Whenever I am asked about my opinions regarding MVP, Cy Young or rookie of the year awards, I generally respond that they don't really matter all that much to me.
I realize a lot of people take them very seriously, and are very passionate about making the case for their choices, and that's perfectly fine. I don't need to add my voice to the chorus.
But when it comes to the year-end awards for fantasy, that's another matter entirely. Here are 20 prestigious honors that I'm bestowing this season.
(Don't get too worked up about some of the choices. Many of these were just an excuse to talk about some players I wanted to comment on.)
1. The biggest surprise award (among players drafted before the season)
Mark Reynolds came off a 2008 season in which he hit .239 and set the major league strikeout record, and there were some questions about his playing time entering this year. It added up to a player who had an average draft position (ADP) of 219 in ESPN leagues. All Reynolds wound up doing was becoming the most valuable third baseman in fantasy this year. That's pretty good value. While improvement was expected, nobody saw him becoming the top player at the position. The homers weren't that much of a surprise, as he'd always been seen as a power threat coming up in the minors, but he also doubled his stolen base output and bumped his average up almost 30 points. Oh, and also set another strikeout record, but we can live with that.
2. The biggest surprise award (among players not taken on draft day in standard drafts)
There are plenty of worthy candidates, including some I will mention later as the recipients of other awards, but imagine you're a 28-year-old minor leaguer who has just been released with a career .258 batting average and .762 OPS in 11 seasons in the minors. Naturally, you put up a .297 batting average, 21 homers and 10 steals in just 303 at-bats in the big leagues this season. What's even more intriguing about the Pittsburgh Pirates' Garrett Jones is that he's continuing to finish strong, hitting .309 with five homers this month.
3. The Mariano Rivera best use of the cutter award
Scott Feldman picked up a cutter last season, but refined it this year into the nastiest one this side of the award's namesake, thanks to an overhauled delivery in which he went to a full windup to allow his long levers to get in sync and repeat his motion a little better. The result was a pitcher who, up until last week, still had a shot at winning 20 games. Although he's limping a bit to the finish, this season was not a fluke, and I expect he'll be undervalued next season.
4. The fantasy bust award (non-injury division)
Here's some recent stat lines:
2006: .298 AVG / 24 HRs / 104 RBIs
2007: .363 AVG / 28 HRs / 139 RBIs
2008: .317 AVG / 21 HRs / 103 RBIs
2009: .301 AVG / 7 HRs / 47 RBIs
Congrats to Magglio Ordonez, who turned 35 this year, but for much of the year hit like he was 45. He started hitting for average in the second half, but by then it was too late for many of his owners, who gave Ordonez an ADP of 60 this season.
5. The most crushing fantasy injury award
Though due consideration was given to Jose Reyes and Jake Peavy, at least they produced something this year. All Brandon Webb gave us was one horrible Opening Day start and an ulcer. I do expect Webb to bounce back and be a good value play next year, but that doesn't help the owners who counted on him to remain one of the most bankable pitchers in the game.
(Side note: Many readers know that my draft strategies don't often include paying the going rate for top starting pitching. I generally wait until the round numbers get around the double-digit range before taking pitching. However, in the two online leagues I played in as part of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, I veered from that usual path and picked up Webb early in one league, and Peavy early in the other. Way to go, me. Both teams will finish in the top three, but I wonder what would have been had I used those picks elsewhere. That will teach me to try something different.)
6. The rookie most likely to be a one-year wonder award
J.A. Happ is a decent fifth starter, but his 2.85 ERA and 1.22 WHIP this season will lead some to believe he's much better than he actually is. Happ's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is just .266, which is the fifth lowest among starting pitchers, and 86 percent of his base runners have been stranded, the highest amount among starters. It all adds to up an ERA and WHIP that should be much higher. Don't get me wrong: He's still probably a useful starter next season, but he won't see these numbers again.
7. The rookie whose performance matched the hype award
Even though Tommy Hanson threw just 127 2/3 innings entering his final start Friday, those innings were good enough that he will likely finish the season among the top 30 starting pitchers on our Player Rater. Hanson has a 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP going into his last outing, with 11 wins in 21 starts, while striking out more than eight batters per nine innings. That's living up to the hype. One wonders if the Braves would be in the playoffs if they hadn't waited as long to call Hanson up.
8. The rookie whose performance didn't match the hype award
It's safe to say David Price has been somewhat disappointing this year. A 4.60 ERA and even the 7.2 strikeouts per nine were a bit underwhelming compared to expectations. Price has just not had the same wipeout slider that he showed in the past, as he's had trouble commanding it at the big league level and making it less of a chase pitch that still has the necessary bite. His changeup has actually progressed reasonably well, and he could probably go to it more often. The raw ability didn't go anywhere, so it's logical to expect a good step up next season.
For those wondering, although Matt Wieters did get off to a slow start when he first came up, he has hit .309 with five homers since the break as he gets settled in against big league pitching. I don't have any concerns about him going forward.
9. The "why you don't pay for saves" award
Andrew Bailey will get the nod in a close race with David Aardsma, as Bailey's ERA (1.88) and WHIP (0.90) give him slightly more value than Aardsma despite the Seattle Mariners closer's 11 more saves (though I would suspect most teams would prefer the extra saves). Bailey also gets bonus points for not even registering on even the deepest of the team's saves depth chart entering spring training.
Here's a chart comparing teams' Opening Day stoppers with who wound up recording the most saves for their clubs:
Eight closers wound up not getting the most saves on their team. That's actually a low number compared to recent years, as the turnover is usually in low double-digits.
Also worth noting, here are other players who recorded five or more saves (through Wednesday's games):
You often hear the "never pay for saves" mantra on this site, but it's not quite that simple. I look at it more like "never pay the going rate for top closers." I just think spending a lot of auction dollars or higher draft picks on them isn't the most efficient use of your draft day resources, especially with saves always coming into the league every year from unexpected sources. In my mixed leagues this year, I eschewed the bigger names in favor of various combinations of Brian Wilson (ADP: 193), Trevor Hoffman (ADP: 216), Frank Francisco (ADP: 179) and Chad Qualls (ADP: 206), and acquitted myself just fine with saves.
10. The quietly useful in deep AL-only leagues award
This player hit .282, slugged .508, mashed 14 homers and stole five bases in just 202 at-bats, all while winding up with eligibility at first, third and the outfield in most leagues.
His name? Ryan Raburn.
(Ty Wigginton had a similar type of season, but he was expected to be useful in AL leagues this year. Raburn wasn't.)
11. The quietly useful in deep NL-only leagues award
12. The "making the most of Matt Holliday being dealt" award
Holliday himself is ineligible for the award, though it would certainly fit. However, Holliday's departure from the Oakland Athletics' outfield opened up more playing time for Rajai Davis, and he made the most of it. Since the trade, Davis has hit .329 with 28 steals in 63 games, and his 30 steals since the All-Star break are the most in baseball.
13. The "patience is a virtue" award
A high-profile signing as a Cuban defector, Kendry Morales spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues prior to this year waiting for an opportunity to play every day. Although to be fair, he probably wasn't quite ready yet. When the Los Angeles Angels were unable to re-sign Mark Teixeira, he finally got the chance and made the most of it. Not bad for a guy who wasn't drafted in many ESPN leagues.
14. The second-half collapse award
Ricky Romero was one of the stories of the first half of the season, pitching lights-out in his first three starts and having a 3.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP at the break.
In the second half: 5.57 ERA and 1.82 WHIP, as he's looked more like the pitcher who has struggled in the minors for much of his career. That good changeup hybrid he has can't help much if he doesn't command the fastball.
15. The "can still play this game" award
This hitter went from an injury-marred 2008 where he hit .249 with three homers in 249 at-bats to a full campaign hitting .277 with 30 bombs. Kudos to Michael Cuddyer, who started hitting in spring training and didn't stop, looking more like the Cuddyer who hit 24 homers and drove in 102 in 2006. He was a nice find for astute owners on the waiver wire as an undrafted player.
16. The Adam LaRoche All-Star award (second-half performance after doing nothing in the first half)
My old favorite Howie Kendrick hit just .239 with a .644 OPS in the first half and lost his job. Since his return, his .376 batting average is the best in baseball since the break, with six homers and four steals, despite manager Mike Scioscia's keeping him out of the lineup semi-regularly.
As for LaRoche himself, he hit .250 with 12 homers and a .783 OPS in the first half, and .323 with 13 homers and a .958 OPS in the second half.
17. The "temporary bump in the road" award
Ricky Nolasco had some very bad luck over the first two months of the season, with his peripheral numbers indicating he was still a good pitcher. Still, he wound up being demoted temporarily. Even now, only 61 percent of his runners being left on base this season is the lowest mark among starters (compare that to J.A. Happ). Since returning to the big leagues on June 6, Nolasco has a 3.81 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and is striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings while hardly walking anyone. Have no worries about him next year. Some will look at the high ERA for the season (5.06 entering his final start Friday), but you'll know better.
18. The "third organization's the charm" award
When Carlos Gonzalez was coming up in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, he drew comparisons to Alex Rios but has been known more for the players he's been dealt for (Dan Haren, Matt Holliday) than his performance. The raw skills made him coveted, but some maturity issues were part of the reason the Colorado Rockies were his third team as a pro. However, with those issues behind him, along with cutting down on his propensity for overswinging, Gonzalez has hit a ridiculous .323 with 12 homers and 11 steals since the break as he starts to fulfill some of his potential.
19. The concussion recovery award
Hopefully David Wright plays as well next season after his concussion as Aaron Hill (.288, 36 HRs, 107 RBIs) did this year. Hill wound up finding something with his hand positioning, thanks to hitting so much off a tee during his recovery, and coupling that with a heavier bat, he found more power this year.
20. The best use of a 16th-round pick award
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.