Written By: Michael Bondy
The All-star break marks a nice midway point where all fantasy owners can take a few days to stare at their lineups and be either pleased or extremely upset with how the season has gone so far. In Fantasy sports, one player can seemingly make or break a fantasy team. Below are the first half fantasy awards (in my opinion) for players who have made it easy for their owners to rest at night. Feel free to comment any suggestions for the awards if you feel differently, again, these are just guys I feel deserving of each fantasy honour.
Fantasy MVP Hitter: Paul Goldschmidt, 1st Baseman (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Considered by many, and myself, as one of the most criminally underrated players in all of Major League Baseball, Paul Goldschmidt for the fifth straight year is a top fantasy performer (and a five-time all-star). A five-tool superstar, Goldschmidt is on pace for what could be his most productive season ever and showing no signs of slowing up as he has one of the most lethal hitting lineups around him in the desert. With breakouts like Jake Lamb, Chris Owings and a healthy Aj Pollock, Goldschmidt looks like he may be the kingpin of what could be one of the strongest 2nd half offences in all of baseball. Currently 16th in home runs (20), fifth in RBIs (67), 19th in stolen bases (13) a batting average above .300 (.312) and finally 6th in OBP for batters with 100 AB or more (.428), Goldy continues to contribute in seemingly every way possible fantasy wise. The 29-year-old is in the prime of his career, and if he can stay healthy like previous seasons (Avg: 146 Games/Season since 2012) will surely reward his owner who has already reaped the rewards of an amazing first half. Look for much the same from Goldschmidt as he continues to make people realise the hidden gem they did not realise existed for so long out in the desert in Arizona.
Honourable Mention: Aaron Judge, Outfielder (New York Yankees). Charlie Blackmon, Outfielder (Colorado Rockies). Jose Altuve, Second Base (Houston Astros).
Fantasy CY Young: Max Scherzer, Pitcher (Washington Nationals)
With the top ERA, WHIP, WAR and 2nd in Ks among eligible pitchers in the entire MLB, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals is making a hard push in 2017 to prove he is, in fact, the most fantasy dominant pitcher in the entire MLB. Barely inching out Clayton Kershaw for the spot as top MLBs best pitcher so far, Scherzer’s season is highlighted by 11 starts of 10+ ks or more, including a stretch from May-June where he accumulated 6 straight 10 strikeout games. Scherzer along with Boston’s Chris Sale, is on pace to become to the first duo of pitchers with 300ks in a season since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did so in 2002.
If there has been one surprise in 2017, it has been reliance on pitching as owners have watched names like Johnny Cueto, Justin Verlander, Masasiro Tanaka and Rick Porcello greatly let them down through the first half and have proven they are no longer a safe bet for a solid start every time out. Even Madison Bumgarner (Shoulder), Noah Syndergaard (Lat) and David Price (Elbow) have caused plenty of stress to owners who drafted them with their early round picks, only to get very little value so far.
With a position where there are less and less sure bets as home runs continue to fly out of parks, Scherzer has easily been one of the most dependable options with every start and will look to build off of last year’s CY Young campaign which has clearly translated into an even better season in 2017.
Notable Mention: Clayton Kershaw, Pitcher (Los Angeles Dodgers). Chris Sale, Pitcher (Boston Red Sox).
Breakout AL: Jose Ramirez, Utility (Cleveland Indians)
It is hard to give a breakout award to a player who technically broke out in 2016, but Jose Ramirez has made an extremely strong case, due to his newfound power, that he has broken out from a good fantasy player to an elite, great fantasy option. At just 24-years old Ramirez is often forgotten when mentioning the youthful impact that is taking baseball by storm in today’s game. This could be highly attributed to the fact the heavy contact hitter feels way older than he appears due to the fact he has been in the majors since 2013. As mentioned, Ramirez surprised many with his original breakout season in 2016 when he posted an impressive .312/.363/.462 slash line with 84 runs, and 76 RBIs, making him very serviceable numbers for a player who can occupy almost all fantasy infield position. Now, forward to this season where Ramirez is making an extremely strong case for not only his positional silver slugger but the AL MVP award if the Dominican can keep slugging like he has. Second, to only Jose Altuve in AL batting average with a .332 average, Ramirez has brought a newfound power approach to the plate which has him breezing by his previous career high of 11 home runs. (2016) With 17 dingers at the All-star break, Ramirez is on pace to join Mike Napoli (34 HRs, 2016) and Carlos Santana as the only Indians hitters to pass the 30-home run plateau since Grady Sizemore in the 2008 season.
It will be interesting to see if Ramirez can keep up his hot hitting as the second half of the season gets under way. Being a centrepiece in the heart of one of the best American League lineups will go a long way in ensuring Ramirez will always be surrounded by good hitters which should help him continue this pace in the long run.
Honourable Mention: Luis Severino, Pitcher (New York Yankees). Lance McCullers, Pitcher (Houston Astros).
Breakout NL: Robbie Ray, Pitcher (Arizona Diamondbacks)
In a year where all it seems all people are talking about (Major League pitchers included) is home runs and rookies, one fantasy category has been on the rise for years and gone major under the radar for it, strikeouts per nine innings. (2007 – 6.62 K/9,2011 – 7.10 K/9, 2017- 8.24 K/9*, *Record pace.) Thanks to the league’s elite flamethrowers like Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Robbie Ray this trend has continued into the 2017 season. Yes, you read that right, Robbie Ray is an elite strikeout, and now in 2017, win and ERA artist. Coming into this season Ray was considered by fantasy players as a great source of strikeouts (4th in NL with 218 strikeouts in 2016), but a huge liability when it came to other fantasy relevant categories. (4.90 ERA in 2016). Thanks to a refined approach and some more majors experience, Ray has tied his total wins from a season ago (8) and added an extremely impressive 2.97 ERA to go alongside it. The first time All-Star is currently 5th in league strikeouts with 141 total and has amassed six games of 10+ strikeouts, while only failing to reach 5 Ks in one of his 17 total starts.
Honourable Mention: Zack Cozart, Shortstop (Cincinnati Reds). Alex Wood, Pitcher (Los Angeles Dodgers).
Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew McCutchen, Outfielder (Pittsburgh Pirates)
When Sterlin Marte was suspended 80 games for PED use earlier this season, it seemed the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield was in shambles. But many forgot; and for a fair reason; about a certain right fielder who just four years prior, won the 2013 NL MVP. Cue Andrew McCutchen, it took a move to the 6 spot in the order and a swing back to his natural centre field spot by manager Clint Hurdle for the 30-year-old to get his mojo back. After starting the first two months with an abysmal .222 batting average, it was starting to look like McCutchen’s days of being an elite fantasy option were long gone. After a disappointing 2016 campaign which saw the slugger struggle with his worst season since 2010, which including a career low in both his .256 batting average as well as his six steals.
Flash forward to the end of June 2017 where McCutchen was happily accepting his NL Player of the Month award after what seemed like a yearlong fantasy lull. Thanks to a .411/.505/.689 month which saw him bring in 23 RBIs as well, McCutchen has not looked back and is proving through July that he is in fact back to the elite fantasy form so many managers hoped he would bring to their roster when drafting him at the beginning of the season (likely earlier than originally needed.) With 50 RBIs and six stolen bases already at the half way point of 2017, it seems almost certain McCutchen will blow by his numbers from last year and put himself back into the talks of a top 30 outfielder when next year’s draft comes around. He is one of many deserving players of this award but his ability to go from just another fantasy outfielder to a must own is very deserving of some recognition.
Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, Outfielder (New York Yankees)
What more do I have to say for Aaron Judge’s Rookie of the Year case in 2017: .329/.448/.691, 75 Runs, 30 Homeruns, 66 RBIs, 6 Stolen Bases, Home Run Derby Champion, and a 1st-time all-star appearance. Case Closed. He probably deserves the MVP of fantasy at this point and considering his ESPN ADP was 209th overall, he almost certainly has been the most value for anyone who took a chance in drafting this huge swinging giant. But for the sake of more content to read, we will just give him the ROY fantasy award for now.
Need I say more:
Honourable Mention: Cody Bellinger, Outfielder (Los Angeles Dodgers). Andrew Benintendi, Outfielder (Boston Red Sox). Josh Bell, 1st Baseman (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Biggest surprise: Yonder Alonso, First Base (Oakland Athletics)
Brought in by the Oakland Athletics as a $4,000,000 filler player on a one-year contract, the onetime Cuban phenom, Yonder Alonso looked like he was long gone from the days of being considered a power hitter. Supposed to be a fill in, low-risk signing while Oakland’s plethora of young talent got ready for the big leagues, Alonso has now become arguably one of the biggest trade targets on the market as we come upon next month’s trade deadline. Having never surpassed the nine-homerun plateau in his seven-year career, at the age of 30, it seemed Alonso had adapted to becoming a contact hitter who rarely put balls over the outfield fence. But this is a season which has been defined by the fly ball revolution and an extreme increase in home runs, something Alonso has been a strong advocate of since the season’s beginning. With 20 home runs, 43 RBIs and 46 runs on the season, Alonso has gone from having little to no fantasy consideration, to being a must start amidst the youthful hitters in Oakland. He may not be an elite hitting option by season’s end and there are many players just as serviceable at 1st, but as far as surprises go, nobody would have imagined Alonso amassing 20 home runs by season’s end, let alone half. If he can keep up his new swinging method and continue with his all-star pace, he will surely end the season as one of the best free agent pickups for almost all fantasy teams which were able to get their hands on him.
Honorable Mention: Scooter Gennett, Second Base(Cincinnati Reds)