The Fantasy industry, both analysts and managers alike, have become so incredibly sharp over the years. It seems almost impossible to discuss a sleeper, breakout or bust candidate people aren't aware of at this point in the offseason. I believe the question we should be asking is, "What defines a sleeper, breakout or bust"? Life is all about perspective, after all. I'll try my best to explain how I view the three at this point in time.
A bust in Fantasy is probably the easiest to explain on the surface, although not every bust is created equal. A player can bust in Fantasy baseball for a variety of reasons: injury, under-performance, mechanics, velocity dip, something taking place off the field and many more.
Here are five I'm avoiding:
Now at least a few of the names on my list of busts will be tough for some to accept, but I will try my best to make you see through my lens. First up we have Jose Altuve, and it has nothing to do with cheating, banging trash cans, fake tattoo, or any of that. Let's start off with the injuries. Altuve has dealt with knee and hamstring injuries over the past two seasons, forcing him to miss a total of 63 games during that span. Considering these injuries are to his lower half, they have neutralized Altuve's ability to steal bases. Once considered his main asset in Fantasy, we have seen Altuve's stolen bases decrease from 32 back in 2017 to 17 in 2018 and just six last season. I'm not sure we can realistically project Altuve for more than 6-8 steals anymore, which severely hurts his value in the Roto format.
We're also seeing Altuve's plate discipline start to slip. In 2019 he posted a career-high 15% strikeout rate and just a 7.5% walk rate, his lowest since 2015. While he did bat .298, his .282 expected batting average shows Altuve was lucky in that department.
Finally, we have the power spike, which saw Altuve hit a career-high 31 home runs. Once he returned from a hamstring injury in mid-June last season, Altuve went on to hit 22 home runs on the back of a 25% HR/FB ratio. His previous career-high was just a 14.6% HR/FB ratio. It sure seems like Altuve was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the juiced ball in 2019. If he winds up hitting closer to .280 with his usual 20-25 home runs and fewer than 10 stolen bases, Altuve will not live up to his third-round price tag.
Aaron Judge's offseason has been a roller-coaster ride in the Fantasy industry. Before he started dealing with injuries in spring training, Judge was consistently being drafted in the third round of drafts. Once he was diagnosed with the stress fracture in his right rib and was expected to begin the season on the injured list, we saw his average draft position plummet as far as the seventh and eighth rounds. With the start of the MLB season delayed due to current circumstances, I am starting to see Judge rocket back up draft boards because he should now be healthy for the start of the season.
I just don't trust Judge to stay healthy. He has missed an average of 55 games in each of the past two seasons. There is no doubting he hits the ball as hard as anybody in baseball. The Statcast numbers and hard-hit rates all support that. What Judge offers in Fantasy is upside in the home runs, RBI and runs categories. When drafting Judge in the third or even fourth round, however, you pass up on legit contributors in batting average and stolen bases, the scarcest categories in Fantasy. The Yankees also have the luxury of depth with Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner and the returning Aaron Hicks on the roster. They will be in position to give Judge more days off than you expect. Considering his lengthy injury history and his specific production, Judge is being over-drafted in Fantasy drafts.
Trevor Bauer SP
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #27 • Age: 32
Somebody has to say it: Trevor Bauer is overrated. If you're drafting Bauer in 2020, you've either never owned him or luckily had him in his outlier 2018 season. While his 253 strikeouts last season was very useful for Fantasy, Bauer's 4.48 ERA and 1.25 WHIP certainly were not. Outside of Bauer's stellar 2018 where he posted a 2.21 ERA, he's had a 4.19 ERA or higher in every other season. Just take a gander at his career log; 2018 sure looks like the outlier.
Bauer is a strong source of strikeouts, posting a K/9 of at least 10 in three straight seasons, however it's somewhat mitigated by his lack of control. He owns a 3.52 career BB/9 and has consistently struggled with home runs, too. That's not a recipe for success when his home park is Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. My biggest defense for not drafting is Bauer is that you can get his clone almost 80 picks later. In Bauer's career, he owns a 4.04 ERA, 1.30 WHIP with a 9.5 K/9. In Robbie Ray's career, he owns a 4.11 ERA, 1.35 WHIP with 11.1 K/9. Bauer is incredibly intelligent, but he's almost too smart for his own good. He throws six different pitches and is constantly tinkering with his mechanics and pitch usage. As a result, he's incredibly inconsistent. Drafting Bauer at his current average draft position means you're passing up on pitchers with both higher floors and ceilings in Fantasy baseball.
Before I get into it on Corey Kluber, I do want to acknowledge that he's one of the wild cards this season. Kluber is just one season removed from a 2.89 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 222 strikeouts in 215 innings pitched. With that being said, I worry enough about what we saw from Kluber in the seven starts he made in 2019 before he got hurt. As we all know, Kluber suffered a broken arm on a line drive last season and then a strained oblique while ramping up his rehab.
In the seven starts Kluber made before the injury, he posted a 5.80 ERA and 1.65 WHIP with a 22.6% strikeout rate, his lowest since 2013. Kluber's 91.6 MPH average fastball velocity was also the lowest of his career. While Kluber was great in 2018, there was one underlying statistic that caught my eye: A 36.6% hard contact rate. From 2011-2017, Kluber's hard contact rate was just 27.4%. He's allowed hard contact on nearly 10% more batted balls over the last two seasons than the first seven of his career. With the strikeouts and velocity trending down and the hard contact trending up, Kluber is a fade for me here in 2020.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #31 • Age: 34
We all understand the volatility of the closer position in Fantasy but it's especially true with the A's. The team has not had a saves leader repeat two seasons in a row since Grant Balfour did it back in 2012 and 2013. Since 2013, the A's have had a different closer every season. While that isn't necessarily predictive for Liam Hendriks, he did things in 2019 that invites skepticism.
Hendriks made huge strides in 2019, saving 25 games with a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. Before 2019, however, Hendriks owned a 4.72 career ERA and 1.38 career WHIP. The strikeouts also went way up with Hendriks posting a 13 K/9 on the back of a 17% swinging strike rate. The question is, how? Somehow, in his age-30 season, both his fastball (96.5 MPH) and slider (88.6 MPH) gained an average of 2 MPH each. His slider was a lights out pitch despite consistently being worth a negative pitch value on a yearly basis prior, according to Fangraphs. Maybe Hendriks maintains all of these gains and makes me look foolish. I'll be betting against a now-31-year old closer coming off a very random career year.