MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year -- they're great awards and all that, but couldn't they be a bit more fun?
While everyone gets caught up in the debate between Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt in the National League MVP race -- by the way, it is not "Most Valuable Player From a Winning Team"!!! -- let's today use this space to have a bit of fun with some fantasy baseball awards.
Welcome back "The Turks," my end-of-year fantasy baseball awards handing out "hardware" for some of the quirkier, yet-fantasy-relevant, accomplishments in the game. Since we've got a lot to get to, and in the interest of time, you can read all about the origins of these awards here, but I figure that anytime I can work this ridiculous photo into my column, why not take it?
With "The Turks," anything goes. Some of these have appeared in past iterations, some are brand-new this year to address a particularly peculiar tidbit. Some are more insightful, some are more, "Huh, well, how about that?" They all run the gamut of fantasy baseball in 2017, and to put it simply, they're just a bunch of facts, findings or results I most enjoyed this year.
Here we go:
Outstanding Reference Sites
Any awards column cannot begin without first honoring two of the most valuable reference websites for fantasy baseball owners, and giving thanks to them for making life as a columnist oh-so-easy. The game wouldn't be nearly what it is today without the year-after-year excellence of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.
The Babe (fantasy's best hitter): Jose Altuve
For the second consecutive season, he finished exactly second overall on the Player Rater, and for the second time in the past four seasons he was the No. 1 hitter. Still, it was an extremely close race at the top, with Charlie Blackmon, Stanton and Goldschmidt also making compelling cases, but Altuve gets the nod thanks to both his month-over-month consistency as well as his categorical balance. His .346 batting average in 590 at-bats easily had the most impact in fantasy baseball; he was one of nine players to go 20/20 and the only one to go 20/30 in a year where stolen base production was down significantly; he was sixth in the majors in runs scored (112) and he played second base, a position that had a .324 wOBA across the majors, 12 points beneath the league average for non-pitchers (.336).
The Jim Edmonds (fantasy's best value on the hitting side): Aaron Judge
First off, Edmonds gets the award name because of how perennially underrated he was (both in the real and fantasy games), evidenced by the fact that he was a one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot (2.5 percent of the vote in 2016). I've tossed this trivia around among colleagues for years, and the answer will probably surprise you: Can you recall A) how many career home runs and B) how many 40-homer seasons Edmonds had? I'll wait.
Judge stands out from, again, a deep list of candidates, including Jose Ramirez, Marcell Ozuna, Whit Merrifield and Tommy Pham, but it's Judge's output relative to draft price that gives him the edge: He was the 212th player selected overall on average in the preseason, picked in roughly 36 percent of ESPN leagues, he got off to a .303/10/20 April that assured he'd be universally rostered before month's end, maximizing his return on investment, and he was the No. 8 overall finisher on the Player Rater. Yes, you could criticize him for his six-week cold spell exiting the All-Star break, but he then roared back with one of the most thoroughly dominating Septembers in baseball: .311/.463/.889 slash rates, 15 home runs, 32 RBIs, 29 runs scored.
Edmonds trivia answer: He hit 393 home runs and had two 40-homer seasons. That's not to say that in the offensive environment in which he played that he is a clear Hall of Famer, but one would think with his career and defensive reputation that he'd have garnered enough votes to stick around for the 10-year duration.
The Pedro (fantasy's best pitcher): Corey Kluber
Kluber was the majors' leader in ERA (2.25), ERA+ (202), WHIP (0.87), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.4:1) and, yes, wins (18 -- tied with three others). Though a lower back strain did cost him 29 days in May, limiting him to 29 total starts, he was easily the best pitcher in the game from June 1 forward, boasting the majors' best wins (15) and strikeouts (224) totals, ERA (1.62) and WHIP (0.76). Kluber also stepped up at the most critical time for his head-to-head owners, winning five of six starts with a 0.84 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 50 K's in the month of September.
The Jamie Moyer (fantasy's best value on the pitching side): Luis Severino
Accuse me of rampant homerism if you wish, but it's the two New York Yankees who, on either side of the ball, stood out as fantastic value selections. Severino was the No. 320 player selected overall on average, picked in 14 percent of ESPN leagues, but he finished the No. 8 pitcher on our Player Rater, thanks to his finishing sixth in the majors in strikeouts (230), WHIP (1.04) and quality starts (21), and eighth in ERA (2.98). What's more, Severino fit specific criteria I've always considered for "best value," that being either a fully rostered or quickly added player who spent the vast majority of the season on all fantasy rosters for maximum impact, as he was 3-for-4 in quality starts with a 3.00 ERA and 33 strikeouts in April to garner early attention.
The "I Don't Think You Realize How Good He Is" Award: Trea Turner
Turner's Nos. 59 (2016) and 33 (2017) Player Rater finishes the past two seasons are exceptional, but they don't truly illustrate his potential impact because of significant time he spent in the minor leagues and on the disabled list. So let's extract Turner's past 162 games on the Washington Nationals roster: 159 played, 154 started, .308/.351/.500 slash rates, 24 home runs, 79 RBIs, 74 stolen bases, 122 runs scored. To give you an idea of how rare those numbers in a traditional season, consider that only Rickey Henderson (1985 and 1990) and Joe Morgan (1976) have ever managed at least a .300 batting average, 20 home runs, 60 RBIs, 70 stolen bases and 100 runs scored in a single season, and 74 steals would represent the most in a single season since Jose Reyes' 78 in 2007. Whether new Nationals manager Dave Martinez will give Turner the green light often enough to get to the 70-steal plateau is a legitimate question -- a projection that begins with "5" is probably wiser -- and the .308 batting average might be 10-15 points too high, but Turner is a bona fide first-round, "building block" type in fantasy.
Setting the Table Award: Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon's 103 RBIs and 383 total bases out of the leadoff spot set new single-season records, breaking Darin Erstad's 100 RBIs in 2000 and Alfonso Soriano's 368 in 2002. Blackmon's 37 home runs as a leadoff man, too, were third-most all-time, behind Soriano's 39 in 2006 and 38 in 2002.
"Hey Ma, the Meatloaf!" Award (for the pitcher who loves home cookin'): Jhoulys Chacin
Chacin's 4.74 run split between his home (1.79) and road (6.53) ERAs was the fourth-largest among qualified pitchers since 1913. Having Petco Park as his home certainly helped, although that would have been a more compelling case before 2013, when the San Diego Padres brought in the outfield fences, but Chacin seems to have some sort of liking for Petco: He has a 2.03 career ERA there in 20 games (18 starts). It's a real shame, therefore, that he's now a free agent, as his skill set and historical ballpark splits suggest that he's indeed one of the more environment-reliant pitchers in the game.
On the hitting side, Eddie Rosario stands out for his extreme home/road split, as he slashed .332/.371/.632 at Target Field for a .415 wOBA, which was 134 points greater than his road wOBA (.281). Only Blackmon (170 points' difference) had a larger home/road split than Rosario last season.
"Quality Not Quality" Award: Rick Porcello
Porcello's 19 quality starts equaled the totals of Zack Greinke and Carlos Carrasco and exceeded Robbie Ray's, despite the fact that those three finished top-10 starters on our Player Rater, each with ERAs more than a run and a quarter lower than Porcello's 4.65. Porcello's 4.65 ERA was, in fact, the 20th-highest in history among pitchers who had 19 or more quality starts in the same season, and had he gotten to 20 quality starts, then his ERA would've been the sixth-highest, behind Ryan Dempster (4.80 in 2011), Jerry Janeski (4.77 in 1970), John Danks (4.74 in 2014) and Derek Lowe (4.67 in 2009) and Colby Lewis (4.66 in 2015). The regression bug bit Porcello hard this season, as he went from leading the majors in wins in 2016 (22) to leading it in losses (17), with two more than any other individual in either category in either year. In the process, his fastball collapsed and his ground ball rate shrunk, so an "even/odd year" case isn't an easy one. Porcello will be a tough one to draft if he's not thoroughly outstanding next spring.
Least Meaningful Rotisserie Category: Wins
The "Clayton Kershaw" of this award -- it's hardly the first time I've given it this dubious honor -- wins, as an individual achievement, has been an antiquated stat for years, but in 2017 that became significantly more pronounced. Pitching has become increasingly specialized -- the New York Mets, just on Friday, announced that, in 2018, they probably will shift towards the "twice-through-the-order" starting-pitching strategy that has been popularized in recent years and especially the postseason -- with relievers becoming increasingly responsible for the outcome of games and starters growing greater in jeopardy of falling short of the five-inning requirement for a win. Here are some of the key statistical takeaways from 2017:
442 "cheap wins" (wins in non-quality starts): most in history
59 complete games, 1.2 percent of all starts resulting in a complete game: both the fewest in history, and it's the third straight year record lows were set in both
32.4 percent of all starts were 100 pitches or more: lowest in any of the 30 seasons for which complete pitch-count data is available
49,409 outs recorded by relievers, or 38.1 percent of all outs recorded: both most in history
58 pitchers qualified for the ERA crown (requires an average of one inning per team game): it's the fewest in a year since 1960, when there were only 16 MLB teams.
What should fantasy managers do in response? I continue to hail my Rotisserie 6x6 system as a recommended, widespread league scoring change, but at the bare minimum, commissioners in custom leagues need at least open a conversation with their participants about how to address the game's shifting trend.
Every Ball in Play Had Eyes Award: Avisail Garcia
Garcia's .392 batting average on balls in play was the highest among batting title-eligible hitters since Chris Johnson's .394 in 2013. Garcia and Johnson also have something else in common: They're the only batting title-eligible players in history with a BABIP that high in a season in which they struck out more than 110 times while walking fewer than 40 times. Johnson's BABIP dipped to .345 and his batting average to .263 the following season, and to toss in another wrinkle, Garcia's ground-ball rate of 52.7 percent was more than six percent greater than Johnson's in 2013.
He-Man Award (for powering an unreal percentage of fly balls over the fence): Matt Olson
Olson's 41.4 home run/fly ball percentage, per FanGraphs, was the highest such percentage in any of the site's 16 seasons' worth of data (minimum 200 plate appearances), and his 11.1 percent of plate appearances that resulted in a home run was the highest in history with at least 200 trips to the plate. The young Oakland slugger averaged 7.88 at-bats per home run, fourth-highest behind only Barry Bonds' 2001 (6.52) and Mark McGwire's 1998 (7.27) and 2000 (7.38). Most curiously, Olsen swatted 24 home runs but had only two doubles (those his only other extra-base hits). He's an up-and-coming power source, but would anyone be surprised if he tripled his plate appearances, spun his wheels in homers and matched the homer output in terms of doubles in 2018?
The Danilo Valiente Award (for the best "batting-practice" pitcher, named for the batting-practice pitcher of the year's Home Run Derby winner, in this case Aaron Judge): Chris Tillman
Tillman not only finished dead last on the 2017 Player Rater, but did so by a significant margin. Tillman faced 444 batters this season and had a 7.84 ERA and 1.89 WHIP, the highest marks for a pitcher who faced at least 400 batters since Scott Erickson in 2000 (7.87 ERA, 1.89 WHIP). Besides Tillman, only 11 other pitchers in history had worse ERA and WHIP than Tillman's 2017 numbers in those categories, again among those who faced 400-plus batters.
The Tony Phillips Award (for the most valuable, versatile player in fantasy baseball, in memory of Phillips, the only player in baseball history to play at least 250 career games apiece at second base, third base, shortstop and in the outfield): Marwin Gonzalez
Gonzalez, in 2017, had only the eighth season in history of at least 15 games played at first base, second base, third base and shortstop, had the highest batting average (.303) from that sample and hit nearly twice as many home runs (23) as any other player from that sample. He was the No. 85 overall finisher on the 2017 Player Rater, and was sixth-best among players who concluded the year by meeting the 20-game minimum eligibility threshold at multiple positions, behind only Jose Ramirez (3B/2B), Cody Bellinger (1B/OF), Chris Taylor (OF/2B), Eduardo Nunez (3B/2B/OF) and Alex Bregman (3B/SS). Better yet, Gonzalez played 20-plus at first base, second base, shortstop and in the outfield in 2017, giving him rare four-position eligibility entering 2018 -- he and Andrew Romine (OF/2B/3B/1B) are the only ones who can claim this -- and he finished a mere one game shy of adding third base to the list (19 appearances), meaning he could carry five positions' eligibility in leagues that have a 15-game requirement.
The Cooper (for the big-league leader in barrels): Aaron Judge
Judge not only led that category with 87, but also in barrels per batted ball event (25.7 percent) and barrels per plate appearance (12.8 percent). To explain barrels, these are assigned to balls in play that fall within range in terms of both exit velocity and launch angle of those which result in a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage according to Statcast. These are maximum-outcome events, and Judge's place atop all three leaderboards illustrates the immense power that allowed him to set a new single-season rookie record for home runs (52).
September Hero: J.D. Martinez
Martinez slashed .396/.431/.950 with 16 home runs and 36 RBIs as part of what was one of the most productive post-trade performances in baseball history. Martinez stood out in this category particularly thanks to his week-after-week consistency in September, critical for those in head-to-head matchups, as in each of the four complete weeks in that month he managed at least a .333 batting average, two home runs and six RBIs.
September Hero, Waiver Wire Levels: Tim Anderson
Anderson enjoyed a .327/.345/.469, three-homer, 11-RBI, nine-steal September in his 27 games played after he had slashed just .260/.281/.407 with 23 homers, 75 RBIs and 16 steals in his 218 career games played entering the month. Remarkably, Anderson did it despite a 0.9 percent walk rate and a 27.6 percent strikeout rate in September, and the fact that he was facing a lot of weaker American League Central pitching had a bit to say in the matter. Still, it makes him a player to watch come spring training.
Good Thing Defense Matters Award: Adam Engel
Engel finished fourth in baseball last season in what Statcast calls "outs above average," and that's a good thing considering his second-half offensive performance. It was just that -- "offensive" -- as he batted .136/.198/.255 with a .201 wOBA and major league-worst 38.0 percent K rate.
Air Conditioner Award: Joey Gallo
Gallo's 41-homer sophomore year outburst came with a whopping 36.8 percent strikeout rate, second-highest in baseball behind only Chris Davis' 37.2 percent. In the process, Gallo became only the second player in history to hit at least 40 home runs while failing to bat even .210, joining Adam Dunn (.204 and 41 in 2012).