…and not on those damned computer screens. Ah, fantasy baseball, how I miss thee. The fantasy baseball season has done bone for almost two months now and already I’m aching to start drafting again. I enjoy few things more than playing pretend GM, so the end of fantasy baseball leaves a large void in my life- one that can only be filled by black tar heroin and the scalps of infants. Fantasy hockey has never really done it for me and I’ve never been an NBA fan (although that is slowly changing despite the increasing irrelevance of the 76ers). I love fantasy football, but it really only requires you to check you roster twice a week (Sunday morning and right before the waiver deadline). It doesn’t quite quench my immense thirst for fantasy sports domination, at least not on a daily basis. Therefore, to scratch my itch for fantasy baseball, I present to you my 2009 Fantasy Baseball Awards. Please note that these awards are primarily subjective, although if I say that a player is the best at his position, I am likely referring to their ranking on the ESPN player rater. It’s not perfect but at least it’s fair and objective.
Silver Slugger Award: This award goes to the best individual player at every position.
Catcher: Joe Mauer. I never draft a catcher before round 10 in drafts. Catchers get injured too early, they post stats equitable to mid-tier corner infielders but go 10 rounds earlier, and solid catching options are still around in the mid-teen rounds. Next year I am willing to draft Joe Mauer with a top-5 pick.
1st Base: Albert Pujols. Who else did you expect?
2nd Base: Chase Utley. He was already the best 2nd baseman in the game and then he set a career high in stolen bases.
3rd base: Mark Reynolds. Yes, he was the best third baseman in fantasy baseball this year. He led all third basemen in homers, was third in RBI and steals, 6th in runs, and didn’t kill your average. Not bad for a man who may have been Mr. Irrelevant in your draft.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez. Was actually a bit of a disappointment by only hitting 24 home runs alongside his 27 steals. Most would call that a career year. He is still the best bet to go 30-30 among any player in the game, and might be the only player capable of winning a batting title while doing it.
Outfield: 1.) Carl Crawford. Really slowed down in the 2nd half but you’ll take 60 steals and a .300 average in the 3rd round.
2.) Ryan Braun. Who else can hit .300 with 30+ homers and 20 steals?
3.) Matt Kemp. Oh, right, this guy can too. Crazy that he’s still only 25.
Gold Glove. Uh, right, my bad, forgot this wasn’t actual baseball. Only FELT like my players were playing to win my league.
Rolaids Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the best reliever of all time pocketing this award. If you take out fluke vulture wins that boosted Nathan and Broxton past him on the player rater, he was the most valuable reliever in fantasy. He collected the 3rd most saves alongside the 3rd best era and 2nd best WHIP among closers. Honorable mention: Joe Nathan, Jonathan Broxton, Andrew Bailey.
Rookie of the Year: Okay I know there’s only one in real life but I’m separating it for hitters and pitchers. Suck it Bud Selig.
Hitter: Andrew McCutchen. Gave you Shane Victorino-esque numbers in half a season. Honorable mention: Garrett Jones, Chris Coghlan, Gordon Beckham.
Pitcher: J.A. Happ. Tommy Hanson came close, but Happ’s significant innings pitched advantage push him over the top. 166 innings of 2.93 ERA/ 1.23 WHIP ball is better than 127.2 innings of 2.89 ERA/ 1.18 ball. Hanson is better and is the smarter play next year, but Happ helped his fantasy owners more this year. Honorable Mention: Randy Wells, Scott Feldman.
Blue Light Special Award. This award goes to the sleeper who was taken late in drafts as a flier who panned out and became a critical asset to his owners’ teams.
Blue Light Special Award, Hitter: Mark Reynolds. He was owned in every (competitive and intelligent) league because of his big power and solid speed (well, propensity to run, anyway), but he was taken so late because of the terrible average he’s carried throughout his career. He followed through on the power and speed, tallying 44 homers and 24 steals, but the average came along as well as he hit .260. Just goes to show that we managers are more scared of a bad average than any other stat. Honorable Mention:
Blue Light Special Award, Pitcher: Jair Jurrjens. This is a guy who was drafted as a fill-out-my-rotation-with-somebody-who-doesn’t-suck type pitcher in most leagues and provided his owners with a 2.60 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 152 strikeouts and 14 wins. Many took him because they thought he could build on a solid 2008, but he did more than anyone could have predicted. Honorable Mention: Ubaldo Jiminez
Waiver Pickup of the Year Award: These awards go to the hitter and pitcher who went primarily undrafted and became must-own pieces by the end of the season. Again, I stress undrafted. Sleepers are drafted, waiver pick-ups aren’t.
Waiver Pickup of the Year Award, Hitter: Garrett Jones. If you had known he would hit 21 home runs, steal ten bases, and tally an average right under .300, you probably would have drafted him around the 12th round. He did that in half a season. He may be a fluke, and he may disappoint those who own him next year, but think of all the owners who were desperate for power in July, noticed a player they had never heard of had 5 home runs in the last week, picked him up, and got 15 free bombs. Honorable Mention: Russell Branyan (Actually, he probably should have won. Who votes for these, anyway?)
Waiver Pickup of the Year Award, Pitcher: Wandy Rodriguez. A few shrewd owners may have drafted him after noticing that his ERA had decreased for the past 2 seasons, as did his walk rate, while his strikeout rate rose. They pointed at his home ERA, which sat below 4, and declared that he had the talent to be a very good pitcher. The rest of us pointed out that he was 30, unproven, and named Wandy. What’d he do? Provide his owners with 205 innings of 3.02 ERA baseball with a 1.24 WHIP and 193 strikeouts and 14 wins. If he wasn’t owned in your league by April 30th you should have left your league. Honorable Mention: Randy Wolf, Scott Feldman, J.A. Happ, Randy Wells, and Joel Piniero
Comeback Player of the Year: The award goes to the player who best returned to their former glory after a year or more of fantasy uselessness.
Hitter: Derrek Lee. I could say Carl Crawford, but his 2008 (while disappointing) wasn’t terrible. Plus I gave him a Silver Slugger. I guess it’s not really fair that I give it to Lee, seeing as his last 2 years haven’t been terrible, but the difference is that Crawford merely battled an injury that hurt his production while Lee simply declined. Just 3 years ago Lee was considered an elite 1st baseman, being a lock for 30+ homers, a good average that often topped .300, and double digit steals. In 2005 he hit 45 homers alongside a .335 average. Coming into 2009 he had 42 homers between the last two seasons combined. He had fallen into the “steady but boring vet who you’ll likely package away in a trade for pitching tier.” In 2009? He gave you a .305 average with 35 homers and over 100 RBIs. He’s now back in the top tier of first baseman who aren’t Albert Pujols. Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki (again I don’t usually give it to players who simply had injuries), Victor Martinez, Derek Jeter.
Pitcher: Justin Verlander. My first instinct was to give it to Chris Carpenter, but he never really struggled, he was just out with an injury. Maybe I should make an award for guys who bounce back from injuries? (Stay tuned for this). My second was to give it to Javier Vazquez, but for as long as he’s been around he was never really this good before. Verlander, on the other hand, was once very good, young, and promising, but truly struggled last year. By the end of April many owners simply dropped him. Fools! From then on he posted an ERA just below 3 with 18 wins and at least 950 strikeouts.
Breakout Player of the Year Award: Awarded to a player with immense expectations who does the best job of establishing himself as one of the best young hitters in the game.
Hitter: Justin Upton. Really, what can you say about the guy. He hit .300 with 26 bombs and 20 steals…at age 21. He’s already a top-of-the line outfielder. Saddled with huge expectations and even more potential, Upton was supposed to have a breakout season eventually, but it came about 2 years before everyone honestly expected it. Others: Adam Lind, Ben Zobrist, Michael Bourn, Kendry Morales.
Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw. There are always countless young pitchers expected to be the next big thing who go 3 rounds too early in March because of their potential. David Price was bleh this year and was expected to be great. Tommy Hanson pitched phenomenally but wasn’t called up until June. Joba Champberlain couldn’t even stay in the rotation. Kershaw, however, delivered. 171 innings. 185 punchouts. 2.79 ERA, and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure he only got 8 wins, I guess, but those numbers overall are great. He still walks too many but he’s still a fantastic pitcher (who is still so far from their prime it’s scary to imagine how good he may become).
Biggest Draft Bust Award: Goes to the player who posted the highest negative disparity between their draft position and their actual value.
Hitter: This was not a good year to be a first round pick. David Wright forgot how to hit homers and got concussed. Jose Reyes blew a hammy. Grady Sizemore battled injuries. Josh Hamilton missed half the year and was likely more productive on the DL. Jimmy Rollins had an on-base percentage of .296. I don’t want to say the first four because they could use injuries as a crutch, and I didn’t think Jimmy Rollins was a first round pick even in February. Really any of them are good picks, but I’m going to pick someone totally else entirely: B.J. Upton. A second round pick with a world of upside finished as the 117th best player according to the player rater. He did enter the year with some concerns around some lingering injuries, but dreams of him mashing 25 homers and swiping 40 bases (which he did) were too much for owners to resist him. Instead, he hit 11 homers with a .241 average, and no runs at all for a top-of-the-order player. He might come cheap next year but that’s little consolation for those who drafted him this year.
Pitcher: Brandon Webb. 4 innings. 13.50 ERA. 2.0 WHIP. And you drafted him in the 4th round.
Russian Roulette Award: Goes to a player who was a clear injury risk but stayed healthy and delivered a great season.
Hitter: Alex Rodriguez. He fell to the 3rd or 4th rounds in most drafts because of his hip surgery and delivered 30 homers, a solid average, some steals, and a significant number of runs and ribbies. Imagine all the owners who drafted Rodriguez, realized around round 20 that they needed a stopgap third baseman for April, then drafted Mark Reynolds.
Pitcher: Chris Carpenter. He hadn’t pitched in seemingly forever after having multiple elbow surgeries but returned with a vengeance this year, notching a 2.24 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 17 wins and 144 strikeouts. In short, he gave his worried owners a Cy Young Caliber pitcher with their 15th-round draft pick.
Fantasy Baseball MVP: Albert Pujols. He’s as consistent as they come. A lock for a .320+ average, 35+ homers, 100+ RBI and runs, and is now even tallying double digit steals. He’s simply the best player in baseball, be it real life or fantasy. A case can be made for Hanley because he’s a shortstop, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the positional scarcity argument. Besides, Pujols is as far above and beyond the second-best first baseman as Hanley is above the second best shortstop, if not more.
Fantasy Baseball Cy Young: Zach Greinke/ When you’re 7th among starters in innings, 3rd in strikeouts, 9th in wins, and 1st in ERA, and 6th in WHIP, yeah, you get the Cy Young Award. His closest competitors were either too far behind in ERA and wins (Lincecum, Haren, Hernandez) or strikeouts (Carpenter, Halladay) to really be considered. If you were lucky enough to draft him in round 8 like I did then you likely were a contender. it’s just a shame he plays for Kansas City because I really don’t think many people realize just how good he was this year. Someday down the line, this will be considered one of the greatest seasons by a pitcher ever.
Alrighty folks, that’s all I got for yas. Come back before March because I’ll likely have plenty to say about the upcoming Fantasy Baseball Season. Oh, and the actual baseball season as well. Until then, please enjoy my hastily created offseason outlooks.