Ask most fantasy owners who the fantasy baseball MVP was this year, and you are more than likely to get the answer of either Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw. If that is the case, then why won’t you find these two frequently on championship winning teams? The answer is value.
Any fantasy owner could have drafted the Los Angeles superstars, they were no brainers. Both players were highly productive, but were also pricey to own. They were both top 5 picks, and in auctions either one of them would have cost you at least $50 of your budget. Where is the value in those picks? You paid for them to be the best in the league, all they can do is meet those expectations. Rarely will they surpass the value you had to pay for them.
Championship teams usually compile productive players, at minimum cost. Finding players who produce like elite level players, without having to spend one of your top picks, or a chuck of your auction budget.
This year an unheard of 53% of the top 300 players lost playing time to the disabled list or demotion. Starting pitchers such as Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Matt Moore and Jose Fernandez saw their seasons end early. The hitters were not any luckier as the season took the toll on such high profile names like Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto and Mark Trumbo. These injuries opened up a multitude of opportunities for late round picks, and waiver wire claims to become fantasy stars. Many of those players were the key pieces that lead fantasy owners to championship.
This top 10 will look at players who likely were on your championship winning team.
10 Charlie Blackmon
I would have been fitted for a straitjacket if I told you at the start of the year I was considering two Rockies outfielders for this top 10, and not one of them was named Carlos Gonzalez. Charlie Blackmon edges Corey Dickerson for this list as the unexpected Rockies player who brought championships to owners this year.
Blackmon ran away with the leadoff job for the Rockies after an epic game in the first week of the season, where he went 6 for 6 with 5 RBIs and 4 runs scored. He would finish the year with 5 category production posting a .288 average, 19 homeruns, 72 RBIs, 82 runs, and 28 stolen bases.
Blackmon had a very low ownership after the draft as he was only selected in 10% of drafts and auctions, and even after his epic game, owners were slow to roster him. If you were one of the few who had the foresight to see the type of season Blackmon would have, then you were paving the path to a fantasy championship.
9 J.D. Martinez
Nobody saw J.D. Martinez coming this year. This is a player that was cut by the lowly Houston Astros in Spring Training, which is the baseball equivalent of being dumped by the ugliest girl in school. It didn’t take long for Martinez to find a new home, as the Tigers quickly signed him a few days later. After a torrid start in triple A to start the year, Martinez was called up to the majors in late April.
In the first two months of the season he only managed 2 homeruns, and 11 RBIs, but In the last 4 months, he was on fire putting together 21 homers and 65 RBIs to lead many fantasy teams to titles.
Martinez is the first of a few players on this list that would not have cost you a draft pick. Owners were slow to trust Martinez as he sat on many waiver wires well into June, as most assumed he would return to a bench role. By the end of July he was a must start in any league structure.
Jumping on Martinez before owners caught on, was the type of shrewd move that netted fantasy championships this year.
8 Francisco Rodriguez
If you predicted that Francisco Rodriguez would post 44 saves this year, you are either lying or buying low on Trevor Hoffman this off season.
At the start of the season it seemed that Jim Henderson was poised to become the closer for the Brewers after he closed 2013 with 28 saves. Most fantasy owners were of similar opinion as Rodriguez was drafted in only 15% of Yahoo leagues. When Ron Roenicke opted to go with the more experienced Rodriguez as his closer, he created an instant waiver wire gem for fantasy owners.
Rodriguez’s 44 saves landed him tied for 5th in the league. What made that stat so remarkable was that it was the first time Rodriguez had eclipsed 40 saves since his record setting 62 save season in 2008. You would have had to spend a 4th-6th round pick to land Craig Kimbrel or Greg Holland, who only netted 2-3 more saves than Rodriguez.
In Yahoo head to head leagues, Rodriguez was the player appearing on the most championship squads at a staggering 40%. Saves is one category in fantasy baseball where if you don’t have it, you find yourself in an uphill battle all year chasing it. Plucking 44 saves off the waiver wire in any season will pave the way to many championships.
7 Jose Abreu
Over the past couple of years the league has seen an influx of star Cuban players. Players like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig had wonderful debuts, which increased the expectation for the latest up and coming star in Jose Abreu.
We knew his power was legitimate from the glimpses we got of him at the World Baseball Classic. Most pre-season prognosticators predicted solid power numbers for Abreu, but he would eclipse those expectations. Abreu finished the year as a top 10 overall fantasy player leading the league in slugging percentage, while finishing 4th in the league in homeruns with 36, and 5th in RBIs with 107.
On average Abreu was a 12th round pick as the 21st 1B off the board. The two players drafted after Abreu were Matt Adams and Brandon Belt. Abreu had 9 more home runs, and 12 more RBIs then that duo combined.
Abreu’s average soared after the all-star break as he hit .350, but he saw a dip in his homerun production with only 7, after his blistering start of 26. If not for this dip, Abreu would have likely found himself higher on this list.
6 Josh Harrison
If I told you there would be a fantasy MVP candidate coming out of Pittsburgh this year you would have assumed I was talking about Andrew McCutchen. Nobody would have thought the player would have been Josh Harrison.
Harrison who had been a career role player, was seen only as a versatile depth guy. There was nothing about his track record that screamed fantasy stud.
Harrison saw very little playing time to start the year, but then he started to earn his way into the mix in the outfield with his defense, and then a Nick Walker injury in early June earned him an everyday job at second base. Then finally moving to third base once Walker came back. As the year progressed, the Pirates continued to find ways to get him in the lineup, and he responded by being so valuable that they could not take him out.
It is the versatility that actually made Harrison such a fantasy MVP this year, as he was eligible to be used as an outfielder, 2nd baseman or 3rd baseman.
When the dust settled Harrison finished as the runner up in the NL batting title, while adding 13 home runs, 52 RBIs, 77 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases. Not bad for a guy who was not drafted in any league, and could have been found on your waiver wire well into May.
5 Johnny Cueto
Johnny Cueto had an injury ridden 2013 season that limited him to only 11 starts. Fantasy owners with short memories knew there was value to be had on a pitcher who just two years ago posted 19 wins. Cueto rewarded those owners with a rebound season that surpassed their wildest expectations.
Cueto would post his first twenty win season, while posing a 2.25 ERA (4th in MLB), a .96 WHIP (3rd in MLB) and striking out 242 batters (5th in MLB)
While fantasy studs Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright would have cost you a 1st and 2nd round pick respectively, Cueto was a value in the 12th round. In auctions, Kershaw was going for about $48 dollars, and Wainwright around $31, while Cueto could have been had for a mere $6.
Landing a Cy Young candidate for the cost it took to get Cueto, will create a championship team in any fantasy year.
4 Dee Gordon
Tom “Flash” Gordon’s son Dee showed us this year he was more than deserving of inheriting his father’s nickname. At the all-star break Dee Gordon looked like he could be the first player since Vince Coleman to make a run at 100 steals. He fell short of that mark, but still swiped a league high 64 bags.
Gordon always possessed the speed to lead the league in steals, but it was his development in the other aspects of his game that vaulted him into elite status. This year Gordon took a major leap at the plate hitting .289, while finishing 8th in the NL with 92 runs scored. Gordon ended the season as the 23rd overall fantasy player, and the number one SS in fantasy baseball.
The evil laugh you hear is coming from the Gordon owner who picked him up in the last round, while you were grabbing Jonathan Villar. In this era where steals are such a rare commodity, it’s no surprise that owners who gambled on Gordon brought home many championships.
3 Jose Altuve
Before this season it might have been easy to overlook Jose Altuve. Maybe that was because he only stands 5’5, or the fact that he plays for the lowly Astros, but after his 2014 season, even the most casual fan knows that Altuve is one of the leagues brightest stars.
Altuve was one of the true difference makers that came from a pick in the top 10 rounds. When you have a player who led the majors in batting average, while adding 56 stolen bases, at a scarce position like 2B, you are going to find yourself an extremely valuable player.
Altuve in AL only leagues was even a greater star, as he was 17 steals better then second place Jacoby Ellsbury, while coming in second for the AL with 47 doubles. He finishes as the 5th ranked fantasy hitter in 2014. Ten spots higher than the next 2B on the list Anthony Rendon, who also was an extreme value, and just barely missed out on this top 10.
Altuve is the poster boy for why we can’t ignore players on weaker teams. Owners who do their homework on the league cellar dwellers can pillage great value that become corner stones to fantasy championships.
2 Victor Martinez
The crime rate in Detroit more than tripled in 2014, and it had nothing to do with the plummeting economy, and everything to do with fantasy owners from the motor city who stole Victor Martinez in their fantasy drafts this year.
Martinez had a career year in 2014 at age 36, finishing as the runner up in the batting crown, while adding 32 homeruns, 103 RBIs, 87 runs, and to boot he even added 3 stolen bases. Quite the accomplishment for a guy with 4 career steals.
Martinez was drafted in most leagues, but at a 16th round price tag he was an incredible value. His ADP at 1B was sandwiched between Mike Napoli and Brandon Moss. That duo respectively hit .248 and .234. When comparing those numbers with Martinez’s .335 average, it paints a clear picture of just how valuable he was.
Martinez is not the sexy pick for AL MVP, but in my opinion, and I am sure in the opinion of his fantasy owners, he deserves to be.
1 Michael Brantley
Not since the Major League trilogies has an Indian brought as much fantasy joy to baseball fans as Michael Brantley did this year.
Last season Brantley put up pedestrian numbers with a .287 average, 10 homeruns, 70 RBIs, and 17 steals. This season Brantley was arguably the best fantasy player in the league. The numbers speak for themselves .327 batting average, 20 homeruns, 97 RBIs, 94 runs, and 23 stolen bases. Those numbers landed him as the number 6 overall fantasy player.
Brantley has developed into one of the rare five category stars, and his numbers came close to rivaling the all mighty Mike Trout. The difference between the two is their cost. Brantley’s average draft position was about 225th, slotting him around the 19th round, and a buck in auctions, while Trout cost you a top two pick, and roughly 60 dollars in auctions. Brantley was being picked with the likes of Chris Colabello, Michael Bourn and Adam Eaton. That trio combined for 10 home runs, and barely edged out Brantley with 112 RBIs.
Michael Brantley takes the crown in this top 10, and that is likely what he did for you, if he landed on your fantasy squad this year.