With the season wrapping up this weekend, I wanted to take a moment in this final entry in the column this year to reflect on the 2016 fantasy season in terms of deep AL-only cuts. Quite a few fantasy relevant players made their way into this column this season, including more than a handful that transformed into legit big-name producers.
We're going to take a look at some fantasy "rules" learned or re-enforced over the season from all those players to see what can help us in 2017.
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Some 2016 Takeaways for Fantasy Baseball
Lesson #1: The Oakland prospect river still runs deep.
This year, the A's had one of their nowhere years where the team's underwhelming roster of talent never gets out to sea and just collapses under its own weight, not unlike an severely overweight dog trying to stand for too long. But with that brought new opportunities, and not just for veteran slugger-without-a-home Danny Valencia. Though they had plenty of growing pains along the way, the future in Oakland is bright thanks to rookie hurlers Sean Manaea, Ryan Dull and Jharel Cotton impressing on the mound and rookie batters Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell III in the field. Those are just the successful ones too. The A's helped many a fantasy team with their aggressive promoting of their minor leaguers, a reminder to not forget about the power of a rookie.
Lesson #2: Relievers are becoming more and more viable in fantasy.
With all the injuries happening in baseball as a whole to pitchers, the need to have a ton of surplus is at an all-time high. This means bringing up more and more bodies to fill those roles, be they starter or reliever. But with more and more high-strikeout relievers appearing, it only takes two solid relievers to equal or beat the production of many, many starting pitchers on their own, and at a fraction of the price. Any combination of pitchers such as Matt Bush, Dan Otero, Mychal Givens, and Chris Devenski were able to put up performances outweighing that of sought-after draft-day starters such as Clay Buchholz, James Shields, Yovani Gallardo and Edinson Volquez.
Lesson #3: There's still no need to go hard on closers during the draft.
This has been a lesson that many an expert shares during those pre-draft weeks, and it continues to ring 100% true: don't go big on draft day when it comes to closers. It takes a little extra work to monitor bullpen job security mid-season, but by simply knowing which bullpens have a shaky foundation, you can pinpoint closer-in-waiting rather easily. So while the competition was crying over big-ticket busts like Steve Cishek, Sean Doolittle and Huston Street for ending up as wasted investments for the most part, waiver wire targets like Edwin Diaz, Ryan Madson and Cam Bedrosian others delivered saves for a fraction of the cost.
Lesson #4: Identify impact rookies and stash them ASAP.
This lesson was big this year as multiple rookies made a huge fantasy impact, and these players were either under-owned at the time of their promotion, if owned at all. Now, while we all know that every hot prospect isn't going to blow up--some like Jose Berrios just get blown up. But when they do hit, wow, do they ever hit. Outfielders Max Kepler, Tyler Naquin and Nomar Mazara, infielders Ryon Healy, Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel and pitchers Michael Fulmer and Dylan Bundy all contributed huge numbers and were available on waiver wires in most leagues before their call-ups/season debuts.
Lesson #5: Work that waiver wire!
This is a lesson as old as fantasy sports itself: thou who rocks the waiver wire rocks the body that rocks the mind. Don't get me wrong: nearly all great teams start with at least a decent draft foundation to build upon. But even a poorly drafted team in a deep league can be salvaged using waivers. In the American League alone, un-to-minimally drafted players such as infielders Jose Ramirez, Steve Pearce and Brad Miller, outfielders Leonys Martin and Michael Saunders and pitchers J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Kendall Graveman all greatly outperformed their projections going into the season. That's why the saying "never give up, never surrender" is considered old. Baseball has always been a magical, unpredictable sport.
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