Another year of fantasy baseball has passed us by, folks. Right now you’re either reaping the benefits of a successful (or lucky) draft strategy; or you’re kicking yourself in the pants for all the should-of would-of could-of deals you wish you pulled the trigger on. Like life itself, fantasy sports can take you on an emotional roller-coaster of highs and lows. Let’s dig deep and take a closer look at where you were right, and where you went terribly, terribly wrong this year. This piece will look at the three main headlines of this season. For pre-season references, I will be using Tristan H. Cockcroft’s Top 250 ESPN Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
Year of the Fallen Ace
Entering this season, there were a bunch of potential top-level arms to be had. If you took a closer look you realized that the starting pitcher pool was extremely top-heavy. Of the top 20 pitchers ranked by Cockcroft, only 12 of them actually ended up pitching like an ace. Of the top 40 ranked, roughly half of those pitchers either got hurt or severely underperformed.
If, like me, you were convinced Matt Harvey was going to be the front-runner for the NL Cy Young race after last seeing him dominate the Royals in 8 innings of the World Series (I know what happened in the 9th) than you probably felt pretty confident going into the season with him as one of your horses. Sadly, Matt did not live up to expectations this season pitching to a 4.86 ERA over 92.2 innings pitched (yikes).
If you thought that the demands of pitching in the AL East would be a small mountain to climb for David Price, again – sadly – you were let down. After watching Sonny Gray dominate the American League since he was called up in 2013, he seemed like a pretty safe bet, right? Wrong. Okay okay I guess some of those guys were due for some regression, but the reigning AL Cy Young Dallas Keuchel had to have been a safe pick to lead your pitching staff, right? Again… wrong. And I haven’t even mentioned Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole or Zach Greinke.
Indeed, it was a rough year for fantasy owners who relied on some top name pitchers. And don’t even try to tell me that you drafted Kyle Hendricks, J.A. Happ, and Rick Porcello with the belief that they would fulfill the role of your teams ace, because I don’t buy that for a second.
Depending on when your draft took place and how diligently you kept up with spring training stats, you should have noticed that there were a few bargain options at shortstop. Drafting a quality shortstop is usually a hard thing to do considering shortstop is typically a defense-first position. This season finally disrupted that trend.
If you did not buy into the powerful spring training statistics by young Colorado shortstop Trevor Story, than shame on you. In most leagues, Story went undrafted and was there for the taking.
Despite being a late spring training sign by the Texas Rangers to be their opening day left fielder, Ian Desmond was a huge bargain play at shortstop. The former NL All-Star was coming off his worst season yet, and was due for a bounce back season in a hitter friendly ballpark in Arlington.
Okay this next one was much harder to predict, and if you selected him in your draft you were greatly rewarded. Jean Segura, who had a breakout season in 2013 leading to his first NL All-Star selection, had failed to even come close to that production in 2014 and 2015. Baseball analysts had all but wrote him off going into this year, and boy did he prove them wrong.
These three guys were the biggest under-the-radar steals this year; but there were other names worth mentioning who provided solid production for where they fell in most drafts. Jonathan Villar had a breakout campaign stealing over 50 bags – which in today’s game is highly valuable considering the lack of legit stolen base threats. Raise your hand if you saw Brad Miller pushing for 30 plus home runs? Me either. Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Aledmys Diaz, and Didi Gregorious also went undrafted in most leagues and provided above average offense this season.
The point is if you did your homework, you very well could have waited to draft a shortstop and still gotten top-level production.
Home Runs Galore
In case you haven’t noticed, power is trending up. Over the course of the last 3 seasons (2014, ’15, ’16) home runs have been steadily trending upwards. The exact reason for this has caused many to speculate whether the league has tampered with the balls or bats; or of course everyone’s favorite baseball dirty-word: PED’s. I’m not here to speculate the exact reason, but regardless – it’s happening.
In 2015, there were 20 players who hit 30 or more home runs. Which by today’s non-steroid era standards, is a pretty good amount. That number has a good chance to be doubled this season. As of this writing, there are currently 28 players with 30 or more home runs. There are 14 players who have 27-29 home runs, most of which are likely to reach the 30 home run mark by years end. When it’s all said and done, we could be looking at 42 guys with 30+ home runs. The last time there’s been 40 or more players with 30+ home runs? 2001, the peak of the steroid era (also the year that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, go figure).
The lesson here, don’t put too much stock in guys with gaudy home run numbers. There are more than enough home runs to go around for fantasy owners. And of course, you must always be cautious of the stat that usually comes with increasing homers, strikeouts.