2016 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Busts
When does age overtake skill? What about luck and durability and regression issues? Heath Cummings analyzes 12 players most likely to bust in MLB this season.
The bust label can mean a variety of things when it comes to Fantasy sports. It can be first-round players who are more likely to bust than others, mid round players being drafted way too high, or later picks who have no chance of being worth a draft pick. I prefer the first two types, because how upset can you really be if your 12th rounder gives you nothing?
Of course, aiming higher with busts also exposes you to more criticism. Nelson Cruz is a fine example for 2015 (and 2016?). There's a fine chance that the second-round pick you choose as a bust will be a good player. That's what makes this so much fun.
Let's just get this first one out of the way so you can start fully outraged.
Is Miguel Cabrera going to be awful next year? Probably not unless his injury concerns finally come to a head. Still, of the top 14 players being selected according to Fantasy Pros, I'm not sure who is riskier. Chris Towers did an extensive look at the risk factors associated with each possible first-round pick and found that Cabrera trailed only Jose Bautista. The main reason was Cabrera's age, which is a great place to start.
Cabrera will be 33 in April of this season and posted a .974 OPS in 2015, which was his worst since 2009. Even matching that performance over a full season would be quite the accomplishment. Over the past 10 seasons, only six hitters have posted an OPS that high at age 33 or older in 600+ plate appearances.
Cabrera has seen a steady decline in his ISO with 2014 and 2015 being his two lowest marks since his rookie season. Last year that didn't hurt him as much because he won a batting title with a .338 average that was, of course, buoyed by his ridiculously high BABIP. While Cabrera has always had a high BABIP (.348), he's likely a .315 hitter if he regresses to that mark.
A .315 hitter with no speed and an ISO south of .200 is not a first-round pick, even if he plays 150 games. There were four players who hit over .300 last year with an ISO below .200 and less than 10 steals. Buster Posey is the only one (besides Cabrera) being drafted in the first six rounds, because the former plays catcher.
Sure, Cabrera could reverse the power trend, and stay healthy, and maintain that BABIP. It sure seems more likely that he doesn't do at least two of those things and falls to third or fourth round value.
Beltre would have been on that aforementioned list with Cabrera, but a .295 BABIP prevented him from hitting .300 for the first time since 2011. That's sort of a watershed year for Beltre. His ISO and SLG have fallen every season since 2011, and Beltre is now more of a singles and doubles hitter who will be heavily reliant on BABIP for value.
Beltre is also going to be 37 years old in April. If you thought I was hard on Cabrera for his age, things look much more bleak this close to 40. Even an .800 OPS with 15 HR and 80 RBI is hard to attain at this age (David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez and Torii Hunter are the only three to do it since 2009).
To be clear, even if Beltre did join that group, its not likely to justify his seventh-round ADP. While Cabrera is a highly ranked player that makes this list because of the likelihood of underperforming, Beltre is a more traditional bust. At his age, with his obviously declining skill set, it should come as no surprise if he falls off the face of the Fantasy earth and ends up on most dropped lists by July.
I've written plenty about why Grienke won't repeat 2015 already and I feel like most of you accept that. Still, his ADP of mid third round tells me we haven't reached everyone. Instead of talking about what Greinke will likely be (15 wins, low 3 ERA, 180 Ks), it's probably not a bad idea to look at the worst case scenario. What does a Greinke bust look like?
Outside of injury, if his BABIP against normalizes from last year's .229 to his career .298 mark while his strikeout rate remains the same from last year you're more than halfway there. A little bit of bad luck in terms of HR/FB rate and strand rate, and Greike isn't even a top 30 starting pitcher.
Zack Greinke had a fantastic 2015 that was made otherworldly by good fortune. If that fortune regresses to normal, he's a borderline No. 1 starter. But if he gets even the slightest bit unlucky, he's going to be a complete bust at his current ADP.
Cruz made several of us in the industry look like fools in 2015. He hit a career high 44 home runs despite spending his first season in a pitcher's park at the age of 35. His age bothers me, but I won't even use that as a reason for avoiding him in 2016. Home runs weren't the only career highs he set.
Both the BABIP and HR/FB rate for Cruz last year were outrageous and unsustainable. You could maybe explain them if he had a higher hard contact rate, but he was at 35.6 percent which is exactly the same as his career mark. There are few hitters in baseball whose numbers scream regression more than Cruz.
The hype train is a little bit out of control on Marcus Stroman, who is being drafted as a No. 3 starter on average before pitchers like Carlos Martinez, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Wacha. So far, Stroman has been a ground ball pitcher with very few strikeouts, excellent control and good batted ball luck.
It might be tempting to think that Stroman could still develop the strikeout because of his enormous K numbers in the minors. When you look back for pitchers who have his profile through this age you see a lot more Jaime Garcias and Jeff Weavers than Mike Mussinas. It's possible that Stroman becomes a better strikeout pitcher but it seems just as likely that his batted ball luck reverses this season while his bad ballpark inflates his home run rate. I certainly wouldn't risk an eighth-round pick on him.
This is the problem with writing about busts. You are forced to write bad things about good players just because others are over-drafting them. Marte is in the prime of his career, coming off a career year. He also just set career highs in most every statistical category, which generally means at least a small regression.
Chris Towers already wrote about the best reason you shouldn't expect Marte's power to carry over from 2015, and it's pretty clear from his mid-third round ADP that most people are. He's more likely a 15-HR guy with around 30 SB that profiles as a very solid second OF, and that's if he stays healthy. Last season was the first in Marte's career that he played more than 135 games.
I was down on Desmond before he took the job in Texas, but that didn't help. The 30 year old former shortstop will move to the outfield in front of a bevy of Rangers prospects. His average, OBP and ISO have dropped each year since 2012, and last year he stopped running so much. This sounds like a disastrous combination to me.
The one category I could see bounce back in 2016 in home runs with Desmond playing in the best park he ever has. Still, he's one of only two players in the past two years with a K rate over 28 percent and an ISO below .200. The other is Ryan Howard.
The best case you can make for Justin Verlander's past three seasons is that he has not been healthy and he finally was at the end of last year. To that, I'd respond he's a 33 year old with 2,100 career innings who has dealt with injuries the past three seasons. No thanks.
I also struggle with the idea that Verlander was "back" last year. He had a 4.15 xFIP, according to Fangraphs, which is almost identical to his 2014 number. He's striking out less than 7.5 batters per nine over the past two seasons combined. Verlander's ADP may be low enough to tempt you, but he's as likely as any player on this list to be so bad that he actually hurts your team, regardless of the cost.
Billy Hamilton was atrocious at the plate in 2015 and he has started the spring off battling a shoulder injury. The fact that he's still being drafted in the first nine rounds is a testament to his speed and how much people still want to believe in his potential. I would submit that his injury risk and the risk that he's benched due to his bat is just too great for me to spend anything more than a 13th-round pick for him, even in Roto.
Over the past two seasons, Salvador Perez has caught 2,441 innings. That is 238 innings more than any other catcher. That does not count the postseason. This is a monster concern.
It was really nice to see the extra power in the form of 21 home runs last year, but I have little faith that Perez will stay healthy, or have the legs, to match those numbers in 2016. What I do think will continue is a complete lack of plate discipline and an OBP below .300. That would be fine if you could take him late in drafts, but he's currently the fifth catcher off the board in the 10th round.
It feels like a lot of people are expecting Peralta to continue last season's breakout while also seeing more at-bats. It's hard to discount Peralta's power because of his lack of minor league stats, but his ISO last year was higher than it was in two minor league seasons. So when is an increase in at-bats a bad thing? Well, Peralta played most every day against RHP last year. If his extra at-bats come predominantly against LHP, he'll have to improve on his career .601 OPS vs. LHP in a hurry. If not, those extra base hits will conspire with the obvious BABIP regression to badly hurt his rate statistics.
Wainwright missed most of 2015 with a torn achilles, which isn't enough in itself to consider him as a bust. When you add in the fact that he's 34 years old, I get nervous. Wainwright hasn't struck out even eight batters per nine innings since 2013 and threw 469 innings regular season innings from 2013-14. I worry greatly about an aging pitcher coming off this type of layoff immediately getting his old stuff back and keeping his arm healthy.
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Scott White is an award-winning Fantasy Baseball analyst