Halpin' Hand: Fantasy MVPs

BY John Halpin • October 8, 2009

Now that the regular season's over — for those of you not reading this during the Tigers-Twins game, anyway — it's time to hand out the fantasy hardware. We've got MVPs at each position, but they're not traditional MVPs. For example, you knew Albert Pujols would be awesome. If you drafted him, as happy as he might have made you, it was the overachieving later draft picks that really put your team over the top, right? Below are fantasy MVPs at every position, with the extremely subjective criteria being the player who outperformed his average draft position (ADP) to the greatest degree. Complaints, suggestions or insults? Post a comment at the bottom of the page. If you remember, during draft season, Joe Mauer was missing spring training games with back problems. He scared the heck out of fantasy owners everywhere because they didn't know when he'd be back, or how good he'd be when he did return. So much for that. Coming into today's one-game American League Central playoff, Mauer's batting .364 with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, 94 runs scored and four stolen bases — all after missing the month of April. People always said that when he developed home run power, he'd be a beast, and they were right. At age 26, he could certainly improve, and he should be a first-round fantasy draft pick in 2010. Catchers like this come along about once every 20 years.

First base: Derrek Lee, Cubs (ADP: 60, 10th at position)

On June 23, needing home runs and RBI, I traded Dan Haren to my colleague Mike Harmon in exchange for Ryan Howard in the FOXSports.com experts fantasy league. I knew Haren would come back to Earth at some point, so the deal was a no-brainer. Problem is, I gave up Lee (11 HR, 36 RBI at the time) as a throw-in. Lee was done as a big-time power hitter — or so I thought. Since the trade, Lee's been hitting out of his mind, batting .330 with 24 homers and 72 RBI in July, August and September. Not surprisingly, Harmon finally knocked my team out of first place last week and is about to wrap up the league title. I hate Lee's guts right now, but I'm sure the people who kept him are really happy.

Second base: Aaron Hill, Blue Jays (ADP: 188, 12th at position)

What the %$#@!? All year long, we kept waiting for Hill to cool off, and he never really did. He hit at least five home runs in every month of the season. He's a very deserving fantasy MVP at the keystone. Now, do I think Hill will do it again? Read this article from FanGraphs and let me know what you think. I was voting NO before I read it.

Third base: Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks (ADP: 134, 10th at position)

Washington's Ryan Zimmerman (ADP: 192, 16th at position) made a good case, but nobody really threatened Reynolds for this award. Forty-four homers and 24 stolen bases? What happened to this guy? If you had tried to wager in Vegas before the season on, "Mark Reynolds will have a better fantasy season than both Alex Rodriguez and David Wright," you'd be living on your own tropical island by now. I'm one of those people who doesn't care much about Reynolds' all-time whiff record, but nobody with that many strikeouts can maintain a good batting average. If he dips to .240 next season, there will be some negativity to go along with his crazy power-speed numbers. He's still worth a high draft pick, but keep that in mind.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (ADP: 205, 15th at position)

Come on, admit it — you got spooked by Tulo's awful sophomore slump in 2008. He returned with a vengeance this season, launching 32 homers with 92 RBI, 101 runs, 20 stolen bases and a .297 batting average. After Hanley Ramirez, is there a fantasy shortstop you'd rather have in 2010?

Outfield: Jayson Werth, Phillies (ADP: 268, 63rd at position)

There were plenty of strong candidates here, including Matt Kemp (ADP: 90, 24th at position); Carl Crawford (ADP: 121, 32nd at position); Nelson Cruz (ADP: 177, 42nd at position); Justin Upton (ADP: 247, 60th at position); and Adam Lind (ADP: 227, 55th at position). Nice job, guys. Getting an honorable mention is always nice. None of them produced the same draft value as Werth, who obliterated his previous career bests, with 36 homers, 99 RBI and 98 runs, and added 20 steals as icing on the cake. If you're worried about this season being a fluke, keep in mind his OPS only improved by .018 (.861 to .879) from 2008 to 2009, and his home runs per plate appearance made another modest advance, from one homer per 20.1 at-bats to one in every 18.8. He simply got more playing time this season and got just a little bit better. A repeat in 2010 is a decent bet.

Starting pitcher: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (ADP: 248, 67th at position)

This guy got drafted in the 21st round on average in 12-team, mixed league drafts, because he had pitched a total of 21 1/3 innings in 2007 and 2008, so nobody knew how healthy he was. Your late-round draft pick of Carpenter gave you a fantasy ace and probably put you in contention for a league title. If you win your league, you should send him a Christmas card or something.

Relief pitcher: David Aardsma, Mariners (ADP: undrafted)

Yet another example of why you shouldn't draft a closer too early. Aardsma became the Mariners' closer when Brandon Morrow had a change of heart about being a starter and when he brought his big-time strikeout rate to the ninth inning — presto! — a closer was born. Next year, when you're thinking about drafting Jonathan Papelbon or Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan during a run on closers, remember that if you do so, a couple of your competitors are going to grab guys like Aardsma for free during the first month or two of the season. Draft a closer late, try to pick up another one later, and you'll probably be fine. And if you're not, keep in mind they're a crapshoot whenever you get them, anyway.