2014 Fantasy Baseball: Quarter Awards
With the 2014 Major League Baseball season now officially a quarter of the way complete, it’s time to unveil the Quarter Awards. What better way to reward the fantasy baseball’s best (and worst) players than handing out some prestigious awards? While certain awards were very easy to choose a winner for, others required much more thought due to the stiff competition.
Drumroll please…Here are your 2014 Quarter-Season Award winners.
National League MVP: Troy Tulowitzki
Unlike the AL MVP award, the NL was much easier to decide. The number one ranked player in the game right now is Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Over his first 44 games, Tulo has a stupid good .380/.484/.733 slash line to go along with 13 home runs, 35 RBI, 44 runs, and a steal. His 44 runs, .484 OBP, .733 SLG, 1.217 OPS, 110 total bases, 4.0 WAR, and .358 ISO lead the league while his 13 round-trippers are tied for third most. Tulo is also in the top ten in hits (57), walks (30), RBI (35), and XBH (26). Is that good enough for you?
While playing at home in Coors Field, Tulowitzki is putting up some mind-boggling numbers. His slash line is a ludicrous .521/.600/.959. Those numbers are obviously propping up his season line, but that’s the benefit of playing a mile above sea level. Tulowitzki has always had trouble staying healthy, but if he can avoid a stint on the disabled list this year, he might be the actual MVP at the conclusion of the season.
American League MVP: Brian Dozier
This was an especially tough decision but after much thought it became apparent that Brian Dozier was the player most deserving of the award. The sixth ranked player in the game is producing across the board as evidenced by his 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 41 runs, and 12 thefts to go along with a .257 average. His presence atop the Minnesota Twins lineup has helped the Twins maintain a top ten average in runs scored per game, something that couldn’t have been predicted before the season considering the Twins less than stellar personnel on offense.
As noted in my week eight roundup, Dozier has made improvements across the board in terms of his approach at the plate and that leads me to believe his production is sustainable for the most part. The breakout is real and at a position where notable players like Dustin Pedroia, Matt Carpenter, Ben Zobrist, Aaron Hill, Brett Lawrie, and Brandon Phillips have all flopped to start the season, consistency is vital. 20/20 players are in short supply in MLB nowadays and fantasy owners have reaped the benefits so far. Barring any physical problems, I foresee this line for Dozier come seasons end. .253 average, 25 home runs, 73 RBI, 104 runs, and 24 steals.
NL Cy Young: Johnny Cueto
Just to let illustrate how good Cueto has been this season, consider that after giving up six earned runs in his last start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, he still has a 1.86 ERA. Over his first 77.1 innings pitched, Cueto has amassed a 4-3 record, 0.74 WHIP and 82:18 K/BB ratio. Cueto’s ERA, WHIP, and innings pitched totals lead MLB. Opponents are only hitting .146 against him. Additionally, his K-BB% sits at a sterling 22.2%.
Left-handed hitters are batting .145 against him. Right-handers are “pounding” Cueto to the tune of a .147 average. With RISP and two outs, hitters are 0-18. Cueto has dealt with back and oblique injuries in past seasons due to his unorthodox delivery and there was some angst among owners on how to appropriately value Cueto on draft day due to these concerns. Fortunately for owners, Cueto seems to be aware of this problem and is now working with a modified turn in his delivery. If he can maintain health, Cueto could be in line for a special season. Check out his new delivery (and nasty sinker) below.
AL Cy Young: Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray continued his streak of quality starts to the season after another one (8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 K) on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays, although it didn’t result in a win. Gray has recorded 10 straight quality starts, the most by an A’s pitcher since 1914. The 24-year-old is already a stud. Through his first 68 innings, Gray has a 1.99 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP to go along with a 55:23 K/BB ratio.
Gray has thrown his curveball 274 times and hitters are only hitting .146 against it. Gray is also throwing his changeup twice as often (14.7%) compared to last year (7.2%) and batters are only hitting .217 against it this year. Pitching in the spacious O.Co Coliseum coupled with being on an A’s team that boasts the best record in baseball are another couple advantages working in Gray’s favor. His 1.99 ERA is fifth best in baseball and the best in the AL. Although his xFIP (3.44) suggests he may be betting a tad bit lucky, there’s no denying his dominance so far.
NL Rookie of the Quarter: Billy Hamilton
Although I deemed Billy Hamilton the winner, it was almost by default because the rookie field in the NL has been largely disappointing. Hamilton is batting .257 with one homer, 8 RBI, 19 runs, and 16 steals. Surprisingly, Hamilton has already been caught stealing six times. After his first 16 games Hamilton was only hitting .203. In 76 at-bats since then, he is hitting .302.
Hamilton has improved as the season has wore on and I believe the best is yet to come for the 23-year-old speedster. The Reds center fielder should still have no trouble swiping between 60-70 bags, assuming he doesn’t hit the DL.
AL Rookie of the Quarter: Masahiro Tanaka
Predicting that a rookie pitcher in the AL East would be the most valuable pitching commodity a quarter of the way through the season would be downright impossible before the season started. Masahiro Tanaka apparently doesn’t know that rookies aren’t supposed to dominate the league so fast. The $155 million ace for the New York Yankees is making the team look like geniuses for signing him to the mega-deal. Through his first nine starts, Tanaka is 6-1 with a 2.39 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 73:8 K/BB ratio in 64 innings pitched. Those numbers translate to Tanaka being the 14th ranked player in Y! leagues. By the way, his loss against the Cubs last time out was the first time he has lost a game in professional baseball since 2012.
Tanaka’s 10.27 K/9 rate ranks seventh best among starting pitchers in baseball and his 1.9 WAR is fifth best. A 9.13 K/BB ratio isn’t too shabby either. Tanaka is famous for his killer splitter and it seems hitters are having an especially tough time barreling up this pitch in particular. When Tanaka throws his patented splitter, opponents are hitting a paltry .138. The Japanese import looks like the real deal and doing it in the most hostile environment imaginable makes his start all the more impressive. Hats off to him.
NL Bust: Jedd Gyorko
After hitting .249 with 23 homers and 63 RBI in 125 games for the San Diego Padres last year, expectations were high for the 25-year-old second baseman. Gyorko’s NFBC ADP before the season was 104. Owners were probably expecting the chance for 30 bombs, 75+ RBI, and a respectable average out of the second-year player, but Gyorko has got off to a nightmarish start to the season.
Gyorko owns a hideous .161/.213/.280 slash line with only five homers, 21 RBI and 12 runs to show for it. His .161 average is third worst among qualified batters. He is ranked 912th overall in Y! leagues…wow. After hitting a respectable .264 against southpaws in 2013, Gyorko is only hitting 4-26 (.154). His line drive rate has decreased to 14.4% this year, 8.1% lower than last year. YUCK! The Padres signed Gyorko to a five-year, $35 million contract earlier in the season though so they will have to stick with him. It might be a different story for fantasy owners though, if he doesn’t improve markedly soon it might be time to cut bait with the strikeout-prone slugger.
AL Bust: Prince Fielder
As I noted on Twitter earlier (@MattMoczy), Fielder is set to undergo season-ending cervical fusion surgery on his neck next Tuesday. This is terrible news for fantasy owners who spent an early-round pick to acquire the services of the durable first baseman. Although it’s not fair to label a player as a “bust” due to injury, Fielder was going to my choice for this award even before the unfortunate injury news broke.
Fielder owns a weak .247/.360/.360 slash line and only has three homers and 16 RBI. Ian Kinsler, the player involved in the Fielder trade, is currently besting Fielder in every batting category. Fielder’s neck injury has caused him to experience weakness in his right arm and he said it has affected his ability to drive the ball like normal. This could explain his sky-high groundball rate (50.4%). It’s all at moot point at this stage though, Fielder is out for the season and owners can drop in all re-draft formats. Just a complete lost year for Prince.
NL Breakout: Charlie Blackmon
What a surprise Blackmon has been for fantasy owners who snagged him off the waiver wire. On draft day owners probably had nary a second thought of drafting Blackmon, hell, his NFBC ADP was 400. Much to the delight of current owners, Blackmon is the fourth ranked player thanks to a .329/.369/.549 slash line with nine homers, 32 RBI, 35 runs, and nine steals. The .329 average is tied for fifth best in MLB. Blackmon has excelled with RISP, batting 15-41 (.336) with 22 RBI in those situations.
Like many players on the Rockies, Blackmon has enjoyed far more success in the comfortable confines of Coors Field. He is hitting 35-90 (.389) with a .429 OBP at home. Being left-handed, Blackmon is more than holding his own against southpaws as evidenced by his 16-50 (.320) average. Advanced statistics suggest Blackmon’s hot start isn’t a fluke either. He has lowered his strikeout rate from 19.0% in 2013 to 10.1% in 2014. His ISO has risen from .159 to .220 the last year as has his contact rate from 83.4% to 89.8%. The 27-year-old looks to be well on his way to a career year.
AL Breakout: Michael Brantley
After a solid campaign in 2013, Brantley had established himself as mixed-league relevant player coming into the season. Fantasy owners couldn’t have expected Brantley to provide the plethora of stats he has so far this year. Over his first 46 games, Brantley is hitting .303/.369/.528 with nine homers, 37 RBI, 28 runs, and six steals without being caught. His 53 hits are tied for tenth best in the AL. Ranking 12th best overall on Y!, Brantley has been a top-five outfielder so far.
The Indians left fielder has been especially clutch with the bases loaded. Brantley is 6-9 with 15 RBI in those situations. His power has been an unexpected bonus for owners. Brantley established his career-high in homers last year (10) and he is going to shatter that mark with three-fourths of the season still to play. 15 homers and stolen bases is in play for him and 20/20 isn’t out of the question either. Congratulations are in order for owners who drafted Brantley this year. What a steal he has been so far.
Thanks for reading and thanks to FanGraphs, Y!, and BrooksBaseball for the statistical information. Leave comments below on the awards you agree and disagree on. You can follow me on Twitter @MattMoczy and I’m more than willing to answer any questions you may have.