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June 24, 2016

Fantasy Freestyle

Bargains and Busts, Midseason Edition

by Mike Gianella

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We are about 72 games into the season and closing in on the true halfway mark. So it seems like as good a time as any to take a look at the hitters and pitchers who have delivered for their fantasy teams so far and the ones who have not.

Table 1: Top 10 Salaries, 2016 AL Pitchers Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Chris Sale

$39

33

6

34

33

32

31

$26

2

David Price

$23

29

-7

32

29

27

27

$32

3

Corey Kluber

$28

28

0

30

28

27

27

$24

4

Carlos Carrasco

$9

26

-17

28

24

26

23

$23

Chris Archer

$7

26

-19

27

24

27

31

$24

Dallas Keuchel

$2

26

-24

26

26

26

24

$35

7

Felix Hernandez

$15

25

-10

28

25

22

22

$22

8

Sonny Gray

-$1

23

-24

22

22

25

20

$25

9

Wade Davis

$22

23

0

24

21

23

23

$22

10

Craig Kimbrel

$21

22

-2

24

21

22

21

$20

Danny Salazar

$30

22

8

25

22

20

20

$21

Average

$18

26

-8

27

25

25

24

$25


For comparative purposes, last year’s 10 most expensive American League pitchers cost an average of $24 and earned $18. So while these pitchers are slightly more expensive than their 2015 counterparts, they’re bringing back the same fantasy earnings, within decimals.

A look at the 2015 column shows that the expert market (CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars) barely deviated from last year’s 10 best pitchers at auction time in 2016. Keuchel and Sale offer the most significant variability, but the experts’ prices on the whole were rooted in a belief that the 10 best pitchers would remain fairly stable.

The actual Top 10 pitchers tell us that thus far this has not been the case.

Table 2: Top 10 2016 AL Pitchers Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Chris Sale

$39

33

6

34

33

32

31

$26

2

Steven Wright

$33

$4

3

Danny Salazar

$30

22

8

25

22

20

20

$21

4

Zach Britton

$29

19

10

21

17

20

19

$22

5

Marco Estrada

$29

7

22

4

8

9

6

$21

6

Corey Kluber

$28

28

0

30

28

27

27

$24

7

Chris Tillman

$28

4

24

7

2

2

4

$3

8

Cole Hamels

$26

21

5

23

22

18

18

$18

9

Andrew Miller

$26

9

17

9

7

10

6

$23

10

Rich Hill

$26

6

20

8

6

3

8

$7

Average

$29

15

14

16

15

14

14

$17


Only three of the 10 most-expensive pitchers—Sale, Salazar, and Kluber—crack the Top 10. My initial reaction is that this year’s pitchers are more unpredictable than last year’s… until I remember that half a season (or slightly under half a season) of earnings can lead to higher numbers in the “$” column. Individually, not every one of these pitchers is going to return to their “level”—this is the Gambler’s Fallacy—but as a group they sure will.

The column that stands out to me—as it often does—is the “2015” column. Seven of the 10 pitchers on Table 2 earned $18 or more last year. These pitchers may seem somewhat surprising at first glance because of the limited overlap between Tables 1 and 2. But while the $18 figure may seem arbitrary, it is a fairly reasonable cutoff for a very good pitcher in AL-only. Eighteen pitchers earned more than $18 in AL-only in 2015. If these pitchers weren’t quite elites last year, then they were near-elites.

Biggest Surprise, Auction: Colby Lewis (average salary $1, was on pace to earn $25).
Biggest Surprise, Not Drafted: Steven Wright ($34).
Biggest Disappointment: Keuchel.
Worst Pitcher: James Shields (-$17, AL stats only!).

Table 3: Top 10 Salaries, 2016 NL Pitchers Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Clayton Kershaw

$57

40

17

41

38

41

40

$42

2

Max Scherzer

$30

32

-2

32

33

32

30

$34

3

Madison Bumgarner

$36

29

6

31

29

28

26

$30

4

Jake Arrieta

$40

29

11

30

29

28

29

$44

5

Stephen Strasburg

$30

27

3

25

27

29

24

$16

6

Matt Harvey

$2

26

-25

28

25

26

23

$25

7

Zack Greinke

$23

26

-3

27

25

26

23

$41

8

Jacob deGrom

$15

25

-11

26

25

25

24

$28

9

Gerrit Cole

$12

25

-13

25

25

24

25

$28

10

Jose Fernandez

$34

24

10

26

25

22

22

$9

Average

$28

28

-1

29

28

28

27

$30


I picked a bad year to bet on regression. My average prediction of $27 doesn’t seem too bad, but when the 10 most expensive pitchers in the National League come within 70 cents of breaking even, this is terrible news for conservative bidders. Some of this is Kershaw, but even without his help there is a lot of strength in Table 3. Six of these pitchers are on pace to earn $30 or more, and while they all won’t keep it up, the fact is that they all have put some fairly impressive stats in the bank so far in 2016.

Table 4: Top 10 2016 NL Pitchers Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Clayton Kershaw

$57

40

17

41

38

41

40

$42

2

Jake Arrieta

$40

29

11

30

29

28

29

$44

3

Johnny Cueto

$38

19

19

19

19

20

17

$18

4

Madison Bumgarner

$36

29

6

31

29

28

26

$30

5

Jose Fernandez

$34

24

10

26

25

22

22

$9

6

Noah Syndergaard

$33

24

10

23

24

24

23

$18

7

Jon Lester

$33

21

12

24

18

22

19

$20

8

Stephen Strasburg

$30

27

3

25

27

29

24

$16

9

Max Scherzer

$30

32

-2

32

33

32

30

$34

10

Kenley Jansen

$29

20

9

22

20

19

22

$20

Average

$36

27

10

27

26

27

25

$25


“Only” six of the 10 pitchers from Table 3 repeat on table 4, but this list is as close to chalk as you are going to get in fantasy. Cueto is the only pitcher whose average salary is under $20; he was the 14th most expensive pitcher in the National League this spring. The subpar seasons of Harvey, Cole, and deGrom sting a little bit more for this reason. With so many fantasy managers getting profits from their aces, taking a big loss from your primary pitching investment while everyone else is doing well is a potential season ender.

If he doesn’t slip, I am going to have to write a piece examining what Kershaw is doing this year and how it compares historically to Pedro Martinez from a fantasy perspective.

Biggest Surprise, Auction: Cueto
Biggest Surprise, Not Drafted: Jeanmar Gomez ($18).
Biggest Disappointment: Harvey
Worst Pitcher: Alfredo Simon (-$27).

Table 5: Top 10 Salaries, 2016 AL Hitters Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Mike Trout

$34

46

-12

49

42

47

41

$35

2

Josh Donaldson

$31

39

-8

42

34

40

34

$37

3

Miguel Cabrera

$28

37

-10

38

36

38

34

$24

Mookie Betts

$38

37

1

39

35

38

33

$31

5

Jose Altuve

$47

37

10

39

33

38

34

$39

6

Carlos Correa

$23

36

-13

40

35

33

33

$22

7

Manny Machado

$31

34

-3

36

33

33

35

$35

8

Jose Bautista

$15

33

-18

34

30

35

29

$29

9

George Springer

$26

32

-6

32

30

33

28

$20

Jose Abreu

$16

32

-15

30

30

35

31

$27

Average

$29

36

-7

38

34

37

33

$30


This is a mostly disappointing group, but it is disappointing the way the most expensive hitters usually are. They lose a little money on average, but all of them are on pace to earn at least $15, so there isn’t a hitter on Table 5 who is completely tanking. Eight of the 10 hitters are on track to lose their fantasy managers money, but seven of the 10 are earning at least $26, which is a solid rate of return. Jose Altuve is underrated, and will continue to be underrated until fantasy managers pay him like the best fantasy hitter in baseball that he is. Mike Trout might be a god in real life, but he hasn’t turned a profit in fantasy in years.

Table 6: Top 10 2016 AL Hitters Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

1

Jose Altuve

$47

37

10

39

33

38

34

$39

2

Xander Bogaerts

$43

24

19

28

25

20

24

$28

3

Ian Desmond

$40

13

27

1

20

18

20

$15

4

Mookie Betts

$38

37

1

39

35

38

33

$31

5

David Ortiz

$35

20

14

20

18

23

20

$25

6

Mike Trout

$34

46

-12

49

42

47

41

$35

7

Ian Kinsler

$34

19

15

17

19

22

22

$25

8

Eduardo Nunez

$34

$9

9

Francisco Lindor

$33

22

11

22

23

21

22

$21

10

Josh Donaldson

$31

39

-8

42

34

40

34

$37

Average

$37

26

11

26

25

27

25

$27


Eduardo Nunez is the hitter equivalent of Steven Wright. Outside of Nunez, the hitters on Table 6 are the kind of hitters who are somewhat surprising but not complete shocks. Desmond’s average salary is far lower because of CBS, which drafted in late February when Desmond was still a free agent. The other bargains in this group—Bogaerts, Ortiz, Kinsler, and Lindor—are the kind of hitters who had some level of expectations attached to them but have exceeded those expectations and are producing at an elite level.

Biggest Surprise, Auction: Desmond
Biggest Surprise, Not Drafted: Nunez
Biggest Disappointment: Prince Fielder (earned three dollars, cost $24)
Worst Hitter: JR Murphy

Table 7: Top 10 Salaries, 2016 NL Hitters Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Bryce Harper

$27

43

-16

43

40

45

39

$39

2

Paul Goldschmidt

$33

42

-9

43

40

43

40

$41

3

Giancarlo Stanton

$10

38

-28

37

37

39

35

$18

4

Anthony Rizzo

$28

37

-9

34

39

38

35

$32

5

Andrew McCutchen

$14

35

-21

34

34

37

35

$29

Nolan Arenado

$35

35

0

36

36

33

32

$34

7

Starling Marte

$39

33

5

35

30

35

31

$31

8

Kris Bryant

$28

33

-5

34

30

35

32

$28

9

A.J. Pollock

33

-33

36

31

31

30

$40

10

Dee Gordon

$8

32

-24

32

35

30

32

$41

Joey Votto

$20

32

-12

32

26

39

30

$32

Average

$22

36

-14

36

34

37

34

$33


The most expensive National League hitters are pulled down to a great degree by Gordon and Pollock. However, Stanton has played all season and has not been very good, while Harper, Votto, Rizzo, and Goldschmidt are disappointments relative to their salaries. It is difficult to find a top tier player who also delivers on his salary, as no one breaks $40. This is one of the big differences between the American League and the National League. Where the AL does have some hitters who cracked the $40 barrier, there is no one in the NL who is on pace to do so.

Table 8: Top 10 NL Hitters Through June 22

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2015

1

Starling Marte

$39

33

5

35

30

35

31

$31

2

Jonathan Villar

$38

11

27

8

8

16

9

$6

3

Wil Myers

$35

18

17

18

20

16

16

$9

4

Nolan Arenado

$35

35

0

36

36

33

32

$34

5

Daniel Murphy

$34

17

17

16

18

17

18

$17

6

Paul Goldschmidt

$33

42

-9

43

40

43

40

$41

7

Gregory Polanco

$32

25

7

24

25

26

23

$21

8

Marcell Ozuna

$31

16

15

13

21

15

13

$10

9

Carlos Gonzalez

$31

27

4

28

24

28

28

$27

10

Jay Bruce

$30

16

14

10

19

18

17

$17

Average

$34

24

10

23

24

25

23

$21


Marte comes the closest, but falls just short, earning $39. It’s unusual to see two players whose value primarily comes from their legs sitting first and second, but this is the impact of the lack of stolen bases in major league baseball. Villar is the biggest surprise on Table 8, but unlike with the AL hitters, there isn’t an out-of-left-field player like Nunez in the Top 10 (Aledmys Diaz, at $26, comes the closest).

The NL has an odd hodgepodge of young players like Arenado and Villar to go along with crusty veterans like Gonzalez and Bruce. There never seems to be any rhyme or reason to the NL hitter Top 10 from season to season, and thus far 2016 has been no exception.

Biggest Surprise, Auction: Villar
Biggest Surprise, Not Drafted: Aledmys Diaz ($26)
Biggest Disappointment: Pollock
Worst Hitter: Colin Walsh

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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