As a general rule, I don't like for my bust picks to be merely drafting inefficiencies -- like, oh, you should really be taking this guy a round or two later. I think of them more as players with true bottom-out potential who could completely wreck your season if the worst-case comes to pass.
But it's getting late, and I just need to get the opinions I've been saving up out there. Thus, I can't promise I held to the same standard for this latest round of busts. Mostly, I just wanted to tell you which ones I'm unlikely to draft them at their going rate. You can read all about why.
Scott White's Sleepers 3.0 | Breakouts 3.0
It's impossible to say what we're getting into with Nolan Arenado leaving the BABIP-boosting environment of Coors Field, where he has hit .322 with a .985 OPS in his career vs. .263 and .793 everywhere else, and not enough of a discount is being applied for me to take the chance. Frankly, I'd hesitate to select him 30th overall even if he was still in Colorado given the way a nagging shoulder injury sapped much of his power last year, his xSLG dropping from .478 to .388. He says it feels fine now, but comfort and strength aren't the same thing, particularly for a body part that's so complicated mechanically. And he hasn't had the sort of power display this spring that would totally put the concern to rest.
Granted, it's never as simple as applying an ex-Rockie's road stats to his new home, and other star-level players like Matt Holliday acclimated well upon leaving. Arenado had been remarkably consistent before last year -- the steadiest stud this side of Mike Trout -- so it's possible he'll be fine. But the double whammy of a mysterious malady and a dramatic venue change justifies a more cautious approach. Even a best-case scenario in St. Louis, adjusting for the environment, sees Arenado hitting something like .280 with 35 home runs, which is similar to what Marcell Ozuna (ADP of 42) and George Springer (43) are likely to provide.
Given the scarcity of quality starting pitchers and the inherent volatility therein, I get that we can't be too picky when the opportunity to take one comes up, and in fact, I've made the case for valuing quantity over specificity at this range of the pitcher rankings. But given the choice -- and seeing as Lynn is going in the same range as Kenta Maeda, there may be one -- he's among the ones I'd trust the least.
The innings are great. He led the majors with 84 of them last year, and in a season when teams figure to manage workload like never before, you'd like to be able to bank on someone for them. But they do need to be quality innings, and the presumption that Lynn proved himself last year by backing up his breakthrough 2019 is in my mind an overly simplistic view. It wasn't the same. His K/9 dropped from 10.6 to 9.5 and swinging-strike rate from 12.5 to 11.2. His xFIP, meanwhile, jumped from an already uneasy 3.85 to a scary 4.34. Frankly, the numbers looked more like what he did in 2018, when he put together a 4.77 ERA.
More than missing bats like in 2019, Lynn succeeded by inducing weak contact last year, which may have worked over a 13-start sample but is a taller task over 30-plus. I liked the price tag last year, but this year's suggests we've become a little too sanguine about a 33-year-old who has been a mid-rotation guy for most of his career.
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Not a year goes by when I can't stick Sonny Gray with a label of some kind. I'm opting for "bust" this year given the news that he's still contending with back issues, which you may remember cost him a couple turns in the rotation last September. It's not just that he'll probably go on the IL to begin the year. It's the effectiveness that's most in question for me.
It wasn't clear whether he shut everything down when his back first flared up last year, but given the way his production suffered, I would guess not. He went from having 13.2 K/9 with a 13 percent swinging-strike rate in his first five starts to 9.6 K/9 with a 10 percent swinging-strike rate in his final six. Those numbers were only slightly improved after he came off the IL.
Even in a two-month season last year, he found a way to make the experience of rostering him a headache, and the headache is already beginning this year. As many times as this guy has let us down in the past, there's no reason to pass up another quality starting pitcher for him. Kyle Hendricks (ADP of 78) and Zack Wheeler (88) are both so steady.
Last postseason represented the third in a row in which manager Dave Roberts lost faith in closer Kenley Jansen, instead using Blake Treinen and Julio Urias to close out games in the World Series. Sure, he has already declared Jansen his closer again, but one of these years, that hook will come prior to October.
The simple truth is that Jansen has been post-prime for three years now, his velocity in decline and his numbers no longer so dominant. He has a 3.34 ERA and 1.4 HR/9 during that stretch compared to 1.81 and 0.7 in the three years prior. It doesn't make him the worst closer by any stretch, but pitching for the Dodgers comes with an expectation with excellence that he may not be able to sustain anymore. He has dominated so far this spring, but what does it mean? Again, three postseasons in a row Roberts has pulled the plug on him.
You may have heard the Dodgers have an embarrassment of pitching riches and a need to get creative with them. They're good at that. Maybe when Jansen inevitably hits a rough patch, they stop using a conventional closer altogether. Maybe Urias becomes a factor when his innings begin piling up, picking up where he left off as a multi-inning reliever last postseason. Bottom line is you have to pay up for Jansen under the premise he's bankable, and I just don't think he is.
This one is pretty straightforward. Patrick Corbin had put together back-to-back years of near-ace production -- one with the Diamondbacks, one with the Nationals -- only to see it come crashing down last year with a 2-mph dip in average fastball velocity. But OK, it was a weird season with an atypical buildup. Let's see how he looks in spring training right? Once again, he's averaging 90 mph on his fastball, and the results have left something to be desired.
We're also hearing reports of him wanting to diversify his arsenal, perhaps by incorporating his changeup more. This strikes me less as progress than desperation. He became the pitcher he became by de-emphasizing everything but his slider, and throwing his best pitch less is probably not a recipe for success.
Some on the Nationals beat have pointed out that Corbin's fastball velocity was more like 88 mph last spring compared to 90 now, so maybe it jumps back up to 92 when the season starts and all is well again. But given the role velocity played in last year's struggles, it's a big leap of faith for the price. In the end, Corbin's 1.57 WHIP was the worst among qualifiers, so you don't want any part of that version.
Honestly, I'm confused. I was the dope who bought into Marcus Semien's out-of-nowhere 2019, happy to wait around for him in Round 8 last year, and well, we all know how that turned out. Basically every number, from his strikeout rate to his average exit velocity, returned to normal. In the four years prior to that surprise breakthrough, he hit .250 with a .719 OPS. His 2019 was very much a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others situation.
So what's this ADP about? Why is he still being drafted in Round 12 of a 12-team league? Is it all about the venue change? I mean, Toronto (or Dunedin, Fla., I should say) is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Oakland, and Josh Donaldson saw a nice jump in production with that move a few years back. But Donaldson will still a borderline stud with the Athletics, not the fringy player Semien has been. Plus, Semien's career splits suggest it wasn't RingCentral Coliseum holding him back. He has hit .258 with a .749 OPS there vs. .250 and .745 everywhere else.
Sure, maybe Semien will give you a dozen steals to go along with his 15-20 homers, but he seems like an expensive route to such modest totals, especially given that he's of no help in batting average.
My beef with Walker Buehler has nothing to do with his skills, which are plentiful, well-established and, as best I can tell, intact. But I'm skeptical he'll get to them enough to justify his second-round cost. The Dodgers have always prioritized preservation with him, having him build up in-season the past two years rather than wasting his bullets on spring training, and the buildup was so slow last year that he made only one six-inning start during the regular season.
So how careful do they figure to be with him after a year in which he threw about 60 innings, regular and postseason combined? He'll be an asset for your Fantasy team, sure, but at the cost, you need him to be a horse, too.
Luis Robert already showed us how low his lows can go last September, forfeiting what seemed like an easy claim to AL Rookie of the Year honors by hitting .136 (11 for 81) with a .409 OPS. It's not fair to assess a player by his worst month, of course, but when that month is basically half his season (not to mention his career), it weighs heavily. Only one of the seven qualifying batters who struck out as often as Robert did in 2020 (32.2 percent) had higher than his .233 batting average (Willy Adames at .259), and while we've seen players like Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo thrive with that sort of strikeout rate in years past, it required them to be some of the hardest hitters in the game. Robert's average exit velocity (87.9 mph) was actually in the bottom half of the league.
His expected batting average, according to Statcast, was .226. His expected slugging percentage was .466. No matter how scarce stolen bases are, Robert won't live up to his ADP without taking a leap as a hitter, and while such a leap is possible, I'm not willing to project it onto him at the expense of another ace or a Corey Seager-type hitter. There will be chances for those sorts of gambles later.
I had penciled Cavan Biggio into this slot even before news of the deadened baseball broke, strengthening the case against him. He was already getting the maximum possible output out of his modest tools, his average exit velocity placing him in the 26th percentile and his hard-hit rate placing him in the 13th percentile. That profile made for an expected slugging percentage of only .347, nearly 100 points higher than his actual .432 mark.
He made it work by putting a bunch of balls in the air at a time when fly balls were traveling farther, but if reducing the bounciness on the balls (as has been reported) leaves him with warning track power, the bottom falls out, his batting average and home runs both cratering. Even with the old ball, he was already cutting it closer than I was willing to wager on, his average home run distance (379 feet) ranking 10th from the bottom.
As skeptical as Fantasy Baseballers normally are of the mid-career breakout from a player with a track record of mediocrity, it's stunning how they've made an exception of Teoscar Hernandez, whose turn for the studly came during a pint-sized season in which his plate discipline was as abysmal as ever. It takes a special hitter to succeed in spite of a 30.4 percent strikeout rate, and while Hernandez did stand out for his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2020, it was only a modest jump from his career baseline -- the kind you'd expect for a guy on a hot streak (which may have been all it was considering the small sample).
He delivered the best-case outcome for an already existing profile, in other words, rather than improving the profile itself, so I suspect that with increased exposure, he's probably closer to the guy who hit .235 with a .774 OPS between 2018 and 2019.
The truth is I so want to love Dinelson Lamet, who got a longer leash than I expected from the Padres last year, throwing six-plus innings in six of his 12 outings while recording double-digit strikeouts in four of them. The possibility for another ace is of course a welcome one in an environment where nothing is as impactful. But if my standard for a bust is bottom-out potential, then nobody's a bigger candidate than Lamet. Only 26 starts removed from Tommy John surgery, his elbow began barking again last September, knocking him out for the postseason and requiring a PRP injection in the offseason.
The Padres say he's in a good place now, but they were similarly optimistic about Mike Clevinger before he ultimately succumbed to Tommy John surgery, which is too often the way it goes. Remember when Chris Sale's elbow wasn't a big deal? Or Luis Severino's? Words are wishful thinking. Seeing is believing, especially when the pitcher in question lives and dies by his slider, a pitch that's particularly taxing on the elbow. Something tells me that if the Padres didn't share those sentiments, they wouldn't have pursued starting pitching quite so aggressively this offseason, bringing in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove.
So far this spring, Lamet has been featuring his slider in simulated games. The Padres are taking it especially slow with him, though, likely holding him out for the start of the season.
Luis Robert's September was so bad (see above) that it allowed Kyle Lewis to eclipse him for AL Rookie of the Year honors. But it's fair to say Lewis himself backed into the award, hitting .147 (11 for 75) with a .550 OPS in the season's final month. What's most concerning, though, is that his strikeout rate jumped to 37.1 percent during that time, landing much closer to the 38.7 percent mark that scared me away during his 2019 season than to the 24.8 percent mark that he achieved through Aug. 31 last year.
I bought in like a sucker when he had a .328 batting average and .945 OPS through Aug. 31, but as hard as he crashed, with that Miguel Sano-like strikeout rate rearing its ugly head again, we should all know better now. Even that impressive 36-game sample with the reduced strikeout rate was fueled by an unsustainable .407 BABIP. At 135th overall, the risk exceeds the reward for Lewis.
It sure looks like Eric Hosmer found his groove again after an underwhelming first two years with the Padres. His .851 OPS was the second-highest of his career, his 3.63 Fantasy points per game were the sixth-most among first basemen, and he seemed to follow through on his promise to hit the ball in the air more. Or he did at the start of the year, anyway. Over his first 26 games, when he hit eight home runs, he hit fly balls at a 39.3 percent rate, according to FanGraphs, which would have been the highest mark of his career. Over his final 12 games, when he hit one home run, he hit fly balls at a much more typical (and, frankly, disgusting) 21.2 percent rate.
Now, I'm not an idiot. I realize that in both instances, we're talking about the tiniest of samples. But that's kind of the point. All of 2020 -- and particularly Hosmer's, which spanned only 38 games -- was too small of a sample to read real transformation into it. That's especially true when you can reduce the already small sample to a mere micro-sample, and given the placement of these micro samples, it's not at all farfetched to think Hosmer settled back into his usual habits once he got into the flow of the season.
Changing a hitting profile is hard, especially for someone who has already accumulated all the at-bats Hosmer has. For most of them, he has been a marginal contributor and not someone you'd want starting for you in a 12-team league, particularly at a time when home runs come so easily. Safe money says that's still the case.
How can I be down on Chris Bassitt, right? I mean, just look at those numbers.
Yeah. I believe that a pitcher needs one of two things to succeed in today's homer-happy environment: elite swing-and-miss ability or elite ground-ball tendencies. Frankly, it wouldn't hurt to have both. Bassitt has neither, and while you'll occasionally see a pitcher with that profile succeed by inducing weak contact, it's much more difficult to sustain from year to year. Statcast suggests he doesn't fit the mold anyway, sticking him with a 3.78 xERA that wasn't so different from the previous two years. His 4.49 xFIP was even worse, making Bassitt out to be one of the season's biggest overachievers.
Unless the new baseball has a more drastic impact than I'm imagining, home run regression is coming for him. Even if he can sustain an ERA around 4.00, his lack of strikeouts will make for a minimal Fantasy contribution. And the crazy part is that as the 58th starting pitcher off the board, he's going ahead of genuine upside plays like Jameson Taillon, James Paxton, John Means and Domingo German.
Better to shoot your shot, man. Chances are you won't miss whatever Bassitt gives you.
There is no comp, really, for Cristian Javier, who first made himself known to Fantasy players with an unreal 1.74 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 13.5 K/9 between three minor-league stops in 2019. He did it without much in the way of an arsenal -- really just a fastball that he disguises and manipulates well -- and so he didn't place particularly high in the prospect rankings. He deserves credit for not getting pummeled in his first year in the majors, but he wasn't exactly fooling hitters either, delivering a swinging-strike rate (8.7 percent) that looked a lot like Kyle Freeland's and a fly-ball rate (52.2 percent) that would have been the highest among qualifiers. Maybe he really is a unicorn whose oddities allow him to break all the rules, but with less than 60 innings to his name, I'm fading the guy with a 4.86 xFIP.
Reason for removal: Uh, have you seen what he's been doing this spring? When a former No. 1 overall prospect with best-hitter-in-baseball upside is generating that kind of buzz for his quality of contact, with early indications that he may have whipped his launch angle issue, I'm sorry but I have to back down like a coward. I still think the price tag is too optimistic for me, and those who've invested the past two years haven't gotten what they paid for. But yeah, I don't need the kind of vitriol I'm certain to get when Vladimir Guerrero becomes an in-his-prime Albert Pujols.
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Reason for removal: The case I originally made against Dylan Bundy I think is logically sound. He got to spend so much of last season pitching in big AL West parks that his past home run issues were no longer an issue, and well, it's not going to be so simple with a full-length schedule this year. But it's become clear to me since then that everybody I draft with wants Bundy less than I do. I'm quite content with him as my fifth starting pitcher, as he so often turns out to be, since he'll still be making a high percentage of his starts in those big parks. And unlike a lot of the pitchers going in his range, there shouldn't be any workload concerns.
Reason for removal: Originally, I pointed out that Aaron Civale had a 6.62 ERA in his final six starts and didn't have the sort of bat-missing or ground ball-generating capabilities that would make him anything more than a middling starter. But he has made such drastic alterations this year -- shortening his arm action and replacing his traditional changeup with a split change -- that I can't say with great certainty he still profiles as the same pitcher. He also has that high-rpm curveball that could begin to play up with a better supporting arsenal. I'm still skeptical, but for the modest cost, I'm keeping an open mind.
So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.