Fantasy Baseball winners and losers through one-third of the 2023 MLB season

We’re about one-third of the way through the baseball season and the fantasy baseball season. It’s a good time to get out the clipboard and start tallying up the winners and losers.

To be fair, any of these stories could flip at any time; that’s baseball. But we also know that waiting for proof is a dead fantasy strategy.


Ronald Acuña Jr., the right answer

Fantasy baseball pundits wanted to tell you in March that four or five players were worth considering at the No. 1 slot. Acuña’s making that look rather silly now.

His slugging sagged last year, but that was mostly injury-driven. He has never run as aggressively — or as successfully — as he’s doing this year. He’s batting .324, for crying out loud. Ronald Acuña is unfair, man.

The only other lottery pick who has matched the hype thus far is Aaron Judge, who’s already up to 18 homers. But if we were redrafting today, Acuña goes first everywhere in about five seconds.

Esteury Ruiz, stolen-base wizard

It’s generally not safe to watch the Oakland offense without protective eyewear, but Ruiz is making things happen up front. He has swiped 28 bases — easily the most in the majors — and while he doesn’t offer much power (one homer), he has been passable in the other categories (.269 average, 24 runs, 24 RBIs). Mix it all together, and he’s currently the No. 36 player in banked 5x5 value.

We haven’t seen a 60-steal season since 2017 (Dee Strange-Gordon), and it has been 14 years since someone hit the 70 mark (Jacoby Ellsbury). Ruiz is taking dead aim at those milestones, and with MLB’s new rules as a tailwind, he’s likely to get there.

Wander Franco, Mr. Everything

Prospect reports on Franco commonly mentioned how he could win a batting title someday, which is shorthand for “We’re not sure exactly how much power we’re getting, but he’s still awfully good.” Maybe take those reports to rewrite — Franco has seven homers, a .482 slugging and 20 delicious stolen bases.

Forget a future batting title. Franco looks like an MVP contender for seasons to come. He has plenty of help in the Tampa Bay offense, which ranks second in runs and first in OPS.

The Rangers offense

Texas leads the majors in runs scored and run differential, and the scoring bonanza has come despite Corey Seager missing multiple weeks. Marcus Semien and Adolis García were drafted too late, and Josh Jung and Jonah Heim often weren’t drafted at all (their ADPs were outside the top 200). Throw in a dash of Nathaniel Lowe, a pinch of Leody Taveras, some Ezequiel Durán (currently on the IL) — this is a destination offense. I was on the Semien case in March, but most of the other guys caught me by surprise.

Closers at reasonable draft prices

Saves are a fickle stat, and relievers are forever enigmatic; we know that. But the bullpen right answers thus far have been the later values. Consider the closers who are atop the relief-pitcher leaderboard: Felix Bautista, Alex Lange, Alexis Diaz, David Bednar, Devon Williams, Camilo Doval, David Robertson. That’s the top seven! And only Williams was pricy in March drafts.

Other fantasy winners: Spencer Strider’s two-pitch magic, Corbin Carroll meets the hype, Paul Goldschmidt aging gracefully, Bryan Reynolds sparking surprising Pirates, Nathan Eovaldi goes off for Texas, Bryce Harper comes back early.


Cleveland’s anemic lineup

You name it on offense, the Guardians don’t do it. Cleveland ranks 28th in runs, 24th in average, 27th in OBP (that’s the biggest shocker) and dead last in slugging. Oh, the Guardians do rank fifth in steals, but little good it’s done them. José Ramírez was the consensus No. 5 overall pick in March — he’s barely inside the top 100 in banked value. Josh Naylor (146) and Steven Kwan (161) are the only other bats here who crack the top 350.

Old starting pitchers

Age was supposed to be just a number for Justin Verlander (age 40) and Max Scherzer (age 38), but they’ve both needed maintenance time for the scuffling Mets. Scherzer at least has a sturdy 3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for the 47 2/3 innings he has worked; Verlander’s ERA is over four. The Mets starting staff has a 4.84 ERA, 22nd in the majors. (I was going to add a note about former Met Jacob deGrom, but I don’t have the heart. It’s no fun when baseball’s best pitcher is hurt as often as deGrom is.)

Kyle Schwarber’s batting average

I chose to look at the glass half-full with Schwarber this spring — sure, the average would be a likely drain, but he was coming off a dynamic season otherwise (100 runs, 46 homers, 94 RBI, even a sneaky 10 steals), and the Phillies lineup could be improved. With new shifting rules in place, I figured Schwarber’s career average of .228 would be a likely baseline, and maybe he could tick that up slightly.

Alas, Schwarber toils away at .160, and even though he’s carrying a comically-low BABIP (.162) and has earned an average slightly above the Mendoza, it has been a frustrating ride. At least the homer column (13) is about what you’d expect. Oh, and those 10 glorious steals from last year, not shockingly, have vanished into the ether.

Bobby Witt Jr. in the first round

It’s not like Witt has been a flop — his 10 homers and 17 steals place him as the No. 20 hitter in banked 5x5 value. But the .228 average is a drain, the Royals lineup offers little buoyancy, and you could've drafted Witt’s projection twin, Randy Arozarena, two rounds later. No, they don’t play the same position, but in the early rounds, it’s more about drafting stats, not shaping your positional fits.

The overzealous managers who pushed Witt into the first round in March (when his national ADP was 10.97) missed out on better players such as Freddie Freeman, Yordan Alvarez and Bo Bichette — safer stocks in better lineups.

Colorado’s lineup

Algorithm comparisons aren’t a perfect way to project future performance, but when I look at the comps on Kris Bryant’s baseball reference page, I get spooked. There’s a bunch of players who peaked early and were essentially done in their early 30s: Richard Hidaldo, Hank Blalock, Yoenis Céspedes, Bob Horner — it’s not a fun list.

Bryant and C.J. Cron hit little for the Rockies in the opening third, then eventually hit the injured list. Elías Díaz has been a useful (if not seismic) fantasy catcher, but despite the undertow of Coors Field, the Rockies don’t have a single offensive player in the top 100.

Maybe Nikola Jokić can bat cleanup later this month.

Other fantasy losers: Daulton Varsho lost in Toronto, sophomore slump for Julio Rodríguez, Trea Turner struggling in new city, big-ticket arms (Corbin Burnes, Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola) not justifying expectant ADPs.