2014 Draft Prep: Busts, 1.0
Before I start naming names, I have to ask: Why are you here?
Busts don't exactly drive the search engines. People generally decide for themselves who they don't like. What they want are sleepers and breakouts -- guys they can be convinced they like, if the price is right.
If they click on a busts column, it's usually because, if only on a subconscious level, they're feeling insecure about the players they like and want to make sure those players aren't in it. And if they are? Anger is the only appropriate response -- a rage so blinding that they speed past the explanation to make a passionate defense in the comments section.
I'm a realist, you see, and one of the cardinal rules of Fantasy writing is that you don't win over anyone with a busts list. So why try? If it's nothing more than comment fodder anyway, I can write anything I want. Sally sells seashells by the seashore. The moon is made of margarine. My pet daddy longleg is of such incredible size that he straddles the roof of my house, eating whatever heads of lettuce I hurl in his direction. You get what I'm saying?
But here's the great tragedy of it all: The busts list is probably the most important of all of them.
The No. 1 cause of failure in Fantasy Baseball is a blown early round pick. You know it's true. If a player you trust to give your team a sturdy foundation does anything but, well, let's hope you studied up on those sleepers and breakouts. You'll be needing them.
Fittingly, you'll find mostly high-end types here. The bottom-feeders can do only so much harm by comparison. Of course, picking out busts from the best the draft has to offer doesn't deliver a particularly high success rate, but the point of this column isn't to edify my ego through the tallying of rights and wrongs. It's to spare you a world of hurt from the players most capable of inflicting it.
All of these players are good. At the right time, I'd draft any of them. But for where they typically go, you'll find players just as promising for substantially less risk.
Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.
Chris Davis , 1B, Orioles (Roto: Rd. 1, H2H: Rd. 2)
Davis is the perfect example of a player whose bust label is a direct consequence of his draft position. He's obviously one of the best power hitters in the game. He showed it last year with an MLB-leading 53 home runs in an MVP-caliber season. And coming off an MVP-caliber season, he pretty much has to go in the first round. I'm not even disputing that.
But boy, I don't want to be the one to draft him there.
It's not just that the leap he made from 2012 -- which looked like his big breakout with a .270 batting average, 33 homers and an .827 OPS -- was so large. It's that it was confined to just half a season. After the All-Star break, Davis hit .245 with 16 home runs and an .854 OPS, looking much like that player from 2012.
Common sense should tell you he couldn't sustain his .315 batting average from the first half, not striking out more than every third at-bat. That's Mark Reynolds territory. Fewer total hits means fewer home runs, which suggests Davis' second-half decline was a simple matter of the odds catching up to him.
Now, a .260 batting average and 40 home runs would be no one's idea of the bottom falling out, which is how people tend to think of busts, but it would put Davis closer to Mark Trumbo than Paul Goldschmidt , making a third- or fourth-round pick more appropriate.
The first round eventually reaches a point where every player carries some risk, but if your top priority that early is simply not to blow it, you're better off with a more proven player like Joey Votto , Carlos Gonzalez or even Clayton Kershaw .
Yasiel Puig , OF, Dodgers (Roto: Rd. 2, H2H: Rd. 3)
Oh boy. I'm going to hear it on this one.
Puig came closer to being the 2013 version of Mike Trout than most of us thought possible, delivering early-round production as a midseason call-up, but he differed from Trout in a couple ways. He wasn't quite the same level of prospect, with some questioning his makeup (not that we haven't already seen that come into play or anything), and for as good as he was as a rookie, he didn't put himself in the best-player-in-baseball conversation. He performed about on the level of Alex Rios in terms of Head-to-Head points per game, leaving him with little room to regress and still live up to his average draft position.
Already that regression may have started. Puig hit .273 with 11 homers, six steals and an .853 OPS in 231 at-bats after the All-Star break, which is more befitting of his reckless style of play. Like in the field and on the base paths, he isn't especially disciplined at the plate, striking out every four at-bats with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
More than Trout's in 2012, Puig's debut reminds me of Hunter Pence in 2007. A similarly regarded prospect with a similar approach at the plate, Pence hit .322 with 17 home runs, 11 steals and an .899 OPS in 456 at-bats that year. He turned out to be a quality player, as I fully suspect Puig will, but those who drafted him according to his rookie numbers were disappointed when he hit .269 with 25 home runs, 11 steals and a .783 OPS the following year.
I had those concerns even before reports of Puig's weight gain this offseason. Yup, not sure where those questions about his makeup came from.
Again, for a fourth-round pick, I could understand the appeal, but at the point in the draft when you could draft surefire studs like Adam Jones , Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre instead, gambling on Puig is just asking for trouble.
Alex Rios , OF, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 3, H2H: Rd. 5)
Based solely on his performance the last two years, Rios deserves to go as early as he does. Last year, he ranked seventh among outfielders in Rotisserie leagues and eighth in Head-to-Head. In 2012, he ranked fifth and sixth.
But of course, his career hasn't spanned only two years. In the league since 2004, he has a whole unreliable track record to consider
Two seasons in particular are fresh in my memory. In 2011, he hit .227 with a .613 OPS, and in 2009, he hit .247 with a .691 OPS. In both instances, he was coming off one of his best years. Fantasy owners had expectations, and he dashed them. You've heard the saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?" The reason it ends there is because, by the second time, you really should have learned your lesson.
Maybe Rios will finish as a top-10 outfielder again, but you shouldn't rely on it. And in the third round, fourth round, fifth round, when you're still forming the base of your team, you need reliable.
The reach is most glaring in Rotisserie leagues, where Rios goes ahead of Shin-Soo Choo , Justin Upton and Jay Bruce , among others -- players who are not only safer, but in many cases, have more upside. Let's face it: Rios isn't getting any better at age 33. Meanwhile, Matt Holliday , who ranked just two spots behind Rios in Rotisserie leagues last year, is only a year older and has proven to be as steady as they come, is going three rounds later. I'm no advocate for Holliday or anything, but the logic doesn't add up there.
Jose Reyes , SS, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 4)
The availability of Jean Segura a round or two later makes selecting Reyes in Round 4 almost impossible to justify. At age 23, Segura is the one with all the upside. He consistently hit for average in the minors and has already demonstrated as much extra-base pop as Reyes has ever had. Plus, he's much more likely to hold up over a full season. For as much as Fantasy owners fret over Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki injury histories, pointing to their many DL stints over the last few years, Reyes has had it worse than both, averaging just 109.6 games over the last five seasons.
And here's the kicker: The main source of Reyes' value over his career, the stolen bases, he's not even sure to contribute anymore. He swiped just 15 bags in 93 games last year, which projects to about 25 over a full season (compared to Segura's 44). And his 71.4 percent success rate, the lowest of his career, may prevent him from getting the green light so often in the future.
Maybe it was just a product of the ankle injury that sidelined him for 2 1/2 months early in the year, or maybe he, like so many middle infielders in the post-steroids era, is in decline at age 30. Playing half his games on an artificial surface certainly won't help.
In a world without Segura -- or Ian Desmond , for that matter -- maybe you'd want to extend yourself for Reyes to avoid a cliff dive at shortstop, but as the position currently stands, you can let someone else take the bait.
Zack Greinke , SP, Dodgers (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 3)
Greinke's biggest problem is that the starting pitcher pool has become so deep, particularly at the top, that you don't need to take his nonsense anymore.
Yeah, he pitched like an ace last year (when he was healthy and not breaking his collarbone picking fights with opposing hitters), but his 2.63 ERA was by far his lowest since his Cy Young 2009 season. He compiled a 3.83 ERA over the three years in between, with no lower than a 3.48 mark for a full season. The move to Dodger Stadium may have helped -- he has struggled to keep the ball in the park at times -- but apart from his year-and-a-half in Milwaukee, he's known nothing but pitcher's parks during his career.
Even if you trust him to maintain the low ERA, which is hardly a foregone conclusion, you can't be thrilled with his 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Among the top 15 starting pitchers drafted in standard Head-to-Head leagues, only David Price had a lower strikeout rate last reason, and he's a much safer bet for everything else.
When at his absolute best, keeping the ball in the park and missing bats like he's capable, Greinke is still more ace than not, but given his inconsistencies, you'll probably be just as happy with James Shields four rounds later.
Matt Kemp , OF, Dodgers (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 7)
Judging by some of the user comments on his player page, I'm not alone in declaring Kemp a bust. But at least one owner in every league still holds out hope of him regaining his form from 2011, when he was arguably the best offensive player in the game. Clearly, the fourth round would be a bargain for that kind of production, but after two injury-shortened seasons -- one of them severely so -- in which his skills appeared to erode, you have to ask yourself just how realistic it is. User "Mrbeaglesworth" sums it up pretty well:
Hamstrings are bad. Shoulder is bad. Ankle is bad, and the Dodgers have four outfielders. Optimistically, he will have only one DL stint and rest once a week, which should put him right around 125 games. Realistically, he'll have two DL stints and still rest at least once a week, putting him around 100-105 games. In no scenario will he be an "iron man" and play 150-plus games, and his days of stealing bases are behind him as well. A .280 batting average with 15 homers and 10 steals is about all I would pay for, and even that could be high based on how fragile he is now. Bottom line: Let someone else take him and regret the wasted pick.
The steals are an important point here. Kemp had 40 of them in 2011 but has only 18 in 179 games since. After all the trouble he's had with his legs, making repeated trips to the DL for his bad hamstrings last year and now slowly working his way back from offseason ankle surgery, you think the Dodgers will turn him loose on the base paths? It's not like they need to manufacture runs with that lineup.
His batting average was never a sure thing because of all his strikeouts, and though I still generally trust him to hit for power, his recovery from shoulder surgery took its toll early last year, leading to just six homers in 263 at-bats.
Kemp doesn't seem like one of those players who can compensate for injuries, and already, he's expected to miss the beginning of the season because of his ankle. Maybe when he returns, he stays miraculously healthy, brings his numbers back up to snuff, and wins you the league. But in the much more likely scenario he doesn't, he probably loses it for you based on where he's getting drafted.
Ian Kinsler , 2B, Tigers (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 5)
The "bust" label might apply more to Kinsler than anyone else on this list. If I have to predict a bottom-falling-out, crash-and-burn-type season for one of them, I choose him.
I had my concerns even before the Rangers traded him to the Tigers. At 31, he's reached the age of regression for middle infielders in the post-steroids era and showed signs of it with just 13 home runs and 15 stolen bases last season, his fewest in either category since 2006 (omitting 2010, when he played 103 games). And though he has vowed to steal more bases -- which counts for something since it's one of the few stats a player can control -- it may not make a difference now that he's in Detroit.
Globe Life Park in Arlington, like Coors Field, has been known to make a hitter or two in its time, and Kinsler may be one of its greatest success stories. Over his eight-year career, he has hit .304 with an .898 OPS there compared to .242 with a .710 OPS everywhere else. Granted, when a hitter leaves an extreme venue for a more neutral one, he doesn't just become the hitter he was on the road. Other factors are at work there. Justin Upton moving from the Diamondbacks to the Braves last year is a good example. But in Kinsler's case, with his declining skill set, that may be exactly what happens.
In my mind, he's closer to Brian Dozier than Dustin Pedroia , so as an early round pick, just say no.
Josh Hamilton , OF, Angels (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 8)
I know; I know. Where was Hamilton on this list last year? But just because you already suffered through the big downfall doesn't mean you can't get burned again.
Let's face it: Hamilton was borderline useless in mixed leagues last year, ranking 44th among outfielders in Rotisserie leagues and 40th in Head-to-Head. So to draft him in Round 7 assumes some degree of improvement. But to me, it's so unlikely that I'd rather take my chances with an unproven Billy Hamilton or Jose Abreu a round or two later.
Hamilton's decline goes beyond just batting average and home runs. Beginning with the second half of 2012, when he hit .259 with an .833 OPS, signaling the start of his decline, his behavior at the plate changed. He began not only chasing more pitches out of the strike zone, but swinging and missing more in general. He improved slightly in both areas last year, but according to FanGraphs.com, he still wasn't back where he used to be.
That's a sign of age, plain and simple. At 32, Hamilton's bat is slowing down. While that may seem early for a power-hitting outfielder, keep in mind his body has been through more than the average 32-year-old's. Plus, players age differently. Particularly in baseball, it's an inexact science.
Maybe at a later point in the draft, I'd be willing to select Hamilton in a pray-for-rain sort of move, but even if I give him as much as a 40 percent chance of bouncing back, Round 7 is a reach.
Curtis Granderson , OF, Mets (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: 9)
Granderson's problem is the same as Josh Hamilton , but with an added complication. He's moving from an extreme hitter's park to a more neutral one.
Yankee Stadium brought out the best in him, transforming him from a 25-to-30-homer type to a 40-homer type. His work with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve against left-handed pitchers got his batting average up to the respectable range in 2011, making him a Fantasy force. But it was a one-year phenomenon. In two years since, he has hit only .231.
And judging by his behavior at the plate, he may not have the capacity to improve. As with Hamilton, it's a matter of bat speed. Granderson has begun chasing more pitches out of the zone (from 25.7 percent in 2011 to 29.5 percent in 2012 to 31.3 percent last year) and swinging and missing more frequently (from 21.8 percent in 2011 to 28.0 percent in 2012 to 30.5 percent last year). And if his bat has slowed to the point that he no longer gets the most out of his power potential, the move from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field could be the death knell.
If he stays healthy, which is no guarantee at age 33, Granderson may still be able to muster a .240 batting average and 30 home runs. But in the eighth round, you'll find hitters with a better best-case scenario than that.
Daniel Murphy , 2B, Mets (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 12)
In fairness, nobody drafts Murphy like he was the fourth-best second baseman in Rotisserie leagues and the fifth-best in Head-to-Head last year, and they shouldn't. But even where he's going now, he's likely to disappoint.
A big reason for his breakthrough last year was his 23 stolen bases -- a skill he had never demonstrated before. Players who don't earn their keep with their speed don't always get a chance to showcase it, making a sudden increase quite often a red herring. Mark Reynolds in 2009 stands out as an example, as does Martin Prado in 2012.
And it's not like the stolen bases were Murphy's only new trick. He more than doubled his home runs from 2012, demonstrating the full extent of his power with 13. Between the stolen bases and home runs, 2013 looks like a season where everything just happened to go his way.
A regression to the mean would not only limit his Fantasy production, but possibly his playing time as well. He's no standout defensively, and the Mets are aching to get both Eric Young (who is primarily an outfielder but has experience at second base) and Wilmer Flores in the lineup. Already, Murphy is rumored to be on the trading block.
Of course, an outright benching is a worst-case scenario, but with his lack of track record, it's plausible enough that you'd rather not have to rely on Murphy as your starting second baseman. If you don't fill the position early, go for a Brian Dozier or Jurickson Profar type instead.
Brandon Phillips , 2B, Reds (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)
Last year, Phillips managed to rank seventh among second basemen in Rotisserie leagues and 10th in Head-to-Head even though his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all fell for the second straight year. Known as a power-speed threat thanks to his 30-30 season in 2007, he hasn't had even a 20-20 season since 2009 and isn't any sort of steals threat anymore after swiping just five bags last year.
So how did he manage to rank so high? In short, his 103 RBI, second-most at the position. And how did he manage that many? Well, that's what happens when two of the best on-base men in the game bat ahead of you. With a .435 and a .423 mark, respectively, Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo ranked among the top four hitters in that category last season.
But Choo is gone now, and in new manager Bryan Price's lineup, Phillips is poised to bat ahead of Votto instead of behind him. For players that reach base at a reasonable rate, a move up in the lineup would most likely result in more runs scored, but Phillips doesn't do that so well anymore, reaching base at just a .310 clip last season, which ranked 113th among the 140 qualifying hitters.
Like most middle infielders at age 32, he's running on fumes, his disproportionate RBI total hiding what was actually a significant step back from 2012. Granted, most Fantasy owners know not to draft him according to last year's numbers, but like with Daniel Murphy , I'd prefer Brian Dozier or Jurickson Profar a couple rounds later.
Rafael Soriano , RP, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)
Pitching for a borderline contender in Washington last season, Soriano piled up 43 saves, making him one of just six relievers with 40.
But that's the problem with that stat. It doesn't in any way measure a pitcher's effectiveness. Soriano's save total disguises the fact that his took a dramatic turn for the worse last year.
His average fastball velocity fell nearly a full mile per hour, continuing a trend that began in 2010, and his strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings was straight-up Bob Wickman. In an era when more and more teams are turning closing duties over to their best relievers, creating no shortage of 100-strikeout guys in the role, the finesse closer just doesn't measure up anymore. And after four years of trending this way -- not just in terms of velocity, but strikeout rate, hit rate, etc. -- Soriano doesn't look like he'll get back to missing bats at age 34.
He's more hittable than ever before, and for a club that expects to win now, that could prove to be his downfall, especially with Drew Storen , a former closer, and Tyler Clippard , arguably the best setup man in the game, on the same roster.
Also in the discussion: Ben Zobrist , 2B/SS/OF, TB; Michael Cuddyer , OF, COL; Doug Fister , SP, WAS; Brett Lawrie , 3B, TOR; Mark Teixeira , 1B, NYY; Jake Peavy , SP, BOS