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As we near the quarter-way point in the season, a broader overview may be in order.
So here it is: my most valuable player and least valuable player for each of the 30 teams so far.
Being a Fantasy Baseball writer, the emphasis in both cases is value. I don't so much care who the best player on the team is, if he was drafted as such. The ones moving your Fantasy team ahead are the ones who've most exceeded expectations. The ones dragging it down are the ones who've most fallen short. So no, Trevor Story isn't the MVP of the Rockies. He has been mostly what you drafted him to be.
To keep things forward-looking, like a good Fantasy Baseball writer should, I've also identified a player on each team with room for improvement (better days ahead) and cause for concern (don't get comfortable). In some cases, they overlap with the MVP and LVP.
One note for the less analytically inclined: I make repeated reference to wOBA and xwOBA in this piece, which stand for weighted on-base average and expected weighted on-base average. The former is an attempt to sum up the full extent of a player's offensive contributions in a single number, calibrated like OBP (meaning .300 is terrible and .400 amazing). The latter, xwOBA, is an estimate of what a player's wOBA should be based on the underlying Statcast data. The difference between the two is a good way to pick out underachievers and overchievers.
Now then ...
The Diamondbacks have several overachievers, based on preseason expectations (Christian Walker, Ketel Marte and Luke Weaver, to name a few), but they're overachieving in mostly believable ways. Walker may seem to have more of a "don't get comfortable case" than Peralta seeing as he's a 28-year-old rookie with a high strikeout rate, but he makes such hard contact that his wOBA is mostly in line with his xwOBA.
Now that Fried is mixing in a slider to go with his fastball and changeup, there's a clearer path to sustained success, though the innings could become an issue later. Swanson may be a true breakout, but it's more of a marginal improvement across the board than a wholesale transformation.
In addition to Mancini, Dwight Smith and Jonathan Villar have proven to be worthwhile options on a miserable team, though Villar is the only one who entered the year with such expectations. The other two may be due for some correction, but Smith at least has some steals potential.
Chavis is by no means a total fluke, especially in terms of power, but between the walks and the early stolen base contributions, it's all just a little too good to be true. There will be greater pressure on him to perform once Dustin Pedroia joins Eduardo Nunez back on the active roster.
Many seem ready to bail on Darvish — who has delivered one, maybe two worthwhile starts so far — but the walk problem, as big as it is, seems to be his only problem and is one he has overcome in the past. Particularly at starting pitcher, you won't find his kind of upside on the waiver wire.
Anderson was a 20-20 player last year and likely will be again with the kind of start he's off to, but he has a BABIP around .380 and an wOBA about 50 points higher than his xWOBA. Lucas Giolito, meanwhile, has greatly improved his whiff rate with a refined secondary arsenal.
The Reds have been one of the season's biggest disappointments so far and offer no shortage of LVP candidates as a result. While I expect better days are ahead for both Puig and Joey Votto, just judging from their track records, Winker is the one with the clearest case for improvement, having suffered from awful batted-ball luck so far.
There genuinely isn't a "don't get comfortable" candidate for Cleveland. After Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor (both of whom I'm comfortable with, by the way), the highest OPS on the team is below .700. Bieber is fine. Trevor Bauer is fine. Brad Hand is fine. Everyone else has been too bad to regress, really.
I still like Dahl and still think we may be looking at a breakout season when all's said and done, but a .429 BABIP, even with the help of Coors Field, isn't something he can sustain. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and/or up the home run production, pronto.
As useless as Castellanos has been so far, it's more a case of all of his ratios being just a little off than some new insurmountable hole in his batted-ball profile, so he's probably a hot streak away from his numbers looking pretty normal. The more effective Greene is, meanwhile, the more likely he is to be traded out of the closer role.
McHugh supposedly learned what's now his best pitch, the slider, from Peacock, but it's more like he absorbed it from him, because his is the one getting all the whiffs now.
Dozier has played over his head so far, but with good walk, strikeout and fly-ball rates, it's not by as much as you'd think. Awesome how six of Hamilton's eight steals came in the one week when you were most likely to have benched him, seeing as he was playing with a bum knee at the time. Kennedy has been far and away the Royals' most effective reliever and seems likely to take over as closer, if he hasn't already.
Can La Stella be the team's Fantasy MVP when his start percentage has never risen to even 20? I don't know. But I like how he's on pace for fewer than 30 strikeouts and has done what he's done with a sub-.200 BABIP.
I'd like to add to Alex Verdugo to the "better times ahead" category now that A.J. Pollock is sidelined indefinitely, but clearly this team has a number of deserving candidates. And yet they've been the best in the NL so far, which is a scary thought.
Did you know Fantasy outcast Pablo Lopez actually has a lower FIP (2.80) than Fantasy darling Caleb Smith (2.84)? It's true!
Maybe Travis Shaw also has better days ahead, but the case is based purely on track record and not his batted-ball profile. Frankly, Aguilar has shown more, but he faces the threat of Eric Thames cutting into his at-bats.
Odorizzi doesn't have a good enough secondary pitch to sustain this pace, having succeeded almost entirely on the strength of his fastball. He's as much of a fly-ball pitcher as ever, too, so you can expect to see more balls flying over the fence in short order.
After his last start, it should be pretty obvious Noah Syndergaard has better days ahead, but Wheeler's occasional control issues may have obscured the fact he has a 3.12 FIP. And honestly, Cano has too much history for me to give up on him after a little more than a month's time, especially one in which he was banged up.
When everyone is back to full health, Gardner would seem to be the odd man out with the way Clint Frazier has stepped up his production so far, but hey, maybe there will never come a point when everyone is back to full health. For all of Voit's recent success, his batted-ball profile still suggests he should have a higher batting average, and the fact his actual wOBA trails his xwOBA would seem to back it up.
If we want to be technical, Profar probably has better days ahead, too, seeing as he has a .192 BABIP. But he's making such wimpy contact, projecting for such a low wOBA, that it's possible he doesn't keep the job long enough to close that gap. Montas' swinging-strike rate has risen to a point recently that I'm now confident he'll remain useful, but he's fringier than his 2.75 ERA would suggest.
Nola's velocity and pitch selection are basically unchanged from a year ago, so I'm thinking it's a subtle command issue keeping him from being his best self, which I trust him to correct in time. I wouldn't rule out a Pivetta resurgence, for what it's worth, though it's harder to predict while he's in the minors.
Pirates have been about as what-you-see-is-what-you-get as any team so far, so short of celebrating Musgrove's efficiencies or scratching my head over Williams' continued success, there isn't much to say here.
St. Louis Cardinals
Tough call between Ozuna and Paul DeJong for team MVP, neither of whom gives me great cause for concern going forward. Flaherty has been a much better strike-thrower and just as good of a bat-misser as last year, so his struggles so far seem largely the result of bad home run luck (or maybe just facing the Brewers lineup three times).
Kirby Yates also has an MVP case seeing as he's been Fantasy's best closer to date, but Paddack has been so dominant — and in an efficient sort of way that allows him to pitch six-plus innings despite a strict pitch limitation — that he's the one and only choice, really. Reyes' xwOBA, meanwhile, ranks among the top 15 in baseball. So far, the home runs are all he has to show for it, but the batted-ball luck should turn soon.
Other than a slightly inflated strikeout rate — which itself could come back down to normal — Posey's batted-ball profile looks the same as it has the past few years, and of course he's getting more playing time than the average catcher-eligible player. The threshold for a quality option at that position is so low that he doesn't even need to bounce back fully, but I get the feeling he will.
As fun as it would have been to name Daniel Vogelbach (he still leads the AL in slugging percentage and OPS) the team's MVP, the catcher position is so talent-deprived that Narvaez's consistent playing time and modest productivity have made him a godsend for Fantasy players. Meanwhile, Gonzales' already suspect strikeout rate is down from a year ago, and he hasn't been so much of a ground-ball pitcher either — a scary combination.
Alvarado looked like the preferred option for saves coming into the year but has fallen to third rung in the league's most infuriating closing committee. Like I said earlier about David Dahl, I like the upside of Lowe and want to trust he'll be OK, but the strikeout rate gives him a thin margin for error.
Is the Rangers MVP Andrus or Mike Minor? Could go either way with it, but I'm mostly buying into both. Choo is useful when healthy but also 36 and unlikely to stay healthy, not to mention currently boasting a near-.400 BABIP. I expect Leclerc to reclaim the closer role sooner than later given that the stuff appears to be intact.
While I don't see much cause for concern in Smoak's batted-ball profile, especially in light of his recent slide, the track record tells me I should know better. Stroman obviously won't sustain a 2.20 ERA all year, but he remains an elite ground-ball pitcher who's showing more swing-and-miss potential than ever thanks to an increased reliance on his slider.
Soto's strikeout rate so far is a little worrisome, but it was such a strength for him as a rookie and throughout his minor-league career that I'm not just accepting it as the new normal. Robles' rate, meanwhile, is one of the worst in baseball, and since he's a rookie, he doesn't get such benefit of the doubt. The steals are nice, but seeing as his wOBA is about 70 points higher than his xWOBA, he may become harder to use in the future.