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Peter Alonso
AP
Digging In

Fantasy Superlatives, Hitters

by Nathan Grimm
Updated On: September 8, 2019, 1:31 pm ET

In an age in which offense is at an all-time high, it becomes more difficult to narrow season-ending lists down to just a handful of players.

Doesn't first-time All-Star James McCann deserve a mention somewhere? Shouldn't Kevin Newman's year get some love? How does Yoan Moncada strike out everywhere, when cutting down on his strikeouts helped him enjoy a breakout 2019 season?

It's a losing proposition. For each player highlighted in a category, there are handfuls more who deserve recognition for having similarly stellar offensive seasons. If I tried to single out every player who excelled in 2019, I'd be here all day, and frankly, I've got things to do.

 

 

So let's get to it. Without further ado, here's the best (and worst) of the best (and worst) of this year's fantasy game.

MVP: Christian Yelich

Nowhere does the prevalence of magnificent offensive seasons become evident than in selecting a Most Valuable Player. Mike Trout, the best hitter of our generation, is in many ways having the best offensive performance of his career, hitting 45 homers with 104 RBI, 110 runs scored and 11 steals. Cody Bellinger lit the world on fire in the first half and is on par with Trout in virtually every category. Anthony Rendon's season would be a Triple Crown threat in most years. And we're not even mentioning guys like Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, and all the other guys I'm leaving out. The one thing they all have in common: they're not the most valuable fantasy hitter in 2019. That distinction goes to Christian Yelich, who's taken the best production of all of those hitters -- power like Trout, batting average like Rendon, speed like Acuna -- and wrapped it all up into one package. The reigning NL MVP is coasting to his second straight award, racking up 44 homers, 97 RBI, 98 runs scored, 30 steals and a .329/.426/.675 line with a few weeks still left on the schedule. The expectation for the 27-year-old to regress some from his terrific 2018 campaign was reasonable but he's gone the other direction, improving in virtually every category. Those fantasy players who expended a first-round pick on Yelich, wherever they got him, couldn't have asked for anything more.

Honorable mention: Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Anthony Rendon

LVP: Khris Davis

There are some high-profile candidates for this, uh, honor as well, with guys like Matt Carpenter, Jose Ramirez and Joey Votto disappointing for large sections of the season. This category also excludes early-round picks like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa who have had their seasons derailed by injury. The most disappointing intersection of production and health has been Khris Davis, though, which carries no small amount of irony -- for three straight years coming into this season Davis was the image of reliability, hitting exactly .247 with 40-plus homers. This year, he's hit just 19 homers while batting .215/.284/.372. It wouldn't be surprising to find out he's been playing through some sort of injury for much of this year, especially since he began the year with five homers in his first seven games, but without that knowledge we're left to wonder -- what the heck happened? The Statcast numbers illustrate the 31-year-old's struggles, as he's currently on pace to record five-year lows in barrel percentage, exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, among others. Contrast those numbers with the fact that he's swinging and missing slightly more often but is striking out at a rate lower than his career rate and that he's also still walking with some regularity and it's difficult to say definitively what's troubling the slugger. It also makes him a risky proposition for the 2020 season, depending on what we find out about his health after the season. He'll surely come with a discount in 2020 drafts; the question is whether it will be a bargain or a bad investment.

Honorable mention: Matt Carpenter, Jose Ramirez, Joey Votto

Comeback Player of the Year: Jorge Soler

Comeback Player of the Year is described by MLB as the player who is judged to have "re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season." It's fitting, then, that this category comes on the heels of discussing Khris Davis (a decision that, in hindsight, could have been made strategically by the author but that was truly serendipitous) because Jorge Soler has jumped up to fill the space formerly occupied by Davis. Soler's surface numbers -- 41 homers, 102 RBI, .253/.347/.544 average -- are vintage Davis, but his advanced metrics also mirror the Oakland bopper's numbers from years past. Soler is among the top 4 percent of the league in barrel percentage (16.7 percent), exit velocity (92.5 mph) and hard-hit percentage (49.3 percent), precipitous jumps from his career levels. It's quite a contrast from where he's been in recent years, as injury and ineffectiveness have plagued him dating back to his days with the Cubs. It's not an entirely unexpected emergence from the 27-year-old, though, given his history as a top prospect as recently as 2015. It's more of a pleasant surprise, especially since Soler was an afterthought in most fantasy drafts this spring, drafted around pick 318 on average according to FantasyPros' consensus ADP results. What wouldn't be surprising is if he occupies a similar, if not slightly better, draft stock next spring that Davis enjoyed in 2019.

Honorable mention: Danny Santana, Hunter Pence, Scott Kingery

Biggest Leap: Rafael Devers

In making these lists, the distinction between Comeback Player of the Year and Biggest Leap was a small but important one: the comeback players were pretty pedestrian in 2018, whereas the leapers weren't that bad last year. Devers definitely falls into that category -- a guy with 21 homers and 66 RBI carries some value, even if the accompanying .240/.298/.433 line is miserable. He's fully made the leap from replacement level to big-time star after a breakout 2019 campaign that's seen him hit 29 homers with 107 RBI and 116 runs scored -- both good for second-most in the league -- and a .314/.364/.568 line. He's even thrown in eight steals for good measure. His leap was less surprising than some of his contemporaries' -- if we were going for biggest surprise, Ketel Marte and his power stroke might take home the trophy -- and our own Matthew Pouliot was a Devers believer from the jump, projecting him for 30 homers, 95 RBI and a .278 average, numbers that seemed bold at the time. And his days of leaping might not be over, as he'll enter the 2020 season as a 23-year-old hitting in the middle of what should once again be one of the most potent lineups in the game. Another level, perhaps to something akin to Bellinger's 2019 production, isn't hard to fathom. Welcome to the early-round pick club, Rafael.

Honorable mention: Ketel Marte, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver

Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso

As with everything else, rookie production feels as though it's at an all-time high right now. The number of players who have hit the ground running in the majors, quickly becoming high-impact hitters, is numerous, and there are plenty of guys not on the honorable mention list -- guys like Keston Hiura, Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. -- who could be breakout stars as early as 2020. It speaks to the quality of seasons that Yordan Alvarez, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bryan Reynolds have had, then, that they garnered mention for their production. With a little more service time Alvarez could easily have a claim for this title; the same goes for Tatis, who would be in the conversation if his season hadn't ended prematurely in mid-August due to a stress reaction in his back. Reynolds is easily the least-known of the group, but all he's done this year is hit .330/.395/.533 with 16 homers in 119 games. Rising above the rest, though, has been Pete Alonso, whose 45 homers not only lead all rookies but lead all hitters across baseball. The power has been legitimate from the beginning -- for a first baseman to be a second-round pick in the MLB Draft, which Alonso was for the Mets in 2016, and to appear on top-100 prospect lists is rare and speaks to how highly regarded his bat was -- but it has still been amazing how quickly it's played at a high level in the majors. Even in an era of incredible power numbers, Alonso is finding a way to stand out.

Honorable mention: Yordan Alvarez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryan Reynolds

One to Watch: Aristides Aquino

This category is sort of a de facto catch-all for the guys who got left out of other entries. Hunter Dozier took a big leap, but not to the heights of Devers, Marte and others. Same with Jeff McNeil, who showed a strong ability to hit for average in a 63-game sample last year but who's done it over a full season, with close to 20 homers as well, this year. Gio Urshela is going to miss out on qualifying for the batting title but would have had a case with his .331 average in 114 games. None took the league by storm quite like Aquino, though. The 25-year-old set records with his power output in his debut, smacking 14 homers in August, a NL rookie record, and became the first player in MLB history to amass 13 homers in his first 27 career games. He's now got 15 homers in 37 games, batting .284/.342/.664 through his first 135 career at-bats. The 25-year-old was a lightly-regarded prospect prior to making a swing change in the minors, opening up in a sort of Jose Bautista stance. And like Bautista, the change has unlocked his power potential, allowing him to hit 43 homers between Triple-A and the big leagues this year. It will be fascinating to see how he's regarded in drafts next spring, especially since some metrics (an 18 percent swinging strike percentage, a 32.6 percent HR/FB percentage) suggest a regression is in store. He likely won't be in the Soler class, but how will he stack up against other power hitters with middling batting averages in a world where power with middling batting averages is omnipresent? He's sure to be one of the more controversial players heading into drafts next spring.

Honorable mention: Hunter Dozier, Jeff McNeil, Gio Urshela