- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Earlier this week, ESPN colleague Jayson Stark shared his first-quarter award winners for our great game and Dave Schoenfield and I filmed a video on it. So as we end the month of May, it also seems like an opportune time to discuss the winners and losers in the fantasy world.
Fantasy MVP: Nelson Cruz, OF, Seattle Mariners What, no Bryce Harper? Well, Harper was a fourth-round pick in ESPN average live drafts. Cruz was a seventh-rounder. Cruz is the better value, and while of course we’d all take Harper for the rest of the 2015 and beyond, they rank fourth and first, respectively, on the Player Rater. It’s close enough. Split it up for the AL and NL vote, if you like. Kudos also to Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, a ninth-round bargain. Power is still more critical, however. And by the way, I think Harper and Cruz can keep doing what they’re doing. Gordon still scares me.
Fantasy LVP: If the guy that hits directly ahead of Cruz was just getting on base at close to career levels, then it stands to reason Cruz would have a lot more runs batted in, and he might rank first in all of fantasy. But Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is hitting a hollow .251 with no power, no speed, and a mere 10 players were chosen ahead of him in ADP. That’s bad. Really bad. However, you have to buy low here based on track record. By the way, if you think Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw belongs here, because the top pitcher in drafts is only 44th among pitchers on the Rater and because of the depth at pitching, I suppose I could make a case, but I really don’t agree.
Fantasy Cy Young: There are some typical names at the top of the Rater among pitchers, and Max Scherzer is such a consistent joy to watch dominate the NL East. But for value, it's tough to beat Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer and Atlanta Braves right-hander Shelby Miller.
Fantasy Cy Yuck: What Stephen Strasburg is doing is clearly a problem, but look at the FIP, the velocity, the bad luck and you buy low. You don’t buy low on the Braves’ Julio Teheran, though. And by the way, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, the No. 15 pitcher in ADP, helped nobody.
Most pleasant surprise: It shouldn’t be that Harper and Cruz, whom we knew had mad power, are each on pace for 62 home runs. Nor is it that Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is stealing so many bases, that Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has had one of the greatest Mays ever for his position or that the aforementioned Miller has been so unhittable. How about Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder? He missed much of last year and recently has looked like an MVP candidate. Fielder was chosen the pick right before Cruz. Who thought these guys would be hitting .361 and .339, respectively?
Rookie MVP: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant ranks barely ahead of Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson on the Rater, and oddly enough the difference is in Bryant’s five stolen bases, as Pederson has only two. Let’s agree that both players are outstanding. Among pitchers, there’s frighteningly little to choose from. The Wins Above Replacement leader among arms is actually Mariners right-handed setup man -- though perhaps not for long, the way Fernando Rodney is hurling -- Carson Smith.
Most disappointing: Cano is certainly a top candidate, along with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig -- hey, we don’t get asterisks for finishing last just because our top picks were injured, do we? -- Strasburg and his absent teammate, Anthony Rendon, who still hasn’t played, but Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hasn’t been much better than Cano. As far as we know, each is healthy, too. Tulowitzki isn’t drawing walks, is striking out a ton and is batting only .274 at Coors Field. Yuck.
Reason No. 8,745 why you don’t pay for saves: There were 40 pitchers with relief eligibility chosen in ESPN ADP, and New York Mets right-hander Jeurys Familia was not one of them. So of course there are only three pitchers with more saves than Familia, and none of them were among the top 15. By the way, 31 pitchers have four or more saves so far, and only three boast a higher ERA than the suddenly hittable Craig Kimbrel.
Where did you come from? It’s safe to say every member of the top 50 on the Player Rater has at least been a valued fantasy option at some point, save for one. Congrats to Baltimore Orioles journeyman Jimmy Paredes, putting on quite the show when nobody, even his old team, could have expected it. Just be careful of that .413 BABIP and minuscule walk rate (though Minnesota Twins shortstop Danny Santana overcame all of that in 2014).
Mr. Untradable: Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton was chosen before Fielder and Cruz, but his value is so much different. The problem with dealing the terribly disappointing Hamilton is he could still steal 70 bases, in theory, and you could go from first to last in the category. The problem with trading for him is he’s regressed even from last year, and the Reds could opt to replace him. Quite the conundrum, eh? I’ve seen offers for Harper and Mike Trout that make complete and fair sense. With Hamilton, and Dee Gordon to some extent, it’s complicated.
Mr. Unloved: Talk about comebacks! New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez is the No. 5 third baseman on the Player Rater, nestled between Bryant and the awesome Nolan Arenado. Yep, A-Rod has been that good. Remember, you’re not breaking bread with the guy. You just want his stats. And he’s on pace for .277 with 37 homers and 91 RBIs. I say he goes .260 with 26 and 85. That’s really good for his situation.
Night and day award: Kipnis hit .218 in April with one home run and seven runs scored. So far in May he’s hitting .449 with four homers, three steals (in seven attempts), 28 runs and a 1.270 OPS. Nope, I did not see that coming.
Best fantasy position: Back in March, we would have said starting pitcher, but only five in the class are among the top 20 on the Rater. Meanwhile, there are six first basemen in the top 20, and nine in the top 40.
Worst fantasy position: Shortstop is not performing well. The top guys are Bay Area surprises Marcus Semien and Brandon Crawford, and Freddy Galvis is fifth! Still, Stephen Vogt is the lone catcher-eligible among the top 50 hitters.
Personal fun list: I ended up with Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett, Semien, Vogt, Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco and Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts on more than a few teams. That’s been fun! Thanks, guys!
AL report: Boston Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez made a successful MLB debut in Texas on Thursday, tossing 7 2/3 shutout innings for the win. There’s no guarantee he remains with the big club for more right away, but they’re really gonna demote him after that? Regardless, be careful whom you drop to acquire him. … Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is taking a few days off, not because he’s hurt, but to, well, I don’t know. Work on his swing? Rest? Go bowling? I’m still investing. Yes, he is old and yes, I do take age into account when evaluating, but I still think Ortiz will hit enough. … Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale whiffed 12 with nary a walk in beating Baltimore Thursday. It’s too late to buy low here. … The Orioles’ Chris Davis homered again, his third in two days, 11th of the season. There should be another 20 more. … A’s right-hander Tyler Clippard could keep the closer job after saving Thursday’s win because supposedly rejuvenated lefty Sean Doolittle isn’t even breaking 90 mph with his fastball. Last year it averaged 94 mph. Something to watch.
NL report: Braves right-hander Shelby Miller threw another great game, permitting one run in seven innings, but note he fanned only one hitter. That’s not what we want. … San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt homered off Miller to break the scoreless tie in the seventh; Belt has six home runs, all in May. Do we believe the April or May numbers? You know we all want to believe May. I want to. But he’s burned us before, too. … Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang will be keeping a regular job and hitting at least 15 more home runs. The Pirates, with Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen fine now, and Starling Marte on his way to 25 home runs, are winning the NL Central. … Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth has two wrist fractures and could be out at least two more months. You’re certainly forgiven for dropping him now. The Nationals have been turning to Michael Taylor, Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson, but none are helping fantasy owners. Invest in Taylor, still. … There’s bad news for Rockies top outfield prospect David Dahl, as he collided with a Double-A New Britain Rock Cats teammate Thursday and suffered several injuries, including one that necessitated spleen surgery. We wish Dahl a speedy recovery for 2016 and everyone a healthy and happy final May weekend.