Baseball fans and Fantasy Baseball Managers love pleasant surprises. Those players who weren’t on the radar and then turned out to be a very productive asset for your team.
They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects that exceeded their ranking in the organization. Then there are those acquired in some insignificant trade who emerge with their new team. Or a post-hype player who disappointed in his first season or two and then figured it out. Every season, these players make a difference in the success of MLB teams and 2021 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Bryce Harper or Jose Ramirez who continued to produce outstanding numbers or top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Juan Soto.
To indentify the best of these, we’ll once again rely on “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) which is a statistic designed to answer the following question…if this player got injured and their team had to replace them with an available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing? The value is expressed in a wins format, so we can compare each player’s actual value.
According to the rankings provided by Fan Graphs, there were about 40 players who provided at least 4 Wins to their team with Shohei Ohtani leading the way at 8.1. In that top 40, we’ve identified a few who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…
> #12 Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox (5.6 WAR) – The BoSox best starting pitcher, his 182+ IP were more than his last three seasons combined… and he made the All-Star team!
> #15 Bryan Reynolds, Pirates (5.5 WAR) – The Bucs had a lousy year but this OF hit .302 and led the NL in Triples.
> #16 Brandon Crawford, Giants (5.5 WAR) – Had his best season ever at age 34 and was rewarded with a contract extension.
> #19 Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals (5.4 WAR) – Emerged at age 26 with a 34 HR / 15 SB season.
> #21 Cedric Mullins (5.3) WAR – 30 HR’s & 30 SB’s after never having even having 200 AB’s in a big league season.
> #28 Buster Posey, Giants (4.9 WAR) – At age 34 after skipping the 2020 season? Wow!
- #40 Dylan Cease, White Sox (4.6 WAR) – Didn’t miss a start and led the AL in K/9 with 12.3.
- #41 Mike Zunino, Rays (4.5 WAR) – Don’t let the .216 BA fool you, he hit 33 HR’s and was outstanding behind the plate.
- #48 Nicky Lopez, Royals (4.4 WAR) – Hit .201 last year and then became an everyday player to post a .300 BA and swipe 22 bases.
- #49 Logan Webb, Giants (4.3 WAR) – Had started 19 games prior to ’21 with an ERA over 5.00…11-3 with a 3.03 ERA along with an impressive post-season performance.
- #53 Austin Riley, Braves (4.2 WAR) – The “post-hype” poster child, he hit .226 & .239 his first two seasons and then produced 33 HR’s & 107 RBI’s…and he’s still only 24.
- # 60 Willy Adames, Brewers (4.1 WAR) – Turned it all around after joining the Crew…20 HR’s in 99 games.
If you had these 12 players on your Fantasy squad, apply for the Mets GM opening now.