Fantasy Baseball – 2012 Positional Awards

With the 2012 MLB regular season now in the rearview mirror, I wanted to take a look back and break down the best fantasy players for each position in both leagues.  Like most years, there are some players that matched or exceeded expectations heading into the draft.  But there were also some players that came out of nowhere to become fantasy studs and make you look like a genius for having them.  My evaluation is based on several factors and applies to both rotisserie and points leagues.  I also listed two runners up at each position to provide some comparison.  So without further adieu, here is my list of the best players at each position (C,1B,2B,3B,SS,OF,SP,RP) in each league.  

Catcher

National League – Buster Posey (SF).
Runners up: Yadier Molina (STL), Miguel Montero (ARZ).

After sustaining a horrific ankle injury in a collision at home plate in 2011, Buster Posey has come back with a vengeance to become the favorite for the National League MVP. All he has done is hit .335 with 24 homeruns and 103 RBI. The Giants have intelligently reduced Posey’s time behind the plate by giving him starts at first base which should be the continuing trend as time goes on. Posey helped cement his status by leading San Francisco into the National League Championship Series with his grand slam in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds.

American League – Joe Mauer (MIN).
Runners up: Matt Wieters (BAL), A.J. Pierzynski (CHW).

Despite leading the league in nicest hair, Joe Mauer continues to prove he is one of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time with another solid season. Injuries have been a problem for him over the course of his career, but he has seen more time at first base and DH to help avoid trips to the disabled list. It was a terrible year for Minnesota, but Mauer cannot be blamed as he hit .319 with 10 homeruns and 85 RBI. Mauer may never approach 25 homeruns again, but he continues to be one of the league’s best pure hitters.

First Base

National League – Adam LaRoche (WAS).
Runners up: Paul Goldschmidt (ARZ), Allen Craig (STL).

It was a relatively weak class of National League first baseman to choose from, but Adam LaRoche stood out amongst the choices. He had an impressive .271 batting average with 33 homeruns and 100 RBI solidifying the middle of Washington’s lineup. He often gets overlooked but when he is healthy is does produce solid offensive numbers. With Adrian Gonzalez now back in the National League, he will likely overtake LaRoche going forward. But there is no denying that LaRoche was the standout first baseman throughout the course of the season in the NL.

American League – Edwin Encarnacion (TOR).
Runners up: Prince Fielder (DET), Albert Pujols (LAA).

It took awhile, but Edwin Encarnacion finally put it all together and had a monster season in 2012. He finished with a .280 batting average, 42 homeruns and 110 RBI. He was likely a mid to late round draft pick in many fantasy leagues, so he arguably provided more value for his draft position than any offensive player in the league. This was his first year of eligibility at first base as he made the transition from the hot corner to accommodate rookie Brett Lawrie. Toronto had a disappointing season but they were one of the most powerful offensive teams thanks in large part to the performance of Encarnacion.

Second Base

National League – Aaron Hill (ARZ).
Runners up: Brandon Phillips (CIN), Jose Altuve (HOU).

This category was a landslide as no other NL second baseman came remotely close to the output of Arizona’s Aaron Hill. Hill amassed terrific numbers by hitting .302 with 26 homeruns, 85 RBI, 93 runs scored and 14 stolen bases. He also became the fourth player in MLB history to hit for the cycle twice in the same season. The problem with Hill is that he has been inconsistent over the course of his career, but after what he did this year he unquestionably was the best second baseman in the NL.

American League – Robinson Cano (NYY).
Runners up: Ian Kinsler (TEX), Jason Kipnis (CLE).

You know how a good a player is when hitting .312 with 33 homeruns and 94 RBI is considered a disappointment. Robinson Cano has become the best player on the Yankees and one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Expectations were high for him this year but he struggled with prolonged slumps throughout the season. One of Cano’s best attributes had always been his consistency, but in 2012 he was extremely streaky. The Yankees as a team struggled mightily with runners on base and in scoring position. You can expect that to change next year and see Cano’s RBI totals well exceed 100.

Third Base

National League – Chase Headley (SD).
Runners up: Aramis Ramirez (MIL), David Wright (NYM).

This is one of the biggest surprises on this list. Padres third baseman Chase Headley came into his own this year in the midst of trade rumors for most of the season. He also had the disadvantage of batting in San Diego’s weak lineup and playing home games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Headley finished the season batting .286 with 31 homeruns and a league-leading 115 RBI. On top of that he also scored 95 runs and had 17 stolen bases. Headley had an incredible second half of the season and emerged as a bona fide fantasy stud.

American League – Miguel Cabrera (DET).
Runners up: Adrian Beltre (TEX), Chris Davis (BAL).

Can there really be an argument for this category? Miguel Cabrera made the transition back to third base after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder in the offseason. All Cabrera did was become the first player to win the Triple Crown since 1967 by leading the American League with a .329 batting average, 44 homeruns and 139 RBI. Cabrera is the best hitter in the league and can be considered one of the greatest of all time. Even more impressive is that he plays half of his games at Comerica Field which is not designed to benefit power hitters. He is the unequivocal #1 overall pick for all drafts entering the 2013 season.

Shortstop

National League – Jimmy Rollins (PHI).
Runners up: Jose Reyes (MIA), Ian Desmond (WAS).

This was a weak field to choose from as no NL shortstop really stood out above the others. Jose Reyes did have a solid season with the Marlins after signing his big contract, but Jimmy Rollins proved there was plenty left in the tank for the 2007 NL MVP. He had to carry much of the load for the Phillies who were without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for most of the season. Rollins finished with a .250 batting average but did have 23 homeruns, 68 RBI, 102 runs scored and 30 stolen bases.

American League – Derek Jeter (NYY).
Runners up: Elvis Andrus (TEX), Alcides Escobar (KC).

Continuing the trend of old dogs still leading the pack, Derek Jeter proved that he is still at the top of his game as he enters his late 30’s. He incredibly led the league in hits with 216 and added a .316 batting average with 99 runs scored. Jeter also enjoyed a resurgence in power has he hit 15 homeruns and drove in 58 runs. There are several young shortstops in the AL that will eventually supplant the Captain, but for now Jeter is still the best in the AL and was a bargain this year in fantasy drafts.

Outfield

National League – Ryan Braun (MIL).
Runners up: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Holliday (STL).

All eyes were on the controversial 2011 NL MVP as he looked to restore his reputation after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug last year. While he was ultimately exonerated due to a technicality, the baseball world was still skeptical of Braun. Despite having that pressure on his shoulders and losing Prince Fielder’s protection behind him in the lineup, Braun put together another MVP caliber season by hitting .319 with 41 homeruns, 112 RBI, 108 runs scored and 30 stolen bases. He did all of this while missing several games at various points of the season with nagging injuries. Braun proved he is no fluke and is the best hitter in the NL.

American League – Mike Trout (LAA).
Runners up: Josh Hamilton (TEX), Alex Rios (CHW).

The only viable challenger to Miguel Cabrera for the AL MVP is the Angels phenom Mike Trout. After coming up to the big leagues in May, Trout took the baseball world by storm and surpassed Bryce Harper as the game’s best rookie. Trout finished his rookie season batting .325 with 30 homeruns, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. These numbers are incredible and some are incomparable to anyone else in the league. Trout is the undisputed AL Rookie of the Year and is a bona fide first round pick in all 2013 fantasy drafts.

Starting Pitcher

National League – R.A. Dickey (NYM).
Runners up: Gio Gonzalez (WAS), Clayton Kershaw (LAD).

He may not have gotten the starting gig for the NL All-Star Team, but Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is the odds on favorite for the Cy Young Award. At 37 years old he turned his unique form of the knuckleball into a dominant weapon and put together a historic season. He finished 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and a league-leading 230 strikeouts. Dickey had five complete games and back to back one-hitters. There is no doubt that he provided the greatest fantasy value for where he was either drafted or added as a free agent earlier in the season. Whether he can repeat this performance is a question to ponder for next year, but in 2012 he was the best fantasy pitcher in the entire National League.

American League – David Price (TB).
Runners up: Justin Verlander (DET), Jered Weaver (LAA).

This was a competitive category but I gave the edge to Tampa Bay’s David Price. It is sometimes hard to remember how young Price is given he has been around for several years now. Price finished the season 20-5 with a 2.55 ERA and 205 strikeouts. The Rays were one of the worst offensive teams in the league so Price always knew he couldn’t give up much if he wanted a chance to win. As the ace of Tampa Bay’s great young staff, Price has cemented himself as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.

Relief Pitcher

National League – Craig Kimbrel (ATL).
Runners up: Aroldis Chapman (CIN), Jonathan Papelbon (PHI).

It is hard to imagine that the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year could match or surpass his performance during his sophomore season, but that is exactly what Braves closer Craig Kimbrel did. His numbers are staggering and almost seems unfair to the opposition when he pitches. Kimbrel finished the season with 42 saves in 45 opportunities and a microscopic 1.00 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. In just 62.2 innings, Kimbrel struck out 116 batters and walked only 14. He is unquestionably the best closer in baseball and should be treated as such in fantasy leagues.

American League – Jim Johnson (BAL).
Runners up: Fernando Rodney (TB), Rafael Soriano (NYY).

It is representative of the Orioles tremendous 2012 season that this honor goes to their closer, Jim Johnson. A converted started, Johnson emerged as one of the best closers in baseball with a MLB-leading 51 saves in 54 opportunities. The Orioles set records with their success in one-run games thanks in large part to Johnson at the back end of the bullpen. He also had a 2.49 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. His inexperience has been exposed in the postseason, but that does not undermine how great he was during the regular season.

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