The past few MLB seasons have seen so many things change that it’s making it extremely difficult for analysts to keep up. We track launch angles and exit velocities, then the league alters the baseball. We dig into spin rates, MLB cracks down on sticky stuff.
We take deep dives into sprint speeds and spray charts, but next season the rules change to make the bases larger and outlaw the shift.
It’s enough to drive one … batty.
Then again, one of the reasons baseball is so compelling is that we never know what can happen. A home run record, despite the deadened baseball. Exciting young players bursting onto the scene. The resurgence of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols to reach 700 homers. Shohei Ohtani following up his MVP season with an even more impressive one.
It’s been a memorable season in many ways. Let’s hit some of the highlights (and lowlights).
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees. Judge’s quest to break Roger Maris’ American League home run record has been riveting, but those majestic homers only scratch the surface of what’s been a truly outstanding season, especially in relation to his peers.
With a leaguewide slugging percentage the lowest it’s been since 2014, Judge has lapped the field with his power hitting prowess.
His 212 adjusted OPS+ shows he’s been more than twice as productive as the average major league hitter this season. No one had performed at that level since Barry Bonds in 2001-02.
Entering the week, Judge led the majors in not just home runs (60), but on-base percentage (.421), runs scored (125), RBI (128), slugging percentage (.697) and WAR (9.9) as well. And if he wasn’t valuable enough for his fantasy teams, he’s also stolen 16 bases.
Roto value (5x5 mixed leagues via Baseball HQ): $55
Runners-up: Paul Goldschmidt, Dansby Swanson, Julio Rodriguez
Pitcher of the year
Justin Verlander, Houston Astros. After missing the entire 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Verlander was a major question mark this year – especially at age 39. And his average draft position as the No. 32 pitcher off the board reflected that skepticism.
However, he was even better than anyone could have imagined, leading the majors with a microscopic 1.82 ERA and 0.84 WHIP and posting an American League-best 17 wins in his 26 starts.
Yes, he did miss some time with a calf injury, which cut down on his strikeout total, but the innings Verlander provided were as impressive as any he posted in either of his Cy Young-winning seasons.
Roto value: $33
Runners-up: Dylan Cease, Shane McClanahan, Zac Gallen, Tony Gonsolin
Waiver pickups of the year
Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves. It’s impossible to choose between these two rookie teammates. Harris arrived directly from Class AA in late May and promptly became a fixture in the Atlanta lineup. His combination of power and speed (19 HRs, 19 SB) was a godsend for fantasy managers. He also hit .305, and from the time he arrived in the majors, only six players scored more than Harris’ 72 runs.
Strider started the season in the bullpen with just 31/3 innings of experience above Class AA under his belt. Yet his overpowering velocity quickly warranted a spot in the rotation.
Thanks to an MLB-leading strikeout rate of 13.8 K/9, Strider surpassed 200 whiffs in 1312/3 innings before going on the injured list last week.
Roto values: Harris $25, Strider $19
Runners-up: Brandon Drury, Taylor Ward, Jon Berti, Ryan Helsley
Breakout performer of the year
Andrés Giménéz, Cleveland Guardians. Giménéz, 24, was a bit of a disappointment in his first full season in Cleveland after coming over in the Francisco Lindor trade, hitting .218 with five homers and 11 steals in 2021. However, he blossomed once the Guardians settled on playing him at second base and fellow trade acquisition Amed Rosario at short.
Giménéz raised his batting average by 85 points and showed some impressive power growth, blasting 17 homers and slugging .482. Throw in 19 stolen bases and a .375 OBP, and you have the makings of a future middle infield stalwart.
Roto value: $25
Runners-up: Kyle Wright, Taylor Ward
Biggest in-season turnaround
Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers. It’s been well-chronicled how some players struggle after landing a big-money contract with a new team.
After a pair of top-three MVP finishes in 2019 and 2021, Semien joined the Rangers with extremely high expectations stemming from his seven-year, $175 million deal.
The signing looked like a colossal bust by the end of May, with Semien hitting .199/.266/.274 with only one home run. But after an 0-for-6 game on June 1, Semien began playing like an MVP candidate once again. From that point through Sept. 25, his slash line improved to .282/.337/.517 with 23 homers, 75 runs, 61 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
As the season draws to a close, Semien is poised to finish with 100 runs with 25 homers and 25 steals – making him a top-five fantasy shortstop.
Roto value: $28
Runners-up: J.T. Realmuto, Eloy Jimenez, Blake Snell
Least valuable player
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox. Giolito has to be one of baseball’s greatest mysteries.
How can someone go from the worst pitcher in the game in 2018 to one of the best a year later?
But after three stellar seasons, what’s the reason for this latest disaster?
To be fair, Giolito’s 4.13 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) this season is nearly a run lower than his 5.05 ERA. And his strikeout rate of 10.0 K/9 is right in line with the past three seasons. But to get just 10 wins and a 1.48 WHIP from someone who was taken, on average, as the ninth starting pitcher in 2022 drafts is a season-killer.
Roto value: -$10
Runners-up: Joey Votto, Yuli Gurriel, Whit Merrifield, Jose Berrios
Top 15 for 2023
As is our custom in the final fantasy baseball column of the year, let’s take a quick look at some of the players who will be fueling the conversation over the offseason in preparation for next year’s drafts.
SS Trea Turner, free agent
OF Aaron Judge, free agent
OF Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
3B Jose Ramirez, Guardians
OF Mookie Betts, Dodgers
OF Juan Soto, Padres
OF Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, Angels
OF Bryce Harper, Phillies
OF Yordan Alvarez, Astros
OF Kyle Tucker, Astros
3B Rafael Devers, Red Sox
SP Jacob deGrom, Mets
1B Vladimir Guerrero, Blue Jays
3B Manny Machado, Padres
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fantasy baseball awards: Aaron Judge, Justin Verlander take top honors