Welcome to Mean City, population me.
I don't enjoy labeling any player a bust. I want every player to be the best possible version of himself because, you know, goodness makes the badness go away.
I heard that on a Smurfs special once. It made sense in an understated sort of way.
But it's not reality, you see. Actual competition is happening here, and so for some players to succeed, others have to fail.
And sometimes, the ones who fail are the ones who succeeded in the recent past.
Wouldn't you like some inkling of who those players might be if someone thought he might be able to detect them somehow? I know I would. Obviously, it's an inexact process, but with so many players to choose from, it wouldn't hurt to avoid a select few.
So take these bust picks for what they are. I'm not "hating." I'm loving -- all of you, all the time.
So wait ... Carlos Gonzalez stays healthy for 150 games for the first time in his career after averaging 110.5 games in the previous four seasons, and just like that, we're supposed to forget he's one of the most injury-prone players in baseball?
Surely his inconsistencies aren't lost on anyone. Of his career-high 40 home runs last year, 30 came in the three months for a .990 OPS then compared to .715 in the first three. Granted, you'd rather see him end on the high note than the low note, but for a player who's so often off key, the contrast is unsettling regardless.
Investing in him not only relies on him staying healthy, but also disclosing and seeking proper treatment if he doesn't. You'd hate for his numbers to be compromised by injury and not even know it, as happened in 2014. And if the career .255 hitter with a .752 OPS on the road follows Troy Tulowitzki out the door, all bets are off.
Big power or not, that's too many potential pitfalls for an early-round pick.
No one would argue Lorenzo Cain was a stud last year, but what we have to consider is all that went in to making him a stud.
Emphasis on the "all."
He was one of those players who did a little of everything (and maybe more than that in batting average), which means any letup anywhere could ruin the whole thing.
Don't believe me? Just compare his 2014 numbers to last year's. The biggest difference was the home runs, and yet one year he was a top-12 outfielder in both formats and the other he was barely top-40 -- the difference between an early-rounder and a late-rounder, basically.
Age 29 is a little late for a power breakthrough, especially since Cain had no real buildup over his first five major-league seasons. I'd say the chances of him continuing it are better than 50-50, but since his lofty price tag depends on it, skepticism is warranted.
Avoiding the Tommy John specter is a paranoid and often self-defeating way of playing Fantasy Baseball, but in Johnny Cueto's case, the signs are so obvious that it's a wonder any team would give him a nine-figure contract this offseason.
The fact one did may suggest something, but it doesn't change that Cueto pitched most of 2015 with a balky elbow -- an injury that dated back to May -- and saw his production decline as a result. At the time the Reds traded him to the Royals in late July, he had an ace-like 2.62 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings through 19 starts. Thereafter, he had a 4.76 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings over 13 starts.
Some will blame his move from the NL to the AL since that's when the biggest drop-off occurred, but facing another hitter every time through the order doesn't explain the drop in strikeout rate. Cueto had also lost a couple miles per hour on his fastball by the time the playoffs rolled around.
Considering he never got a chance to rest the elbow, the injury, which was dubbed "inflammation" at the time, would seem to be a more plausible explanation for his struggles even though the timing seems off. The effects may have been cumulative rather than instantaneous. And as many times as a partially torn ligament has gone undetected, the fact Cueto passed his physical with the Giants doesn't put my mind at ease.
With two dozen other ace-caliber pitchers available, why take the chance on him in the early rounds?
It has become standard operating procedure with Jacoby Ellsbury. When he has an injury-plagued year, as he's wont to do, you draft him as you normally would the following year because he always -- always -- bounces back.
The difference this year is that he already had a chance to bounce back, returning from a sprained knee for the final three months, and didn't, batting .224 over his final 304 at-bats. As you know, batting average can be misleading, but for the third straight year, Ellsbury set a career high in strikeout rate, with this one being his biggest jump yet. He also had more swings and misses than ever, which would suggest diminishing bat skills -- a plausible development for an injury-prone 32-year-old.
Worst of all, his 21 stolen bases in 111 games were only slightly better than pedestrian. Pure speedsters tend to age quickly, and that's what Ellsbury has proven to be over his career, apart from an outlier 2011 season. If he can't deliver on batting average either -- and he has hit only .276 over the last four years -- he'll struggle to perform like a top 30 outfielder, much less top 15.
You knew we'd eventually reach the point where we couldn't keep recommending Adrian Beltre on Draft Day, and 2016, his age-37 season, is that point.
Now, maybe you could argue it's a year too late, but last year's Beltre owners were pretty satisfied with him in the end. You might even say he carried them in the second half, batting .318 with 11 home runs and an .884 OPS to give him the eight-most Head-to-Head points per game at the position for the season. For a player his age, the trends are telling. His slugging percentage declined for the third straight season, this time by about 40 points, and now he's not even a safe bet for 20 homers, much less 30.
If the age-36 Beltre shows up again, he's a serviceable starter in mixed leagues and well deserving of a middle-round pick, but if the age-37 Beltre continues down this same path, much like a declining Aramis Ramirez last year in his age-37 season, he's quite possibly waiver fodder.
You don't have to try too hard to convince yourself Brandon Crawford's power breakthrough last year was legitimate. His 21 home runs were distributed almost evenly over the course of the season, and his average fly ball distance ranked ninth among all hitters, up from 152nd in 2014.
But are you comfortable staking a middle-round pick on it? Even with the 21 homers -- which were second only to Carlos Correa among shortstops, by the way -- he ranked only eighth at the position in Head-to-Head points per game. He brought literally nothing else to the table, and that's not likely to change.
As funny as it sounds coming off what most would describe as a breakthrough season, Crawford is actually on the verge of his decline phase at age 29. Some of the most notable Fantasy shortstops in recent memory -- from Nomar Garciaparra to Edgar Renteria to Rafael Furcal -- crashed and burned within a year or two of their 30th birthdays, with Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki potentially following suit. It's a position that can wear down a player. The Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins types who remain productive into their mid-30s are the rare ones -- and usually Hall of Fame caliber.
Plus, shortstop is no longer so thin that you have to reach for anyone who offers the faintest hope of production. Asdrubal Cabrera's power surge last year wasn't as much of an outlier as Crawford's, and he's still available half a draft later.
Adam Eaton, the trendiest sleeper of 2013, finally woke up last year, putting past concerns about his elbow and underwhelming steals totals to rest with the kind of across-the-board production that once made Shane Victorino a Fantasy stud.
But one area where Victorino excelled that 2015 Eaton didn't was making contact. The 27-year-old had one fewer strikeout than Mark Trumbo. It's not the fairest comparison because he also had far more plate appearances, but if you go by rate instead, he lands in the same range as Gregory Polanco and Cameron Maybin, who hit between .250 and .270 last season. While he did show improved power last year, Eaton, like those two, can't count on a high number of balls out of play -- home runs, in other words -- to pad his batting average, so it's largely determined by his number of hits in play
Sure enough, when he was hitting .335 in the second half to salvage his batting average last season, his BABIP was a wildly unsustainable .412, which makes you wonder how sustainable the whole package is. Maybe he was as unlucky in the first half as he was lucky in the second, but then again, maybe you're wasting a middle-round pick on a late-round talent who, by the way, still doesn't run enough to satisfy Rotisserie owners.
As the standard for a Fantasy ace has increased over the last few years, reaching historic heights last year, Shields' so-so ratios have kind of gotten left in the dust.
He managed to hold on a while there because his workload was so impressive. In an era when 2oo-220 innings is about the expectation for an ace, you couldn't find a safer bet for 230 or so, which at least in Head-to-Head points leagues was enough for Shields to close the gap on pitchers like Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.
But that 35-year-old arm of his has logged some miles now, and they seemed to catch up to him in his first season with the Padres. He went from being a seven- or eight-inning pitcher to going six innings more often than not, eliminating that little advantage he had over the rest of the starting pitcher crop. And while an uncharacteristically high strikeout rate sustained him in the first half, it came at the expense of an inflated walk rate and mostly normalized in the second half, leaving him with numbers more like you'd expect from A.J. Burnett.
While that sort of production still has value in Fantsay, it reduces Shields from a borderline ace to no more than a No. 3 starting pitcher in Fantasy. You wouldn't want to overpay for the name, especially with another year of mileage on that arm.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old did have a resurgent first four months last year, delivering the same elite home runs and walks package that defined his first two seasons in New York, only to miss the final two months -- most of them, anyway -- with a bone bruise in his shin. And you might say that was all the reminder we needed that he's old, brittle and not to be trusted.
The way first base stacks up this season, though, somebody will have to trust in him.
It's surprisingly thin. With Prince Fielder and Kendrys Morales confined to DH to begin the year and Albert Pujols projected to miss the first month or so, there aren't 12 mixed league-caliber options to go around. Teixeira was certainly of that caliber for the time he was healthy last season, but then again, he was never of that caliber in two years prior and made his owners feel like they were flirting with disaster even before he went down.
The time to flirt with disaster is when you're filling holes off the waiver wire midseason, not in the middle of your draft. Better to settle for a second-rate Carlos Santana or Lucas Duda a few rounds later than pay up for Teixeira.
First, let's make sure we have the timeline right.
Michael Pineda begins 2015 where he left off 2014, looking fully recovered from his past injuries and like one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in the American League. Over his first 17 starts, he has a 3.64 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, emerging as Fantasy mainstay and even earning a trip to the All-Star game.
Then, he has a couple of bad starts, and the Yankees put him on the DL with a strained forearm. He rests for about a month, but after returning, he's worse than ever, compiling a 5.48 ERA in eight starts.
Now, pitchers sometimes get sore forearms, and most return from them as right as rain. The ones who don't often don't because their forearm injuries are actually elbow injuries -- which is how Pineda's was initially classified, by the way -- and those elbow injuries often lead to ligament replacement.
The whole situation reminds me of the way Yu Darvish ended 2014, and we know how that turned out. Connecting those dots may seem like an alarmist response, but given Pineda's injury history and heavy reliance on the slider (an elbow killer if there was one), not to mention the sour taste he left our mouths, why take the chance?
It's fair to say that calling Brandon Phillips a bust prior to last season won't be going on my greatest hits album. It wasn't exactly going out a limb following a career-worst (at least with the Reds) 2014 campaign, and he responded with his highest steals total in six years and highest batting average in four to rank seventh among second basemen in Head-to-Head points leagues and fourth in Rotisserie.
But none of what worried me about him last year -- the fading plate discipline, the rising chase rate, the declining power, the advanced age (34) for a middle infielder -- has actually changed, which means he can only fall harder with expectations now raised for 2016.
It kind of reminds me of Jimmy Rollins in 2014, when he interrupted a four-year downward trend with a minor resurgence at age 35, causing the Fantasy-playing world to buy into him as a high-end shortstop again.
And how did he follow it up last year? Well, let's just say Father Time remains undefeated.
Marco Estrada apparently earned the Blue Jays' trust with a steady performance down the stretch and into the playoffs last year, netting a two-year, $26-million contract this offseason. But the performance puts his career path even more closely in line with Ricky Nolasco's, which makes me fearful of what comes next.
Both were once perennial Fantasy sleepers because of stellar strikeout-to-walk ratios, but then when they finally turned in a season befitting the hype (after it had already died down, for the most part), the strikeouts were strangely missing. Estrada's 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year ranked 64th among the 78 qualifying pitchers despite an ERA that ranked 17th and a WHIP that ranked ninth, which leads me to believe that as a fly-ball pitcher in a hitter-friendly park, he really dodged a bullet.
Remember: He's only a year removed from a disastrous season in Milwaukee when he allowed an astonishing 2.3 home runs in nine innings before moving to the bullpen. As happened with Nolasco, losing the ability to miss bats may ultimately be what does him in.