Fantasy Baseball Edge: National League All-Star Team
By Matthew Schwimmer & Moe Koltun of Roto Analysis
In the baseball-watching community, people often disparage the All-Star game. There are arguments over whether or not the game should count, complaints about the fact that there needs to be one representative from every team, and, of course, there are always disputes from fan base to fan base about who should start in the game. Today, we’re going to be giving you who we think should be starting in the All-Star game if it was instead a Fantasy Baseball All-Star game—with a slight twist. Rather than just simply picking who has been the best at each position so far this year, we’re going to choose the players who have returned the most value to their fantasy owners relative to where they were ranked in the preseason. That way, we can truly see the players who have been Fantasy All-Stars for their owners. We will finish with the American League next week.
All Rankings Data taken from CBS’s preseason draft kit.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
Carlos Ruiz is second on the player rater amongst catchers despite being ranked 23rd preseason. Ruiz’s calling card this season has been his .354 average and increased line drive rate, up to 26% from a career average of 20%. While the average may be unsustainable for the rest of the season, fantasy owners are grateful for what they’ve gotten from Ruiz so far and know he’ll benefit from having Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back in the lineup shortly.
Backup: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
First Base: Joey Votto, Reds
Sometimes you can’t always look for value and have to reward greatness. With the departure of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the National League does not have much greatness at first base. Joey Votto is currently 2nd in the majors in batting average (.355), 7th in homers (14), 6th in the RBIs (47) and has more than double the Wins Above Replacement of any other first basemen in the league. The Reds centerpiece for years to come has a swing that should allow him to stay amongst the best hitters in the league for a long time.
Backup: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Second Base: Jose Altuve, Astros
Sometimes great things come in small packages, and owners who risked a late round selection on the 5 foot, 5 inch (that’s generous) Astro have been pleasantly surprised. Altuve has always silenced critics at each level by hitting for a high average and this year is no exception. Along with a .309 average, Altuve has also contributed 5 home runs, 12 steals, and 45 runs. A spot on the all-star team is certainly deserved, as is a spot on all fantasy rosters.
Backup: Aaron Hill
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Cubs
The Cubs may not have many things going their way this season, but Starlin Castro is certainly one of them. The young shortstop is maintaining an average over .300 while showing some power (6 HR) and speed (16 SB). Castro’s value in OBP leagues does take a huge hit because he walks only 2.2% of the time, worst amongst qualified major leaguers. While the youngster still has room to improve, he’s certainly been a treat for fantasy owners so far this season and has the potential to become an extremely special player in this league.
Backup: Rafael Furcal, Cardinals
Third Base: David Wright, Mets
I guess those preseason worries of David Wright being ‘done’ were premature, as so far this season he leads the majors in batting average at .358. The new dimensions in Citi Field along with some swing adjustments have allowed Wright to hit 8 homers so far and strike out in only 12.9% of his plate appearances, down form the 21%+ he’s posted his last three seasons. Wright has already been significantly more valuable then any other National League 3B this year, a trend I expect to continue as the year progresses.
Backup: David Freese, Cardinals
Outfield: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Melky Cabrera (Giants), and Michael Bourn (Braves)
The saying goes that leagues are lost, not won in the first round, but Ryan Braun is trying to silence those cries this year. Although Matt Kemp was drafted ahead of Braun and has spent most of the season on the disabled list, Braun has put his steroid drama on the backburners by hitting .314 with 20 HR and 52 RBI. Five category contributors are nearly impossible to find, but Braun ranks in the top 16 of outfielders in all 5 categories.
Melky was drafted 38th amongst outfielders as owners were clearly torn between whether he could reproduce last season’s statistics or not. Cabrera has silenced the critics, in a much tougher ballpark, by hitting .351 and scoring 51 runs so far. Although his 10 steals don’t excite people, he’s on pace to set a personal best and swipe over 20 bases. Melky’s success this year is due to his approach of relying on grounders, which is a very smart approach for a guy without much power in a big ballpark.
Michael Bourn has always been an underrated fantasy commodity and owners thought they realized this by ranking him in the top 20 outfielders this season. Well, Bourn has outperformed his draft position once again, and he’s been a top 10 outfielder so far. As a leadoff hitter who hits for a high average and steals bases with the best of them, Bourn has added power to his resume this year as he’s hit 7 home runs, more than Adrian Gonzalez. The strong 4-category player will continue to succeed as he checked in at 7 on the RotoAnalysis Outfield Rankings for the remainder of the season.
Backups: Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Jayson Heyward (Braves), and Carlos Beltran (Cardinals)
Starting Pitcher: R.A. Dickey, Mets
Dickey has been the single most valuable starting pitcher for fantasy owners in all of baseball so far this season, despite being the 70th ranked pitcher before the season. There’s not much I can say about Dickey that hasn’t already been said—he’s an enigma, but he’s contributed in all 4 starting-pitcher categories, and should continue to do so going forward.
First Reliever: James McDonald, Pirates
McDonald went undrafted in most leagues and was ranked 111th among starting pitcher in the preseason, yet he’s currently one of the ten most valuable pitchers for fantasy in all of baseball, and would be higher if the Pirates gave him a little more run support, granting him more than 7 wins. McDonald has made a variety of helpful adjustments this year, which I wrote about in more depth for RotoAnalysis, but some of them include improved command inside and outside the strike zone, less reliance on his fastball especially in both 3 ball and 2 strike counts, and he has also added a highly effective slider. I have full confidence in McDonald to be a top 15-20 pitcher going forward.
Second Reliever: Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
Miley is more of a 3 category performer than most of the pitchers on this list, as he doesn’t strike out very many batters, but luck-based or not, you cannot argue with the stat line Miley’s put up this season. A 2.19 ERA, a barely over 1.00 WHIP, and 9 wins to go with a mediocre 64 strikeouts are elite statistics, especially for someone who wasn’t ranked in the top 200 starting pitchers in the preseason. There are huge questions about Miley’s stats going forward, but there is no way you can question what he’s done so far. This spot is definitely deserved.
Third Reliever: Matt Cain, Giants
Cain and Dickey have been neck-and-neck for a while now competing for the top spot in the actual All-Star game, but Cain slipped to fourth in the Fantasy All-Star Game because he was much more highly touted (27th ranked starting pitcher preseason) than the above three guys. Going forward, Cain is definitely the safest and most reliable option out of the top 4 fantasy All-Star pitchers in the NL, thanks to his above average ‘stuff,’ great command, consistent track record and gigantic home ballpark.
Fourth Reliever: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Throughout his entire career, Gio has always been an absolutely electric pitcher to watch when he is on. What has made this season different from the rest of his career has been the absence of those huge blow-up outings that he used to have so often. Gonzalez currently sits at 2nd in the NL in strikeouts, and when that’s paired with 10 wins, a sub-2.80 ERA, and a 1.08 WHIP, it’s really a testament to just how good pitching in the NL has been this year that he’s not ranked higher up on this list.
Fifth Reliever: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Innings limit worries aside, Stephen Strasburg is one of the five most talented pitchers in baseball right now. So far this season, he’s more than earned his rank of the 20th best starter. Strasburg leads the MLB with 118 K’s (10 more than Gio Gonzalez’s 108), and is only behind Gio thanks to the disparity in their preseason rankings. I don’t know whether or not the Nationals will go through with their innings cap on Strasburg, but I do know that when he pitches, Strasburg is going to absolutely dominate, as he’s shown invariably throughout his career.
Closer: Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Chapman didn’t start this year with a closer job, leaving him undrafted in most leagues and completely reasonably ranked as the 77th relief pitcher in the preseason. However, outside of Craig Kimbrel, no National League relief pitcher has been better than Chapman so far this year, thanks to his absolute dominance with and without the closer role, sporting a 1.98 ERA and 0.77 WHIP to go with 9 saves and a whopping 64 strikeouts (the same as Wade Miley) in less than 37 innings. I know he’s had some trouble of late, but his full-season stats are still phenomenal, and I’d rank Chapman as the number 1 relief pitcher in all of baseball going forward.
Rest of Bullpen: Johnny Cueto (Reds), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Chris Capuano (Dodgers), Lance Lynn (Cardinals), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers), and Johan Santana (Mets)
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.