Well ... so much for all that.
I suppose there's still the postseason to color our perspective (typically to our own detriment, Daniel Murphy notwithstanding), but at least for two-thirds of the sport, with a couple more teams soon to join, the season has ended. The numbers have stopped accumulating. Now, we have six months to obsess over what they mean.
But if you haven't been paying as close attention over the last month (not that I'd blame you with the start of football) you may be surprised by some of those numbers. Yes, a lot can change in a few weeks' time -- or even just a week's time -- and so you may be hoping for a primer on what all you missed.
This is sort of that, but it's more just a collection of closing thoughts for 2016, with an emphasis on the last couple weeks.
Draft prep begins after today.
- Here's something no one saw coming: As amazing as Jose Altuve's 2016 was, Paul Goldschmidt actually delivered more stolen bases than him. And as for home runs, well, they tied. Neither player's overall value suffered too much with this role reversal, but it does muddle our assessment of them going forward. Personally, I think Altuve's losses in stolen bases are more concerning than Goldschmidt's losses in home runs since they were, to some degree, deliberate. Run-producers run less than table-setters, and Altuve is becoming more the former.
- You know who else tied with Altuve and Goldschmidt in home runs? Bryce Harper, whose 24 trailed Eric Hosmer by one, Marcus Semien by three and Curtis Granderson by six. His stolen bases redeemed him to some degree, as did his walks in points leagues, but what a disappointment for a hitter who seemed poised to become the best of his generation. Whispers of him playing through shoulder and neck injuries offer some encouragement, but it'll take a special kind of nerve to draft him in the first round next year -- one I'm not sure I myself possess.
- Remember when we longed for the day Manny Machado would be shortstop-eligible so we could ... um, see him finish behind Jean Segura in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie leagues. It's no fault of Machado's. Nobody's questioning whether or not he's a first-rounder next year. It's just that Segura was that good. I still have some lingering questions about his power production and expect some BABIP regression, but it's a welcome reminder that home runs aren't everything.
- Orlando Arcia didn't make near the contribution Dansby Swanson did in his first taste of the majors (and Swanson himself wasn't exactly Fantasy royalty), but with two doubles and a triple Sunday, he at least ended the year on a high note. I don't know what exactly to do with him at shortstop -- a position that could still use another infusion of talent -- but seeing as he hit .260 and slugged .450 over his final 36 games, going a perfect 6-for-6 in stolen bases, I'm not completely disenchanted. I mean, that's sort of like Jose Reyes, only with a bunch more strikeouts.
- David Dahl's Fantasy stock took a hit when he slipped into part-time duty early in September amid concerns (ones shared by him) about the unfamiliar workload, but he started the Rockies' last seven games and hit safely in all of them, checking out with a .315 batting average. His role for 2017 is so secure that Rockies royalty Carlos Gonzalez is already talking about transitioning to first base.
- Brandon Drury ended his rookie campaign about as well as he began it:
- We'll never know if walking eight times in his final six games and homering in the season finale was the start of a turnaround for Matt Carpenter -- the Cardinals weren't able to secure the second wild card spot, after all -- but the 30-year-old hit .298 with a .988 OPS in 78 games before straining his oblique and .229 with a .726 OPS afterward. I'm having a hard time dismissing it as a coincidence, which is why I initially pegged him as a second-rounder, but assessing his numbers at face value, he's more like a fourth- or fifth-rounder.
- After teetering for most of September and October, David Price went just long enough to pull his ERA back below 4.00 Sunday. It's not exactly what you hoped to get from him, but between his wins, innings and strikeouts, he was still the ninth-best starting pitcher in Head-to-Head points leagues and the 17th-best in Rotisserie. Let's not apply the "bust" label so loosely.
- Hanley Ramirez overcame a 0-for-15 stretch to hit his 30th home run on the final day of the season -- a milestone he had only once achieved in his prestigious career, and yet he only ranked 14th among first basemen in that measure, which shows just how much standards have changed in half a year's time.
- Gary Sanchez couldn't keep his batting average over .300, dropping to .299 with a 2-for-29 stretch to end the year. Confirmation he's human, perhaps. Obviously, he outperformed all catchers on a per-game basis in 2016, but unless you're convinced he's the best-hitting catcher in history, you can expect some regression in 2017, even if he's the odds-on favorite to lead the position in home runs.
- Amid all the Sanchez hoopla, Brian McCann still managed to deliver his ninth consecutive 20-homer season -- and with his best batting average in three seasons with the Yankees. He may not be All-Star caliber anymore, but he's good enough to start for some team and will likely find himself with a new one this offseason. His Fantasy appeal remains intact.
- A week ago, I was criticized for excluding Maikel Franco from my top 20 third basemen for next year, especially when he responded to the slight by homering in three consecutive games. But between that little power burst and his four-hit finale, he ended up being only the 18th-best third baseman in Head-to-Head points leagues and 19th-best in Rotisserie. Those 25 homers and 88 RBI only go so far in today's offensive environment.
- Byron Buxton homered in back-to-back games to end the season, including an inside-the-parker in the finale, which gave him nine home runs in 29 games following his latest return to the majors Sept. 1. The stint was the most promising for the player once regarded as the best prospect in baseball, resulting in a 1.011 OPS, and yet he still struck out in nearly 40 percent of his at-bats. So honestly, who knows? I won't be leading the parade for him next spring, but as thin as outfield is, he won't slide too far down my rankings.
- Jose Abreu rallied from a terrible start to deliver 25 home runs and 100 RBI, both on the nose.
- I don't know what it would take for me to draft Felix Hernandez or Adam Wainwright next year. Both have logged a ton of innings and look like they might be going the way of Jered Weaver because of it. Hernandez compiled a respectable 3.87 ERA this season, but he ended it with five disastrous starts in seven and career-worst walk and strikeout rates. The home run rate wasn't far from his worst either. Adam Wainwright fared a little better, recording eight strikeouts over six two-run innings his final time out, but it was one of just three "good" start in his last 11, the other two coming against the strikeout-happy Brewers.
- When Carlos Rodon turned in his second straight double digit-strikeout effort to end the season, it pretty much cemented his place on my breakouts list for next year, and he's not alone. Between him, Sean Manaea and Eduardo Rodriguez, the upper echelon of AL pitchers is about to get more left-handed.
- Maybe he'll end up capturing the AL Cy Young and prove the point moot, but I don't think Justin Verlander has gotten the attention he deserves for what has been a marked turnaround from a multi-year decline. Granted, he showed signs of it in the second half last year, but this year goes beyond. His 2.42 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 6.9-inning average over his final 28 starts are arguably even better than the ratios he put up during his MVP-winning 2011 season.
- Kyle Hendricks got his ERA to 1.99 but then gave up four earned runs in five innings in the season finale. Still, with another 20 innings, he'd be a lock for the NL Cy Young, but I'm guessing it's the closest he ever comes and will stand by my prediction that his ERA rises by a full run next year (not that it would ruin his Fantasy appeal, given his supporting cast).
- Where would 2016 rank in Miguel Cabrera's career with these numbers?
- Matt Moore ended his season with back-to-back starts in which he pitched into the eighth inning and allowed just one run, bringing his ERA in 12 starts with the Giants to exactly what it was in 21 starts with the Rays.
- Ivan Nova rebounded from two miserable starts to make one last case for a big payday this offseason. He ended up issuing just three walks in his 11 starts with the Pirates, so the Ray Searage influence is impossible to dismiss. But the question to ask about him is the same to ask about pitching as a whole in 2017: Does strikeout rate matter quite like it used to? His was only 7.2 per nine in those 11 starts.
- Danny Duffy stumbled to the finish line, compiling a 6.37 ERA while serving up 12 homers over his final seven starts. His impact from June through August can't be understated, though, and even during his collapse, he impressed with his strikeout-to-walk ratio. The jump in innings is likely to blame, especially after he prepared for the 2016 season as a reliever, so I'm still inclined to call him a top-25 starting pitcher next year.
- Chris Archer will likely be moved this offseason, and whatever fan base inherits him won't know how lucky it is. Not only was he burned by a 9-19 record on a bad team, but he was a changed pitcher over his final 13 starts, going from issuing 3.8 walks per nine innings to issuing 1.9. His other numbers followed suit:
- I would have liked to see more from Jose De Leon, who delivered only one strong start in four and didn't exhibit the exceptional control or bat-missing ability that defined his minor-league career. The only real conclusion we can draw from such a brief showing is that he won't have a rotation spot promised him next spring, and with Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda already guaranteed spots, Julio Urias better equipped to handle a full workload, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood presumably back from injury, and Brock Stewart lurking as the ultimate sleeper, he'll have some fierce competition. As much as I like De Leon, I'm not holding my breath.
- About mid-September, Brian Dozier looked like he'd crush Davey Johnson's record for home runs by a second baseman, but then he homered only once over his final 14 games, going 8 for 58 (.138). So there's a sobering reminder of how numbers are distributed across a season. His overall performance certainly justifies a second-round pick, but was he simply the beneficiary of a prolonged hot streak? With no other skills to fall back on, will we be disappointed if he hits only 35 home runs, or even 30? These are the questions we'll need the next six months to sort out.
- Might Robinson Cano be a better pick? He has a longer track record of elite production and, even so, delivered a career-high 39 home runs this year, including six in his final seven games. No real blips in his month-by-month breakdown to suggest he benefited from an unsustainable stretch somewhere along the way, so even though he'll be 34 next year, he's looking like a safe bet for big production.
- The Pirates, who are never lacking in outfielders, are expected to shop Andrew McCutchen this offseason (perhaps to free up a spot for Josh Bell?), and given the way he righted the ship over the last two months, they should find plenty of takers:
- In case it wasn't clear, I really, really like Josh Bell, and it shouldn't be any mystery why. He had 21 walks to 19 strikeouts in his first 45 major-league games and has only begun to tap into his power at age 24. We could have another Lance Berkman on our hands.
- Hunter Renfroe's first taste of the majors may have already secured him a starting job for next year. He homered four times in 35 at-bats, including this moon shot Sept. 28:
So it does. Among the players who'll actually be eligible at first base to begin next year, he was a top-12 option in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie leagues from June 1 on, so I'm betting we haven't seen the last of him as a high-end Fantasy option.
Even more encouraging, he struck out only five times. Small sample size and all, but even if he took advantage of some hitter-friendly venues in the minors, his power potential was never in question. He won't win any awards for plate discipline, but if he develops into a J.D. Martinez-type player, it wouldn't be a huge surprise.
- One player whose second-half surge went largely unnoticed was Evan Gattis, who batted .288 with a .951 OPS after the All-Star break -- and with a BABIP (.326) that shouldn't raise any alarm. Of course, that's with the benefit of a 45-homer pace that's likely too good to be true. Still, he once again appears to be a pretty safe bet for the 30-homer season I had begun to doubt he could deliver, and with catcher eligibility, that makes him a cinch top-five option at the position.
- For now, he doesn't have an opening, but the versatile Jose Peraza proved he deserves to play somewhere in 2017, batting .324 in 241 at-bats. His 45-steal pace would make him a Rotisserie darling if he indeed gets that chance. Likewise, the 27-year-old T.J. Rivera earned an extended look with the Mets if Neil Walker leaves via free agency, but simply anointing him wouldn't be the high-profile move you'd expect from the Mets. He profiles as more of a Martin Prado-like hitter, so we're not talking a big-time Fantasy contributor either way.
- Just when you thought Tyler Thornburg might be emerging as the game's next ace closer, he ends the season with three consecutive blown saves. His numbers are still exceptional, but now job security is an issue. Just what kind of taste will this late-season collapse leave in the Brewers' mouths?
- Andrew Susac left a good taste, no doubt, hitting a long home run in the last of four starts he made down the stretch. It's easy to forget since he was extraneous in San Francisco, but the 26-year-old was once considered one of the top catcher prospects in baseball, having demonstrated middle-of-the-order power in the minors. The Brewers are lacking a long-term answer behind the plate after dealing Jonathan Lucroy and presumably acquired Susac for that reason, so he could emerge as a sleeper at a position in desperate need of them.
- Speaking of sleeper catchers, Tom Murphy homered five times in his 44 at-bats and now has eight home runs in 79 big-league at-bats across two seasons. Nick Hundley is a free agent, and Murphy himself is 25. Considering he hit .442 with 12 home runs and a 1.316 OPS over his final 154 at-bats at Triple-A Albuquerque, what other choice do the Rockies have?
- Tony Cingrani didn't record a save after Sept. 10, which is partly because the Reds were terrible but partly because they turned to Raisel Iglesias for their final four opportunities. So he's the closer, right? Not so fast. Manager Bryan Price says he might use both Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen in multi-inning chances next year, which sounds like a Fantasy nightmare.
- Ryon Healy might end up being the most overlooked sleeper next year, largely because third base is the most overloaded position (see Franco, Maikel). The 24-year-old hit .305 with 13 home runs and an .861 OPS in 269 at-bats. The BABIP was high, but the strikeout rate was hardly prohibitive, and his production was mostly in line with his minor-league numbers.
- Justin Upton hit 13 home runs in September, which is noteworthy in itself. But when you consider where we were with him in June, wondering whether or not to drop him in mixed leagues, it becomes all the more significant. He hit .263 with 23 home runs and a .923 OPS over his final 72 games, bringing his season numbers (a .246 batting average, 31 home runs and a .775 OPS) to about what they were last year (.251, 26, .790). And while the overall hitting landscape improved from one year to the next, the outfield position was left behind, meaning you can expect him to be drafted in the same role next year that was this year: as a low-end No. 2 or high-end No. 3 outfielder. Sometimes Fantasy Baseball analysis is nothing more than a wild goose chase.
- Jim Johnson scored a two-year contract with the Braves Sunday -- or maybe the Braves scored it with him since now he won't be testing the open market. Clearly, they intend to keep him their closer next year, which isn't too shocking given the way he finished the season.
- After looking like the worst team in baseball most of the season, the Braves won't pick first in the 2017. They won't pick second, and they won't pick third either. Not even fourth. No, with a 24-14 record over their final 38 games, they ended up being the fifth-worst team in the majors, which is an improvement over their 2015 finish and a fairly miraculous turnaround after beginning the year 9-28. They also had the sixth-best offense in the second half, buoyed by Matt Kemp's arrival, Freddie Freeman's continued development and Ender Inciarte's return to form. Given their bold plan for the offseason, I wouldn't rule out them competing for a wild card next year, especially with all the questions surrounding the Mets pitching staff. You heard it here first.
And since I've already toed the line with real baseball analysis, let's talk hardware. Hey, everyone else is doing it:
AL MVP: Mookie Betts, BOS (Yes, I know why I'm "wrong," so spare me.)
NL MVP: Kris Bryant, CHC
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, DET
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, WAS
AL Rookie: Gary Sanchez, NYY
NL Rookie: Corey Seager, LAD
AL Manager: Jeff Banister, TEX
NL Manager: Dusty Baker, WAS