Yours truly was lucky enough to cling to a first place finish in League 10 of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational this year. Max Scherzer was a phenomenal anchor for my rotation, and Eugenio Suarez’s 34 homers were prime given his minimal draft cost (Round 11, pick 159). Carlos Carrasco, Anthony Rizzo, Eddie Rosario, Didi Gregorius, J.T. Realmuto, and Blake Treinen were the rest of my backbone.
It’s the guys that rounded out my roster that really made it happen, though. The following gentlemen were integral pieces of my squad for large stretches of the season, and I want to celebrate their contributions. TGFBI was a 15-team behemoth, so all of these guys may not be relevant in your 12-team leagues next year. But a couple of them will be, and the rest are at least worthy of your watch list. These guys covered injuries to Yoenis Cespedes, Lance McCullers, and Taijuan Walker, to name a few. Let’s scope them out...
3B/OF Brian Anderson, Marlins (36% owned)
Anderson finished 2018 as the No. 25 man at the hot corner, at least in the Yahoo game. He was a solid corner infield/outfield bat for me in TGFBI, as I was making up ground in batting average all summer. But is he more than just an “average” guy? Anderson’s 87 runs ranked 10th among all third basemen, despite the lost season in Miami. Couple that with the .273 batting average, and I was happy to snag this man off of waivers. At only 25 years old, we should see Anderson’s power trend upward, despite the poor home park hitting environs. His 38.2% hard contact rate was encouraging, as was his improved strikeout rate and increased ISO. Odds are he will continue to hit in a run-producing spot in this lineup (mostly 2nd in 2018) and that’s encouraging since the Marlins should trend upward offensively. Still, he’s a depth play heading into next season given the lack of power. He gets a bump in on-base leagues, though—Anderson’s .357 OBP was only bested by seven other men at the hot corner.
OF Mallex Smith, Rays (60% owned)
Only Whit Merrifield (45) and Trea Turner (43) swiped more than Smith’s 40 bases this year. The obvious difference is draft cost, though, as Turner was a Round 1 pick and Merrifield was routinely being drafted in the middle (maybe Rounds 6 to 8 depending on roster size and number of teams). Smith, meanwhile, was drafted by yours truly in Round 16 of the TGFBI (pick 232). That’s Ryan McMahon and Lucas Giolito territory, y’all. Smith was HUGE for my squad, especially since no one else that I drafted stole more than 10 bags.
In 2018, only 2,473 bases were stolen leaguewide. This is the lowest number of thefts since the strike-shortened season of 1994, when 2,258 bags were stolen. For reference, the strike removed over 900 games from our counting statistics that year. So yes, speed is scarce in the modern game. In 2018, Smith posted a career mark in BABIP (.366), trimmed his strikeout rate to 18.0%, and had a healthy 24.9% line drive rate. He beefed up his Z-Swing% and his overall contact rate, while also decreasing his swinging strike rate...he also ranked 22nd in the MLB with a shiny .367 OBP. In short, if he is given opportunity to hit atop the order again, I am taking him in all formats next year.
RP Dellin Betances, Yankees (59% owned)
Betances contributed 66 2⁄3 innings, 4 wins, 4 saves, 115 strikeouts, a 2.70 ERA, and a 1.05 WHIP. He never really got into the mix with saves, but his ratios and strikeouts were too good to pass up at pick 249. Finding quality starting pitching on waivers was a major chore during the season, so it was great to lock in this ratio and strikeout help each week. Betances had a rough May, but ever since then he has been lights out. He’ll be on my radar for strikeouts and ratios again next year.
SP Vince Velasquez, Phillies (30% owned)
Vince was one of two Phillies I snagged off of waivers who gave me valuable innings. His end line doesn’t look pretty, but he was really solid in certain stretches. There are some good things under the hood, like career marks in swinging strike rate (11.4%) and contact rate (75.3%). He also logged more innings than ever, finishing with 146 2/3. His healthy 25.6% strikeout rate was encouraging, especially after 2017’s down year (21.6%). One of Velasquez’s weaknesses was control, as the 9.4% walk rate was ugly. However, he was death to right-handed hitters, allowing a .207/.298/.308 slash line and .274 wOBA. Against righties, his 0.35 HR/9 mark represented major improvement from years past. He struck out same-handed hitters at a 28.7% clip, and he didn’t get lucky either (.295 BABIP). His 9.1% walk rate to righties was high, but he was unhittable so it worked.
Aside from walks, left-handed bats were his bane. Lefties slashed .284/.360/.529 with a .377 wOBA against him. This (along with the suspect control) has been a struggle for Vince’s entire MLB career. If he can find a way to improve against lefty batters next year, he will be a draft day steal. And he should already be worthy of consideration as a streamer in the right matchup (good park and righty-heavy lineups).
SP Nick Pivetta, Phillies (34% owned)
Like Velasquez, his overall line was unsatisfactory but he was a beast in spurts. He upped his strikeout rate to 27.1%, which was the 13th-highest mark in the MLB. In this regard, he was better than Aaron Nola, Corey Kluber, and Mike Clevinger (to name a few). Pivetta also lowered his walk rate from 9.8% in 2017 to 7.4% this year. His ERA dropped from an unsightly 6.02 to a more manageable 4.77. Like Velasquez, he is mostly a streaming candidate or late-round dart throw next season, but yours truly loves banking on pitchers with mid-90s heat. Some quick-hitting thoughts: Pivetta generated more soft contact, less hard contact, more ground balls, and less line drives in 2018. His 1.69 HR/9 in 2017 dropped to 1.32 HR/9 in 2018. His swinging strike rate exploded up to 12.0%, far above his 8.7% mark a year prior (and 16th overall in the MLB). In short, he is on my list of pitchers to target in the late rounds next season.
SP Sean Newcomb, Braves (55% owned)
I added “Nuke” from waivers after he was dropped due to his rough patch early on. His 3.90 ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, as he was stellar in May (1.54 ERA) and June (2.67 ERA) and hit-or-miss in the second half (4.58 ERA). Control was an issue, with over a double-digit walk rate allowed to both handedness of hitter. He was a mixed bag, with a 29.3% K-rate against lefties, but a 1.73 HR/9 to lefties. Against righty bats he kept the ball in the park (0.78 HR/9) but the K-rate dropped to 21.3%. It’s getting stung by lefty bats that he needs to solve, as the 40.2% hard contact rate just does not jive. Still, on the whole I was happy for a long time with Nuke’s services. As a Braves fan, I’m looking forward to seeing how much momentum he can build in this postseason ahead of next year.
So those are some guys who rounded out my championship squad in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. If you’re like me, there’s a risk with becoming attached to players who have produced for you in some capacity. On the above list, I am most likely to own Mallex Smith and Brian Anderson next year, given Smith’s speed and Anderson’s overall skill set. But I’ll be considering all of these men in some capacity moving forward.
Did you use any of these guys in 2018? If not, who were your unsung heroes?