ROTISSERIE: Handing out the 2019 fantasy awards

Any discussion or analysis of the 2019 baseball season must start with the baseball itself.

The spherical object at the center of the game is better centered and more spherical than ever before – and as a result, it’s flying even greater distances. Hitters broke the all-time record for home runs in a season … before a single pitch was thrown in September.

The Minnesota Twins provided the most striking evidence of the new super-fun baseball. A team that had been outhomered by its opponents in 26 of the past 27 seasons embraced the launch angle revolution and, led by a quintet of 30-homer hitters, obliterated the single-season mark for home runs by one team.

Structural changes to the baseball aren’t expected until 2021 at the earliest, so the biggest question for fantasy owners is how the new long-ball landscape will affect strategy going forward.

On the pitching side, aces have become an endangered species. A starter who provided 150 innings of a 3.75 ERA was once a rotation filler. Now, he’s an above-average asset. (Hello, James Paxton!)

On offense, the prevalence of power hitters makes home runs both easier and more important to acquire. With one week remaining in the regular season, a record 55 players had hit at least 30 homers.

However, the increase in power has been accompanied by a decrease in speed. As a result, it’s more important than ever to target players who can hit for power and steal bases. Rotisserie league owners can’t afford to go fishing for one-category steals specialists when so much power is required to compete in homers and RBI.

Expect former first-round “locks” who don’t run (Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, Aaron Judge) to see their ADPs fall in next year’s drafts while players who do a little bit of everything (Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Starling Marte) become even more valuable.

Before we look too far into the future, let’s hand out our annual achievement awards for this season:

Fantasy MVP: 2B-SS-OF Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
Marte might be the shining example of this season’s power surge, going from 14 homers a year ago to 32 and increasing his slugging percentage by over 150 points. What’s encouraging for next season is that he didn’t sacrifice any of his contact rate to add all of that power.

On average, he was drafted 24th among players eligible at second base. He’ll finish at the top of the heap, despite missing the final 10 games due to a stress fracture in his back. On top of the offensive leap Marte made in 2019, he did it while playing the majority of his games at a completely new position on defense.

While there were many deserving candidates for fantasy MVP, Marte’s contributions in all five fantasy categories, his eligibility at three different positions and his low cost on draft day make him the clear choice.

Runners-up: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox; DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees; Pete Alonso, New York Mets.

Fantasy pitcher of the year: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
After leading the American League in walks last season, Giolito tweaked his delivery and became one of the most valuable pitchers this season.

The biggest issue for fantasy owners was when to believe the changes made a difference. The turning point might have come on May 7, when he tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings at Cleveland and started a run of eight consecutive wins. He finished with 14 wins, a 3.41 ERA and 228 strikeouts. His 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings ranks fifth among qualifying starters.

Runners-up: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians; Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves; Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers.

Waiver pickup of the year: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
Alvarez, 22, was destroying minor league pitching when he finally got the call to Houston in mid-June. When he homered on a Sunday in his MLB debut, fantasy owners jumped to grab him off the waiver wire.

Those who added the slugging phenom have been handsomely rewarded with a .326 average, 27 home runs and 77 RBI in a little more than three months.

Runners-up: Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds; Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals; Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics; Nicholas Castellanos, Chicago Cubs (NL-only).

Least valuable player: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
If anyone could defy Father Time and bounce back from a disappointing season at 35, Votto was the best candidate. Unfortunately, his power stroke never returned, even with the super-charged baseball. Without a significant injury to keep him out of the lineup, Votto just kept accumulating below-average stats (15 HRs, 47 RBI) all season.

Runners-up: Jurickson Profar, Oakland Athletics; Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox

Biggest in-season turnaround: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
Coming off a solid 2018, Flaherty, 23, was a popular breakout candidate. But he didn’t pitch like one in the first half of 2019. After being pulled in the fifth inning of consecutive starts, he saw his ERA peak at 4.90 on July 2.

Since then, the 23-year-old has been almost unhittable. In his final 15 starts, Flaherty gave up a total of 11 earned runs. Over that span, he had a 1.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Perhaps even more impressive, he allowed just six home runs in 99 1/3 frames.

Runners-up: Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs; Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros; Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

Hitting line of the year: Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bell is another player who’s experienced a huge jump in power this season, going from 12 homers to 37. His crowning achievement came July 1 against the Cubs when he went 4-for-6 with three home runs, four runs scored and seven RBI.

Pitching line of the year: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Any doubt about this one? Verlander was at his best Sept. 1 at Toronto, tossing his third career no-hitter and striking out 14. The only baserunner he allowed was a first-inning walk to Cavan Biggio.

Worst batting line: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Martinez has done more than his share to help fantasy owners, but a June 18 loss in Minnesota was not one of those times. In a 17-inning game, Martinez went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts. At least he only left four runners on base.

Worst pitching line: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
With the Mets clinging to their slim playoff hopes and fantasy owners in need of a similar boost before the stretch run, Syndergaard took the mound at home against the Cubs.

After a six-run first inning, Thor stuck around for two more before finally exiting. The damage: 10 runs (nine earned), nine hits, one walk, five strikeouts and a loss.

Top 15 for 2020

Finally, let’s take a quick look at some of the players who will be fueling the conversation over the offseason in preparation for next year’s drafts.

1. OF Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
2. OF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
3. OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
4. SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
5. OF-1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
6. OF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
7. 3B-SS Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
8. SP Gerrit Cole, free agent
9. 3B Anthony Rendon, free agent
10. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
11. SP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
12. SP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
13. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
14. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
15. OF-2B Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.