2013 RotoValue Fantasy MVPs

With the completion of yesterday’s play-in game for the AL wild card slot, the 2013 regular season is now done. So I’d like to take a look at the most valuable players in five different fantasy formats.
While Miguel Cabrera didn’t repeat as triple-crown winner, he was the clear fantasy MVP in all three formats with AL players. He led the majors with a .348 average, hit 44 HR, scored 103 runs, drove in 137, and even stole 3 bases. In the shallow 5×5 Mixed League (10 teams, 10 offensive starters per team) those stats earned $57.30, comfortably ahead of Clayton Kershaw ($51.29; 16 W, 1.83 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 232 Ks), Mike Trout ($50.13; .323, 27 HR, 109 R, 93 RBI, 33 SB), and Chris Davis ($48.07; .286, 53 HR, 103 R, 138 RBI, 4 SB). Cabrera’s Tigers posted the AL’s best record, and he seems a lock to defend his MVP trophy as voted by the baseball writers.
Cabrera also was the clear MVP in the deeper 5×5 AL Only ($42.94) and the 4×4 AL Only ($46.08), also 10 team leagues, but ones that use 14 batters each. Here, though, Davis ($39.52 5×5, $41.18 4×4) edged out Trout as the second-best AL player ($39.00 5×5, $40.79 4×4). Why the difference? A different replacement level between the formats. The 5×5 Mixed League not only is much shallower (requiring just 30 OF, and 10 each at the other positions), it also had 2 utility offense slots (20 more players) that could be any position. Because Davis had played 20 games in the outfield in 2012, he qualified there in the 5×5 mixed. Both Davis and Trout share the same replacement level, and so Trout’s edges in average, runs scored, and SB outweigh Davis’s advantages in HR and RBI, giving him a slightly higher value. In the two 4×4 leagues, however, Davis qualified at 1B only, a weaker position than OF in those formats (that league started 30 1B/3B, and 10 DHs, who often qualify mostly at 1B, compared to 50 OF), and so a positional adjustment gave him a little higher value.
Max Scherzer was clearly the top AL pitcher in any of the formats. He led the AL in WHIP at 0.970 while posting a 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts in just 214.33 IP, winning a major-league leading 21 times (the only 20-game winner in baseball). While the win has been (rightly, IMHO) criticized by baseball analysts as a poor measure of pitcher accomplishment, it very much counts in most fantasy leagues. Scherzer’s year earned $33.91 in the 5×5 AL Only, $35.65 in the 4×4 AL Only, and $45.31 in the 5×5 Mixed to rank second behind Kershaw. While his strikeout rate dropped from 2012, his hits allowed plummeted despite pitching nearly 30 more innings. That year he recorded a career-worst BABIP of .335, after usually being right around .300. This year, his BABIP fell to a career-best .259, and his WHIP dropped with it. So I’d be quite wary of overpaying for Scherzer next year; while he’s likely to be a great pitcher, I’d expect the BABIP to revert closer to his career average of .302, and so his WHIP and ERA seem likely to rise, as his wins will likely fall.
While Scherzer was a clear #1, the ranking of other pitchers in AL-only leagues depends heavily on format. In 5×5Yu Darvish ($27.73; 1.073 WHIP, 2.83 ERA, 277 Ks, 13 W) placed second ahead of countryman Hisashi Iwakuma ($26.62; 1.006 WHIP, 2.66 ERA, 179 Ks, 14 W), with Chris Sale ($22.54; 1.068 WHIP, 3.07 ERA, 226 Ks, 11 W) edging out league ERA leader Anibal Sanchez ($22.34; 1.154 WHIP, 2.57 ERA, 202 Ks, 14 W) to round out the top 5. Greg Holland (7th best pitcher at $20.83; 0.866 WHIP, 1.21 ERA, 2 W, 47 Sv, 103 K in just 67 IP) was the most valuable closer, follwed by Joe Nathan ($20.03; 0.897 WHIP; 1.21 ERA, 6 W, 43 Sv, 73 K in 64.67 IP). Koji Uehara didn’t become the Red Sox closer until late June, when Andrew Bailey got hurt, but he thrived in the role, finishing as the third most valuable reliever ($17.95; 0.565 WHIP, 1.09 ERA, 4 W, 21 Sv, 101 K in 74.33 IP). From late August to September Uehara retired 37 consecutive batters, perfection for more than 12 innings.
In the 4×4 AL Only, Iwakuma ($29.55) edged out Joe Nathan ($28.93) as the second-most valuable pitcher after Scherzer. Greg Holland ($27.72) was next, rising in overall pitcher rankings because strikeouts no longer count, but dropping among relievers relative to Nathan. A pair of 40-year old stars had almost identical value in this format: Bartolo Colon ($25.94; 1.166 WHIP, 2.65 ERA, 117 K, 18 W) and Mariano Rivera ($25.93; 1.047 WHIP, 2.11 ERA, 6 W, 44 Sv, 54 K). Both had relatively few strikeouts compared to their positional peers, and thus ranked much lower in 5×5.
Going back to the NL, while Clayton Kershaw was the top ranked NL performer in the shallow 5×5 Mixed League, Paul Goldschmidt (.302, 36 HR, 103 R, 125 RBI, 15 SB) tied for the league lead in HR and led outright in RBI. He earned $45.70 in the 5×5 Mixed, good for 5th best overall and 2nd in the NL, and led both the 4×4 NL Only ($45.30) and the 5×5 NL Only  ($41.41) in value. The differences in price came from the player pools: in a single-league setting Goldschmidt’s power numbers look much better than they do compared to Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera in a mixed-league setting. Also, in the shallow mixed league, the replacement positional adjustment helps Kershaw more, whereas in the deeper NL-only pool, the replacement positional adjustment helps Goldschmidt more. In other words, Goldschmidt’s advantage over a replacement 1B in the NL is bigger, while Kershaw’s advantage over a replacement pitcher in the shallow mixed league is bigger.
Categories matter also for relative rankings. In the 5×5 format, Kershaw ($37.78) ranked second among all players, ahead of Andrew McCutchen ($37.00; .317, 21 HR, 97 R, 84 RBI, 27 SB), Hunter Pence ($35.02; .283, 27 HR, 91 R, 99 RBI, 22 SB), and Carlos Gomez ($34.78; .284, 24 HR, 80 R, 73 RBI, 40 SB). Position players dominate the list, but Kershaw is still #2. In the 4×4 format, McCutcheon ($39.46) edges out Gomez ($39.30) for second, with Pence ($37.78) fourth and Kershaw ($35.83) dropping to 5th overall as strikeouts no longer count. Gomez’s low run total doesn’t hurt him in 4×4, as he passes Pence and Kershaw, and nearly catches McCutcheon.
After Kershaw, format determines the ranking of other NL pitchers, as it did in the AL. Adam Wainwright ($30.50; 1.068 WHIP, 2.94 ERA, 219 Ks) led the league in  innings (241.67) and tied in wins (19) to rank as the second-best pitcher in 5×5Cliff Lee ($27.56; 1.010 WHIP, 2.87 ERA, 222 Ks, 14 W) ranked third this year, rebounding from last year’s poor season, when he had a 1.114 WHIP, 3.14 ERA, and 207 Ks. Huh, you say? Those numbers aren’t much worse than this year’s? Correct, but the one big difference was wins: last year Lee, with quite similar numbers, posted just 6 wins, while this year, with more normal run support, he more than doubled that total. If Lee had just 6 wins this year also, his RotoValue would have been over $7 less.
Marlins’ rookie Jose Fernandez ($24.14; 0.979 WHIP, 2.19 ERA, 187 Ks, 12 W) might have matched Lee, but he was shut down after 170 innings, and so ranks just ahead of Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner ($24.09; 1.033 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, 199 Ks, 13 W), and the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmerman ($23.74; 1.087 WHIP, 3.25 ERA, 161 Ks), who tied with Wainwright for the league lead in wins (19).
The Mets are probably wishing they had shut down their phenom, Matt Harvey, also, as a late August arm injury not only ended Harvey’s year, but also put 2014, if not his career, very much in question. Harvey’s short-season numbers still ranked 7th in the league: $22.96, 0.931 WHIP, 2.27 ERA, 191 Ks, 9 W.
Finally we get to the league’s top closer, Craig Kimbrel. While not quite as overpowering as in 2012, Kimbrell ($22.41; 0.881 WHIP, 1.21 ERA, 98 Ks, 4 W) set a career high with 50 saves.
In the 4×4 format, Kimbrel’s relative lack of strikeouts is not a problem, and he was the 2nd most valuable pitcher ($27.24) behind Kershaw, just barely edging out Wainwright ($27.21). While I report RotoValue prices to the penny, for all practical purposes these two are tied in 4×4. Zimmerman ($23.34) moves up to 4th best in this rank, followed by Lee ($22.97), Fernandez ($21.53), and Bumgarner ($20.38).
Even though relievers don’t get the strikeout totals that starters do, how many they get does affect their 5×5 value. Aroldis Chapman fanned an incredible 112 batters in just 63.67 IP, or 15.8 per 9 innings, as the #2 5×5 closer  ($16.52; 1.037 WHIP, 2.54 ERA, 4 W, 38 Sv), while  Kenley Jansen was just as valuable ($16.50; 0.861 WHIP, 1.88 ERA, 4 W, 28 Sv), posting better percentage stats but fewer saves. Sergio Romo had nearly identical stats as Chapman – 1.077 WHIP, 2.54 ERA, 5 W, 38 Sv – but he managed “only” 58 Ks in 60.33 IP, and his 5×5 RotoValue was $13.29, 4th best among relievers. It’s amazing to think that a guy striking out just under one batter per inning is, in this context, a low-strikeout batter, but Romo is.
In the 4×4 reliever rankings, where strikeouts don’t count, Romo’s extra win gives him a slight edge ($18.56) over Jansen ($18.10) and Chapman ($18.04).