Fantasy Baseball Friday: 2021 Year in Review

As we wait to see who the 2021 World Series champion is going to be, let’s take a look back on the fantasy baseball season that was this year.

Fantasy MVPs

The criteria I’m using for this is not simply the #1 overall fantasy players, but who returned the most value at where you would have drafted them.

American League:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Vlad Jr was going on average in the fifth round before the season, mostly due to him being an early-round disappointment last year. It’s pretty safe to say that he will be taken much earlier than the fifth round in 2022 drafts. Vlad finished as the number one hitter in points leagues (excluding Ohtani) and the number four rated player in Roto leagues. If you didn’t completely whiff on your first four picks then grabbed Vlad in the fifth, it’s hard to imagine you didn’t finish at least top three in your league. He was a serious four-category contributor and averaged 4.0 fantasy points per game, which is absolutely elite. His final 2021 stat line:

.311 avg, 1.002 OPS, 48 home runs, 123 runs, and 111 RBI

Honorable mention: the great Shohei Ohtani. The only reason I can’t give it to Ohtani is that most league formats didn’t allow you to fully reap the benefits of Ohtani. He was definitely more valuable to the Angels in real life than he was in fantasy. He probably returned more value as just a DH than a pitcher. If you happen to play in a daily points league and can change him from DH to starting pitcher, then you cleaned up taking Ohtani in the 12th-15th round. Fantasy baseball platforms might need to change how they treat Ohtani in 2022.

National League:

This one is tough, as it seems like all the top players came from the AL and there were a few top NL players who were drafted in the first round where you expected them to be studs. So, we’re going with:

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldy was drafted on average in the 7th round as the 8th first baseman off the board. He finished as the 11th overall hitter in points and 13th in Roto, so Goldy most likely returned the most value of any NL hitter to those who drafted him. The 34-year-old quietly had his best year since his final days with the Diamondbacks, finishing batting .294 with a .879 OPS and adding 31 home runs, 102 runs, 99 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. He was a great example of why you don’t panic over early to mid-round picks after the first month of the season. At the end of April, Goldschmidt was hitting .214 with a .597 OPS. If you were able to buy low on him, then bravo.

Fantasy Cy Young

So many top arms ended up going down with injuries this year, so the options were limited.

American League:

Robbie Ray

What a resurgence year for Ray, who was essentially going for free towards the end of drafts before the season. He finished the year 7th in fWAR among qualified AL starters, but his fantasy production outpaced his real-life production where he finished as the number four starting pitcher in points leagues and the number seven starter in Roto (both excl. Ohtani). He didn’t miss time all year, amassing just under 200 innings pitched. His volume was met with quality in a 2.84 ERA and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His stuff was on all year, posting a career-high swinging-strike rate of 15.5%, beating out his previous high from 2017 of 14.2%. It’ll be interesting to see where Ray is drafted next year as he’ll be a 30-year-old free agent this offseason.

National League:

Zack Wheeler

Scherzer and Buehler were also candidates, but Wheeler was being drafted about five rounds later than those two, which gave him the edge. Wheeler finished the year as the number three starting pitcher in both points and roto (excl. Ohtani) and finished as a close second amongst qualified NL pitchers in fWAR. This year might have been Wheeler taking the next step toward the elite tier, posting career bests in swinging-strike rate, called-strike plus whiff rate, and SIERA.

Fantasy All-Stars

We did the fantasy all-stars during the MLB all-star break, but let’s now do the full-year all-stars.

American League:

C – Salvador Perez
1B – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
2B – Marcus Semien
3B – Jose Ramirez
SS – Bo Bichette
OF – Cedric Mullins
OF – Whit Merrifield
OF – Teoscar Hernandez
DH – Shohei Ohtani
SP – Robbie Ray
RP – Liam Hendriks

Snubs: Kyle Tucker, Rafel Devers, Matt Olson

National League:

C – Will Smith
1B – Paul Goldschmidt
2B – Trea Turner
3B – Manny Machado
SS – Fernando Tatis Jr.
OF – Juan Soto
OF – Bryce Harper
OF – Nick Castellanos
SP – Max Scherzer
RP – Josh Hader

Snubs: Freddie Freeman, Walker Buehler

Way Too Early 2022 Rankings

Here’s how I’d rank the top 30 overall hitters as of the end of this year.

1Shohei Ohtani
2Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
3Juan Soto
4Fernando Tatis Jr.
5Bryce Harper
6Ronald Acuna Jr.
7Aaron Judge
8Jose Ramirez
9Kyle Tucker
10Mike Trout
11Freddie Freeman
12Rafael Devers
13Trea Turner
14Mookie Betts
15Matt Olson
16Nick Castellanos
17Bryan Reynolds
18Manny Machado
19Max Muncy
20Teoscar Hernandez
21Bo Bichette
22Paul Goldschmidt
23Marcus Semien
24Yordan Alvarez
25Brandon Lowe
26Pete Alonso
27Austin Riley
28Luis Robert
29Xander Bogaerts
30Jesse Winker

And the top 20 starting pitchers:

1Corbin Burnes
2Jacob deGrom
3Gerrit Cole
4Shane Bieber
5Tyler Glasnow
6Kevin Gausman
7Freddy Peralta
8Carlos Rodon
9Aaron Nola
10Dylan Cease
11Brandon Woodruff
12Max Scherzer
13Logan Webb
14Charlie Morton
15Nathan Eovaldi
16Trevor Rogers
17Lucas Giolito
18Shane McClanahan
19Zack Wheeler
20Joe Musgrove

Themes for 2022

Injuries and Overwork

Coming off the late-starting, shortened-season that was 2020 it’s not a huge surprise there were some major injuries this year. For reference in 2020, the average qualified hitter had 224 plate appearances and the average qualified pitcher threw 69 (nice) innings. Compare that to 2021 where those averages jump to 596 plate appearances and 180 innings pitched. That workload shock to the body is probably nothing these guys have faced in a while.

There were a number of very fantasy-relevant players who did not finish their 2021 season due to injury. This list includes:

Keep an eye on how those guys are progressing towards opening day. I’d also be especially wary of drafting starting pitchers who pitched deep into the playoffs early in the draft next year, as their workload increases from 2020 to 2021 were even more significant. You saw a few guys break down in the postseason, like Max Scherzer and Lance McCullers Jr. I’m not saying avoid drafting guys like Luis Garcia and Max Fried at all costs, but maybe they deserve a slight downgrade.

Positional Scarcity between Hitters and Pitchers

Once we got into May, it felt like there were a plethora of good fantasy hitters available to us all year. Yet as the months went on, and especially after the sticky stuff ban, it felt like the starting pitching positional scarcity became real. To evidence this, let’s look at total fantasy points per CBS Sports.

There were 67 total hitters who scored more than 400 total fantasy points, compared to just 29 starting pitchers who did so. The difference between the number one fantasy hitter, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and the number 99 fantasy hitter, Mike Yastrzemski, was 278.5 points, or 43%. The difference between the number one starting pitcher, Walker Buehler, and the 99th, Kyle Freeland, was 223.5 points or 65%. I expect this trend to continue. In Roto leagues, you’re less affected as you rely more on relief pitchers and larger batting lineups, but in points leagues, I’m going to be extremely starting pitcher heavy next year.

That’s a wrap for the 2021 fantasy season. Hopefully, you brought home some hardware, and if not, there’s always next year.

Fantasy expert, Adam Gruttadaro, is a guest contributor for Bat Flips and Nerds. Check out his website for more fantasy tips and follow him on Twitter & Instagram @SharpMoneyCo.

Photo by Kathryn Riley

While we have you, why not check out the excellent podcast which featured Rachel in conversation with Braves fan, Reginald D. Hunter. Click on the big fella’s head.

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