The Change: 2016’s Top 20 Fantasy Players

We’ve done a good thing for those of you that still care about fantasy baseball right now. The Auction Calculator now has 2016 stats as an option so that you can look backwards at what has just happened. That’s going to be part of our effort, on the way to the end of the year, to look at last year to learn more for next year.

This is an important part of fantasy that usually gets ignored. Not only does the league itself change year to year, so retrospection is important in that way, but we can learn things about fantasy itself that will improve our ability to value players going forward.

The fourth-best player in the game last year, by this list, has already inspired a possible change to the auction calculator going forward. Let’s see what else it jars loose.

Top 20 Fantasy Players in 2016
Name POS aPOS Dollars
Mookie Betts OF $9.50 $38.00
Mike Trout OF $9.50 $35.10
Jose Altuve 2B $9.50 $34.60
Clayton Kershaw SP $10.70 $34.40
Max Scherzer SP $10.70 $33.70
Nolan Arenado 3B $9.00 $32.00
Jon Lester SP $10.70 $29.50
Kyle Hendricks SP $10.70 $29.40
Kris Bryant 3B/OF $9.00 $28.90
Paul Goldschmidt 1B $9.50 $28.60
Charlie Blackmon OF $9.50 $28.20
Madison Bumgarner SP $10.70 $28.20
Justin Verlander SP $10.70 $27.40
Brian Dozier 2B $9.50 $27.00
Josh Donaldson 3B $9.00 $26.50
Miguel Cabrera 1B $9.50 $26.30
Jonathan Villar 3B/SS $8.60 $26.30
Joey Votto 1B $9.50 $26.30
Rick Porcello SP $10.70 $26.20
Robinson Cano 2B $9.50 $26.10
SOURCE: Auction Calculator
Z-scores using retroactive stats
Settings: 2C, 5OF, MI, CI, 6SP, 3RP, 10BN 12-team roto league.

If value is value, never mind the cost, then Mookie Betts is your 2016 Fantasy MVP. He was a strong value in every category, and his batting average came in 730 plate appearances, second-most in the game. Mike Trout was right there with him, but didn’t have the plate appearances or the RBI, so once again you can blame his teammates for lost hardware. I’m sure losing out on the RotoGraphs Fantasy MVP crown is one that will really sting.

Of course, value is not really value without any consideration of cost, so our real MVP would probably come from a list that includes Kyle Hendricks or Jonathan Villar. We can award that another time.

It’s interesting to see the effect of the rarity of stolen bases here. Of the top twenty in stolen base value, seven were worth more than $20 and five were worth more than $25 overall. It’d be tempting to say they were more interesting than the top homers guys, especially since there were no double-digit homer category dollar power guys and there were three steals guys worth double-digits in the steals category, but I’m not sure. Of the top twenty in home run value, eleven were worth more than $20 and seven were worth more than $25. Homers come with RBI, and though steals come with batting average and runs, there are other ways to get those secondary stats.

Clayton Kershaw getting this close to the top, and being the top pitcher, is very interesting since he only managed 149 innings to Max Scherzer’s 228. Jeff Zimmerman will have more on the math change this might inspire in the calculator this week.

Hey look at that. Only one shortstop in the top 20, and only four middle infielders. That doesn’t mean position scarcity is dead, but it does mean that these settings don’t push the player pool hard enough to make a shortstop worth this much. If you switch it to a 20-team league, Villar ends up as the fifth-best position player last year, and Jean Segura, Daniel Murphy, Ian Kinsler, and Manny Machado join the top 20.

Is the lack of prospect/rookie value in the top 20 surprising? Corey Seager was great, but these are the veterans of the game. Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Brian Dozier, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Rick Porcello and Cano all had bounce-back seasons that pushed them into the top 20. They average 31.7 years old.

If you ignored young players without a track record, you’d have missed out on people like Villar, Wil Myers ($22.5), Corey Seager ($18.2), Francisco Lindor ($18.2), and Adam Duvall ($14.9), but you wouldn’t have missed out on a top twenty talent. This seems like an argument for the boring and older vs the exciting shiny new toy, but to me it’s more of an argument for a good mix. You want Myers and you want Verlander, and your world view has to be flexible enough to desire both.

Don’t get too attached to these guys. Only eight of then appeared on last year’s top 20Charlie Blackmon, Kershaw, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt. And even that grouping of seemingly bedrock fantasy producers will probably lose a player or two going into next year.

Just remember, it’s more likely to be someone with a track record that pushes them from the podium.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Thanks Eno! Having 2016 stats is something I was wishing for just a few days ago. Great addition!