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Chase Headley: Fantasy NL MVP

Pop quiz, hotshot. Guess where Chase Headley, our 2012 National League Fantasy Most Valuable Player, was ranked among third basemen prior to the season by Yahoo! Sports. 10th? 15th? Try 22nd, below Michael Young, below Emilio Bonifacio, even below Ryan Roberts.

Now, guess where Headley finished the season at Yahoo!, but not just among his position, where he easily came in as the most valuable third baseman in the NL (and fourth overall); guess where he’s ranked among all players in both leagues, pitchers included: 12th overall. That’s right, the man who couldn’t crack the top 250 players before the season ended up being more valuable fantasy-wise than Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, & Gio Gonzalez, at least if you believe Yahoo!

We can grant that Yahoo! rankings aren’t exactly laser accurate, yet they were hardly alone in their treatment of Headley before the season. Over at ESPN, Headley was the #28 third baseman in the spring with an ADP of 232.9, behind such luminaries as Mat Gamel & Danny Valencia. CBS said that he was merely “worth a late-round pick in standard mixed leagues”.

As you can see, Headley was almost universally ignored in drafts prior to the season, with the general consensus being that good defense doesn’t count in fantasy and excuses about being limited by Petco Park won’t help you win games. As Eno was careful to note in his introduction to the fantasy awards, “The fantasy MVP is NOT the best player overall. The fantasy MVP is the guy that returned the most value. So we give consideration to draft cost.”

I’d say Headley fits that bill exactly, wouldn’t you agree? Of the 19 NL third basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, Headley was tops in homers (31), RBI (115), runs (95), stolen bases (17), and second only to Aramis Ramirez in wOBA (.378). He was particularly hot during a second half in which he hit .308/.386/.592 with 23 homers, propelling hundreds of fantasy teams (including my own) to championships, and so the preseason afterthought became a fantasy beast, rightfully claiming his throne as our NL Fantasy MVP.

To be fair, it’s not as though everyone whiffed on Headley entering the season and was blind to some kind of obvious breakout. In fact, Michael Barr looked into that topic just last week, so I won’t repeat his research here, and he concluded that while this sort of explosion could certainly not have been predicted, it was fair to expect Headley to improve over the disappointing power output (just four homers) he provided in 2011. Improve he did, beyond our wildest expectations.

Headley may not have been the best player in the NL. Perhaps you favor Ryan Braun, or Buster Posey (as the only dissenting vote in our internal poll for this award did), or Andrew McCutchen. But for the value he provided as opposed to the cost it took to obtain him – a mere waiver claim, in many cases – you could have hardly done better.