The term bust in Fantasy Baseball is often associated with this ominous connotation but not every bust is created equal. I like to think of busts in three different categories. First you have your underachievers. They're considered busts because they didn't live up to draft expectations but they didn't completely sink your team either. For example, last season Rafael Devers had an ADP of 22.3 but finished as the 65th best player in Roto leagues. While he didn't do what we expected, he still provided something.
The next category for me is similar to the first one but a tad different. When you can find similar statistical production from two players that are going rounds apart, that means the player being drafted earlier is overvalued. More often than not, our projections will be off on one of those players but that's beside the point. As you'll learn later on, why draft Aaron Judge in the fifth round when you can get Giancarlo Stanton 60 picks later?
Lastly, you will have players that, unfortunately, will completely bottom out. Now this is an ominous category to be in. There are a few different reasons this can happen. Injuries are usually the main culprit but age plays a factor and of course there are always going to be unforeseen skill losses.
Enough chit chat. Here are my top picks for each of those Fantasy Baseball bust categories in 2021!
Shield your eyes, Dodgers fans. Before we look at anything statistically, let's address the elephant in the room. In case you forgot, Bellinger dislocated his shoulder after celebrating a home run in the World Series. He went on to have surgery in November. In case you need a refresher:
Everything the Dodgers have said to this point has been positive. However, we won't know for sure how Bellinger's shoulder responds until he's consistently taking in-game swings throughout spring training. There's also a chance the shoulder surgery affects his production. While there are varying degrees of shoulder surgery, they have been known to sap power. That just adds an extra layer of risk I'd rather avoid with one of my first two picks.
Statistically, Bellinger still projects very well. He maintained the contact gains he showed in his 2019 MVP season, which is a great sign. However, Bellinger's quality of said contact took a step back last season. His 89.3 MPH average exit velocity and 38% hard-contact rate were both career-lows. There was talk of Bellinger changing up his swing mechanics right before the season started. Perhaps that influenced the dip in production. Lastly, he's now struggled against left-handed pitching in two of his first four full seasons. Bellinger posted a .681 OPS against lefties in 2018 and then a .666 mark last season. He won't ever be benched for lefties but I do prefer consistency against both-sided pitchers from my early-round hitters. I understand there's a good chance Bellinger makes me look foolish but I'd rather be safe than sorry with my second-round pick.
Let me preface this by saying this has nothing to do with talent. Walker Buehler is undoubtedly one of the 10 most talented starting pitchers in the game. The problem lies in his cost. Buehler currently has an ADP of 18.3 as the sixth starting pitcher off the board. When drafting a pitcher that early, you need to feel sure about talent plus workload. While we feel great about the talent, the same can't be said for Buehler's workload.
The award-winning ATC projections over on SportsLine currently have 25 starting pitchers projected for at least 170 innings in 2021. Walker Buehler is not one of them. Buehler is currently projected for 167 innings, which may turn out to be okay in this pitching climate. When drafting Buehler as the SP6, however, you need his workload to be better than just okay.
The Dodgers have every reason to limit him if they need to throughout the season. First, they have the best depth in Major League Baseball. With the Trevor Bauer signing, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin are currently on the outside looking in. If the team needs to give Buehler a break at any point, they have pitchers ready. Second, Buehler dealt with blisters last season. As we've learned with our buddy Rich Hill over the years, blisters can become very pesky for starting pitchers. Third, the Dodgers want to win another World Series. They need Buehler healthy and ready to pitch deep into games come October. If that means skipping Buehler a few times in the rotation or giving him a phantom IL stint here or there, they won't hesitate.
Lastly, we're coming off a season where Buehler threw 61.2 innings between the regular and postseason. Do we really expect them to add more than 100 innings to that total this season? It's hard to say. I love the pitcher but given all these circumstances, I do not love the cost.
Cavan Biggio has played 159 games in his career and, to this point, he's been successful. Across his first two seasons, he's batting .240/.368/.430 with 24 home runs, 107 runs scored, and 20 steals. He's made the most of his patient, fly-ball approach. The problem is there's not much margin for error with an ADP of 56.3. That's especially true with the MLB deadening the ball.
Unlike the true power hitters in the game, Biggio has made it by so far on sheer volume. 44.5% of his career batted balls have been fly balls. That's also been accompanied by a 36% hard contact rate, about league average. One glance at his Statcast page and you're greeted by the same blue worn on his jersey. In this case, blue = bad. Just last season, Biggio was in the 27th percentile or worse in each of barrel rate, exit velocity, hard hit rate, expected batting average, and expect slugging percentage. Basically, his quality of contact is dreadful.
Maybe he'll be able to maintain his power production because of excessive fly balls. Or maybe some of those fly balls turn into outs with the new ball. Either way, I'm not willing to find out inside the top 80 picks, let alone the top 60.
Keston Hiura took the league by storm as a rookie in 2019, batting .303 with 19 home runs, nine steals, and a .938 OPS. Based on his prospect pedigree, he looked poised for a monster season entering year two. Narrator: "it didn't happen" -- Hiura batted just .212 with a .707 OPS in 2020, thanks in large part to a 34.6% strikeout rate. His 85 strikeouts led the National League and his 20.3% swinging strike rate was second in baseball behind only Luis Robert.
Many (myself included) didn't see strikeouts becoming an issue like this for Hiura. While he struck out 30.7% of the time in 2019, that's not the player he was in the minors. Across 965 minor-league plate appearances, Hiura owned just a 21% strikeout rate. I still have hope that Hiura can make more contact long term. Speaking of contact, his quality of contact also took a big step back last season. The only way to overcome a big whiff rate as a hitter is to hit the ball exceptionally hard when you actually do make contact. That's how players like Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo have maintained success. Both of Hiura's exit velocity and hard contact ranked in the bottom half of the league.
If I have Hiura in dynasty, I'm holding firm right now. I still think he's talented. I just don't like his cost in redraft leagues at ADP 65.3. I need to see him cut down on those strikeouts and make adjustments on breaking pitches before I reinvest that early.
This one hurts because I actually think Ian Anderson is going to be awesome. Heck, he showed it last season as a rookie. Anderson made 10 starts between the regular season and the postseason, allowing two hits or fewer in five of them. Furthermore, he allowed just nine earned runs in those starts, tallying 65 strikeouts across 51 innings. And that's exactly why we're fading him in 2021.
This is a classic case of recency bias. Everybody remembers what they saw last, which was Anderson allowing just two earned runs over four postseason starts. Like Buehler, the problem for Anderson is the projected innings. Are you starting to notice a theme? There is more uncertainty around starting pitchers than ever before entering this season. We need innings. We need reliable workhorses. If Anderson were a sleeper going outside the top 200 picks then sure, I can get behind that. His ADP is 92.5!
ATC projections are the most bullish projection system regarding Anderson's workload and they have him for 141 innings in 2021. Over the past three seasons, his innings have gone from 119.1 in 2018 to 135.2 in 2019 to 50.1 in 2020. Are the Braves really going to have him triple that number? Maybe Anderson is so awesome that it doesn't matter how many innings he throws. As much as I love the talent, I'm betting against it.
2020 was the year to draft Dylan Bundy when his ADP was outside the top 200. Now he's cut that in half, being drafted at pick 103.8 as SP35. Now there's a still a path to him paying off his current ADP but that requires more consistency from his secondary pitches. Too many times last year, I saw Bundy fall apart when he didn't have his slider and/or changeup working.
Over Bundy's first four starts, he was riding high with a 1.57 ERA, walking just three across 28.2 innings. During this time, he threw his fastball just 39% of the time, his slider 30.5%, and his changeup 19% (while mixing in a curveball). Over his final eight starts, however, he pitched to a 4.62 ERA with 14 walks across 37 innings. He didn't have as good a feel for his slider during this stretch as he used it just 22% of the time. And therein lies the problem. When Bundy doesn't have that slider, he has to rely more on his fastball, which was down to a career-low 90.2 MPH last season.
It's definitely possible Bundy finds more consistency in his slider and change, which would change everything for him. The fact remains that we haven't seen that happen over long stretches of his career. If you are drafting Bundy, I would want him as nothing higher than my SP4. Honestly, I'm hoping I already have four starting pitchers on my roster by the time his name pops up.
CAN FIND SIMILAR PRODUCTION LATER
I know how talented Aaron Judge is. As a Yankees fan and resident New Yorker, I see a lot of the big guy throughout the baseball season. I just have issues with his 52.3 ADP, particularly in Roto leagues. If you play in a H2H points league or OBP format, move on to the next player. Judge is a standout in any league type that awards you for walks. In a traditional 5x5, however, I don't see how Judge is that different than Giancarlo Stanton going 60 picks later or even Jorge Soler going almost 100 picks later.
If Judge can stay healthy (and that's a big if), he will hit 40+ home runs with great counting stats. I think the same thing could be said for Stanton. Yes, Stanton is also a huge injury risk but Judge has missed 37% of his games over the past three seasons. I know this sounds weird but he just might be too jacked to play baseball. There's a level of mobility and flexibility a player needs to withstand the grind of a full season. I question whether Judge has that at his size/mass.
The main point here is all three of Judge, Stanton, and Soler have big power upside. Judge likely has the highest but is it worth the price you have to pay in any 5x5 context when you know 75-80% of his production could be 60-100 picks later? I vote no.
As you may have noticed with Judge, I don't like using one of my first five picks in a Roto league on a batter whose main contributions will just be home runs, runs scored, and RBI. I need batting average or steals somewhere in the mix. While Pete Alonso is one of the five most realistic players to hit 50 home runs, I don't think he'll offer much else. Also, consider that you can get very similar production to Alonso in Matt Olson 30 picks later in your draft. Check out each of their last 162 games played:
- Alonso: .248, 50 HR, 100 runs, 112 RBI
- Olson: .250, 43 HR, 87 runs, 121 RBI
Are the seven home runs and 13 runs worth a 30-pick price difference? Maybe for some. Keep in mind that a more realistic projection for Alonso is that he lives in the 40-45 homer range. Like Judge, Alonso is a fun player but I feel like that may be the reason he's still going as high as he is. Assuming Alonso's ADP remains inside the first five rounds, I'll be fading him at that cost.
Now I can't tell if Matt Chapman is overvalued or Josh Donaldson is just undervalued. Let's start with Chapman. He's a special player who offers big pop at the third base position. He's one year removed from 36 home runs, 102 runs, and 91 RBI, albeit with a .249 batting average. Now you shouldn't put much stock into 37 games but Chapman's 2020 was one that saw his plate discipline fall off the face of the earth. He struck out a career-high 35% of the time, thanks to a 15% swinging strike rate.
Even more concerning, Chapman had right hip surgery in September to repair a torn right labrum. Recovery time is typically four months, which means he should be good to go. Personally, I need to see him in spring before investing but even then, is there a 75-pick difference between him and Donaldson? I know Donaldson is 35 years old and his calves are falling apart but discrepancy seems too big. Also, maybe I'm crazy but I think there's a chance Austin Riley could be as good as Chapman and he's going 130 picks later! Chapman is a fine player but one I think is being drafted too high when you consider the alternatives.
Like Bellinger and Buehler, this one has the potential to blow up in my face. This also comes down to how much stock you're putting into the shortened 2020 season. Last year Scherzer made 12 starts with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. That was bad enough to finish outside the top-30 starting pitchers in both H2H points and Roto. But why did that happen?
Well, strikeouts weren't the issue. Scherzer's 12.3 K/9 was basically right in line with the previous three seasons. His 14.7% swinging strike rate was his lowest since 2014 but was still well above league average. Now walks were a pretty big issue. Scherzer issued multiple walks in eight of 12 starts and had three or more walks in three of those games. That's pretty uncommon for Scherzer. He also gave up harder contact than we're used to seeing. Both his average exit velocity against and hard-hit rates were his highest since Statcast began tracking data back in 2015. Both Scherzer's BABIP and batting average against have been on the rise each of the past two seasons now.
Last but not least, he'll turn 37 years old in July and has dealt with recurring back/neck issues. If you remember, he actually missed a World Series start because of it. There's a wide range of outcomes for Scherzer this year and that makes him a risky pick at 25.8. Sure, he can return to being in top five form but I also think there's a decent chance he continues to regress and/or misses time due to his age.
Dinelson Lamet is coming off a ridiculous 2020 campaign where he finished as a top-10 starting pitcher in both formats and fourth in NL Cy Young voting. Lamet was everything we want Tyler Glasnow to be except with above-average control. He was like a cheat code. Lamet rode (mostly) a two-pitch mix that featured a 97 MPH fastball he used 46% of the time and a ridiculous slider he used 53% of the time. His slider usage was far and away the highest in the game but you can get away with it when the pitch is that good.
But then disaster struck. Lamet left a September 25 start with biceps tightness in his pitching arm. For somebody who's already had Tommy John surgery back in 2018, this is incredibly worrisome. We're potentially dealing with a ticking time bomb who could need a second TJ surgery at any point this season. Our friends Danny Vietti and Will Middlebrooks recently had Padres General Manager A.J. Preller on the Fantasy Baseball Podcast and, while his initial Lamet diagnosis seemed positive, it took a realistic turn:
"He's in a really good spot in terms of being ahead probably even last year's pace," Preller said. "But I think we're realistic. For us, it's going to be get into spring training. Until he really is able to take the ball and throw it at top effort in a game situation, come back, throw his bullpen, come back, throw five days later and just keep repeating that process. I think we're going to see where it goes."
Lamet is currently being drafted as the SP27 with an ADP of 81.8. The reward could be massive but the risk is even bigger. I can't realistically look to draft him until we're outside the top-100 and even that might be too early.