12 Players Who Were Better Than You Might Think

I’ll kick this off with a couple of caveats. First, I’m not really sure how you think. You might think these players were fantastic, in which case the headline appears a little silly. I’m just going off of a vague feeling based on consuming fantasy baseball content through the season. Second, for the sake of a uniform ranking system, I’m using ESPN’s Player Rater.

55 R 7 HR 43 RBI 1 SB .299 AVG

OK, so… catcher was a little rough this season. Evan Gattis did exactly what we expected. Stephen Vogt isn’t sneaking up on anyone at this point after his early-season tear. It really came down to Cervelli or Nick Hundley (who finished sixth). Cervelli ranked eighth at catcher and is 13th in ownership rate so there’s a small disconnect between performance and perception. His best asset is that he didn’t kill fantasy owners in any single category.

First base: Logan Forsythe
69 R 17 HR 68 RBI 9 SB .281 AVG

While he also qualified at second base, it seems remarkable he finished 16th at first base. That’s better than Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Mark Teixeira, Freddie Freeman (wrist injuries are rough) and pretty darn close to Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols.

Second base: DJ LeMahieu
85 R 6 HR 60 RBI 23 SB .302 AVG

Ah, the wonders a slight uptick in walk rate and a 40-point jump in BABIP, can do for fantasy value. ESPN’s third-ranked second baseman, LeMahieu also benefited from a substantially better steal rate than he’s managed previously. He was successful in 60 percent of his attempts before 2015 and 88 percent this season.

Middle Infield: Mookie Betts
92 R 18 HR 76 RBI 20 SB .294 AVG

Our base of reference for ratings is in ESPN, but the analysis doesn’t have to stick there too, so Betts gets a special shoutout for his Yahoo! owners, who could have used his numbers nicely into their second-base spot. Plugging his numbers in at second, he unseats LeMahieu and was the third most valuable option there, behind Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve. Even if I hadn’t shoehorned him into second base, I would have listed him at outfield, where he finished 12th.

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor
50 R 12 HR 51 RBI 11 SB .323 AVG

Maybe you knew he’s been good, but it seems crazy that Lindor is ranked second among shortstops. That’s two spots ahead of Carlos Correa! Lindor’s big advantage in AVG makes up for Correa’s edge in HR, RBI and SB. Even without playing a full season, his average was high enough to be a huge asset at shortstop.

Third base: Josh Donaldson
122 R 41 HR 123 RBI 6 SB .300 AVG

Hear me out. Who’s been the best fantasy third baseman this season? It’s a toss-up between Donaldson and Nolan Arenado, right? Wrong. His huge advantage in runs means the gap between Donaldson and Arenado was similar to the gap between Arenado and sixth-ranked Xander Bogaerts. Donaldson is the first player with 120 runs and 120 RBI since Albert Pujols in 2009. You knew he was good, but he was really, really good.

Corner Infield: Matt Duffy
77 R 12 HR 76 RBI 12 SB .300 AVG

Duffy must have borrowed some of Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik’s magic dust. After all, this is a guy who has 13 career minor-league home runs. So what does he do this season? Hit 12 home runs and triple his walk rate (though that’s not as tough as it sounds since he walked once in 34 games in 2014). Like many on this list, he performed well in all five categories.

Outfield: Lorenzo Cain
99 R 16 HR 71 RBI 28 SB .303 AVG

Cain’s breakout is no secret, yet it’s hard to fully appreciate his impact until you see he’s been the fifth-best outfielder this season. The power many have been predicting for years finally showed up and he nearly doubled his career home run total in 2015 alone. A bump in walk rate, an improved Royals offense and some better luck helped his run total jump last year’s by 44. He’s helped impressively everywhere, like a slightly watered down A.J. Pollock.

Outfield: Adam Eaton
95 R 14 HR 54 RBI 17 SB .284 AVG

I read something along the way this season stating that if this is the Eaton we’ve been waiting for, it’s a letdown. I disagree and guess most readers here disagree as well. He contributed across the board, finishing 22nd at outfield, and even put up a great run total in one of baseball’s worst offenses.

Outfield: Billy Burns
69 R 5 HR 42 RBI 26 SB .294 AVG

He ranked 29th, with essentially the same value as Billy Hamilton because he didn’t provide negative value in three out of five categories like Hamilton did. Few would have been bold enough to guess Burns would out-earn Adam Jones (without assuming Jones missed extensive time) in the preseason.

Outfield: Dexter Fowler
100 R 17 HR 45 RBI 20 SB .248 AVG

I suspect any lack of buzz is related to his sub-.250 average. And I suspect that is related to a BABIP 40 points south of his career rate. Fortunately, walks don’t slump as much and his on-base skills helped him stack up 100 runs. Another 17 home runs will be a longshot next season, but they certainly boosted him this year.

60 R 7 HR 42 RBI 16 SB .292 AVG

The Giancarlo Stanton injury/Marlin offensive struggles ate into his run total, plus he hit the DL twice and struggled from Opening Day through May. While many will think of his season starting with those bumps, he was the 39th best outfielder, easily starter-worthy.

Adam McFadden contributes to RotoGraphs when he's not working as a sports editor at MSN. His writing has appeared online for FOX Sports and Sports Illustrated.

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