I can already see it coming — those who create their own fantasy projections are going to have plenty of sleepless nights this offseason. While a typical season creates its fair share of challenges, trying to figure out the validity of statistics that were generated across a 60-game campaign is especially hard to do.
Still, we have to start somewhere, and analyzing some of this year’s most surprising players feels like a good place to begin. Let’s dive in on a few key names.
Jose Abreu (CWS, 1B)
Fantasy managers will have a tough decision on Abreu, who was previously considered a good-but-not-great slugger but could finish this season as the top fantasy hitter. Looking at his advanced data, nothing stands out as a major skill improvement. The biggest change is a 34.5 percent HR/FB rate that dwarfs his 20.0 percent career mark. And he has enjoyed the benefits of an improved White Sox lineup, ranking near the top of baseball in plate appearances with runners on base. I’ll consider Abreu in Rd. 4 of 2021 drafts but not before that.
Marcell Ozuna (ATL, OF)
Like Abreu, Ozuna entered the season as a solid power hitter before mashing enough baseballs to become an elite 2020 asset. And also like Abreu, Ozuna has enjoyed exceptional fortune, leading the Majors by a wide margin in plate appearances with runners in scoring position. But the outfielder has made some skills improvements, posting career-best marks in fly ball rate (40.5 percent), average exit velocity (92.8 mph), and hard-hit percentage (53.2 percent). A pending free agent, Ozuna’s fantasy value will be tied to his landing spot. Staying in the heart of a loaded Braves lineup would be ideal.
Luke Voit (NYY, 1B)
Voit gives this article a third straight slugger who has mashed his way up the fantasy rankings. The 29-year-old is both walking and striking out less often, which has led to more batted balls put into play. And with his high rate of fly balls and hitter-friendly home park, more batted balls are a great thing. In fact, Voit has logged a 1.164 OPS at Yankee Stadium this year in comparison to a .735 mark on the road. He is highly unlikely to enjoy a 35.0 percent HR/FB rate for a second straight season, but Voit could once again rank among the league leaders in homers and RBIs from his spot in a deep Yankees lineup.
Corey Seager (LAD, SS)
After being tormented by injuries for multiple seasons, Seager is finally back to being a fantasy stud. The shortstop limits his strikeouts (15.3 percent) while producing elite marks in hard contact (52.1 percent) and average exit velocity (93.6 mph). In short, I feel great about the odds of Seager repeating his stellar 2020 season across a longer 2021 campaign. He has the balanced skill set to produce in multiple ways while enjoying the benefits of hitting in a terrific Dodgers lineup.
Teoscar Hernandez (TOR, OF)
Hernandez might be the most surprising hitter on this list, as he went undrafted in most 2020 leagues. But despite a brief IL stint, the outfielder ranks among the top-14 fantasy hitters by virtue of batting .297 with 16 long balls. Out of every slugger in this space, Hernandez is the one I worry about the most. His strikeout rate remains extremely high (30.4 percent), and he has benefited greatly from unsustainable marks in BABIP (.362) and HR/FB rate (34.0 percent). Hernandez should remain a potent slugger, but he is likely destined to have some scorching stretches that are mixed with cold spells.
Zach Davies (SD, SP)
Davies was a streaming option for multiple seasons but really took his game to another level en route to going 7-4 with a 2.85 ERA this year. The right-hander has consistently excelled at limiting hard contact and allowing a low average exit velocity, but he was always held back by a lowly strikeout rate. His year-over-year whiff rate has jumped seven percentage points to a healthy 22.7 percent, which is the biggest reason that Davies is now a lineup fixture. Relying less on his mediocre fastball has fueled his improvement, and the 27-year-old has a good chance to help mixed-league teams again next year.
Corbin Burnes (MIL, SP)
Burnes started gaining steam as a breakout candidate during July, but even those who drafted him weren’t expecting a fantasy ace. The right-hander sits fifth in the Majors with a 2.11 ERA, places 12th with a 1.02 WHIP, and ranks 10th with 88 whiffs. The swing-and-miss stuff is something we can count on from Burnes, but those who are expecting a full repeat are going to be disappointed. The 25-year-old has experienced the biggest year-over-year swing of any pitcher in HR/FB percentage, and his minuscule 2020 rate will not be repeated next year. At best, I see Burnes as a low-end No. 2 starter in 2021 mixed leagues.
Marco Gonzales (SEA, SP)
Gonzales entered 2020 as a fantasy innings eater with a solid floor but a low ceiling. A few months later, he is putting the finishing touches on an ace-level campaign. The southpaw has made dramatic changes to his control skills, which have enabled him to produce the best walk rate (2.4 percent) of any qualified pitcher. Limiting free passes to such a great degree has helped him regularly go deep into starts, which is a factor in accumulating seven wins across 10 outings. Gonzales will be hard-pressed to fully repeat his control skills next year, as walk rates at his current level are rare. But K:BB ratio is an excellent predictor of success, which makes the 28-year-old someone I believe in.