A bust in Fantasy can be perceived multiple ways, depending on who you ask. More often than not, people automatically assume the worst when it comes to a bust. They'll think of early-round picks who either underperformed or got hurt, completely sinking their season. 2019 Giancarlo Stanton, anyone? That isn't the only way a player can be a bust in Fantasy Baseball, however.
I like to think of a bust as somebody who doesn't meet expectations. A lot of that comes down to value and where a player is being drafted. Just because Bo Bichette and Josh Hader are on this list doesn't mean they won't provide value in 2020. It just means they're being drafted too early based on what I'm expecting of them.
In a 60-game season, of course, anything can happen. That doesn't mean we should abandon months of research. I wasn't going to own any of these players back in March and, specifically for this group, I haven't changed my stance. Here are five players I typically skip over when I see their names on the draft board:
You would think that in a season where batting average and steals were scarce categories, Whit Merrifield would be a sought-after commodity. Well, he might be for some, just not me. Merrifield still does a lot of good things, mainly with his batting average. He's hit over .300 in back-to-back seasons, plus he led all of baseball with a 28.5% line drive rate in 2020. Line drives usually correlate with high BABIP and batting average. I don't really have any doubts there. I worry more about the steals, especially at 31 years old.
Couple his age with the fact that his steals were more-than cut in half last season compared to 2018 and voila, you have a recipe for disaster. Merrifield's sprint speed has declined three seasons in a row and he was caught stealing 10 times in 30 attempts in 2019. Also, will new Royals manager Mike Matheny allow Merrifield to run as frequently as he did in the past? Under Matheny, the Cardinals never ranked higher than 17th in stolen bases in any season from 2012-2018.
Merrifield's OPS also dropped from .850 in the first half last year to .761 in the second half, mainly due to an 8% decrease in line drives and a 6% increase in groundballs. Merrifield should still contribute a plus batting average but I have my doubts when it comes to the stolen bases. Batting average alone is not enough for Merrifield to be worth a fifth-round pick.
I'm going to lose some over this one, but Fantasy baseball is a game of value. How likely is it that a player can meet or exceed his draft-day cost? Well, with Bo Bichette, let's just say I don't like his odds. Yes, he has upside and comes with a bunch of prospect pedigree. Will he completely bottom out? Certainly not. Should he be going ahead of Marcus Semien in H2H points leagues and Tim Anderson in Roto leagues? Same answer.
Bichette was awesome in a small sample size last season, batting .311/.358/.571 with 11 homers and four steals in just 212 plate appearances. Was it for real? Let's start with the batted ball data, which reveals that Bichette made hard contact just 32.7% of the time. Mind you, league average last season was 38%. Second, while he ranked in the 83rd percentile in sprint speed last season, he was successful on just four of eight stolen base attempts. I'm worried that if Bichette keeps running into outs on the basepaths, they'll take away the green light.
Bichette might eventually turn into a stud but I'm not willing to spend a sixth-xround pick on him to find out if he will in 2020. Give me Semien, who just scored the second most Fantasy points at the shortstop position in 2019 or Anderson who was a Top-65 player in Roto.
Sometimes it's tough for us to let go of former first-round picks in Fantasy Baseball. Paul Goldschmidt is not the player he used to be. Considering he'll turn 33 years old in September, it's not terribly surprising. The problem is he's still being drafted too high. Despite finishing as the 12th best first baseman in both Roto and H2H points last season, he's currently being drafted as the seventh first baseman off the board. Between his diminishing quality of contact numbers and his plate discipline, there are enough warning signs telling us to stay away.
From 2012-2018, Goldschmidt hit .286 or better in each season. That number dropped to just .260 last season, thanks to a career-low .302 BABIP. His barrel rate also dropped 2%, however, and a .262 xBA says Goldschmidt pretty much earned his batting average last season. And, while his plate discipline is still better than league average, it's not up to Goldschmidt's usual standards. His strikeout rate has now been up over 24% two seasons in a row while his 11% walk rate was his lowest since 2012.
For most of the 2020 season, Goldschmidt was just pedestrian. He posted a .753 OPS or lower in four of six months. League average OPS in 2019 was .758! Maybe Goldschmidt will turn things around and prove me wrong in a shortened season but we have enough warning signs at this point. Give me Jose Abreu or Josh Bell over Goldschmidt, both of whom are being drafted after him.
Josh Hader just finished as the RP1 (not a RP1) in both formats last season. As a result, he's a fifth round pick this season. I understand why. The guy is a freak. Over the past two seasons, he's got a 2.52 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP with 281 strikeouts over 157 innings pitched. That's 58 more strikeouts than the next closest reliever (Edwin Diaz, 223). The problem for Hader is that the delayed start to the season has allowed Corey Knebel to get healthy. Maybe I'm overvaluing Knebel myself, but I think there's a good chance he competes for saves once the season starts.
The last time we saw Knebel he led the team with 16 saves back in 2018. Craig Counsell was the manager back then and obviously has a comfort level with Knebel in that role. Also, let's not forget that Knebel was really good in his own right. Over the course of 2017 and 2018, he owned a 40.2% strikeout rate, fourth best among qualified relievers. It was actually back in 2018 where Hader finished as the RP4 in Roto and RP14 in H2H because he only saw 12 of the Brewers' 49 saves.
Hader is of more value to the Brewers in that fireman role, being used in the toughest spots when the team needs him most. Based on the Brewers projected pitching staff, that could come earlier in games. If Hader sees most of the save chances again, he will live up to and possibly smash his ADP. If he doesn't, however, you're left chasing saves in a shortened season. I'd rather target a closer with more job security in this wacky and wild 2020 season.
There isn't a huge demand for Eduardo Rodriguez but his current average draft position sees him as the SP35 off the board, just ahead of Max Fried, James Paxton, David Price, and Kenta Maeda. That should not be the case. Yes, he's coming off a great season where he finally managed to stay healthy and won 19 games for the Red Sox. A deeper look shows us that he got quite lucky in the second half of 2019, however.
Don't be fooled by E-Rod's 2.95 ERA in the second half last season. His xFIP during this time was 4.10 and his BB/9 actually went from 2.8 in the first half to 3.8 in the second half. What helped Rodriguez most over the final three months was his 83% strand rate, which is not sustainable over a full season.
He's also maddeningly inconsistent. I should know; I owned him everywhere last year. In 34 starts, he allowed four or more earned runs in 11 of them. A general rule I'm following in the shortened season is to avoid volatile starting pitchers. Reason being, if somebody like Rodriguez has three or four rough outings where he gets blown up, it's harder to recover your ERA and WHIP in a compact season. Rodriguez is fine as a SP4 or SP5 but he should be more like SP45 in ADP than SP35.