By Sam McPherson
Fantasy baseball season is a grind, especially in leagues that allow daily moves and transactions. For six months now, you've been checking your lineup and making adjustments in the hopes of winning (or at least not finishing last). Now, it's time to sit back, breathe and review the season.
MLB has its MVP and Cy Young awards, and so do we. However, our awards are going to be a little different. It's easy to pick Mike Trout and call yourself "smart" for grabbing one of the best players in baseball, so fantasy baseball studs that produced expected seasons aren't going to be in this awards ceremony. That's just too easy.
No, we're more impressed with the later-round picks or $1 auction players that surpassed everyone's expectations to be one of the best in fantasy baseball this year. Those are the players and picks that truly separate the geniuses from the rest of the GMs in your fantasy league. How did someone ever suspect that guy would be any good?
Likewise, we don't hold season-ending injuries against players and/or GMs. That's too random at times. Our "worst" players of the year below simply just stunk. Sometimes it's luck; sometimes it's brains. Sometimes it's a little bit of both. Either way, hope it all worked out for you this year. If not, just as in real baseball, there's always next year!
(Statistics below were accurate through games played on October 1.)
Players You Should Have Drafted
1. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Coming off an injury-plagued, age-30 season in 2014 where he hit just .255 with a .799 OPS, Votto was a big question mark for too many fantasy owners. He rewarded the faithful with 94 runs scored, 29 home runs, a .317 batting average and 142 walks. Depending on your league categories, Votto may have been a tremendous late-round/low-cost steal in your league with numbers like that.
2. John Lackey, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: He posted just a 4.30 ERA for the Cards last year after being acquired midseason. That didn't project well in 2015 for a 36-year-old pitcher. But Lackey responded with the best season of his long career: a 2.69 ERA that surpassed his previous career-best mark of 3.01 in 2007 that led the American League that year. He struck out enough batters (171) to be relevant in that category and won 13 games as well. Not bad for a pitcher that probably went undrafted in your league.
3. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles: We all knew Machada could play defense, but his bat was starting to concern some experts. In his first three MLB seasons covering 1266 plate appearances, Machado hit just 33 HRs. Well, in an AL-best 699 plate appearances this year, he hit 33 more HRs. Toss in 82 RBI and 20 stolen bases, and suddenly, Machado is a great player at a position that often runs thin on talent come draft day.
4. Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros: He was good (12-9, 2.93 ERA) for a terrible team in 2014, but it was Keuchel's best season by far in his short MLB career. Surely, he couldn't replicate it. Yet he surpassed it by plenty, posting a 19-8 record and a 2.47 ERA. More surprising was the drop in hits allowed (from 8.4 per 9 IP to just 7.1) and the increase in strikeouts (from 6.6 per 9 IP to 8.5). Alas, his team rode his back all season to the brink of a playoff spot.
Players You Wish You Hadn't Drafted
1. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Boston Red Sox: Known mostly for his big smile and seemingly endless postseason miracles with the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval switched leagues and was a disaster in Boston. He hit just .245 with 10 HRs and 47 RBI, while posting a negative Wins-Above-Replacement mark in what was by far his worst season as an MLB hitter (and defender). The Red Sox struck out big-time with this free-agent acquisition.
2. Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox: He posted a career-best 3.43 ERA last year in Detroit while still giving up more hits than IP and still striking out low numbers of batters. Boston gave him a ridiculous contract, and a lot of fantasy owners took the bait. Bad idea: His 5.02 ERA probably sunk a million fantasy-staff ERAs this year, and with just nine wins for a bad team, there wasn't even a silver lining here.
3. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: The change of scenery from Philadelphia to L.A. was supposed to jump-start his numbers. However, Rollins went downhill in every category despite being surrounded by division-winning talent. He even lost his speed, dropping from 28 SBs last year with Philly to just 12 this year with the Dodgers. That's probably the only reason he was drafted, and Rollins didn't deliver much there. Toss in a .226 batting average, and that's a steep price to pay for just 12 steals.
4. Andrew Cashner, SP, San Diego Padres: After his 2013-14 campaigns (combined 15-16 record over 298-plus innings with a 2.87 ERA), Cashner was a sleeper pick this year to capitalize on the Padres' new roster. That didn't happen, and Cashner crashed hard, posting just six wins and a 4.34 ERA. The 1.44 WHIP was especially painful, considering he pitched half his games in spacious Petco Park.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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