Since 1988, the hobby of playing fantasy sports has grown exponentially. Take this: in 1988, there existed roughly 500,000 number of people playing fantasy sports. In only a span of 27 years, that number has grown to almost 57 million people. That’s incredible.
The accessibility of playing fantasy sports has played a large role in that boom. Many mainstream sites have seen how profitable the industry has become and have taken advantage. Websites run by huge companies like Yahoo! and ESPN allow users to play for free while “experts” from each company provide analysis to ensure the users succeed in their respective leagues. Countless number of mobile apps gives each user the ability to update their teams at any time and any place.
Baseball is the origin of this phenomenon with many roots from the 1960s and 1970s. The most well-known and popular version of fantasy baseball is Rotisserie League. In this league, a set even number of teams draft real baseball players to their fake teams. Relying on individual offensive and pitching categories (typically a 5x5 setup of Home Runs, Runs, Runs Batted In, Batting Average for Hitters and Strikeouts, Wins, Earned Run Average, Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched and Saves for Pitchers) each team utilizes their individual players to score the most points in each category throughout the season. It’s become so popular that even major league ballplayers have admitted to participating in fantasy. Perhaps that explains why certain players are good but better in the fantasy world of baseball? Let's start things off with a player that only fantasy players know, despite such a common name.
15 Joe Smith - Los Angeles Angels
Smith isn’t a traditional closer; rather he is the setup man for the Angels. He’s currently serving the closer role as he’s frequently called upon to fill in for Huston Street when the closer’s hurt (which seems to be a recurring theme in Street’s career). The side-arm reliever has proven to be valuable for fantasy purposes, but he’s pitching at a replacement level. Smith does have 6 saves filling in for Street but with that comes a -0.1 WAR. Not to mention the 3 losses and 2 blown saves. For fantasy leagues that count holds, Smith was third in MLB in 2015 with 32 of those in 2015. When filling in for Street in 2014, Smith proved his fantasy worth with 15 saves and seven (!) wins.
14 Fernando Rodney - San Diego Padres
The 39-year old Journeyman Closer led the league in blown saves in 2015 with seven. He’s had a decent career shutting down a lot of close games for the Tigers, Angels, Rays, Mariners and now the Padres. On the other hand, he’s also lost his job on numerous occasions due to awful performances. Because he’s proven in the past that he’s closed games, stubborn managers keep giving him the job.
For fantasy purposes, he’s been valuable since saves are one of the major categories. As recently as 2014, he was a fantasy factor with 48 saves. Rodney currently has 10 saves in what’s been a relatively clean year.
13 Ben Revere - Washington Nationals
Revere is an excellent defensive outfielder, but he appears to be an easily replaceable player. He’s already played on 4 teams since 2012, and his On-Base Percentage (OBP) could be better for a leadoff hitter.
Despite all of that, Revere does one thing very well: he steals bases like Willie Mays Hayes. This does make him a one-trick pony, but a pony that can win you a single category while you fill out the rest of your roster. What distinguishes Revere from a guy like Billy Hamilton is that Revere has hit almost .300 every season of his career. To reflect his incredible value in fantasy baseball, Revere finished 40th in ESPN Fantasy Baseball last season.
12 Rick Porcello - Boston Red Sox
Perhaps he’s a late bloomer? Porcello signed a 4 year- contract in 2016 for 4 years and $82.5 Million, so the Red Sox saw something in him. It appears that he’s making the rare transition from better-in-reality player to one that is better in the fantasy baseball universe.
The former groundball pitcher is finally realizing his potential in 2016 with 7 wins (tied for fourth in MLB), 3.47 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (23rd in MLB) and 54 K’s (29th in MLB) in 57 IP. Despite that all-around value in fantasy circles, Porcello only has a 1.0 WAR. He’s finally become more valuable in fantasy.
11 Cameron Maybin - Detroit Tigers
The former top ten draft pick never lived up to the hype, mostly due to injuries. When healthy, Maybin has the potential to be a five-tool player. Unfortunately, he’s only accrued three healthy seasons in his career spanning from 2007 to 2016. The former first-rounder is probably infamously best-known for being the prized piece (along with fellow top prospect Andrew Miller) of the Miguel Cabrera trade. Cabrera erupted into a Triple Crown Winner for the Tigers while Maybin has failed to meet the hype.
While he may never become the perennial all-star he was drafted to be, he’s proven his worth in fantasy baseball. Maybin is an efficient base-stealer, going 23-29 in 2015 for the Braves, and 40-48 for the Padres in 2011. When he’s on, he can carry teams in the steals category. He already has swiped 4 bags in 8 games in 2016.
10 Santiago Casilla - San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ Closer has been effective in the past, but in the past couple of seasons he has shown signs of decline. He tied for second in 2015 in blown saves with 6, and in this short season so far, he has blown 3 additional saves already. All of this, despite saving 12 games (8th in league) for the Giants.
To show the disparity between reality and fantasy, Casilla is currently ranked 83rd on ESPN Fantasy Baseball Player Rater ahead of players like Jose Bautista and Cole Hamels. Saves are extremely valuable in fantasy leagues whereas blown saves have more of an effect on the major league standings.
9 Evan Gattis - Houston Astros
One of the feel-good stories of Major League Baseball, Gattis debuted as 26-year old rookie in 2013. Gattis had a tough life, but he has put the past behind him and has hit 21,22,27 home runs in each of the last three years. In a league that’s becoming slowly power-deprived, Gattis proves to be very useful in fantasy leagues. What sets apart fantasy from reality is that he’s shown power at a notoriously awful offensive position, Catcher (especially in 2016).
The problem is in reality, he is sort of injury prone, even when he doesn’t play catcher. Gattis has one great skill, power, and utilizes it effectively. Defensively, however, he is an awful fielder - .833 Field Percentage in 2015 as OF. He’s become more resourceful to fantasy teams than his own.
8 Ken Giles - Houston Astros
Houston gave up a King’s Ransom in December 2015 to acquire former Philadelphia Phillie closer. Houston gutted their pitching farm system and sent Vincent Velasquez and former #1 draft pick Mark Appel (along with 3 other players) to the Phillies. Upon becoming the full-time closer for Philadelphia, Giles saved 15 games and also recorded 87 strikeouts in 70 IP, helping many fantasy teams catch up in saves (for those who shrewdly held him throughout the year). Nowadays, he is setting up Luke Gregerson, but he’s still striking out over a batter an inning and helping those that participate in fantasy leagues with holds.
7 Melvin Upton - San Diego Padres
The artist formerly known as B.J. was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays 2nd overall in the 2002 draft. He and his brother Justin have come into the league with great expectations and immense potential. Upton has been pretty much living off of his potential since he entered the league. It seems like he hasn’t hit that proverbial ceiling and teams are giving up on him and his exorbitant contract.
Fantasy Baseball tells a different story. In what appears to be a comeback year of sorts, Upton is currently ranked 77th on the ESPN Player Rater. At various points of his career, he has been close to a 5-tool superstar, the types of players that get drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts. He’s gone 10 HR-20 SB once, 10-40 once, 15-40 once, 20-20 once and 20-30 twice. Playing nearly every day, he has 6 HR and 9 SB so far in 2016.
6 Miguel Sano - Minnesota Twins
The power prospect hit 18 home runs as a rookie in only 80 games in 2015. He may have hit close to 40 had he arrived earlier in the season. However, he did most of his damage as a Designated Hitter and is not replicating his success so far. Sano is batting .219 in 2016 on a putrid Twins team that is in the bottom-five in nearly every offensive category. The Minnesota Twin has had trouble replicating his rookie year success; he has an -0.3 WAR so far. As of this writing, he’s also tied for league lead in strikeouts.
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Sano brings with him some of the best power in the majors, helping out his fantasy owners in the Home Run and RBI categories.
5 Prince Fielder - Texas Rangers
What an awful contract. The 275 lb. First Basemen/Designated Hitter is signed through 2020 on a bloated 9 year deal worth $214 million. At this juncture of his career, Fielder is mostly restricted to DH; he has only played 2 games at first base thus far in 2016. He basically needs to hit his contract; otherwise, the Rangers have nowhere else to put him. Cecil’s son grounded into double plays 21 times in 2015. Not good.
Although Fielder is another classic case of not living up to a huge contract, he has been good in fantasy baseball since his first full season in 2006. He averages 32-104-.284 for his career.
4 Chris Archer - Tampa Bay Rays
The 2015 All Star finished 12-13 on a Rays Team that finished below .500 last season. Part of this has to do with the fact that he received poor support from his teammates. The offense only provided Archer 3.948 runs per 9 innings. He ended up breaking out in fantasy circles as he was 4th in the majors with 252 strikeouts in 212 innings pitched with 3.23 Earned Run Average (ERA) and 1.14 Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP). Aside from wins, he dominated for his fantasy owners, finishing 46th overall on ESPN’s Fantasy Baseball Player Rater.
Archer is struggling a bit in 2016 on a mediocre Rays team, but he’s still contributing in the strikeout department to his fantasy owners. A plus for fantasy teams is the opportunity to bench struggling pitchers in tough matchups. Unfortunately, the Rays don’t have the same luxury.
3 Matt Kemp - San Diego Padres
In 2012, the 2011 NL MVP Runner-up signed a bloated $160 Million Contract across 8 years. The annual value of the contract makes Kemp a difficult asset to trade in the major leagues.
In Kemp’s prime, he was a fantasy monster from 2008-2011, even going 39-126-40 batting .324 in what should have been his MVP Year. Unfortunately it seems Kemp was playing for a monster contract. He hasn’t lived up to the hype since and now plays for a cellar dweller. Despite his real-life struggles, Kemp did manage to be a fantasy asset last season, going 23-100-12 and finished 64th overall on ESPN’s Fantasy Baseball Player Rater.
2 Giancarlo Stanton - Miami Marlins
This may be a controversial pick, but hear me out. Stanton signed the largest contract in MLB History in 2015 (13 years, $325 Million) and despite his immense power, he’s currently 5th in the league in strikeouts. Freak injuries or not, he’s labeled “injury-prone” on a perennially terrible Marlins Team. Miami has never finished .500 or above since he joined the team in 2010. Stanton is simply a better player for fantasy purposes. His mammoth power can carry fantasy teams on his back; Giancarlo is consistently among the league leaders in Home Runs, even finishing atop the league in 2014. Prior to his hand injury last season, Stanton had 27 Home runs in only 74 games.
1 Billy Hamilton - Cincinnati Reds
The Centerfielder for the Reds is known in both fantasy and major league baseball circles for one thing, and one thing only: his ludicrous speed. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, you can’t steal first. He has an anemic career On-Base Percentage (OBP) of .286. In the fantasy baseball world, he is pretty valuable as he dominates one single category: 57 stolen bases in 2015 and 56 in 2014. In the major leagues, however, his value declines; he led the league in caught stealing in 2014 and only scored 56 runs last season. He has been playing at a replacement-level with only 1.0 Wins Against Replacement Player (WAR) in 2015. He’s not contributing much in 2016 either; he’s been injured and thus far is fourth-worst in MLB amongst CF in Fielding Percentage.