A few years back, a group of 15 fantasy owners did an all-time draft with a minimum of 1,500 innings pitched while requiring at least two relief pitchers (30 appearances in relief needed to qualify). Each team had to draft 14 hitters and nine pitchers with standard 5x5 Roto rules applying.
This draft is by far the purest example of the player pool as all owners had to research the player pool, plus every owner had no idea of the targeted goals in any category. There were plenty of draft mistakes due to not knowing the final destination and faulty game planning.
The goal is to shine some light on some of the excellent seasons in baseball history. I will try to educate you on the fantasy baseball game as well. I think of this as a win/win as the younger generation will get a history lesson on baseball, and the older generation will hopefully learn about a fantasy game that has more depth to help fall in with love with the whole player pool in today's game of baseball.
With baseball at a standstill in America, here's a look back at some of the top seasons all time:
1. OF Babe Ruth, New York Yankees
Ruth was just about a layup coming out of the gate. He is an electric player with one of the best resumes of all time. In 1921, he hit .378 in 540 at-bats while leading the league in runs (177 - tied for second all-time), home runs (59 - ninth all-time), and RBI (168 - tied for ninth all-time). Ruth even chipped in with 17 steals (caught 13 times as well). His 1921 season was by far the best of his career, although he did hit 40 or more homers 11 times. Ruth finished his career with a .342 batting average with 2,174 runs, 714 home runs, 2,214 RBI, and 123 steals. He did most of his pitching (94-46 with 2.28 ERA and 448 Ks in 1221.1 innings) before the 1920 season with Boston. His best year on the pitching side came in 1916 (23-12 with a league-best 1.75 ERA, 170 strikeouts, nine shutouts, and one save.)
2. SP Ed Walsh, Chicago White Sox
Walsh provided an incredible edge in the pitching categories with the second overall pick. He went 40-15 in 1908 while registering a 1.42 ERA, 0.860 WHIP, and 269 strikeouts over 464 innings. Walsh even chipped in with six saves. He appeared in 66 games with 49 starts, which led to 42 complete games and 11 shutouts. Most of his success took place over seven seasons from 1906 to 1912 for the Chicago White Sox. In his career, Walsh went 195-126 with a 1.82 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 1,736 strikeouts, and 35 saves over 2954.1 innings.
3. 2B Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals
The offensive boom of the 20's continued with the selection of Hornsby. He created a massive edge at a middle infield position. He hit over .400 three times in his career with three elite seasons (1922, 1925, and 1929). His best season came in 1922 when Hornsby hit .401 with 141 runs, 42 home runs, 152 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. It was fascinating to see his production rise after the 1920 season. From 1916 to 1920, he hit .325 with 364 runs, 36 home runs, 356 RBI, and 71 steals in 2,535 at-bats. Hornsby hit .358 for his career with 1,579 runs, 301 home runs, 1,584 RBI, and 135 stolen bases in 8,173 at-bats over 23 seasons. Over his last eight seasons, he saw limited at-bats due to injuries and a decline in his skill set. Hornsby led the league in batting average seven times, including six straight seasons from 1920 to 1925.
4. SP Walter Johnson, Washington Senators
Johnson won 20-plus games in 10 straight seasons with an ERA lower than 2.00 in nine of those seasons. His best season was 1913 when he won a career-high 36 games with a career-low 1.14 ERA over 346 innings. His WHIP (0.780) created a significant advantage while adding 243 strikeouts with two saves. Johnson went 417-279 in his career with a 2.17 ERA with 3,509 strikeouts, 110 shutouts, and 34 saves in 5,914.1 innings.
Baseball changed in 1920 as home runs became a big part of the game, thanks to Babe Ruth. Johnson had 297 wins with a 1.65 ERA, 0.969 WHIP, and 2.614 strikeouts over 4,091.2 innings before 1920. Over his last eight seasons, Johnson went 120-88 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.268 WHIP, and 895 strikeouts over 1,823.2 innings.
Looking back, it's a close debate whether Walter Johnson was more valuable than Ed Walsh as a fantasy ace. Walsh had 118 more innings to set the base in the ERA and WHIP category, plus four more wins, four saves, and 26 strikeouts. The edge Johnson provided in ERA and WHIP probably outweighed the small gains in the counting categories.
5. SP Christy Mathewson, New York Giants
Mathewson set the bar for the pitching position at the turn of the century. He won 20 or more games for 12 straight seasons starting in 1901 while leading the league in wins four times (1905, 1907, 1908, and 1910) and ERA in five seasons (1905, 1908, 1909, 1911, and 1913). His best season came in 1908 when Mathewson went 37-11 with a 1.43 ERA, 0.827 WHIP, 259 strikeouts, and five saves over 390.2 innings. He started 44 games, which led to 34 complete games and 11 shutouts. For his career, Mathewson had 373 wins with a 2.13 ERA and 1.058 WHIP. He pitched 4,788.2 innings and 2,507 strikeouts, leading to 435 complete games in 552 career starts with 79 shutouts.
6. SP Jack Chesbro, New York Yankees
Chesbro had an excellent run from 1901 to 1906, where he won 153 games, but his ERA was under 2.00 only once over 11 seasons. His 1904 season was by far the best of his career due to his 41 wins, and a huge volume of innings pitched (454.2 - 129.2 more than any other season). Chesbro went 41-12 for the Yankees that year with a 1.82 ERA, 0.937 WHIP, and 239 strikeouts over 51 starts, which included 48 complete games. His career only lasted 11 seasons, with his last three years having no value (0-10). Chesbro went 198-132 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, and 1265 strikeouts in the majors.
Looking back at this pick, his final stats may have hurt this team more than helped. The 41 wins were a clear edge, and the high volume of innings with a 1.82 ERA was a plus.
Seven teams finished this draft with an ERA lower than 1.82.
A WHIP of 0.937 looked attractive at the time. In the end, it pushed this team to finish in the back half of the league in the category over the long haul.
When the lights go on, and we are looking at individual players, some stats seem to be an edge. With each pick selected, we can see the pitfalls of building a winning team. By this point in the draft, after seeing the final results of all 23 rounds, it is pretty easy to see that a fantasy owner didn't find a four-category edge at pitcher.
7. SP Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies
The pressure to build a solid pitching base continued. Alexander is an interesting player, as he pitched about nine full years in the dead-ball era (235 wins and 2.06 ERA) and nine seasons after the surge in home runs (138 wins and 3.30 ERA). He led the league in wins in each season from 1914 to 1917 (27, 31, 33, and 30). Also, Alexander has the best ERA in the game for five straight full seasons (1.22, 1.55, 1.83, 1.72, and 1.91) from 1916 to 1920 (in the Army for most of 1918). His best season came in 1915 when he went 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA, 0.842 WHIP, 241 strikeouts, three saves over 376.1 innings. His season ended with 42 starts with 36 complete games and 12 shutouts. It was interesting to see him lead the league with a low strikeout total in 1916 (167) and 1920 (173). Alexander finished his career with 373 wins, 2.56 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 2,198 strikeouts, and 32 saves in 5,190 innings.
The first lesson of fantasy baseball can be learned after the first seven picks in this draft. The most important categories to control on the pitching side is ERA and WHIP. It is challenging to gain ground in either area if you start your team with a weaker option. Alexander beat Ed Walsh in both ERA and WHIP, but he had less volume of innings, so the difference when looking at all categories was real close. His season clearly had more value than Jack Chesbro due to the impact of ERA (1.22 to 1.82) and WHIP (0.842 to 0.937).
8. OF Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers
This pick was all about batting average and steals. Cobb finished in the top two in batting average 12 times from 1907 to 1919. His best season was 1911 when he hit .420 with 147 runs, eight home runs, 127 RBI, and 83 steals in 591 at-bats. His success in batting average continued after the dead-ball era as he hit .389 in 1921 and .401 in 1922. Cobb only hit over 10 home runs twice in his career (1921 – 12 HRs over 507 at-bats and 1925 – 12 HRs over 415 at-bats.) Even with weak power, he had seven 100 RBI seasons. Cobb hit .366 for his career with 4,189 hits, 2,244 runs, 117 home runs, 1,933 RBI, and 897 stolen bases over 24 seasons in the majors.
This drafter made a conscious decision with this pick to punt power. Cobb gave him a solid four-category start, but he will be beaten by many teams in RBI at the outfield positions later in the draft. The base in batting average is real attractive, but the quest to maintain this edge comes at a price. At this point in the draft with no previous data, a fantasy owner really has no idea what the ultimate goal is to have a top-four team in batting average (top 20 %). This team will be exciting to follow as he gave up two categories, and he'll have a tough time catching up in some of the pitching categories.
9. SP Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greatness in baseball jumps five decades with the selection of Mr. Koufax. A real exciting player in baseball history as he only played well for five seasons. From 1962 to 1966, he led the NL in ERA (2.54, 1.88, 1.74, 2.04, and 1.73). Over his last four years in the majors, Koufax went 97-27 with a 1.86 ERA, 0.909 WHIP, 1,228 strikeouts, and two saves over 1,192.2 innings, which included 31 shutouts. His career ended at the age of 30 due to his struggles with his left elbow.
Koufax had similar success in 1963 and 1965, which creates a debate about the best season in his professional career. In the end, he went 26-8 in 1965 with a 2.04 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, and 382 strikeouts over a career-high 335.2 innings.
Over his first seven seasons in the majors, he went 54-53 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, and 952 strikeouts over 947.1 innings. Koufax ended his career with a 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA, 1.106 WHIP, and 2,396 strikeouts over 2324.1 innings.
There is no doubt this was a tremendous season by Sandy Koufax, but he looks misplaced as the ninth overall pick. Koufax was a nice edge in strikeouts, and his WHIP (0.855) was in a winning area, but his ERA (2.04) ranked well below the number required to compete in this type of draft. When you add in no early edge in wins, you can see this owner positioned himself for a tough draft. At best, he can win strikeouts while just about punting ERA.
I question his plan, plus I wonder where a great player like Koufax fits in this type of draft. As this draft moves forward, we will have a better idea of where his true fantasy value lies.
10. SP Joe McGinnity, New York Giants
The first round has been all about pitching, with each fantasy owner not knowing which player has the most value. At the same time, developing a draft plan does come on the fly.
McGinnity reached the majors at age 28 in 1899. He led the league in wins in his first two years in baseball. His best season came in 1904 when McGinnity went 35-8 with a 1.61 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, 144 strikeouts, and five saves over 408 innings. In his 10-year career, he led the league in wins five times (28, 28, 31, 35, and 27). His ERA was under 2.00 only once in his career.
I thought it was interesting to see him have 113 walks (only 93 strikeouts) and 40 hit batters in 1900 while still posting a 2.94 ERA. McGinnity finished his career with a 246-142 record and a 2.66 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, 1,068 strikeouts, and 24 saves in 3,441.1 innings.
Looking back at this draft is an eye-opener. The quest for wins and a low ERA base has been very important to many owners. McGinnity offered no edge in WHIP or strikeouts. The high innings pitched with a low ERA has been the key to some of the decision making.
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