Over the past few weeks, I’ve sat back idly and watched my apprentices become the masters. Frankie and Justin have been delivering juicy weekly content while I’ve been teaching myself United States Code provisions. But none of that matters. In the midst of a brutal law-school-finals-week the MLB MVP’s are back to hit you with some quick entertainment. Because the MVP’s love you. Never forget that kids.
I’m not sure what each of you do during your bathroom breaks at work, but whatever it is I hope it involves two things—checking out the league and wiping thoroughly. The honeymoon phase of the baseball year is over, which means that a lot of players are showing us what they’re actually capable of. Usually if a hitter scores 400 points in a season they had a good year, and the fact that some of them already have 100+ points means that these past four weeks have been a sizable chunk of the end-year value. The time to hold on to some players is officially over, and the time to start wondering if Ervin Santana is legit is upon us.
If we take a look at the MLB’s babes and busts so far we see some familiar faces, some newcomers, and some guys who make us scratch out heads, which raises the question—how could we have known who to take and who to avoid? While the randomness of fantasy will never allow for perfect predictability, this week we’ll examine some MVP strats along with their risks and rewards. That’s right guys, after this article you’ll be able to draft/pick up your very own set of MLB MVP’s (you guys like that?) and lead your way to a 1-3 last place start to the season. (Update – okay so we’re in 8th place now but you get the point)
Without further ado:
MVP STRAT: THE BOUNCEBACK
The bounceback is probably one of the most consciously recognized and utilized strategy that dates back to the first NYFBL season in ’08. It (usually) involves low risk and high reward, and ideally uses a non-crucial draft pick on a potentially under-ranked player who is coming off a poor season. If you’re doing this right, you make sure the previous season stands out amongst the rest and is explainable by statistical randomness (whether that be a bad BABIP, strand rate, etc.). If you’re doing this wrong, you’re glossing over factors that could lead to continued poor performance (like velocity drops, changes in approach/technique, ballpark changes, AL/NL swaps). Of course, these bounceback candidates are often coming off seasons where they dealt with injuries or suffered season-ending surgery. These factors are more difficult to incorporate into projections, and force owners to balance the risk of recurring/additional injuries with the upside of a full healthy season. Here are some guys who best exhibit the bounceback strategy’s floor and ceiling so far:
Keuchel – This is the perfect example of a bounceback pick done right. Keuchel’s arguably been the best pick of the entire draft so far, which shows how much impact a good bounceback can have. Since Keuchel’s emergence as an above average pitcher in 2014 (his first year where he started more than 22 games), Keuchel’s WHIP never rose above 1.29. Keuchel’s ERA from 2014-2016 went as follows: 2.93, 2.48, and 4.55. Obviously, one of those numbers stands out, and his stats last year (a quick comparison of his 1.29 WHIP to 4.55 ERA) show that he was victimized by some bad luck. However, Keuchel had been overhyped coming into last year’s draft, coming off a 2015 Cy Young award winning season, and the stark contrast between 2015 and 2016 turned many owners off to the idea of risking an early pick to snag him this year. Daniel was able to take Keuchel 78th overall in the 7th round. Generally after the first 4 or 5 rounds, the picks start to carry more uncertainty, and while a 7th round pick definitely holds importance, Daniel didn’t gamble his entire season away by risking it. So far, Keuchel has pitched like a Cy Young contender, with the second most points of all players (hitters and pitchers) at 158.
Lynn – While I could go on and on about how great of a pick Lynn’s been for me so far, that’s not why I’m writing about him. At a basic level, his numbers have been good every year he’s ever pitched (his ERA never went above 3.97, and his WHIP never went above 1.37), so it wasn’t rocket science to guess he could perform within usual standards if he stayed healthy. But to that point, Lynn’s significance on this list is that when taking guys coming off an injury, the elevated risk requires a careful assessment of potential value, so you can calculate in what round you should be willing to take the risk. For me, Lynn’s solid and consistent track record gave me confidence that he would be a top-30 pitcher if healthy. However, Tommy John surgery took away his entire 2016 season, making the risk too high to spend an early or high-mid-round pick on him. I ended up grabbing him 99th overall in the 9th round, and so far he’s given me a consistent 15.7 points per start.
Harper – It gets kind of boring talking about pitchers all the time doesn’t it? Harper makes this list partially because he’s a hitter, but more importantly because he shows when the potential skill level of a player is so high that he warrants an early round gamble. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and a Harper failure would have set Nick’s team back quite a bit, but Harper’s 2016 numbers were fairly in line with his career totals, aside from his .243 average. Thus, the question with Harper was never if he would completely suck, but rather if he would perform closer to his MVP year (2015) or his worst year (2016). Harper’s insane upside and relatively safe floor compelled Nick to gamble on him with a 2nd round pick, and so far Harper leads hitter point totals and is averaging 5.0 a game.
Bautista – This is the perfect example of a bounceback pick done wrong. The first 5 years of Bautista’s career were very lackluster, as he never hit for more than 16 homers or slugged better than .420 (blaze it). In 2010 Bautista decided to finally start improving, and over the next 7 seasons he hit 249 home runs (averaging ~35 a season). Last season however, Bautista hit only 22 home runs, his lowest total since 2009, had a .234 AVG, and missed almost 40 games to an injury. Additionally, Bautista’s age could be used to explain last year’s regression, as his bat speed is down and he’s turning 37 later this year. The allure of Bautista’s glory days where he routinely averaged more than 3 points per game definitely created value in this year’s draft, but he was taken 75th overall in the 7th round. While someone like Keuchel might have warranted that draft slot, Bautista had too many red flags (between age, bat speed reduction, reduced power and average, and injuries) to warrant a 7th round pick. Hindsight aside, Bautista might have been better suited to go in the 10th or 11th round.
King Felix – As a longtime fan of Felix Hernandez, it pains me to watch him struggle in recent years. We all remember him finishing amongst the league leaders in pitching categories from 2009-2014, even winning a Cy Young award in 2010. While Felix has been in the majors for 12 years, he’s actually only 31 years old, so age might not be to blame for his regression. However, his 12 years of experience and trouble with injuries throughout his career, combined with greatly decreased strikeout rates over the past two years, and rising ERA/WHIP made him a risky option. Although it’s not the most statistical analysis, it’s hard for a guy to remain amongst the best pitchers for his whole career, and Felix’s regression might mean that his glory days are behind him. While pitchers can certainly find a return to dominance (See Justin Verlander), it’s more common to see a slow trend of regression (See Jered Weaver). Eric risked his 77th overall pick in the 7th round on King Felix this year, and unfortunately he’s got a 4.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and is sitting on the DL.
MVP STRAT: THE YEAR HE FINALLY PUTS IT ALL TOGETHER
A second cousin to The Bounceback, this strategy focuses on guys who have flashed brilliance over short spurts throughout their career, but never fully reached that reliable tier of elites. Some of these guys have had great seasons cut short by injuries, while others have been on the brink of pitching a perfect game, only to turn into completely different players for the rest of their careers. Generally, these players are the hardest high upside guys to predict because their recent stats don’t stand out. Every year a handful of these guys are early season waiver pickups, added by an owner thinking, “What if this is the year he finally puts it all together?”
Zimmerman – Ryan Zimmerman is an extreme example of a guy having a career year, because he’s already had a pretty successful overall career. He battled notable injuries over 5 of his 12 years with the Nationals, and routinely hit .280 – .290 with 20+ homers in his prime. But scouts and experts always touted Zimmerman a yearly MVP guy, and while he had one amazing year in 2010, injuries never allowed him to reach his full potential. This year, Zimmerman has supposedly taken notes from Daniel Murphy and revitalized his swing. He’s also been able to evade the injury plague that’s taken a first-born from just about every team in the MLB. So far, Zimm’s batting .420 (blaze it) and ranks second amongst hitters for total points with 138.
Bruce – In his best seasons with the Reds, Jay Bruce was a glorified Jack Cust (how many of you remember that guy?). He would slug close to .500 but have an OBP closer to .300, and every at bat would result in a home run or a strikeout. These types of hitters are very polarizing in points leagues because their home runs provide teams with 40 point contributions at any given week, but their high strikeout rates will usually create long windows where they’ll net negatives. Jay Bruce was no exception, as he accumulated 1261 strikeouts through his career (costing his owners 1261 points they would have loved to have had). This year, Bruce’s strikeout rate is down, as he only has 22 strikeouts over 119 at bats. He’s also focused on hitting more fly balls, resulting in a 10% increase to his fly ball rate and a 10% decrease to his ground ball rate. So far, this version of Bruce looks like one that might be able to reach 30 homers while still reaching base enough to provide elite outfield production.
Pineda – Michael Pineda is probably the best example of a guy who has flashed bursts of brilliance throughout his career, but has never fully panned out. Yankees fans will all remember Pineda blowing perfect games and no hitters, but they’ll also remember all the times he got shelled by a weak opponent. His strikeout stuff is fascinating to watch when he successfully hides his pine tar, but it’s very frustrating to look at his overall stats through his career and still put faith in his potential. This year, namesake Michael Haugbro took Pineda 104th overall in the 9th round of the draft, at a time where most reliable starting pitchers had been off the board for a while. The gamble has paid off so far, as Pineda’s got a sub-1 WHIP and has averaged 16.3 points per game.
Shoemaker – It would have been hard for many to guess Shoemaker would start the season so inconsistently, given his progression last year (improved WHIP, ERA, Strikeouts, Innings Pitched). Shoemaker was a popular preseason sleeper for most, and was a prime example of a guy who looked to finally be on his way to a career year. While the season is still young, Shoemaker’s 5.21 ERA and relatively low impact point production so far (averaging 6.3 per start) suggest he might still be a few steps away from that big breakout. Regardless, his 6th round draft position shows the risks associated with drafting someone who has yet to fully prove his potential.
Puig – Over Puig’s first two seasons, he flashed a high batting average and slugging percentage, and offered an enticing mix of speed and power (double digit steals and homers both years). However, off-the-field antics and an unpredictable mentality seem to have held Puig back from offering elite hitter production. This year, it appears he still needs to polish up some aspects of his toolset before becoming a fantasy staple.
MVP STRAT: THE UNSEXY BUT RELIABLE ONE
These guys might not make the headlines or rock a crazy new hairstyle like Bryce Harper, but they offer quiet consistency throughout the season and don’t give you too many headaches. It is often necessary to have a few of these players on a championship fantasy team, because teams need to be able to score points during weeks where their volatile stars are slumping. However, too many of these guys on one team will lead to an almost guaranteed non-championship year, because these guys rarely catch fire, which makes them hard to compete against players riding hot streaks. Smart managers have to find a perfect balance between consistent low-floor/low-ceiling guys, and potential superstars.
Roark – Although Roark’s had 3½ years of experience, he’s only really had 2 years where he was a starting pitcher and didn’t come out of the bullpen. In 2014, he made 31 starts, averaged 14.4 points a game, and finished as the 22nd best pitcher in the NYFBL. In 2016, he made 33 starts, averaged 13.4 points a game, and finished as the 17th best pitcher in the NYFBL. While Roark isn’t the guy who will anchor your team as an ace, he provides production that usually exceeds his draft ranking. This year, he’s averaging 12.7 points a game, steadily helping Daniel’s team in exchange for his 6th round pick.
Estrada – Marco Estrada’s another guy who you probably don’t have posters and jerseys of hanging in your room, but the truth is that the guy out-produces a lot of the more well known pitchers in the stat department. Over the 4½ years he started before this year, his WHIP has never been above 1.20 and his ERA has never been above 4.36. Both of those numbers came from his worst year, and if you removed his 2014 season, he’s maintained a WHIP of 1.14 of better and an ERA no worse than 3.87. Ben spent a 7th round draft pick on the underrated Estrada, and he’s currently delivering just about 14 points a game, ranks 25th amongst all pitchers, and his 3.14 ERA and 1.16 WHIP are right in line with his career numbers.
Turner – Justin Turner came into the year as the projected 10th best 3rd baseman, under guys with bigger names like Adrian Beltre and guys with higher upside like Alex Bregman. Turner slid pretty far in our pitching-frenzied draft, and Justin took him with the 111th overall pick in the 10th round. Turner’s three years with the Dodgers have been consistent but un-elite, as he’s never hit 100 RBIs but also never hit below .275. Last year, in his first full season getting regular at bats, Turner set career highs with 90 RBIs, 27 homers, and 34 doubles. So far this season, he’s averaging a solid 2.6 points per game and ranks 6th amongst all third basemen. While he’s not the Colorado Crush’s most exciting contributor, he never gives them any headaches, and consistently produces positive points for them.
Encarnacion – When we focus in on Encarnacion’s past 5 seasons with the Blue Jays we find that he’s hit 193 home runs, averaging 38.6 dongs a year. We also see that he’s scored at least 3.0 points per game in each of those 5 seasons, and finished among the top 10 hitters in 3 of them. Maybe it was the fact that he was a first baseman in a deep pool of talent, or that he was overshadowed by Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson in the lineup, but Encarnacion was criminally underrated in our league for years. This offseason, Encarnacion moved from the Blue Jays to the Indians, which raised some minor concerns about playing in a less powerful lineup. Yet nobody predicted Encarnacion to crumble like he has over the first month and a half of the season. So far, Encarnacion only has 5 home runs, a .223 average, and is scoring 1.4 points per game. What’s worse is that his year-to-year consistency prompted Eric to use a 4th round pick on him. Hopefully he figures it out over the next few months of the season.
Iwakuma – Hisashi Iwakuma is the perfect example of the type of player who provided reliable unsexy stats throughout his career, but recently started to struggle. Over his 5 year career, Iwakuma has averaged a 1.14 WHIP 3.42 ERA, and 119 strikeouts per season. This was your typical low-strikeout, low floor guy who often finished the season with around 13 points per game. Last year, Iwakuma’s WHIP spiked to 1.33 (after three previous years where it never went above 1.06), and his ERA ballooned to 4.12. Those believing last year was an outlier drafted Iwakuma this year, hoping to rely on his consistency and lack of implosions. Daniel was fortunate to only risk a 10th round pick on him, because this year he’s averaging 5.5 per start, and sits on the DL with shoulder discomfort.
MVP STRAT: THE UP N’ COMER WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL
Jeff and Frankie need no explanation of this strategy, but every year there are a few highly touted prospects who are predicted to be the next Mike Trout. Unsurprisingly, these guys rarely pan out in their first major league season (often because of contact and strikeout issues), which makes drafting them incredibly risky. However, if you do manage to strike gold and grab the next Trout or Kershaw, it’s as if you had an extra early round pick over everyone else. If your studs produce and your gambles pan out you win championships, plain and simple.
Judge – It’s nice to finally watch a Yankees team with young, hungry, smart ballplayers. Aaron Judge was one of the bigger surprises so far this season, as his low preseason projections allowed Nick to gamble on him with the 312th overall pick in the 26th round of our drafts. While some regression from his ridiculous home run pace and .760 slugging percentage should be expected, Nick’s gamble was a very educated one, and shows exactly how you should look to draft young prospects. He spent a late round pick on a 6-foot-7, 282-pound goliath who would get regular playing time and hit in the heart of a young lineup. While Judge’s stats from his short stint in the majors last season showed he had to sharpen his contact in order to succeed, the sheer size of this guy gave him power potential that is rare to find at the end of a fantasy draft.
Benintendi – Andrew Benintendi came into the season with high expectations. Touted for his five-tool potential, many preseason analysts pegged him as an easy bet to win AL rookie of the year. Frankie grabbed the top prospect in the 12th round, when most of the elite outfielders were already off the board, and the rest of the players involved some level of risk. Luckily for him, Benintendi has been an animal—he’s batting .339, scoring 3.4 points a game, and ranks 6th amongst all outfielders. If Benintendi continues to make good contact, he’ll provide the Brawlers with early-round production at the reduced cost of a 12th round pick.
Bregman – Bregman was another highly touted prospect coming into the season, and his 201 at bats last year only bolstered expectations by yielding fairly promising results (8 homers in 49 games, .264 average, .478 slugging percentage). Daniel opted to buy into the hype with a 9th round pick, taking Bregman over safer third base options like the aforementioned Justin Turner and the ever-improving Jose Ramirez. So far, Bregman’s first full year has had some bumps in the road, as he’s yet to hit a home run, and is averaging 1.4 points a game. This isn’t to say Bregman won’t improve as the season goes on, but rather to suggest his rookie hype elevated his draft position above guys who were more reliable options.
MVP STRAT: THE YANKEES PLAYER WHO WENT TO THE PIRATES
Okay, so this strategy is a half-joke. Maybe I just notice these things because I hate watching ex-Yankees have career years when they’re away from the team, but it’s a recurring oddity that whenever the Yankees send a player to the Pirates, they explode with career-highs across the board. Maybe the unrivaled competition of the AL East and NY pressure serves as a batting donut, and it’s not until these jabronis get to relax in Pennsylvania that they finally start to succeed. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself so I don’t throw any more tomatoes at Brian Cashman.
Nova – Ivan Nova was never good when he was on the Yankees (he was decent in 2013 but shhh be quiet). In fact, I remember going to a Father’s day game a few years back where Nova gave up 8 runs in the top of the second inning. Nova sucked. Before the trade to Pittsburgh in 2016, he had a 4.90 ERA and 1.36 WHIP on the year. After the trade? 1.10 WHIP and 3.06 ERA. Eric gambled on him in the 16th round this year, and so far he’s posting a career best 2.23 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, averages 15.9 points per start, and ranks 11th amongst all pitchers. Sick.
Cervelli –Francisco Cervelli was never more than a solid backup catcher when he was with the Yankees. When he played he was decent (he hit .301 in his last year with NYY over 146 at bats), but he was never anything to write home about. In 2015, the first year he was on the Pirates, he served as their starting catcher and hit .295 over a full season of 451 at bats. Since moving to the Pirates, he has remained a serviceable fantasy catcher with an extremely cheap price. This year, Manheim drafted him in the very last round of the draft, and Cervelli’s been the 7th best catcher in the league. Sure, pretty much all catchers have sucked, but Cervelli’s been solid enough to help his team every week.
Burnett – Okay so I’m half cheating with this one, but after the Yanks signed AJ Burnett to a 5-year, $82.5 million deal, he was awful. In his best Yankees season he posted a 1.40 WHIP and 4.04 ERA, and over the two following years his ERA was over 5. So what did the Yankees do, did they decide to use their pitching coach and work with him? Nah, of course not. After trading Burnett to the Pirates, he enjoyed a career resurgence and posted WHIPs of 1.24 and 1.21, while also having ERAs of 3.51 and 3.30 over the next 2 years. His strikeouts also climbed back after regressing with the Yankees, and was back to 200+ K’s in 2013. Interestingly, he sucked with the Phillies in 2014, before rocking out to a 3.18 ERA in his final season with the Pirates.
So by now you’ve probably realized that I described just about every type of player there is, and that none of this information has actually helped you in any way. Or maybe even though you’ve always known you could draft like an MVP, you’ve been waiting for that dormant little voice in your head to awaken. Maybe this article is whispering to that little voice. Maybe I’ve given you exactly what you’ve always needed but never even had the time to realize. Or maybe you’re just reading all of this because a certain team wants to distract you while it picks up the next 65-year-old player who finally decides to be good.
As always, best of luck in all your matchups unless you’re playing me, in which case I hope all of your players go negative.
-The MLB MVP’s