9 Greatest Games in Fantasy Baseball History. Baseball has a long and rich history, more so than any of the four major professional sports. When we talk about “greatest games,” many that come to mind will be those from the distant past, or during the postseason. Read More
Who can forget Harvey Haddix’s near-perfect game, 12 consecutive innings without allowing a single baserunner (before ultimately losing in the 13th) in 1959? How about Jim Bottomley’s six-hit, 12-RBI feat of domination at the bat in 1924? Maybe it’s Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game? Or, if you’re a baseball die-hard, perhaps you’d nominate Rennie Stennett’s record seven hits in a nine-inning game in 1975, or Johnny Burnett’s record nine hits in a single game of any length in 1932, as the greatest?
I’d argue, however, that it was fantasy baseball’s invention in 1980 — 40 years ago — that turned the microscope on individual, single-day performances. Never before did baseball fans notice — and more importantly, truly appreciate — these efforts as much as they did once they counted in their league’s championship quests. So for this column’s purposes, we’re going to narrow the scope: We present the greatest single-day, single-player performances in fantasy/rotisserie baseball history.
We’ll use ESPN’s standard fantasy point scoring system for these purposes: This credits a single point per total base earned (that’s one for a single, two for a double, three for a triple and four for a home run), as well as single points each for an RBI, run scored, walk or stolen base on the hitting side, while docking the hitter a single point for each strikeout. For pitchers, five points are credited for each win or save and one point for each out recorded (so three for every full inning pitched) and a strikeout, and the pitcher loses five points per loss, two points per earned run allowed, and one point apiece for every hit or walk allowed.
With that in mind, here are the nine greatest single games in fantasy baseball history, which again encompasses the 40 completed seasons since roto’s invention. It’s a subjective list, as the league environment and likelihood of the player being rostered and active in lineups for the performance does come into play.
It’s fitting that the top-scoring player in the roto era was a pitcher who was quite the fantasy storyline during the early portion of his 15-year big league career. Wood’s 20-strikeout, one-hit, complete-game shutout performance came in only his fifth career major league appearance, in a “getaway day” afternoon game at Wrigley Field that nevertheless saw the opposing Astros place a pair of Hall of Famers (Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio) as well as a top-three finisher in that season’s MVP race (Moises Alou) in its lineup.
Wood entered the 1998 season widely ranked a top-three pitching prospect in baseball — Kris Benson and Carl Pavano represented his primary competition for the top spot — and struck out 11 batters over five scoreless innings in Triple-A Iowa’s opener, earning a promotion to replace Terry Mulholland in the Cubs’ rotation on April 12. At the time, he was one of the hottest prospects in fantasy, a late-rounder/endgame buy for NL-only redraft managers. Wood’s first four starts resulted in fantasy point totals of 1, 20, minus-18 and 26, but it was start No. 5 that saw him reach his career pinnacle. He would deal with injuries for much of the remainder of his career, succumbing to Tommy John surgery only 11 months later and making 16 total trips to the disabled list.
A final note on Wood’s greatness: If we expanded this column’s scope to include all seasons within the Retrosheet era (1904 forward), only 10 other games resulted in greater scores than Wood’s 51, all of which were accomplished by pitchers who threw at least 16 innings in those games.
The only pitcher on this list to have surrendered a run in the game in question — Chili Davis’ solo home run in the second inning was the only hit he allowed — Martinez earns a high place on the list because of how valuable the effort considering the league environment at the time. Consider: The American League had a collective 4.86 ERA and no other qualified pitcher had an ERA within even a run and a quarter of Martinez’s 2.07; David Cone’s 3.44 was next-best. Martinez’s 1.39 FIP that season, in fact, is still the third-best in history among pitchers who made at least 10 starts, trailing only Christy Mathewson’s 1.29 in 1908 and Walter Johnson’s 1.38 in 1910. As for the game itself, Martinez’s 17 strikeouts are still the most by any pitcher in a game against the Yankees, and he did it at Yankee Stadium, with its short porch in right field and the team average 5.1 runs per contest in 1999.
3. Roger Clemens, Boston Red Sox
Sept. 18, 1996 at Detroit Tigers (47 points)
Clemens had three of the seven games worth at least 47 points during the roto era, as well as two of the five nine-inning, 20-strikeout performances in baseball history, but it was his second career 20-K effort that stood out among fantasy baseball’s most historic. While this one came against a Tigers lineup that was below-average in scoring and missing three regulars, Clemens also did it at a time where his career appeared to be hitting its downswing – he was 34 years and 45 days old on this date, and you might remember his general manager, Dan Duquette, remarking that the flame-throwing right-hander was in the “twilight of his career.”
It was the game that cemented Milwaukee’s Miller Park, which had opened 13 months earlier, as one of the most homer-friendly venues in all of baseball. Green became the 14th player in history to hit four home runs in a game, but more importantly, he set the major league record with 19 total bases, having chipped in a first-inning double and eighth-inning single to go along with the homers he hit in the second, fourth, fifth and ninth innings. It was part of one of the most impactful weeks in fantasy baseball history: While making a pair of three-game visits to Miller Park and Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), Green batted .593 (16-for-27) with nine homers, 17 RBIs and 14 runs scored in what was Week 8 of the 2002 campaign.
Green entered 2002 one of the most attractive selections in fantasy baseball leagues, going 15th overall and sixth among outfielders in average ESPN drafts. He concluded the year the No. 18 overall player and No. 8 outfielder.
Another of the 18 players in baseball history (and eight during the roto era) to hit four home runs in a game, and the only one to also drive in 10 runs in the game in question, Whiten matched Jim Bottomley’s 69-year-old record with 12 RBIs in this early-September contest in 1993. It capped what was a breakthrough power campaign for Whiten, who had been acquired from the Cleveland Indians, for whom he hit 20 homers in his first 297 big-league contest, six months earlier, though his 25 home runs in 1993 would ultimately wind up his career best. Fantasy-wise, this game carried an added benefit: It came in the second game of a doubleheader, meaning that anyone who played Whiten on that day received his additional two points scored in the first game of the twin bill.
What a way to wrap up a debut season for a new team, not to mention conclude what was otherwise arguably the most disappointing year in Nationals history. Scherzer’s no-hitter on the final weekend of the 2015 campaign, days after his team had been eliminated from postseason contention, probably carried a few of his fantasy teams to league championships. His 49 points are second-most by any individual player during the roto era and have been exceeded by only 25 other pitching performances during the Retrosheet era, most of which were 12-plus innings in length. But there was heartbreak for Scherzer: He’d have achieved perfection if not for a Yunel Escobar error to lead off the sixth inning, but the right-hander responded admirably, striking out nine of the final 12 hitters he faced.
The No. 14 player selected overall in ESPN drafts in 2015, Scherzer leapt ahead of Madison Bumgarner, David Price and then Dallas Keuchel with this performance to become the No. 4 point scorer (all of whom were starting pitchers) for the year, and vaulted himself into the overall top 10 (ninth, specifically) on the Player Rater as well.
The highlight of what was an eventual 43-homer campaign, Hamilton’s four home runs and a double gave him 18 total bases, tied for the second-most by any player in history. He became the 16th player all-time with a four-homer game, and the first of any of the 18 to have done so to have all four of his home runs be two-run outcomes. Despite this game coming during the brief, five-year “prime” of Hamilton’s career in which he made five straight All-Star appearances, captured three Silver Slugger awards and won the 2010 American League MVP award, he wasn’t one of the very earliest picks of 2012: His ADP that year was 35th overall and 11th among outfielders. That made him a good source of profit that season, as he finished sixth overall (and fourth among outfielders) on the Player Rater.
8. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
April 30, 2017 versus New York Mets (31 points)
One of only three games in history of at least six hits and 10 RBIs, and the only one to occur during the roto era, Rendon’s was the standout of a 23-5 Nationals blowout against the Mets, who started Noah Syndergaard. While Rendon’s big hits came against the Mets’ bullpen — he hit two of his three home runs against Sean Gilmartin and the other against catcher/mop-up man Kevin Plawecki — they count in fantasy just the same, and he did have a two-RBI single against Syndergaard the only time in the game he faced him in the first inning.
It was also the game that cemented Rendon’s status as a true fantasy superstar. He’d bat .316/.420/.590 with 25 home runs and 95 RBIs in 125 games from this point forward in 2017, finishing the (entirety of the) year with the 26th-most fantasy points (and 13th among hitters).
9. David Cone, New York Mets
Oct. 6, 1991 at Philadelphia Phillies (47 points)
What is it about games between non-contenders played on the final weekend of the regular season that generates some of the all-time great fantasy performances? Simple: The opposing Phillies, in this season, ranked 23rd of 26 teams in runs per game (3.88), and in this game benched five of their regulars, with their Nos. 1, 7 and 8 hitters combining for .226/.244/.313 slash rates in 312 career big-league games. It’s not uncommon for teams eliminated from contention to sit their regulars in the season’s final weekend, but the fantasy points generated by opposing pitchers count just the same — and they often provide the final push to a league championship. Cone had a chance at matching the major league record of 20 strikeouts in a game, with the three batted-ball outs he recorded in the seventh inning his biggest obstacle in what was ultimately a 19-K masterpiece. He threw 141 pitches on the day, an unheard of total today, and concluded 1991 on a string of five consecutive quality starts.
Nine best single-game pitching performances
|1. Kerry Wood, 5/5/1994, 51 points|
|2. Max Scherzer, 10/2/2011 (Gm. 2), 49|
|t-3. Roger Clemens, 4/28/1982, 47|
|t-3. David Cone, 10/5/1987, 47|
|t-3. Roger Clemens, 9/17/1992, 47|
|t-3. Roger Clemens, 8/24/1994, 47|
|t-3. Clayton Kershaw, 6/17/2010, 47|
|t-8. Ramon J. Martinez, 6/3/1986, 46|
|t-8. Nolan Ryan, 4/30/1987, 46|
|t-8. Pedro Martinez, 9/9/1995, 46|
|t-8. Curt Schilling, 4/6/1998, 46|
|t-8. Randy Johnson, 4/20/1998, 46|
|t-8. Brandon Morrow, 8/7/2006, 46|
|t-8. Matt Cain, 6/12/2008, 46|
|t-8. Corey Kluber, 5/12/2011, 46|
|t-8. Max Scherzer, 6/13/2011, 46|
|t-8. Gerrit Cole, 5/3/2014, 46|