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2021 Fantasy Baseball: A Review of “Hits”

Heath examines what went well in his 2021 fantasy baseball leagues.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but Fake Teams dot com is generating loads of content right now. Football, baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, NASCAR, season-long, DFS...you name it, we probably have it. Editor life mixed with real life (teaching, coaching, etc.) is a delicate balance. Yours truly has one more week of parent/coach life before the heavens open more time for editing and writing. This afternoon I’m forcing this 2021 fantasy baseball review out into the airwaves, though. What follows won’t be perfect. But I hope it contributes in some fashion to a broader conversation.

This year marked my first “real” foray into higher stakes leagues at the NFBC, though I didn’t play a ton of volume. I did one Draft Champions league (1st) and one NFBC50 (1st). That site also housed my TGFBI squad (5th, 137 overall of 435) and my RazzSlam squad (3rd in my league). My TGFBI unit was hamstrung by my hitting, which underperformed—but the pitching was top notch (first in the overall standings for quite some time). That dissipated with the losses of Kenta Maeda, Freddy Peralta, Aaron Civale, and Shane Bieber for varying stretches of time. Similarly, losing Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Bauer (yuck), and Blake Snell in my RazzSlam league had a very negative effect on what could have been the top team in that league.

In short, the year was pretty successful. The monies won will roll over into more DCs, NFBC50s, and (possibly) my first Main Event team. More on that later. For now, I want to consider what went right in 2021. For lack of a better word, we’ll call these “hits.” After this one we’ll get into the nitty gritty and discuss the whiffs. For now, onto the good stuff...

2B Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves (drafted in Round 3)

Taken directly from my 2021 State of the Second Base Position:

“He’s more of a 20/20 threat than LeMahieu or Merrifield, given LeMahieu’s lack of speed and Merrifield’s lack of power.”

What I saw in Albies this preseason was a young player in an elite offense, a 24-year-old with a pair of 24/14 seasons already under his belt. All Albies did was go 30/20 (!) and score 103 runs, sock 106 RBI, and bat a solid .259. All the preseason hullabaloo on the Twitter airwaves over his batting order slot and how much of a death knell it would be if he batted fifth...I hope you joined me in ignoring all of that. Albies was the 18th-best player in the fantasy baseball game, and he did so while batting third in the order primarily. You may espouse the injury to Ronald Acuña Jr. and the suspension of Marcell Ozuna all you like—and how their presence(s) may have altered things—but the overarching point is that the cream rises to the top, folks. I was fortunate enough to roster Albies in my DC and my NFBC50. The same is true of the next guy...

1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (drafted in Round 5)

We’ve been buying the launch angle adjustment for two seasons now, and it came to FULL fruition in 2021. Vladito retained his deep-red Statcast numbers with regard to batted ball quality, but his launch angle rose to 9.4 degrees on average. This was a departure from his previous two years (4.6, 6.7) and put him above the MLB average of 7.6 degrees. And to boot, Vladdy increased his hard hit rate from 50.8% to 55.2%, while holding steady in K-rate (15.8%) and beefing up his walk rate (12.8%). For reference, he had walk rates of 8.2% and 8.9% in his first two seasons. He was the No. 1 overall player in the fake game, a spot we KNEW he could achieve with the right adjustment. In hindsight, anyone not taking that chance in the murky waters of Round 5 last year is probably kicking themselves. Albies and Guerrero provided an awesome foundation for both of my money leagues at the NFBC.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

RP Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels (Round 6)

He was unquestioned as the closer for LAA entering 2021, and the bottom-end of what I viewed as the elite tier, a place I like to land with regard to pitching in general. Josh Hader (Round 4) was a name I was never in on given the price point, but in Round 6 or 7 of 15-team leagues I was totally comfortable snagging my first closer. Liam Hendriks, Aroldis Chapman, and Edwin Diaz were other considerations, but it was Iglesias that I found falling into my lap the most. I settled for Diaz in my DC, as Iglesias was taken four picks prior, but I landed Iglesias in the 7th round of my NFBC50 as the fifth closer off the board (Hendriks, Hader, Chapman, and Diaz were all drafted in Round 6). It felt like highway robbery at the time, and I’ll say it was solid, as Iglesias matched Hader with 34 saves and bested him by one strikeout, 103 to 102.

SP Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies (Round 7)

I drafted Wheeler for his workhorse capabilities, figuring the floor of innings would bring stability to my ratios, even if Wheeler’s ratios weren’t upper echelon. I’d have been content splitting the difference between his 2019 ERA (3.96) and his 2020 ERA (2.92). But all Wheeler did was turn in a career-best 2.78 mark, backed by a 2.84 xFIP and 2.78 xERA. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, eh? Wheeler is an arm I will need to dive into more this offseason to determine what went SO right in 2021. But back to my original line of thinking—Wheeler’s 213 13 innings topped all of the league in 2021. So I nailed the workhorse part. But to do so with a 2.78 ERA and 1.01 WHIP—that was just amazing value for a Round 7 arm. For reference, I drafted Wheeler after guys like Dinelson Lamet, Dylan Bundy, Stephen Strasburg, and Chris Paddack.

SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (Round 8)

He was the last of the top 15 shortstops to me, a guy I felt I could get four of five categories from (no speed). And Correa didn’t disappoint, delivering a .279 BA, 104 runs, 92 RBI, and 26 homers en route to a finish as the 10th-best shortstop (per Yahoo eligibility rules). That’s a bit misleading, though, as Manny Machado was likely utilized as a third baseman in many formats, and plenty of the players ahead of Correa also carried eligibility at second base, a paper-thin spot to be sure. Correa’s injury discount served us well in 2021, and if similar situations arise with players that we KNOW are talented for the coming season, that’s a situation I’ll be targeting.

1B/2B/SS Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres (Round 11)

RAKE Cronenworth had some depressed draft day value due to the signing of Ha-Seong Kim, but the multi-eligibility and the skill set were too enamoring for me to pass up. I drafted him in Round 11 of my DC, seven picks before Kim was drafted. It’s tough to call that a huge victory given that Marcus Semien was also drafted in Round 11 (wow at his season) but “Crone” was an integral part of many of my rosters in 2021. His numbers weren’t extraordinary, but the utility was handy, as were the 94 runs scored. So long as the draft day cost is low in 2022, I’ll be buying him as an underrated glue guy yet again.

RP Will Smith, Atlanta Braves (Round 16)

Smith tallied 37 saves for the upstart Atlanta Braves, a mark that only three men bested. Mark Melancon (39), Liam Hendriks (38), and Kenley Jansen (38) were the names, and two of those three were high draft picks (if talking closers). Taking a dart throw on Smith’s longer track record of success—i.e., tossing out his abbreviated 2020—proved to be savvy. In hindsight, if you were trusting his absurdly low 16-inning sample from 2020...yikes.

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

UT/P Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Round 20)

Understatement of the year, right? Continuing the trend of buying talent with an injury discount was Ohtani, who was the greatest show in baseball this past season. I drafted him in Round 20 of my DC league, sandwiched between MI picks like Joey Wendle, Wilmer Flores, and Scott Kingery. You could have used him as a pitcher (9 W, 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 156 SO) or as a hitter (103 R, 46 HR, 100 RBI, 26 SB, .257 BA) but I needed him as a bat. The fact that you can toggle between those two forms of elite production, though? That’s just silly, and he’ll be a bonafide first-rounder for 2022.

SS Amed Rosario, Cleveland (Round 22)

Rosario was traded from the Mets to Cleveland and we got the discount based on a perceived logjam between he and Andres Gimenez. Gimenez was drafted in Round 12, for reference. Rosario wasn’t a world-beater, but double-digit homers and steals in the late round was just fine—and his .282 BA was in line with 2019 (.287 BA, .338 BABIP). In two of three years now, he’s been a plus in the BA department and tallied double-digit homers and steals. The year he wasn’t was the shortened 2020. I’ll be interested to see his early ADP data from 2022. Could be a cheap and sturdy MI type.

SP Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants (Round 29)

The shift from CIN to SFG made me buy in, as did the depressed ADP. We had seen Drew Smyly regain value in San Francisco the year prior, and “Tony Disco” already had three useful years in his previous four seasons, anyway. In the latter stages of my DC, my NFBC50, and my TGFBI drafts, Disco was a no-brainer. His ratios were pretty stellar (3.17 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) and his 13 wins were tied for 14th in all of baseball. I’ll keep my eyes on the upstart Giants this offseason. If they go mining for starting pitching, I’ll be doing the same if they bring in arms with any sort of upside.

SP Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels (Round 33)

A hefty ground ball rate and sturdy K-rates were what lead me to Sandoval. He only managed 87 innings and shifted between relief and starting, but the 3.62 ERA was backed by career-best marks in FIP (4.03) and xFIP (3.79). We’ll have to see how he recovers from the lower back stress fracture...but if the pitching waters are super-murky due to talent or role, I’m drafting the guy who has shown flashes of talent—even if he might begin the year in more of a bulk inning role. That’s better than a bad starter blowing your ratios sky high...

RP Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners (Round 39)

Look, we knew there was a chance he’d get flipped to a contender. The Mariners allowed Graveman to rebuild his value in the closer’s role (10 saves this year) but then flipped him to the Astros. It was nice while it lasted, and I’ll still call it a “hit” given the bleary-eyed stages of the draft. You can back a player like this up with a youngster who might get the call later on—say, an arm like Tanner Rainey (even though he only mustered three saves).

That’s it for an early review. I’ll likely refine this process of reviewing my...process. But for now, if you have picks you were “in” on that panned out, share ‘em below. For my part, I’m really excited to examine the “whiffs” in the next effort. I see you, Cavan Biggio...