MLB Barometer: End-of-Season Risers and Fallers

MLB Barometer: End-of-Season Risers and Fallers

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

A season that at one point looked like it might not happen has come to a close, and it's been quite an entertaining one, something I think I'd say even if my Phillies didn't finally end their 11-year playoff drought. While there was nothing left to play for on the final day of the season, we still had a few exciting playoff races, with the Phillies waiting until very late to clinch the final NL Wild Card over the Brewers, and the Mets and Braves playing key divisional games on the final weekend of the season. 

We also saw the Mariners end an even longer postseason drought and got to watch an exciting charge from a surprisingly competitive Orioles team. We also witnessed the first 60-homer season since 2001 and one of the more exciting MVP battles I can remember, with Aaron Judge's 62-homer, 11.4-fWAR season going up against Shohei Ohtani's remarkable two-way campaign. (Can we just give one of them the NL MVP somehow?)

A sincere thanks to all of you for reading and commenting throughout the season. I enjoy writing about baseball in and of itself, but it's so much more enjoyable writing for an engaged audience, and you've been as engaged as ever this season. I'm looking forward to the start of next year already, but for now we'll move onto my traditional end-of-year exercise.

Last week, I provided a subjective take on this year's most impressive seasons. This week, I'll take a more objective

A season that at one point looked like it might not happen has come to a close, and it's been quite an entertaining one, something I think I'd say even if my Phillies didn't finally end their 11-year playoff drought. While there was nothing left to play for on the final day of the season, we still had a few exciting playoff races, with the Phillies waiting until very late to clinch the final NL Wild Card over the Brewers, and the Mets and Braves playing key divisional games on the final weekend of the season. 

We also saw the Mariners end an even longer postseason drought and got to watch an exciting charge from a surprisingly competitive Orioles team. We also witnessed the first 60-homer season since 2001 and one of the more exciting MVP battles I can remember, with Aaron Judge's 62-homer, 11.4-fWAR season going up against Shohei Ohtani's remarkable two-way campaign. (Can we just give one of them the NL MVP somehow?)

A sincere thanks to all of you for reading and commenting throughout the season. I enjoy writing about baseball in and of itself, but it's so much more enjoyable writing for an engaged audience, and you've been as engaged as ever this season. I'm looking forward to the start of next year already, but for now we'll move onto my traditional end-of-year exercise.

Last week, I provided a subjective take on this year's most impressive seasons. This week, I'll take a more objective view, and I'll go round-by-round rather than position by position. The players listed below represent the best or worst pick in their specific round in terms of how much their final earned auction value ranking differed from their NFBC average draft position. I'll list a player for every round and give deeper dives on several of the most significant names, skipping any who I covered in my last column. Note that we'll skip fallers who missed over half the season due to injury or suspension, but players who missed that much time due to being unable to stick in the majors are still eligible. The fallers section cuts off prior to the reserve rounds, as those are roster spots you were always expecting to churn through.

Congratulations to anyone who got five or more of these risers in the same draft, and commiserations to anyone who managed to snag five or more fallers. If you fit into either of those groups, let me know in the comments. 

RISERS

Round 1: Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers: It's very hard for a first-round pick to rise given how high they start, with only three players (Betts, Kyle Tucker and Jose Ramirez) finishing higher than they were drafted. Only Betts improved by more than one spot, jumping from 15th to fifth. I was one of the many drafters who saw Betts' slight decline over the past few seasons and no longer thought of him as a first-round pick, but I was clearly proven wrong, as he paired a career-high 35 homers with a 144 wRC+, the third-best mark of his career. His resurgence this season can be credited to his new, more aggressive approach. His swing rate on pitches inside the zone jumped up to 65.5 percent, a full 10 ticks over his career average heading into the year. That led to a career-worst (albeit still excellent) 16.3 percent strikeout rate and an 8.6 percent walk rate (his worst mark since 2016), but when you have such a remarkable foundation of plate discipline, you can afford to sacrifice a bit for gains in power.

Round 2: Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros

Round 3: Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees

Round 4: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals

Round 5: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals

Round 6: Bobby Witt, 3B/SS, Royals: Sometimes, good players are good right away. That was true for fellow rookie Julio Rodriguez, whose even more impressive rookie campaign was covered last week, and it's equally true for Witt, who was taken as a sixth-rounder but brought back second-round value. While Witt was a merely average hitter overall, with his .254/.294/.428 slash line being good for just a 99 wRC+, his 20 homers and 30 steals put him in excellent company. Only Randy Arozarena reached both thresholds this season, with just Trea Turner and Cedric Mullins meeting those marks last year. With Witt already returning second-round value even with an average bat in his age-22 season, it's exciting to dream about what he might become in the future. There's plenty of reason to believe his bat will only get better, as both his strikeout rate (21.4 percent) and barrel rate (8.7 percent) beat league average. A 4.7 percent walk rate is cause for at least some concern, but he didn't have issues in that area in the minors.

Round 7: Justin Verlander, SP, Astros

Round 8: Kyle Schwarber, OF, Phillies

Round 9: Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta

Round 10: Framber Valdez, SP, Astros

Round 11: Zac Gallen, SP, Diamondbacks

Round 12: Adolis Garcia, OF, Rangers: Garcia earned a spot in last year's version of this article as the top undrafted player. Earning a spot for the second consecutive year suggests that drafters didn't give him nearly enough respect this past offseason. There's an understandable hesitancy around players with awful plate discipline, and Garcia certainly fit that bill, as his breakout campaign came despite a 31.2 percent strikeout rate and 5.1 percent walk rate. Garcia did improve in both areas this season, shaving over three points from his strikeout rate and adding a point to his walk rate, though both marks were still poor. He's simply been good enough at everything else that it hasn't mattered, as he finished the year as the 13th most valuable fantasy option. Garcia joined Kyle Tucker, Julio Rodriguez and Marcus Semien as the only players with 25 steals, and batting behind Semien, Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe helped him drive in 101 runs.

Round 13: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Yankees

Round 14: Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Mariners

Round 15: Alejandro Kirk, C, Blue Jays

Round 16: Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners

Round 17: Nathaniel Lowe, 1B, Rangers: The incorrect advice I gave most often this season was to move on from Lowe. He reached a season-low OPS of .579 on May 16, and there wasn't much reason to believe things would turn around to a significant enough degree that it was worth holding on. My main concern at that point was his very low 3.4 percent barrel rate. While his 38.2 percent hard-hit rate through that date was at least a league-average mark, he was pounding the ball into the ground, recording a 5.6 degree average launch angle. From May 17 onward, he hit .319/.376/.543, good for a 162 wRC+. He got there in part by raising his launch angle, though his 8.6 degree average over that stretch is still somewhat low. More importantly, he simply started hitting the ball far harder. His hard-hit rate jumped to 46.5 percent, and his barrel rate soared to 11.5 percent. I'm still skeptical about counting on a repeat of this much power (27 homers) from a guy who still hits plenty of grounders, but he'll manage a high average at minimum as long as he keeps hitting the ball hard.

Round 18: Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, White Sox

Round 19: Andres Gimenez, 2B/SS,Guardians

Round 20: Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles

Round 21: Tony Gonsolin, SP, Dodgers

Round 22: Cristian Javier, SP, Astros

Round 23: Nestor Cortes, SP, Yankees: This excellent run of late-round starting pitchers likely won plenty of leagues for people who went hitter-heavy in the early rounds. Cortes' 2.90 ERA in 2021 didn't earn him much respect in draft season, as it came in a modest 93 innings in a swingman role and three seasons in which he struggled to a 6.72 ERA across 79 frames. He'll certainly draw far more attention next year after finishing as a fifth-round value, one spot ahead of Max Scherzer. Cortes' 2.44 ERA was seventh-best among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings, and he got there being solidly better than average in both strikeout rate (26.5 percent) and walk rate (6.2 percent). Only Justin Verlander, Shane McClanahan, Aaron Nola and Kevin Gausman matched both marks in at least as many innings. Cortes' low 33.5 percent groundball rate could lead to homer problems in the future, but he'll still be a strong option even if his ERA rises to match his 3.48 SIERA. 

Round 24: Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Brewers

Round 25: Ha-Seong Kim, 2B/3B/SS, Padres

Round 26: Reid Detmers, SP, Angels

Round 27: Taijuan Walker, SP, Mets

Round 28: Wilmer Flores, 1B/2B/3B, Giants

Round 29: Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros

Round 30: Yandy Diaz, 1B/3B, Rays

Undrafted: Brandon Drury, 1B/2B/3B/OF, Padres

FALLERS

Round 1: Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies

Round 2: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox (Injured: Walker Buehler and Ozzie Albies)

Round 3: Lucas Giolito, SP, White Sox: The White Sox dominated the early-round disappointments, occupying four of the first seven spots. While injury played a part in the down years for Giolito's teammates, the same can't be said for the 28-year-old righty, who had a pair of brief absences early in the year but still went on to make 30 starts. Giolito took a step back across the board, with his ERA spiking from 3.53 to 4.90 as he finished as a 27th-round value. His underlying numbers suggest things weren't quite that bad, as he significantly underperformed his 3.79 SIERA, but he'd still be a disappointment even at that mark. His strikeout rate dipped from 27.9 percent to 25.4 percent, while his walk rate jumped from 7.2 percent to 8.7 percent. He also lost more than a tick on his fastball, which fell from 93.9 mph to 92.6 mph. We shouldn't expect an ERA quite this poor next season, but this definitely isn't the same Giolito we're used to.

(Suspended: Fernando Tatis) 

Round 4: Freddy Peralta, SP, Brewers (Injured: Adalberto Mondesi)

Round 5: Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox (Injured: Brandon Lowe)

Round 6: Aroldis Chapman, RP, Yankees: Just how early to reach for closers was the subject of much debate last winter, and while a few of the earliest names were at least modest disappointments, Chapman's inclusion here is the strongest reminder of the dangers of investing in the position. The veteran lefty was the sixth reliever off the board during draft season but will finish 514th in earned auction value, indicating that he should have gone undrafted. There were at least a few warning signs in his 2021 numbers, most notably his 15.6 percent walk rate, but it was hard to be too down on a guy who had struck out 39.9 percent of opposing batters. The walks got even worse this season, jumping up to 17.5 percent, but more importantly, his strikeout rate cratered, finishing at a merely above-average 26.9 percent. That led to a well-deserved 4.46 ERA and a removal from the closer role in favor of Clay Holmes. A team could bet on Chapman's past track record this winter and offer him the chance to close games, but it's quite likely this is the end of the line for the lefty's time as a dominant reliever.

(Injured: Kris Bryant)

Round 7: Yasmani Grandal, C, White Sox

Round 8: Jared Walsh, 1B, Angels (Injured: Chris Sale, Anthony Rendon, Mitch Haniger)

Round 9: Nathan Eovaldi, SP, Red Sox

Round 10: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners

Round 11: Akil Baddoo, OF, Tigers (Injured: Austin Meadows)

Round 12: Eddie Rosario, OF, Atlanta (Injured: Shane Baz)

Round 13: Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF, Twins

Round 14: Jonathan Schoop, 1B/2B, Tigers (Injured: Hyun Jin Ryu)

Round 15: Jo Adell, OF, Angels (Injured: Anthony DeSclafani, John Means)

Round 16: Frank Schwindel, 1B, Cubs: I wouldn't say I targeted Schwindel heavily last winter, but I was quite content winding up with him as a corner infielder or even a late option at first base. Yes, he didn't have much of a track record, but his combination of an average barrel rate (8.0 percent) and a strong strikeout rate (15.8 percent) seemed to give him a high floor. As it turns out, I should have given far more weight to the fact that no big-league team had given him meaningful playing time prior to the second half of his age-29 season. He didn't even make it halfway through this season before his first demotion of the year, and he wound up playing just 10 big-league games in the second half and finished the year as a free agent. Nothing in his line offered reason for optimism outside of a good, but not great, 19.9 percent strikeout rate, as his barrel rate collapsed to 4.7 percent while his slash line dipped to .229/.277/.358. I can't help but feel I should have seen this one coming.

(Injured: Michael Conforto, Brandon Belt)

Round 17: Huascar Ynoa, SP, Atlanta (Suspended: Trevor Bauer)

Round 18: Nicky Lopez, 2B/3B/SS, Royals: Speaking of disappointments, I should have seen coming, I can at least say I was prepared for this one and never considered selecting Lopez in any league. In theory, he was a contact-and-speed guy, but there were questions about whether he'd contribute meaningfully in either category. Yes, he hit .300 last season, but that came with a pathetic 0.7 percent barrel rate and a .239 xBA. Additionally, it's not like his speed was elite, as his 22 steals in 2021 don't leap off the page, and he swiped just one bag in 159 big-league games prior to that point. Sure enough, he accomplished next to nothing this season outside of his 13 steals, a number that isn't nearly enough to sustain a fantasy profile on its own. That's especially true when Lopez was effectively a zero at the plate, as he slashed .227/.281/.273 with zero homers and just 20 RBI despite coming to the plate 480 times.

(Injured: Miguel Sano, Casey Mize)

Round 19: Aaron Ashby, SP, Brewers

Round 20: Max Stassi, C, Angels

Round 21: Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (Injured: Lucas Sims, Luis Patino)

Round 22: Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS/OF, Rockies: Will fantasy players ever learn their lesson about scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel for Rockies just because they play half their games in Coors Field? Sure, the park is a huge boost, but there's a minimum threshold a hitter has to meet to play often enough for the park to matter, and Hampson's days as a regular were clearly numbered. While he did manage to come to the plate 494 times last season, that also marked the third straight year in which he finished with a wRC+ of exactly 64. Despite his defensive versatility, the Rockies only gave him 226 plate appearances this season, and he was lucky to earn that many, as he slashed a miserable .211/.287/.307. His 12 steals helped him provide a tiny bit of fantasy value in very deep leagues, but he's nowhere near good enough to be a big-league regular, something even the Rockies eventually learned.

Round 23: Elieser Hernandez, SP, Marlins (Injured: Stephen Strasburg)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Halterman
Erik Halterman is the Features Editor for RotoWire. He also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Baseball on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio.
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