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Fantasy Baseball Season Recap & Rankings for Next Year

Another crazy and enthralling baseball regular season is in the books and, while it’s tempting to forget fantasy at this point and get swept up in the excitement of the playoffs (especially after Tuesday night’s spectacular Wild Card game), it’s important to take at least one look back at the season that was while it’s still fresh in your mind to get a start on preparation for next year’s drafts. Let’s jump right in by taking a look at some of the more memorable moments and themes from the 2014 season.

TJS: You get one, and you get one, and you get one…The season started ominously as the opener in Australia was completely overshadowed by the rash of pitchers succumbing to Tommy John Surgery in March and continuing into the first couple months of the season. In total, 31 players had their UCL’s reconstructed this year, including many promising young big leaguers (Moore, Corbin) and elite prospects (Taillon, Sano), and essentially culminating in budding superstar Jose Fernandez. I’d love to call the 2014 season a fluke in this regard, but the trends say otherwise, and with the continued babying of pitchers throughout all levels of baseball even down to high school, the smart money is on the number of TJ surgeries to continue to increase, at least in the short term. The fantasy takeaway here is to be even more wary of spending early picks on pitchers, especially young ones, and be hyper-aware of any tender elbows or dead arms that develop during spring training.

Youth takes over around the infield. The 2014 season saw many young infielders take the next step in their development, while many established players (some with big name value) took a step back. Jose Altuve, Anthony Rendon, Todd Frazier, Dee Gordon, Anthony Rizzo, Brian Dozier, Kyle Seager, Danny Santana, and Josh Harrison all marked their territory with authority, making strong cases to be top-10 (or in some cases, top-5) options at their positions next year. At the same time, Chris Davis, David Wright, Jason Kipnis, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Jean Segura, Allen Craig, Ben Zobrist, Everth Cabrera, and Brandon Phillips were all pretty significant disappointments. Sure, down seasons happen all the time, and some of those guys are still young and ascending in their careers, but next year I will be much more interested in the first group of names than the second, barring some major discounts at the draft table (which I think is unlikely because of the name recognition the second group will still maintain).

Special K finds another level few knew even existed. There are few fantasy takeaways from Clayton Kershaw’s unbelievable season (besides your league’s championship trophy, if you owned him), but the greatness of it bears mentioning in any end of season recap article. Those who thought Kershaw had reached his peak with two Cy Young Awards in the last three years (RA Dickey’s massive outlier season breaking up the three-peat) underestimated the big southpaw, as he spotted the entire league the month of April and still finished as fantasy’s #1 performer. I strongly support the wait on pitchers strategy in fantasy drafts, but Kershaw is a mold-breaker. I have him at #2 overall going into next year, and would probably take him there myself given the chance.

Cuba Libre! Defectors impressing out of the gates. We already knew that Cuban defectors could have success on the major league level, with numerous pitchers earlier this century and, more recently, hitters Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig performing like 10-year vets in their first taste of the big leagues. This year just hammered this point home even further as Jose Abreu was one of the ten best hitters in baseball and, later in the season, callups Jorge Soler and Rusney Castillo hit the ground running as well. It appears the gap between Cuban pitching and major league pitching may be smaller than everyone thought. I’ll be more aggressive with Cuban imports going forward, and am very excited to see Castillo and Soler play a full season, not to mention Abreu’s encore next year.

See ya Jeets. This season saw two well-respected veterans hang up the cleats in polar opposite ways. On the one hand, you had Derek Jeter continuing the retirement tour begun by Mariano Rivera last year, collecting gifts from every team and appreciative recognition from every fanbase along the way. On the other, you had Paul Konerko quietly going about his business and grooming his replacement in Abreu, being a clubhouse leader, and otherwise eschewing the spotlight and putting the focus back on the team. Call me old fashioned, but I much preferred the latter method. Jeter and Rivera were excellent ballplayers and even better men, and deserved all the recognition (and gifts) that they received. But to me, the retirement tours kind of undermined the selfless, team-first types of ballplayers they were, and (ever so slightly) tarnished the lasting images of them for me. Konerko, on the other hand, did just the opposite, cementing himself as one of the truly good guys in the history of the game and, as such, I will probably remember him even more fondly than his numbers and career suggest that I should.

(Oh, you wanted a fantasy takeaway from that rant? Right, ok. Be wary of teams with big name players who have announced they will be retiring at the end of the year. You can’t blame all the Yankees’ struggles this year on Jeter’s retirement tour, but you’d have a very hard time convincing me it wasn’t at least a bit of a distraction. Not to mention, keeping him in the #2 spot in the order just so everyone who comes out can get to see him definitely has an impact on the lineup as a whole.)

Playoff races really heat up. Whether you like or dislike the one-game play-in Wild Card format, there’s little doubt that it makes the end of season playoff races more interesting and exciting. The last month or so of the season was exhilarating as seemingly half the league had a shot at the playoffs up until a couple weeks before the end of the season. This is obviously great for us as fantasy players, as more teams in the race means more teams playing their starters (read: fantasy assets) deeper into the season. If you’ve ever made it to the finals of a H2H league only to find the players who carried you there sitting on the bench all week, you know how important it is to have players in the hunt on your team at the end of the season.

A Little Personal Accounting

I believe that if you are giving out advice online you should be transparent about your own results, lest readers have no way of knowing how credible a source you may be. What follows are a couple paragraphs about my own teams and advice this year. If reading about someone else’s fantasy team doesn’t interest you (as it doesn’t for many), feel free to skip ahead to my end of season top-100 rankings after the jump.
I managed four fantasy baseball teams this summer, all in very competitive leagues, to finishes of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd. It was my first year in the Wetalkfantasysports H2H league, and I managed to reach the championship round despite some bombed draft picks (started out Votto-Wright) thanks mainly to Jose Bautista, Chris Sale, Jose Abreu and additions like Josh Harrison and Corey Dickerson. Unfortunately, my ragtag bunch was no match for @Jewish_Jeff in the finals who, in addition to excellent offense, was able to trot out a pitching staff of Felix Hernandez, Jonny Cueto and Mr. Last Day No-No himself Jordan Zimmermann on the final Sunday of the season. Still, I was happy with the performance and am looking forward to doing one spot better in the league next year.

I finished 3rd this year in the sixth year of a keeper league I run.  Though I was carried by a ridiculous pitching staff highlighted by Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, and Tyson Ross, I didn’t have enough offense in the end as I was done in by major injuries to keepers Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Belt and many others.  I’ll be hoping for better luck on the injury front next year, but with those keepers I think I’m fighting an uphill battle.  With CarGo’s contract coming up this year (I’d have to dump one of Tulo, Upton, Kershaw, or MadBum to keep him), I’ll be looking to move him in the offseason.

My 1st place finish came in a H2H home league with an auction draft and 18 stat categories.  The auction may not have been my best, as I allocated large sums to guys like Votto, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Cain, and Everth Cabrera, but in-season pickups the likes of Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, and numerous solid pitchers (along with an $8 Nelson Cruz) kept me afloat.  In the finals, Matt Kemp helped me overcome a 12-4 Saturday deficit and a 9-6 deficit on the final Sunday to finish with an 8-7 win.

Perhaps my best performance, despite being tied for my worst finish (3rd), came in my big money league that I have written about in this space a couple times (12-team Roto, 12 categories).  Some may recall a disastrous draft (Prince, Verlander, Zimmerman, Salazar, Masterson) which had me making semi-desperation trades around the end of June.  At that point I hit my season nadir of 49 points and spent a day or two in dead last.  But the trades had their desired affect of improving my pitching staff without sacrificing elsewhere (I traded Verlander and Rafael Soriano for Stephen Strasburg, then Billy Hamilton for Tyson Ross), and I immediately shot up to over 60 points by the all-star break.  I steadily rose from there, making some timely waiver pickups along the way (Chris Carter, Lucas Duda, Matt Shoemaker, Danny Santana, many others), and by August I was in the hunt for the money (the league pays out four spots).  Continued thorough managing pushed me up into the low 90s for most of September, and I was able to hang on for 3rd place with 93 points, 10 more than seemed possible in even a best case scenario around the all-star break.

Advice…Let’s start with the BAD: I may need to rethink how I evaluate pitchers as I had a few huge misses with starters this year, lead by the aforementioned Masterson and Salazar, whom I was very high on, and Verlander who I liked at his draft day price.  I also whiffed on my favorite closer this year, Ernesto Frieri.  Most of my offensive misses were injury related, so I’ll give myself a bit of a pass for that, but it’s clear I was much higher on Votto than I should have been, injury or not.  I also was very high Domonic Brown, Wil Myers, and Ryan Braun, and all of them far underperformed my expectations for them…Now for the GOOD: My preseason recommendations included at least two big hits in Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Sale, but as you can see from my draft results and management above, my specialty this year lied more in in-season pickups.  I was on the Devin Mesoraco story early, and recommended picking up Josh Harrison when he was only 3% owned.  I also was out in front on a number of useful FA pitching pickups, including Phil Hughes, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Odorizzi, and Jake Arrieta.  I did draft Dee Gordon in three out of four leagues, and snagged Michael Brantley with my last pick in my big money league.  I preached patience with Carlos Santana, and rercommended picking up JD Martinez as soon as he began getting ABs with the Tigers…Ups and downs, strikes and gutters, that’s the fantasy baseball life for ya.

Looking Forward to Next Year

I always like to put together a top 100 (or so) ranking of players at the end of each season, in order to help remember how I felt about guys at the end of the year before they get lost in the spring training shuffle the next year.  As such, you may find that guys who were hot at the end of the season, or young unproven guys who impressed upon their callups, are higher up on this list than you would expect.  Additionally, I dislike early pitchers, and I really dislike trying to rank them individually against hitters, so you will find the pitchers on this list more in tiers than individually ranked.

Obviously, this list should be taken with a grain of salt as any number of things can change between now and next season.  I’d love to hear readers’ input about the rankings, but please don’t get too worked up about them as this is more for fun than anything else.  Without further ado:
  1. Mike Trout
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Giancarlo Stanton
  5. Andrew McCutchen
  6. Paul Goldschmidt
  7. Jose Abreu
  8. Carlos Gomez
  9. Jose Bautista
  10. Edwin Encarnacion
  11. Felix Hernandez
  12. Chris Sale
  13. Robinson Cano
  14. Nelson Cruz
  15. Jose Altuve
  16. Adam Jones
  17. Troy Tulowitzki
  18. Prince Fielder
  19. Adam Wainwright
  20. Corey Kluber
  21. Carlos Gonzalez
  22. Anthony Rendon
  23. Anthony Rizzo
  24. Matt Kemp
  25. Justin Upton
  26. Michael Brantley
  27. Victor Martinez
  28. Albert Pujols
  29. Josh Donaldson
  30. Dee Gordon
  31. Jonny Cueto
  32. Masahiro Tanaka
  33. Adrian Gonzalez
  34. Ian Kinsler
  35. Todd Frazier
  36. Madison Bumgarner
  37. David Price
  38. Hunter Pence
  39. Freddie Freeman
  40. Corey Dickerson
  41. Adrian Beltre
  42. Yoenis Cespedes
  43. Yasiel Puig
  44. Jacoby Ellsbury
  45. Jayson Werth
  46. Max Scherzer
  47. Stephen Strasburg
  48. Yu Darvish
  49. Bryce Harper
  50. Josh Harrison
  51. George Springer
  52. Ian Desmond
  53. Joey Votto
  54. Jose Reyes
  55. JD Martinez
  56. Buster Posey
  57. David Ortiz
  58. Brian Dozier
  59. Zack Grienke
  60. Jon Lester
  61. Chris Carter
  62. Matt Holliday
  63. Ryan Braun
  64. Hanley Ramirez
  65. Evan Longoria
  66. Nolan Arenado
  67. Jose Fernandez
  68. Jordan Zimmermann
  69. Alex Gordon
  70. Devin Mesoraco
  71. Craig Kimbrel
  72. Christian Yelich
  73. Marcell Ozuna
  74. Aroldis Chapman
  75. Greg Holland
  76. Matt Harvey
  77. Julio Teheran
  78. Cole Hamels
  79. Cliff Lee
  80. Garrett Richards
  81. Billy Hamilton
  82. Danny Santana
  83. Kenley Jansen
  84. Starling Marte
  85. Brett Gardner
  86. Gerrit Cole
  87. Sonny Gray
  88. Tyson Ross
  89. Kyle Seager
  90. Carlos Santana
  91. Jorge Soler
  92. Kole Cahoun
  93. Jason Heyward
  94. Michael Cuddyer
  95. Jeff Samadzija
  96. Jake Arrieta
  97. Phil Hughes
  98. James Shields
  99. Charlie Blackmon
  100. Jonathan Lucroy
Other names to keep in mind next year: Justin Morneau, Rusney Castillo, Kennys Vargas, Ben Revere, Jason Kipnis, Lucas Duda, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Melky Cabrera, Steve Pearce, Chris Davis, Adam Eaton, Brandon Moss, Carl Crawford, Javier Baez, Jay Bruce, Gregory Polanco, Denard Span, David Wright, Michael Pineda, Mike Fiers, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Jake Odorizzi, Mat Latos, Michael Wacha, Matt Shoemaker, Carlos Carrasco

Thanks for reading, can’t wait for next year.  For now, good luck with your football teams and feel free to ask any questions on twitter @RotoClayton