Fantasy Baseball Awards: Recognizing MLB's biggest difference-makers in 2022

With just a few days remaining in the 2022 regular season, we have reached the point where we can safely name our fantasy award winners. These are the players who were so good that they made up for deficiencies elsewhere and carried their squads to many league titles. Some excellent stars just missed the cut, but here are the names that garnered the most prestigious honors.

Best Player, American League: Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

Judge has put together one of the best fantasy seasons in recent memory, leading the Majors in homers, runs and RBIs (tied), while being tied for fourth in batting average. And the icing on the cake for Judge was the addition of a speed component in the form of 16 steals. His homer total (60) is 18 more than that of any other player, and he is the favorite to go first overall in 2022 drafts.

Best Player, National League: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

Goldschmidt started this season slowly (1 HR, .728 OPS in April) before taking off in May (10 HR, 1.288 OPS) and never looking back. The 35-year-old sits among the top-10 in batting average, homers, RBIs and runs scored, while chipping in a steals total (6) that is useful in this era. Goldy significantly outperformed expectations, according to Statcast, which raises concerns that he could experience notable regression next year.

Paul Goldschmidt has rewarded fantasy managers who drafted him this season. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Paul Goldschmidt has rewarded fantasy managers who drafted him this season. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Best Pitcher, AL: Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros

Verlander is the best story of 2022, returning from Tommy John surgery at age 39 to lead the Majors in ERA and WHIP. The right-hander has held onto his radar gun readings from previous years, and his control skills remain impeccable. Verlander’s birth date is the only reason to doubt a repeat in 2023.

Best Pitcher, NL: Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Given the overall success of the Dodgers rotation, it comes as no surprise that a member of their quintet tops the NL list. Urias started slowly this season but now owns elite ratios (2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) and has picked up a win in 14 of his past 17 starts.

Best Reliever, AL: Emmanuel Clase, RP, Cleveland Guardians

Although Clase lacks the bloated strikeout totals that are usually associated with elite closers, he has a mix of skills that match some of the game’s all-time greats. The right-hander limits walks, and when he finally allows runners on base, he usually sends them back to the dugout quickly thanks to his elite groundball rate. I expect Clase to be at the top of my 2023 reliever rankings.

Best Reliever, NL: Ryan Helsley, RP, St. Louis Cardinals

Helsley took an unconventional route to this award, ranking 19th in the Majors with 18 saves. The 28-year-old has logged an outstanding 39.2 percent strikeout rate, which has helped him to hold opposing hitters to a .134 average. Helsley has given up plenty of fly balls but not too many homers this year, which raises concerns that he will be slightly less effective in 2023. Additionally, his track record prior to 2022 was less than impressive. Still, Helsley will be ranked as a top-10 reliever next year.

Best Rookie, AL: Julio Rodriguez, OF, Seattle Mariners

Like Goldschmidt, Rodriguez was underwhelming in April (.544 OPS) before taking off in May. He produced most of his counting stats (16 HR, 21 SB) prior to the All-Star break, and while he was quieter in the second half from a fantasy perspective, his OPS remained consistent throughout the campaign. Rodriguez has swiped just four bags in the second half, but managers who overlook his base-running inconsistency can justify drafting him in the first round next spring.

Best Rookie, NL: Spencer Strider, SP/RP, Atlanta Braves

Strider was one of the best stories of the 2022 season, starting the campaign in the bullpen before emerging as a dominant starter. The Ohio native ranks seventh in the Majors with 202 strikeouts despite having thrown just 131.2 innings, which raises hope that next season he will use a larger workload to compete for top spot in the whiffs category. Managers should strongly consider ranking Strider as a staff ace for 2023.

Best Waiver Wire Addition, AL: Andres Gimenez, 2B/SS, Cleveland Guardians

Gimenez perfectly fits the description of a post-hype sleeper, as he was a trendy mid-round pick in 2021 before struggling all season and becoming a draft-day afterthought this year. He has become the multi-category stat stuffer that we all hoped he could be, amassing 17 homers and 19 steals with a few days remainder to add to those totals. And the best part is that Gimenez has shown a greater on-base ability than expected, hitting .303 thus far.

Best Waiver Wire Addition, NL: Michael Harris II, OF, Atlanta Braves

The Braves farm system continues to churn out great prospects, with Harris as the next man in a long time of game-changing stars. The 21-year-old showed no ill effects from jumping straight from Double-A to the Majors, and he has done some of his best work in September, which raises hope that he can be even more successful next year. Although I’m not sure that Harris can repeat his .305 average (he has enjoyed a .367 BABIP), I believe that he will flirt with the 30-plateau in both homers and steals in 2023.