essentially amount to about half of the short campaign, something to keep in mind when evaluating both arms and bats.

Other unique factors include the very condensed opponent pool teams faced last season, which allowed for much more focused and calibrated advanced scouting. Additionally, some hitters may have also benefited from an inordinate number of plate appearances against some of the very inexperienced minor-league arms that were thrust into the fire in ’20. 

KEV MAHSEREJIAN: The 2020 MLB season was fugazi of sorts, but we have ways to reap valuable information out of it.

Every player’s situation varies, but most importantly, if someone dealt with COVID (i.e. Austin Meadows), a mulligan is in order. Some players like J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox did not have their dugout routine in order with the inability to enter the clubhouse and review film mid-game, which threw them off. That is fairly justifiable.

Some pitchers had an easy stretch of starts, some tougher — and that can be weighed more heavily than a normal season’s strength of schedule. Hitters and pitchers that made tangible changes to their delivery/stance/velocity etc. can be noted, but all-in-all, take 2020 in with a fat grain of salt.

JOSH SHEPARDSON: Each player requires specific consideration, but generally, I’m taking an optimistic view for 2021 when utilizing the pandemic-shortened 2020 info.

If a player demonstrated skills growth last year, I’m factoring that into their 2021 outlook. However, if a player struggled mightily without signs of eroding skills before 2021, I’m cutting them slack and leaning heavily on their pre-2020 stats.

One exception that provides me pause for a pitcher who struggled in 2020 is a sizable velocity nosedive, and ditto for hitters whose exit velocity declined steeply.

TAYLOR TARTER: The short answer is that it depends. The long answer is that I looked at BABIP (batting average on balls in play) to qualify what hitters and pitchers did in 2020. If it was obvious they hit or threw into some bad luck, I took that into account in the way I looked at players heading into this season.

Not having in-game video to watch their plate appearances hurt a lot of players, including J.D. Martinez, and despite his struggles, not every player has data that can tell you that.

If there is data from 2020 legitimizing a player’s statistical drop-off, then that factored into how I valued them going into this season.

In a lot of cases, for a lot of players who struggled, their issue was simply a small sample size.

Watch these players for the 2021 MLB regular season and choose them when you play 2021 daily fantasy baseball.

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